Archive for April, 2004

on Mount Desert Island, Maine
Visited: April 21, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 29 of 353
NPS Website

Beautiful AcadiaWHAT IS IT?
The first National Park east of the Mississippi. The majority of Maine’s Mount Desert Island. Rugged Maine Atlantic Ocean coastline, granite-domed bald mountains, 45 miles of paved carriage roads paved by John D. Rockefeller and over 120 miles of hiking trails.

BEAUTY (7/10)
Acadia first came to prominence as the idyllic subject of the 19th-century Hudson River School landscape painters. Their paintings brought the first wave of tourists to Acadia National Park. Things have not changed. If you have a TV or if you subscribe to any magazine with advertisements, you have seen Acadia NP. Its rocky ocean coast vistas and round granite mountains provide a constant commercial backdrop. We had almost felt as if we had already been there. Yet there was no awe, no overwhelming feeling of an American experience. Acadia’s beauty is understated, subtle and lacking in great drama.

The Park is unique in that private owners donated the entirety of Acadia’s land to the U.S. Government for the sole purpose of preserving it as a public land for generations’ enjoyment. In the 19th century Mount Desert Island had become one of wealthy America’s premier vacation retreats. The affluent vacationers bought up most of the island where they built ‘rustic’ mansions. Their subsequent donation of their purchase land created the East’s first National Park.

CROWDS (6/10)
We came to Acadia pre-season. We had most of the Park to ourselves. The downside was that it was windy, cold and rainy. A volunteer at the Visitor Center estimated that between June and September nearly three million people visit Acadia NP. We can only imagine how unbearably crowded the two lane, 27-mile Park Loop Road must get. Acadia NP is not really that big, and the Park Loop Road is one of the few places where you can drive.

At the same time, there are over 120 miles of hiking trails. We have been told by faithful visitors and by the Acadia NP Welcome Video that solitude can easily be found. Both have also praised Acadia’s powers of quiet introspection. We will take their word.

Patient GullEASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
The Park is not far from I-95 and easy to get to. Problem is that it is not that close to anything. 161 miles from Portland, Maine, 264 miles from Boston and almost 500 miles from New York City. It is way up there. If you want to go, you must make it your holiday destination. You are not going to happen on to it.

At the Park, all of the trails are clearly marked. The carriage roads are blocked off from motor vehicle usage through edict from road builder John D. Rockefeller. They are paved and in good condition for all your bicycling needs.

Pretty average.

COSTS (3/5)
$20 per car is good for a week’s entry into the Park. If you have the $50 National Parks Pass, the entrance fee is covered. There is no charge in the off-season. There are only two campsites in the Park and no backcountry hiking is permitted. Numerous lodging opportunities exist on Mount Desert Island. They could get pricey during the summer.

The closest we came to seeing a Park Ranger was a National Park Service truck parked in the driveway of the house next door to the Bed and Breakfast where we stayed. The Visitor Center was staffed solely by volunteers. They were helpful, but they were not Rangers. We also saw no postings for Ranger-led tours. We are sure that Rangers exist at Acadia NP but they may not return until summer.

We enjoyed the introductory video at the Visitor Center. The well-done 20-minute film immediately addressed our criticisms. It started by acknowledging that Acadia NP is not especially striking and continued to state that the Park is not about superlatives and not particularly unique. A strange but accurate way to introduce the Site. The video answered many questions about Acadia NP’s geological and cultural history. It concluded that Acadia NP was a Park for the people. Well done.

Ranger-led tours and classes were seemingly non-existent. Maybe things change in the summer.

Hello Down ThereFUN (7/10)
Our fun was severely limited by the time we choose to go to Acadia. The weather was much colder than we expected. As a result, we did not do much hiking. Our time atop Cadillac Mountain was a frigid, blustery blur. We did not even consider returning to Cadillac at dawn to see the first bit of sun rising above America. Biking was out of the question too. Windburn windburn windburn. As was outdoor solitude, inspiration and prolonged bird watching. We still ended up taking a lot of pictures.

As we were exiting the park, we turned into one of the Site’s parking areas. About 10 yards away in a clearing was a herd of six whitetail deer, including two young ones. We got out of the car and up pretty close before they gamboled off. For some reason, the rather mundane deer sighting was awfully exciting.

Sure, but come when it is warm so you can enjoy everything the Park has to offer. Mount Desert Island really is a seasonal place.

