Body Says No | Main | On Being a Tourist

June 29, 2004

Bar Room Schools & Buried Bones

My 1905 history of New York City public schools arrived yesterday. It’s a wonderfully used volume with a very broken spine and crumbling pages. It contains 100-year analysis of the evolution of public education in the city—a history that is now 200 years old. Pretty wild.

The Amsterdam Chamber "assented to the establishment of a public school," which "was opened in one of the small rooms of the great stone tavern…" (Lamb, Vol. I, p.158)…"The City Tavern, subsequently named the Stadt Huys or City Hall, stood on the corner of Pearl Street and Coenties Alley." (Dunshee, p. 38).

- The New York Public School: Being A History of Free Education in the City of New York, A. Emerson Palmer, 1905.

I’m not sure which part of this description makes me laugh more, the fact that one of the first “public” schools in Manhattan was housed in the back room of a tavern or that the tavern was named City Hall. Then again, our current Department of Education is housed in one of the most infamous buildings of corruption, Tweed Courthouse, so I guess I should just shut my trap.

Speaking of Tweed, during its $85 billion restoration in 1999, archaeologists discovered 23 intact skeletons. Primarily found in front of the building only a few inches below the sidewalk, the human remains were surrounded by electrical lines. A few years before that, nearly seventy bodies were uncovered beneath City Hall park. It is thought that they were residents of the city’s first Almshouse, their (unmarked?) graves built on top of when City Hall and Tweed Courthouse were constructed in 1803 and 1881, respectively (note that these remains were not those attributed to the African Burial Ground, discovered in 1991 and laid to rest in October 2003).

The truth of the matter is that NYC still contains countless remains of the past…it just takes a water main break or other underground problem for the artifacts to be discovered. We don’t hear much about this stuff, do we? Or was I just completely oblivious in 1999?

Posted by callalillie at June 29, 2004 8:21 PM | City Life , Education , History


expensive restoration! :)

You'd think that the area around City Hall would be about the most documented place around. Then again this was outside the city limits a couple of hundred years ago.

Posted by: joe at June 29, 2004 11:59 AM

You won't hear much about such things unless there are sensationalistic angles to exploit (slaves remains, solving old mysteries, famous people, etc). There is so much waiting to be discovered. All it would take is a little research or a little digging. That is why I started collecting postcards. Many of the buildings and places depicted in my collection no longer exist.

Posted by: ccs178 (Chris) at June 29, 2004 12:05 PM

Why didn't they find the remains when they laid the electrical wire? That's what really floors me...this city is dug up and built up and covered up and dug up again and again and again...yet there's still room for surprises. Still spots that miss getting dug up for a coupla hundred years.

Posted by: Cynthia at June 29, 2004 6:05 PM

It's all pretty nuts. Archaeology magazine has documented a lot of it-- and asked a lot of the same questions, adding that the city has been incredibly private about finds and excavations. I understand the excavation part-- after all, things are underneath sidewalks and the last thing you want is Joe Schmo wandering over and stealing a femur for his faux mantle. Then again, with a city so rich in history, such finds and the prcoesses involved in excavating would be such a valuable teaching tool.

While we are one of the oldest cities in the states, we are also have been the worst about knocking things down without thought to landmarking (until recently)-- or simply letting landmarks crumble to the point of needing to be knocked down. In the case of City Hall and Tweed, archaeologists believe that there are probably remains beneath both buildings, however they can't move them (obviously)...and god forbid Bloomberg's precious workday gets disturbed :P

Posted by: corie at June 29, 2004 7:55 PM

Also keep in mind that the average taxpayer doesn't consider urban archeology a valid expenditure. Another symptom of an entitlement minded society.

Posted by: ccs178 (Chris) at June 30, 2004 11:59 AM

True, but I'm sure they pay for it somewhere...probably under city street/sidewalk repair. Did we pay for the Tweed renovation? I always wonder about those things (not that I mind paying, I'd just like to know).

Posted by: corie at June 30, 2004 2:43 PM

Content & images are (c) 2003-2008 Corie Trancho-Robie | All rights reserved.