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New York’s Monuments Shine Light On Big Apple’s Place In History

There is something undeniable and unexplainable about The Empire State. On the one hand, it contains possibly the world’s most famous city. It is a financial and cultural center of the Western world, a hustling and bustling, self-sustaining organism that exists beyond — perhaps despite — the simple human comings and goings of daily life.

On the other hand, it’s as pastoral and sleepy just miles outside The Big Apple as any midwestern town west of the Mississippi. A true representation of the chaotic nature of the American psyche, the state of New York is all things at once.

Because of these dual personalities living in the same state, co-existing in a strange milieu of tough city stoicism and quiet heartland kindness, New York is still mysterious and unknown to some. That nature makes it all the more attractive to visitors from all over the world.

As Long Island, New York’s favorite son Billy Joel once wrote and sang:

“I know what I’m needing, I don’t wanna waste more time

I’m in a New York state of mind …”

Most Americans can empathize with this sentiment. Even the most cynical traveler can’t help but be swept up in the bright lights of Times Square or the momentous grandeur of Niagara Falls.

They will not even be able to fully articulate why most people feel the romantic pull at the heartstrings of the technicolor green of Yankee Stadium’s outfield or the Ferris wheel on Coney Island, aglow in year-round Christmas lights. 

For those who, in addition to the famous attractions mentioned above, might be looking to dive deeper into the history of New York, the state is simply awash in historical relics and monuments to inform and inspire present generations and generations to come.

Below are some of the most famous American monuments that can be found in the state whose motto is perfectly apt: “Ever Upward.”

The Statue of Liberty: One of the most recognizable sites worldwide and the first American sight millions of immigrants saw upon steaming into New York harbor, the Statue of Liberty is a must-visit on any good New York trip. A gift of friendship from the French, dedicated in 1886, “Lady Liberty” stands tall to this day as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy and is a shining example of the deep bond of friendship between America and France, two long-suffering allies and two of the world’s leading democracies. Stop into the Liberty Museum on Liberty Island to learn more about the great monument’s history or climb to the top for an unrivaled view of the New York City skyline and the pathway to America that so many have taken across the Atlantic.

Photo Courtesy NPS 

Governor’s Island: Just across the waterway on another island off the coast of Manhattan stands another treasured, if lesser known, national monument: Governor’s Island. A base during colonial American days — established in 1775 — the island was used for naval and military operations for more than 200 years, making it the longest-running installation in the U.S. until its closure in 1996. Throughout the decades, Governor’s Island grew in stature as the country’s military might and influence rose, and New York City’s importance as a hub for world affairs increased. A posting there was seen among senior officers as a badge of honor, and during the World Wars of the early 20th Century — the U.S. First Army was stationed there. Today, visitors can see the old barracks and buildings and enjoy a history-filled trip to one of New York’s hidden gems.

Photo Courtesy NPS 

Federal Hall National Monument: A sometimes forgotten fact about early America is that for many years, New York City was the capital of the young nation. This monument on Wall Street in downtown Manhattan was the site of the first Congress, Supreme Court, and executive offices. Gen. George Washington also took the oath of office as America’s first president there. The building has undergone many transformations over the centuries but now is simply a museum of the earliest days of a nascent U.S. where visitors can wander the halls and explore exhibits about the founding, defending, and expansion of a disparate group of individual colonies into the United States of America.

Photo Courtesy NPS 

New York: African Burial Ground National Monument: For nearly a century, from 1690 to around 1790, an area of land in present-day Lower Manhattan was the mass burial ground of some 15,000 free and enslaved Africans. While the site was lost for centuries under landfill and urban expansion, it was excavated in the late 20th century and later enshrined as a museum to those interned there and the countless others brought to America to be enslaved. The uncovering of this burial site is considered one of the great archeological finds of the 20th century as it gives present-day citizens a glimpse into the lives of enslaved Black people in the centuries before the Civil War. Today, indoor and outdoor exhibits and activities seek to inform and enlighten all who walk this solemn, hallowed ground. It is a must-see for every American to understand the past, learn from it, and honor those who came before. 

Photo Courtesy NPS 

General Grant National Memorial: In some ways, this monument is a cultural oddity, but in other ways, it is a fitting and outsized tribute to a man who had an outsized influence on the delicate history of the U.S. The General Grant National Memorial in New York is the largest mausoleum in North America! Dedicated to the military leader — later two-term president — Ulysses S. Grant, this memorial preserves the memory and deeds of the general who turned the tide of the Civil War, eventually accepting the Confederacy’s unconditional surrender at Appomattox. Today, it holds a wealth of knowledge about Grant — the man, general, and president — but also about the U.S. he encountered and helped to save. A sometimes overlooked president in the list of men who have occupied the office, this memorial is a fitting remembrance of who ended the bloodiest conflict on American soil and later helped put a wounded nation back together again. 

Photo Courtesy NPS

Castle Clinton National Monument: On the very southern tip of Manhattan, a monument stands, signifying the very beginnings of New York City, where it started, and how it grew and continues to grow today. Castle Clinton was originally built as another military installation, a bulwark against an invading British army during the War of 1812, and over the years has seen dozens of different uses. Decades after the British were turned back, Castle Clinton became an entertainment hub with a restaurant and a theater opening on the old fort grounds. Later, it would be used as an immigrant landing center to process newcomers to the U.S. Even more years later, the site opened the New York City Aquarium, which was later moved to Coney Island. Today, it is a museum and National Park and welcomes more than 3 million visitors a year, making it one of the most visited National Parks in the U.S.

Photo Courtesy NPS

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