The Central Park Lake is a 20-acre man-made lake incorporating an existing water body but enlarged for Olmsted and Vaux’s design. In the winter of 1858, after only six months of work on Central Park, the Lake had its first season of ice-skating. The still photo above is from a 1900 movie. While skating is now prohibited on the Lake, there are two formal skating rinks in the Park. Rowboats can also be rented at the boathouse.
In 1862, Walt Whitman, resident of Brooklyn Heights wrote the following:
“Why then should not Brooklyn, in the experience of persons now living, become a city of a great million inhabitants? We have no doubt it will. We can not go over the list and description of our public institutions in this paper, although we intend to do so one of these days. We have not, in a modern city like Brooklyn, such marked specimens of magnificent architecture as the ancient or mediaeval cities presented, and many of whose ruins yet remain. For our architectural greatness consists in the hundreds and thousands of superb private dwellings, for the comfort and luxury of the great body of middle class people–a kind of architecture unknown until comparatively late times, and no where known to such an extent as in Brooklyn, and the other first class cities of the New World.”
Whitman was correct about the “great million inhabitants” that Brooklyn would achieve and the “greatness” of the architecture. See the houses he is referring to on the Brooklyn Revolution (aka Best of Brooklyn Tour)
On the Brooklyn Revolution walking tour, highlighting some of the best that Brooklyn has to offer, one of the most popular sites is the former home of Truman Capote, where he worked on two of his greatest works: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood.” The house is on 70 Willow Street. From 1955-1965, Capote rented space on the basement level from Oliver Smith, the famed Tony Award-winning Broadway scenic designer. George Plimpton, who was a visitor, wrote that “when friends came to call, [Capote] often took them on a tour of the entire house (when Smith was not at home) and said it was his house, all his, and that he had restored and decorated every room.” In February 1959, Capote penned “Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir” for “Holiday” travel magazine in which he begins:
“I live in Brooklyn. By choice. Those ignorant of its allures are entitled to wonder why.”
The entire article and photos taken at the time by David Attie of Capote, the house and the neighborhood are available in the book: “Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir, with the Lost Photographs of David Attie.”
In George Washington’s era, a lock of hair was an ultimate keepsake. Washington’s hair seems to be in a lot of places, even three Topps baseball trading card packs! Recently, it was found in a 1793 book that belonged to Phillip Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law. Even more recently, in a Leland’s auction, 5.31-inch locks of his hair were attached to a March 20, 1871 letter from Secretary of State, James Alexander Hamilton (Alexander Hamilton’s third son) to Eleanor G. Collins, in “respect and regard.” The locks were given to James by his mother, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton. The starting bid was $2,500, and the locks fetched $35,763.60 when the auction was completed.
In 1754, after the Battle of the Great Meadows in the French & Indian War, a 22-year-old George Washington wrote to his younger brother John Augustine a letter and added this quote at the end:
“I fortunately escaped without a wound, tho’ the right Wing where I stood was exposed to & received all the Enemy’s fire and was the part where the man was killed & the rest wounded. I can with truth assure you, I heard Bulletts whistle and believe me there was something charming in the sound.”
On the Brooklyn walking tour, you will see the great Plymouth Church originally lead by the “most famous man in the world” Henry Ward Beecher. In 1860, Beecher, and ardent abolitionist (whose sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe, was the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”) invited the relatively unknown Abraham Lincoln to speak at the church. Lincoln accepted the $200 invitation and attended services there, but because of the large demand, gave his “Right Makes Might” speech in the Cooper Union in (what is now) the East Village instead. The pew in which Lincoln sat in the Plymouth Church is marked with a plaque which is in the photo here.
While exploring the Revolutionary War/War of 1812 forts on the Secret Places of Central Park tour you’ll come upon a fortification which includes a genuine British cannon from the Revolutionary War. Salvaged from the H.M.S. Hussar after shipwrecking off the East River in 1780, it was eventually donated to Central Park. After being put into storage for a number of years, the Central Park Conservancy, in their plans to restore the Revolutionary War/War of 1812 fortifications, planned to put the artillery piece back on display. While restoring it in 2013, they found a cannonball, wadding, and frighteningly enough, over a pound of gunpowder, making this, in theory, a still-loaded cannon since 1780. The Bomb Squad were called to remove the explosive material, and eventually, it was put back on display for you to see!
Truly, much of the credit for the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge under the stewardship of Washington Roebling, goes to his wife Emily Roebling. After his illness caused by “caisson disease” or what we now know as the bends or decompression sickness and his inability to visit the bridge, Emily learned all that she needed about bridge construction and engineering to serve as Washington’s liaison with the assistant engineers on-site. She explained Washington’s often complex directives and answered questions that they had. In 1882, the year before the bridge was completed, Emily successfully defended her husband to the board of directors and politicians who wanted to strip him of his title as Chief Engineer.
There is a plaque on the Brooklyn tower of the Brooklyn Bridge dedicated to the memory of Emily Roebling “whose faith and courage helped her stricken husband…complete the construction of this bridge…Back of every great work we can find the self-sacrificing devotion of a woman”
Washington Roebling wrote: I thought I would succumb, but I had a strong tower to lean upon, my wife, a woman of infinite tact and wisest counsel.
August 21, 1790
While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.
The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.
If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.
The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.
Alexander Hamilton, aide-de-camp to George Washington, met up with the eligible Elizabeth Schuyler in Morristown, NJ in 1780 in the midst of the turbulent Revolutionary War. Hamilton’s love affliction and impatience with their separation manifests itself in this very personal August 8, 1780 letter. He would go on to marry her on December 14, 1780 in Albany.
Immediately after dinner, I stole from a crowd of company to a solitary walk to be at leisure to think of you, and I have just returned to tell you by an express this moment going off that I have been doing so. You are certainly a little sorceress and have bewitched me, for you have made me disrelish every thing that used to please me, and have rendered me as restless and unsatisfied with all about me, as if I was the inhabitant of another world, and had nothing in common with this. I must in spite of myself become an inconstant to detach myself from you, for as it now stands I love you more than I ought—more than is consistent with my peace. A new mistress is supposed to be the best cure for an excessive attachment to an old— if I was convinced of the success of the scheme, I would be tempted to try it— for though it is the pride of my heart to love you it is the torment of it to love you so much, separated as we now are. But I am afraid, I should only go in quest of disquiet, that would make me return to you with redoubled tenderness. You gain by every comparison I make and the more I contrast you with others the more amiable you appear. But why do you not write to me oftener? It is again an age since I have heard from you. I write you at least three letters for your one, though I am immersed in public business and you have nothing to do but to think of me. When I come to Albany, I shall find means to take satisfaction for your neglect. You recollect the mode I threatened to punish you in for all your delinquencies.
I wrote you a long letter by your father. I suppose you will wait his return before you write. If you do I shall chide you severely and if you do not write me a very long and fond one by him, I shall not forgive you at all. I have written you a short letter since that.
We are now at Dobbes ferry.
I would go on but the General summons me to ride.
Adieu My Dear lovely amiable girl. Heaven preserve you and shower its choicest blessings upon you. Love me I conjure you.
Featured painting of Elizabeth Schulyer Hamilton by Ralph Earl, 1787