Recent construction work on a skyscraper in Lower Manhattan’s Financial District unearthed a quite remarkable find; a wall of graffiti from 1976 that had been hidden behind another wall. The graffiti consists largely of signed names of people who had gathered to watch the Bicentennial celebrations in New York harbour. Covered up by a marble wall, it was whilst recently repairing damage caused by Hurricane Sandy that led to the discovery of this quaint time capsule.
Number 125, Broad Street, is one of two southernmost sky skyscrapers in Manhattan. Built 40 stories high in 1970, six years later it proved to be a perfect vantage point for spectators watching the magnificent collection of ships gathered in the harbour and fireworks to mark the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
This ‘Operation Sail’ event had actually been created by John F. Kennedy in 1961 to promote good will between countries through celebrating maritime history. On July 4th, 1976, sixteen tall ships sailed to New York to participate in a grand ‘Parade of Ships.’
The thousands of spectator lining Lower Manhattan were matched by a vast fleet of spectators in sailboats filled the harbour, as the majestic, historic tall ships sailed into the harbour from Bermuda. Bringing to mind the era when New York was still primarily a port city, and the piers and slips around Lower Manhattan was a sea of masts, oyster houses, ship’s chandler offices and thriving fish markets, many of those watching the Bicentennial celebrations chose to leave their mark on the wall running along South Street.
Today the newly uncovered names are a perfect time capsule of the day’s celebrations; Ivette was here 7-4-76 says one, whilst the names of couples such as Clyde + Rosina ’76 cover the wall. Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon get a mention as does one anonymous New Yorker who simply wrote, “Good-bye cruel World of ’76.” Quite what happened to ‘Kathy & Eddie.W’ or Dee Dee S + Lily remains unknown. One New Yorker who wrote on the wall remembers, “the children wanted to see the fire crackers. We got there very early. I remember the Marines were waving on the upper deck of the ships. The sun was shining hard and the people were happy.”
The wall of graffiti was at some point covered over with a marble exterior, until the events of Hurricane Sandy. Today half of the wall remains uncovered, and runs along South Street, around the corner to the Vietnam Memorial, a fascinating glimpse into one day of Manhattan’s storied history.
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