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African Burial Ground National Monument, NYC

African Burial Ground National Monument

Before the American Revolution, New York had more enslaved Africans – its most valuable commodity – than any other colony in the North. There were also free Africans, some descended from those freed by the Dutch West India Company. Men cleared farmland, filled swamps, and built structures and roads like Broadway and The Wall (today’s Wall Street). Women sewed, cooked, harvested, and cared for owners’ children as well as their own. From an early age, children carried water and firewood. The work was hard and death rates for Africans were disproportionately high. – National Park Service / US Department of the Interior

Between 1690-1794, approximately 15,000 enslaved and free Africans were buried in a 6.6-acre plot in Lower Manhattan near what is now Duane and Elk Streets. The area was identified on maps of the time as the Negros Burial Ground.

In 1991, an archeological team that was field-testing a construction site in Lower Manhattan (a requirement on any project which uses public funds that may have the potential to impact historic resources) made a surprising discovery – skeletal remains 24 feet below ground.

They stopped excavation when it was determined that the remains were from the Negros Burial Ground. In all 419 bodies of men, women and children were unearthed. Bone fragments and other items uncovered at the site were sent to Howard University for examination.

The remains held a compelling narrative about the life of New York City’s African population.  It showed that many were malnourished, suffered from delayed bone development and recurrent illnesses. Nine percent of those buried at the site were children 2 years of age and younger.

Many of the dead were adorned with beads, which were culturally significant, and shells that were believed to “enclose the soul’s immortal presence.” Some had their eyes covered with coins.

At first, the government wanted to exhume and preserve the remains and continue construction of the 34-story Ted Weiss federal building but the community was outraged. Months of protests led to an agreement. A third of an acre of the site was set aside for a memorial.

In 1993, the African Burial Ground was designated a National Historic Landmark, and a National Monument in 2006. In 2003, the remains were reinterred in seven raised mounds at the site.

A memorial, which was designed by Rodney Léon was completed in 2007.  It features a sunken Libation Court, a gathering space for cultural ceremonies, and is surrounded by a Circle of the Diaspora that is inscribed with signs, symbols, and images from the African Diaspora.

There’s also an Ancestral Chamber that provides sacred space for contemplation, and a Wall of Remembrance that describes events that contributed to the creation of the African Burial Ground. The location where the remains were reburied are marked by Ancestral Pillars.

African Burial Ground

Exhibit at the Visitor Center

A visitor center, which is located on the ground floor of the Weiss Building, features a permanent exhibition which tells the story of the lives of Africans in New York through photos, scrapbooks and installations. Life-size and lifelike sculptures of men and women gathered around a coffin is the centerpiece of the exhibition.

African Burial Ground National Memorial Particulars

The African Burial Ground Memorial site, which is at the corner of Duane and Elk Streets, is closed during the winter. However, the African Burial Ground Visitor Center, located around at 290 Broadway at Duane Street is open Tuesday-Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

Further Reading:
Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 Amazon Image

Linking up this week with Nancie’s Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox.

The World Trade Center Building

World Trade Center Antenna

Walking south from the Staples store on Broadway, I looked west down Vesey Street and saw the World Trade Center as if for the first time. With its solid-looking base tapering into a 400’ antenna, it looks as if it’s reaching to the sky.

World Trade Center building

Seen from Vesey and Broadway Streets

I stopped and stared for a few minutes before taking out my camera. I’ve taken other photos of the World Trade Center before from near the site and from the New Jersey side but I think this is probably one of the best views I’ve seen. 

At 1,776 feet (the year the United States Declaration of Independence was signed), it is, at the moment, the tallest building in the U.S., and the fourth tallest in the world.  And it does looks pretty attractive.  Framed by surrounding buildings, softened a bit by a few leafless trees, it’s shiny, ultra modern exterior and clean lines makes me think of the narrow legged pants that seem to be the rage in men’s fashions.

World Trade Center Antenna

The antenna at the World Trade Center Building

As I looked at it through the viewfinder, my camera lens bringing it closer, I could almost understand why a teenager from New Jersey took an elevator to the antenna a few weeks ago.

And I could almost imagine daredevil climbers pouring over every photo taken from every angle trying to figure out how to scale it.

I was about to move on when I noticed something else: a small plane flying away from the building.  Once again, I stopped and quickly refocused so I could capture it.

WTC Plane

Can you see that small plane?

I’ve yet to visit the museum. Truth be told, I’m a little nervous. Too many memories.

Linking up this week with Nancie’s Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox and Noel’s Travel Photo Monday at Travel Photo Discovery. Be sure to head over to view more photos from around the world.

