Thursday, March 19, 2009

NYC09: Brooklyn Heights and Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims

Another day, another part of the city to explore. Today started off under the inauspicious sky, with yesterday's cerulean's replaced with todays dark gradients of dark to darker. From midtown I headed to High Street / Brooklyn Bridge station, on the east side of the river.

Brooklyn Heights offers a glimpse of two different cities. On features New York's supreme courts, and a plethora of office buildings. The other is one filled with hosing complexes, where each building was granted its very own front stoop: steps perfect for sitting on sunny summer afternoons, just like the good non-threatening folks on Sesame Street would do.

Brooklyn is a community with a growing education system (with more spots opening for locals, rather than those being bussed in from Manhattan, in the Brooklyn-based private schools.) Brooklyn also features a great number of churches. Many of them of historical importance, or with interesting factual tidbits attached.

Located on the north east corner of Henry and Remsen, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lebanon features brass doors which were taken from the remains of the ship Normandie which burned on the water only miles away.

At the corner of Orange and Hicks is another church of note. The Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims was worshiped in by Abraham Lincoln before he was running for president. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech here. Many people have passed through this building which once regularly sat 4000 people twice on Sunday for mass.

Today it has a congregation of about 400 people, with attendance of about 275. Still, these are positive numbers. Attendance has almost tripled in the last seven years.

And how do I know all of this? I'm glad you asked, because it certainly wasn't written on the plaque outside the building. While you can gain some information there, such as Lincoln once sitting there (twice, apparently) and the church's positive involvement in the underground railroad, much of what I learned came from an unexpected source.

Standing on the buildings steps, I looked across the street at the various apartments. I thought it provided an interesting summary of Brooklyn, especially now that it was glistening due to the falling rain which had worked to nicely damped my poncho. There was something missing from my picture. The human element.

A woman entered my shot, crossing the road carrying an umbrella. A perfect addition, I thought. As she approached she asked if I needed help. This is not uncommon from New Yorkers. If they see someone standing around, holding a guidebook – or using their sixth sense – divine a tourist out of their element, they will do everything in their power to set you straight.

I was fine, I assured her. I knew where I was going (I tried to avoid admitting I was just taking a picture of her.) She told me if I wanted to enter the church, I'd have to go around to the side and she could let me in.

Certainly I'd not even thought of such a thing, but I was interested to see how this would play out. Hoping this woman wasn't a knife wielding expert, I followed her around the building, passing one, two, three doors to the church. As she turned the corner onto another street, I was sure she was not just an expert with fixed blade weapons, but with others as well. I had no more than twelve dollar in my wallet, so I wasn't worried.

Opposing my assumptions she stopped at the forth door, took a key out of her purse, and opened the door to the church. In I went, following her up a short flight of stairs. There she began an unexpected impromptu tour.

I was lead throughout the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims, past the historic pews and from one room filled with stained glass windows to another. It was on this tour that I was educated about the building, as well as the New York private school system – the church's second building was originally created to co-educate males and females together. Today it acts as a nursery school where women vie for their child's placement, almost from the moment they become pregnant.

But the highlight of the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims tour was seeing a part of Plymouth rock. When the employee, turned guide, turned her back I reached out and touched it. Would I have been allowed to regardless? Who can say. But now? Now I can say that I've touched the Plymouth Rock!

Tour finished, I was wished well, and was off – out into the rain – once again.

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