• John Beall
    History,  News

    John Beall, Last Man to Hang on Governors island

    Today is the anniversary of the death of the last man to be executed on Governors Island. On this date, February 24, 1865, Confederate Captain John Yates Beall was hanged for capturing two Union ships. The story was front-page news across the nation, and led to conspiracy theories around the death of President Lincoln, ghost stories, and urban legends. Beall was a Virginian who fought for the South. During the war he slipped into the North and worked as a spy on clandestine missions. He took on a role as a member of the Confederate Navy, and undertook a plot against the Union. He and raiders were captured after interrupting…

  • History,  News

    WWI Memorial Project Completed

    The Governors Island World War One Memorial Project has been successfully completed and three bronze tablets are back where they belong on the island. In three heartwarming rededication ceremonies held during Camp Doughboy WWI History Weekend, September 16-17, the memorials were unveiled by the U.S. Army’s storied 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division. The Iron Rangers traveled from Fort Riley, Kansas, to lead the ceremonies, and were joined by forty WWI reenactors. The Memorial Project was focused on three sites: *Private Merle David Hay, one of the first three Americans killed in the war; *Captain Harry L. Kimmell, a company commander who died at Fléville; *General John J. Pershing,…

  • WWI Memorial Project
    History,  News

    Marching Forward with Governors Island WWI Memorials

    Progress can be measured—and was measured—on the Governors Island World War I Memorial Project this week. Of the three bronze tablets in the project, one is restored and ready to be installed, and the other two are about to be cast by the foundry. On Monday, Beth and Peter Woolley and I went to Governors Island for an important site inspection. They are the owners of Peaceable Kingdom Memorials in Neptune City, NJ. They are restoring and overseeing the casting and installation of the bronze tablets that are missing. Their company has decades of experience in the monuments and memorials business. In a fine piece of island karma: Beth’s Russian…

  • Lawn Party
    History,  News

    The True Story of the Jazz Age Lawn Party

    The Jazz Age Lawn Party created by Michael Arenella carries on a long tradition on Governors Island going back more than 150 years to social events hosted by the U.S. Army. Just as Michael and his Dreamland Orchestra draw big crowds to the Island, so did the soldiers in a similar fashion beginning after the Civil War. While the music and fashions may have changed—seersucker has replaced Army blue—the experience is nearly the same. The party returns June 10 and 11, August 26 and 27. Tickets are $55 to $5,000. Twelve years ago Michael launched the Jazz Age Lawn party not far from where the Army used to have its…

  • Leviathan
    History,  News

    WWI Centennial and the Governors Island Raiding Party

    Today is the centennial of U.S. entry into World War I. The war had already been raging for more than two years before Congress declared war on Germany and the Central Powers on April 6, 1917. What is not remembered much is that Governors Island was part of the first military action the U.S. Armed Forces undertook in the war, and it happened 100 years ago today. On April 2, 1917, readers saw in the morning newspapers that soldiers from the Twenty-Second Infantry Regiment had arrived to be garrisoned on Fort Jay. The one thousand men replaced two hundred Coast Artillerymen. The Twenty-Second had spent six years living in tents…

  • History,  News

    Trio of Daring Pilots Took Off From Fort Jay in 1911

    February is Aviation Month at the Governors Island Explorer’s Guide. The aviation world had one of its biggest events in its fledgling days on August 5, 1911, at Fort Jay. On this afternoon three aviators took off from the tiny Governors Island airfield destined for Philadelphia. The men, Lincoln Beachey, Eugene Ely, and Hugh A. Robinson, are all members of aviation history for their pioneering flights. Beachey, 24, was a stunt pilot and daredevil. Ely, also 24, was the first pilot to use a tail hook and land a plane on a Navy ship. Robinson, 30, was the third man to fly, after the Wright Brothers. The occasion of the…

  • Ruth Law
    History,  News

    Ruth Law the Record-Breaker Flying with a Skirt

    February is Aviation Month at the Governors Island Explorer’s Guide. As anyone who has been to Governors Island knows, there are more than 50 bronze plaques around the island. Only one plaque on the whole island bears the name of a woman. This is Ruth Law. When Amelia Earhart was 19, Law landed a biplane on the island. Ruth Bancroft Law was born March 21, 1887, in Lynn, Massachusetts. Law was 5’ 5” with light brown hair. Reporters noted her blue eyes, fair complexion, and serious nature. About 1907 she married fellow Lynn resident Charles A. Oliver, who raced motorcycles and was an expert mechanic and engineer. He approved of…

  • History,  News

    Pioneer Pilot Raynal Bolling Gave All in WWI

    February is Aviation Month at the Governors Island Explorer’s Guide. With the centennial of American entry into World War I coming up in April, we will begin the second annual Aviation Month with the story of a pilot who practiced flying on Governors Island and was killed by German bullets in 1918. His story is one of sacrifice to the nation. Today his name is among the group of fifteen carved on the island’s bronze aviation pioneer monument, along with Wilbur Wright and Glenn Curtiss. Raynal Cawthorne Bolling was an incredibly wealthy corporate lawyer who could have sat the war out at his brand-new mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut. Called Greyledge…

  • History,  News

    Aviation Month Returns in February

    The second annual Aviation Month returns to the Governors Island Guide in February. With the Island closed until May 1, more stories about the history of aviation will be presented weekly on the news blog. The series debuted last year and was incredibly popular and the stories were read all year. In August Governors Island made worldwide aviation news once again. The popular Drone Nationals were broadcast live from the Island on ESPN3; a few thousands drone enthusiasts descended on the south end for it. These are the stories from 2016: Wilbur Wright Flies Over New York Harbor in 1909 Glenn Curtiss and the 1910 Flying Marksman of Fort Jay…

  • Quarters 19
    History,  News

    A Yellow House Turns 127 in 2017

    With the Island closed to the public until May, we’ll take a look at some of the history of Governors Island. Nolan Park is the gem of the Historic District. While Quarters 1, the 1843 Commanding Officer’s Quarters, gets most of the attention for its architectural flair, I’m drawn to the fifteen yellow homes. This is the former officer family housing, built between 1845 and 1902. It’s mind boggling to think how many military families lived in these homes going back to when President John Tyler was in office. Before we study Quarters 19, here is a walk through the history of this part of the island. Originally, the east…