The Lorelei Fountain

July 26, 2010

At the corner of Grand Concourse and 161st street, directly across from the Bronx County Courthouse, stands a seven-acre patch of green known as Joyce Kilmer Park. Originally called  Concourse Plaza, in 1926 the park was renamed for Alfred Joyce Kilmer, an American poet who lived in New York City and was killed in action in France during World War I.

The highest point in the park is the setting of the Lorelei Fountain, which is dedicated to the memory of German poet Heinrich Heine and one of his most famous works, Die Lorelei. The poem tells the story of the Lorelai, a legendary siren with a magical voice who lures sailors to their deaths on the Rhine. At the foot of the white marble fountain is a large plaque which says:

The Heinrich Heine Fountain (also called the Lorelei Fountain) honors the German poet and writer (1797-1856) whose poem “Die Lorelei” immortalized the siren of romantic legend. The marble sculptural group depicts Lorelei seated on a rock in the Rhine River among mermaids, dolphins and seashells. The bas relief around the pedestal include a profile  of Heine as a result of a campaign by many German writers and scholars.

The sculptor Ernst Herter (1846 – 1917) was commissioned with the financial assistance  of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, to design the fountain in 1888 for the writer’s home city of Düsseldorf, which declined the monument on aesthetic as well as political grounds. The fountain was purchased by a committee of German-Americans in 1893 and dedicated in what was then known as Grand Concourse Plaza on July 8, 1899. It was moved to the park’s north end in 1940. In 1999 this monument was restored, relocated to its original location and placed in a newly landscaped setting in Joyce Kilmer Park.

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The view from below

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Approaching from the left

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A closer look

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The poet’s face is below the Lorelei

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From the right

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Rear view

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A mermaid reaches for Heine’s laurels

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Birds enjoying the fountain

NYC Department of Parks & Recreation: Joyce Kilmer Park
Forgotten New York
Dialog International: Heinrich Heine Takes New York

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Found Treasure

March 29, 2010

For more than 30 years now, sharp-eyed New Yorkers have been finding them on ledges, windowsills and store counters — poker-chip-size coins that reveal themselves to be something far more mysterious than loose change.

The inch-wide ceramic discs, painted in iridescent colors, have the rough, weathered feel of ancient treasure. Each is embossed with a short, cryptic message, a year and two humble letters: “bw.”

Those, it turns out, are the initials of Beriah Wall, a Brooklyn artist who estimates he has knocked out hundreds of thousands of these handmade tokens since the late 1970s, quietly dropping them in public places or the hands of bewildered strangers. His latest batch, minted over the last few months, carry the message “Stuck in Brkln.”

The article appeared in the New York Times a few weeks ago, and it left me feeling both somewhat awed by Beriah Wall’s creativity and a little bit miffed. After all, I’m a sharp-eyed New Yorker. I’ve been in Brooklyn for years.  Why haven’t I found — or at least spotted — one of Beriah Wall’s coins?

Of course, the city contains more than 8 million people and Wall has produced, at most, a few hundred thousand clay coins. Odds are that the majority of New Yorkers have never seen or even heard of his tiny artworks. Why should I expect to locate one? And with that, I forgot about the article. Until …

Yesterday I was walking near the entrance to the Clark Street subway station when I noticed something gleaming on a low, shallow window ledge. I thought it might be a metal button, perhaps even a large coin, so I paused and picked it up. It took a moment for me to recognize the object as something I’d recently read about: one of Beriah Wall’s token-like creations. A fragment was missing, chipped off at some point during its travels, but I tucked it securely into my pocket and am now enjoying this little found treasure.

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Coin-like treasure found on a window sill

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Reverse side of clay coin (note damage)

New York Times: Statements by an Artist, for the Palms of Strangers
Beriah Wall


Mysteries of Manhattan: The Painted Car

November 28, 2009

It was parked at the corner of Second Avenue and 27th Street. A big old Ford LTD Crown Victoria with taped up windows, dented fenders, smashed tail lights and rusted chrome. But really, on this vehicle, who would notice a few flaws?

Thickly covered with images, objects and phrases garnered from sports, politics, pop culture and fantasy, this is a car with a message. Or, perhaps, several messages. But what is it trying to tell us? Who created it? And why did he or she decide to paint a car rather than a wall or a canvas?

I have no idea. Guess I’ll just have to categorize it as another of Manhattan’s many mysteries.

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Left front corner

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Hood

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Right side

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Gas tank cover

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Tire

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Religious symbols and phrases

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Rear door

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Driver’s side window

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Broken tail light

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Rear window

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Trunk

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Rooftop collage


Flying Home: Harlem Heros and Heroines

November 9, 2009

Faith Ringgold is an award-winning artist, writer and teacher who was born and raised in New York City. In 1992, as part of the city’s Arts for Transit program, the Metropolitan Transit Authority commissioned her to create two thirty foot mosaic murals for the 125th street subway station platform — one of the busiest locations in Harlem.

The murals were inspired by a song by Lionel Hampton, Flying Home Harlem that Ringgold heard when she was a child. They depict iconic men, women and places that were influential in Harlem’s history.

“I love every one of these people,” Ringgold told the MTA. “I wanted to share those memories, to give the community – and others just passing through – a glimpse of all the wonderful people who were part of Harlem. I wanted them to realize what Harlem has produced and inspired.”

The mosaics were fabricated in a small town near Venice, Italy and installed at the stop for the 2 and 3 express in December 1996. On her Web site, Ringgold says, “When you are in New York, go to see them. And then have dinner at Sylvia’s, the famous soul food restaurant just a block away.”

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Mural in the 125th Street subway station

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The Harlem Opera House

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Madame C.J. Walker and her College of Hair Culture

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Abyssinian Baptist Church

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Billie Holiday

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The Ink Spots and the Apollo Theater

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Marian Anderson

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The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Council of Negro Women

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Jesse Owens and his Olympic gold medals

Faith Ringgold
Faith Ringgold’s blog
MTA Arts for Transit: 125th Street
Sylvia’s


Where Every Night is New Year’s Eve

July 6, 2009

While most of us have watched the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebrations on television, joining the festivities in person can be daunting. Those who manage to attend must pass through extensive security checkpoints, stand in the cold for hours, tolerate being crushed in an enormous crowd and having no access to public restrooms.

Fortunately, there is another way to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Times Square. In fact, you can join the festivities anytime, even in the middle of summer.

A series of mosaics entitled The Revelers was installed in the Times Square subway station in 2007. Created by Jane Dickson, the work is installed in several busy underground passages. It portrays 70 life-size partygoers boisterously welcoming in the New Year with hats, noisemakers and confetti.

They make it possible to join Times Square’s New Year’s Eve festivities every day — and night — of the year.

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Celebrating with the kids

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Laughing

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Revelers meet in a corner

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Kicking up their heels

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Holding the baby aloft

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Dressed in blue and red

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A hug to bring in the year

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With open arms

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A kiss for luck

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Tooting a horn

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Arm in arm

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In a green coat

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Holding a hat and noisemaker

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In a fancy hat and high heels

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Blowing into a noisemaker

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Holding a child’s hand

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Dancing

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In a red hat

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Jumping for joy

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In a miniskirt

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With a real kid

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On piggyback

Pace University: Professor Dickson’s ‘Revelers” Bring Party Underground
Harvard Magazine: Underground Party
Frequently Asked Questions about New Year’s Eve in Times Square


The 31st Annual Museum Mile Festival

June 9, 2009

There are two things I dislike about the Museum Mile Festival:

1) It happens only once a year.
2) It lasts only three hours.

There simply isn’t enough time to take in everything that happens during this event which stretches along Fifth Avenue from 82nd Street to 105th Street — 23 blocks offering nine museums (all providing free admission) along with concerts, clowns, jugglers, face painters, and arts and crafts projects.

In past years I’ve started at the lower end, near the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 82nd Street, and attempted to work my way up but never made it past the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum at 91st Street. This time I decided to start at the northern end of the festival, heading down from El Museo del Barrio at 105th Street.

Unlike the rest of the institutions on museum mile, El Museo does not have its own building. Instead, it is one of variety of Latino arts organizations housed in the massive, block-filling, neo-Georgian Heckscher Building at 1230 Fifth Avenue (other tenants include the Raíces Latin Music Museum Collection of Harbor Conservatory and La Casa de la Herencia Cultural Puertorriqueña).

Although El Museo is currently closed for renovations, the Latin-flavored music issuing from their loudspeakers inspired passersby to dance in the street. Inside the Heckscher Building, through corridors of worn linoleum and flickering florescent lights, they offered a mask-making workshop, a salsa jam session, and promises that they will reopen in the fall.

The next stop was across the street to the Museum of the City of New York, which is charged with a “unique mandate: to explore the past, present, and future of this fascinating and particular place and to celebrate its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. A variety of exhibitions, public programs, and publications all investigate what gives New York City its singular character.”

The current programs are tied to NY400: Holland on the Hudson, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Dutch. In 1609 the Half Moon, guided by Captain Henry Hudson, landed on the shores of what is now New York City. Hudson’s arrival led to the establishment of New Amsterdam and the New Netherland colony.

This was my first visit to the museum and, while I was eager to rejoin the celebrations outside, I couldn’t drag myself away from the programs including exhibits about Manhattan before Hudson’s arrival, the Dutch city, and the acapella concert by the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.

I kept checking my watch, thinking that I was missing the rest of the festival, but remaining unwilling to leave as I learned about the many Dutch influences that continue to touch our lives in New York City today. I lingered at a map that shows areas of the city with their original Dutch names: Breuckelen (Brooklyn), Vlackebos (Flatbush), Boswijck (Bushwick), Conijne Eylandt (Coney Island), Midwout (Midwood), Nieuw Utrecht (New Utrecht). I listened to recordings based on diaries and letters written by the Dutch colonists. I gazed at the rare artifacts, books, manuscripts, maps and globes.

