Within a span of four days, New York and our nation mark two major historic events. Events that forever altered the history and culture of the city. The event that most individuals recall with reverence today is September 11th. The tragic day where two planes flew into the World Trade Towers causing their collapse and the deaths of thousands of people.

The other event I am referring to is the September 8, 1664, surrender of the Dutch colony of New Netherlands to the British, who named it New York after James, the Duke of York and brother to King Charles II.  The capital city of the colony of New Netherlands was New Amsterdam, where my Garrison and Cresson ancestors were among the earliest settlers.

When I first visited New York City, it was September 2005. At the time, I had done some research on my Garrison family history, but did not know yet the connection to the city’s earliest days. Along with two girl friends, we visited all the “must sees” that all first time visitors make pilgrimage. One of those sites was Ground Zero. Only four years after the attack, the site still had make shift memorials littering a broad chain linked fence and nearby sidewalks. The size of the site was mind-boggling; I hadn’t been quite prepared for the scope.

Castelloplan.jpg
New Amsterdam 1660, Castello Plan
I have visited this city several more times over the years, each requiring a return to this site of reverence. During this time, I uncovered my connection to the early Dutch colony and the city of New Amsterdam whose footprint made up what is now lower Manhattan. The site of the World Trade Center is within the area my ancestors would have lived, an emerging city on the edge of an untamed wilderness and farmland. My earliest yet uncovered roots in America.

Last November we visited again, and went to the newly opened 9/11 Memorial and Museum.  As you can imagine, it was a somber experience. Again, the scope of the area now incorporated into the museum is incomprehensible until you have been there. The area of the mass devastation has been restored. Businesses have rebuilt, and a new skyscraper now fills the void of the skyline left by the twin towers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In The Island at the Center of the World, author Russell Shorto delves into the rich and diverse history of the early Dutch colony and the city of New Amsterdam. He states, “Manhattan is where America began.”  He points out that while the colony was founded by the Dutch, half of its residents were from someplace else, a “Babel of peoples- Norwegians, Germans, Italians, Jews, Africans (slaves and free), Walloons, Bohemians, Munsees, Montauks, Mohawks, and many others- all living on the rim of empire, struggling to find a way of being together, searching for a balance between chaos and order, liberty and oppression.”

This is essentially the Manhattan we find today, approximately 352 years after the height of the Dutch colony and it’s transfer to the British. A city who prides itself on being a melting pot, a great hope for those who seek to live there, be they young adults looking for fame and fortune, immigrants looking for a new life or those from walks of life in between. And this is why it was a threat to those who would seek to destroy her on 9/11, the ingeniousness of the American ideal embodied in one bold city.

Manhattan is where America began. – Russell Shorto

In the museum is a large installation by artist Spencer Finch. It is a wall of Fabrino Italian paper, hand-painted in various shades of blue, hung like the missing person notices that quickly appeared around the area immediately after the attack. The work is entitled, Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning, and separates the public area from a repository of nearly 8,000 unidentified remains of the 9/11 attack.

The quote on the installation reads, “No Day Shall Erase You From the Memory of Time.- Virgil.” While there was some controversy surrounding the use of this quote out of context, it is the “memory of time” that will continue to keep this city, and nation, true to the origins that have shaped and sustained her for over 350 years.

 

img_1693

New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

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!”

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015-2016 Beth Wylie and Life in the Past Lane. All rights reserved.