TOTAL 45/80


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Dear Boston:

I never wanted to like you. I do not remember having many good times with you. I admit I was charmed many years ago as a pre-teen. The pictures show me re-enacting the Boston Tea Party and interacting with ducks in Boston Common. Not sure how those photo-ops occurred, but they did. Since then I’ve revisited a few times, visiting friends and relatives, perhaps at the wrong time, but never again included any trips to your historical sites. My friends were great, but you, Boston, were gloomy, unsociable, boring, and rude. Your streets were confusing, manic and full. I vowed never to return. Boy was I wrong.

Patriot’s Day weekend 2004 was magical. The people were vibrant, the sun was shining and the past came alive. The past that you are famous for, the past for which you deserve so much praise and so much credit. I was lucky enough to be with you on April 19, 2004 exactly 229 years since everything started. 229 years to the day since William Dawes and Paul Revere rode through Boston and into the countryside warning every one of the oncoming British soldiers looking for guns. I walked those same streets. I stood on the spot near Concord that the Redcoats captured Mr. Revere later that fateful day. I saw the house he lived in. I saw silver he handcrafted. I even saw a man dressed as Mr. Revere riding though your North End streets that same morning reenacting his ride. The riders’ bravery, bravado and sheer lunacy had never fully sunk in. Today it did.

Your people, your Bostonians, our Americans were crazy. Rabble rousers. Maniacs. Proud, stubborn people. I went to your outskirts the days before, to Lexington and to Concord. Here they were, living out in the country, sitting in taverns together, organizing minuteman militias, talking about rebellion, staring at least one thousand members of the world’s foremost army. Your situation was not terrible. You ate well, you had many personal freedoms and you were financially prosperous. But you wanted absolute independence. You wanted nothing to do with the most powerful nation in the world. You did not want their protection; you did not want their financial help. You wanted to exist without them.

I was in Concord and Lexington on Patriot’s Day weekend. I walked much of the 5-mile path in Minute Man National Historical Park along Battle Road. The path that the British soldiers marched in on. The path along which they stopped at places I visited, like the Hartwell Tavern, and demanded all the guns and all ammunition on site. You had re-enactors replaying the tense interchanges. I saw your courageous American women hide the guns and subsequently lie to the searching Brits about their whereabouts. After the actors finished I asked them many questions: why how, which, who. They answered everything and elaborated beyond my expectations. I felt closer to their real-life counterparts than I would have ever thought possible.

Battle Road continued to its western end, the North Bridge in Concord. Where “the shot heard ‘round the world” was fired. We have trivialized this phrase relating it to professional sports happenings and other comparatively inconsequential occurrences. You, Boston, would never distort the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, your son. Not even to describe a home run by your beloved Red Sox. The shot means so much more than that. I stood at the North Bridge 229 years later. It means our country.

What caused the shot? What caused the war? One of your hotheaded sons. A crazy and surely delusional Bostonian. This weekend you taught me that the British foray, while disposing of seized ammunitions, accidentally set fire to a few of Concord’s buildings. As they were putting out the fire, fixing their mistake, Lieutenant Joseph Hosmer was so angered at the now billowing smoke that he yelled eight words to his commander that would start a revolution: “Will you let them burn the town down?” With those words, the men moved towards Concord, towards an improbably imposing army and onto the North Bridge.

It was still April 19, 1775. It was not yet noon. After the three-minute skirmish at the North Bridge, three British were dead and nine were wounded. They took time to regroup and soon started their retreat. History moved back eastward now along Battle Road. So did I. As the Redcoats retreated, American militia from throughout the countryside converged on the Battle Road. They attacked from the woods. Chaos, panic and madness. My retreat back along the path conjured the same feelings. The woods are still there, the trauma almost real. I felt tremendous sympathy for the British soldiers. Surrounded on all sides, 16 miles away from their destination: you, Boston.

Back again at the Hartwell Tavern, another re-enactor, this time dressed in minuteman regalia, demonstrated the loading and firing of a flintlock rifle. It took him 15 seconds to load and fire. Upon firing there was a loud bang and flash, followed by a putrid sulfur aroma and a cloud of smoke. I could envision the countryside awash with these noises, smells and visions. Coupled by screams of pain, the stench of death, constant running and absolute chaos. 273 British men died along the path I was walking. Many are still buried there. What had your sons started, Boston? Would they follow up against their chosen, juggernaut of an enemy?

Of course. Your other sites tell much of that story. Some of the sites are on the other Freedom Trail, the one in your streets, the one that is a part of Boston National Historical Park. Sites like Bunker Hill, where just two months later, June 17, your Bostonians fought so ferociously against the British that Parliament was left with no other choice but to declare the colonies to be in a state of rebellion. Your Patriots started the fight. Other sites, like Faneuil Hall, the Old State House, the Old South Meeting House and so many more, tell of the fight leading up to Patriot’s Day.

