Posted by: history591six | June 20, 2010

Reflecting on the New York EXPEDITION!


My dream come true!

I have just returned from the trip of a lifetime, and it is difficult to isolate a favorite day. Just when I think I’ve got it, my memory is triggered by something I read in my notes, a book or video I purchased to use in my classroom, reading one of colleague’s blog posts, or viewing a picture I, or someone else, took.

New York City was undoubtedly one of the most amazing experiences in my life. We were immersed in the City’s history and secrets thanks to thoughtful, knowledgeable, planning and experience. “Hats off “to you gentlemen: Dr. Matt Harris, Dr. Jonathan Rees, and Scott Whited, for sharing your abundant expertise and experience to arrange a phenomenal expedition (perfect choice of words) to inspire and teach teachers about the history of this great country. It has  been my privilege and  my honor to participate in these trips and learn from the best American history has to offer. Traveling with other teachers makes it even more special, because as a group, we have considerably more interest in American history than many of our families or friends; a lot of them participate to a certain degree, but they often politely reach their own saturation point well before us teachers. I am sincere when I say, “Thank you for this exceptional opportunity and for feeding my desire to learn and become a better teacher.” I used to say I wanted to go to New York City just so I could see the Statue of Liberty for myself. That was a personal, lie-long yearning of mine, and it was fulfilled. I still can’t believe it! That day has left an impression on me that I will never forget and will cherish for the rest of my days.

St. Paul’s Chapel had a major impact on me; I remember watching the second plane crash into the second tower of the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, before leaving for school.  And later hearing both towers had fallen before the school day was over. St. Paul’s Chapel is where to go pay your respects to many the unsung heroes and victims of that horrific day. It is humbling, reverent, and somehow comforting, at the same time. It is a place for all Americans to share in our disbelief, grief, and resolve to protect and preserve our precious freedom.

I totally appreciate that we used the subways so often and walked as much as we did. We got a true feel of New York City that you can’t get from the upper deck of a sightseeing bus. Hopefully, some of those people were just getting oriented to the City and will see and learn something new… up-close and personal.

 Learning more about FDR and Teddy Roosevelt was fantastic! The contrasts of their lives and their homes revealed so much about each man. I never knew that FDR’s mother was so much in control, and I became that much more intrigued with Eleanor Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt deserves much admiration and respect. I was touched when learning of his dedication to his family and that they were his first priority. He is a hero and a role model that will live on in my classroom.

The bus tour with Ken Jackson was great. It helped orient me to the City and dispelled the images I had of the Bronx and Harlem. I was pleasantly surprised at the Bronx especially, to see middle class homes had replaced the abandoned, burned out high rises that still lived in my mind. High Line Park showed the creativity driven by necessity in one group’s mind to use any available space to plant an unsuspecting oasis above the City on abandoned railroad tracks. Ingenious!

The walking tours with Ed O’Donnell were outstanding! His knowledge, personality, approachability, and images made for a very meaningful outdoor classroom. From Foley Square (also of “Law and Order” fame), to the “Canyon of Heroes” where ticker-tape parades are held, we got to experience soooooo much!

The Brooklyn Bridge was a magnificent sight to see! Having read The Great Bridge in preparation for our trip allowedme to more fully appreciate and marvel at this landmark that I would not have known otherwise. I was excited to see Central Park, but appreciate it even more after learning it was man-made and how it serves as “the lungs of the city.” It is truly a treasure in the midst of the pace and concrete of the City itself.

Ellis Island was definitely one of the best days. The “Hard Hard Tour” was most impressive. To walk in the halls, kitchen, laundry, wards,  and grounds of the unresfurbished buildings was such a privilege. With the help of  Jessica’s stories, I could picture the way things were 100 years ago. Authneticity and an informative, enthuiastic guide made this one of the most meaningful and eye-opening sessions yet! The resources we were given, were unexpected, and look awesome.

Looking back over our itinerary now, it means so much more as each entry represents a memory of insight, knowledge, shared experience, and a myriad of feelings. I can’t believe all of the ground we covered, literally and historically. I left The Museum of the City of New York with a new understanding of the impact of the car on our history and the lesson in urban planning. I don’t suppose there is anything resembling an urban planner that has ever crossed the threshold of the Pueblo West Metropolitan District.

