New York Stories and Tips

New York: Part V: A New Era

Stonewall Inn Photo, New York, New York

This was all about to change as we head back to Greenwich Village, the birthplace of the Beat Generation. Those who called "the Village" home: William Faulkner, Eugene O’Neill, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Truman Capote and Maya Angelou. It was here that Off-Off-Broadway found ground, Jazz and Folk music combined, and political unrest was not uncommon. Marcel Duchamp set off balloons from atop Washington Square arch, proclaiming the founding of "The Independent Republic of Greenwich Village". And, it was in this neighborhood that the gay community would be welcome.

Stonewall Inn
53 Christopher Street
(in Greenwich Village)

As my better half went up to the bar to order our glasses of wine I wandered through the small bar, which is all of 18 foot wide. The walls are completely wood-paneled, except for the red brick behind the actual bar, with wooden beams and pillars and a painted tin ceiling. Its boasts only one long room, with facilities and a coat area attached. The lone pool table is surrounded by mirrors, Tiffany-style lamps hang over the tables and little butterflies dangle over the bar. I followed the framed newspaper clippings and old black and white photographs hung along the walls, which tell the story of Stonewall.

The gay rights movement had predecessors in Chicago’s Society for Human Rights (1924), the Los Angeles-based Mattachine Society (from 1950) and DOB founded by San Francisco lesbians in 1953, but it was in this tiny bar during the early morning hours of June 28th, 1969 which brought the community into the national spotlight.

The Stonewall Inn was then owned by the mafia and attracted a diverse clientele from drag queens to transgendered persons, those on the fringes of society. The bar was subject to frequent police raids, but that fateful Saturday, the drag queens took their stand. Fueled by booze, and mourning the death of their beloved Judy Garland, chaos and violence ensued.

The standard police raid was to have undercover officers enter the few bars which allowed men to dance together and collect visual evidence. Then, uniformed officers would arrive to verify the customers identification. "Women" were taken by female officers into the bathroom to confirm if they were truly female. Men dressed as women were arrested.

That night things didn’t go exactly as planned. There was a crowd of nearly 200 -- and they were not going to show I.D. or be examined in the bathroom. A squad wagon was called as the bar’s customers were lined up outside. The end result: the gay community (which was sizable in Greenwich Village after WWI) joined in. A squad wagon was overturned, bottles, garbage, rocks and coins were thrown, and a parking meter was torn out of the ground. The police were outnumbered by 500 and took refuge in the bar. The parking meter was then used as a battering ram. Lighter fluid was squirted along the front of the bar, but before a fire could be lit, more police arrived.

The story spread because it was covered by major New York newspapers. The community began protesting over the next several evenings, and over a thousand people gathered in a rally outside of the Stonewall Inn. Two organizations were formed and by July 4th parades and marches broke out from New York to Philadelphia. The GLBT community had found its voice.

Julianna and I sat quietly reflecting on the meaning of the event in the tiny bar and toasted those courageous drag queens. "The key to change is to let go of fear."

The history of New York is exhausting, and the culture, architecture and people overwhelming. The best place to find solitude is Central Park, established in 1857 with 770 acres of landscaped grounds. We entered at "Strawberry Fields".

Strawberry Fields
West 72nd Street

On Monday, December 8th, 1980, in front of the Dakota building, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were returning to their home from Record Plant Studio, when Mark David Chapman shot at Lennon five times using hollow point bullets. Lennon was killed immediately.

Across the street from The Dakota is Central Park. In 1981, 2.5 acres of the park was donated as a memorial to the singer. It's called "Strawberry Fields", and every nation of the U.N. donated plants or shrubbery to enhance this living monument. The centerpiece is a simple mosaic with one word, "Imagine".

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From New York City we departed for Phase 2 of our journey, Budapest.

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