So, Boston, thank you for allowing me to share in your celebration. Your people have been so welcoming, your streets so lovely (albeit manic) and your skies beautiful. Thank you for everything.

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Dear Boston:

I am sorry. I am really sorry.

For years, I have said horrible things about you. Blamed you for being boring, stuffy, expensive, snooty – all based on ill-planned weekend trips while I was living in Providence. I always had such high expectations yet never had a good time. I blamed you.

This weekend, this beautiful spring Patriots’ Day weekend, you proved me wrong. You were welcoming, friendly and most importantly affordable. In fact, unlike any other city, every time we mentioned we were from out of town, someone offered to buy us a drink. Why? Because we were in their city and they wanted us to have a good time. Thank you! We did.

We arrived Friday evening. Parking was a little hectic – you need to work on that. But we managed to last the evening without a ticket. We met some friends and got a quick tour of Beacon Hill, home of presidential candidate John Kerry, MTV’s the Real World Season six, and Tom from National Public Radio’s Car Talk, who actually drove past us and waved to our friend as we were walking up his street. Car Talk! Tom!

As he was waving and driving by, our friend casually said, “You guys ever hear of Car Talk? That was Tom, one of the Car Guys. He lives down the street.”

The words weren’t even out of his mouth before Michael started running after the car. I tried to explain to our puzzled pal that we had actually been callers on the show [try to link to my spot on Bulletin Board] and Tom and Ray (Click and Clack) had told us to stop by when our trip took us through Boston. Alas, Tom drove away, oblivious to his fans. Michael trudged back to meet us and chastise me for not running faster.

Now that I am typing this, I realize perhaps that chasing after someone’s car, waving your hands wildly, saying “hey, do you remember us?” was not the best route to take. But it sure makes for a good story.

A story that we told at least four or five times in restaurants on Charles Street, Newbury Street, Boston Common, anywhere we had a willing or captive audience, really. And you listened.

Dear Boston, I think spring becomes you. No one appreciates a sunny day like a New Englander. This weekend, I was privileged to be with you as you sunbathed in the Common, rode the Swan Boats for the first time this season, took pictures of your children straddling the sculptures of the Duck and her Ducklings and prepared for your very own holiday, Patriots’ Day.

As if the Boston Marathon wasn’t enough, your Red Sox and Bruins hosted games with their nemeses this Patriots’ Day. The New York Yankees were served a loss in their fourth game at Fenway Park this season. The Bruins, not as lucky, suffered defeat from the Montreal Canadians in the seventh game of the first round of the NHL playoffs at the Fleet Center later that night. Tickets for both events were easily out of our price range, but we lingered around both venues, taking in the atmosphere and enjoying the electric energy coming off the fans. The 25th mile of the Marathon course was just a block away from Fenway. We had a prime spot to watch the lead runners sprint past on their way to the finish line. How could this day get any better? Well, we could have gotten tickets for the game, but that wasn’t going to happen for less than $100 a ticket, even after the 6th inning.

If you don’t mind me saying, Boston, you are baseball crazy.

But not in a bad way. I expected the worst. I have been to Orioles games when your cheers of “Yankees suck” have overpowered and confused the team you were actually playing. I have lived underneath a transported Red Sox fan in Harrisburg whose howls and stomping I swore were causing structural damage to the old building we inhabited. I prayed that Michael wouldn’t wear his Yankees hat out in the city because I was in no mood for confrontation. He didn’t, but our friend did. And what did it provoke? Nothing but good-natured teasing. Not malicious. Not mean. It started more conversations than it ended.

Never have I seen more people adorned in their team’s colors, sporting jerseys and hats, holding their tickets or hot sausages in one arm, and several with Bruins gear tucked underneath the other. I have never overheard a team brought up in practically every person’s conversations. I have never been asked my thoughts, opinions and allegiances in baseball more often than this weekend.

And that was just on the T.

Boston, it was a pleasure being with you this week. I take it all back.

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Salem, Mass.
Visited: April 16, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 24 of 353
NPS Website

Salem Maritime NHSWHAT IS IT?
Second largest port in the colonies in the 18th and early 19th centuries. So many boats bore the name of Salem, that Eastern countries thought “Salem” was a nation to itself.

Salem is also the site of the most horrific witch hunt in the history of our nation, imprisoning hundreds of people, most of them single, land-owning women, based on accusations and spectral evidence.

BEAUTY (3/10)
The town is quaint but much of the historical is overshadowed by tourist-friendly witch museums and gift shops.