The walking tour of the Lower East Side was one of the highlights of these two weeks. I often feel as though we have the inside track on what to see and where to go because of our goals as educators. We see things that a typical tourist would probably not even consider. The Tenement House Museum was incredible and it was difficult to imagine how many suffered in these unsanitary, crowded conditions. I wonder how many became totally disillusioned when this dangerous, depressing  place was the reality of their American Dream. The strong survive, and “if what doesn’t kill us, makes us strong,”  perhaps it is the spirit of the American people that has sustained so many and kept hope alive. Immigrants still come here in search of a better life. I want to again thank Paul for his personal profile of Vitaly. A young man that ran a little coffee and pastry business near the entrance to the Brooklyn Marriott is also a reminder of what motivates people. His name was Dariss (pronounced “Dress”). He had come from Morocco seven years earlier all alone. His disposition was always beyond sunny, and he started many commuters’ mornings with a sincere smile and compliments. Granted part may be attributed to his good sense as a businessman, but he seemed genuinely happy to be here and making a living. He didn’t know any English when he arrived, but he has become quite poetic in the compliments he pays his customers. I only wish I had asked him even more questions about his story. Here is an example of relativity….what many of us would consider a meager job by our standards, exhilarated this young man and he was proud and grateful for his life in America. He even “loaned” me $.0.50 one morning when I was short on cash!

The Erie Canal was also a highlight of this trip. It was so beautiful and relaxing to cruise along the canal. I was especially impressed that we got to experience the boat being raised and lowered 26 feet in the lock. I had a general idea how locks worked, but now I really “get it.”

The word “story” is the major part of the word “history.” And the stories are all about the people, the world they lived in, and the choices they made. What can ultimately be learned from history is invaluable and the more I learn, the more compassionate and passionate I become; compassionate for the individual stories and passionate about relaying these stories to my students. If more teachers had these opportunities and were willing to do the hard work necessary to prepare, participate, and reflect, the quality of education would undoubtedly improve. As teachers, we need to inspire our students to want to learn more, and our own experience and enthusiasm is a most effective way to do just that. Thanks to everyone who shared this awesome expedition!

“Brief” list of sights/activities (not all-inclusive)

FDR’s home, Teddy Roosevelt’s home, The Erie Canal, Harriet Tubman, William Seward, Fort Ticonderoga and Saratoga, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Metropolitan Museum of  Art, the Museum of Natural History, The African Burial Ground, St. Paul’s Chapel, the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, the Bronx, Harlem, Little Italy, Cooperstown including the Baseball Hall of Fame, Fenimore Art Museum and the Farmers’ Museum, Seneca Falls, two Broadway shows, Katz’s Deli, the Culinary Institute of America, Wall Street, Salty’s, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, the Museum of the City of New York, the New York Historical Society, Chinatown, the New York Stock Exchange, Federal Hall, and numerous miles on the bus, subways, and walking. Sheeesh!

New York Trivia:

  • There are shortages of public restrooms and trash cans in New York City
  • A Metro Pass is a necessity
  •  8 million people live in New York City which includes five boroughs  (13,000,000 in the metropolitan area)
  • Central Park is man-made and  serves as the “Lungs of the City”
  • 77% of New Yorkers do not own cars
  • Crime is down substantially over the past twenty years
  • St. Paul’s Chapel survived two major area fires in the past 200 years, and was right across the street from “Ground Zero,” and served as a refuge for body, mind, and spirit for first responders and volunteers
  •  George Washington attended services at St. Paul’s
  • The African Burial Ground is the only Northern slavery burial ground of its kind
  • Department stores were driven by the idea of marketing to the women of New York City….rather than have to go to several different stores to get outfitted for a special occasion, a woman could go from “department-to-department” and purchase the variety of items she might want or need (I guess I never really thought about that before)
  • Post 9/11  heightened security is evident; and I’m sure there’s more than meets the eye
  • It is possible to get around on the subways with a good map
  • Walk whenever, and wherever, you can
  • NYC has 1,000 schools, 1 million students, and 75, 000 teachers!
  • Streets were renamed after the end of the Revolutionary War to remove traces of British rule- i.e. Crown St. changed to Liberty St.
  •  and many, many, more!
Posted by: history591six | June 15, 2010

Fort Ticonderoga, Saratoga, and Salty’s

Today we traveled quite a while on the bus, our home away from home. It was a beautiful ride through the upstate New York countryside and one small town after another. I still am in awe of how green everything is in this part of the country. We picked up our guide for the day, Jim Hughto, in Halfmoon, named after Henry Hudson’s ship.

