A script for film requires a different approach. The text must convert easily to the spoken word. Facts must be more than information. Everything—words, images, tone of voice–must support a unified story holds attention for minutes or fractions of hours.

General Grant National Memorial

General Grant National Memorial is the largest tomb in North America, a memorial to the ways that we select, commemorate, and enshrine the lives of past and present heroes.

Under the building’s dome lie the remains of an Ohio general who fought tenaciously to save the Union during the Civil War, and then twice won election as President of the United States.

After Ulysses Grant died in 1885 and his family agreed to a New York City burial, the Grant Monument Association started a fundraising effort and design contest for an appropriate tomb.   From among 65 contestants, architect John Hemenway Duncan emerged the winner.  His soaring neoclassical building required 8,000 tons of granite to complete and helped to elevate his popularity at the turn of the 20th century.  It dominates its location in Riverside Park, overlooking the Hudson River.

Over a million people, including President William McKinley, attended the dedication of Grant’s tomb on April 27, 1897, the 75th anniversary of Grant’s birth.  Julia Dent Grant, the president’s wife, made her last public appearance at the dedication and, following her death in 1902, she also was laid to rest inside the tomb beside her husband. Her personal memoir ended tenderly. “The light of his glorious fame,” she wrote of her companion, “still reaches out to me, falls upon me, and warms me.”

Today, in a restored building that recaptures its 19th-century elegance, the Grants lie together beneath mosaics of the general’s Civil War victories—Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and General Robert E Lee’s surrender at Appomattox—added in 1966.

African Burial Ground National Monument

African Burial Ground National Monument, just steps away from Broadway, sheds light on one of the city’s longest but least well-known chapters in its history—the contributions made by free and enslaved Africans to 17th– and 18th-century New York.

Rediscovered in 1991, the burial ground holds an estimated 15,000-20,000 people of color.  For more than 100 years, acres and acres of Manhattan received the mortal remains and cultural legacy of generations of mostly enslaved Africans who could not, by law, be buried within the city limits.  The site is widely considered one of America’s most significant archeological finds of the 20th century.  Thanks to intense research and analysis led by Howard University in cooperation with scholars throughout the country, the monument helps fill out the mosaic of America’s ancestors and expand our understanding of who we are.

The burial ground also awakened the community and triggered a commitment not only to preserve but also to honor this chapter in U.S. history.  By presidential proclamation, in 2006, a roughly seven-acre portion of the burial ground became a national monument and a unit in the National Park System.  An interactive visitor center, artwork, and outdoor memorial ensure that the stories of these immigrants, transplanted by force, will not be forgotten again. Dramatic interpretive tours make this one of America’s more emotionally charged national parks.

Lower Eastside Tenement Museum

Everyday details of New York’s legendary immigrant history await visitors to the Lower Eastside Tenement Museum.  Built in 1863, the apartment now occupied by the museum housed nearly 7,000 working class immigrants over decades of use.

Buildings like 97 Orchard Street—the humble, refurnished rooms and the neighborhood streets lined with one, two, a dozen tenement houses—became the first American homes for family after immigrant family. Museum co-founder Anita Jacobson described 97 Orchard in 1988. “It was as though people had just picked up and left.  It was a little time capsule . . .” By preserving not the history of the rich and famous but stories of the common folk of their day, tenements link yesterday to today in compelling ways that everyone can relate to—working for a better future, making a new life, supporting a family with limited means.

One step at a time, the museum continues to expand. In 1992, the museum opened its first restored apartment, the 1878 home of the German-Jewish Gumpertz family.  More recently, apartment number six opened as the 1869 home of the Moores, Irish immigrants.

Guided tours invite you not only to step back in time and become immersed in tenement life but also to think about parallels to 21st-century debates on immigration and public health.

Conclusion

Once you enter the New York gateway there is so much to see and explore.  Nature, recreation, and history all await discovery. Whichever national parks you visit during your travels around the New York Harbor, you will find another national treasure.  Some national park stories are as familiar as Lady Liberty and George Washington.  Others may be new to you—the daily life of immigrant families transplanted to Lower Manhattan or the burying ground for thousands of enslaved Africans. All around the New York Harbor you can find stories of the people and ideas that shaped our politics, of the evolving defense of our boundaries, and of the immigrant families that infused new hope and different points of view into our national life and popular culture. Perhaps you will connect with a little known chapter in your own family’s past.

To adopt the sentiments of the legendary transatlantic pilot Charles Lindbergh, “Only New York can produce such a welcome.”

National Parks of New York Harbor

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