by Ken Burns from The Telegraph, July 14, 2017
My relationship with New York City is unique in that I carry both the pride of a native New Yorker (I was born in Brooklyn, although my family moved away when I was a young child) and the freshly minted infatuation of a transplant or visitor; though I live in rural New Hampshire, I’ve steadfastly maintained an apartment and office in Manhattan for many years.
My first film, Brooklyn Bridge focused literally and figuratively on the compelling story of the iconic span and the people behind its creation. Subsequent films that feature the city in varying roles range from The Statue of Liberty and Baseball (plus its sequel, The Tenth Inning) to Prohibition, The Central Park Five, and The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.
Here are some of my favorite places in the city. Remember: New York is best explored on foot.
1. Tenement Museum
At a time when immigration is a hotly contested issue, the Tenement Museum explores its critical role in American history and culture. Located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the museum is housed in two historic tenements where some 15,000 immigrants from more than 20 countries made their homes between the 1860s and 2000. Today, restored apartments and retail shops along with costumed interpreters bring the buildings’ history – and the immigrants’ stories – to life.
2. Roosevelt House
After exploring the lives of humble immigrants, travel four miles uptown to the former home of New York nobility, the Roosevelt House. The home, at No 49 East 65th Street, was purchased for future US president Franklin Roosevelt and his bride Eleanor by Franklin’s domineering mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, who promptly moved into No 47 next door. Today the site offers guided tours on Saturdays at 10:00 AM, noon, and 2:00 PM.
3. The Campbell Apartment
Grand Central Station is a treasure unto itself, and tucked into an out-of-the-way corner is the venerable Campbell Apartment. Once the private office of railroad executive John W Campbell, the lavish space (including a stone fireplace, leaded glass windows and 25-foot ceilings) has more recently housed a stylish bar and lounge recalling an earlier era. The space has been undergoing a makeover since last year, and is set to reopen with all of its Jazz Age glory still intact.
4. Brooklyn Bridge Walkway
Completed in 1883, the majestic Brooklyn Bridge is both a National Historic Landmark and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. And while the bridge itself is justifiably famous, what’s less well known outside the US is that it contains a wonderful pedestrian-friendly walkway (actually a combination walkway/bicycle lane). Day or night (but especially at sunset), the views along the 1.2 mile, wood-planked walk are sublime. I rarely pass on an opportunity to take the stroll.
5. Stone Street
In the heart of the Financial District, Stone Street is a quaint, cobbled avenue dating back to the city’s New Amsterdam roots. Supposedly the first lane paved by Dutch settlers, the street today is closed to traffic and is instead open to the restaurants and taverns that line its flanks. In warmer months the eateries crowd the avenue with tables offering al fresco dining, giving the lane an inviting European feel.
6. Fraunces Tavern and Museum
Opened in 1762, Fraunces Tavern bore witness to America’s birth. During the Revolution, the British warship HMS Asia sent an 18-pound cannon ball through the tavern’s roof. In the war’s aftermath, the tavern was the site of George Washington’s celebrated farewell to his troops. And a week before their historic duel, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr both attended a meeting here. Today, the ground-floor tavern still hosts customers, with a museum dedicated to its history located above.
7. Bowling Green
New York City’s oldest park, Bowling Green’s rich history belies its modest size. It was purportedly here in 1626 that the Dutch purchased Manhattan from Native Americans. The site later served as a parade ground and cattle market. In 1776, a gilded lead statue of King George III was toppled by a mob, and melted down to make bullets for Colonial soldiers. The iron fence around the park survived, and in fact, survives today.
8. The High Line
In contrast to Bowling Green (New York’s oldest park), the High Line is one of Manhattan’s newest parks. A repurposed 1.5-mile-long elevated railway bed, the High Line is a linear green space/walkway running from the Meatpacking District through Chelsea. The park is modeled after a similar greenway in Paris, with the New York version neatly incorporating many of the wild plants that grew naturally along the disused rail bed before its conversion into a park.
9. African Burial Ground National Monument
In 1991 at a construction site in Lower Manhattan, human remains were discovered some 24 feet below ground level. It was later determined that the bodies (more than 400 were eventually unearthed) were of free and enslaved blacks who had been interred in the “Negros Burial Ground” referenced in a 1755 map. Today this National Park Service site is home to an outdoor memorial as well as an interactive visitor center explaining the burial ground’s significance.
10. New York Water Taxis
Manhattan is an island, and not surprisingly, a great way to experience it is from the water. $31 (£24) will get you an All-Day Access Pass on New York’s water taxis, offering you hop-on/hop-off service between four stops (three in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn). Refreshments (adult and otherwise) are available for purchase, top deck seating provides sun and sea breezes on fair days, and onboard guides offer entertaining narration.
Ken Burns has been making films for almost forty years, including several acclaimed historical documentaries. His films have been honoured with dozens of major awards, including fifteen Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards and two Oscar nominations. In September of 2008 Burns was honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Award. His next film, The Vietnam War, is a highly anticipated, ten-part, 18-hour documentary series scheduled to air this autumn. Burns is leading a five-day New York City tour with Tauck (0800 810 8020; tauck.co.uk/events).