Slave trade excluded, the first international trading between the colonies and foreign nations originated in Salem.

90% of our young nation’s capital was raised through customs tariffs and fees paid by the merchants coming in and out of Salem.

CROWDS (5/10)
The sunny spring day attracted a lot of families. There were no crowds at the Maritime Visitor Center or around any of the houses we walked past. We did not take any tours so we do not know how crowded they were.

Signs to historic Salem direct you from the highway. There is metered parking near the decorative arts-based Peabody-Ellis Museum, the first museum in the United States. There is also free parking in the House of Seven Gables parking lot.

This score is based on the books and merchandise found at the West India Goods Store, a reproduction of the original store now owned and operated by the National Parks Service. The pungent scent of spices, teas and coffee infuse the air of the shop. Silver spoons, blown glass and pottery, all created by artisans to replicate those items Salem residents could have purchased line the shelves. The book selection at the store was the only place we saw any information on the Salem witch trials, theories of what caused them and their historical significance.

Super GiftsCOSTS (1/5)
Our National Parks Pass was useless. Tours of the Customs House and other prominent houses, such as the Derby, Hawkes, and Narbonne-Hate Houses cost extra, as did the tour of a replica boat named Friendship. To see the House of the Seven Gables (not part of the Maritime NHS) would have cost us an additional $11 each.

There were Rangers manning the information desks at each of the Visitor Centers, but we gained most of our information from the Eastern National staff person at the West India Goods Store.

We did not enter any buildings or take any tours that required additional fees, so our experience was limited. There are some static displays with audio recordings in the back of the Customs House and in the Scale House in the yard behind the Customs House. There is a film at the Maritime Visitor Center. We are both having trouble remembering it so we guess one could say it was unmemorable. Notable was the absence of any mention of the Salem witch trials, despite their undeniable place in history.

FUN (4/10)
If we had been willing to spend money, we probably would have had more fun. We were disappointed that most of the sites in the park required additional fees to enter. The town itself is pleasant and everything is in walking distance. We enjoyed the day, but not particularly the Maritime NHS.

Salem was less touristy than we expected. Nonetheless, there are countless witch-related museums, wax museums, gift shops and tours.

It makes no sense that the National Parks Service distances itself from the historical incident of the Salem witch trials. It was a series of real events with real consequences. The base cause of the witch trials was the movement away from a purely religious Puritan society and towards a society heavily influenced by commerce and trade. The witch trials were a culmination of a growing class struggle as well as a struggle to retain a Puritan societal order in the midst of increased independence and individuality.

It would seem that the Park Service would be better suited to discuss this historic incident rather than leaving it up to the numerous, commercially-based museums and witch shops lined with cardboard cutouts of witches and witchcraft knickknacks.

Salem is a nice town. There are plenty of places to shop and eat. The Maritime NHS was a little disappointing, but the walk around town kept our spirits high.

TOTAL 37/80

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Gab at 106 1/2There is no national monument in Brooklyn, but the apartment and the neighborhood that knew my mom as a girl are there. I could not wait to find them.

There is no national park in Garfield, North Jersey, but Michael’s Uncle Steve lives there. Barcelona’s, home of the best pizza ever, is there too.

There is no national historic site at 308 Walnut Street in Philadelphia. The Kosciusko house is around the corner. But the Polish American Society is open seven days a week and welcomed these two grumpy travelers with open arms, lively music and a free lunch.

The first three weeks of the trip have been filled with familiar people and places, connecting Michael and I with landscapes from our childhoods, friends from various eras and family members we shouldn’t have waited this long to see. None of these places are listed on any register or noted in guidebooks, but for me, they count as America’s treasures. Each place and old friend that we find, each uncle and cousin that we hug fills me with joy and makes me want to go in search of more.

The one national site that has given me the same joy, the same feeling of community and a shared history as these people and places has been Ellis Island.

When the ferry docked and we entered the grandiose building, nothing was as I thought it would be. It looked more like a castle than a former processing center. I was overwhelmed by the size and not sure where to go. Crowds were thick and moving fast. There seemed to be so much to see but not enough time to see it. My legs were frozen while my brain tried to process exactly where I should be heading. My eyes welled up with tears and I had no idea why. Have I ever felt closer to my great grandparents Alex and Eva Lozak? Was this how they felt when they arrived?

