December 19, 2011
Welcome to your New York Minute.
While I do ride the subway everyday, I don’t usually take the F train. But on this particular day I was meeting a friend after work and she lives right by the F station so there I was. The F train isn’t one of the cleaner subway rides but is one of the more visible. For much of its run the F line is elevated and it is hard to miss, for reasons I’ll soon explain.
I am willing to bet that most of you know this train line, actually, I bet most of you know one little piece of it as it figures into a scene in one of my favorite movies. No, no Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. My favorite movie is Goodfellas.
Towards the end of the film, mobster Henry Hill was caught by the feds and Jimmy the Gent, played by an amazing Robert DeNiro, was getting ready to whack him. Henry’s wife Karen had gotten a call from Jimmy and went to see him in one of his warehouses. They talked a little and Jimmy offered to give Karen some swag dresses. All she had to do was walk down the block and into a sketchy warehouse. Karen got cold feet, thinking that Jimmy was going to whack her – I love all this mob talk- and jumped in her car and zoomed off. That whole scene was filmed right by the Gowanus canal under the F train. You can’t miss it, the girders and beams of the elevated line frame the whole outdoor part of the scene. In fact, the warehouse is right below the Smith/9th Street station. Since Goodfellas is on the AFI Top 100 list I am willing to bet you’ve seen it.
One interesting note is at that point, if you are riding the train, you are on the highest point of anywhere on the NYC transit system. The Smith/9th Street station rises 87 ½ feet over the city. Opened in 1933, there was actually shipping on the Gowanus canal and the train line had to be that tall to let the ships pass below. If you’ve seen the Gowanus today, the idea of major commerce on that clogged piece of water seems ridiculous, but things have changed quite a bit in the last century.
You can get a really nice view of South Brooklyn and lower Manhattan from this part of the subway (and yes, we still call it the subway even when it is high in the air) but don’t try to visit that station just yet- it is being renovated until 2012, and knowing how NYC operates, probably the year after that.
But if you are interested in getting high- I mean height, hop off the train and go over the historic Greenwood Cemetery, right near Park Slope. Many notable people are buried there; from Abner Doubleday, the man who invented baseball, to more Southern Civil War generals than you expect this far north. It is a sprawling place, over 478 acres, and if you want to find the highest point above sea level in Brooklyn, this is it.
Battle Hill is found inside Greenwood Cemeteryand it was the sight of a major battle of the Civil War, part of the Battle of Long Island. You don’t hear much about it outside of history books but this was a big one. To commemorate it, a statue of the goddess Minerva was built there and from that height it has a direct line of sight to the Statue of Liberty, to whom it’s raised hand seems to be waving.
I could go on and on about Greenwood Cemetery, and with some authority, since I graduated from Greenwood Cemetery.
I’ll pause to let that sink in. I graduated from a cemetery.Greenwoodruns a series of tours and some years back, in one of the hottest summers I can remember, I spent a series of three weekends tramping over the hills taking a guided tour of the place that culminated in a graduation ceremony and yes, I got a certificate at the end. So take your Wharton School of Business MBA and your Harvard diploma, who needs them? I am a proud alumnus of Greenwood Cemetery.
And as a proud alumnus, I have to tell you about the parakeets. Those of you who have never seen them may not believe this given the cold climate, but Brooklyn boasts a thriving population of wild parrots. One major colony nests in the main arches of the cemetery, and another lives at Brooklyn College, from which I also graduated. I think those parakeets are following me. And even though those are their main grounds, the colorful birds can often be seen- and especially heard- in many parts of Brooklyn.
The accepted story is that in the 1960’s, a shipment of the birds escaped from their containers at Idlewild airport and made their way to the cemetery, where their descendants still live today. No one at the time expected them to live through their first New York winter, but we New Yorkers are a hearty breed.
Idlewild is the original name of Kennedy Airport, and if you saw Goodfellas you’d know that, bringing us back full circle.
This has been your New York Minute with a Robert DeNiro cameo.
An audio version of this legend first appeared just last week in the amazing FlashPulp website. Check them out for awesomeness and goodies!