View from Fort Ticonderoga

Our first official stop was a battle field just outside Fort Ticonderoga. The fort was originally built by the French between 1754 and 1757 to protect water access and their trading routes from the British. The name comes from the Iroquois meaning “it is at the junction of two waterways.” The  river portage between Lakes Champlain and George was essential to trade routes in order to be able to avoid the rapids of the La Chute River and the fort served that purpose. In 1758, only 3,000-4,000 French soldiers were able to hold their own against 16,000 British troops. And then during the Revolutionary War, in May of 1775, the Green Mountain Boys other militia captured the fort in a surprise attack led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold. The Americans managed to hang onto control until June, 1777, when the British took the high ground and the Americans left the fort and areas nearby. Jim gave accounts of all of these battles and pointed out the specific spots of significance. This fort was the site of many important, strategic battles that I didn’t know much about until now. Jim contends that the fort was not the “Gibraltar of America ,”as it had outlived its usefulness as warfare changed.  The fort protected from naval attack, but to win, required coming out of the fort and keeping control of the land. There is something very special about visiting battlefields and realizing the sacrifice and courage of those who believed enough their own country’s values to risk their lives to save their way of life. It is humbling and inspirational. We need to protect our country in order to preserve the rights we have taken for granted. This is a beautiful part of upstate New York, and I am so glad this was included our itinerary.

We boarded the bus for Saratoga and drove through several small towns. Jim pointed out where he was when he learned that President Kennedy had been assassinated; I, too, remember it vividly, and Jim and I are about the same age.

Saratoga was the turning point for the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War. After the Patriot’s victory, France decided to join the Americans. I have yet to teach this, so I will need to study more about this site and will use this new information in my classroom.

Dinner at Salty’s was the absolute best! Grrrreat food and lots of it. We continued to marvel as the plates were being served. This was a fine way to wrap-up our expedition.

Seafood is served!

Seneca Falls, New York, is home to the first convention for women’s rights held in July of 1848. The idea was hatched across the Atlantic Ocean when several women had traveled there to attend the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. The women were told they were not allowed to attend. Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison were among the men who stood up for the women, and a compromise was reached where they were granted access to the meeting, but not able to participate. They also had to sit only in the back.

This got a few of the women talking about how their own lives were similar to slaves in that truly had no rights either. Women were not allowed to own property, attend college, or vote. It took over fifty more years, but women eventually were granted more rights to make them more equal.

One thing I found most interesting was how this network of social reformers in upstate New York worked together for change. Several of the prominent players were Quakers, and their religion was already structured in such a way that women were considered equal to men in the eyes of God. Though Quakers were not ones to get involved in political issues, they played a major role in the fight for equality for women and the freedom of slaves. Many of them opened their homes to runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad in spite of the risks to themselves.

William Seward, governor of New York, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State under Lincoln and Johnson, was also involved in the Underground Railroad and hid slaves in his basement. His wife was friends with Harriet Tubman and he offered her some property when she escaped from slavery in Maryland. She eventually paid him back.

Harriet Tubman was one of the most fascinating, determined, and brave individuals of the time period. She was married, but she and her husband each had different owners. He eventually got his freedom because his mother bought it. When Harriet was talking about running away, at first he did not share her sentiments and seemed content with their lot in life. When Harriet refused to hold another slave while her master beat him, he got angry threw a heavy piece of iron and hit her in the back of her head. She ran away and then came back, only to hear that her master was planning on selling her a few days later.

So she left on her errands one day and did not return. She settled in Philadelphia and worked as a maid in hotels, and then moved to Canada, and finally settled in the Auburn area where she continued to serve others as she cared for the elderly.  She  had made multiple trips back to Maryland to rescue various family members, risking her life over nineteen times to bring others to freedom.

