[Ed. Note — During the COVID-19 shelter-in-place quarantine in the spring of 2020, the Holy Bee had the opportunity to do a deep dig into his dusty archives. Lo and behold, I found the concluding segment of this long-forgotten blog series. It was still a very much a rough draft, and missing its photos and a conclusion, but a little work got it into presentable shape, though it’s shorter and patchier than my usual stuff. I am placing it in its correct position in the Holy Bee blog timeline.]
We had a few open hours before dinner, so we split into groups. Mark took the lion’s share to go see the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, Our Principal took a slightly smaller group who wanted to go shopping, and I — with my agenda of seeing historic Trinity Church and the New York Public Library — attracted only two: my loyal son, Cade, and his friend Adam.
Trinity Church, 2:37 p.m. The rain continued as we made our way to Trinity Church, within easy walking distance of the 9/11 Memorial. Trinity Church has been a lower Manhattan landmark since the 1790s, when the Second Trinity Church towered 200 feet over the smaller buildings around it. (The First Trinity Church was a much humbler building, destroyed by the Great Fire of 1776.) It was the Episcopalian house of worship for notable New Yorkers like Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington during the first year of his presidency, when the U.S. capital was briefly New York City. Most of the Founders were newly Episcopalian — the post-Revolution, screw-the-English Americanized version of the Church of England (or Anglican Church), which was itself founded in a fit of pique by jolly old King Henry VIII when the Pope wouldn’t grant him a divorce from his first wife (who got off pretty lightly when you consider later wives).
The building before us was the Third Trinity Church, completed in 1846 in Gothic Revival style after the Second was pulled down due to structural weakness. The compact Trinity Churchyard is home to a few notable burials, none more so than Alexander Hamilton.
The young Holy Bee first developed a passion for history in the third grade, thanks to a classroom set of World Book encyclopedias. When I finished my classwork, I would often peruse these volumes. It was the history stuff that always hooked me, particularly the Revolutionary War. At recess, I would gallop around, pretending to be Paul Revere, much to the amusement of my more traditional, four-square-playing peers. One of the more gripping stories I came across at this time was the Duel — when the sitting Vice-President Aaron Burr gunned down political rival and former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton on July 11, 1804. Hamilton became a figure of fascination to me, even as I recognized his numerous character flaws.
After lingering a day, Hamilton died a painful death and was put to rest here in the Trinity Churchyard. I led our little troupe to his grave site — an above-ground sarcophagus near the Rector Street fence. We did what you normally do when looking at the grave of someone well-known, but not known personally — stare for a moment, nod solemnly, maybe with a soft “mm-hm,” then move on.
(Trivia note: Alexander Hamilton’s fifth son, William, is buried in my hometown of Sacramento. He was a mining engineer, came to California during the Gold Rush, and was one of the many victims of an 1850 outbreak of cholera.)
Wall Street, 2:56 p.m. We crossed Broadway and headed down Wall Street, so named because it once ran along a literal wall. The wall was actually a rampart, part of the fortifications of the original Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam and it represented the settlement’s northern boundary. The rampart was pulled down in 1699, but the road next to it remained. A hundred or so years later, a possibly-mythical buttonwood tree where the road met the East River is where a group of traders and speculators would gather to trade securities. From that beginning, Wall Street became the financial center of the country, if not the world.
I was never all that interested in economics, and certainly have no interest in the stock market, so the attraction of Wall Street for me was seeing the place where George Washington took the oath of office to become the first President of the United States. Federal Hall, directly across the street from the New York Stock Exchange building, was originally New York’s City Hall. In 1789, it briefly became the seat of the new U.S. government after the ratification of the Constitution. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives had their first sessions here, and Washington was sworn in on its second-floor balcony. (The U.S. government moved to Philadelphia in 1790, then to the newly-constructed Washington, D.C. in 1800.)
The original Federal Hall was torn down in 1812, and replaced by a marble Greek Revival building that served as the Custom House for the Port of New York. It later became a depository for the U.S. Treasury. In 1939, it became a national memorial and museum. On the large staircase leading to the main entrance, there is an elevated pedestal with a bronze statue of George Washington, gazing stoically across Wall Street from roughly the same spot where he was sworn in as President.
