I am still low on sleep, but New York City is truly the “City that Never Sleeps”.  For a week and a half I took in the sights and sounds and hustle and bustle and learned a great deal in the process.  I then found quiet and beautiful upstate New York to be a calming retreat after my time in the big city.  There were moments that I truly felt like a big shot at places like Wall Street, Broadway, Times Square, and 5th  Avenue, yet others including tours on the subway where I realized that indeed I was only a  tourist.

So what did I learn about the city?  First of all, it was evident that New York clearly is the “melting pot”.  Our stops at Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty were excellent and the teaching resources that we received will be quite useful in the classroom.  At these stops, we gained firsthand knowledge of the processes that immigrants have encountered when seeking entrance to the United States.  You don’t have to venture far into any part of the city to notice the multiple languages, ethnicities, restaurants, businesses, etc. that the ancestors of such immigrants have set up throughout the isles.  As we learned in reading Russell Shorto’s book, The Island at the Center of the World, toleration among cultural differences is paramount in New York and in fact as Ed O’Donnell pointed out is a necessity in such a diverse city.  Although toleration is crucial, for tourists included, there is also a certain etiquette that must be followed in New York.  If you are with a large group of people touring, try not to block the entire side walk.  The New Yorkers will look at you as if you are a rube and might have some colorful language for you.  I did experience this colorful language on a couple of occasions as I watched them sitting in the middle of traffic jams.  However, when dealing with them one on one, they were very hospitable and helpful to me whether it was providing directions or the man at Staples on 5th Avenue, whom I will never forget, that came chasing after me as I had left my wallet at the checkout counter.   “We New Yorkers get a bad rap”, he stated.  Transportation was convenient, but at times frustrating, though it didn’t seem to bother the New Yorkers.  Through the subway system, run by the Metro Transit Authority, you can literally get anywhere in the Big Apple if you just know what line to take.  I found it interesting to note that ¾ of New Yorkers don’t even have cars.  Obviously, not many want to deal with the traffic, and the parking, especially in Manhattan, must be atrocious. 

The New York skyline with the Empire State Building in the middle. Photo by Howard Mestas.

In such a city, the history is also vast.  We had learned about the legend of the sale of Manhattan Island to the Dutch for $24 in guilders and the construction of the “Great Bridge”.  Most of us however were not fully aware of the archaeological dig site, not far from the bridge, that is the African burial ground.  With the wealth of artifacts that have been unearthed, here we have tangible proof that slavery did also exist in the north.  We learned more of this topic as we examined primary documents at the New York Historical Society.  Ed also pointed out at one point in our trip that New York always tries to look toward the future.  Our visit to Ground Zero was easily the most sorrowful moment that I had throughout the trip, but New Yorkers plan to rebuild the site of our country’s most tragic hour and have tastefully memorialized the victims at St. Paul’s Church and a nearby repository.

I hated to leave such an awesome city and must admit that I was a bit skeptical about visiting other parts of the state.   I mean how can you beat New York City?  In the long run, however, I was pleasantly surprised.  Cooperstown, New York is an absolute baseball mecca.  The Hall of Fame and Farmer’s Museum that we visited were irreplaceable stops on our journey and will help my teaching of the cultural history of the United States.  The video conferencing option provided by the Hall seems to be a natural fit with the use of Promethean Boards that District 70 is pushing in the classroom.  This is something I hope to explore further in the future.  Also, the reenactors at the Farmer’s Museum had great passion for their subject matter and added to my background knowledge of colonial life.  While at Sagamore Hill and Oyster Bay, I felt as though I was entering a gamesman’s lodge after an African safari at Teddy Roosevelt’s house and learned a great deal of the man’s politics and personality.  The boat ride on the Erie Canal, outside of Rochester, was priceless, and allowed me to finally visualize the locking system of a canal that I teach about when we study the Industrial Revolution.  Finally, through stops at Fort Ticonderoga and Saratoga, led by our guide Jim Hughto,  though it was a long final  day I experienced  and learned more about major turning points in the American Revolution that led to our great nation’s independence.

As the trip has now come to a close and I pause to reflect, I am happy to be heading home, but will cherish the memories.  As Jim Croce once said, “New York’s not my home”, but it is a great place to visit.  Now it’s time to get some sleep.