The trip down the Erie Canal on the Sam Patch was fantastic! The Sam Patch is a replica of a packet boat which only carried passengers along the canal. Originally, the canal was 363 miles long, forty feet wide and four feet deep. When it opened in 1825, it reduced the cost of shipping 90-95% and helped NYC become the center of commerce for the world. Actually experiencing being in one of the locks when the boat was raised and lowered was amazing! I had a concept of how locks worked, but now it is much more real. Our boat was raised and lowered twenty-six feet in about 5-6 minutes.

The "Sam Patch" packet boat

I plan to use the story of Harriet Tubman in my classroom and her example of bravery and caring for others enough to repeatedly risk her own life as part of character education. The Erie Canal is an integral part of New York’s rise to prominence and prosperity. Even though DeWitt Clinton was thought to be crazy for suggesting the canal in the first place (Clinton’s Folly), his vision teaches that ideas that are brilliant aren’t always well-received in the beginning. It often takes hindsight to appreciate the decisions and choices people make and how they impact others’ lives.

Gates of the lock closing

Rising to the top of the lock

The area surrounding Cooperstown is just gorgeous: rolling tree-covered hills, open meadows, beautiful flowers and a picturesque lake. The Baseball Hall of Fame was put here because someone came up with a very convincing story of how baseball started there; that has since been disproven.

I had never really considered that the evolution of baseball mirrors what was going on in American history. I am looking forward to more closely examining the lesson plans we were told about. Sports hook many kids, so this may be an effective way to real in students initially, and connect the parallels to our social history: race relations, labor movement, women’s rights. It’s all right there.

I enjoyed learning more about Babe Ruth. I had read a biography about him when I was a kid, but now I respect him even more. Besides being an extremely gifted athlete, he also had a heart of gold when it came to kids. He encouraged them to keep following their dreams and always took time to sign autographs and talk to them. True heroes leave a legacy worth mimicking.

Fenimore Art Museum was a nice surprise. I especially enjoyed looking at the fashions and their reflection of what was going on at the time. I had never seen dresses that were designed to include reference to the Civil War. The details exhibited sleeves, shoulders, and waistlines that resembled military uniforms. Quite interesting!

The Magnum Photographs collection was spectacular and so moving. The photos were all black and white, which added to their ability to capture an audience. I realize now that black and white images are able to show contrast more obviously. Perhaps they capture the human condition more accurately as we are not distracted by various colors and they are more raw and realistic in that form. Wow!

We all rode a carousel at Farmer’s Museum which was great fun! I got as far as the pharmacy in the village. I was captivated watching the pharmacist make ginger pills that were most commonly used for upset stomachs. The process was very interesting to watch, and the pharmacist showed us the tools he had made himself. He used directions from a book that was published in the 1840s as his guide.

Much of what I learned today could be used in the classroom: parallels to history through baseball, the raw power of black and white photos, and how medicine has evolved over time. Today was awesome and one I didn’t expect.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Wow! What a contrast to visit Sagamore Hill after over a week in New York City! Sagamore Hill was Teddy Roosevelt’s family home throughout his adult life and where he raised his family. It also served as the Summer White House during his Presidency, and welcomed dignitaries from all over the world. Roosevelt had it built and it always remained in the family, so you get a more authentic experience of their home and being able to imagine them in it- Teddy, his wife, Edith, and their six children. The grounds are beautiful and serene: rolling hills, impressive trees, and wide, open spaces. I really appreciated being there today and strolling through the park-like setting.
I didn’t really know too much about our twenty-sixth president, but I came away with a new appreciation and admiration for him today. He believed we all had a duty as citizens to protect our communities and each other, and he led by example. His family was wealthy, but he learned to be disciplined and expected the same from his family and friends. There was a rule that was strictly enforced: “read a book every day.” Everyone was expected to be prepared to ask five questions to contribute to the dinner conversation, or eat with the servants in their quarters an hour after the family dinner. This was also expected of all guests. And if one was late for dinner the same consequences applied. To think some of my students complained about reading for only twenty minutes five days per week!
I was impressed with Roosevelt’s integrity and how he stood up for things he believed in. He demonstrated great courage and commitment whether on the battlefield, reforming workers’ rights or busting trusts. TR was a diplomat, conservationist, writer, politician, and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

