Tag: New York

Most Decadent Desserts: Crazy Shakes at Black Tap

Most Decadent Desserts: Crazy Shakes at Black Tap

I love having special treats for special occasions, so I am constantly in search of the most decadent desserts. When I treated my daughter to a trip to NYC for her sixteenth birthday party this past June, we intended to celebrate by getting Crazy Shakes at Black Tap. Sadly, our time between other activities was in short segments that would not have sufficed. We went to Black Tap twice and both times the line was so long outside the door that we would not have gotten inside and ordered in time to move on to the next activity. So when we went to NYC again this month, we were determined to get those Crazy Shakes.

Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer

I know, their name doesn’t even mention their Crazy Shakes. But trust me, these Insta-worthy, most decadent desserts are what’s drawing the crowds to their three New York locations. (They also have a location inside The Venetian in Las Vegas, and one in Singapore. More restaurants will soon be opening in Downtown Disney Anaheim and NYC’s Herald Square.) We dined at their midtown Manhattan location (136 W 55th St).

There’s no doubt about it – Black Tap is a fun place to eat. The decor is a cross between old fashioned soda fountain, 1980s retro, and street art grafitti. Our booth was next to this bit of artwork:

Decadent Desserts (and Decor) at Black Tap in NYC

Also, the music was awesome!  Just the right mix of my old 1980s favorites and some more modern songs. All of it was upbeat… the kind of music that you find yourself bopping along to in your seat even if you haven’t heard the song before.

The Burgers

They describe their restaurants as a new take on the classic burger joint. The menu is fairly simplistic at first glance – offering burgers, salads, fries, and shakes. But when you look a little more closely, you realize that these are not your average run-of-the-mill burgers. Black Tap’s “Greg Norman” burger won the People’s Choice Award three years in a row at the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s annual Burger Bash. Ranging from $16 to $20 per burger, you can choose from the classic All-American, a falafel or vegan burger, pizza burger, or a Carolina BBQ pulled pork burger.

We decided that for the four of us (Hubs and my daughters friend were also there) would split two burgers and two crazy shakes. We did this not only to save money, but also to keep us from leaving there looking like engorged ticks and feeling even worse. I selected the Bison Burger (bison burger, fresh mozzarella, pesto mayo, arugula, shaved Parmesan, roasted tomatoes, $19), and my daughter chose the Pizza Burger (prime burger, zesty tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, shaved Parmesan, $17). Both came with a side of fries.

The burgers and the fries were very good. I’d never eaten bison before, but it honestly didn’t taste much different to me than a beef burger would have.

The Crazy Shakes

Black Tap serves classic milkshakes ($9) in nine different flavors, from standard chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, to the more exotic caramel, Nutella, and coffee. But it’s the Crazy Shakes ($15) that grab the glory.

The Most Decadent Desserts: Crazy Shakes at Black Tap in NYC

If these Crazy Shakes aren’t the most decadent desserts you’ve ever seen, then please tell me what is!

On the left is the Cookie Shake: vanilla frosted rim with cookie crumbles topped with a ‘cookiewich’, crumbled cookies, chocolate chips, whipped cream & chocolate drizzle. And that’s on top of a vanilla milkshake! On the right is the Cookie & Creme Supreme: vanilla frosted rim with crushed Oreos topped with a ‘cookies ’n cream’ sandwich, crumbled Oreo, whipped cream & chocolate drizzle, served on top of a cookies & creme milkshake.

Here’s a closer look at each one.

Most Decadent Desserts - the Cookie Crazy Shake at Black Tap in NYC

Most Decadent Desserts - the Cookie & Cream Supreme Crazy Shake at Black Tap in NYC

And when the description mentions a frosted rim, they don’t mean it in the sense of frosted glass, or a coating of sugar. No, they mean frosted as in cake frosting. So essentially you have a milkshake with a couple tablespoons of cake frosting, cookies, an ice cream sandwich, and whipped cream. Thank goodness they don’t publish calorie counts on the menu!!

Other Crazy Shakes at the midtown Manhattan location include:

  • Sweet & Salty (peanut butter/chocolate/pretzel)
  • Cotton Candy (strawberry shake with cotton candy and other candies)
  • Sour Power (black cherry shake with sour candies)
  • Brooklyn Blackout (chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate)
  • Bam Bam (Fruity Pebbles, Pop Tart, candy)
  • Cake Shake (cake batter shake with a slice of cake and lots of sprinkles)

Honesty, you can’t go wrong here. It was difficult (but obviously very necessary) to pick just one!

If You Go

Get there plenty early, because lines do form outside the restaurant (even when it’s ridiculously cold outside, as it was when we were there). You may have to wait about an hour for a table, possibly more in nicer weather.

Consider sharing an entree and/or dessert with a friend, so as not to overdo. You don’t want to end your euphoric dining experience feeling like you’re going to be ill.

 

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New York City’s Interactive Spy Museum

New York City’s Interactive Spy Museum

Spyscape Review: Espionage in NYC

When Spyscape opened its doors in midtown Manhattan earlier this year, it was publicized as an interactive museum. Now, there are varying degrees of interactive, and in my experience, in most instances it means that you can push buttons on a video display. Happily, Spyscape is very different. From the moment you walk in you feel as if you have entered another world… the secretive world of covert operations and espionage. It’s not only interactive, it’s immersive. Read on for my Spyscape review.

Welcome to the World of Spies, Double Agents, and Hackers

From the minute you enter the building, you can’t help but feel like you’re about to go into a secret place. It’s sleek and modern, yet eerily quiet. (I arrived there shortly after opening. It might not be as quiet at other times of day.)

At the lobby welcome desk, you receive a ribbon wristband with a small cardboard tag on it. It’s more than just a cheap souvenir – it’s your ticket to unlocking some of the most interesting interactive features of the museum. But more on that later…

The museum has a free locker area, so you can stow any items you won’t need and retrieve them at the end of your visit. What a great feature! After we stashed our stuff, we headed to a really big (room-size) elevator that played a video as we ascended to the upper level of the museum. I honestly can’t tell you what they said in the video because I’ve forgotten, but it really set the stage for our entrance into the museum proper. We were so overcome by the creepy-cool ambiance that we were almost afraid to go to the rest rooms, located past the gift shop and down a long, empty corridor.

