Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year from 1999 to 2015 my wife Anne and I took a road trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. With my son’s senior year in college imminent and next summer likely to be one of major upheaval for him (Lord willing), the summer of 2016 seemed like a good time to get the old trio back together again for one last family vacation before he heads off into adulthood and forgets we’re still here. In honor of one of our all-time favorite vacations to date, we scheduled our long-awaited return to New York City…
We had an appointment scheduled on late into Day Three, but found ourselves with a few hours at our disposal in the first half. Our sightseeing kicked off with an extra-strength serving of American history, just the way my wife likes it.
After a pretty but not necessarily hearty breakfast (more about that in a future entry), we took the #3 train south into the heart of Wall Street, where 20th-century skyscrapers dwarf a 19th-century structure with more historical importance to its name than all its neighbors combined.
The building’s full name is Federal Hall Memorial National Historic Site. The first building erected on that site circa 1700 served as New York City’s city hall, then as the first U.S. Capitol Building, then as City Hall once again when Congress moved to Philadelphia. It was demolished after the grand opening of the current City Hall in 1812, then replaced by the 1842 structure that remains standing as of today, thanks in part to occasional renovations (particularly after the faraway shockwaves of 9/11 rattled it some).
Though the stones have largely been swapped out, one fact remains the same: on this plot of land, General George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States of America on April 30, 1789.
The 1842 Federal Hall first served as a Custom House, then as one of six Sub Treasury buildings when those were a thing predating the Federal Reserve. It’s been a historic site since 1939, a national memorial since 1955, a duly designated Historic Place since 1966, and a responsibility of the National Parks Service for some decades.
Much of the first floor was taken up by an exhibit of Chinese art — some contemporary, some from previous ages. I’m not sure if the collection was meant to tie in to other events or if it was an easy subject to acquire, what with Chinatown a mile or so down the road.
Chinese art wasn’t our primary objective. We had history to bask in, as demonstrated within this diorama of the original Federal Hall circa 1790.
A selection of permanent exhibits highlight American life at the dawn of the nineteenth century, with authentic remnants from the era preserved on display.
As far as Anne and my son were concerned, the main attraction was the King James Bible upon which Washington was sworn into office by Robert Livingston, Chancellor of New York. Not a replica. Not a hollow cardboard fake. Not a Bible like the one Washington used. Not a sculptor’s dramatization. This was THE Washingtonian inauguration Bible, a thing actually touched by America’s first President.
On the front of Federal Hall, over on the far right side, a brass relief captures Washington’s image in a moment of prayer. Once upon a time, that was a thing Presidents might do in public. And mean it.
To be continued!
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