Thursday, November 3, 2011

New York Fall - Friday Evening

Continuing with our first day in the City...

Having met our only time sensitive appointment, we went back to the apartment and took the dog for a nice long walk in the park which runs along the Hudson River. There were wonderful views of the skyscrapers along the New Jersey shore, and of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

After we took the dog home, we went out in search of dinner. We had seen a Thai restaurant on the way in, but on second look (the menu above the counter was depicted in bleached out photographs, and no one was in there eating), we decided to keep walking and see what else presented itself. Pretty soon we found ourselves accidentally walking down Wall Street. I saw the massive stone building with the words “Stock Exchange” chiseled above the door. The street was also cordoned off with metal barriers and a few police officers stood in pairs along it, (unlike in this photo from the web.)

You might know that Wall Street was originally named for a wall constructed by the early Dutch settlers to keep, depending on which story you believe, the British, the Native Americans, or wildlife and pigs, out of their settlement.

I stopped, though we were very hungry, and looked around for a few minutes with a feeling that we were in a place which was special somehow, and not just NYSE special.

I have just finished reading Ron Chernow’s wonderful biography George Washington, a gift from my generous and well-read father in law, and, in the prior two years a few other books about the times of the American Revolution including David McCullough’s’ John Adams and 1776. I have just started Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. Standing there I suddenly realized where we were.

Across the street from the Stock Exchange, just in front of us, there was another stately stone building with massive columns, which looked like many of the government buildings one sees while in Washington D.C. It is the Federal Hall, and on the top of the front steps stands a massive bronze statue of George himself, because it was here, after the ratification of the new Constitution, on the balcony of this very building, on a cool sunny Thursday in April 1789, that he took the oath of office at the first presidential inauguration. When he finished taking the oath there was a thunderous ovation, the bells of the churches of the city rang, and he turned a went inside to deliver the first inaugural address to the first Congress. You can see his handwritten copy here.

He was quite familiar with New York, his army having famously occupied it in the early years of the war, after the siege of the British in Boston. Then he lost New York to the British. (Imagine 300 British warships in New York harbor!)

But after the British surrendered at York Town seven long years later, and then having taken their sweet time leaving New York, George had ridden back into town to the cheers and adulation of an adoring populace.

Then having retired, (“At last!” he thought) to Mount Vernon to live quietly as a gentleman farmer, he was called on once more to serve, this time as president. He was reluctant but at the same time ambitious, so he accepted and made the long ride from Virginia to New York, enduring celebrations and speeches and adulation at every town he passed through, (the many places today with the proud plaque “George Washington slept here”, also proudly displayed the plaques when he was alive.) George Washington was in some ways America’s first superstar.

I thought about all of those times, standing here at the foot of the steps of the federal building, on the curb of Wall Street, in the shadow of the Stock Exchange, thinking about how these times are like those times in many ways.

But we are still hungry and we walk on.

NEXT: Dinner in Chinatown and Zucotti Park: Occupy Wall Street!

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