However, he was most proud of his home and his role as husband and father; he believed that was what really counted in life. His children remembered him as being a lot of fun and that Edith sometimes said she had six children counting him. His daughter, Alice, said “he always wanted to the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.” At any rate, I think he was one of the most interesting men in our country’s history, and I am glad that I was introduced to him. He sounds worthy of ranking up there with the likes of Lincoln and Franklin in my personal list of all-time favorite, influential Americans.
Teddy Roosevelt would be an excellent biography to read to students. That would be a great hook when it comes to character education. His rise above his physical obstacles to live his life to the fullest is admirable and deserves respect, whether one agrees with his ideas with some of his policies, or not. Because he made the choices he did in his life and truly cared about other people and this country, he offers hope for many. Young students love a good story, and learning about real people and their challenges and ultimate successes, has been one of the most powerful tools I have used. Lessons in history from life are one of the greatest gifts I have been able to offer my students and myself.

Today was off on the subway to go the New York Historical Society. Surprisingly, historical societies have turned out to be one of my favorite events on these trips. The Massachusetts Historical Society experience made a long lasting impression on me. Today was no exception, although it was disappointed that much of the building was not accessible due to renovations.  We learned how New York City was deeply divided over the issue of slavery and, how the financial interests of some, resented the social reformers that were also a visible, viable network of Abolitionists and Women’s Rights advocates. I was amazed that New York made $0.48 on every dollar of the cotton trade profits by merely being the middlemen. They produced nothing, manufactured very little, and imported other goods for profit on their return voyages. The bottom line is too often money; some became too callous or overlooked the conditions of the many they exploited for personal profit. Merchants had a lot to lose if cotton was not available.

We were given an amazing resource book- that was bittersweet. It was obviously a wealth of great information including audio clips and short videos. On the other hand, a few of us realized we would have to carry these monster binders around the city all afternoon. Plus it was our last night in New York City, and over a dozen teachers were going to the Yankees game that night and there were as many plans as possible last destinations for the last Hurrah!

We made it through the day and nearly everyone went back to Brooklyn to regroup and drop off the truly awesome resource we received. Dana, Sherri, and I saw the Broadway show, “Billy Elliott.” Two of the seats were in the second row in the orchestra, and the other seat was excellent as well. We rotated seats at intermission and thoroughly enjoyed the show! I even caught the ball that was shot from the cannon during the performance. Is that equivalent to catching a ball in the stands for a baseball fan?                                                              

Two more sights before the night was over…..Grand Central Station and the Empire State Building! Thank you, Sherri and Dana, for making the trek with me and getting us all safely back to to the hotel very late.

The museum was wonderful with many different artifacts, statues, paintings, furniture, sculptures. Our planned activities were informal and meaningful, but cut our time short to view the museum itself. Some of us were disappointed about that. Then we were off for a quick lunch at the highly recommended “Shake Shack.” The food was tasty and very reasonably priced by New York standards. The Museum of Natural History was massive, and awesome with  a greater variety of exhibits than I ever imagined. I especially enjoyed the Oceans exhibit that had a life-sized whale suspended from the ceiling. Wow! The enormity was staggering and humbling.

It will be important to teach students how a person’s position and stature in life often dictated their position on various subjects such as slavery. Having them find reasons why people made the choices they did can be a powerful lesson in history and the course it takes based on individual’s choices in their own lives. People do not operate in vacuums as some would like to think; some merely dismiss or justify their actions. One’s actions often affect many- like throwing a pebble in a pond…there is a ripple effect. The same scenario can be looked at through the eyes of slaves, slave catchers, masters, police, Quakers, Abolitionists, unemployed, politicians, inventors, soldiers etc.

Posted by: history591six | June 10, 2010

Ellis Island, The Statue of Liberty, and Many Dreams Come True!

Ellis Island was an especially meaningful experience. Thank goodness for the Ellis Island Institute  and the work they have done to preserve and restore this time capsule of immigration. I had seen pictures of the Great Hall, weary immigrants eating in mass, and aerial views of the complex; now I know what many of those buildings were used for. The “hard hat” tour of the hospital buildings, laundry, and kitchen were a privilege I will never forget!

Jessica, our guide for the day, was enthusiastic and so knowledgeable. Her descriptions of the processing and inspections were so vivid and enlightening, I learned so much. I thought most people spent days on Ellis Island, though I never gave much thought as to why or where. I was surprised to learn that most arrivals only spent about three-and-a-half hours being processed. Everyone was subject to legal and medical inspections. These were set up not only for the protection of the general population and the spread of disease, but also to protect the immigrants from being illegally recruited as indentured servants.

