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October 13th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Books & Writing; Urban Life & New York City

Autumn and the Little Red Lighthouse Festival 2014, an Ideal Combination

Brisk winds and the aftermath of a rainy Friday night didn’t dampen the fun at the 22nd annual Little Red Lighthouse Festival this past Saturday, held on the grounds under the George Washington Bridge, aka the great gray bridge, near the Little Red Lighthouse, the last beacon light to shine in Manhattan. I have written about the landmark several times in recent years, including after I attended last year’s fall festival. The Parks Dept opens the lighthouse to visitors on these occasions, allowing New Yorkers to fully appreciate this splendid example of maritime architecture. After I toured the lighthouse last year, I wrote about its history and the children’s book that improbably helped to keep it standing on the shore of the Hudson: LRLH books

“If you’ve never had a close-up view of [the George Washington Bridge and the Little Red Lighthouse] and aren’t certain where they are or how to see them for yourself, we’re talking about upper Manhattan on the island’s west side roughly level with what would be West 178th Street and the Hudson River. I get there on my bike, pedaling on good pavement alongside the river most of the way from my neighborhood around West 100th Street and Riverside Drive. The area can also be reached from Washington Heights, near 181st Street, and in both cases it’s accessible to walkers as well as cyclists. The forty-foot tall lighthouse–whose exterior is dotted with porthole windows and decked out in bright red enameled paint with a white cone and clear glass at the top–sits below the lower deck of the bridge, close to the monumental steel foot of the span’s eastern arch. According to a NYC Parks Dept web page, the two structures became most indelibly linked in the public imagination in the early 1940s, and even earlier in the city’s maritime history. Here’s a lightly edited version of the Parks Dept. article:

‘In the early 20th century, barge captains carrying goods up and down the Hudson demanded a brighter beacon. The [lighthouse] had been erected on Sandy Hook, New Jersey in 1880, where it used a 1,000 pound fog signal and flashing red light to guide ships through the night. It became obsolete and was dismantled [but not destroyed or discarded] in 1917. In 1921, the U.S. Coast Guard reconstructed this lighthouse on Jeffrey’s Hook [future site of the George Washington Bridge] in an attempt to improve navigational aids on the Hudson River. Run by a part-time keeper and furnished with a battery-powered lamp and a fog bell, the lighthouse, then known as Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse [the name since the early 1800s for the shelf of Manhattan schist that juts out in to the river right there], was an important guide to river travelers for ten years. The George Washington Bridge opened in 1931, and the brighter lights of the bridge again made the lighthouse obsolete. In 1948, the Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse, and its lamp was extinguished.

‘The Coast Guard planned to auction off the lighthouse, but an outpouring of support for the beacon helped save it. The outcry from the public was prompted by the children’s book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, written by Hildegarde Swift and Lynd Ward in 1942. In the popular book, the Little Red Lighthouse is happy and content until a great bridge is built over it. In the end, the lighthouse learns that it still has an important job to do and that there is still a place in the world for an old lighthouse. The classic tale captured the imaginations of children and adults, many of whom wrote letters and sent money to help save the icon from the auction block.’

The Parks’ web page adds that in 1951 the Coast Guard gave the lighthouse and grounds to the City, and in 1979 the Little Red Lighthouse was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places. Refurbishments took place in 1986, when on the 65th anniversary the concrete foundation was restored, and in 2000 when it was repainted, true to its original shade of red.

In a real sense, the persistence of the lighthouse on the Manhattan shoreline is a product of one of the first episodes of “historic preservation” in the modern history of New York City. Too often, the city and posterity have been the loser in those battles, such as what occurred in 1963, when–unaccountably to current-day New Yorkers–the old Penn Station was torn down.”

I will add that it’s a great time for parks and historic sites in New York City, with such projects as the ongoing restoration of High Bridge, the footbridge that’s connected the Bronx and Manhattan since 1842, though it’s been derelict and off-limits to hikers for many years. Also heartening was the news last week that more than $130 million will be spent to upgrade and renovate thirty-five NYC parks that have historically been neglected, even while better known parks, like Central Park and Prospect Park, garner lots of resources.