And speaking of the gift shop… it was really cool and sleek too.

Spyscape Review: Even the gift shop was sleek, modern, and secretive-looking.

Encryption

Spyscape Review: The Encryption area of the museum explored ways to encode (and decode) messages.

The first area of the museum we explored was the Encryption area. We got to see the costumes that Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley wore in The Imitation Game, a movie about Alan Turing’s efforts to crack Nazi codes during Word War II.  Among the other displays relating to the movie was an actual Enigma machine:

Spyscape Review: The Enigma section of the spy museum included an actual Enigma machine from World War II.

We also had a few encryption exercises at a large illuminated table. We were given a statement in code that we had to decipher, and then a response that we had to put into code. At the time, I didn’t realize that there were actually several different tasks, so I only completed the first one and then moved on.

The encryption area led into a corridor that examined the life and espionage activities of double agent Robert Hanssen, who worked for the FBI and the KGB simultaneously over a period of 22 years.

Spyscape Review: Robert Hanssen was a double agent of the KGB and FBI for 22 years before he was caught.

Hanssen’s story made for the perfect segue into the next section:

Deception

Here we learned the nuances of lying. We learned about body language and certain “tells” that might indicate someone was not speaking the truth. Touching the nose, looking up and to the side, pursing their lips, and other subtle clues can help you discern if someone is telling the truth. But the question is, how observant are you?

Time to put our new knowledge to the test! We went into small dark booths, and watched short videos of people making statements. We decided whether they were telling the truth or lying. Happy to say that I aced this one with a perfect score!

Surveillance

Our next stop was the Surveillance room, a huge circular area surrounded by video screens. Visitors wore special head sets and were prompted to answer questions about people and activities on the screens. It was surreal, standing in that area and spinning around to look for specific details. I decided I definitely do not want to work as a security guard, ever.

Spyscape review: The Surveillance Room tests how quickly you can make observations from camera monitors.

We saw a lot of Edward Snowden items in this room. My daughter didn’t know who he was (she was 11 when he became a household name), so I filled her in on the basics and we watched the Snowden movie a month or so later. What followed were some thought-provoking discussions about personal privacy and government surveillance of its citizens.

Spyscape Review: Edward Snowden-related items were on display in the Surveillance room.

Special Ops

The next area was one that got our blood pumping. In Special Ops, we individually entered another small dark room. This one had light up discs from floor to ceiling on both walls, and green lasers criss-crossed paths from one side to the other. The object was to turn off as many of the discs as possible without bumping into one of the laser beams. It was surprisingly difficult! Here’s my daughter in action – I was watching on the monitor outside the rooms.

After the lasers were turned off, you had your second test, which was turning off as many discs as you could in a set period of time. Again, more challenging than you might think!

Hacking

In this day and age, espionage and technology go hand in hand. So naturally, hacking and cyber-security were a component of Spyscape. According to one exhibit in this section, the development of a computer virus called Stuxnet to attack Iran’s nuclear weapons program in 2005 was the beginning of the cyber warfare era.

Spyscape Review: This infograph implies that Stuxnet opened the Pandora's box of cyber warfare which we continue to battle today.
Stuxnet opened a Pandora’s box of computer hacking that continues to evolve even today. There are white hat hackers, who look for weaknesses in computer systems so they can be fixed, and black hat hackers, who look for weaknesses in order to exploit them.

A display case of smirking Guy Fawkes masks worn by the hacking group Anonymous was an eerie reminder of how many people are actively working to hack into computer systems around the world.

Spyscape Review: Anonymous' Guy Fawkes masks, some of which were signed by hackers in the infamous group.

Testing Stations

This was not a specific room or exhibit of the museum. Throughout the building, visitors can test their skills in three areas: personality, brain power, and risk. All we had to do was step up to any kiosk and wave our wristband in front of the reader. Once it registered who we were, our name appeared on the screen and we could choose which assessment to take.

Spyscape Review: Visitors receive personalized test results.

Debrief

A former Head of Training at British Intelligence helped develop Spyscape’s profiling system, which takes the results of your activities and compiles them. From those results, it chooses your most likely espionage-related career.

My Spyscape Review

Our adventure at Spyscape was nothing short of fantastic! We had so much fun, and I couldn’t help but notice that it really could appeal to many groups. Since I’m a history geek, I found the evolution of espionage fascinating. Kids of any age will love the interactive, high tech elements. Even the two teenagers I traveled with (one of whom is staunchly anti-museum) loved it there.

My final word is that Spyscape is a great attraction for families who want to do something that everyone will enjoy. That’s quite a rarity, so be sure to check it out the next time you’re in New York City!

NB: This is not a sponsored post; I received no compensation. All of the opinions expressed above are my own.

Spyscape Review: Travelasmuch.com's review of Spyscape, the new spy museum in New York City
Gulliver’s Gate Review: A Miniature World to Explore in NYC

Gulliver’s Gate Review: A Miniature World to Explore in NYC

Size Does Matter –

Regular readers know that I love miniatures – dollhouses have fascinated me ever since I was a little girl. So when I heard about Gulliver’s Gate opening in New York City, I knew I had to go. If you’re curious about what this world-in-miniature is like, read on for my Gulliver’s Gate review.

About Gulliver’s Gate

The attraction draws its name from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. The classic story features the title character entering fantastical, hidden places. In each of those places, he discovered his expectations challenged and his sense of wonder expanded. Gulliver’s Gate seeks to do the same for its visitors.

The exhibit includes miniature scale models of well-known places from all over the world, and a few fictional worlds. These worlds are connected by train tracks and highways featuring all manners of transportation known to mankind – from horses and elephants to hot air balloons, jet planes and space shuttles. Gulliver’s Gate is done in HO scale, which is 1:87 (1 foot = 3.5 mm). A six-foot tall person would be .8 inches high in the Gulliver’s Gate world.