This connection grew stronger as the hours passed. I lost Michael several times, both of us getting caught up among the crowds or lost in our own thoughts as we stared at our histories on the walls. Items worn or carried by immigrants as they entered the United States, passports and identification papers, all lovingly preserved by families and donated to the Ellis Island collection, told the stories that many of us have heard from our aging relatives. Swarms of people, speaking Polish, French, Spanish, Korean, Russian, Italian, English and more scanned the exhibits for familiar items, familiar names, piecing together and adding detail to their own stories. It was a day of discovery and understanding for all of us. I felt united with every pilgrim there.

The following day I went on my own pilgrimage.

I had no idea how we were going to locate my mom’s old house. These are the details we knew: She was pretty sure it was on 8th street. There is a fire hydrant in front of the stoop. It was the only address with a ½ after the number. It was near the Bedford Ave subway stop and there was a small park about a mile away.

Why were we going? To see where they used to close off the streets for summer Police Athletic League parties; to see where my mom posed for a photo as a pudgy little girl in baloney curls; to see where my grandmother hung out of the windows with all of the other stara babas and to see where mom used to play with pastel-colored dyed peeps. I am not talking about the sugar coated marshmallow peeps you buy at Easter. I am talking about real, baby chickens. Apparently, they were popular promotional items at gas stations. Tank of gas – have a peep. I’d prefer a free two liter of soda. My mom had peeps.

Well, we jumped on the subway to Brooklyn and got off at the Bedford Avenue stop. After a false start in the wrong direction, it didn’t take long to find the only little row house on 8th street with ½ after the number, fire hydrant in front. Here it is. I was overjoyed. I called my mom. She cried. And suddenly, the same person who couldn’t remember her own address was recounting detail after detail about the block and the neighborhood that she hadn’t seen since 1956. It was like she was standing on the same corner and seeing through my eyes. I am so glad we went.

Michael and Uncle SteveEarlier in the trip, we changed our course slightly to stop in and say hi to Michael’s great uncle in Garfield, New Jersey.

Walking into Uncle Steve’s comfortable home was like walking back in time – a time when my great grandmother, my baba, filled me with delicious doughy foods that scented her kitchen with potato-y onion-y goodness. Uncle Steve’s house has this smell. I loved him immediately. Uncle Steve embraced me, offered us something to eat and then tested our Ukranian. At least I could still spell out the Cyrillic. He took us through the house and gave us a tour of all the photos hanging on the walls and resting on the shelves. There’s our wedding picture! We would have devoured the pierogi he offered had we not gorged ourselves earlier at Barcelona’s.

This aging town of Garfield thick with Poles, Italians and Russians, limited in opportunities for earning, lined with two-story houses on small lots could have been Berwick or Washington, PA, homes to my parents, or any small town USA. When I think of America, this is the image in my mind.

I felt a different kind of connection when we found the Polish American Center in Philadelphia during the first days of the journey. My Polish is rusty at best, but this felt like a homecoming. I ran to point out the crest of arms for Wroclaw, my surrogate home for almost two years, among the others hanging on the wall. I tried to snatch a photocopy with the words to Sto Lat from one of the school children who were there learning to make pisanki, ornate Easter eggs because I still don’t know the right words. Everything about the center reminded me of dear friends and experiences I gained while living on my own for the first time.

As you can see, we have been taking some detours.

I have been dreaming of the west ever since we put our plan in motion. What am I looking forward to the most? Everyone asks this question. Though exact locales change from day to day, in my mind the destination has always been a western one. Big Bend. Olympia. Glacier. Grand Tetons. The West. The Great Frontier. The Big Unknown. At least for me. But after a day at Ellis Island and weeks spent among friends and family, I’m wondering if once out west, I won’t long for the connections that I have and feel here in the east.

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In New York Harbor and off Jersey City shoreline, N.J. and N.Y.
Visited: April 7, 2004
NPS Site Visited: Not an NPS Site
NPS Website; Local Website.

Want More?

Click Here for Gab’s NYC story:
Feels Like Home

Click Here for Michael’s NYC story:
We Are A Nation of Searchers

Registry Room
Immigration inspection center of the United States from 1892 to 1954.

BEAUTY (7/10)
We had always imagined Ellis Island to be a grimy, dirty place resembling a mental institution. Instead, a colorful castle-like structure covers the main island. Definitely imposing. Most certainly grand. Lady Liberty looks over the Island and Manhattan beckons in the distance.

For millions of individuals and families this was the beginning of their lives as Americans. The Ellis Island introductory film is titled, Island of Hope, Island of Tears since clearance or refusal from an immigration official changed the lives of everyone who entered the Hall, as well as their descendants, including us.