New York state capitol building- Albany, New York.

After a night in Syracuse and the final day’s events learning about turning points in the American Revolution at Saratoga and Fort Ticonderoga, our final stop was Albany, the state capital.  Though we spent little time here, it seems to be quite an interesting town.  Highlights of our time here included drinking some beverages at Kelsey’s Irish Pub at the Crown Plaza where we were staying and sampling The Capitol House Chinese Restaurant.  After Chinese for lunch, it was time to head to Albany International Airport for our return trip to Colorado.  The trip would include a layover in Chicago and final destination at Denver.  From that point we would drive back home to Pueblo.  On our way to the airport, we took in our lone historical site for the day; the gravesite of the “Father of Civil Service”, the 21st president Chester A. Arthur at Albany Rural Cemetery.

President Chester A. Arthur's gravesite.

It has finally come, the conclusion of touring for our summer 2010 New York City excursion.  Today, we learned about a couple of the major turning points that led to victory in the American Revolution.  We got up early, leaving the Sheraton Hotel in Syracuse at 7:00 AM sharp, for what would eventually become a 15+hour trip visiting Fort Ticonderoga on beautiful Lake Champlain and Saratoga Battlefield, where the tide of the entire revolution ultimately turned and united us with a new French ally.

The history of Fort Ticonderoga is quite complicated as the fort has amazingly been attacked six times and changed hands three times, being held at one time by France, Britain, and the United States.  Its strategic location has earned it the moniker the “Key to the Continent” as it sits on Lake Champlain, a lake some 150 miles long, between the United States and Canada.  The fortress was originally built by the French and known as Fort Carillion in what at the time was New France.  Here the French though outnumbered by almost 5:1 would ultimately prevail and defeat the British holding the fort from 1758 until the 1759 when the British reclaimed it.

Fort Ticonderoga

So how does this fit into the scope of American History?  At the conclusion of the French and Indian War, the American Revolution was just on the horizon.  Early on, the Green Mountain Boys led by Ethan Allen were able to expel the British from the fort gaining desperately needed artillery including huge cannons.  This was of great importance in that during the pre- and early Revolutionary time frame, one major Continental weakness was the lack of supplies that a well trained, or in this case ragtag army needed to fight affectively.  Henry Knox, George Washington’s future Secretary of War, later led a mission to secure the cannons, for the Continental Army, as spoils of war.  The fort was later captured by the British in 1777 and later retaken again by the Americans after the Battles of Saratoga in September and October of that year.  When teaching about this, careful detail will have to be given to the chronology of the history of this fort, as grown adults on the trip seemed to even have a hard time keeping track of the order of events.  Having said that, the fort’s chronology is not my primary concern.  I will be more interested to see that my students understand the fort’s strategic value and importance not only to the American Revolution but also the Colonial era that preceded it.

A cannon overlooking the Green Mountains.

After leaving Fort Ticonderoga, we next journeyed to Saratoga, where the tide of the war truly turned.  It was here that leaders like General Horatio Gates, Benedict Arnold, and Rifleman Daniel Morgan disrupted the British goal of taking and uniting the Hudson River Valley from Canada to New York City.  Arnold, after feuding with Gates, of course later attempted to give up West Point to military hands, becoming probably the most notorious traitor in American History.  Oddly, at Saratoga there is a monument (without his name) to him acknowledging his hard work fighting for American independence before his treasonable act.  Our guide Jim was very frustrated by this and compared Arnold to Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber who once served as a soldier in Iraq.  His argument was that though McVeigh once fought for his country, his later actions tainted his original image as an American hero.  While acknowledging that Arnold did help fight for our independence, I must admit that for me it was hard to accept a monument glorifying such a traitorous man.

Jim Hughto, the day’s guide was interesting and did have a passion for his subject.  He really went above and beyond as he dressed the part as a French Correur du bois.

Jim, our guide, dressed as a French correur du bois.

When we reached Seneca Falls, New York, the birthplace of women’s rights, I felt enchanted by the grassroots movement led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, MaryAnn McClintock, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott.  Inspired when they were denied a place at an anti-slavery convention in London, these women banned together and began to question if they truly were being treated equally to their male brethren.  We toured the National Park Museum and soon set sail for a number of historical houses belonging to people ranging from abolitionists and politicians to Quakers and concerned women demanding equal rights and an end to discrimination throughout society.  Of paramount concern for these trailblazing leaders was women’s suffrage (the right to vote), which was ultimately achieved when the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed in 1920.  We observed the chapel where the Women’s Rights Convention was held and moved on to touring the significant homes.

Seneca Falls suffragettes.

We first toured the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and later visited the McClintock home of Thomas and MaryAnn McClintock.  It was here that we were able to observe, though the furniture was not original, where the Declaration of Sentiments was formally penned.  Using Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, these ladies slightly changed his opening lines to “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men and women were created equal.  As Quaker abolitionists, the McClintocks also found it necessary to work toward the expansion of women’s rights.  Their house like others that we would see also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

After leaving Seneca Falls, we next visited beautiful Auburn, New York where our first stop was the home of former US Senator, New York Governor, and Secretary of State to Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, William H. Seward.  Seward, an avid abolitionist and expansionist with high political aspirations, also opened his home as a stop on the Underground Railroad.  His house was unique and had a wealth of artifacts to look at, however unfortunately photography inside the house was forbidden.  Topics included his purchasing of Alaska, as Secretary of State, on March 30, 1867, his attempted assassination on the day that President Lincoln was killed, and work done as an abolitionist helping Harriet Tubman get a home in Auburn. Learning more about Seward and these stories will certainly enrich my curriculum as I teach both the pre and post-Civil War eras.

Former Secretary of State William Seward's home- Auburn, NY.


We next went to Harriet Tubman’s house also in Auburn.  Unfortunately we were under quite a rush in order to make our 4:00 appointment for the boat tour at the Erie Canal.  We made the most out of the trip and after foregoing the video instead for a brief introduction were able to tour the home of one of American History’s greatest abolitionists.  As mentioned before, Tubman was given her land by William Seward which spanned an impressive 33 acres 7 of which were originally from him.  Students are usually interested in the topic of slavery and thus they are naturally drawn to Tubman and the Underground Railroad.  Brainstorming the positive characteristics that made her such a great leader might prove useful and explaining how she persevered even through her tragic head injury could set the table for a lesson about the Underground Railroad or abolitionists in general.

The final leg of today’s journey began in Rochester, New York at the Erie Canal.  It was here that we boarded a packet boat and explored the process of sailing along inclines in terrain and stopping at locks along the canal.  We watched as the locks were opened and closed and the water level either dropped or raised depending on what direction we were headed.  I have always taught about canals and their lock systems, but had a tough time even visualizing it myself.   This was a firsthand experience that will be huge to my teaching of the Industrial Revolution and the pictures won’t hurt either.

Lock opening up on the Erie Canal.


What better way to teach culture in American History than to address it through sport.  Today we went to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  We first had a brief professional development discussion and were introduced to the museum website www.baseballhall.org.  At this website a great wealth of knowledge is available through a variety of topics.  One can easily envision some kind of a collaborative thematic unit using baseball as a central theme.  That topic alone should insure buy in by some of our most difficult male students.  One particular lesson that looked great for students was the “Cost of Being a Fan” lesson.  Included was a spreadsheet detailing all of the expenses encountered when attending a professional baseball game.  This of course varies by city and ballpark.  It encourages students to budget and use math skills to understand basic economic principles.  I really like the idea of the video conferencing lessons directly from the Hall of Fame.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure how practical it will be.  Costs for the equipment and expenses for each lesson may get in the way, but I really liked the idea of the baseball character lesson plan through video conferencing for the Discovery class that I teach which is a virtually about being a good citizen.

We were also given some basic information about baseball and legends of why exactly the tiny little town of Cooperstown was chosen as the location of the Hall of Fame.  The story is that in 1839, Abner Doubleday drew some lines out in the middle of a field nearby and incorporated a bat and ball and suddenly we had the game.  Baseball’s origins also go back to the Civil War as soldiers in army camps would play while waiting in between battles.  Baseball also varies slightly from the English game Rounders.  Ultimately, in 1939, 100 years after Doubleday’s invention the Hall of Fame opened its doors in 1939.  Of course the story could just be a myth.

As I walked from exhibit to exhibit and attempted to take it all in, I found myself in a state of awe.  Shrine after shrine dedicated to the greatest players and events that the game has ever known.  The old baseball cards on display gave me a sense of nostalgia and I even saw some that I have at my house.  At some point when we return to Colorado I will have to dust off the old collection.  I also found the World Series rings display very cool and decided that the most recent Philadelphia Phillies ring was probably the most impressive.  I found myself admiring all of the balls from “no hitters” that different pitchers have had throughout their respective careers.  Amazingly Nolan Ryan accomplished the feat seven times for the Angels, Astros, and Rangers.  Wow!  The Rockies stuff was cool too particularly the stuff from the organization’s first “no hitter” by Ubaldo Jimenez and the jersey in the team’s locker for Troy Tulowitzki’s unassisted triple play.  This was all capped off by a walk down the gallery with Cody as we admired the plaques of the greatest men to ever play the game.  It was as if the walls were talking to me as each player told their own story.

Standing with all of the "no hitter" balls.

Hank Aaron's plaque at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Later events in the day included a trip to the James Fenimore Cooper Art Museum where I picked up a great PBS DVD set on Native Americans, which will become a crucial piece of my curriculum as I teach about the colonial era, Tecumseh, Trail of Tears, and much more.  I also found a tiny book about which includes traditional Native American stories and games that look fun and will hopefully motivate and encourage student interest in the topic.

Next on the agenda, we went to the Farmer’s Museum.  This is the kind of place I would love to take students on a field trip to if It were available back home in Colorado.  We watched the blacksmith make nails, saw the printer use his press to create a flyer or newspaper article, learned about the basics of colonial pharmaceuticals, including the use of leaches, and watched a lady run the spinning wheel.  I can tell students about these things until I am blue in the face, but showing them the pictures that I have taken, and now watched it myself first hand, should help me to get them a better understanding of the colonial to mid 19th century era.

The blacksmith at the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown.

The printer demonstrating how to use his press.


Colonist working on the spinning wheel.

 Finally, the dinner was excellent at the Hawkeye Bar and Grill of the Otsega Hotel. We had a beautiful view of Lake Otsega, but unfortunately were not allowed to sit and eat our food outside on the patio.   I had the special, the flatiron steak with salad and cheesecake for dessert included.

In the textbooks, we often learn of politician’s political policies, but do we learn about them socially as a man or woman?  Do we truly learn of the character that makes the man?  After our visit to the Sagamore Hill and Oyster Bay area, I observed the lifestyle of one Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt.  My conclusion; that he was the toughest man ever to grace the Oval Office.  His house at Sagamore Hill was without a doubt the manliest home I have ever seen.  With illusions to the Museum of Natural History, where he is honored, upon entering one feels as though they have just left an African safari.  It was here that he spent his down time summer vacations and treasured the woodsy atmosphere including the immaculate nearby Oyster Bay.

From what I have learned Theodore (he did not like to be called Teddy) was a man of great principle and moral character.  He stood for patriotism and was the only president to win the Congressional Medal of Honor, conservation was also of equal importance to him, as he set up the National Forest and Park service, and he fought against potential monopolies to insure a fair playing field in business and the private sector.  He was a true trailblazer and earned two terms with a possible reelection for a third term under his Bull Moose ticket which fell a little short, as William Howard Taft became the Commander in Chief that year.  He was a boxer, hunter, and true leader and philanthropist around the world, as he also had a hand in the building of the Panama Canal.  He once famously quipped that you should “speak softly and carry a big stick”.  This and other words of wisdom and quotes of his would certainly be useful in promoting class discussion about the man and what he stood for.  I therefore purchased a tiny little booklet entitled The Quotable TR, to encourage student interest and participation.  A couple of my favorites are below……


“Don’t hit at all if you can help it; don’t hit a man if you can possibly avoid it; but if you do hit him, put him to sleep.”  (New York City, February 17, 1899)


“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”  (Chicago, Illinois, April 10, 1899)

Unfortunately while inside of the museum, the staff asked that we refrain from taking pictures.  It was then that I decided to purchase a manual about Sagamore Hil and post cards with great visuals, including the North Room where he kept his prized elephant tusks.  Such visual elements should stimulate student interest to find out more about the man and what he stood for as probably our last truly centrist president.  Hopefully, after looking at them students will be able to compare and contrast Teddy Roosevelt the president with his cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the nation’s longest serving president, who hails from Hyde Park to get a better idea about what the family stood for.

We later visited TR’s grave and headed for Oneonta, New York in preparation for the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I could hardly wait to see it for a second time!


Teddy Roosevelt or "The Old Lion" as he was referred to by one of his sons upon his death

At the New York Historical Society we once again examined history through the lens of slavery.   New York Harbor evidently was quite the middle man for Southern cotton and other crops being shipped over sea to Europe.  In fact, Southern cotton and textiles shipped through New York led to 38 cents per dollar profit for the city.  It was this that made New York and the South political allies.  Antebellum New York clearly catered to the lifestyles of Southern merchants, allowing slavery for up to nine months and promoting minstrel shows and other stereotypically racist forms of entertainment.  Southerners loved to stay at the fancy hotels and frequent the shops of New York, but the feeling was mutual as New York enjoyed the commercial profits that came with the cotton trade. 

The typical commode chair of colonial gentry America was tended by slave labor.

At the Luce Center storage facilities for the NYHS, we were asked to interpret several paintings and other artifacts all dealing with slavery in New York.  We looked at the Tontine Coffee House painting, which show slaves working in New York City.  Also, of interest was the Beekman Coach (one of three carriages that George Washington rode in).  For our purposes, it was noted that the coach was driven by slaves.  All of the exhibits were unique, but probably the most graphic of all was the commode chair, a three angled chair placed in the corner of a guest room where visitors or the homeowner could use the facilities.  The connection to slavery?  Slaves would have to discard the waste left over in the chair.   We next were asked to choose an artifact at the Luce Center, determine what it was, come up with an objective, and provide three open ended questions.  This is basic lesson planning 101, but it does encourage students to use critical thinking skills in order to learn more about various artifacts that they may encounter at a museum or inside of the classroom.

The Beekman Coach (George Washington's Carriage)

So what can students learn from this?  I touched on the African Burial Ground briefly in another post.  It shows us that slavery was not only a southern problem.   It in fact was alive and well in Mid-Atlantic States including New York which was the number one slave market up until 1750.  This is a unique perspective that most K-12 level students do not realize, the fact that at one time slavery existed in the north.  The Southern economy of course led to a larger demand for it in the long run throughout the south.

As a parting gift, we were provided with quite useful resources including a CD/DVD with great PowerPoint presentations and wonderful video connecting cotton to the growth of slavery in both north and south.  Furthermore, the replica Harper’s Weekly magazine is an excellent primary document that will provide students in my class with wonderful background information of the pre-Civil War era in general.

My day became complete with a trip to Yankees Stadium.  I have never been a huge Yankees fan.  In fact, in contrast, I have always considered them the “evil empire”.  I do however recognize the rich history that is the New York Yankees.  Even if they do, under the guidance of George Steinbrenner, always buy their team.  I would be lying if I said that I was not impressed by Monument Park, which sits behind the center field fence and the aura of just sitting in the stands.  Just watching Derek Jeter, a sure fire future Hall of Famer, play shortstop and Andy Petite pitch seven strong innings was a thrill.  Then suddenly it was the ninth and Mariano Rivera, the game’s best closer was coming in, and I knew it was all over.  The Yankees win; cue Sinatra with a little New York, New York, and it was all over, Yankees 4, Astros 3.  All in all it was a wonderful experience.


The "Yankee Clipper" Joe Dimaggio's plaque at Monument Park, Yankee Stadium.

Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty are clearly the most iconic monuments to the American Dream that our country has to offer.  Our trip here offered an inspirational snapshot on the history of immigration to the United States.  It was here that most American citizens’ ancestors first crossed the shore into the country.   The journey was anything but easy and many of them traveled in steerage at the bottom of the boat. 

