Our day started with a subway ride, and by the end of the week we were all proficient subway riders. They have a reduced fare metro card for people over 62 and people with disabilities, and someone from MTA came to our hotel this morning to sign us all up for our metro cards. Then we walked across the street to the subway station and loaded our cards, paying $15.50 for unlimited rides over a 7 day period. When you think of all the places you can go in a week with that card, it’s a great deal! One subway or bus ride is $2.75.
Brooklyn was an independent city until 1898 when the five boroughs were consolidated to make Greater New York City. I was surprised to hear that it has the highest population of all the boroughs, over 2.6 million. The other boroughs are Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Brooklyn and Queens are located on Long Island.
Our guide for the day was John Kriskievicz, an architectural historian and award-winning walking tour guide. John told us a little about the history of Brooklyn and showed us around several of its famous landmarks, Grand Army Plaza, Prospect Park, and the beautiful brownstone town houses of downtown Brooklyn.
Grand Army Plaza is the formal entrance to Prospect Park. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (who also did Central Park) in 1867. Several main roads converge here and circle around the plaza. The Bailey Fountain and the War Memorial Arch are the two main landmarks in the Plaza.
The triumphal arch of the War Memorial commemorates the Civil War. It was interesting to look at the detailed statues along the top and pedestals. This is one of the few Civil War memorials that include African American soldiers.
Most of New York City is pretty flat, but the glaciers left several hills in this area, only around 200 feet high but still the highest point around. The name Prospect Park refers to the views from this high point in the city. The park is almost 600 acres and has a zoo, boathouse, sports fields and lots of other features. It is historically important as the site of one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War.
After touring the park we walked through older downtown neighborhoods with iconic New York brownstone townhouses. Brownstone is a type of sandstone with a unique color. It’s soft and easy to carve. If you look closely at the corner of this one, you can see that the house is actually built of brick and the brownstone is just a facade.
The brownstones here are five or six stories high and had no elevators. The guests were entertained on the first floor and children’s bedrooms were on the top.
There was a street fair going on in downtown Brooklyn and you can see that this is a booming area these days. Brooklyn has become very trendy. People who work on Wall Street can take the subway to work in twenty minutes or so, and lots of new residential towers are going up. The Barclays Center is where the NBA Nets play–I’m not usually a fan of sports arenas, but this one has a pretty cool design and I enjoyed the green roof.
After our walk we had lunch at Ya Yo’s, a Dominican restaurant. The different ethnic restaurants in Brooklyn’s neighborhoods were a highlight of the trip. Lunch was served family style and included fried plantains, my favorite Caribbean treat.
After lunch we caught the bus down Brooklyn’s 5th Avenue to Green-Wood cemetery. The cemetery would be the site of our Memorial Day concert, but it’s also a historical site in itself. Lots of famous people are buried there, including the composer Leonard Bernstein, Mr. Bergher who started the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Elias Howe who invented the sewing machine. The cemetery is on the highest point in Brooklyn (275 feet?) and has great views. The elaborate Gothic arched entrance made a dramatic backdrop for the concert stage.
The concert was presented by the Inter School Orchestra of New York. The kids (ages 6-19) who make it through the audition for their bands and orchestras are the cream of the crop. Tuition is very expensive so they do a lot of fundraising to make sure that the parents’ income is not a barrier for any child who wants to play an instrument. They offer lots of scholarships and loaned instruments. Along with the music there was a rousing political speech by the Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams.
At the end of the concert we piled onto the historic replica trolley car for a tour of the cemetery. It has almost 500 acres and some of the wealthier gravesites are very elaborate.