Gulliver's Gate Review: The Big Attraction with the Tiny World in NYC

Upon arriving at Gulliver’s Gate, you will receive a lanyard with a silver key. The key, they tell you, unlocks some of the special features of this miniature world. All you have to do is look for the kiosk (key-osk? hahaha), insert your key, and turn it.

First stop: New York City

Not surprisingly, New York City is the first stop on your journey through Gulliver’s Gate. It has all the major landmarks: the Empire State Building, Central Park, Staten Island Ferry Building, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and more. Here is the 9/11 memorial:

Gulliver's Gate Review: The 1:87 miniature depiction of the 9/11 Memorial in NYC.

The miniature version of Grand Central Station is sliced open to allow you to see three levels of transit at the same time – cars, commuter trains, and the subway system, as well as the main concourse.

Gulliver's Gate Review: Visitors are treated to a cross section view inside the miniature Grand Central Station.

Just like the real life city, in Gulliver’s Gate there are so many people – in cars, on the streets, going about their business and seeking fun. And just like the real city, model NYC is pretty big and complex.  It took a team of 16 builders almost a full year to complete!

A Slight Detour Before Crossing the Atlantic

Other areas of the United States represented in Gulliver’s Gate don’t get as much attention as NYC . There is a large display portraying New England in the fall, but I found it to be disappointing, and I wasn’t sure why that area of the US got special attention when no other area did. The bright autumn foliage was too sparse, and the display is inexplicably full of different businesses, including a prominently displayed, overly large Citgo sign. I wondered if there was some corporate sponsorship of Gulliver’s Gate.

Gulliver's Gate Review: New England received a dedicated display, but no other region of the US did.

The section also included a stunning depiction of Niagara Falls. Visitors could have their face projected into the falls by standing in a designated spot off to the side, but I liked it just as it was. The famed Maid of the Mist boat moved around at the base of the falls.

Then on to Europe

I thoroughly enjoyed the Europe section of Gulliver’s Gate, and lingered there longer than any other area. There was just so much to take in!  Countries blended seamlessly together, and iconic landmarks loomed over the tiny European people.

The British Isles

Naturally, I gravitated toward the Britain side of the exhibit first. There was a great Scottish castle, Westminster and the Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben. Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge, and Tower Bridge, featured prominently against a backdrop of the London skyline.

I tried out the key in the Scotland exhibit and the Loch Ness Monster popped up, looked around, then disappeared beneath the waters again. But not before I got her picture!

Gulliver's Gate Review: Turn your key in the Scotland section of the British Isles display, and the Loch Ness Monster will pop up to greet you.

I was absolutely mesmerized by the London display, particularly the long road that led up to Buckingham Palace, flanked my light posts with Union Jack flags hanging from them.

Gulliver's Gate Review: Buckingham Palace in the British Isles display.

Another interactive opportunity arose at the outdoor concert arena.  By turning my key in a particular direction, I could choose who performed on stage. On my first try, I accidentally choose the Beatles.

Gulliver's Gate Review: The Beatles are one of four performers at the outdoor concert venue.

Then I got the one I really wanted: Adele.

Gulliver's Gate Review: Adele is one of four performers you can see on the outdoor stage

Depending on who you choose, the stage will rotate around to show miniature figures of them. The music plays in full audio (not miniaturized squeaky chipmunk tones as you might expect), accompanied by video clips of their performances on the small screen above the stage.

It wasn’t until I began looking through my photos to decide if I needed any more that I noticed something decidedly out of place at the miniature Stonehenge. Can you see it?

Gulliver's Gate Review: Stonehenge at the British Isles Display.

Wait a minute, I thought. Is that what I think it is? No way! I backtracked to the miniature Stonehenge and confirmed that my eyes had not been playing tricks on me.

Gulliver's Gate Review: The TARDIS from Doctor Who is just one of many hidden surprises in the miniature world.

The TARDIS from Doctor Who was right there in the middle of Stonehenge – how funny! Well, needless to say, I had to look for more little surprises like this. I headed off to go through the exhibit a second time.

When I did, I found a few more interesting items in the British Isles section. For instance, Peter Pan stands atop the palace at Westminster. Elsewhere, you will find the Beatles crossing Abbey Road. And back in New York, there is a tightrope walker balancing between the chandeliers in Grand Central Station (it’s in the photo above – see if you can spot her!).

Italy

Italy, like the British Isles, had all of the major landmarks represented. St Mark’s Square in Venice, the Colosseum of Rome, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, even the Cinque Terre for avid travelers.

I took a few pictures, but it wasn’t until my second pass through that I noticed the humorous touch they had added.

Gulliver's Gate Review: Trying to set the Leaning Tower of Pisa straight.

The van is marked Servizio Torri and all of those people are attempting to straighten out the famously leaning tower. This picture was taken at an angle from the side, not from the front where most people would stand and look. In fact, from the front you may only notice the string, but I didn’t.

If you’re looking hard enough, you might spot the Ghostbusters’ car in Italy, too. They must have left it there and flown home, because you can find them on one of the streets in New York, chasing after some ghosts.

France

The Arc de Triomphe was replicated in miniature. You can’t see it in this photo, but the Moulin Rouge is located behind the Arc.

Gulliver's Gate Review: The miniature Arc de Triomphe dominates the French section of the European display.

Off to the left of the Arc is something I didn’t notice until my second pass through. It isn’t funny, but it is one of the excellent details that made touring the exhibit such a joy:

Gulliver's Gate Review: Look to the left of the Arc de Triomphe and you will see the European Giant Pumpkin competition.

Spain

Then there was Spain, and another opportunity to use the key.  When I turned it, Don Quixote came out charging at the windmill as he did in Miguel de Cervantes’ classic story.

Gulliver's Gate Review: Use your key to make Don Quixote charge at the windmill in Spain.

Portugal

In Portugal, this was not a hidden scene, but it certainly was an eye catching one:

Gulliver's Gate Review: Why was there a rhinoceros in Portugal?

Figures dressed in medieval garb, and a rhinoceros wearing a garland of flowers around its neck. The rhinoceros presented a mystery, as I had no frame of reference for this. As it turns out, this is a significant bit of Portuguese history.

