On June 19th, museums across lower Manhattan were free and open to the public as part of the annual Night at the Museums event, part of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s River To River Festival. The 9/11 Tribute Museum joined 15 other downtown museums and historic landmarks in welcoming the crowds.
For someone like myself that is visiting New York, it was a great opportunity to see a wide variety of historical locations all in one night and without spending a dime. One of the first places I visited was the New York City Municipal Archives. Part of the reason was to see their exhibit on protests in the 1960s and ‘70s. A bigger reason was to see the building where the band They Might Be Giants filmed one of their more famous music videos for the song “Birdhouse in Your Soul.”
I’ve always been interested in colonial American history, so my next two stops focused on that time period. I visited Federal Hall, located near Wall Street, where George Washington was sworn in as the first president, and became the first capitol building for the newly created United States. For a history buff like me, it was amazing to see the Bible that George Washington was sworn in on. That same Bible was also used by Warren G. Harding, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush at their inaugurations. By housing this historic Bible, Federal Hall instantly connects us to these powerful historic figures.
The other Revolutionary War site I visited was Fraunces Tavern, which has been operating since 1762. The tavern hosted Sons of Liberty meetings in the early 1770s and then was the site of trials during the British occupation of New York. However, the tavern’s biggest event and the one most interesting to me, was that it is the site of Washington’s famous farewell to his Continental Army officers in 1783. Washington thought he was retiring from public service and delivered a tearful, powerful speech. The tavern’s museum preserved the room in which the farewell occurred and had an impressive collection of Revolutionary War-era artifacts.
I also visited the China Institute, which is right across the street from the 9/11 Tribute Museum. There I walked through a photo exhibit depicting the mountains of China. I’ve always been very active in the outdoors and love hiking and camping, so it was moving to see these spectacular photos of the towering, snow-capped Himalayas or the forested jungles of the Taihang.
It was compelling to see the storied history that surrounds the area where the 9/11 Tribute Museum is located. With just a short walk from this museum, you can go and see where our country began or travel around the world by just crossing the street. Like the 9/11 Tribute Museum, these other museums are dedicated to educating and informing us of our common history. Being located in lower Manhattan, they all had to rise up out of the dust, a classic New York story that the 9/11 Tribute Museum embodies so well. There’s a lot of history in just these few blocks and events like Night at the Museums allows everyone to experience it.