New York City Day 3 December 29, 2014 · 21 min. read
I woke up today in pain, but with a mission: to visit the smallpox hospital, no matter what. Today was my last day in New York and I had a massive list of places I wanted to see before the day was over, including a show on Broadway that I booked after last night's entry.
I used the communal shower, brushed up, grabbed a bite to eat and headed out the same way I went last night. I walked past that awful burger joint, walked down several blocks, back onto the tram, across the East River and to Roosevelt Island. But then I paused, not because I wanted to, but because my breath was stolen by the daytime beauty of Manhattan Island.
I took some pictures and then headed south down the island. I passed near a modern hospital for mentally challenged patients, and saw them sitting outside enjoying the day. I thought how nice it must be, to just spend all day sitting in the sun and watching the boats travel up and down the river.
Finally, I arrived at the hospital. In the daytime it was easy to see both why it caught my attention days ago, and why it was so haunting at night. Simply put, the hospital did not disappoint. From it's old, crumpled walls, to it's fenced off doors, it's overgrown weeds and ancient history, the hospital was not only a testament of architectural decay, but the inevitable end of all things man-made. It was nothing short of magnificent!
After spending almost an hour wandering around the old hospital grounds, I packed up and headed back to the tram. After walking so much yesterday, I decided today I was going to take advantage of New York's premium subway system. I caught the train to Times Square, switched trains, and rode it straight to Ground Zero.
Ground Zero is currently several things; it's a museum, a construction site, and a memorial. I started with the museum.
Being born in the early 1990s, I was too young to really know what the World Trade Center was, nor what was happening that fateful day in 2001. To me, these were just two large skyscrapers. While in the museum, I learned just how important they were to the city. Before the Twin Towers were built, that area of Manhattan was a strict business area. Being so close to the Theater District, it clashed very harshly with the surrounding area. The Twin Towers, although a business oriented building, was also the cure of this contrast. Each floor was it's own "community". Each person knew each other, and shared a unique zip code. There were even floor-to-floor competitions. The plaza below the towers at lunch was full of kiosks, laughter, games and romantic couples. The buildings brought this area of the city alive, and was seen as a blessing to the community.
In 1993 a truck-bomb exploded in the underground parking lot below the North Tower. Although the explosion killed six people, injured over a thousand, and damaged the building's structure, it was considered a failure. The plan was to explode below the tower, causing the tower to topple over and crash into the South Tower, destroying them both and killing thousands. It thankfully did not work.
September 11th, 2001 was a different story. At 8:46 a.m., five hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center's North Tower, and 17 minutes later United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower. The museum was full of eye-witness accounts, not only from terrified bystanders, but from people on the planes, as well as police, firefighters and other emergency response people. This included people from the Pentagon, which was also struct by a plane 24 minutes later, as well as quotes from the relatives of people on Flight 93, the flight that crashed in a Pennsylvania field on it's way to Washington. The museum also had radio messages from the firefighters as they began climbing the burning building, looking for survivors.
While many people escaped, many more were trapped inside the burning towers, and people had began to jump from the buildings. By now the world was watching. Firefighters and police risked their lives, mini-hospital stations were being set up, and town hall was dispersed; the mayor and the employees were on street level, making plans onsite to minimize the damage, to rescue civilians, to clear the area as fast as they could. But then the towers fell, and everything went quiet.
People stumbled out of the smoke, grey with ash. Fires burned silently. Screams were emitted, but dull and echoed, muted by the thick smoke. Over 3,000 people were dead. People, and parts of people, were everywhere. Vehicles smashed, buildings destroyed. The plaza, where within hours people would have gone down to have hot dogs and watch magic tricks, was gone. The buildings, towering over the city, had vanished. The smiles and laughter had been destroyed. New York was silent.
In the days to come, people from all around the world arrived to help with the cleanup. Hospitals were overflowing so camps were set up in Central Park. People came together, cooked together, lived together. Many people cherished this moment. New York is often known for it's residents cold demeanor to each other, but the following weeks not only united the city, but it united the country. For days afterwards people were being rescued and recovered from Ground Zero. Pictures of lost loved ones hung on the walls around the city; over a thousand people were never found. In the following weeks and months paper cranes began flowing in from around the the world, all with sympathies and prayers for the city. America would soon go to war, but first it needed time to reflect and recover.
The metal from the World Trade Center is now dispersed around the world, in anti-terrorism, peace and freedom memorials in over a dozen countries. The letters sent in have been compiled into a book, and the area is now rebuilding not two towers, but four, with two Memory Pools where the Towers once stood.
At the end of the museum was a memorial for all the victims of the 1993 bombings, as well as the 9/11 attack, with names from people from all four flights, the people within the towers, and the people within the Pentagon.
I left the museum saddened with what had happened to this city, but also unhappy with myself. I had spent far too much time in it, and I wouldn't be able to get to Wall Street. I also would only have enough time to either get to the 9/11 Memorial, or the Holocaust Museum. I had to decide quickly, and although I now think I chose the wrong option, I chose to go to the Holocaust Museum.
I headed South and saw the Statue of Liberty far out in the distance. As much as I wish I could have gone to her, she was currently under reconstruction due to the damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy.
I arrived at the Holocaust Museum, dried off, and was told I only had an hour and a half before closing. I began to look around.
My knowledge of the Jewish religion is very limited. I know it was established some 5000 years ago and I knew they used the lunar calendar instead of our solar one, and I knew that they had been scapegoated, enslaved and punished for over a millennium.
The museum started by talking about the lives of early 20th Century European Jews. It talked about their clothing, their customs, their religion, and their Sabbath celebrations. Because I was rushed, I skimmed the parts about the Exodus and the Diaspora, as well as their scattering throughout Europe and the conflicts that rose because of this (such as the Spanish Inquisition). However, with their troubles seemingly behind them, the early 20th Century seemed very promising for the Jews. In Eastern Europe, Jews spoke Yiddish, went to Yiddish schools and went to Yiddish movie theaters. The younger generation began to adopt non-Jewish ways, while the older generation retained their ways. The Western European Jews had a smaller population base and also quickly adopted the non-Jewish traditions.
This all changed in 1936 when Adolf Hitler rose to power. Germany, after World War I, had been unfairly blamed for the war and was heavily punished, so much so that the people of the country were struggling to simply survive. Hitler got the economy moving again, and was able to give people jobs. He was a good political ruler up to this point. It was here where things took a turn for the worst. Germany had car factories, airships, a growing economy and was coming out of the worse economic period in written history much better than it's surrounding European countries. But it needed something more; something to blame it's recent misfortune on. Hitler had a personal vendetta against the Jews as seen in his novel Mein Kampf, and he used this anger towards the small Jewish community in that country. He blamed the Jews for not only Germany's troubles, but for Europe's troubles as well. And, strangely enough, the people listened. Quickly Jewish rights were being removed; they had to wear special clothing, they couldn't attend schools, they couldn't attend movies, they couldn't shop in the same stores. Jewish life was becoming increasingly difficult and after the red herring of "Kristallnacht:, it was becoming very dangerous.
Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and started opening up camps to "safely" house the increasingly hated Jewish people. These camps were displayed to the country, and the world, as being safe factories where the Jewish people lived and worked in peace -- benefiting the economy, not hindering it. In reality these camps were being used to torture, maim, experiment on and kill the Jewish people. Once war really broke out, Jews were fearful of their life and began to flee not only the countries surrounding Germany, but that of Europe as well.
One such group hoped a boat and for several weeks traversed the stormy Atlantic Ocean to America for safety. While floating outside American waters, they pleaded with the United States Government to accept them; they had legal visas and only wished for safety. They were floating past Florida, staring at the lights of Miami when the United States made their decision. They would not accept the refugees. They must return back to Germany.
Devastated, the ship headed back to Europe. Many of the Jews never got there. They either went to England, France, Netherlands or Belgium for safety. By war's end, the majority of these countries were invaded by the Germans.
It was at this time the museum closed, and I had to leave 1939 Germany and return to 2013 New York City. It was raining outside, and being a Canadian who doesn't know proper New York etiquette, I asked a lady smoking a cigarette if there was a number I could call to get a cab. She looked at me for a moment and said, "You're not from here, are you?". She then proceeded to tell me how to hail a cab.
After several attempts, I got one and told them where I wanted to go. The streets were jammed because of the weather and progress was slow. I could get to my hotel with enough time, but I had to be four blocks further down and I had forgotten to print off my Broadway ticket! I got the taxi man to sit outside while I ran into my hotel to print off my ticket. I heard many angry honks from outside the hotel, either from the taxi mad at me, or from the traffic behind him. I got my ticket, ran outside and dove into the taxi. He took me to the theater and I tipped him $50 for everything he did for me.
I was late, and the prestigious woman running the theater hesitated letting me in. The play had started and the aisles were very commonly used by actors. After a few minutes of talking among the employees, an usher let me to my spot via flashlight. The play I saw was "Rock of Ages", and took place during 1987, a time of sex, drugs and "rock-n-roll". I won't ruin the plot, but it was a fantastic Broadway performance.
Once it over, I left the theater. My goal was to head West to the High Line, one of New York's most recent attractions. But, something was going on across the street. There was a massive crowd around the stage doors, and once the doors open the people began screaming and hollering. Even I had to stop to rub my eyes! Standing before me was none other than Tom Hanks!
I watched him get into his idling limo and drive away, and I carried West. A block later I walked past a sharply dressed man in a tuxedo. He stopped me and welcomed me into his restaurant. I asked him if I had to dress like him to come in (at this time my clothing was dry from the rain, but I was not very clean by any means) and he said no, what I was wearing was just fine.
I entered the restaurant and looked around confused. It was a book store. I walked up the counter and asked the woman about the man outside and how I thought I was in the wrong place. She laughed and said no, this is the restaurant. She pointed around the corner and told me to keep walking that way and take a left at the wall of skulls.
I had unknowingly stumbled into the Jekyll and Hyde restaurant, a Halloween themed restaurant full of live actors, ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night. My waitress was one of Dr. Frankenstein's assistants, and then I saw Dr. Frankenstein himself... who is a lot more lively in person than in the book. I watched him speak to a group of women from Texas and then, when discovering it was one of the young woman's birthday, he asked her to stand up, and he stepped up onto the table (which had food on it) and got the restaurant to turn off the haunted creepy music and bellowed out a very loud version of Happy Birthday for all the hear.
I had a great time at the restaurant, but by the end of it I was getting exhausted. I left the restaurant, thanked the man outside in the tuxedo for the recommendation and went East, away from the High Line and towards my hotel.
New York City lived up to it's name during my 72 hour stop-over. I wish I had had more time to explore other parts of the city. The city has everything in it; history, drama, culture, art, music, architecture, innovation, lush parks, urban masterpieces, outdoor exhibits (I think I forgot to mention that...), rivers, taxis, subways, cars, boats, planes, and a legacy it successfully lived up to. I've seen many cities in my time, and I can firmly say without a doubt that New York city is the greatest city on earth.
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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