Yesterday, my tireless cohort, Rachael, and I took a walking tour of Brooklyn. The way this came about is one of the many reasons I really love New York: You never know when something is going to lead to something else fabulous. Here's the skinny. A few years ago, a lovely woman wrote an article about me.
I really love to talk, so our interview was fairly lengthy and I, thus, got to know her a little. A few months ago, I saw this woman again and we reconnected. When I started writing for News Break, I sent out a quick email about it to my contact list. She then emailed me and offered to take me on a walking tour of Brooklyn.
"Wow, that's cool," I said, "Do you live there?" I asked.
"No, but I wrote a book on it," she replied. WHAT?
"Um . . . wow. Yes. I would love to go," I managed. Only in New York.
Speaking of New York, did you know that Brooklyn was an independent city until 1898 when it was "demoted" to being a borough of New York City? This was the first thing we learned on the cold but sunny morning when we met at Cadman Plaza park in Brooklyn Heights to begin our tour.
That morning, before heading off to Brooklyn, I had done a little research on Adrienne's book and what we were in for. I googled and amazon-ed and found out that my friend's book, Walking Brooklyn, detailed 30 different walking tours through tons of neighborhoods in Brooklyn and basically had gotten rave reviews. I felt honored to get a tour in person! I excitedly looked around, opened up a word document in my head, and made that my first bullet point. 1898. Next.
For the next two hours, we walked through the adorable streets and promenade of Brooklyn Heights. I learned more from my friend in those two hours than I ever thought anyone could know about Brooklyn. We walked past Plymouth Church (Brooklyn was nicknamed the city of churches back in the day) and Adrienne pointed out a statue of Henry Ward Beecher.
"He was always portrayed wearing a cape. See those figures at his feet? He often purchased slaves to emancipate them. He was really a big abolitionist and women's suffrage advocate . . . " she smiled and turned to us, "But here's the juicy bit. He was accused of having an affair with a married woman in 1875. It was a huge scandal". I was beginning to love this tour!
As we walked through the quaint cobblestone streets, we found they were chock full of history. It was like someone had drawn 1875 and 2010 on tracing paper and laid them on top of one another. We looked at old carriage houses that had been turned into apartments. We passed a hole in the ground that is thought to have been part of underground railroad. We stood in front of "twin mansions" where Seth Low grew up (the only man to have held the office of mayor in both the city of Brooklyn AND the city of New York).
A woman walked her designer stroller past a plaque honoring the Battle of Brooklyn. We walked and walked and something odd started happening; we actually started looking up. Now, I never look up when I'm walking. Way too obviously touristy. But, I guessed, I kind-of was a tourist in Brooklyn. No shame in that.
My friend pointed out things I never would have noticed. It was enthralling. I ventured a guess that most people that lived in this neighborhood didn't know these fascinating facts. I mean, does everybody in Dumbo know that Dumbo stands for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass? I didn't.
We strolled the cobblestone streets and eventually came out to the promenade. I stared in wonder. From one spot, I could see the Empire State Building, the southernmost tip of Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, Staten Island, Governor's Island, and the shining East River. It was gorgeous! Well worth braving the cold weather.
We then moseyed down from Brooklyn Heights into the downtown area, collecting facts along the way. My mental word document was starting to fill up. This church's brass doors were taken from the Normandy, a luxury liner that sank off Manhattan's shore in 1942. A church with nautically themed brass doors?
We went into the Chase bank which was modeled after a building in Italy. The ceiling was breathtaking. I looked around at the employees and wondered how many of them ever looked up. My toes were growing numb and my lips were beginning to chap, so my friend took us to one more place.
The oldest restaurant in Brooklyn was modeled on the inside like a train's dining car. And had been "landmarked" (basically, there's a law that you can't mess with it) by the city. It had its original mirrors, etched ceilings, small intricately designed booths, and curly fries. Yes, folks. Arby's had set up shop. It was so odd to see the modern signs juxtaposed with the delicate upholstery. I guess it was very Brooklyn.
Finally, my friend dropped us off at the nearest subway stop and said goodbye. I thanked her immensely and vowed to go buy her book and try a few walking tours on my own . . . maybe when it gets a bit warmer.