The quest shared by many young people in New York City, finding free things to do, can lead to some unusually enlightening experiences. On Sunday, my quest brought me to the National Museum of the American Indian at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in lower Manhattan.
The building is very beautiful and grandiose, featuring large columns and four statues representing the trading continents: Americas, Europe, Asia & Africa. It faces the Bowling Green, the oldest park in Manhattan. This was once the site of Fort Amsterdam, constructed by the Dutch when lower Manhattan was called “New Amsterdam.”
It’s amazing to think about the millions of people who pass by the Bowling Green park every day, perhaps unaware of its rich history. For as long as people have lived in Manhattan, this particular spot has always been public space, serving many purposes through the years. The former White Star Line building is just steps away, where thousands flocked to learn the fate of family and loved ones who had been aboard the doomed Titanic in 1912.
Inside the Custom House, the National Museum of the American Indian is of course, FREE! The museum opens up to a breathtaking foyer (the Rotunda) with painted mosaics across the ceiling, and statues of great explorers across the ages. This part of the museum includes a circular walk with posted information about the building, which is definitely worthwhile to read. The building is still being used today not only the house the museum, but also as a NY state Bankruptcy Court.
I was really more interested in the building’s history, but the museum’s exhibits are also worthwhile to see. These exhibits included the modern glasswork of American Indian Preston Singletary, artifacts from American Indian history across North, Central and South America, and the history of the American Indian’s relationship with horses.
I enjoy looking at historical artifacts, and this museum has an extensive collection of American Indian clothing, accessories, weapons, headdresses, and a lot more from tribes across America. “A Song for the Horse Nation,” about American Indians and horses, was especially interesting because I learned that horses were actually native to America long ago, but became extinct on this continent and existed only in Europe. The Spanish Conquistadors reintroduced horses to this continent in the 16th century, and Native Americans quickly acquired them and incorporated them into their cultures.
I’m lucky to live in a neighborhood and city where I can wake up, say “What should I do today?” and the possibilities are endless. I hope to discover many more fun and free things to do in NYC, and I’ll be sure to share them here.
National Museum of the American Indian website: