New York’s most moving memorials

by Jessica Allen and Garrett Ziegler on October 26, 2010

Tiles for America in Greenwich Village

The tiles for America 9/11 memorial in Greenwich Village

Every great city memorializes its heroes, those paragons of virtue or suffering. As we gaze upon these monuments in everlasting metal, we’re meant to feel both thankful and uplifted, perhaps even capable of great feats in our own lives. Here are some of New York’s most moving memorials.

African Burial Ground
In 1991, construction workers discovered that the spot carefully chosen as the setting for a federal office building in Lower Manhattan was actually a burial ground used by Africans and African-Americans from 1626 to the late 1700s. After much controversy, the National Park Service took over the site, which now consists of a large granite sculpture with running water and engravings from various African cultures. Its center has a scalloped design that lists the few known facts of those buried there, all likely enslaved, most killed by malnutrition, violence, or punishment. Open daily from 9 am to 5 p.m., the park is located at the corners of Duane and Elk Streets, about a mile from Gild Hall.

General Grant National Memorial
The memorial to one of the most complex figures in American history sits at the very top edge of Riverside Park, overlooking the Hudson River, and is the largest tomb in North America. After paying your respects and admiring the view, walk back into Morningside Heights and grab a seat at Tom’s Restaurant, which memorializes another great period in American history: Seinfeld. (The show used the exterior of this restaurant whenever Jerry et al headed out to the coffee shop.) Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Grant’s Tomb is close to the intersection of Riverside Drive and West 122nd Street. Stay at the Lucerne, and take the 1 or 2 train north.

Irish Hunger Memorial
During the Great Hunger in Ireland, close to one million people died and almost the same number emigrated, mostly to the United States. Brian Tolle’s Irish Hunger Memorial peacefully memorializes the dead and, slightly less successfully, focuses viewers’ attention on contemporary hunger issues worldwide. The work stands as a humble island amidst the luxury and touristiness of Battery Park City. Located at 290 Vesey Street, near North End Avenue, across the street from the Embassy Suites Hotel, the memorial is open daily from dawn to dusk.

Statues in Central Park
Spend any time in Central Park, and you’ll immediately notice a plethora of trees, roller skaters, and statues. We don’t have statistics on the first two, but there are about 50 sculptures, fountains, and statues, memorializing everyone from William Shakespeare to the crew of the USS Maine to Balto, a Siberian husky who helped carry medicine to curb a diphtheria epidemic in 1920s Alaska. We’re particularly partial to the park’s largest memorial, the hulking Jagiello Grunwald Monument, a depiction of a Polish king that’s as fierce today as when the king led his country into battle in 1410. You can almost hear the clang of metal on metal. The park, which takes up roughly 6 percent of Manhattan, is open daily from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. Stay at the Mandarin Oriental, across the street from the southwest entrance.

Straus Park
These days, hearing the name “Titanic” is more likely to make you think of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet than of the more than 1500 victims who went down with the ship. Straus Park is dedicated to Ida and Isidor Straus, a married couple who drowned. (Isidor founded Macy’s.) It’s a simple, nicely landscaped wedge of park in Morningside Heights. But the statue of a reclining woman makes the park worth a trip: an embodiment of Memory, she lays on her side, head in hands, with one foot idly dangling for eternity. To us, she portrays not so much the act of remembering but of daydreaming. Located at the intersection of Broadway, West 106th Street, and West End Avenue, the park is open from dawn to dark. Stay at the Belleclaire, and take the 1 or 2 train north.

Tiles for America
On September 12, 2001, Lorrie Veasey, owner of a nearby paint-your-own-pottery studio, began making clay angels and American flags to hang on a fence near St. Vincent’s Memorial Hospital, which was preparing to receive 9/11 victims. Over the next few months, thousands of tiles arrived from around the world. Today, 6,000 tiles cover the fence at Mulry Square, at the corner of Greenwich and Seventh Avenues, in the West Village. The city has numerous memorials to 9/11, but this one is the most democratic and diverse. The tiles are a short walk from the Washington Square Hotel.

Jessica Allen and Garrett Ziegler of We Heart New York

[Photo credit: Flickr/gsz (Garrett Ziegler)]

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