India sent the rhino to Portugal in 1515 as a gift. It survived the 120-day sea voyage to Portugal. Unfortunately, once it arrived, it was kept shackled and on display at king Manuel I’s Ribiera Palace. Efforts to make the rhino fight an elephant for entertainment failed (the elephant wasn’t interested, and walked away). Lacking any entertainment value, King Manuel grew tired of the rhino and decided to re-gift it to Pope Leo X, whom he was schmoozing. Unfortunately, the rhinoceros died when the boat carrying him to Rome wrecked.

Yet despite its short life and even shorter time in Portugal, this rhinoceros was the inspiration for a fantastical illustration. Famed Renaissance wood cutter Albrecht Dürer never saw the animal in person, but based on descriptions and a sketch someone else had done, he recreated the rhinoceros. Dürer’s Rhinoceros depicted the animal with hard plates that covered its body like armor – including a gorget around its throat and a breastplate. The armor even appears to have rivets! Despite the fact that Dürer’s rhino was not what an actual rhino looked like, it went on to inspire dozens of paintings and sculptures across Europe.

Gulliver's Gate Review: Find out the origins of Durer's Rhinoceros in the Europe section.
Photo courtesy of the National Gallery of Art via Wikimedia Commons.

So, there you go.  History can pop up and surprise you in the most unusual places!

From there, I wandered along the path and arrived in the Scandinavian section of Europe – a snow covered land of quaint buildings. The Northern Lights make a guest appearance if you stand there long enough.

Gulliver's Gate Review - Look for the Northern Lights when you get to the Scandinavian section of Europe.

I used my key here too, and when I did, Santa Claus and his reindeer flew across the sky.

Gulliver's Gate Review: Use your key to make Santa fly across the northern sky.

Russia

From one frozen landscape to another, Scandinavia seamlessly blended into Russia. I took a lot of photos in the Russian section because there were so many wonderful details. They had a movie theater that was actually showing a movie, a carousel, ice skaters, and so much more.  It was a lot to take in!  But it was here that I got the best photo illustrating the attention to detail in Gulliver’s Gate:

Gulliver's Gate Review: The attention to detail, like the reverse lights on this car being illuminated, is astounding.

The architectural decoration on the house, the dog in the lane, and the illumination of the back up lights on the car – it was just stunning. Elsewhere, I found a pack of sled dogs, which was also a great scene to stumble upon:

Gulliver's Gate Review: Sled dogs resting in the Russian countryside.

And, of course, you couldn’t have Russia without Saint Basil’s Cathedral.

Gulliver's Gate Review: St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.

That was the end of the European section. Next up:

Asia

Full disclosure: I did not spend a lot of time here. I’ve never been to Asia and I’m not particularly interested in exploring that region. However, there were some impressive mini-masterpieces:

 

Gulliver's Gate Review: A celebration outside the Forbidden City in China.
A celebration outside the Forbidden City in China.

 

Gulliver's Gate Review: The Taj Mahal is equally inspiring in miniature.
The Taj Mahal of India

And, for my fellow travel junkies, here’s the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore. I couldn’t get close enough to it to look for the infinity pool on the rooftop. I’m sure it was there, though.

Gulliver's Gate Review: Marina Bay Sands Hotel of Singapore

Latin America

The Latin American section was appropriately full of music and color. In the miniature Rio to Janeiro, it was Carnival season.

Gulliver's Gate Review: It's Carnival time in Rio!

If you turn the key here, the parade kicks off with music and dancing. Just watch the figures on the street:

Miniature Latin America included Machu Picchu, I could not get a good photo of it. What I could see of it was not very impressive. Other Latin America highlights include a volcano that emits steam and looks like it will erupt at any moment.

Middle East

In the Middle East, the highlight was seeing the holy city of Jerusalem, including the Dome of the Rock.

Gulliver's Gate Review: The holy city of Jerusalem, and it's many historically significant religious sites.

Away from the historic center of Jerusalem, I spotted a terrifyingly ugly children’s playground. I was surprised to learn that it is, in fact, a real place called the Monster Playground. Alrighty then. Sweet dreams, kiddos!

Gulliver's Gate Review: Jerusalem's Monster Playground

Airport

The exhibit ends with a massive airport.

Gulliver's Gate Review: The Airport has over 2000 feet of wire underneath it, and uover 2500 miniature figures in the gate building.

Rumor has it that Yoda is in there somewhere, but I was running short on time and didn’t get to explore much.  The airport has 2000 feet of wires running under it and over 2500 miniature figures in the gate building.

My Two Cents

In summary, I think that Gulliver’s Gate is an excellent attraction for families with kids, model train enthusiasts, and travel nuts like me.  It’s extremely well done, the attention to detail is fascinating, and visitors will enjoy discovering the little extras that are hidden in plain sight. Be sure to check it out the next time you’re in New York!

 

Gulliver's Gate Review at Travelasmuch.com

Why You Should Visit the Empire State Building the Next Time You’re in NYC

Why You Should Visit the Empire State Building the Next Time You’re in NYC

The Empire State Building: A History

There are many places in New York City that will provide you with a bird’s eye view of the Big Apple. None, however, is as iconic or has as rich a history as the Empire State Building.

Empire State Building History - Why you need to visit this iconic landmark.

For starters, it’s very tall. For the first 40 years or so of its existence, it was the tallest building in the world. By the numbers: it has 102 stories, 6500 windows, 1860 steps, and 72 elevators. The building measures 1250 feet, and is 1454 feet tall if you include its antenna. The building is so big that it has its own zip code! (It’s 10118, if you want to fact check me.)

Today, 34 buildings are taller than the Empire State Building, but it is still in the top five for the USA.

One of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the building was erected in 1931. Its architectural firm produced the building drawings in just two weeks. The firm used its earlier designs for the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the Carew Tower in Cincinnati as a basis to work from when designing the Empire State. Don’t assume for a moment, however, that the designs were even close to being identical.

The Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem has only 21 floors.

Empire State Building History: The Empire State Building was preceded by the RJ Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, NC, which has just 21 floors.
The RJ Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, NC. (Photo via Flickr by Paul Sableman.)

The Carew Tower in Cincinnati has 49 floors.

