Monday, August 10, 2015

Clinton Castle - immigration center, aquarium, ticket booth

A circular sandstone fort ,  located in Battery Park, in Manhattan  now serves as a ticket booth- you can buy tickets to the statue of Liberty ( if you did not do it online) .  Until recently, it was one of the most vitally involved structures in the city's life and history.
It was built at the beginning of nineteenth century.  At that time it was called West  Battery and was  intended to complement the three-tiered Castle Williams on Governors Island, which was East Battery, to defend New York City from British forces in the tensions that marked the run-up to the War of 1812.


The fort stands approximately two blocks west of where Fort Amsterdam was built in 1626, when New York City was known by the Dutch name New Amsterdam. Construction began in 1808 and was completed in 1811. The fort  was built on  a small artificial island  some 300 feet offshore  and never saw action in any war. It  was designed by engineer  Jonathan Williams, grandnephew of Benjamin Franklin who also   designed  Castle Williams on Governors Island .


West Battery fort was renamed Castle Clinton in 1815, its current official name, in honor of New York City Mayor DeWitt Clinton (who eventually became Governor of New York).
The US Army stopped using the fort in 1821 and it was leased to New York City as a place of public entertainment.   It served in turn as a promenade, beer garden, restaurant, exhibition hall, opera house, and theater.  Designed as an open-air structure it was eventually roofed over to accommodate these uses.  At that time it was named as Castle Garden. For $5, ticket holders can promenade around the walls, and sip mint juleps, ginseng, and punch liquor. 



The Revolutionary War hero, the French Marquis de La Fayette, was welcomed at the Castle by six thousand New Yorkers during his 1824 visit.  In 1825  the Castle was  lit with gas lights , among the first in the city  . In 1835   Samuel Morse demonstrated his telegraph to the public at the Castle, and in 1841 the first steam fire engine was demonstrated there.
Sometime after 1848, the water space between Castle Garden and the shore was filled in and incorporated into a twenty-four-acre green area called Battery Park. Previously, the Castle  had been connected to the mainland with a drawbridge.


On August 1, 1855, the Castle  became the Emigrant Landing Depot. From 1855 to 1890, the Castle was America's first official immigration center.  More than 10 million immigrants entered the United States through Castle Garden.
In the first half of the 19th century, most immigrants arriving in New York City landed at docks on the east side of the tip of Manhattan, around South Street., functioning as the New York State immigrant processing facility (the nation's first such entity).


A dock, which received the tug-propelled barges and steamers loaded with the emigrants who had been taken off the oceangoing vessels, was constructed on  Castle Garden’s western side. When the inspection was completed, the emigrants were ushered  into Castle Garden and marched up to a square enclosure in the center. Barriers were installed on each side to ensure that all were registered. Those who spoke German or French were requested to enter the alley to the right and those who spoke English to enter the alley on the left.  When the registration process was completed, single individuals and heads of families were asked their destinations. Once a destination was determined, the emigrants were directed to counters with  maps of all the railroad and steamboat routes in the United States.
There were two washrooms in the Castle at that time. On one side of each room was a bath large enough to accommodate a dozen emigrants.  Every emigrant landing at Castle Garden was washed clean with soap before he or she was permitted to leave. I f the emigrants were required to stay a day or two,   rooms with benches  was available to shelter them. As many as three thousand people slept there at a time.    Bread, cheese, coffee, and milk were available for purchase .  There was also a large   kitchen  with hot  water where emigrants  were allowed to cook anything they wanted.
Soon  after the Garden was opened, a New York reporter, who visited the Castle,
observed:
"The large hall of the Garden is a capital place for young Europe to enjoy itself in, during the brief hours of his tarry in our City, on his route westward. A tall fountain feeds a noble basin of water near the spot where the old stage was, and cools the air even at the noon of the heated term. The children were rollicking about it—sailing their paper boats, and full of unrestrained glee. The women sat in groups, talking in some of those crooked old-country languages that make us wonder how any talking can be done there until the people come of age—some knitting, some cutting and eating slices of German rye bread and cheese, some patching and fixing up the wardrobes of their family".
  It was operated  as Immigration Center   until April 18, 1890, when the Federal Government took over control of immigration processing and  opened the larger and more isolated Ellis Island facility. Most of Castle Clinton's immigrant passenger records were destroyed in a fire that consumed the first structures on Ellis Island on 15 June 1897,  but it is generally accepted that over 8 million immigrants (and perhaps as many as 12 million) were processed during its operation from its opening until the end of 1890.
Among the   well-known Castle Garden immigrants  were  the founder of the Universal Studios Carl Laemmle from Germany,  illusionist Harry Houdini and newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer from Hungary  and     mechanical engineer an physicist Nikola Tesla  from Serbia. 


 In  1896 Castle was remodeled   and reopened as the New York City Aquarium. The exotic fish and Beluga whale attracted thousands of visitors, with over 30,000   on opening day.  It was one of the city's most popular attractions, admitting over 2.5 million visitors a year . A favorite pastime on April Fool's Day was to leave a message for a fellow worker that said."Mr. Fish called. Please call him back. Whitehall 4-1560." The number was that of the Aquarium. 


In 1941  city planner  Robert Moses wanted to demolish  the structure down completely to free the space  for a new bridge connecting Battery with Brooklyn. The bridge was never built, landmark was saved, but    the aquarium was closed and not replaced until Moses opened a new facility on Coney Island in 1957. The fish were relocated to the Bronx Zoo and later to Coney Island.
Castle Clinton’s roof was removed . All that remained were the fort's original walls.  Castle and finally became a national monument in 1950.   A major rehabilitation took place in the 1970s.




 Despite all the roles this monument has played, it is nothing but a ticket booth now.  I think the that majority of people  coming   to  buy tickets to Ellis Island and  statue of Liberty  have no clue about the history of the Castle Clinton.  
 Just for several weeks in summer Clinton Castle is used as a setting   for the
free Shakespeare's  play "Measure for Measure"- performances Tuesdays - Sundays, July 21 - August 9.  New York Classical Theatre, founded in 2000, performs plays every season throughout New York City’s Central  Park,  Battery Park and historic Castle Clinton  and other  places. Open rehearsals take place in each venue.