Monday, March 06, 2017

Sunday Fun Part 2 - Touring the Brooklyn Navy Yard

Atlantic Salvor of Dry Dock 1

Sunday Fun part 2 - but not Part 2 of Friday's "Sunday Fun". Nope, this goes much further back!

Early February in fact.  Part 1 was the Brooklyn Bridge walk and dimsum at Jing Fong. Remember? After brunch, Laurie and Rosa and I set out to walk back to Brooklyn, this time across the Manhattan Bridge. As we walked up the section of the bridge that extends into Manhattan, we saw a little knot of people looking down into the street below, and it turned out that the Lunar New Year Parade was just coming into view, heading for the bridge! Laurie and Rosa stopped to watch, and under ordinary circumstances I would've stayed (and in fact I'm going to keep that in mind for next year, I think some overhead shots of the parade could be fun), but earlier in the week, I had run across a Facebook post from Turnstile Tours talking about a tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, with "a special spotlight on the experience of African-American sailors and workers for Black History Month. Learn about how the struggle for racial justice played out on the ships and in the shipyards of the US Navy, and how the Yard's 70,000 sailors, shipfitters, caulkers, and chippers of all backgrounds transformed it into the world's busiest shipyard". I wasn't able to talk any friends into joining me, but I'd gone ahead and signed up for it, because it sounded interesting.

That was starting at 2, and we'd already stopped to look at a few things that caught our attention on the way to the bridge, so I needed to head on.

It ended up being a very good tour - and private! That's right, I  turned out to be the only person in the entire city who decided that touring the Brooklyn Navy Yard was a good way to spend the afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday. As I said on Facebook afterwards, I figure I have now genuinely earned my boat nerd card, if I hadn't had it before!

It took me a while to do this post because I had a bit of a writer's block problem - aside from posts on waterfront politics (which I stopped doing as much after I left the Hudson River, in very discouraging circumstances) and boating safety, most of what I post here is pretty fluffy, and talking about a tour where I learned about how the foundations of the civil rights movement were being laid amidst the building frenzy in the leadup to and during WWII...well, that's not fluffy at all, and I just don't really know how to write about it. Apologies for that; for what it's worth, here are a couple of thoughts -- then I will send you off to the Flickr album from the day, where I'll talk more about the tour itself.

It was a very well-done tour. My guide, Andrew, was one of the owners of the company; he was extremely knowledgeable, presented the day's information in an interesting and logical fashion, and answered all of my questions easily and thoroughly. In fact, my main regret in not having other people along was that I think other people's questions and perspectives would've added more dimension to the tour.

The way the tour was tailored to Black History Month was by working specific stories into an overall framework, and I could see how the presentation could be similarly tailored to a wide range of subjects (as Turnstile advertises on their website). Andrew went through a general overall history of the base, talking as we rode from building to building. At certain points, he would focus on how and where African-Americans fit into the story, either telling the history as part of his talk, or in a couple of cases, showing photos and playing recordings of people who actually worked at the yard during WWII telling their own stories. Some of the stories were hopeful, some horrifying, and (as already mentioned), I do feel like maybe a few of the many gaps in my knowledge of the history of the civil rights movement got filled in over the course of the day. We did also get a little window into women's history, as the yard was one of the places where "Rosie the Riveter" went to work.  

The tour actually dovetailed well with a couple of books I've read recently, one on Plessy vs. Ferguson, one on the history of the fight for civil rights in Mississippi - the latter actually started in the 1940's, so resonated very well with what I learned from the tour; before those books and this tour, I would say that most my awareness of the Civil Rights movement was mostly focused on Dr. Martin Luther King; I was still in the 1940's section of the Mississippi book at the time that I took the tour, and although the situation in Mississippi sounded much more brutal than that in Brooklyn, the same groundswell of people standing up and demanding equal treatment was working in both.

Fascinating getting to know more of our history this way - and I thought it was very relevant to where we stand now. I'm glad I went - wouldn't have spent Super Bowl Sunday any way other than the way I did. I might have to take my folks for a tour next time they're here, and if you live in NYC and have visitors who are interested in history, I can definitely recommend Turnstile Tours. In fact I may join them on another tour even without visitors, they have a wide range of places and topics that sound interesting.

Click here for the day's Flickr album.


Haralee said...

So interesting. I love off beat tours with a great historical component. Thanks for sharing.

JP said...

Sounds like an interesting tour and top tip for the future - book boating tours on super bowl Sunday!

Julie McCoy said...

I hope there's a way to encourage them to do this again, and that they don't cancel i bc only one person showed up.

bonnie said...

Thanks! It was a good one - I really learned some stuff. I'm so non sports-focused, I didn't even realize what day it was until I got there and discovered I was the only client that day.

bonnie said...

Julie - I was actually impressed that they didn't cancel (although my guide was one of the owners of the company, and the tour also showcases the current role of the yard as a business park, so there may be some agreement about not cancelling), but I was definitely surprised and disappointed that there wasn't more interest. Andrew did blame it specifically on the Super Bowl though, he said attendance is always light that day. Hope it does happen again on a day when more people would be there, it was some good stuff to learn about.

Michelle said...

I am very jealous of your tour and would love to do the same one of these days

Jeff K said...

This sounds like a great tour and I intend to take it. By the way, on Super Bowl Sunday I did something that happens pretty much every year: join Wild Metro's walk in Pelham Bay Park to see the great horned owls beginning to nest (as well as lots of other fascinating natural/human stuff that Dave Burg knows a LOT about.

And what's this thing called? "Superb Owl" of course!

bonnie said...

That sounds great! I would love to see great horned owls here in the city!