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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.

Expedia Brings Concierge Service to Montego Bay

Expedia Concierge Service

I don’t remember using Expedia, the online booking agency, to buy airline tickets though I’ve used it to compare prices. This time they had the best price on a nonstop ticket to Montego Bay. That clinched it.

A few days after I’d completed my purchase, I received an email from Expedia introducing my personal Jamaica concierge. Although I didn’t need the complimentary concierge service, which is provided by an Expedia Local Expert®, I was intrigued.

Expedia Concierge ServiceWhen I called the toll-free number in the email, Dania, Expedia’s Concierge’s distinctive Jamaican voice greeted me. Dania explained that she could assist me to book a transfer to my hotel and pre-book any activities I was interested in but since I didn’t need her expertise, I chatted with her instead.

Expedia, she explained, had partnered with Jamaica Tours, a local company, to launch the service, which started last August. According to its website, Expedia Concierge Service is provided by “knowledgeable” local experts in several locations including Hawaii, Mexico, and Las Vegas, Orlando and New York.

Jamaica Tours Limited, a 50 year old company, is the island’s largest ground tour operator and destination management company.

Although I didn’t need Expedia’s Concierge Service this time, I’m happy to learn that they offers it. There’s a lot of information about local attractions online, for example, but when you’re traveling to an unfamiliar destination, it’s helpful and reassuring to have someone who knows the scene help you find what you need so you can hit the ground running when you arrive.

Have you used a concierge service during your travels?

Knutsford Express Went Above and Beyond For Me

Knutsford Express

I was exhausted when I got home. We had spent a long and exhilarating day driving more than 200 miles to visit heritage sites in St. Catherine, Jamaica and all I could think of was crawling into bed and getting some sleep.

I was about to turn off the lights when I remembered that I still hadn’t booked my ticket on the Knutsford Express for my trip to Falmouth the next morning. I logged on quickly and was thrilled to see that a bus was leaving Montego Bay at 7:30 a.m. I could sleep a little longer, I thought, as I completed the purchase.

I was ready before my 7:15 pickup but as I closed the gate to my house, I panicked. The bus was leaving at 7:30, I should be at the station at 7:15. I called Eton, my taxi driver.

I’ll be right there, he said. I’m only a few minutes away.

Eton drove like a bat out of hell, collapsing the trip to less than 10 minutes. Thankfully, of seven traffic lights only one was red.

Knutsford Express

Andre Johnson

Walking up to the Knutsford Express counter at 7:25, I told the agent that I had a ticket for the 7:30 bus to Falmouth.

“There isn’t a 7:30 bus to Falmouth,” she said. “The bus left at 7:00 a.m. and there isn’t another one till 9.”

“But I have a ticket,” I protested.

She peered at her computer screen and said to no one in particular, “The computer messed up,” picked up a phone and walked away from the counter.

On any other day, the 9:00 would have been fine. But this was the first day of a three-day historic preservation seminar I helped Falmouth Heritage Renewal to organize. I couldn’t afford to be late.

I pulled out my phone and punched in Eton’s number.

“Yes, Miss,” he said.

By the time I put my phone back in my bag, the agent returned.

“The Negril driver will take you to Falmouth,” she said.

I was stunned. The least I expected was that they’d give me a complimentary ticket but to take me to Falmouth? Wow, that was going above and beyond.

Before I could cancel my taxi, a tall young man with an engaging smile approached.

“Are you the person going to Falmouth?”

He led the way to his bus, a regular 40- or 50-seater. I couldn’t believe my luck. Actually, this was more than luck. This was a gift straight from the gods. How else to explain a bus that materialized right when I needed it?

I took one of the seats directly behind the driver’s and we pulled out of the station.

The first thing I asked was his name. Andre Johnson. Laughing, he added that both his names are common in Jamaica.

I told Andre my story and thanked him for agreeing to drive me to Falmouth. He said he had just come in from Negril and was about to leave when Keisha, the agent I spoke with, told him what happened. I felt even more grateful. The timing was pure serendipity.

I’ve been taking Knutsford Express to Kingston for at least five years and have always been impressed by their reliable and on-time service, friendly and efficient staff, comfortable and clean buses, even the chilled complimentary bottle of water they provide each passenger.

Now, thanks to Andre and Keisha, Knutsford’s stock has increased several fold in my book.

Andre, a 28 year old (he was impressed when I guess his age correctly) father of an adorable little girl and another child on the way, told me he’s been working with Knutsford Express for about nine months. Prior to joining the Knutsford team, he had also worked as a mechanic for a transport company.

Many of the Knutsford’s drivers, he added, are experienced auto mechanics so they know when something is wrong and can tell the company’s mechanics exactly what and where the problem is. Hearing that made me feel more confident in the company.

As we pulled into Falmouth, I asked Andre if I could take his photo for a post I planned to write about my Knutsford experience. He adjusted his tie and struck a pose.

I was smiling all day as I told almost everyone I met about my experience. Everyone was surprised at my good luck.

The next day, as I waited for my return trip to MoBay, I shared my story with Alexia, the Knutsford Express agent in Falmouth. She didn’t seem surprised by how Keisha had handled the situation, adding, “the error was ours.”

Fantastic, I though, Knutsford’s agents have the latitude to problem solve.

A lot of us, especially those Jamaicans who’ve lived elsewhere, are quick to bemoan the service we receive from many of the island’s companies. I can’t disagree: the majority of employees could use customer service training and be empowered to resolve issues as they arise.

And many local companies need to realize that bad service drives customers away. Clearly, Knutsford Express understands this and provides consistent, first-rate service. (The other company, in my experience, that also gets it is Flow.)

So I’m taking this opportunity to ‘big up’ Knutsford Express, Andre Johnson, Keisha, Alexia and the entire team for the service they provide. They really do take you from city to city in comfort and style.