This weekend was really unbearably hot and humid in New York. This is going to make me sound a little like a pretentious snob, but I decided to beat the heat by spending a chunk of Saturday at the Met. The Met is by far my favorite museum in the city, maybe because its collections are so vast. You could spend a week there and still not see everything. I’ve been probably a dozen times in the last five years, and I bet there are galleries I have yet to step foot in.
One of the funny things about living in New York is that it’s easy to take cultural institutions for granted. It’s always there, so you can go see it later. Although, I sometimes fill in stretches of idle time with tourism. I get bored and go wandering. I’m pretty well-read on New York City history, so it’s fun to put a visual to something I’ve read about.
I was thinking about this today because my knowledge of some New Yorkish things is maybe unusual, even for a New Yorker. My current WIP is about two historians, and I wrote what I thought was a pretty clever line about how how bad an idea it would have been for a Victorian gentleman to have put a Civil War monument in Upper Manhattan. (“Exhibit A being Grant’s Tomb,” one of the characters says.) And then I realized—I bet plenty of people have no idea where Grant’s tomb is located, New Yorkers included. The point of the line, of course, is that it’s not a popular tourist attraction, although I’ve been a few times. (I should get some extra history nerd points for having been at its re-dedication in 1997.) It’s up in Riverside Park, near-ish 120th Street, a pretty easy walk from the Columbia University campus. Grant’s wife, Julia Dent Grant, chose the location primarily so that she could visit the tomb frequently. Apparently Central Park was a possibility, but she settled on Riverside Park, overlooking the Hudson. A pretty spot, to be sure, but out of the way enough that it doesn’t attract many visitors. Or, at least, historical sites like that don’t have the same cachet as some other places in the city. I expect this is something two historians living in New York would know—both where Grant’s tomb is and the fact that hardly anybody ever goes there; for the record, there are some neat little exhibits on Grant’s life and Civil War history generally inside the mausoleum, which Wikipedia says is the largest mausoleum in North America—but I added a sentence explaining the joke.
It’s one of those things. Where do you find the fine line between sounding authentic and being so obscure as to lose your reader’s interest.
Speaking of my weird knowledge base, I helped Z.A. Maxfield with some of her New York facts for her new release Stirring Up Trouble. It’s a really fun book, I heartily recommend it.