CROWDS (8/10)
It was packed. Passengers filled the ferries to capacity. Crowds of people swarmed around exhibits specific to their countries of origin. The multilingual din in the Halls and Exhibits in the Main Building never quieted. We wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Ferries and the Main Building are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Although lines were thick and long, we were always able to board the next available ferry. There are no formal security checks once passengers are cleared to board the ferry from Castle Clinton. All other NYC stipulations still apply – parking impossible, prices high, public transport necessary.

Not as thorough as we would have liked. Lots of souvenirs. Not many books.

COSTS (2/5)
$10 to take the Circle Line Ferry to Liberty Island, Ellis Island and back to Battery Park. $5 to use the Family Resource Center for a ½ hour with access to staff and the ability to print out any documents you might find. However, anyone can go to www.ellisisland.org and search their archives for free.

We only saw one and he was working hard, giving the hourly ranger-led tour and introducing the movie with an interactive Q&A with the audience.

Ellis IslandTOURS/CLASSES (8/10)
Even with minimal ranger assistance, we learned a lot at Ellis Island. The exhibits have well-written explanations. Many items and photographs speak volumes themselves. There is an interactive display based on the 2000 census showing the tides of people moving in and out of the United States over the years.

Ranger-led tours begin at the top of every hour. A movie is shown in two theatres every 30 minutes. One of the theatres was closed when we went so the movie was shown once an hour. There is also a $5 live play performance beginning 15 minutes after every hour if you like that kind of thing.

FUN (8/10)
Yes, But also very moving, particularly if you are among the first few generations of Americans in your family.

We spent hours here. Security, lines, the ferry ride – were all less stressful than we had anticipated. If you are anywhere near N.Y., try to schedule this into your plans. This has been one of the highlights of our trip.

TOTAL 60/80

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southern Manhattan, N.Y.
Visited: April 7, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 19 of 353
NPS Website.

Federal HallWHAT IS IT?
Neo-classical building completed in 1842 located at 26 Wall Street across from the New York Stock Exchange. At this site in 1789, but in a previous building, the Bill of Rights was adopted and George Washington took the Oath of Office as the first President of the United States.

BEAUTY (4/10)
The neo-classical building looks a bit cramped, squat and uninspired amidst the surrounding sequoias of Wall Street. The proud statue on its steps of George Washington echoes history. We wonder how he feels forever staring at the entrance of the New York Stock Exchange.

Bill of Rights adopted here. Our first president’s first Oath of Office was here. On display is the actual Bible. The first case that successfully defended the concept of Freedom of the Press tried here. Who cares if the actual building is different?

CROWDS (6/10)
Crowded outside, sparse inside.

Tall steps leading into the entrance. Didn’t see any ramps. Tucked down a small alley cluttered with road work and today, news cameras and extra police waiting for the Stock Exchange to close. Might have missed it if we weren’t looking.

Not much.

COSTS (3/5)
Free to enter. Just need to get yourself there.

One ranger at the desk; one on the floor. There were only five visitors there so the ratio was fine.

We arrived near closing time. We missed the last tour. But the interior is so small, I’m not quite sure what the tour would have entailed. There is yet another diorama, this one of Peter Zenger’s trial and release. The 10-minute animated film is of George Washington reminiscing about the Revolutionary War and his Presidency.

FUN (3/10)
Anticlimactic after a day at Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

If you are near Wall Street, stop in.

TOTAL 40/80

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We are a nation of travelers, a nation of searchers, a nation of immigrants. We have never been stagnant. We move for a better life, we move for answers, we move for adventure, we move to escape, we move. Almost 100 years ago my ancestors boarded a ship to come to the United States. I do not know their motivations and reasons. I only vaguely understood the process they endured. I know that they moved. The day that I just spent on the water, off of Battery Park, on Liberty and Ellis Islands has brought me immeasurably closer to my family, to their journey and to myself.

The SphereWe emerged from the Bowling Green subway station in Battery Park prepared for the worst. We had heard of Statue of Liberty security this, prohibitive entry that. More than understandable in southern Manhattan where the cloud of terrorist attack still looms despite the proud defiance of its people. Tourists all around us were moving very quickly to Castle Clinton National Monument (b/k/a the place to buy tickets for the Circle Line Ferry that takes you to Lady Liberty). We were walking slowly and happened to stop and gaze at a misshapen, charred, and holed-out statue. The plaque revealed that the statue was named “The Sphere” and it had been located at the base of the World Trade Center. It barely survived the fall of the Towers and stands in Battery Park as a reminder. It is a very powerful statue.

