Note: More pictures to come when I can get through this area again with a camera.
It was the so-called literary and bohemian tour of Greenwich Village. We walked from W10 st to One 5th Avenue and saw the Washington Square arch, a memorial for George Washington designed by Stanford White (a around the year 1889, the centennial year celebrating our nation’s first presidency. On the way we learned that Greenwich Village has had several bursts of counter-culture in the last two hundred years, fluctuating boom and burst cycles of young people who gather in frustration and rejoice in creation and offbeat living, only to “die-out” and keep quiet for the next twenty to thirty years before another alternative movement begins. We learned that in the late nineteenth century an avant-garde culture had been established with the rise of art galleries, small presses and experimental theater. In the 1920’s, the best jazz music in New York could be heard in two places- up in Harlem or down in Greenwich Village. And in the 1950’s, the Open Door Jazz club (now rebuilt and converted to the renowned Bobst NYU library where I recently checked out La Nausea by Sartres) fostered the Beatnik vision of writers such as William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac as well as other literary greats James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Truman Capote and Dylan Thomas. As a place of mixed class, race and socioeconomic status, Greenwich Village has long been known as a center for counter-cultural movements and creative characters.
We walked from One 5th Avenue up a street called the MEWS which is one of the best preserved streets in the city and a time-warp back into the early nineteenth century, back to the days when Edgar Allen Poe roamed the streets of Greenwich Village in his transcendental insanity, writing horror and detective stories. We walked out of the 1800’s, past the building where Arthur Miller lodged when writing The Crucible and Death of a Salesman and past the building where Edna St. Vincent Millay would return to after spending every last dollar she had out on the town, saving only enough for the subway fare home. We walked through the park and learned more about the arch, namely that there had been a new years eve party on the top of it when Marcel Duchamp- a French surrealist artist- had declared that Greenwich Village was an Independent Republic in and of itself.
We then made it to Bleecker and MacDougal, which our tourguide said was a cross-section of folk-music and hippiedom in the 1960’s. Besides resident Bob Dylan there were plenty of other cultural icons who began their musical careers circulating the nightclub, coffeeshop and theater scene in The Village including artists such as Jimi Hendrix, James Taylor, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Nina Simone.
Today The Village is less populated with artists (they all moved to Brooklyn) but is certainly not lacking in historical presence or pride. Just ask one of the twenty-thousand ghosts of people who were buried in Washington Square Park when it was a potter’s field from 1797 to 1825. They will tell you that the spirits never die…