Tuesday, November 10, 2009
4. “I am sustained by the tranquility of an upright and loyal heart.”—Peter Stuyvesant
I guess the whole Peter Stuyvesant thing started on a humid September afternoon in 2006. I was walking up
Second Avenue after work to go to Urban Outfitters. My bath mat had become a certain kind of awful being stepped on fresh from the shower (sometimes twice daily). Of course, if you were to insert my mother here, she would say, “Why don’t you just wash the thing?” I would say, “I don’t have a washer and dryer in my apartment.” She would then say, “It’s because you live in that hellhole (she would mean ) where you can’t afford a house with a washer and dryer.” I would then say nothing because you just don’t fight with Kathy. Anyway, I really needed a new bathmat and for some reason I thought Urban Outfitters was the place to find one. New York
On my walk up the avenue, I saw the garden variety East Villagers doing their thing: being pierced, drinking coffee, and straddling the line of fashionable / certifiable. The beautiful irony of this sight was the back drop: 6-story tenements standing stiff like soldiers up the entirety of the avenue. They droned on and on serving as a static compliment to an overly-eclectic street scene. When I reached
10th street something broke the monotony and caught my attention. It was a church, completely out of place, plopped diagonally on the alphabet city grid facing southwest. It had a stone façade with a lone steeple shooting straight into the air. It was obviously a relic of an older city that didn’t make its way much passed Canal Street. I would soon come to find out that this place was called St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery and that it was on the U.S. Register of Historical Places. There was an old cemetery adjacent to it closed in by a high rod-iron fence. If I was holding something in my hand, I would’ve dropped it in amazement. That was the end of the bathmat and the beginning of Peg-Leg Pete.
I crept over to the structure like I was about to trespass. Surely a rare historical find in
like this must have been a mirage or at least closed off to the casual passers-by. Seeing that there was a poetry reading going on inside the church and 5 or 6 homeless folks camped out on the steps, I guessed I had every right to be there as anyone else. When I turned right toward the cemetery I was stopped by a huge bust of Peter Stuyvesant. I thought, this couldn’t be, could it? Could it actually be the resting place of the man who sealed the deal on New York ’s (and New York ’s) destiny? America
I moved closer and saw a black stone plaque built into the side of the church. It read: “Here in this vault lies buried PETRUS STUYVESANT… late Captain General and Governor in Chief of Amsterdam in
New Netherland now called and the New York . Died Feb A.D. 1672 aged 80 years.” I yelped audibly. I couldn’t believe it. Here he was, the legend, the peg-legged Dutch Director General eternally resting under this chapel. In a city where almost every physical trace of its Dutch roots was erased by fire or progress, here was the dust of the lead dog. Dutch West India Islands
Why didn’t anyone care? Why weren’t tourists lined up for blocks to see this? This is when I made my connections with Shorto’s stance on
’s revisionist history. No one cared because Stuyvesant wasn’t glorified for anything in history. Actually it was quite the opposite; he was a historical loser whose only enduring legacy was his last name. It peppered this region almost anonymously because very few had a clue what it actually signified. New York
Upon closer examination of the plaque, I was hit with a memory from
Island in the Center of the World. Shorto wrote about this very spot and this very plaque as a footnote in the book: “As a nice metaphor for the way history has muddled ’s Dutch period, Stuyvesant’s tombstone, embedded in the foundation of the Manhattan ’s-in-the-Bowery, manages to get both his age and his title wrong.” Of course, how could I have been so dumb? Why hadn’t I come here sooner? Well I left that evening, only to return the next day to get the bathmat and make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Pete was still there and the bathmat was green. Church of St. Mark
Later that weekend I emailed a friend from
. We had been exchanging niceties about our respective weeks and I mentioned, “I found Peter Stuyvesant’s grave this week at St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery and almost flipped my shit. I went back twice. Well the second time I went to Urban Outfitters across the street to get a bathmat, and it just so happens to be right across the street.” Massachusetts
His response: “Am I stupid because I don’t know who Peter Stuyvesant is? At least he led you to a new bathmat.” Shorto’s theory in practice.
About three hours later came the aforementioned survey and my resolve to incorporate Peter Stuyvesant into the graphic novel. Where others in history had failed, I would be loyal to Peg-Leg Pete and give him the recognition he deserved. Even if it was only to exist in my own head.