The “hands-on” activity was outstanding, as we had to use the artifacts in our group’s bag to figure out what job that person might have had on the island. It was very interesting to learn that people’s clothing was marked with a code in white chalk to make them easily identifiable for suspected ailments. And the best was yet to come!

We all donned hard hats and Jessica led us through some of the buildings that are waiting for their turn to be restored to their original state.  It was like stepping into a time warp and we were able to imagine what things were like when the buildings were in use. The hospital was enormous and was staffed by the “cream of the crop” of top doctors, surgeons, and other medical personnel. Ellis Island was actually a teaching hospital that offered invaluable experience to medical students as they checked each new arrival for disease, mental state, and physical disabilities. Going on this part of the tour was one of the unexpected surprises I knew would make traveling on this grant so special, because viewing the city from the perspective of an educator and the itinerary that was set for us offered so many opportunities that would be missed by a typical tourist. This “hard hat” tour was one of such things as it is not accessible to the general public. Outstanding! Another unexpected surprise was the jump drive loaded with primary sources that will definitely be used in my classroom. I appreciate benefitting from the experience and knowledge of our professors, and we’re only halfway through this odyssey.

I have to say that the Statue of Liberty was the landmark I have longed to see since I was a very little girl. I saw her in encyclopedias and she captured my heart from the start. In my younger “performing days,” I was draped in robes and held a torch high as I proudly sang (solo, don’t laugh) “God Bless America” at North Glade Elementary School near Miami, Florida; the seed of patriotism was planted. I don’t believe I really understood Lady Liberty’s historical significance at that time, but she got my attention long ago and has always been the main reason I wanted to go to New York. This was truly a lifelong dream fulfilled! To say she symbolizes freedom is to understate her magnificence. Imagining putting myself in the place of an immigrant, wearily arriving in New York Harbor, intensifies the feelings even more…..after weeks of traveling in tight quarters and having left nearly everything familiar behind, she rises on the horizon and you know  you finally made it. The mix of emotions would flood your being…relief, anxiousness, anticipation, and above all, hope.

I got a bit carried away with taking pictures from every angle I saw, and the tears that rolled down my cheeks were a combination of reverence, pride, awe, and gratitude…..for what she represents to so many, and to me personally. This was my dream come true!

My classroom will come alive with immigration and patriotism! The images of Ellis Island families and the children are thought-provoking. I purchased the video “Island of Hope, Island of Tears” which I will use as an introduction and review again at the end of the unit. This will be a way for students to reflect on what life was like for immigrant kids compared to their own. I will also incorporate the story of the Statue of Liberty, enhanced by own personal experience.

Another lesson is the power of learning and where it can take you. I can tell them of my personal interest in the Statue of Liberty from a young age, and though it took a while, my dream was realized because I am a teacher and still love to learn!

I couldn't be more proud....and grateful!

Posted by: history591six | June 9, 2010

Lower East Side, Tenement Museum, Katz’s Deli

Today was a continuation of our walking tour with Ed O’Donnell; this time our destination was the Lower East Side. This area was often where new immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Africa,  and Italy lived in the most awful conditions. These were the slums of New York – overly crowded, no running water, sunlight, indoor plumbing, or electricity.

In 1650, with only 500 people inhabiting New Amsterdam, eighteen different languages were being spoken, and that melting pot has remained. Ed told us that most ethnic neighborhoods lasted only two to three decades, because the goal was to get out! What was once Little Italy, is now a part of Chinatown. Asians have maintained a continued influx of immigrants which has sustained their ethnic neighborhoods and they now number over 500,000 in New York City. The open markets were a sight to behold, with all of the imported clothing, purse, jewelry and assorted foods. The aroma of spices to the unquestionable odor of assorted fish permeated the area. Not much English spoken here, as they have are a fully self-contained community.

Katz’s Deli of “When Harry Met Sally” fame and many other movies was our venue for lunch. The food was delicious and the atmosphere bustling. I could only eat half of my sandwich so I took it to the counter where they wrapped it for you. After a bit of friendly bantering with the young man at the counter, I got to meet the owner, have my picture taken with him (just like the celebrities, though, sadly, mine will not be on the wall), and with the guy that got that all in motion. It was great fun!

