• 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…

  • 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…

  • Quarters 409
    Tour

    Take a Free Island History Walking Tour, May 28-29

    To celebrate the fourteenth public season of Governors Island opening, there will be free history walking tours on Saturday, May 28, and Sunday, May 29. The walks will meet at 12:15 p.m. at Soissons Dock on the Island (see below). A free walking tour will focus on the three hundred years of island history. Learn about the people and stories that shaped Governors Island. Stops explore the military life, Civil War and World War I events, aviation pioneers, and even where the tiny railroad once ran. The tour is led by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, author of The Governors Island Explorer’s Guide (Globe Pequot Press). • See 50 locations on the…

  • U.S.S. Relief
    History

    From 1898, the Tragic Tale of Captain Gilman

    History stories about Governors Island are presented until the Island opens on May 28. I had a lot of material that would not fit into The Governors Island Explorer’s Guide. This tragic story about an Army officer from the Island, sick and dying during the Spanish-American War in 1898, is a lost story that I came across. It says as much about courage as it does the ill-prepared medical corps. One-hundred seventeen years ago Benjamin Hidden Gilman, West Point Class of 1872, died with his wife and son at his bedside on Governors Island. The little family was in their house in one of the officers’ quarters. Perhaps it was…

  • History

    What Governors Island Was Like in 1890

    What was life like for soldiers stationed on Governors Island? Here is an account that appeared in The World, Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, in 1890. The headline: “Beautiful Lawns and Pretty Homes Under Frowning Guns.” This was twenty years before the Island was expanded by landfill, officers rode horses on the Parade Ground, and there was no electricity. The unnamed reporter includes a brief history of Governors Island (not wholly accurate). Fort Columbus was the 19th Century name for Fort Jay, renamed in 1904. (Note: No words have been changed). From The World, June 5, 1890, page 3. The life of one of Uncle Sam’s soldiers, if he is lucky enough…

  • From The New York World
    History

    Tragedy Avoided in 1901 Fire on the Island

    With the island opening for the season on Saturday I am ready to get out there for its 13th annual season. I am working like mad to finish my manuscript for the Governors Island Explorer’s Guide, which is being published by Globe Pequot Press. I have an incredible amount of leftover material that won’t make it in the book, so let’s look at some of it. One thing people ask when I give a walking tour on Governors Island is about fires. There have been several. I think about this, because the island firehouse was demolished for development of The Hills on the south end. (The FDNY trucks were moved…

  • Fort Wood
    History

    Blast From the Past: Docs on the Way

    I could read stories about old Governors Island all day long. That’s one of the great things about the newspaper archives in the Library of Congress. Here’s a great tale from July 1893 that made the inside pages of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. At the time, Fort Columbus (today Fort Jay) had a busy post hospital that supported all local soldiers. This included those of Fort Wood, which was the small army garrison on Liberty Island. Remember, the Statue of Liberty had only been erected on it seven years earlier; the Army still manned the guns on the island. In this era before telephone connections, the soldiers used cannons…