The rain was not letting up. The Occupy Wall Street protesters were nowhere to be seen, but there was definitely a teeming city of colorful tents in Zucotti Park, with the protesters zippered into their much dryer interiors. We ducked down into the nearest subway station, and headed uptown.
New York Public Library, Main Branch, Fifth Avenue & 42nd St., 3:37 p.m. The ornate 1911 Beaux-Arts style building is now called the “Stephen A. Schwarzman Building” after a guy who gave them $100 million in the early 2000s. The least they could is name the building after him, right? The two famous marble lions, named Leo Astor and Leo Lenox after the library’s founders, flank either side of the main entrance stairway. (Supposedly the lions were re-named “Patience” and “Fortitude” during the Great Depression, but I don’t know if those names ever became official.) Want to check out a book? Too bad, the Main Branch hasn’t been a lending library since the 1970s. It’s for on-site reading and research only. Go to the nearby Mid-Manhattan branch for more traditional library services.
Like a lot of people my age, the Main Branch of the New York Public Library will always be associated with Ghostbusters, which set its opening scenes in the Rose Main Reading Room (filmed early in the morning before the library opened) and its non-public stacks (filmed across the country at the L.A. Central Library). We wanted to get a peek at the iconic Reading Room. Unfortunately, photography was forbidden in most of the library’s interior spaces, so I had to surreptitiously fire off a few quick, unfocused shots of this very familiar (to Ghostbusters fans) location.
No matter what movie it’s in, a library reading room will never be much more than a library reading room. We soaked it in for a few minutes, sneaked our blurry pics, and left. The real find of the day was in a first floor exhibition space called Gottesman Hall, which had numerous literature-related artifacts on display as part of the library’s centennial celebration. The “Celebrating 100 Years” exhibit featured things like Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Dickens’ letter opener (made from the paw of his cat Bob, who had died of, one would hope, natural causes), Virginia Woolf’s walking stick (found floating in the river in which she drowned), Jack Kerouac’s notebooks, and other remarkable artifacts. We gawked at this stuff for the better part of an hour, and could have stayed longer, but we had a bit of a walk ahead of us.
It was getting dark as we exited the library. Still raining, and the air was getting much chillier as the sun sank. Our route took us through Manhattan’s single-block “Diamond District” on 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, where a day’s jewelry trade could exceed $400 million. As the city clocks struck five, a number of Hasidic Jews, clad in their rekels and their dark hats covered in clear plastic to protect them from the rain, hit the streets after closing up their businesses for the day.
Trattoria Trecolori, 254 W. 47th St., 5:27 p.m. We reunited with the main group at this small Italian restaurant in the heart of the Theater District. They had had a mostly-unsuccessful afternoon — the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art had limited hours and was closed that day. (It would close permanently the following July.) They squished up nearby Bleecker Street and explored the shops of Greenwich Village.
The restaurant staff hustled us upstairs — away from real customers — where an Italian buffet had been laid out in a small banqueting area.
Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St., 7:30 p.m. One of the more non-educational items on our super-crowded agenda was a Broadway show. The Imperial Theater was home for thirteen years to Les Miserables. Its current production, Billy Elliott: The Musical, probably won’t achieve that level of longevity, but it was well into its third year when we saw it.
The play was based on the 2000 film, about a boy from the mining country of northern England who longs to be a ballet dancer, but must overcome his working class family’s resistance to the idea. Set during the mining strike of 1984, the play’s language is not particularly…middle-school friendly. One f-bomb is probably okay, but by the middle of the second act, where everything is “fookin’” this and “fookin’” that, Our Principal had slouched noticeably lower in her seat. The play was entertaining in that superficial way typical of most Broadway musicals. The rain had stopped by the time the show was over, and the temperature had plunged. Teeth chattering, we hustled back to the subway station and out to our Holiday Inn in Queens.
Friday, October 28, 2011. Battery Park, 10:03 a.m. It was right around now that we realized we were not getting near those boats, at least not in a timely enough manner to get us to LaGuardia Airport for our flight.
After a full day of rain yesterday, the morning dawned incredibly clear — and incredibly cold. It was just a few ticks above freezing when we emerged from the subway at Battery Park, full of hope that we would get out to see the Statue of Liberty. We got in line. A long line was expected.
But as we looked around, we started to realize that the line was particularly long, extending out of the docking area and into the park itself, winding along the park’s path, and spilling onto State St. As we shuffled along over the course of an hour, we started putting the picture together from fragments of overheard conversations around us.