Crocheted bicycle cover!

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum revealed the squalor these people endured. It was shocking and very sad. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures, but many of us purchased the Jacob Riis book, How the Other Half Lives, which was first published in 1890. Riis used the power of photographs to expose the deplorable predicaments of those less fortunate and at the mercy of greedy, exploitive landlords who benefitted from their relationships with crooked politicians. Riis had experienced this side of life in New York himself for nearly four years when he first came to America from Denmark in 1921. Eventually he got hired as a police reporter for the New York Tribune which was on Mulberry Street (no affiliation with Dr. Seuss) in the Lower East Side. He thought much of this area was” not fit for Christian men and women, let alone innocent children, to live in…”  Crime, starvation, and filthy, crowded conditions motivated Riis to become one of the first leaders for social reform.

Our tour of the Tenement House Museum was eye-opening. You can read and look at pictures all day, but to actually stand inside one of these tiny apartments and imagine living with possibly eleven or twelve other people in approximately 325 square feet, left me dumbfounded, and I had great sympathy for those poor people. We also saw an apartment where a family had set up their own dressmaking “factory.” They each had specific jobs in their mini assembly line and worked late into the night by kerosene lantern to eke out an existence. When the purchasers of their garments realized they might contract contagious diseases from the conditions in the tenements, some were inspired to change things, once it affected them personally.

I think it would be meaningful for students to measure the size of these tenement apartments and then physically have students step into the area. Can you imagine living with ten or eleven people in this sized space? Where would you play? How would you sleep? What if you had more people paying to sleep in your apartment because they had none of their own? How would you stay clean? What if you had to work, rather than go to school? Where is the bathroom?

I will also show them images of the Lower East Side and read accounts from children who lived in these conditions. Time for primary and secondary source examination and analysis.

Posted by: history591six | June 8, 2010

Walking Tour Day 2: The Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park


This morning we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. What an amazing experience, especially since we read McCullough’s book. Ed pointed out where Washington Roebling and his wife were able to overlook the construction site. He would give the orders and Emily would deliver them to the workers. The fact that men actually listened to a woman during this time in history is remarkable. Ed said that the use of steel in the 19th century was equivalent to the silicon chip of the 20th century. Of all the bridges that have been built in the New York City area, the Brooklyn Bridge is still the most cost-effective in terms of maintenance and upkeep. They just don’t build them like they used to! The views from the bridge were awesome; I was just sorry we couldn’t see the top of the spire of Trinity Church, which was the only other landmark that was anywhere near as tall when the bridge was constructed. There’s nothing like seeing things up close and personal. The Brooklyn Bridge experience has been one of the highlights so far.  Amazingly, we all made it across without being run over by the bicyclists that came speeding by us frequently! This is one of those times when I am glad for the work we do prior to going on these trips. Having the background knowledge helps me to appreciate the marvel of this bridge in its time and now.

The African American Burial Ground Museum is a story that most tourists probably wouldn’t be aware of. When constructing a new federal building in the 1990’s, the remains of hundreds of Africans were found. One estimate said there were possibly upwards of 20,000 buried there. Construction was halted and a huge controversy developed. The contractor wanted to get the job done and the African-American community was appalled and outraged. A compromise was reached when it was decided that testing would be done to determine the bones’ age, sex, etc., and as many details as possible, and then the remains would be re-interred and a memorial placed upon the property. This northern slavery ground is the only one of its kind and revealed much about slavery in the north. It was not just a “peculiar institution” confined to the south.

Central Park, the “lungs of the city” was breathtakingly beautiful. It is definitely a world away from the streets of Manhattan, and no wonder it is popular with residents and tourists alike. The Northeast is quite the contrast to our arid Southwest; everything is so lush and green with vibrant flowers because of all the moisture. We have been lucky with the weather- low humidity- YES!

Ed has consistently shown us various images throughout our walking tours, which is a constant reminder of their power. Central Park is a man-made paradise available to all; he showed us images of the proposed lay-out of the park and the barren, desolate, land it once was- littered with makeshifts shacks that had been homes for the poor. The comparison was remarkable.

