Morningside Heights: Walking Through History

Old school charm from the turn of the 20th century mingles amongst pockets of modernity in the neighborhood of Morningside Heights. The home of Columbia University (Where I am now a student!!! Yay!) runs deep with history from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and more, offering attractions far more interesting, and…dare I say…educational, than your typical midtown tourist splendor.

 

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Grant’s Tomb

Tucked away along Riverside Park lies the final resting place of Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President of the United States and General of the Union Army. Approaching the monument through columns of trees and generally empty park benches, the bright white granite stone gleams in sunlight. This national memorial is symbolic of the American people’s great respect for Grant’s accomplishments in seeking justice and equality for all.

Carved into the neoclassical granite exterior are the words “Let us have peace,” which I learned was the man’s slogan while he ran for the presidency, and it was his fulfilled promise to the American people. A circular crypt lies in the center of the marble interior, where the red granite coffins of President Grant and his wife rest.

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Grant fought passionately for civil rights and declared Yellowstone the first national park. This year marked the 150th anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House. I’ve never really been a history buff, or had any interest in American history for that matter, but this place was pretty awe-inspiring. The building itself could fit in along the others in the National Mall, but it’s right here in New York!

 

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Columbia University

Shout out to my new stomping grounds. I couldn’t tell you where to find a cafeteria on this regal-looking Ivy League campus, but I can tell you that after the American Revolution, this was the property of the Bloomingdale Asylum. (…Seems only fitting that I should go to a graduate school that stands in place of an insane asylum…) The only building left from that era is Buell Hall, which is the tiny brick house sits next to Low Library.

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But forget about all the buildings for a second. It is hard to imagine that centuries ago this area was blanketed by farmland. You could see for miles around, even straight to what was downtown at that time. This here area was the site of the 1776 Battle of Harlem Heights, where General George Washington pushed back the British forces in his first battlefield victory of the American Revolutionary War. (There’s even a little plaque on the math building on Broadway near 118th Street.)

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Fast forward to 1939: Pupin Hall (along 120th Street) and Schermerhorn Hall (my department’s building!) were the locations of some of the very first research into nuclear fission—yep, the Manhattan Project. A cyclotron was built in the basement of Pupin where physicists witnessed the splitting of uranium atoms into other elements (obviously this is not here anymore).

I also just read something about Columbia being the birthplace of the FM radio. Pretty cool stuff here, lots of history, and worth a wander around—the campus is drop dead gorgeous.

 

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The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine

The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine looks to be centuries old, constructed in the Gothic architectural style. Somebody told me that it was the oldest cathedral in North America—which is entirely false but I would have believed it! The first cornerstone was laid in 1892, but it wasn’t until the year 1941 that the cathedral was entirely completed from one end to the other. I heard one lady on the street call it, “St. John the Unfinished,” as it is perpetually under construction.

Inside, the hustle and bustle of the city is hushed and you find serenity and relief. Until I saw that one guy taking his picture with a selfie stick, and I wanted to scream. They are the dumbest things ever. Anyway… I carried on. Sweet light filters in to the Nave through the gigantic rose window—the largest in the United States. I’ll bet this looks particularly stunning in the afternoon when the sun is in the west.

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According to their visitor guide, Rabbis, Monks and Imams often share the podium with priests here in a sincere and noticeable effort to include those of every faith. All of this seems only fitting in the American spirit and history of immigration; the first cornerstone of the cathedral was laid in the year that Ellis Island opened. This church has gone above and beyond to preserve the ideals of diversity that have built this city.

Seriously, this cathedral is the coolest.

Seriously, this cathedral is the coolest. And funniest.

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Welcome to my new ‘hood everybody!

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