• Glenn Curtiss

    Glenn Curtiss and the 1910 Flying Marksman of Fort Jay

    Governors Island played an important role in the history of aviation. Each week this month will be a historical look at one event in the island’s contribution to the history of manned flight. Wilbur Wright snared glory in 1909 on Governors Island. The next year his chief rival, Glenn H. Curtiss, snared something much more valuable on the Island: military contracts. While Orville and Wilbur Wright earned one kind of fame, Curtiss sewed up War Department funding. Some of the first-ever military airplane demonstrations happened in the same spot where Liggett Terrace is today. Like the Wrights, Curtiss also came from a humble background and had a keen interest in…

  • History

    Wilbur Wright Flies Over New York Harbor in 1909

    Governors Island played an important role in the history of aviation. Each week this month will be a historical look at one event in the island’s contribution to the history of manned flight. Southeast of Liggett Terrace is the Early Birds Monument, the first public sculpture on Governors Island. From a distance it looks like a propeller mounted on a base. What it symbolizes is the men and women who flew on the island prior to 1916. The propeller was cast from a plane that belonged to the Wright Brothers. It was dedicated in 1954. In 1909 Orville and Wilbur Wright were at the top of the new field of…

  • History

    Stories About the Buildings: Tampa Memorial Library

    With the Island closed to the public until May, we’ll take a look at some of the history of Governors Island. One of the most visible of the unused structures from Fort Jay is the old Tampa Memorial Library (building S-251). Its coordinates are 40.692698 N, -74.018052 E. It’s across the street from Castle Williams. Building S-251 is a rectangular one-story wood frame structure set on a high brick basement. Building S-251 was built about 1908 to serve the needs of the Fort Jay Quartermaster for storage and as a workshop. During World War I it was used for supplies and during World War II it was the post exchange…

  • Sinatra

    Frank Sinatra on Governors Island in WW2

    Frank Sinatra was born 100 years ago today, and the Internet seems to be going crazy about the milestone. There’s a little-known story about the time “The Voice” went to Fort Jay on Governors Island in 1945. The tale is best told on the Governors Island National Monument Facebook page, reproduced here. If you aren’t already, follow them, because there are good history updates all year long. World War II was entering its fourth year in February 1945. No one of course knew at the time that the conflict would be over in six months. The Army was still looking for recruits. In December 1943 Sinatra had been declared 4-F…

  • From The New York World

    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

    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…

  • castle williams

    He Swam from Castle Williams to the Battery

    When I was researching the book, I came up with way more information than I could ever use. A lot of what I found were tall tales and historical stories that popped up. One was about Captain Billy Web, and it seems like this is the best venue to tell his story. If you’ve ever stood on the shore on Governors Island, think about jumping into the water and swimming towards Manhattan. In the almost 100 years that Castle Williams served as military prison, many attempted to swim to freedom. Most drowned in their attempt, but not Captain William Robert Webb, of the 2nd North Carolina Cavalry. As the tale…