Castle Clinton

1 Feb

I don’t own a horse, because no one rides them anymore. If this were back in the day I probably would. Do you think most 28 year-olds owned a horse back in the day? The answer is yes, yes they did. Alas: not anymore. Though I do have a bicycle, and to me that feels like a similar relationship. I mean a car? Come on, that’s just a beast of burden. How attached are you gonna get to an ox? With my bike there’s a bit more of a friendship. I gotta work with it every day — I sit on top of the damn thing.

I was riding by Battery Park last week when it started to rain and so I pulled into Castle Clinton to try and wait it out. It was empty in there. Castle Clinton is where you buy tickets for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, but it’s been a lot of other things since it was built in 1811: a fort, a restaurant, an opera house and theater, an immigration landing depot, and lastly an aquarium. Now it looks like a fort again, circular with an open courtyard and large overhanging eaves where you can sit out of the rain.

I read once that in his younger days Napoleon had to wait around Toulon for almost a month before he could find a ship that would take him to Corsica. What the hell did he do all that time? I have no idea, but hey, he went on to conquer Europe! So it couldn’t have done him that badly. The fact that we don’t wait around so much these days, does that mean that we’re a different kind of people? Think of everyone in history who’s had to sit out of the rain. Pliny the Elder, Eleanor of Aquitaine, William Henry Harrison; John Tyler even. Saint Augustine of Hippo? You bet ya! And that other guy too, you know, uh, Freud’s cousin.

Castle Clinton has had a roof at various times in its existence. When it was first built it stood just offshore from Manhattan Island. Since then the shoreline has expanded to encompass it. Robert Moses wanted to tear it down in the 1940s as retribution for the failure of his Brooklyn-Battery Bridge. But instead what happened: Moses died a really old man, and Castle Clinton stuck around, although everybody says that you should read the Moses biography The Power Broker, and nobody says much about Castle Clinton. But this was where the opera singer Jenny Lind, “The Swedish Nightingale,” had her American debut in 1850! None other than P.T. Barnum brought her over here — although I personally would have preferred to see his other star attraction, General Tom Thumb, a midget who supposedly by the age of five could do a pretty good Napoleon impersonation: Napoleon sitting out of the rain.

(originally posted Nov. 21st, 2008 on


2 Responses to “Castle Clinton”


  1. Beaver, William & South William Street « cornerbycorner - March 1, 2012

    […] quite so nice, or even eating anywhere that has a menu. Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale (remember her?) used to eat here after every opera performance. And holy shit, Napoleon III would come here too, […]

  2. Broadway & Ann Street | Corner by Corner - July 22, 2014

    […] that I can’t ever hope to systematically explore.  So let’s do it.  Here’s my second post ever – written in the days of the great Take the Handle craze of 2008 (heady times my friends, […]

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