Empire State Building History: The Empire State Building was preceded by the Carew Tower in Cincinnati, which is less than half its height.
Carew Tower in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo via Flicker by Hannaford.)

Every year the staff of the Empire State Building sends a Father’s Day card to the staff at the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, paying homage to its role as predecessor to the Empire State Building.

Bad Timing

It took 3,400 people 410 days to build the Empire State Building, beginning in January 1930. On average, they complete one floor per day.

On May 1, 1931, President Herbert Hoover turned on the building’s lights with the push of a button from Washington, D.C. and it was officially open. Unfortunately, the opening coincided with the United States’ descent into the Great Depression. In that economic climate, there was not much of a demand for office space. With so many vacant spaces in the giant building, it earned the nickname Empty State Building.

Fortunately for the owners, the observation deck provided financial compensation for the lack of rental income. The first year, visitors to the observation deck spent $2 million to get a great view of the city, almost the same amount of income received in rent payments. The building did not make a profit, however, until the early 1950s.

Empire State Building History: The building opened just as America sank into the Great Depression. If it weren't for the observation deck, it would have been a huge financial loss.
Photo via Flickr by Johannes Martin

Notable Moments

The building first appeared on the silver screen in 1933’s King Kong movie. Since that time, it has been a featured location in more than 250 other movies.

In 1945, a B-25 bomber hit the north side of the Empire State Building between the 79th and 80th floors. One engine shot through the side and traveled a block away, while the other engine and landing gear went down an elevator shaft. Fourteen people were killed in the incident, but the building was not severely damaged or structurally compromised.

Just prior to Christmas in 1931 – less than eight months after the building’s opening – NBC and RCA began transmitting experimental television broadcasts from the Empire State Building. Today, there are 12 television stations and 19 radio stations transmitting from the site.

The Empire State Building is located at 350 Fifth Avenue in New York City.  For exceptional views of teh city, visitors can go to either the open-air main deck on the 86th floor or the enclosed top deck on the 102nd floor. Main deck tickets start at $36 per adult.  Top deck tickets, which include the main deck, start at $56 per adult.

Empire State Building History & Architecture at their finest
A Road Trip for the Hamilton Fan

A Road Trip for the Hamilton Fan

Hamilton

Are you a fan of the wildly popular Broadway musical, Hamilton? I certainly am, so I figured it might be fun to do a Hamilton road trip visiting all of the places connected to this founding father. I’m listing them in chronological order; however, I will have a list at the end that organizes the sites by state, and a map to guide you in planning your Hamilton road trip.

In New York you can be a new man

In the first year or two after his arrival on the mainland, Alexander focused on his education. During this time, he came under the influence of William Livingston, a leading intellectual and revolutionary. Hamilton even lived at the Livingston residence for about a year. Livingston’s house, known as Liberty Hall, is now the Liberty Hall Museum of Union, NJ.

Hamilton entered King’s College in New York City (now Columbia University) in the autumn of 1773 as a private student and officially matriculated in May 1774. As a result, if you visit the college today, you will see Hamilton Hall and a large statue of Hamilton in front of it.

alexander hamilton road trip columbia university hall statue
Hamilton Hall at Columbia University (source)

After his education, Alexander Hamilton joined a New York volunteer militia company. He drilled with the company in the graveyard of nearby St. Paul’s Chapel.

You walked in and my heart went BOOM

Hamilton met Elizabeth Schuyler while stationed in Morristown, New Jersey in the winter of December 1779-March 1780.

They were married on December 14, 1780, at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, New York. The Schuyler Mansion still stands, and it is a New York State Historic Site. Between 1763 and 1804, this mansion was the site of military strategizing, political hobnobbing, elegant social affairs, and an active family life. You can tour of the mansion for $5 (students and seniors $4 and children under 12 receive free admission).

alexander hamilton roadt trip albany ny schuyler mansion
The Schuyler Mansion in Albany, NY (source)

The Battle of Yorktown … 1781 …

Hamilton was there, and you can be, too.

The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (Virginia) tells the story of the nation’s founding, from the colonial period to the Revolution and beyond. Indoor galleries feature period artifacts, immersive environments, interactive exhibits and films. One film, “The Siege of Yorktown,” has a 180-degree surround screen and special effects. The museum also has outdoor living-history areas, in which visitors can witness artillery demonstrations, or drill with wooden muskets at a re-created Continental Army encampment.

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The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (source)

After the war, I went back to New York

In July 1782, Hamilton passed the bar and set up law practice in Albany after six months of self-directed education. Unfortunately, I could not find any reference to the location of his law practice.

Back in Manhattan, in 1784, he founded the Bank of New York. The bank opened for business at 326 Pearl Street only a few months after the departure of British troops from American soil. Sadly, that building has not stood since 1881. It is interesting to note, however, that the Bank of New York became one of the longest operating banks in American history. It stayed in business for over 220 years before it merged with another bank in 2007.

I was chosen for the constitutional convention

The Annapolis Convention of September 1786, held at Mann’s Tavern, consisted of twelve delegates from five states. Hamilton played a major leadership role at the convention, where he drafted a resolution for a constitutional convention. As a result, he came one step closer to achieving his longtime desire to have a more powerful, financially independent federal government.

The Constitutional Convention took place in Philadelphia the following year from May 25 to September 17. Delegates met at the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall. After months of work in defining and improving our fledgling nation’s government, they emerged with the Constitution of the United States of America.  Alexander Hamilton was the sole signer from the state of New York.  Today, you can see the Constitution at the National Archives in Washington DC.

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Independence Hall, Philadelphia  (source)

The New York state Ratifying Convention took place in Poughkeepsie in June 1788. Most delegates to the ratifying convention were anti-Federalists, and they opposed ratification.  However, Hamilton led the Federalist minority in a tenacious and persevering fight for ratification. The original Dutchess County Courthouse where the convention was held later burned down, and a new courthouse was built on the same site. Outside the courthouse, signs mark the historic site of the New York Ratifying Convention. Inside the US Post Office at the end of the street, you can view a large mural of the New York Ratification Convention.