I didn’t enter the Little Red Lighthouse on Saturday, as the line was long and I was glad to let others see it for the first time. I was just happy to walk the grounds and stop at the booths of several upper Manhattan organizations and businesses. Among these was the NYC Parks Dept, which sent several urban rangers to staff an information table; Summer on the Hudson, @summeronthehudson on Twitter, whose director Zhen Heinemann was on hand making sure everything ran smoothly; Word Up Books, “a completely volunteer run community bookshop,  and arts space in Washington Heights,” on Amsterdam Ave at 165th Street, near the Morris-Jumel Mansion, the oldest wooden structure in Manhattan, built in 1765; graphic artist Norman Ibarra, who was selling a handsome poster he’s designed, printed on quality paper, that shows the seven lighthouses along the Hudson River, upstate from Athens and Saugerties south toward Manhattan and Jersey City; the National Lighthouse Museum, near the Staten Island Ferry terminal, whose representatives told me about the hoped-for restoration of the Old Orchard Beach lighthouse, wrecked during Hurricane Sandy; and Anthi’s Greek Specialities, a food vendor that was selling tasty spinach pie and baklava. Along with the above Facebook post I sent out that afternoon, I took lots of pictures during the festivities. Here are the best of them.

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September 3rd, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

Bike Ride, Sept 3–Upper Manhattan Beauty Spot

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January 9th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels

The Chris Christie Scandal You Haven’t Heard of Yet But Should Know About

As a blogger whose site is inspired by the look and lore of the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge, I immediately began following with great interest the political scandal involved in the mysterious closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge. In the month since I first posted about it, the episode has mushroomed in to a full-blown scandal, especially with yesterday’s revelations that aides close to Chris Christie deliberately targeted the mayor of Fort Lee for petty political retribution. In light of this news, I am urging all visitors to The Great Gray Bridge to read this October 10, 2013 story by the New York Times’ Michael Powell, which chronicles the quashing of a lesser-known criminal case against a close Christie ally. Like #GWBridgeGate, this story deserved much more attention before New Jersey voters chose their next governor last November, but that didn’t happen. Again, as with #GWBridgeGate, Powell’s story should be much more widely read and shared, as evidence of the climate of casual and criminal corruption surrounding Chris Christie and his administration. Below is the opening from Powell’s lengthy article. You may read it all here.

“Prosecutors sent tremors through rural Hunterdon County when they announced a sweeping indictment of the local Republican sheriff and her two deputies in 2010. The 43-count grand jury indictment read like a primer in small-town abuse of power. It accused Sheriff Deborah Trout of hiring deputies without conducting proper background checks, and making employees sign loyalty oaths. Her deputies, the indictment charged, threatened one of their critics and manufactured fake police badges for a prominent donor to Gov. Chris Christie. When the charges became public, the indicted undersheriff, Michael Russo, shrugged it off. Governor Christie, he assured an aide, would ‘have this whole thing thrown out,’ according to The Hunterdon County Democrat. That sounded like bluster. Then the state killed the case. On the day the indictment was unsealed, the state attorney general, a Christie appointee, took over the Hunterdon prosecutor’s office. Within a few months, three of its most respected veterans lost their jobs there, including the one who led the case.”

Powell also reports that one of the prosecutors unfairly dismissed in the case, Bennett A. Bailyn, “has filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming that the attorney general killed the indictment to protect prominent supporters of the governor.” With the GWB scandal growing bigger by the week, it’ll be fascinating to see if Bailyn’s case can advance through the courts so he can get justice and the public can learn more about this troubling incident.

Please read Powell’s article and share it in your social networks.

 

 

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December 11th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Urban Life & New York City

Chris Christie—Playing Petty Politics over the Great Gray Bridge

January 9, 2014 Update: In the month since I first posted about the mysterious closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge, the episode has mushroomed in to a full-blown scandal, especially with yesterday’s revelations that aides to Governor Christie deliberately targeted the mayor of Fort Lee for political retribution. In light of this news, I am urging all visitors to The Great Gray Bridge to read this October 10, 2013 story by the New York Times’ Michael Powell, which chronicles the quashing of a lesser-known criminal case against a close Christie ally. Like #GWBridgeGate, this story deserved much more attention before New Jersey voted for governor last November, but that didn’t happen. Again, as with #GWBridgeGate, Powell’s story should be much more widely read and shared, as evidence of the climate of casual and criminal corruption surrounding Chris Christie and his administration. Below is the opening from Powell’s lengthy article. You may read it all here.

“Prosecutors sent tremors through rural Hunterdon County when they announced a sweeping indictment of the local Republican sheriff and her two deputies in 2010. The 43-count grand jury indictment read like a primer in small-town abuse of power. It accused Sheriff Deborah Trout of hiring deputies without conducting proper background checks, and making employees sign loyalty oaths. Her deputies, the indictment charged, threatened one of their critics and manufactured fake police badges for a prominent donor to Gov. Chris Christie. When the charges became public, the indicted undersheriff, Michael Russo, shrugged it off. Governor Christie, he assured an aide, would ‘have this whole thing thrown out,’ according to The Hunterdon County Democrat. That sounded like bluster. Then the state killed the case. On the day the indictment was unsealed, the state attorney general, a Christie appointee, took over the Hunterdon prosecutor’s office. Within a few months, three of its most respected veterans lost their jobs there, including the one who led the case.”

