A Governors Island Story

Governors Island, with the Manhattan skyline across the river.

Governors Island, with the Manhattan skyline across the river.

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.

Housing for single Army men.

Housing for single Army men.

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:

Officers Quarters, Governors Island - restricted to the enlisted men!

Officers Quarters, Governors Island – restricted to the enlisted men!

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.

The Base Commander's house. Beautiful! Open to the public, too.

The Base Commander’s house. Beautiful! Open to the public, too.

Flora.

Flora.

More flora, with the flag in the background.

More flora, with the flag in the background.

An example of the cool brick buildings.

An example of the cool brick buildings.

Fields.

Fields where children can play.

I never see any cars on this island, just golf carts and "surreys" - bicycles built for several!

I never see any cars on this island, just golf carts and “surreys” – bicycles built for several!

The old and the new: Governors Island building with the Freedom Tower across the river.

The old and the new: Governors Island building with the Freedom Tower across the river.

 

 

 

 

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9 responses to “A Governors Island Story

  1. Hi Carolyn similarly the island in the 70s and 80s also had friendly rivalries between the officers kids and the enlisted kids ( the hi risers were often refered to as the ghetto). Flag or touch football was a weekly ritual…

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      • I lived as an enlisted Coast Guard member in 1980-1982. I lived in the high rises and they were adequate and had the best views of the city. There were no rules to stay out of officer country, you just did. The same courtesy you allow on a ship in the Coast Guard. I could have walked through the area anytime I wanted but out of respect I didn’t. I miss the island, all previous military personnel should have free admittance to the island.

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      • Oh, don’t you know? Everybody gets free admission to the island! There’s no admission fees, and the ferry is free, too. You only have to pay if there’s a special event. And that is so cool that there weren’t rules about where you could go there, but that people didn’t go to certain areas out of respect!

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  2. I grew up on the Island, 1945 until the Army left. 2 civilian families ,ours and the fire chief. Love to talk to you. Been back 3 times in the last 8 years and once in the late 70s. Living there for 20 years, we saw some families leave and return to the post.

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