We’ll get a little place in Harlem

Alexander Hamilton owned just one home in his lifetime: a Federal style mansion known as The Grange. Originally built on Hamilton’s 32-acre country estate in upper Manhattan, the home was moved twice, and is now located in St. Nicholas Park in Hamilton Heights, Manhattan. It is maintained by the National Park Service, who restored it to its original 1802 appearance.  The Park Service also provides guided tours daily.

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The Grange (source)

Weehawken, dawn.  Guns drawn.

After decades of insults and provocations between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, they met to duel at dawn on July 11, 1804 in Weehawken, NJ. The dueling grounds, located along the west bank of the Hudson River, have a historic marker and a bronze bust of Alexander Hamilton… in Hamilton Park, adjacent to Hamilton Street. Also on Hamilton Street is a large boulder upon which Alexander Hamilton rested after being shot.

Paralyzed by a bullet that struck his spine, Hamilton was ferried to the Greenwich Village home of his friend William Bayard Jr., who had been waiting on the dock. Hamilton died the following afternoon, July 12, at Bayard’s home. According to Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow, “A large bloodstain soaked into the Bayard’s floor where Hamilton expired, and for many years the family refused to expunge this sacred spot.” The house currently at this address is not the one in which Hamilton passed away, but there is a marker to commemorate the place of Hamilton’s demise.

Hamilton’s tomb lies near the southern fence of Trinity churchyard in New York. Eliza is buried next to him, but she outlived him by 50 years.  Also buried in the cemetery are Angelica Schuyler Church and Hercules Mulligan.

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Hamilton’s grave site at Trinity Church

Who tells your story

Numerous locations in the United States pay tribute to Alexander Hamilton and his legacy. To name a few:

Hamilton served as one of the first trustees of the Hamilton-Oneida Academy in Clinton, New York. After receiving a college charter in 1812, it became Hamilton College.

It isn’t mentioned in the play, but Alexander Hamilton envisioned using the Great Falls of the Passaic River in New Jersey to power new factories.  While Secretary of Treasury, Hamilton selected the site of the nation’s first planned industrial city. Then, in 1791, Hamilton helped found the Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures (SUM), a state-chartered private corporation to fulfill this vision. SUM founded the town of Paterson and today, there is a statue of Hamilton overlooking the falls in Paterson, New Jersey.

The United States Capitol in Washington DC has a statue of Hamilton in the southwest portion of its rotunda.

In 1790, Hamilton created the United States Revenue Cutter Service to help with customs enforcement. In 1915, the service combined with the United States Life Saving Service to form the United States Coast Guard.  So it’s no surprise that the main administration building of the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, is named Hamilton Hall.

In 1880, Hamilton’s son, John Church Hamilton, commissioned Carl Conrads to sculpt a granite statue of his father, now located in Central Park, New York City.

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The statue of Alexander Hamilton in Central Park, New York. (source)

In 1990, the U.S. Custom House in New York City was renamed after Alexander Hamilton.

The U.S. Army’s Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn is named after Hamilton.

In Washington, DC, the south terrace of the Treasury Building features a statue of Hamilton by James Earle Fraser, dedicated on May 17, 1923.

In Chicago, a thirteen-foot tall statue of Hamilton by sculptor John Angel was cast in 1939. Installation at Lincoln Park did not occur until 1952, however, due to issues with the accompanying structure. The statue underwent restoration work in 2016 and now gleams shiny gold.

A bronze sculpture of Hamilton titled The American Cape was unveiled at Journal Square in downtown Hamilton, Ohio, in October 2004. (That link will take you to a site with multiple images – it’s really cool looking, so check it out!)

The Road Trip

Because most of these sites are close together, I think it makes an ideal road trip.  The road trip itinerary below does not include all of the spots, just the most important ones.  I tried to keep it semi-practical, so you wouldn’t be driving an hour out of your way just to see a statue.

  1. Start at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, Virginia.  I would allow at least half a day for seeing that.  From there, head toward Washington DC. However, if you want to shorten your tip, you can make Washington your starting point – I included Yorktown because I’ve been to its sister site, the Jamestown Settlement, which is excellent.
  2. In Washington, go first to the Capitol building, then the National Archives, and then the US Treasury. From there, head to Philadelphia.
  3. In Philadelphia, tour Independence Hall.  Again, I would allow at least half a day for this.  Then head to New York City.
  4. In Manhattan, go to Trinity Church and look for the graves of Alexander & Eliza Hamilton, Hercules Mulligan, and Angelica Schuyler Church
  5. As you head north in New York, stop by 82 Jane Street, the site where Hamilton died at William Bayard’s home.
  6. Visit Central Park and look for the statue of Hamilton, located east of The Great Lawn between 82nd and 83rd Streets
  7. Go see Hamilton Hall at Columbia University.  Visit nearby St. Paul’s Chapel, where Hamilton and his fellow militiamen did drills in the cemetery.
  8. Make your last stop in the Big Apple the Hamilton Grange National Memorial.
  9. Leave New York and head to the Weehawken Dueling Grounds and Hamilton Memorial in Weehawken NJ. Be sure to look for the boulder.
  10. Visit the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park in Paterson NJ and look for the statue of Hamilton there.
  11. Head north and stop in Poughkeepsie to see the Dutchess County Courthouse. While you’re there, you can also get a look at the mural in the nearby Post Office.
  12. Finally, you reach the end of the trip at the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, NY, site of Alexander and Eliza’s wedding.

Of course, this is just a suggestion.  You could adapt this trip to include more sites, or shorten it by removing some. I created a custom Google map with these twelve sites pinned to it, and you can see it here. A full list of all the sites mentioned in this article, and their addresses, follows.