The Italian American Museum in Manhattan’s Little Italy

The Italian American Museum in Manhattan's Little Italy

Anchoring the corner of Mulberry and Grand Streets in New York City’s Little Italy is an attractive 19-century brick building that is the home of the Italian American Museum.

The Italian American Museum in Manhattan's Little Italy

Exterior of the museum

The idea for a museum to document the history of the Italian community in New York came about after the highly acclaimed exhibition, The Italians of New York: Five Centuries of Struggle and Achievement, which opened at the New York Historical Society in October 1999.

The museum founder, Dr. Joseph Scelsa received its charter in 2001. It operated initially on W44 Street before moving in 2008 to its permanent home, 155 Mulberry Street, after museum officials bought the Banca Stabile building from Dr. Jerome Stabile III. Dr. Stabile’s family started the bank in 1882.

Banca Stabile, which was founded by Francesco Rosario Stabile, was a fixture in Little Italy at a time when Mulberry Street was described as the Italian Wall Street, for the number of banks that were there.

The bank became a one-stop community center, providing financial, translation, insurance, travel and money transfer services. It was a link between the immigrants in New York and their relatives and friends back home.

When Banca Stabile closed in 1932, the family kept the building, including its vault, tin ceiling, marble floor and counters, bronze grilles, and teller cages intact. They also retained items such as steam ship tickets, safe deposit boxes, bank books, passports, and deeds.

The 1,000 square foot museum is bursting at the seams with memorabilia from the bank and those that families have donated. Among the items on exhibit is the gun that retired NYPD police officer, Francesco “Frank” Serpico owned. Serpico was the cop who blew the whistle on police corruption in the 1960s and 70s.

There are also several marionettes from Miguel “Papa” Manteo, photos and other information about Luigi del Bianco, chief carver at Mount Rushmore, and assorted other items that illustrate the history of Italians in New York.

The Italian American Museum, at 155 Mulberry Street, is opened on Saturdays 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., on Sundays from noon to 6:00 p.m., and by appointment during the week. For a $5.00 suggested donation, visitors to the small storefront museum are shown a short film and are able to see these memorabilia up close.

 

Linking to Travel Photo Thursday, which Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox organizes. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.

Food and History in New York City’s Chinatown

Food and History in NYC's Chinatown

One of the perks of living in a city the size of New York is the diversity it offers, not only in things to do but also in culinary offerings. Food from almost every nation is represented here.

Last weekend, my friend Joan and I joined Ahoy New York for their Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour of Chinatown and Little Italy. We started in Little Italy and ended the tour in Chinatown. 

New York City’s Chinatown is a bustling neighborhood that is home to the largest population of Chinese outside of China – approximately 100,000. The neighborhood now occupies an area of about 2 miles stretching south roughly to Chambers Street, east to the Lower East Side, north to Little Italy and west to Broadway/Tribeca.

A Short History of Chinatown

In the mid-1800s, Chinese immigrants, men mostly, headed west to California, Gold Mountain as they called it, lured by dreams of striking it rich. Instead of gold, they found limited opportunities for work. Their dreams evaporated and with no money to return home or to send for their families their dreams they moved east.

Arriving in New York City, these former residents of Canton, settled in the area around Mott, Pell and Doyers Streets and worked as cooks and launderers, jobs usually done by women. They brought their language, culture and culinary traditions like dim sum, bite-sized foods served steamed or fried. Dim Sum has its origins in the famous Silk Road when tea houses opened to accommodate weary travelers.

Food and History in NYC's Chinatown

Liz pointing out pastries in a store on Mott Street

Our first stop was Pongrsi Thai Restaurant on Bayard Street, the oldest family-run and operated Thai restaurant in New York City. Started by Khun Pongrsi and her husband Khun Prasit Tangchakkrachai, Pongrsi has been serving authentic Thai food in the same place since 1972. It is credited with popularizing Thai food in the city.

After walking around for the better part of the morning, the chance to sit and enjoy the meal was quite welcome. We sampled Orange Chicken, Chicken Pra Ramm (peanut sauce/curry dish) and a Pad See Ew.

My favorite, the Orange Chicken, was unlike any I’ve had. The orange was subtle enough to provide a delicious balance to the chicken. By the time the plate got to me, though, only a few pieces were left – it was that good. I really love Thai food so you can bet I’ll be back to Pongsri very soon.

Leaving Pongsri, we walked through Columbus Park, and made a brief stop on Mulberry in the Five Points section of Lower Manhattan. You might remember Five Points, that notorious section of the city that was the setting for the movie, Gangs Of New York.

Five Points got its name from the five-pointed intersection created by Orange now Baxter Street, Cross now Mosco Street, Anthony now Worth Street and Little Water Street, which or no longer exists. Today, that part of Mulberry Street is lined with funeral homes that serve the community.

