Do you know Kevin Walsh’s Forgotten New York?
I’ve had a copy for a year or so, and every once in a while remember to pack it with me when I’m heading to an unfamiliar neighborhood. (There’s also an accompanying blog, cheerfully cluttered, that’s well worth checking regularly.)
The book offers hundreds of out-of-the-way or in-plain-sight-but-easily-overlooked details from the city’s past, broken into categories like “Truly Forgotten,” “Quiet Places,” or “What’s This Thing?” It’s designed for New Yorkers rather than tourists; it’s for people constantly on the look for little glimpses into lost parts of the city.
I rarely use the book to find a destination for an afternoon outing, say, but when I pack it along it always adds a nice dimension to a trip to or from somewhere I already wanted to go. A few weekends ago, ssw and I took our bikes and headed up the paths along the Hudson. We weren’t sure how far we’d go, though we had a vague idea we wanted to go kayaking up at Pier 96 before the weather turned. Once we were done (and had spent enough time spread out in the sun to dry our asses off) we got back on our bikes and headed up as high as St. Clair Place, around 125th street.
I had my copy of FN in my basket, and vaguely had some idea that we were close to Grant’s Tomb, which we’d never managed to visit. So we circled around until we hit Riverside Drive, pumped our way up the rather steep hill, and made our way back a few blocks to 123rd St.
Do you know who’s buried at Grant’s Tomb? I’m sheepish to admit I didn’t know the answer to that riddle until we visited with FN‘s assistance.
One minor disappointment, though. I remembered, when the Hudson River path hit St. Clair Place and we decided to stop our journey north, that FN had an entry explaining that street’s name. It accompanies the entry on Grant’s Tomb, in fact. It has to do not with the more famous tomb, but with an obscure grave nearby:
Five-year-old St. Clair Pollock was playing on the rocks overlooking the Hudson River on the Pollock property, and fell to his death on July 15, 1797. When the Pollocks later sold the property, his father (perhaps his uncle; records are unclear) made the request that St. Clair’s grave, which was on the property, would always be respected. A small stone urn remains marked, “Erected to the memory of an amiable child.” St. Clair is also commemorated with the very short St. Clair Place, which runs between the Hudson River and West 125th Street under the Riverside Drive Viaduct, about a half mile to the north.
We only spent about 15 minutes looking for it, but we couldn’t find the little stone urn, which is supposedly a little ways “up Riverside” (I assumed that meant north), “standing by itself, surrounded by an iron fence.”
I suppose I’ll have to go back and look again. Tip for bikers: ride back downtown as far as you can along Riverside Drive itself, which is somewhat more spectacular than I would have imagined and certainly lusher than a ride along the river at that point.