We entered Castle Clinton and bought tickets for the ferry. We had five minutes until the next boat. Right on time. Or not. Before we saw the Statue of Liberty in the distance, before we had a chance to see Ellis Island we saw a line of perhaps 500 people. By the time we walked to the end of the queue there was maybe 600. We were resigned to a long day and we were wrong. I cannot emphasize enough how smoothly the Security Check went. Street performers entertained, the one Ranger on duty, herding the people along, was friendly and efficient. The line’s swiftness made taking a photograph of the Harbor difficult. We did not make the first boat, but we were comfortably on the second, free of hassle, superficially free of fear, in good spirits and lucky to have a third tier starboard-side view.

The ferry was crowded but not full. We were quickly nearing Lady Liberty. The boat turned its direct heading giving the starboard side the view. There was now a sudden rush to the side rail. I was pushed to the edge of the rail. People moved in all around me. A deluge of snapshots and polyglot cacophony ensued. And we were all photographing and saying the same thing to our loved ones: ‘She’s so beautiful”.

Beauty, Strength, Promise, Hope
I was enraptured by her strength, her beckoning, her grace. I felt as my ancestors may have felt when they saw her for the first time. Wonder, amazement, a dream about to begin. I am sure that every person staring at her from the rails saw something different, felt something different. She accepts and actualizes all emotions; she welcomes all to her shores. She is the idea of an ideal America. She is all that was, is, and could be magnificent about this country. She is promise and she is hope.

She is an America uncorrupted by the bigotry, the closed borders, the warfare, the slavery. She is the idea. She is what we must become. She is a reminder. She is a powerful statue.

The slow turn of the boat allowed for more than enough introspection, imagination and pictures. We were soon docking on Liberty Island. I have heard that in the past tourists were allowed inside the Statue, up to her crown, even up to the top of the torch. It is not the case today. Visits to the top as well as the base of her pedestal are also forbidden. The visitor is allowed to walk around the exterior of the island, basking in her long shadow. I do not regret being unable to visit her museum at the base. Her glory does not require a closer view; her history does not require explanation. She elicits myriad emotions from afar. An interior visit could spoil her grandeur.

The ferry to Ellis Island seemed even more crowded than the one to Liberty Island. Our driver made sure to double back, giving his passengers another view of the Statue. We were all eager to see the next Site. I am unsure as to when my trip to Ellis Island ceased to be to a museum and became instead an unforeseen pilgrimage. But it happened. It may have been when I walked into the historical research center, a database that allows everyone to research all the boat registries from 1880 through 1920. It may have been when I read the sign near the center explaining that point to be the place where immigrants and their already American families met each other. It explained that when Slavic families were reunited they embraced each other with extreme vitality.

I do know that by the time I entered the great hall of the Registry Room I was emotional and a bit tearful. I was transported.

Because of both the Great Depression and stricter immigration policies, after the 1920’s Ellis Island was no longer Ellis Island. Operations ceased in the 1950’s. The facilities went into disrepair until the 1980’s. At that point a full restoration of Island One began. The Island has been extensively photographed in all its stages, from birth, its 1900’s heyday, its decline and its ruin. Its present restored condition is mind-blowing. The building looks just as it did during the mass immigrations. The building looks like a large terra cotta and maroon castle. It is more imposing than welcoming.

The Research Center and the impeccably restored building alone would have made for a splendid trip. The excellent museum made the tour transcendent, as well as a few hours longer than expected. The exhibits are well done and informative. One is not left wanting for answers. The museum is large and the exhibits are many but one never feels overwhelmed or rushed. The tour is crowded but one never feels cramped.

A New Country

An exhibit of suitcases greets the visitor at the entrance. You are at a place of motion, a new beginning. The second floor is the Registry Room with its large open space and high tiled ceiling. Two American flags extend from the third floor balcony. Everybody who came to Ellis Island waited here. They waited to confirm their steerage. They waited to convince inspectors of their health, their mental abilities, of their familial ties already in the states, and of their ability to earn a living.

An exhibit tucked into the small rooms surrounding the Registry Room takes the visitor step by step through the immigrants’ path at Ellis Island. Now I know. Another exhibit shows only large black and white headshots of many nationalities of immigrants still dressed in their European-Caribbean-Northern African clothes. The pictures all were taken the day the new Americans landed at Ellis Island. Touching.

I was especially moved by a traveling exhibit of letters and drawings from present-day middle school aged immigrants. They explain how their lives have changed and what it means to them to be an American. Their clear language, their frankness, their lack of gravitas, and their mature understanding brought me to tears. They are now Americans.