A Power Play Goes Awry

As a blogger whose site is inspired by the look and lore of the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge, I’m following with great interest the current political scandal unfolding around the administration of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who before becoming chief executive of the state was a US Attorney in the state. If you’re just catching up to this bit of tawdry political theater, it seems probable that Christie and minions of his unleashed a vendetta against Mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee, NJ, the small city at the western end of the busy, busy span.

Multiple news reports, including an audio and written piece by WNYC reporter Andrea Bernstein and this NY Times article suggest that the trouble began when Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, declined to endorse Christie in his recent re-election. Back in September, as the gubernatorial campaign unfolded,  local access lanes to the tollbooths approaching the bridge from Fort Lee were closed without explanation. Little notice was given to bridge or Port Authority officials; those who were told anything say they were informed the lane closures were supposedly for a traffic study, a claim that since been debunked. They were also told not to report it or discuss the matter with colleagues. The result, during the first week of public school with traffic peaking right after Labor Day? This is how the Times reports it:

“Cars backed up, the town turned into a parking lot, half-hour bridge commutes stretched into four hours, buses and children were late for school, and emergency workers could not respond quickly to the day’s events, which included a missing toddler, a cardiac arrest and a car driving into a building.”

The  person behind the scenes pulling the strings was David Wildstein, a close friend to Governor Christie who has now resigned from his state job, lamely claiming he doesn’t want to be a “distraction.” Beyond that, he declined comment to reporters. Meanwhile, Christie denies any role in the episode. Democrats in the NJ legislature smell a rat. They are subpoenaing officials and holding hearings, trying to get to the bottom of the stupid, petty vendetta against Mayor Sokolich.

A month before Christie’s re-election, which came by a wide margin over his Democratic challenger, the excellent NY Times reporter Michael Powell published a story that should have gotten a great deal more attention than it did. The Quashing of a Case Against a Christie Ally detailed how in 2010 a serious public corruption case against local law enforcement authorities in NJ’s Hunterdon County was halted with no apparent reason and local prosecutors who had prepared the case against County Sheriff Deborah Trout and an underling were fired, on orders that came from a longtime Christie ally in the state government. Having read that story, I’m not at all surprised that Chris Christie may have pulled such a petty stunt as this new one, or countenanced the conduct. Powell’s story includes this paragraph:

“There is no evidence that Mr. Christie ordered the dismissal of the charges against Sheriff Trout. But his attorney general, Paula T. Dow, who had served as his counsel at the United States attorney’s office, supervised the quashing of the indictment and the ouster of the respected prosecutors. Sheriff Trout had political ties to the administration. She led an association of county law enforcement officials that backed the candidacy of Mr. Christie and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who had previously served as sheriff in Monmouth County. Ms. Guadagno and Ms. Trout exchanged chatty e-mails, according to court records. After the election, Ms. Guadagno thanked Sheriff Trout for sending her deputies to work on the campaign. Ms. Trout left office in 2010. But the case and the Christie administration’s role in killing it have surfaced again because one of the dismissed prosecutors, Bennett A. Barlyn, has filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming that the attorney general killed the indictment to protect prominent supporters of the governor. In August, a New Jersey judge ordered the attorney general to release the grand jury records to Mr. Barlyn, who said the records would detail the considerable strength of the now-dead case. The state has appealed the decision. “I was frog-marched out of the prosecutor’s office,” Mr. Barlyn said, ‘because I objected to the dismissal of a viable case against an important local official.’”

As Christie revels in his 30-point win last November and moves ahead with what I expect to be a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination I’m sure there will be efforts to dismiss this affair over the GWB and people will joke about corruption being a common affair in New Jersey. However, I believe that the deliberate instigation of traffic jams on the bridge has a potent resonance that just about everyone can relate to, including people who don’t follow politics closely.  I hope that media stay on the climate of casual corruption that has infected the Christie administration.

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October 13th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

Enjoying the Little Red Lighthouse Fall Festival

Fireboat spray 3Hundreds of New Yorkers found their way to Fort Washington Park yesterday, underneath the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge, for the 21st Little Red Lighthouse Fall Festival, co-sponsored by the NYC Parks Dept and the New York Restoration Project (NYRP). The latter is Bette Midler’s organization, aka MillionTrees.org. I had no idea the festival’s been going on every year since 1992! I biked up there and had a fun couple of hours, marveling at the big crowd, including many families with young children, all enjoying a great NYC landmark, one that I’ve cherished a long time, though usually alongside only just a few other visitors to the site, not dozens.

