Governors Island is my favorite place in New York City. It was owned by a Dutchman back in the day when New York was New Amsterdam. Later it became a U.S. Army base, and the headquarters of the fabled First Army, which was the first of our troops to invade Normandy on June 6, 1944, and begin the long-awaited liberation of Europe from the Nazis. In the 1960’s it became a Coast Guard base. Now, luckily for every New Yorker, it’s a park!
I went on a research jaunt to Governors Island yesterday. It’s only about a ten minute ferry ride to get there, and the ferry is the right price: free! I am completely enchanted by this little island, the perfect combo between past and present, history and modernity, with its old-time buildings and newly-constructed park spaces. I cannot go there without wishing I could have grown up in an Army or Coast Guard family that had the honor of being stationed there. I’m thinking of doing the next best thing and setting a fictitious book for children on the island.
With that in mind, I went there to find out more about what it was like during the 1940s and 1950s. I was told a story that’s too much fun not to share immediately.
As everyone surely knows, the Army often has some pretty strange and senseless rules. If they didn’t, phrases like “Situation Normal: All Fouled Up” would never have entered the lexicon to describe the way the Army is run in the first place. (And yes, I know the word used in that phrase isn’t really “fouled,” it’s another one.) Enlisted men lived in many areas of the island, including the one shown above.
However, enlisted men were not allowed on the other side of the tiny island. Nolan Park is where the officers lived with their families. The enlisted men not only could not live there, they also were not even allowed to walk around on the street or go to the officer’s park!
Here’s the officer’s quarters:
The enlisted men were there to serve their country but banned from walking down a street? Now, I don’t know about the rest of you, but if I had been one of those guys, I would have found some way to sneak over to that part of the island, just to say I did it. Maybe I’d have wound up in the stockade, but it would’ve been worth it.
The houses are now used as shops for a lot of artisans and museums, and in one of them I was told a great story. Apparently there’s a man who served on Governors Island, way back when. An enlisted man, not an officer. Well, he comes back to the island now on a regular basis – and struts around as much as he wants, peacock-style, walking up and down Nolan Park, going past the officer’s houses, and acting as if he owns the whole area of Governors Island that was once restricted to him! BRAVO! Whoever you are, sir, I’d love to meet you sometime!
Here are a few more views of this magical place. If you’re in New York City, come on over! You can step around Nolan Park, too.