Soon we arrive at Tasty Dumpling, 54 Mulberry, for our first Chinese tasting. Can you guess what we sampled at Tasty Dumpling? Why, dumplings, of course!

Tasty Dumpling’s dumplings get rated consistently as the best dumplings in Chinatown – and at 5 for $1.25, are a tasty bargain. That probably explains why nearly all the tables in this small eatery were occupied when we arrived so we crowded into the only free space – at the left of the counter.

A woman was at the stove loading freshly made dumplings into a huge steamer while in the back two others were adding the filling to the dough.

Our dumplings were still warm when they arrived. Liz added a soy-white vinegar sauce and passed them around. The wrapper was nice and firm and so translucent I could see the filling, and when I took a bite, it was moist and tasty, the dipping sauce adding a nice kick.

Leaving Tasty Dumpling, we crossed over to Mott Street then to Doyers to Nom Wah Tea Parlor, our last stop on the tour. Nom Wah, the oldest dim sum restaurant in Chinatown has been around and on the same block of Doyers Street since the 1920s.

The Choy family owned the restaurant until they sold it in 1974 to Wally Tang, a longtime employee. Mr. Tang started working at Nom Wah in the 1950s when he was 16 and began managing it when he was 20.

Little has changed to the exterior of Nom Wah but Wilson Tang, the new manager and the next generation of Tangs, has upgraded the interior. Wally and his team of dim sum experts still keep an eye on things though.

It was about 1:00 pm when we arrived and diners were clustered outside in groups of twos and threes waiting for tables. Someone from the restaurant would come to the door and call the next name on the list as tables became free. Good thing Liz had placed our order ahead of time so we didn’t have to wait.

Nom Wah’s original egg rolls are round and fat. Stuffed with chicken and vegetables, they are rolled in egg crêpe then fried in homemade batter which makes them crisp and flaky. Despite being fried, they aren’t greasy. Each egg roll was cut in two and each of us got half but after all the food we’d sampled, one piece of this delicious treat was enough.

We had come to the end of our three hour tour and it was time to say goodbye to Liz, our very enthusiastic tour guide. I’m sure all of Ahoy New York’s tour guides are knowledgeable, warm and sociable but Liz makes you feel like she’s giving a tour with long time friends.

To recap, we visited Alleva Diary, DiPalo’s Fine Foods, Grand Appetito and Ferrara Bakery & Cafe in Little Italy, and Pongsri Thai Restaurant, Tasty Dumpling and Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Chinatown. We did a quick stop at the Italian American Museum, which I’ll cover in another post.

Joan and I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in Chinatown. We had dinner at one of the cellar restaurants on Mott Street that Liz had pointed out then ended up at a wine tasting at Enoteca DiPalo’s. (More about these later.)

One thing I forgot to mention: my friend Joan has severe allergies to shellfish and Ahoy was able to arrange other dishes for her to sample on the Chinatown part of the tour.

Please note: I found this recipe for Thai Orange Chicken at Allrecipes.com.

Thai Orange Chicken
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
40 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
25 min
Total Time
40 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  2. 3 carrots, cut into matchsticks
  3. 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root
  4. 1 clove garlic, minced
  5. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  6. 2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into small pieces
  7. 1/2 cup water
  8. 1/2 cup peanuts
  9. 1/3 cup orange juice
  10. 1/3 cup soy sauce
  11. 1/3 cup brown sugar
  12. 2 tablespoons ketchup
  13. 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  14. 2 tablespoons cornstarch
Instructions
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat; cook and stir carrots, ginger, and garlic until carrots are slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer carrot mixture to a bowl. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the same skillet.
  2. Cook and stir chicken in the hot olive oil until no longer pink in the center, about 10 minutes. Add carrot mixture, water, peanuts, orange juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, ketchup, and red pepper flakes to chicken; stir to combine. Cover and simmer until sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes.
  3. Remove about 1/4 cup sauce from the skillet; whisk in cornstarch until dissolved and sauce is smooth. Pour cornstarch mixture back into chicken and sauce; cook until sauce is slightly thickened, about 5 more minutes.
InsideJourneys http://insidejourneys.com/
Disclosure: We were guests of Ahoy New York on this Chinatown and Little Italy Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour, but as usual, the opinions expressed here are our own. Thanks to Ray and Alana, and Liz, our very knowledgeable, very entertaining and very enthusiastic tour guide. 

Recommended Reading

New York City’s Chinese Community (Images of America: New York), Josephine Tsui Yueh Lee

Can you name one popular Chinese dish that you won’t find in China?

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