The Statue of Liberty

The poem  below can be found inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty modeled by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.  From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame,
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips.  "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

by Emma Lazarus, New York City, 1883


The Statue of Liberty itself was at first a gift from the French commemorating the American and French Revolutions and the idea of independence, but due to its proximity to Ellis Island has since become synonymous with immigration and the American Dream.  After passing the statue, which was shipped in pieces and later assembled in the United States, at Ellis Island, some of them faced cultural and linguistic barriers in the new foreign land.  We did learn however that when crossing through customs, inspectors from just about every language were available to help the newcomers to the country.  In some cases recreation and entertainment were even provided for immigrants at Ellis Island accounting not only for the immigrant’s health, but also the soul.   This was of great necessity to account for the multitude of cultures arriving at the country’s largest immigration center.   According to our guide, once at Ellis Island, the newcomers were subjected to a variety of questions.

Ellis Island

What is your name?

Where are you from?  Where are you going?

Are you a criminal?  Are you an anarchist?

What is your occupation?  What skills do you have?

Who paid for your ticket?

These are great questions for students to consider when studying the immigration process of the late nineteenth to mid twentieth century.  This also of course leads to great discussion of genealogy.   Students naturally often take ownership in learning about their own culture.  Ellis Island has the technology to look up particular surnames and attempt to trace one’s family tree lines and this is a great extension for the classroom for students that are interested.   Our guide also provided us with a wealth of resources by jump drive including two PowerPoint presentations and primary sources such as naturalization applications, the citizenship oath, and much more.  How helpful, this will be!  It must have been our lucky day!

Hard hat tour of the hospital renovation at Ellis Island

Artifacts used by surgeons examining immigrants at Ellis Island.

Ultimately 98%  made it through Ellis Island with a meager 2% being deported, half for medical and half for legal reasons.  During our time in the classroom, we were asked to examine some of the artifacts common at Ellis Island and determine who might have used them.  What a great way to engage students!  After arriving, the true test would come later when it became time to find a home and job.  Political parties like the Know Nothings and other ethnic and nativist groups did not always exactly welcome incoming immigrants.  Many of them feared that the newcomers would provide much more competition for them at the workplace.

After taking the ferry back to New York City, with the Yankees game penciled in for tomorrow, I quickly realized it was my last chance to sight see in the big city.  I took the subway to 5th Avenue and checked out Rockefeller Center.  Highlights included St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Atlas statue, and FAO Schwartz toy store minus Tom Hanks.  The rain came down and I stopped to get an umbrella at Grand Central Station.  After wandering out, I quickly realized what a spectacle New York City really is.  There were literally thousands of people walking the streets all quickly hustling this way and that.  I enjoyed the sites and stopped at Staples for packaging tape and boxes to ship home school supplies and souvenirs.  After purchasing the materials, I quickly scampered off to the Marriott to drop off my hands full of junk that had been accumulated throughout the day, not realizing that I had left my wallet.  The cashier came running after me on to 5th Avenue to get my attention.  I told him this was something that would never happen to me at home in Pueblo, but when consumed with the hustle and bustle of New York it did.  He smiled and said, “See and we even returned it”!  “New York has a bad reputation”!  Thanks again amigo! 

Atlas Statue

St. Patrick's Cathedral

FAO Schwartz toy store

Next I rode the C train back to Borough Hall/Jay Street and scurried back to our stomping grounds, the Brooklyn Marriott.  There was more left to see and I had not yet been to Coney Island.   I quickly made haste with Lindsay and we boarded the F train on what seemed like an endless expedition to the South end of Brooklyn.  The trip must have literally taken an hour and trains were almost vacant.  We literally stopped 3 times for about 15 minutes at a time do to traffic ahead.  When we finally reached Coney Island, it was close to 11:00 PM and I felt a sense of accomplishment.  I had a Nathan’s Original Hot Dog, bummed around for awhile and boarded the train back to the hotel all in what seemed like a New York minute.

Nathan's Original Hot dog stand. Home to the world famous hot dog eating contest each 4th of July.


