I visited Governors Island for the first time recently (not the newly opened Water Taxi Beach) and was immediately taken in by its odd and ghostly small-town charms. To get there, you ride the ferry from Manhattan, departing from the Battery Maritime Building, from under a pink roof dotted with golden stars.
Just a few minutes away, the island is green and lush, filled with architecture frozen in another time. Military forts built of red stone wrap around grassy fields. Houses, straight out of an Edward Hopper painting, hark back to some mid-century, middle-American dream.
All photos from my flickr
You expect to see mothers in aprons hanging laundry on a line, fathers watering the lawns, and kids in Daniel Boone caps riding their bikes through the lazy streets. But the houses are empty. Walk up on their ample porches, dusted with pine needles, and peer through smoky windows. In hollow living rooms, the floorboards are still gleaming.
At least one house has been turned into an art gallery for contemporary works from the Sculptors Guild. Strange abstractions wriggle through stately dining rooms, beneath chandeliers that once lit countless suppers. The ceiling is peeling.
It wasn't always this way. People lived here. People who, for some reason, have never (to my knowledge) written novels or made films about life on "The Rock." Looking at photos of these kids, I wonder what life was like on GI. Their experience remains a mystery to me. But not to each other. There's a Yahoo group called Governors Island Brats for people who grew up there from 1970-1985. There's also a website for former residents dating back to the 1940s.
Living strangely suburban lives just off the tip of Manhattan, they remember playing Atari and going to see The Goonies at the only movie theater on GI. They remember ice skating and riding their bikes to the country store. (Country store!) They remember going to school at PS 26--which is being, or already has been, demolished. They joined the Boy Scouts and the bowling league. They toasted marshmallows over a campfire.
Did they consider themselves New Yorkers? Or did they hew to this line from an old army brat poem: "I am an Army Brat. My hometown is nowhere..."? Either way, their ghosts haunt this island, drifting on the green breezes like laundry on a line.
Thanks to Jack Szwergold for helping to collect many of these links. Check out his GI photos here.
My GI photos on flickr
Governors Island Blog