"Altar to Liberty", Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn
I tried to go up the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor some years ago, I think in the eighties, but since I was carrying a big briefcase I gave up on it as being a bit beyond me and a chore as well! Not sure I like such a claustrophobic feeling. Didn't enjoy the Catacombs in Paris for the same reason, and doubt I would like to try Williamson's Tunnels in Liverpool.
One of the most moving experiences I have had was a year ago when I was in New York City to give a talk on the War of 1812, which is my specialty besides Jack the Ripper! I had asked if any member of the New York Military Affairs Symposium would be willing to take me on a tour of New York City Revolutionary War sites, the city having been recaptured by the British in November 1776.
As it was, two members stepped forward one of them with a Lincoln town car with an Indian friend acting as chauffeur. We visited a number of sites in Brooklyn, one a fort right below the Verrazano Narrows Bridge close to where the British landed in a massive D-Day like landing.
It was misty out in the harbor and I could not see much as I clambered onto the damp, leaf-strewn wall of the fort. Later we visited Greenwood Cemetery where some of the fighting had taken place. They have there an "Altar to Liberty" much less well known compared with the Statue of Liberty but it looks out toward its more famous Sister. Just as we got there, the fog parted which gave us a view across the nearby rooftops of a sunlit Lady Liberty in the harbor through a parting in the mist! Magnificent!
Ghosting Through Brooklyn
Oh we are ghosting through Brooklyn
chauffered in a silver Lincoln town car.
We are a polyglot, ragtag pick-up
army, treking to sites in America's
fight for freedom, hosted by our Indian limo
driver, a husky dusky Ernest Borgnine
who mutters an ancient Hindi poem about
laughing while dying as we cruise through
Greenwood Cemetery with its plastic flowers,
its hillsides of monumental Victorian tombs
where in 1776 Yanks and Brits alike fell,
in inglorious stump-hole sacrifice.
Above our heads, traffic thunders over
the Verrazano Narrows Bridge; we look
from the damp, autumn-leaved ramparts
of Fort Hamilton out into blank white fog
toward where the British landed
in Gravesend Bay ready to trounce
the breakaway rebels; there's me
with my red Liverpool FC scarf,
my unkempt gray beard as one journalist said; Jeff,
spectacled, short with white beard, leather jacket, and
Russian winter hat, and Colonel Frank, gray-moustached
with the military maps and apology for the masking fog:
the Englishman, the Jew, the Italian, and the Indian
on a pilgrimage through modern-day Brooklyn.
We stop to tour the Old Stone House, by a playground,
kids yelling as they sweep down slides, moms with walkers.
Fortuitously saved from being swept away for Ebbets Field,
used until recently as a rest station; here perished
Maryland's four hundred saving George Washington's ass.
Stop at Chance Cuisine for miso soup, duck with plum sauce
near the site of Gowanus Creek and Corkscrew Hill where
Washington watched the ebb and flow, the touch and go.
I remember best still, how we drove the winding paths
of Greenwood Cemetery, our driver reciting the Hindi
about expecting to laugh as he dies, Colonel Frank
eating a banana (the peel of which he dropped
in the waste receptacle as we left the cemetery)
and how we climbed up Battle Hill to the "Altar
of Liberty" with its black helmeted apocryphal figure
as we gazed out into New York Harbor; luckily,
a hole had been burned in the fog at last:
Lady Liberty stood greenly shining just for us.
Christopher T. George
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Posted by Christopher T. George at 8:40 AM