As is the custom on the second Saturday of each month from May-October, the little red lighthouse was also opened to visitors yesterday, and long lines of people waited a turn to get inside and see for themselves this treasure of naval architecture and maritime history. I had toured the lighthouse and taken many photographs in August and September, and so happily left it to other visitors yesterday. Booths at the festival included such exhibits as Urban Park Rangers (a career I’m sure I would enjoy); NYRP and their Million Trees initiative; and such local businesses in Washington Heights, the neighborhood adjoining Fort Washington Park, as Word Up Bookstore and Storefront Science. Festival organizers had also printed poster-sized reproductions of Lynd Ward’s art from Hildegarde H. Swift’s classic children’s book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, and from a stage that earlier sported a quite good cajun & roots band called The Amigos, the book was read aloud with help from teenagers from BuildOn.org and an NYC Parks Dept official. I was amused when the official announced the youth group as Move On, which sounded odd–it seemed a bit far afield for MoveOn.org–and the kids quickly corrected her, saying, “We’re from Build On!”

For a finale, an FDNY fireboat cruised up the Hudson, drifted close to the shoreline and then turned about so spectators could see the vessel from every angle. And then the crew provided a great water exhibition, shooting great arcs of water from the boat’s hoses and spouts, creating transparent scrims of water shimmering against the blue sky and bright sunshine. It was a splendid sight and an enjoyable festival. Below are my photographs from the delightful day.

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March 26th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

Some Early Spring Hudson River Views

Looking northward to the GGBFollowing many days of late winter gloom and cold winds off the Hudson River where I regularly ride my bike things brightened up a bit today. With temps edging over 50 degrees and light to moderate winds, I wasn’t forced to don the usual gear I’ve been wearing on my rides since the fall. More lightly clad than usual, I pedaled north along the river, stopping for a break about even with 140th Street. Perched atop an old picnic table I read my current book, Heretics: Adventures With the Enemies of Science by British journalist Will Storr; phoned my sister to wish her a happy Passover; and took these pics of the Hudson and the Jersey side of the river. Even with the noticeable warming, there were still a lot gray, glowering clouds hanging low in the sky, but maybe now we’re in for a spell of fair weather.

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April 16th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Urban Life & New York City

A Spring Sailing Around Manhattan

My wife and son and I had been wanting to see New York’s five boroughs from the water, so last Friday we took the Circle Line cruise around Manhattan, which does offer views of each borough. Unfortunately, it was a disappointment. We arrived 45 minutes early for the 11:30 AM sailing, only to find that all outdoor seats on our boat had already been taken. Worse, the guide on our boat was a pompous jerk who droned on ceaselessly during our 3-hour circumnavigation of the island. He had no feel for the history of the city; scolded passengers like a control-obsessed school teacher (“Don’t stand there!”) and was fascinated only with money. (“An apartment in that building sold for $20 million last year.”) Fortunately, about halfway through the cruise, I found us three seats on the open deck, and Kyle, Ewan, and I escaped the guide’s physical presence, if not his amplified voice. From this perspective, we were able to view Upper Manhattan, Sputen Duyvil, the waterway that connects the Harlem River to the Hudson, and the little red lighthouse as we sailed beneath the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge. We also were able to ID our own apartment building from the river, a neat trick.

The best part of the afternoon came when we got home and downloaded the photos each of us took turns snapping during the cruise. Even if the boat ride regrettably didn’t feature much of the timeless magic we identify with New York’s waterways, harbor, and shoreline, such as that seen in the 1920s short film “Manhatta,” it was a grand day and we took away some great images, many of which are included here.  // many pictures following . . .

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December 10th, 2011

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels; Urban Life & New York City

How This Blog Got its Name

In a previous blog post, “An 80th Birthday Makeover for The Great Gray Bridge,” dear reader, you will note I’ve borrowed the name for that entry, and the name for this very blog, from a nickname for the George Washington Bridge first used decades ago. My source is the 1942 children’s book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge written by Hildegarde H. Swift and illustrated by Lynd Ward, creator of the remarkable wordless novel, God’s Man, which was published in 1929, the very week of the stock market crash. It is a source of joy and pride for me that I am able to borrow from that classic the name for this blog “spanning urban life, books, music, culture, current events.” Below are some pertinent photos I’ve taken of the bridge, the lighthouse, the river, and the grounds surrounding them on the Manhattan side of the Hudson. I take pictures during bike rides I take from my NY apartment to upper Manhattan. I’d understand if some of these scenes surprise you with just how sweet, bucolic, and pretty the city’s Hudson shoreline really is. That’s New York City, for you, full of surprises for the eager observer.

Two final notes:

  • The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge remains in print today;
  • Thank you to web designer and friend, Harry Candelario, who adapted one of my photographs for the backdrop art for the home page of The Great Gray Bridge.

All photographs: Philip Turner