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For Presidents' Day: U.S. Presidents in New York City

(Revised February 2013) The Big Apple has played an important role in the history of the U.S. Presidency, including the two Presidents whose birthdays are near this date - Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and George Washington (February 22). In celebration of Presidents' Day, enjoy this compilation of presidential-themed posts previously published on Walking Off the Big Apple.

George Washington, Washington Square Arch, Washington Square Park. night.
The arch served to commemorate the Centennial of Washington's Inauguration, an event that took place downtown. The pier statues were added later -"Washington at War" on the left of the arch by Herman MacNeil in 1916 and "Washington at Peace" on the right by Alexander Stirling Calder in 1918. Yes, Calder was the father of the famous mobile artist, Alexander Calder.

On December 7, 1988, President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Governors Island, then the headquarters for the Coast Guard. Documentation of the events that day remained secret for twenty years, but the release of both Soviet and American materials, analyzed and posted by the National Security Archive (see sources at end of post), provides a vivid picture of the dramatic events that unfolded around the meeting. Furthermore, now that Governors Island is open to the public, including the Commanders House where the leaders met for lunch, it is now possible to reconstruct the historic events by matching the words of a declassified memorandum describing the lunch with images of the interiors of the house today. The small talk that characterized the lunch, however, does not betray the extraordinary surprise that the Soviet leader unveiled earlier that morning in a speech to the United Nations. (more)

Commanders House, Governors Island.
"Gorbachev said each time they met the weather got better. 
The President replied jovially that we arranged that."

For most of his life in New York, Arthur lived at 123 Lexington, near the intersection of E. 28th Street, and walking over to see this National Historic Landmark on an unassuming stretch of Lexington is worth one's time, because the air smells so good. Many of the businesses in this neighborhood south of Murray Hill are Indian restaurants, although restaurants of other national cuisines are plentiful. There's nothing much Chester Arthur-related at this address, except for a plaque in the window, but you have to go inside. Kalustyan's, the business that occupies the site, as far as I know, is the best spice store in the entire world. (more)

[Events related to the assassination of President Garfield] wood engraving.
From LOC records: "Prints show Alexander Graham Bell using his induction-balance device to locate the bullet in President Garfield's body; fireworks at Fort Greene in Brooklyn, New York; and an evening service at Asbury Park, New Jersey." Illus. in: Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, v. 52, no. 1351 (1881 August 20), pp. 412-413.
Note: After President Garfied died from his injuries, Chester A. Arthur assumed the Presidency, taking the first oath
of office at his New York residence on Lexington Avenue (present-day Kalustyan's food shop.) 


Grant Memorial
When was the last time you visited the final resting place for Civil War General and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant and his lovely wife, Julia Dent Grant? For me, I had a hard time remembering, and still won't say, the year I last ... (more)


In September of 1927, powerful Boston patriarch Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy, Sr. moved his growing family from Boston, Massachusetts to Riverdale, an affluent neighborhood in the Bronx. Two years later the family moved to Bronxville five miles to the north. The houses in each place (the first in map below at 5040 Independence Avenue, just across from Wave Hill) sported some twenty rooms, sprawling comfortable mansions perfect for indoor and outdoor sports. John Kennedy, the future President, attended Riverdale Country School from 5th through 7th grade. When he wasn't spending the summer in Hyannisport, Massachusetts or Christmas or Easter in Palm Beach, Jack was in the Bronx. On Saturdays, his father took the kids into the city. Let's call JFK a New Yorker. Middle school makes the man. (more)


Portrait of Lincoln by Mathew Brady
taken at the photographer's studio at the corner of
Broadway and Bleecker Street.
Known as the "Cooper Union Portrait."
February 27, 1860.
Lincoln, who was relatively unknown to New Yorkers at this time and not yet the official nominee of the young Republican Party, worked hard finishing his speech, the one he was to deliver that night at Cooper Union. He arrived in New York two days before, finding his way by himself to Astor House, John Jacob Astor's hotel on Broadway between Vesey and Barclay Streets. The hotel, just across the street from City Hall, was a beautiful five-story Greek Revival building with gaslights and bathing facilities on each floor. On Sunday morning, Lincoln took the ferry over to Brooklyn to Plymouth Church to hear Henry Ward Beecher preach from the pulpit. Though invited to visit with locals after the service, he explained he needed to go back to the hotel and work on his speech.

On Monday, some supporters greeted Lincoln at the hotel and persuaded him to come along for a stroll up Broadway. Among the establishments he visited was the Know Great Hat and Cap Establishment at Broad and Fulton Street, and according to George Haven Putnam, a contemporary writer, there he received a free silk top hat. Afterward, the entourage took Lincoln to Mathew Brady's gallery on Broadway near the corner of Bleecker to get his picture taken. The handsome three-quarter-length picture, showing an almost painfully thin (look at those sunken cheekbones!) Lincoln, became a favorite collectible carte de visite and is known, even by Abe himself, to have contributed to the Illinois politician's popularity. (more)



Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, located at the south tip of Roosevelt Island, officially opened to the public on October 24, 2012, just a few days before the city was hit by Hurricane Sandy. What follows are pictures and thoughts from a visit to the park on the afternoon of Sunday, December 2, 2012.  (more)

Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, 28 E. 20th St.

(left) At Theodore Roosevelt's boyhood home, visions of the young and privileged near-sighted boy of the East, raised by a doting, powerful and wealthy Knickerbocker father, one who instilled in him the important value of fairness, and to a lesser extent, by a beautiful Georgia peach of a mom, a woman who bore sympathies with the Confederate South... (more)

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site is open Tuesday-Saturday, 9:00am-5:00pm. The period rooms can only be seen by guided tours, available on the hour.



For two hours, while the couple dined inside, we watched the slow and deliberate motions of the New York police officers and Secret Service personnel as they worked to keep us in line. Much attention was directed toward the heavily-armed men and the suited men from the Secret Service. All wore ear pieces, maintained a look of cool and calm, and in general, lived up to what we think of Secret Service from the movies. Our own New York police officers outwardly showed more humor with the assembling crowd, as they're accustomed to humoring us. (more)


The arch served to commemorate the Centennial of Washington's Inauguration, an event that took place downtown. The pier statues were added later -"Washington at War" on the left of the arch by Herman MacNeil in 1916 and "Washington at Peace" on the right by Alexander Stirling Calder in 1918. Yes, Calder was the father of the famous mobile artist, Alexander Calder. (more)



The inaugural ceremony of Washington as the first President of the United States took place April 30, 1789 on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street. (below)



Images by Walking Off the Big Apple.

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