New Jersey

  • Liberty Hall Museum – 1003 Morris Avenue, Union NJ
  • Morristown, NJ – Hamilton was stationed there in 1779/1780
  • Weehawken, NJ – Hamilton Street dueling grounds
  • Paterson, NJ Statue – 72 McBride Ave ExtensionPaterson, NJ

New York

  • Columbia University – 1130 Amsterdam Avenue, New York NY
  • St. Paul’s Chapel – 1160 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY
  • Schuyler Mansion – 32 Catherine Street, Albany, NY
  • Dutchess County Courthouse – 10 Market St, Poughkeepsie, NY
  • Hamilton Grange National Memorial – 414 West 141st Street, New York, NY
  • William Bayard’s home Marker – 82 Jane Street, New York, NY
  • Trinity Churchyard Cemetery – Broadway and Wall Street, New York, NY
  • Hamilton College – 198 College Hill Rd, Clinton, NY
  • Central Park Statue – Mid-Park east of The Great Lawn between 82nd and 83rd Streets
  • Alexander Hamilton US Custom House – 1 Bowling Green, New York, NY
  • Fort Hamilton – 101st Street, Brooklyn, NY

Virginia

  • American Revolution Museum at Yorktown – 200 Water Street, Route 1020, Yorktown, VA

Maryland

  • Mann’s Tavern Marker – 162 Conduit St, Annapolis MD

Pennsylvania

  • Independence Hall – 520 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia

Washington, DC

  • National Archives – 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
  • Capitol Building – East Capitol St NE & First St SE, Washington, DC
  • US Treasury Building – 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, in Washington, D.C.

Connecticut

  • US Coast Guard Academy – 31 Mohegan Ave, New London, CT

Thank you for joining me on this tour of Alexander Hamilton’s life!  Please let me know if you take a Hamilton road trip and/or visit any of these places.  I would love to hear what you thought of them!

Hamilton US Road Trip

Follow the Yellow Brick Road: A Wizard of Oz Road Trip

Follow the Yellow Brick Road: A Wizard of Oz Road Trip

Are you a fan of the classic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz? Well, have I got a road trip for you! (Technically, it may be more of a bucket list than a road trip.  These sites are on both coasts of the USA and a few places in between. It really isn’t practical for driving unless you have a lot of time.)

Start in the northeast with Chittenango, New York.  This town is the birthplace of The Wizard of Oz author Frank Baum, and also the home of the All Things Oz Museum. According to the museum staff, “All Things Oz is more than a tribute to a book series; it is a fascinating trip through the life of its author, his wife, Maud Gage, and all the many experiences that shaped his imagination and his world.” The museum also coordinates a yearly Oz-stravaganza festival.

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All Things Oz Museum, Chittenango, NY

From New York, head south to our nation’s capital and visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington DC.  There you will see one of the four original pairs of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the movie. (Size 5!)

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Ruby Slippers, National Museum of American History, Washington DC

From DC, keep heading south. If you’ve scrolled through Pinterest, you may have seen an abandoned Wizard of Oz theme park in North Carolina. Well, it was a theme park, and it is in North Carolina, but it is not abandoned. The Land of Oz is a privately owned property that is under 24 hour surveillance, and trespassers are prosecuted. Fortunately, however, the site is open to the public at various times throughout the year.

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Land of Oz theme park in Beech Mountain, NC

In Chicago, visit Oz Park.  Take a stroll through the park and you’ll be greeted by statues of the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and everyone’s favorite, Dorothy & Toto.

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Scarecrow Statue, Oz Park, Chicago

In Wamego, Kansas, there is the Oz Museum, which features a collection of over 25,000 Oz artifacts. Since the founding of the Museum in April 2004, other small businesses with the Oz theme have opened, including the Oz Winery and Toto’s Tacoz. In addition, on the first weekend of October, Wamego holds its Annual OZtoberFEST, an Oktoberfest-type celebration with an Oz theme. OZfest typically features Hot Air Balloon Rides, Tallgrass Brewery Beer Garden, the Yellow Brick Road Bike Ride, and a local stage or music production.

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The Oz Museum, Wamego KS

And now, head west to the California coast.  We’re going to Hollywood!

Visit the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, and look for the stars of Judy Garland (Dorothy), Ray Bloger (Scarecrow), Jack Haley (Tin Man), Frank Morgan (The Wizard), and Billie Burke (Glinda). The Munchkins’ star, added in 2007, is the most recent Wizard of Oz addition to the Walk of Fame.

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Hollywood Walk of Fame

After visiting the Walk of Fame, head over to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  The cemetery contains a memorial to Terry the Cairn Terrier, also known as Dorothy’s dog, Toto.

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Toto Memorial in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

And when you’ve finished touring all of these great locations, remember to click your heels three times and say, “There’s no place like home…”

Trivia: The Statue of Liberty, NY

Trivia: The Statue of Liberty, NY

A New York Icon

The Statue of Liberty has graced New York Harbor since 1886.  Most people know that it was a gift to the United States from the people of France.  Some (those who have seen National Treasure: Book of Secrets, for instance) know that there is a smaller version of the same statue in France.  Some may know that the date July 4, 1776 is inscribed on the tablet she holds.  But here are some things that most people might not know at all:

Statue of Liberty Trivia
Photo via Flickr by aherrero.

What You Probably Don’t Know About Her

  1. The statue’s full name is Liberty Enlightening the World.
  2. The female figure is Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom.
  3. To climb up into the crown on her head, you must ascend 354 stairs.
  4. Once there, you can look out at the harbor through 25 windows.
  5. Approximately 4 million people visit the statue each year.
  6. Gustave Eiffel, the man who designed the Eiffel Tower, also designed Liberty’s ‘spine’ – four iron columns supporting a metal framework.
  7. Three hundred different types of hammers were used to create the sculpture.  Not 300 hammers, mind you, but 300 types of hammers.
  8. Although you cannot see Lady Liberty’s feet clearly, she is in fact standing among a broken shackle and chains, with her right foot raised.  This is to depict forward movement away from oppression and slavery.
  9. The statue has been destroyed on the big screen in at least three movies – The Planet of the Apes, Independence Day, and The Day After Tomorrow.
  10. Since 1984, the statue has been a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  11. In high winds (50 mph), the statue can sway up to three inches.  Her upraised arm can sway up to five inches.
  12. Several people have attempted suicide by jumping off the statue.  However, only two were successful.
  13. In 1944 the lights in the crown flashed “dot-dot-dot-dash” which in the Morse code means V, for Victory in Europe.
  14. In 1982, it was discovered that the head had been installed two feet off center.
  15. From the time of its installation until 1902, the statue also served as a lighthouse, with visibility up to 24 miles away.

