Amongst the din and movement of our daily lives, the city’s figures of bronze, marble, and granite that mark some important point in our history become part of everyday routine, meriting more than a passing glance. But on this Memorial Day, let us take moment to look and remember one of the 207 war memorials that dots New York’s parks.
Sitting on its own island at Strauss Square, commanding the corner of Essex and East Broadway, stands the 12-foot high polished granite column of the Lower East Side War Memorial. A medieval-esque bass relief sits just above the inscription depicting scenes from birth to afterlife.
Dedicated on May 30, 1953 (the old date for memorial day) by Morris Dickstein of VFW post #462, an inscription across the column reads, “In Memory of those who made the Supreme Sacrifice in Defense of the Country.” An additional plaque, seemingly no longer at the site, once read, “Dedicated to our Service Men and Women originating from the Lower East Side who served our country during World War I, World War II, Korean Action.”
A cursory newspaper archive search was unable to reveal much about the monument’s construction or any images of its dedication, but did turn up a curious, related story. In between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, not far from Strauss Square, congregants from the First Shearith Israel gathered at a small cemetery on May 30th 1950 to honor some of those buried there. Yet those remembered were not from the Korean or World Wars. They were not from the Spanish American War or Civil War before that. They were not even from the Mexican-American war.
No, flags were laid on the tombstones of those who fought as far back as the Revolutionary War. Unlike the majority of the Jewish immigrants who arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to the neighborhood, the First Shearith Israel traces their lineage to 1654, when New York was known as New Amsterdam. The cemetery was in use between 1683-1833. A small triangle of the land still remains in Manhattan, a reminder of a history long past.
What stories can you find in the small parks, plaza, playgrounds, and plaques in your neighborhood?
Written by Jakub Gaweda, Education Specialist, Walking Tours