Down in the Battery

New York City: Battery park monumentWhen you go downtown to the Battery park in New York, you are reminded quite strongly that the history of the US is a history of immigration. At the entrance to the park is a memorial to the purchase of Manhattan from the local tribes by the Dutch. As far as we know, the ancestors of the tribes arrived in the land now called the Americas during a previous ice age, and spread over the continents in the same time that humans took to spread over the old world.

As you pass that monument you see a large expanse of grass and a circular structure behind it (see the featured photo). I think that beautifully green patch of grass was where Fort Amsterdam, and later Fort George, stood since 1626. New York City: Bowling Green The departure of the last British soldiers, and their freed slaves, is commemorated in the small plaque above the statue of the charging bull in Bowling Green. If you look carefully along the top edge of the photo here, you will see a plaque which reads Evacuation Day. After Britain lost the Americas to the new settlers, the fort, and the battery which gave its name to the park, was demolished.

The circular building, Clinton Castle, was erected in 1811. The army moved out of it in a few years, and leased it to the city. Jenny Lind, another immigrant, gave her first concert in this expanse of green in 1850. From 1855 to 1892, Castle Clinton was the place where immigrants landed and were processed. I did not enter the castle. I was distracted by a monumental sculptural group near it called The Immigrants (photo below). The sculpture by Luis Sanguino commemorates this period of history.

New York City: The Immigrants, a sculptural group

After this, the Ellis Island facility was started. From the pier here you can see the statue by Bertholdi, possibly the most famous statue in today’s world, which looms over the entrance to the harbour. The connection of the Statue of Liberty and immigration is so strong that it serves all over the world as the symbol of the freedom of human movement. I took a long shot of this statue, and then turned to leave through the East Coast Memorial.

New York City: East Coast Memorial

This is a memorial to the US soldiers who died in the West Atlantic during the second world war. I walked up the central aisle of the memorial, with four tall granite slabs on each side with the names of soldiers engraved on them, past the bronze statue of an eagle, and turned to take a last shot of the harbour through which waves of immigrants once arrived.

The Manhattan Purchase

New York City: Battery park monument New York City: Battery park monument

The only contemporary record of the so-called Manhattan Purchase are the following lines from a letter written by Peter Schagen of the Dutch West Indies Company to Dutch government and received on 7 November, 1626: “They have purchased the Island Manhattes from the Indians for the value of 60 guilders. It is 11,000 morgens in size.” Everything else is a story or an attempt at reconstruction.

I saw examples of such attempts in the memorial near the entrance to Battery Park from Broadway, photos of which you see above. Dutch is close enough to German and English that one can puzzle out the meaning of the text (or you can type it into Google translate). The date mentioned for the purchase requires no translation. However, this is speculation, since there is no contemporary record of the date on which the sale was made. I made a quick attempt to fact check the image on the monument, and the clothes shown seem to be accurate enough to be of the period. The coat of arms with beavers and barrels is an anachronism, since this was used by the city of New York much after the purchase.

The area was inhabited by the American people who called themselves Lenni Lenape (and were called Delaware Indians later by settlers). I was intrigued by what the tribe would do with 60 Guilders. They could only use the money to buy things from the Dutch. So eventually the trade must have been goods for land. The later purchase of Staten Island for the same amount of money records that this was the value of tools given in exchange for land. Perhaps it was the same for Manhattan.

There have been learned papers about land-use customs and laws among the Lenni Lenape, and their notions of trade. These constrain our imagination, but it is hard from a layman’s perspective today to understand the calculation which would have resulted in land sales of this kind. Perhaps this is a subject waiting for its definitive popular history book.

Squirrels of New York

Squirrels shut down NASDAQ in 1987 and 1994. One of them became a squatter in Bloomberg Tower even before it was completed. Even the occupation in Zuccotti Park seems to have been directed by one. You would think that New York City would have a secret squad assigned to track and detain squirrels who could pose a danger to the city again. This seemed to be sadly lacking.

In order to flush these terrors from their hiding, I stalked through Battery Park, camera in hand, and found a chestnut coated one hanging on to a tree. It was bold, and held its place even as I extended a lens at it. There was little I could do except record it and report it to the public at large. That’s the pesky creature in the featured photo.

New York City: squirrel in City Hall Park

The Sciuridae family have their network. As I roamed City Hall Park later in the day, looking for the black squirrels which are supposed to have taken over the park, I saw the one (the photo above). It sat there bold as brass as I took photos. I noticed that there was a little chestnut colouring on its largely grey coat? Was this a chestnut, or a black? It was a master of disguise. I couldn’t decide one way or another. It had chosen its colour to cause maximum disruption. But I still had my camera, so that I could warn the public. Watch out for the one in the photo above.

The City’s department of Parks and Recreation (notice that: PR!) is clever enough not to fall for the artifice of these masters of disguise. They note blandly that all squirrels of New York are Eastern Grey Squirrels, also known as Sciurus carolinensis. Maybe these guys are good, maybe they manage to track the menaces, and I just did not see them doing their job in secret.