Ed O’Donnell, the protégé of Kenneth Jackson, a former tour guide of ours, has proved to be quite the wealth of knowledge about the city of New York.  He has now led us on three tours and skillfully crafted discussions about colonial New York and Wall Street, the Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park, and New York’s most notable immigrant communities in the Lower East side.  A professor at Holy Cross University, a Jesuit school in Worcester, Massachusetts, but former New York resident, his wisdom about New York City seems notably unmatched.

Ed O'Donnell of Holy Cross University

On our first day with Ed, we witnessed the heart of America’s financial system, a little place called Wall Street.  We saw buildings like the New York Stock Exchange, The Federal Reserve, the Tweed Courthouse, Trump Tower, St. Paul’s Church, The Customs House, and Federal Hall, though rebuilt, the location where George Washington was sworn in as the nation’s first president.  I found  myself imagining it must have been like to be in the crowd the day that he took the oath of the presidency.  It would be interesting to probe student imagination concerning how they think such an event would have looked in the early days of the republic.

New York Stock Exchange

The Wall Street bull. The bull represents a strong market.

Early on in the tour, we also visited the African burial ground.  When thinking of slavery, it is common for most people to immediately think of the south, however it should be noted that slavery was indeed a reality in the north prior to the Civil War.  Up to 20,000 slaves were laid to rest at the burial ground.  Archaeologists have found several artifacts at the site, though it has not been easy, as many have protested the moral fiber of their dig.  The museum at the burial ground emphasized the care that slaves provided their companions as they held their own burials, most of which included the use of coffins.  Such burials must have been secretive as slave codes forbid them from organizing in public.  The museum provided dramatic reenactments of slave burials both on video and display.  Such material will certainly aid in teaching of the overall slave culture either in north or south.

Mock slave burial.

Day two with Ed included a venture through the peripheries of Brooklyn and eventual crossing of architectural genius John Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge or the “Great Bridge”.  We concluded with a trip through Manhattan’s breathtaking Central Park. 

While crossing the bridge, Ed highlighted some awesome statistics for one of the major architectural achievements in American History.  Four cables consisting of 5,500 wires, which all together were 3,500 miles long.  The wiring alone, if laid flat would exceed the length from coast to coast of the United States.  What a powerful teaching point!  Ed also hinted that when teaching about the Brooklyn Bridge it is imperative to mention that it, for the first time, allowed people to live away from where they worked and really united Brooklyn with Manhattan, two of the country’s major cities, Brooklyn being the third largest up through the 1880s.  The knowledge and pictures that I gained will significantly impact my teaching of the Industrial Revolution and mass transportation in the future.  I hope to gain more to add to it, on this trip, when we reach the Erie Canal.

The Brooklyn Bridge

We next traversed to Central Park.  The lesson here is that while modern conveniences and technology are important, there is also something to be said for the great outdoors.  Our students love ipods and video guides, but do they spend enough time outside?  With emphasis on childhood obesity, teaching of parks like this one could make for a unique thematic unit with a PE teacher.  Central Park it turns out was approved by the New York state legislature in the 1850s and is actually 90% man made.  The idea was to import nature into the crowded city.  As New York’s population swelled, there ultimately became a demand for a place of recreation and rest.  This naturalist idea truly put New York on the map as far as major cities are concerned.  This quiet retreat provided a nice change of pace for the group until my roommate and I were abruptly abandoned at Shakespeare’s theater.  After finding the group we continued the tour.  We went on our own and saw Strawberry Fields and the memorial titled “Imagine” to John Lennon who was assassinated just across the street.  I concluded the evening in style, attending the newly revived West Side Story on Broadway. 

Rowboats at Central Park

For the last day with Ed, we visited several immigrant communities collectively known as the Lower East Side.  This area in New York brings true definition to the word melting pot.  Home to Irish, German, Italian, Jewish, African Americans, and today the Chinese amongst others, its diversity is second to none.  Diversity is great, but there were some drawbacks, like the crime that took place as different immigrant groups competed for jobs in places like Five Points, which at one time was possibly the most dangerous neighborhood in the United States.  Luckily, reformers, like Governor Al Smith who grew up in a tenement on the Lower East Side, fought for improved social conditions for the immigrant people.  We traveled through Chinatown, followed the Bowery, examined the Jewish synagogue and other churches, and ended the day at the Tenement Museum. For dinner, Jed and I went to Lombardi’s for pizza.  They claim to be the oldest pizzeria in the United States.


