Monthly Archives: October 2011

Forgotten Fort Totten

150 years ago, at the edge of the city, on a point of land where the East River meets the Long Island Sound, where Queens washes into the suburbs, the federal government constructed Ft Totten.  This was in 1862, when the Confederacy was at the height (at least psychologically) of its power.  A paranoid North was engaged in bucking up its defenses for the terrible possibility that its cities would be threatened by the rebels.

Ft. Totten was intended to protect New York City’s northeastern maritime approach.  Its construction was planned soon after the War of 1812, when the British sacking of the capital exposed a glaring lack of sea defense.

Parts of the fort still occupy the edge of the strait.  The surrounding land is now divided amongst the NYPD, the FDNY, the Navy Reserve, and the Coast Guard.  Despite the proximity of these high-powered agencies, the Fort itself is remarkably easy to infiltrate.

On this very stormy day, everything was drenched and water was everywhere – leaking through the cracks of fortified  stone, puddling on time-worn floors, pouring from ceilings.  There are doors that lead to dark tunnels and into cavernous cisterns, where no light penetrates and all sounds that enter are  returned in the sort of echoes that only huge empty spaces could create.

This was sort of a random expedition, and we were not properly equipped with flashlights, otherwise we might have gone deeper.  There are rumors that there exists a tunnel which burrows under the East River to Ft. Schuyler across in the Bronx.

Aside from the rushes of sweeping rain and wind, a damp silence takes eerie hold along the seaward gun turrets.  At the very bottom floor, storm waves crash and spray through the windows and the stone walls respond with reverberant groans.  The fort has been obsolete for a century, its officers long forgotten.  A lonely single gun points to the water- waiting for an enemy that never came and never will come.





Dead Horse Bay

This part of Brooklyn totally defies the iconic urbanity that is generally associated with the borough.  Near Floyd Bennett Field (the City’s first airport), lies a shallow bay, that during the 19th century, was surrounded by five  glue rendering plants.  Glue-spent discards of the used horses would be tossed in the water.

Dead Horse Bay, Brooklyn, NYC

When the plants shut down about a century ago, the City of New York found the bay a suitable place to dump some of its garbage.  Today, in a random and enticing collection, refuse spanning the decades is regularly regurgitated from the shallows-  pieces of dishes, glass bottles of all types, logos of extinct companies, irons, toilets, etc, etc, etc, etc.

Gazing around at the landscape, one sees nothing at all that resembles a city.  But in a weird way, the bay is very much connected to the City.  The discards of everyday life are tiny intimate fragmented memoirs of those who once called this  giant metropolis home.

City Club Beverages

“It’s fantastic to think that most New Yorkers rarely remember that they live on a few islands, by the ocean, by rivers and bays, whose outskirts have served from the beginning as dumping grounds out-of-sight of the millions and millions who’ve crowded around this small, salt-water estuary in the last few centuries. And that hundreds of years of building, refuse, graves and foundations lie beneath their feet. The imprint of Mankind on this city is so deep that nearly all forget the land around them that was there before and will remain when this little town is no more. “ – Tristan Lowery

By the Grace of the Constitution and Our Duty to Monitor It.

We must never act in accordance to laws blindly.  By the grace of our Constitution, drafted during a time of almost worldwide dictatorial monarchy, the laws to which abide come from the consensus of the people.

 Until 1870 this standard excluded blacks and other minority races.

Until 1920, this standard excluded women.  

The Constitution is brilliant in its ideals, but must also be monitored so it is effective for all.  (Which is the purpose of Amendments)  At this time in our history, laws can be flagrantly bought and sold.  The political process at all levels inherently engages the need for money.  And so those who hold the money hold the power.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong about being wealthy.  But once you exert wealth to service your own needs at the expense of others, something MUST be done.

Tonight the city is moving to evacuate OWS from Zuccotti Park.

If forced to leave, leave it spotless, and then move to a different park, or multiple parks-   confound the powers that be as much as possible.  The movement has become bigger than a park, so it doesn’t matter so much where the headquarters is.  Occupy everywhere!


UPDATE  – Oct 16 As most of you know, at the last minute, discouraged by 300,000 complaints, and a large physical presence, the mayor and police stood down.  What followed was an amazing weekend.

On Saturday, Oct. 15,  50,000 flooded Times Square and there were rallies and marches throughout the city-  overwhelmingly peaceful. 1,500 other cities in 82 countries staged their own occupations.

What started as a small gathering in Lower Manhattan has now exploded across the globe. When people begin to say the things that are on the lips of millions, fantastic things are born.

Occupy Wall St.: March on the Billionaires, and Chicago, 1884

Yesterday on the Upper East Side

October 11, 2011

Now in its 4th week, the Occupy Wall Street movement has picked up tremendous steam, despite inattention from most of the nation’s media.  The movement has inspired similar occupation protests around the world, in more than 600 cities.   Each one is bound by a realization that all governments must answer to the people, the common people who labor for their living and pay the taxes that keep society running.

On Saturday, October 15th,  662 cities around the globe will protest in a day of solidarity against the corrupt economic and political practices of their governments.  In NYC, this day will include rallies in Lower Manhattan and Washington Square Park; and a mass march on Times Square. <a href=”; rel=”nofollow”></a>

Marching up 5th Avenue

Today, #OccupyWallStreet led a march through the Upper East Side of Manhattan, home to some of the richest and most corrupted people on Earth.  Along the way, the demonstration stopped and chanted in front of the homes of selected billionaires, including Rupert Murdoch, and other leaders of business who benefited from federal bailouts on the people’s dime.

