By Ryan Donovan Purcell
“The past: a New and uncertain world, a world of endless possibilities and infinite outcomes. Countless choices define our fate — each choice, each moment, a ripple in the river of time — Enough ripples and you change the tide, for the future is never truly set.” This is the lesson Dr. Xavier learns at the end of the Marvel film, X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). It’s a science-fiction alternative history in which the X-Men send Logan (Wolverine) back to the year 1973 to change their fate. In order to prevent the sequence of events that leads to mutant annihilation Logan must break into the Pentagon, prevent a landmark arms deal at the Paris Peace Accords, and save Richard Nixon from mutant radicals (as one might expect). The comic on which the film was based, however, is a far different story.
Lindsay K. Campbell's City of Forests, City of Farms: Sustainability Planning for New York City’s Nature
Remembrance of Things Not Yet Past: A Report from “Difficult Histories / Public Spaces: The Challenge of Monuments in NYC and the Nation”
By Arinn Amer
A year after white nationalists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia in a deadly riot they framed as a protest against the planned removal of a bronze rendering of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park, monuments loom large in our national consciousness. With new memorials and markers raising awareness of America’ dark history of racial terror and hundreds of Confederate flags and generals retreating from public view even as thousands more remain firmly entrenched, the incredible power of the stories we tell about the past in shared physical space has never been more apparent.
“Difficult Histories/Public Spaces” is an ongoing public programming series conceived as a forum to bring New Yorkers together to grapple with questions about historical representation and memory in our city and beyond. I had the privilege of co-organizing and moderating the first event, a contentious yet illuminating conversation between invited speakers and audience members centered around New York’s long-protested memorial to 19th-century gynecologist J. Marion Sims, whose disputed contributions to medical science were based on experimental surgeries on enslaved women who could not give their consent. The memorial’s centerpiece, a nine-foot-tall bronze statue of Sims, was recently removed from its granite plinth at Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street for transportation to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, where Sims is interred.
These are my takeaways from the June 13 panel.
By Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis
The Gould Memorial Library in the Bronx may be the most famous building in New York City that you’ve never heard of. It recently made an appearance in The Greatest Showman, the 2018 Hugh Jackman musical about the life of P. T. Barnum, as the setting for a glorious party, but unless you know what you’re looking at, you’d think it was an elaborate Hollywood stage set—not a library.
By Alexander Wood
The reign of Beaux-Arts architecture reshaped the landscape of the city at the turn of the century with grand public buildings that projected a new found sense of national power. The architects who embraced this style emphasized classicism, monumentality, and embellishment in their work, and were skilled at adapting historical precedents for modern building types. Following this mission to create civic symbols, Cass Gilbert conceived the custom house as a gateway to the nation. From its triumphal arched entry, and honorific statuary, to the heraldic imagery on its facade, it was expressly designed to evoke a passageway into a walled city. The allusion to a gate reflected a desire to proclaim the identity of the nation to the world, but it also suggested a point of controlled access through a border. It thus offered a suggestive precedent for the headquarters of the most important district of the federal customs service, which served as the guardian of the nation’s chief port of entry.
By Benjamin Serby
The leafy Brooklyn neighborhood of Carroll Gardens is nestled between Degraw Street (or Sackett, depending on your source) to the north and Hamilton Avenue to the south, bounded to the east by either Hoyt or Bond Street (again, answers may vary) and Hicks Street to the west. It’s just a small slice of the borough’s “brownstone belt,” but it packs a wallop, as any pizza enthusiast will tell you. With its deep front lawns, stoop-sitters, and tiny pasticcerias, Carroll Gardens is a unique corner of the city, to be sure — but, in many respects, its past and present tell us much about New York City as a whole.
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