Our country’s door is no longer as open as it was when my ancestors sought refuge. But the idea of the ideal America promised by the Statue of Liberty and once put into process at Ellis Island is still alive in the hearts and minds of many. The dream was alive to my ancestors, it is alive to the middle schoolers, it is alive to those denied entry, it is alive to me. Lady Liberty promises us a voice; a voice to determine our nation’s path as well as our own. We must never forget to fulfill her promise.

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New York City, N.Y.
Visited: April 7, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 17 of 353
NPS Website.

Want More?

Click Here for Gab’s NYC story:
Feels Like Home

Click Here for Michael’s NYC story:
We Are A Nation of Searchers

Castle ClintonWHAT IS IT?
Circular brick fort built between 1808 and 1811 to defend New York City. The fort has since been used as the New York City Aquarium, an opera house, and an immigration entry port, among other things.

BEAUTY (2/10)
All that is left of the place is the circular brick base level. Any interior that might have existed has been usurped by two kiosks: one for buying ferry tickets to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and the other for buying Statue of Liberty trinkets. Once you exit Castle Clinton the views of the harbor are gorgeous. Just don’t turn around.

Nearly as many people entered the United States through Castle Clinton (8 million) as did through Ellis Island (12 million). The buildings various incarnations as wartime fort, restaurant, aquarium, theater and opera house is interesting as well. Nonetheless, the place does not exude much of an historical aura. It seems, sadly enough, like only a ticket counter.

CROWDS (3/10)
Lots of people inside the fort. Nobody in the small museum area. Everyone hurries in and rushes out to the security line to get on the ferry.

Right near the subway exit. But it is in downtown New York City at the edge of Manhattan. The nearest available parking is across the river in Jersey City.

Nothing site relevant.

COSTS (3/5)
It’s free. But there is nothing to see. That’s pretty much a push.

I did not see any.

The small museum room had four dioramas showing a few of Castle Clinton’s different faces. It marked the 10th diorama-based exhibit we’ve seen in 20 days on the road.

FUN (3/10)
Uh, no.

You need to come here to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. So yes, come here and take the two minutes it requires to see the dioramas and photographs. If taking the Circle Line Ferry is not in your plans then there is no reason to come to Castle Clinton NM.

TOTAL 24/80

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New York Harbor
Visited: April 7, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 18 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Want More?

Click Here for Gab’s NYC story:
Feels Like Home

Click Here for Michael’s NYC story:
We Are A Nation of Searchers

Lady Liberty
152-foot high copper statue of Lady Liberty designed by Frederic Bartholdi and given to the United States by the French people in 1866.

BEAUTY (10/10)
She is the most beautiful woman in the world.

The most recognizable symbol of the United States. Her name is synonymous with freedom and democracy.

CROWDS (8/10)
As Michael described in his article, it is hard not to get swept up in the excitement and awe of hundreds of people rushing to the starboard side of the ferry to get a closer look. It was crowded. What would it say about us as a nation if it weren’t?

Tickets for the Circle Line Ferry are purchased at Castle Clinton. Visitors take their place at the end of a long line to go through security before boarding the ferry. When we saw the queue, we resigned ourselves to a morning spent in Battery Park, but our journey from the end of the line to a prime spot on the upper deck of the ferry took no longer than 15 minutes.

Souvenirs and trinkets outnumbered books and other informational material. Plenty of snow globes, magnets and memorabilia to buy both in the Gift Shop and a large white tent outside. There is also a café with indoor and outdoor seating. The outdoor seating could be quite nice on a sunny day.

COSTS (2/5)
$10 is a bargain for what you get. But first, you have to get yourself to Lower Manhattan. An audio tour of Liberty Island is an additional $6 per adult.

Two friendly rangers sat in the small National Park Service trailer across from the Gift Shop and Café. They gave us critical information on Governor’s Island, one of the newest additions to the Park Service, directly from an internal email distributed to rangers informing them of the reservations process and tour possibilities.

ExcitementTOURS/CLASSES (6/10)
This score might be higher had we taken a ranger-led tour, leaving from the flagpole every hour or purchased the $6 audio tour. It was enough for us to read the informational panels and circle the large Lady. At the time of writing, the museum in the Statue’s Pedestal was still closed. We didn’t feel as though we missed much since we have seen the Ken Burns documentary.

FUN (8/10)
Michael felt like a kid. Maybe it was the ferry ride or feeling dwarfed by the immense size of the statue, or looking at something so famous, so renowned for the first time. Eyes wide, mouth open, every once in a while a “gosh” or “gee” escaping my lips. That was him.

Yes, it is probably one of the most typical tourist attractions on the East Coast, perhaps the entire United States. For good reason.

TOTAL 63/80

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