Are you getting ready for the big day? Buying your turkey, sending invites, hoping certain relatives can’t make it?! Well, if you want a different take on it all, try the NYC National Museum of the American Indian at Bowling Green. You know the place; it was in the Ghostbusters movie. If you are running out of things to do when you take the ferry in to the city and have simply forgotten about this elephant in the room, you should really check it out.
I remember when it first opened, the exhibits left a little to be desired. But on a recent trip through the museum, I was totally impressed with the breadth and scope of the archives on display. First off, the history of the building and the site go back to our original Dutch ancestors. Because that site was the very site of the original Dutch fort. Didn’t stop the British from sailing in and telling Governor Stuyvesant that they would take over from there. They were nice to the Governor though and let him and his peg leg hobble about his orchards further uptown.
Across the way in Bowling Green Park, the patriots decided to take down the statue of King George and melt it down to make ammunition to fight those very same British. A little further up the street behind Trinity Church, a young man studying to become a lawyer, who fought in the revolution and eventually became the first Secretary of the Treasury, had the building that houses the museum named after him: Alexander Hamilton. The former Customs House is a massive columned building where the customs duties were collected and accounted for, and until the introduction of the Income Tax in 1916, was the largest revenue contributor to the U.S. treasury.
But back to its current purpose: preserving the history, culture and heritage of the Native American Indian. And not just the United States, but Indian culture from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego. Much of the exhibits are courtesy of the George Gustav Heye Center. And the exhibits are fascinating and well curated. In addition, the inside of the Museum/Custom House is stupendous. The ceilings, the paintings, the architecture, it is so worth visiting. And here’s the thing: it’s free!! And not to be outdone, they have one of the best gift shops around. Not cheesy stuff, but real objects, made by real Indians who depend upon the income for support. So, if you are looking for some interesting Christmas gifts, this is the place to look.
Now if you get through the museum and still have time, when you descend the stairs, to your immediate left is the entrance to the National Archives at New York City. This curiosity houses archives and records for New Yorkers and offers genealogy and family history records such as census; immigration, and court records. They also have some very interestingly titled records like the Chinese Exclusion Act, Freedmen's Bureau, Titanic and Lusitania records, and criminal and bankruptcy records. I haven’t wandered through this place but intend to, and pledge to report back.
In the meantime, don’t forget the American Indian on Thanksgiving. Visit the museum that honors and preserves their heritage, we owe it all to them!