West Side Story



For a moment, I would like to back track to day 2 of our New York excursion.   On this day our group visited The Museum of the City of New York.  I appreciated the fact that we were provided with legit kinesthetic activities for the classroom and possible resources to use in the trenches.  Among the multiple themes that were discussed, we heard about Cars and their impact in New York, discussed Manhattan’s grid system and how cities are planned based on the needs of their residents, learned of one of New York’s most intriguing mayors, and concluded with our very own primary source analysis based off of Jacob Riis’ photos of New York’s “other half”.

Cars are an absolute necessity in my home Pueblo, Colorado to get from point A to point B, however while traffic is bumper to bumper in the Big Apple, oddly 77% of New York’s residents we were told do not even possess them.  With the accessibility of the subway literally taking its residents anywhere throughout the city, on demand, there is really no need for them for most New Yorkers.  Having been here for about a week, I too have found that traveling by rail is clearly the most convenient way to go for mass transit purposes.  Yet, even though most New Yorkers lack them, the true impact of the car is the infrastructural improvements that they have led to.  Bridges and tunnels for example connect borough to borough and island to island allowing those that call New York home to live in a separate location and commute to work.   I found the 1939 World’s Fair General Motors exhibit Futurama interesting which allowed New Yorkers and others from around the world to envision their idea of the cars of the future.  Most of us still wonder about the future of travel via the automobile particularly students and middle school and high school that are close to achieving driver’s license status.  This will be an easy hook for students as I teach the Pre World War II and Depression era that was the late 1930s.

General Motors cars from the Futurama exhibit.

New York Police wearing the street lights.

Our discussion of New York’s grid system, provided a feel for general rationale for city planning.  Do we really want a mill and its pollution for example right next to an elementary school?  Probably not.  Our spunky guide E.Y. Zipris skillfully differentiated the multiple zones considered as cities lay out and continue to plan their shape and infrastructure.  Commercial, industrial, residential, recreational, and  social are each zones with entirely different buildings and infrastructure.  The masking tape laid out on the floor and “shoe box” idea for the buildings provides a practical way for elementary and middle school teachers to demonstrate the basic idea of zoning.  Key points of emphasis of course are that communities must be designed to meet the needs of their residents and conform to the grid and zoning lines of the city.  The pictures of the “wedding cake” skyscrapers that Ed O’Donnell has pointed out provide further evidence of buildings conforming to such a system.

Commercial Zone

City planning activity based on New York's grid system.

We next briefly learned of one Mayor John Lindsay.  I was unaware that the man even existed prior to our tour of his exhibit, but our guide was very passionate of her subject matter and gave us a balanced picture of Lindsay the politician.  His work decentralizing power and supporting civil rights and the city’s poor made a popular mayor of the people.  Grieving Martin Luther King’s assassination in Harlem provided a great example.  Though later flopping to the Independent party hurt him, one can respect that he was big enough to take a second look at issues and sacrifice his political career in order to be his own person.  He didn’t simply close the book on politics and he constantly studied the major events of the time.  Knowing what I know now, teaching Lindsay and his work will certainly help facilitate any future student discussions of the 1960s.

John Lindsay for Mayor of New York.

Our final event for the day involved the use of former New York Tribune editor Jacob Riis’ photography.  Pictures of the poor for his book How the Other Half Lives are certainly enlightening and give an idea about the plights of New York’s immigrant communities in the late 19th century.  I appreciated our guide’s idea of having us tell a story about New York with a visual representation through Riis’s photos.  This will certainly be an applicable middle school lesson for future discussion of immigration and urban poverty in America near the turn of the twentieth century.

At the end of the day, while Hutchins was hustled by the orange vested New Yorkers for an over priced ticket  to the top of the Empire State Building, Cody and I took the conventional approach and bought a cheaper ticket at the counter.  The view was amazing and I was able to find with a little assistance significant sites like Ground Zero, Central Park,  and Yankee Stadium.

Standing on the 102nd floor at the top of the Empire State Building.