Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New York Nexus

With September 11th upon us, it is only fitting to be thinking of New York. If you find yourself there, do not hesitate to do the usual tourist things. Go to the top of Rockefeller Center for a bird’s eye view of the city. Catch a Broadway show. Get your picture taken with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop.

And of course, go to Ground Zero, stand on the sidewalk, look at the pavement on Church Street...and understand that it is the very pavement onto which people leapt hundreds of feet to their deaths on that horrendous morning in 2001.

But then it is time to depart from the usual tourist circuit by taking a short walk to my favorite New York City nexus. From Ground Zero you go one block east to Broadway, then two blocks south to Wall Street’s western terminus, directly across from Trinity Chapel:

Then, you walk through Trinity’s cemetery and take note of its eroded, centuries-old headstones. Make your way to the cemetery's southern edge and you will find the final resting place of a Founding Father, for there, marked by a modest obelisk, sits the grave of Alexander Hamilton. When we were there, somebody had laid a bouquet at its base:

Right beside Hamilton’s grave is that of Robert Fulton, father of the steam engine. Elsewhere in the cemetery is that of William Bradford, who came to the New World on the Mayflower and became the leader of Plymouth Colony.

Leaving Trinity, you cross Broadway and start down surprisingly nondescript Wall Street. Just one block onto it, with Trinity’s steeple looming behind you, you come to the site where George Washington took the oath of office as America’s first president:

And across the street from that site sits the New York Stock Exchange. We’ve all seen the images of frantic traders on the exchange floor, and we know the atmosphere inside must be noisy and stressful and chaotic. But the outside of the exchange building is a picture of serenity that is dwarfed by much of its surroundings. American flags flying beneath its facade of Corinthian columns give it the appearance of a county courthouse from somewhere in the heartland:

Here, within two city blocks, you will have walked in the footsteps of at least four major historical figures, including the father of our country; visited three of their burial sites; stood at the spot where our republic’s executive branch came into existence; and seen the building where more wealth has been created than at any other spot on the planet. And you will have done it in one of the busiest, most ethnically mixed cities in the world.

Here, you get a sense of the real New York, the one of consequence instead of glitz and glamor. Here, you understand why the city is really significant, and you can feel the pulse of human freedom running from the past to the future, coursing through you in the present. You will know you are alive, and I hope you know what I mean.


  1. Nice tour of New York John. When I look into the Grand Canyon, I get that same sense your talking about...

  2. Very interesting root sculpture - thanks for sharing your trip - and as well as the one your family took in the summer with the beautiful waterfalls!

  3. Thank you Jeannette. The root sculpture has an interesting background...but rather than try to summarize it, here is a relatively short, cut-and-pasted story about it from Art Knowledge News a few years ago:

    The Trinity Root 9/11 Memorial has been quietly embraced by the approximately 1.5 million visitors from both the city and around the world that visit the site. The sculpture came about as an inspiration by Quakertown, Pennsylvania sculptor Steve Tobin after seeing the uplifting story of the 70-year-old sycamore tree that was felled by the intense impact of the collapsing towers across the street from the World Trade Center. The tree absorbed the shockwaves, which a physicist has compared to those of a small nuclear bomb, and was laying in such a way as to shield historic St. Paul's Chapel at Trinity Church and its ancient tombstones from falling debris. The tree, which even took a hit from an I-beam, seemed the only positive story that came out of the tragic events that day.

    As the five-year anniversary milestone of the infamous attacks on the World Trade Center approaches and proposals for a Ground Zero memorial continue to be mired in political controversy, only one art memorial has been permanently installed in the vicinity of Ground Zero. Titled the "Trinity Root," the 13' high x 20' diameter bronze sculpture of the "tree that saved the church," graces the corner of Wall Street and Broadway as a symbol of hope and renewal in an area still plagued by controversy over what kind of memorial would best serve the families of the victims of 9/11, the Lower Manhattan community, and the world at large.

    Relatively undamaged, St. Paul's Chapel became home to the rescue workers, i.e. hundreds of firefighters, volunteers and the clean-up crew on the day of the attacks and remained a haven for them for nearly a year afterward as they struggled to remove debris, identify victims and return the devastated area to some degree of normalcy.

    Tobin, who is known for his monumental bronze and steel sculptures, visited the pastor of St. Paul's Chapel just days after the attacks to inquire if the stump and root system of the tree might be made into one of his signature bronze Roots sculptures as a memorial. It would be three years before the sculpture became a reality.

    "The Trinity Root is the most significant work that I shall ever make," said Tobin. "I hope that it gives solace to the millions of people who visit Ground Zero from all over the world, and from the community of Lower Manhattan, particularly on the five year anniversary of the day that changed the world forever."

    Ironically, an exhibition of Tobin's bronze Roots and other works from his Earth Bronzes series were deinstalled from the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where they had been on exhibition for one year, on September 10, 2001.