Kenneth Setzer

Vestiges — Ancient and Otherwise — in New York City

I recently returned from a long weekend in NYC. I hadn’t been back since 2008, and as always it has changed a lot. A bit cleaner and seemingly safer; consequently a little less interesting, though more interesting than I found it in 2008. There are some more independent shops, and the street fairs are always excellent. The west side piers, for so long a dangerous area known for anonymous amorous hook ups, has been cleaned up while still retaining a lot of its charm. I saw some fascinating things I never in my life thought I’d see in New York:

Pugnacious crab on the West Side

This guys was actually CRABBING in Manhattan! Normally you would never, ever catch & eat your food in Manhattan (referred to as “The City” by NYers). I didn’t even think there was anything much alive in the waters around the City (the Hudson River is what’s in this image). This man hauled up a little net in which he had placed a fish head as bait. He snagged a blue crab and I noticed him untangling it from the net. He then tossed it into a cooler with, I assume, others. Off to the side were people playing soccer, and others picnicking on the grass. UNHEARD OF, except for possibly in Central Park on a Sunday. It was an almost bucolic experience.

There’s another vestige of the past I only read about after leaving New York. Twenty five years there, and I never knew there was a tangible, wrought piece of the American Revolution still standing. Bowling Green park in the downtown financial district once featured a statue of King George III. Wary of rowdy New Yorkers who might love to decapitate George, the British authorities erected a wrought iron fence around the statue and park. The fence stands in the same location to this day! George, however, does not. Riled by the reading of the Declaration of Independence, rebels toppled the statue, and the story has it melted it down for bullets to be used in the Revolution (George’s head is said to have been rescued by loyalists and shipped back to England). Posts along the fence were each topped by a finial in the shape of a crown. This would not do, so each and every one was sawed/hacked/bashed off. To this day it stands, the fence without finials:

A Revolutionary Fence

Each one with cut marks still visible, with the angle of separation slightly different. You can touch the same spot where an angry revolutionary tore off the crown in the name of liberty. How cool is that?!

Note: One last thing I never dreamed I’d see in Manhattan: Fireflies. These bioluminescent insects are actually beetles, not flies. They’ve been disappearing around the U.S., so to see them in Washington Square Park one night was astounding. I half expected to look up and see a pack of wolves.

Bowling Green Park

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