• 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,…

  • 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…

  • The Sperrys
    Features,  News

    WWI Lovebirds: Aviator & Actress Wed on Governors Island

    February is Aviation Month at the Governors Island Explorer’s Guide. Lieutenant Lawrence B. Sperry, 23, and his fiancée, movie actress Winifred Allen, 20, climbed into the cockpit of a U.S. Navy biplane in Massapequa, Long Island, on the afternoon of February 18, 1917, and headed west. The couple landed thirty miles later on Governors Island. Lieutenant Sperry, a skilled aviator, then taxied the airplane directly to the door of St. Cornelius the Centurion Chapel for their wedding. Friends and family, officers from Fort Jay, and naval aviators welcomed the daring couple. So was Chaplain A.B. Smith, the army post’s curate. Rev. Smith and the guests were waiting on the chapel…

  • 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…

  • Pershing Hall

    World War I Memorial Project Launches

    Last summer I started work on a project that is small in scope but means a lot to me. Today I submitted the final grant application information to the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission for what I am calling the Governors Island World War I Memorial Project. Last year when my book The Governors Island Explorer’s Guide was published I was not done with the island, which is by far my favorite park in the city. I started work on my next book, World War I New York: A Guide to the City’s Enduring Ties to the Great War, which comes out in about a month. I wrote a…

  • 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…

  • U.S. Army Eating
    History,  News

    Turkey & Fixings Served Soldiers on Island in 1934

    An army travels on its stomach. Every private hears that in recruit training. But what if you were in the U.S. Army stationed on Governors Island during Thanksgiving, and not going anywhere? Army cooks and bakers were ready to serve. According to a Fort Jay Thanksgiving Dinner menu for November 29, 1934, the men ate well. The menu consisted of: Roast Turkey Stuffed Olives Hearts of Celery Oyster Soup and Oyster Dressing Giblet Gravy Cranberry Sauce Mashed Potatoes and Candied Sweet Potatoes Fruit Salad Sweet Relish Vienna Rolls For Dessert: Pumpkin Pie and Mince Pie Cocoanut Cake, Fruit Cake, and Chocolate Cake Ice Cream with fruit, assorted nuts, and mixed…