It seemed media was there from all over the world, from Japan to Italy.  There was a lot of positive energy in the march, and there were no notable confrontations with the police.

Two chants stuck out:

“We are the 99%!” – which has become the movement’s battlecry

“Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!”  – aimed, obviously, at the rich CEO’s who live in the neighborhood

Along the way, many bystanders paused, and expressed their support.  They far outnumbered the scoffers…

A similar thing happened in 1884, in Chicago –  though that was a bit more sinister.  On Thanksgiving Day, protesters marched past the mansions of the robber barons on Prairie Avenue.

‎”On Thanksgiving Day 1884 the anarchists [of Chicago] unveiled their new symbol. The black flag of hunger and death joined the red flag of social change. Playing the anthem of the French revolution, the Marseillaise, they began a march which took them past Potter Palmer’s elegant hotel, the Palmer House. Then on to the Prairie Avenue mansions of the capitalists who had “deprived them,” their leaflets said, “of every blessing during the past year.” “Every worker, every tramp must be on hand to express their thanks in a befitting manner….

‎…And they’re going up and they’re ringing the doorbells. And of course nobody’s answering the doors. But they’re screaming that they want bread or power. There’d just never been a direct demonstration quite like that…”


Park Avenue

on Park Avenue

below Rupert Murdoch's penthouse

Many more pictures here:

Declaration of Independence and Occupy Wall Street

A chief criticism of Occupy Wall Street is that there are a lot grievances with no proposed solutions.  We forget, though, that our most sacred document, the Declaration of Independence, was itself a list of complaints offering few answers.  Answers come after the inspiration.

The 99% is Growing!

(Special Thanks to field correspondents Sarah Valeri and Isabelle Garbani)

Lower Manhattan’s Foley Square sits at the edge of what was 19th century New York’s most notorious neighborhood, the Five Points –  setting of Martin Scorsese’s 2002 Gangs of New York

Foley Square - Occupy Wall Street - October 5 (photo - Isabelle Garbani)

Yesterday something extraordinary happened there.  A march of thousands (up to 50,000 by some estimates) rallied at the square to express their discontent with a broken system – a system in which common people are charged with funding the caprices of the extravagantly rich.  A system with an ever-increasing disdain for the citizens in its care.  A system in which basic American rights are being trampled upon.  We’ve been seeing in the previous weeks that people are beginning to realize that the “system” is OUR system.  We pay the taxes, we support the economy, we contribute to the services that are meant to make  a society work.  When an apathetic population comes to, and realizes that it is meant to lead a country instead of blindly follow a select few, great things can happen.

Foley Square - Occupy Wall Street - October 5, 2011 (photo - Isabelle Garbani)

Three  weeks ago, a few inspired individuals took over a small park in the Financial District and set up a model society – with cooperative medical services, food contributions, security, a media center, and decision making by consensus.  The usual happened: snide references to “over-privileged, over-educated, short-sighted hippies” etc. etc.  The past week, however, has blown this stereotype straight out of the water:

  Perhaps a society run for the people and by the people is not just a stale 235 year old catchphrase.  Because- as it turns out, the “fringe” settlement at Zuccotti Park  has amassed support from far and wide.

Yesterday, at Foley Square, we saw representatives from almost every major union imaginable – postal workers, teachers, laborers, nurses, marines, and the transit workers (Who are said to have decided to stop donating buses for mass arrests by the NYPD).  Occupations have begun in cities across the country. – In solidarity, students have walked out of schools and colleges.

Foley Square - Occupy Wall Street - October 5, 2011 (photo: Isabelle Garbani)

Yesterday’s march was the biggest yet of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  It was peaceful-  full of anger, but also of optimism.  Unlike at the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday, and Union Square the week before, the police, for the most part,  kept themselves in check- Though after much of the crowd had dissipated, they unleashed their typical brutishness once again, this time flailing wildly with batons, and later bragging about it:

Naturally the city and police department would like to avoid investigating this like the plague. But enough outcry may change that:

1st Precinct: +1 (212) 334-0611
NYPD Switchboard: +1 (646) 610-5000
NYPD Central Booking: +1 (212) 374-3921
NYPD Internal Affairs: +1 (212) 741-8401
Mayor Bloomberg: +1 (212) NEW-YORK or +1 (212) 374-392

HOWEVER – The experience for the vast majority of people in the march was positive.  “Good vibes”.  The national Occupy Wall Street movement is not only about poverty or the disadvantaged, it is about all of us– working, middle, and even upper-middle class – the 99% of us whose pursuit of the American Dream slips further and further from our reach, not by our lack of effort or where-with-all, but by a government that has wrenched it from our grasp.

Foley Square - Occupy Wall Street - October 5, 2011 (photo: Isabelle Garbani)

Occupy Wall Street marches the Brooklyn Bridge

On Saturday, October 1, a solidarity march left the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zuccotti Park, and thousands proceeded north to City Hall and then began to cross the iconic Brooklyn Bridge.  A stand-off with police ensued and mass arrests numbered up to 1,000.

I was out of town and missed it but this is an excellent video showing the march and stand-off:

The movement is gaining traction and is spreading to cities across America:

Old Signs of Havemeyer Street – Brooklyn

These vintage signs were spotted on a recent walk along Havemeyer Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  As far as I know all these businesses are still operating.

Incidentally, Havemeyer was the name of a 19th family that dealt in manufactured sugar products, a Williamsburg tradition largely forgotten, except for the massive Domino plant along the river.


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