I stayed until the museum was ready to lock its doors for the night. When I got back to the street, the festival was over. The street had reopened to traffic and a few stragglers were using discarded pieces of chalk to make their marks on the sidewalks and walls.

Perhaps next year I’ll take in more than one or two museums during the festival. Then again, perhaps not. Why rush to “get through” a good experience?

I once read a highly-recommended guide to Paris by Rick Steves which included instructions on how to see the Louvre Museum in less than an hour (maintain a brisk pace and glace at certain key works in case your friends back home ask what you thought of, say, the Mona Lisa). When I got to Paris I ditched the book and spent an entire day inside the Louvre, lingering after dark to watch the skateboarders clattering on the stairs and terraces above the Seine. The “in a hurry” crowd never knew what they missed.

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Dancing in the middle of Fifth Avenue

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Drawing in the street

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Another little artist

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Inside the Heckscher Building

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Jam session in El Museo del Barrio

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Viewing the NY400 exhibits

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Photographs of Dutch citizens

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Moving up and down the stairway

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Exploring the galleries

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A figure originally used to hold a compass on a ship

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Looking at Dutch photographs of New Yorkers

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A guide to Nieu-Nederlandt

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Viewing a video about New York history

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Map of New Amsterdam

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Inside the galleries

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The crowd straggles out of the Museum of the City of New York

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Writing on the walls with chalk

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Chalk message on a museum wall

Annual Museum Mile Festival
El Museo del Barrio
Museum of the City of New York
NY Times: Voyaging Up the Hudson to Rediscover the Dutch
NY400
New York City Gay Men’s Chorus


A Sign With a Picture of a Doorway

March 29, 2009

Sometimes I must leave the city, and this was one of those days. I headed to Pennsylvania Station to take a train but, due to a delay on the subway, I arrived a few minutes after it departed. With nearly an hour to wait until the next train, I passed the time exploring the enormous maze of floors and passageways.

While walking through one of the lower levels, I noticed a doorway crisscrossed with yards of yellow tape ominously marked “Police Line Do Not Cross.” I stepped closer and saw two paper notices fastened on and near the tape.

The both bore the same message: a notice to Amtrak employees telling them that the entryway was closed (apparently, the yards of tape weren’t enough of an indication) and that they should use another entrance. And, in case any Amtrak employees weren’t sure what an entrance was, both notices were helpfully illustrated with photographs of doorways. A pair of uniformed Amtrak workers strolled by while I was reading the signs, and we joked about management’s assessment of their intelligence (“I guess they figured if they didn’t put up a sign, we’d just walk through the tape.”).

I unpacked my camera and began to photograph the doorway. Suddenly, my lens was dark. I looked up and saw a large, red-faced man in a dark jacket who’d placed himself between the doorway and the camera. He demanded to know why I was taking a picture.

New York, as you probably know, has no shortage of crazies. I deal with them all the time, usually simply by putting as much distance between us as quickly as possible. This fellow, however, was already close enough to touch me. I felt I’d better say something, so I asked whether he had a problem with me taking pictures. He did, he said. I told him to get over it and, wanting to avoid a confrontation even more than I wanted the photo, I quickly walked away.

A few minutes later, I heard an announcement that my train was ready for boarding. I ran down the stairway, jumped on board, settled into a seat and began to read a magazine. Suddenly, I was aware that someone was standing over me.

I looked up and saw two police officers. They told me that they’d received a report and that I fit the description of the person involved. “Were you taking pictures in the station?,” asked one of the men. Yes, I was. “Can you tell me what compelled you take pictures?,” he asked.

Compelled? I didn’t feel compelled, I explained, I just thought it would make a good picture. I thought it was funny. They asked me to describe what happened and I did. They exchanged looks, then asked why I’d left the scene rather than talk to the man who’d approached me.

A horrible thought occurred to me. “Was he a cop?,” I asked. “He didn’t identify himself as a cop.” “No, he was no cop,” said the officer. “He works for Amtrak.” I explained that I’d left because thought he was a nut. Why would I stick around to talk to an angry nut?

The policemen asked more questions: why do I take photographs? What do I do with them? Just then, one of the officers glanced down at the magazine in my hands. It was a thick, glossy issue of Art in America. “Are you an artist?,” asked the policeman. I thought a moment, and decided that even though it is not the occupation I list on my tax returns, my photos are a kind of art. “Yes,” I replied.

“An artist,” he said. He turned to his partner and repeated the words. “An artist.” They both nodded. “Oh, well, you were taking the pictures for your art,” said the policeman. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

They told me that the man who’d blocked my view should have identified himself, but since he had called the authorities and reported me, they were obligated to follow up and investigate.

We began to discuss art, photography and Brooklyn when we heard a signal — the train was about to depart. The officers hurriedly gave me their names, shook my hand, and, repeating the words, “You didn’t do anything wrong,” stepped onto the platform just before the doors slid shut.

Thanks, NYPD. Thanks, Art in America.

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The doorway

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The sign on the tape

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The sign beside the doorway

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Art in America magazine

Art in America
The Late, Great Pennsylvania Station
New York Architecture: Penn Station
Amtrak: Penn Station


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