We saw numerous nannies (somehow you could just “tell” with some of them), skateboarders, people rollerblading, bicycling, horse-drawn carriages, young lovers, whole families, people trying to master rowing a boat, and several weddings and/or wedding picture shoots. Marie speculated that perhaps Tuesday was a lucky day to get married in some Asian cultures. A young woman who apparently aspired to be a model, was being followed by a young photographer, and they stopped in various spots, hoping to snap the picture that could change her life. My favorite part of the park was the part that was in a more natural state – winding paths that led in different directions, up and down hills and forked numerous times. We waited for a few minutes for Brent and Jed who had been left behind, and had to guess which way the rest of our group had gone as the area is so thickly wooded and quiet, there was no trace of their direction.

When I see all of the sightseeing buses, I wonder how many tourists only experience New York City from the upper deck of a bus as the driver merely points out various famous sites. I probably have mentioned it before, but I knew coming on this trip with Matt and Jonathan as our guides, and Scott taking care of us, I would experience New York City in a way I would not know how to schedule on my own. Immersing ourselves in the history and cultures of New York has been beyond my dreams, and one I will never forget. My teaching style has always been one of enthusiasm, but thanks to these trips, I have gained added knowledge and confidence that will definitely benefit my students for years to come.

6/7/10  The best way to experience New York City is on foot, and today we began doing just that. Our tour guide was the engaging and personable, Ed O’Donnell. He has lived in NYC for the past fourteen years and began doing walking tours in 1991 while doing his graduate work in history. We all boarded the subway and took the short ride to lower Manhattan. Our first stop was Foley Square where city, state and federal government buildings surround the Square (now will be familiar sights when watching Law and Order). We found out that you may no longer take pictures of an entrance to a Federal building since 9/11, and they notice. Karin was stopped and had to show them her pictures; she was actually taking pictures of some of the artistic features near the doors, and not the entrance itself. Once security had reviewed her pictures, they let her go and she passed the word to the rest of us. Increased security is a post 9/11 by- product and some of the features are not obvious to the casual passersby Huge, heavy planters are actually in place to keep potential destructive vehicles at bay.

St. Paul’s Chapel was a most moving experience. This little chapel has survived two major fires in the last 200 years, and amazingly though it sits across the street from Ground Zero, it also survived that attack and became a place of refuge for firemen and other rescue workers. The chapel provided food, a place to sleep, and comfort for those helping with the catastrophe. The atmosphere is one of reverence, and it is very humbling to see the pews where the firemen actually slept, and the examples of support that came in from around the world. The drawings children had created and their words of comfort brought tears to my eyes. From then on, I could never look at the skyline of lower Manhattan without noticing where the Twin Towers once stood.

We visited Federal Hall National Monument where George Washington took his first oath of office and the first U.S. congress met, and walked past the New York Stock Exchange from where the financial pulse of America is reported each day on the news. Heightened security is very obvious in this area. In front of each building, there are posts, some decorative and some not, placed to keep a car bomber from crashing into a building. These posts actually can be lowered into the ground to allow vehicles with authorized clearance to pass through. At one point on our tour, we heard rumblings of a truck. The next moment, the posts near where we were standing disappeared, a truck came up from a parking garage and was allowed to exit, and the posts immediately returned to their upright position. Fascinating!

The area around Wall Street was noticeably cleaner than any other area of the city that we saw, and this included the subway station nearby. We grabbed a quick lunch at McDonalds and were serenaded by a singer playing a grand piano in the loft above us. Only in New York!

I bought a book called The Little Chapel That Stood to help explain 9/11 to younger students. The fact that St. Paul’s Chapel was still there to be of service is a miracle in and of itself. This will be of great use in my classroom, and I also got some pictures of the NYC skyline, pre- and post-9/11. The pictures will say a lot to young students about that horrific day in our recent history.

Ed is a fountain of information and he explained a lot about the impact of cast iron on the city’s ability to build upward. The competition between architects and owners to build the tallest building was on and skyscrapers became “money-making machines.”

Walking around the city is the way to go whenever possible. The sights, sounds, and flavors surround you: sounds of traffic, honking horns, sirens, a multitude of skin colors, dress, and languages, various aromas- pleasant and not-so-pleasant, high-end stores to street vendors, and the pace of New York City.

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