While we were waiting for our table reservation at Serendipity, the famous ice-cream store in Manhattan, we had a couple of hours to wander around. The cheapest and easiest option was to take the kids down the street from Serendipity and take the Roosevelt Island tram. For the price of a New York subway ticket, we got to see Manhattan from a different perspective.
The Roosevelt Island Tram
You get great views over the traffic and buildings in Manhattan from the tram as it crosses the East River. From Roosevelt Island itself, the skyline of the East Side of Manhattan is spread out before you.
The Roosevelt Island Tram entrance/exit is located at 59th Street and 2nd Avenue. It only takes a few minutes for the trip and runs regularly.
Kids, of course, will be familiar with the Tram from the climactic scene in Spider-Man (2002) where Spider-Man has to choose between his girl and the passengers on the tram. Fear not, without the Green Goblin attacking the tram, it is perfectly safe. Over 26 million people have rode on the tram since it began operating in 1976.
The Four Freedoms Park
The tip of Roosevelt Island is being redeveloped into The Four Freedoms Park, named after the famous quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt from the 1941 State of the Union speech.
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedoms of every person to worship god in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want…everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear…anywhere in the world.
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
The park is the last work of the late great Modernist architect, Louis I. Kahn.
Roosevelt Island, New York City
I had never actually been to Roosevelt Island before I took the kids. This island is located in the East River between Manhattan and Queens. It had an infamous history as the dumping ground for the undesirables of New York society. In the 19th century, there was a penitentiary (for criminals) and asylum (for the mentally unstable) located on the island. There were a lot more women than men in the asylum because it became an easy place to park a wife you didn’t want. Atlas Obscura has a fascinating piece on the history of the island.
The fact that the authorities dumped both criminals and the mentally ill together tells you exactly what they thought about these people. Anyway, Nelly Bly in a pioneering piece of investigative journalism, wrote about the horrors of the asylum which helped to close it down.
In the late 20th century, the island was converted to residential housing. It’s name was changed from (the ironic) Welfare Island to Roosevelt Island in honour of the 32nd President who was from New York. There are about 10,000 residents now living on the island. Many diplomats choose to live there because of the easy access to the United Nations across the water. More recently, Cornell University announced that it was building a state-of-the-art technology centre on the island.
So, in a nutshell, other than the park and the tram, there really isn’t much to see on Roosevelt Island. On the other hand, the park and the tram are definitely worth experiencing!
We spent a pleasant afternoon in the park and expended enough energy to feel justified in ordering massively-oversized sundaes at Serendipity!