It turns out — entirely unbeknownst to us — we had chosen the exact day of the Statue’s original dedication and opening 125 years earlier. October 28, 1886. There were festivities and whatnot taking place out on Liberty Island. It would be hours before we even got near the ferries that were taking large swaths of humanity out there. We decided to bail, with no real idea of where to go or what to do for the four or so hours before we had to check in at the airport.
FAO Schwarz, 767 Fifth Avenue, 10:48 a.m. We ended up in another well-known movie location. This was the toy store where we saw Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia dance atop an over-sized piano keyboard set into the floor in 1988’s Big. Seeing the genuine article was somewhat underwhelming. Penny Marshall must have used a wide-angle lens or something.
The massive, multi-level store provided demonstrations of various toys, gadgets, and magic tricks, had lots of try-it-yourself hands-on displays, and a number of elaborate Lego sculptures. By the time we had all the fun there was to be had, it was lunchtime, so we grabbed a bunch of gastronomically dubious items from the various street vendors surrounding the Grand Army Plaza.
Trump Tower, 725 Fifth Avenue, 12:31 p.m. With time left to kill, we began walking down Fifth Avenue in search of diversion. We found it at Trump Tower…or should I say, Wayne Enterprises?
We spotted what appeared to be a flurry of microphones, and cameras snapping away at someone coming out of the building’s entrance. Those cameras were in turn surrounded by bigger cameras and more microphones, along with large lights and reflectors. We were puzzled for a moment. The person who came out of the front doors turned around and went back in, as the large light reflectors came down, and everyone shifted into milling-around mode. They were were obviously shooting a movie.
After a few minutes, everyone snapped back to full alert. The doors opened and we realized the person coming out was actor Christian Bale in a finely tailored suit. He was approached by Joseph Gordon Levitt in a police uniform. We all stared, open-mouthed, as we realized we were witnessing the filming of Christopher Nolan’s third entry in his Dark Knight trilogy. The sign above the door says “Wayne Enterprises.” A sign higher above the door — presumably out of camera range — reads “Trump Tower.” The blue police car at the curb is marked “GPD” — Gotham Police Department.
Bale came out and exchanged his lines with Levitt about three more times before the film crew started breaking things down, and we realized we now had to move quickly. The clear conditions of the morning were replaced by a slate-gray overcast, and the wind was starting to whip.
Later, all the kids agreed this had been the absolute highlight of the entire trip.
(The Dark Knight Rises hit theaters on July 20, 2012. The scene we saw being filmed on October 28, 2011 was Bruce Wayne being ousted as head of Wayne Enterprises and leaving his company building amid a media frenzy, and comes at the 1:03:24 mark.)
[Ed. Note — That’s where the original text ends. We left Manhattan and hustled back to get our luggage (those of us who still had luggage — see Part 1) from our hotel in Queens, then got to LaGuardia Ariport in time for a 3:45 flight.
At our layover in Dallas, I tried to recover my luggage, but Lost & Found was closed. My suitcase was probably only a few feet from where I stood forlornly looking at a locked door. We watched six innings of Game 7 of the tied-up 2011 World Series on the big airport TV screens — St. Louis eventually beat the Texas Rangers when we were somewhere over New Mexico. We arrived back in Sacramento a little after 11:00 p.m.
As I was clearly hinting, the frigid conditions on our last day on the East Coast were a precursor to a massive storm that became known as the “2011 Halloween Nor’Easter” — 12 hours after we left, New York City was under a blanket of snow and two million people were without power.
My luggage arrived via Federal Express a few days later.
Over the next year (2012), I wrote up the events of the trip based on the notes I took at the time. I don’t know why I never finished part 4. I think I had planned on adding some more color and detail, historical background, funny remarks from the students, and certainly some kind of grand summation, but I kept putting it off until it fell between the cracks, other stuff came up, and this was forgotten about. The completist in me is glad to see this finally posted in its proper spot, unpolished as it may feel. Obviously, Hamilton the musical was still two years in the future, and Trump was still a game show host.
My school has grown and changed, and both Mark and Our Principal have moved on to other opportunities. I’m still there, but I doubt we’ll ever mount a field trip like this again — Washington, D.C. and New York City in five days with nineteen 8th graders! (Most of them now college seniors.) It makes me tired just re-reading it.]