The Statue of Liberty National Monument is located on Liberty Island near New York City. Telephone 212-363-3200.  Liberty Island is open every day from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM, except December 25 (closed). Hours change seasonally.  To assist you in planning your visit, there is a free app for the Statue of Liberty & the nearby Ellis Island Museum of Immigration.

Photo Credit: The image used in the Pinterest graphic for this post is via Flickr by Ramanathan Kathiresan.

Statue of Liberty trivia
Peace Fountain at St. John the Divine, NYC

Peace Fountain at St. John the Divine, NYC

The plaque at the base of the Peace Fountain outside the Cathedral Church of St John the Divine in New York City reads:

Peace Fountain celebrates the triumph of Good over Evil, and sets before us the world’s opposing forces—violence and harmony, light and darkness, life and death—which God reconciles in his peace.When the fountain operates, four courses of water cascade down the freedom pedestal into a maelstrom evoking the primordial chaos of Earth. Foursquare around the base, flames of freedom rise in witness to the future. Ascending from the pool, the freedom pedestal is shaped like the double helix of DNA, the key molecule of life. Atop the pedestal a giant crab reminds us of life’s origins in sea and struggle. Facing West, a somnolent Moon reflects tranquility from a joyous Sun smiling to the East. The swirls encircling the heavenly bodies bespeak the larger movements of the cosmos with which earthly life is continuous.

Nine giraffes—among the most peaceable of animals—nestle and prance about the center. One rests its head on the bosom of the winged Archangel Michael, described in the bible as the leader of the heavenly host against the forces of Evil. St. Michael’s sword is vanquishing his chief opponent, Satan, whose decapitated figure plunges into the depths, his head dangling beneath the crab’s claw. Tucked away next to the Sun, a lion and lamb relax together in the peace of God’s kingdom, as foretold by the prophet Isaiah.

I’ve admitted it before: I’m an art bigot. I just don’t get modern art, and I didn’t get this statue, either. But it was interesting to look at, and impressive in size. But as for offering commentary and analysis, I’ll leave that to the description quoted above.

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I just kept walking around it because every time I made a circle I saw new things that I had completely missed before. There’s a lot to take in.

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cathedral church of st john the divine peace fountain new york nyc

cathedral church of st john the divine peace fountain new york nyc

The Peace Fountain is located outside the Cathedral Church of St John the Divine, at 1047 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025.  

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC

We did not intend to do a cathedral tour of New York City, but it very nearly ended up that way when, after touring Riverside Church, we headed to our next destination and happened upon the Cathedral Church of St John the Divine.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t the Gothic Revival architecture that drew us in, it was the humorous signs warning dog walkers to be courteous:

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We wandered through the adjacent property and admired the statuary, then this caught our eye.  Certainly, it wasn’t done on purpose or by a human hand, but it gave us a chuckle.

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When we made it around to the front entrance of the church we realized just how big the church is.

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That’s only the center section of it!  Some say it is the largest Anglican cathedral in the world, with an interior area of 121,000 square feet.

Those 12 x 18 feet doors are made of bronze and were installed in 1936.  The artist only made three other sets in his lifetime – two in England and one in Boston.  The doors consist of 48 relief panels depicting scenes from the Bible.

At the west end of the nave, installed by stained glass artist Charles Connick and constructed out of 10,000 pieces of glass, is the largest rose window in the U.S.

cathedral church of st john the divine rose window stained glass

Construction on the cathedral began in 1892, the first services were held in 1899, and it was first opened end-to-end in 1941.  After a large fire on December 18, 2001, it closed for repairs and reopened in November 2008. It remains unfinished, with construction and restoration a continuing process. As a result, it is often nicknamed St. John the Unfinished.

The day we visited, there was a funeral taking place, so we were limited in what we could see and photograph. There were many statues and tapestries in small alcoves along the sides of the church, and a large piece of artwork hanging from the ceiling. It seemed equal parts museum and church, which seemed strange to me. However, it is impressive in its size and history, so I recommend a visit if you’re in the area.

The Cathedral Church of St John the Divine is located at 1047 Amsterdam Avenue
at 112th Street, New York, NY 10025.  Telephone 212-316-7540.  The Cathedral is open 7:30 am to 6:00 pm daily. The Visitor Center is open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily. There is no charge for a self-guided tour, but there are also themed, fee-charging tours available.

Along the Way: Riverside Church, New York City

Along the Way: Riverside Church, New York City

We had no intention of visiting Riverside Church in New York. We hadn’t even heard of it before. But when we left the General Grant Memorial, we were drawn by its impressive architecture. Finding the ornate doors open, we wandered inside.

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The church was conceived by industrialist, financier, and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and minister Harry Emerson Fosdick as a large, interdenominational church, open to all who profess faith in Christ. Today, its congregation includes more than forty ethnic groups.

Over the years the church has hosted many notable speakers. Martin Luther King Jr. voiced his opposition to the Vietnam War at Riverside on April 4, 1967. That is also known as his Riverside Church speech. The Rev. Jesse Jackson gave the eulogy at Jackie Robinson’s funeral service in 1972. Former President Bill Clinton spoke at Riverside Church on August 29, 2004. Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan spoke there after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Cesar Chavez, Desmond Tutu, Fidel Castro, Arundhati Roy and Nelson Mandela have all spoken at Riverside Church.

It is stunning, inside and out. It is the tallest church in the United States. The bell tower alone is built on a frame that is 22 stories high.

As soon as you step foot inside the church you forget that you are in New York City because it feels so much more like a centuries-old European cathedral.

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A feeling that is echoed again inside the sanctuary:

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And the stained glass windows are beautiful as well.  Here is a close up that shows Eve, forbidden fruit still in her hand:

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The gardens outside were quite beautiful too.

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We took our time and were able to wander through the church at our leisure. It was a lovely diversion and I’m so glad we decided to stop there! That’s why it’s important to leave a little wiggle room in your sightseeing plans for things that you find along the way.

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The Riverside Church is located at 490 Riverside Drive, New York, New York 10027, one block from the General Grant Memorial.  Telephone 212-870-6700.  Guided tours are available for a fee of $10 per adult (seniors and students, $5).  Call or visit website for more information.