Fraunces Tavern is the oldest building in New York City. Nestled near Wall Street, its famous as the place where George Washington bid farewell to his officers at the end of the Revolutionary War.
One recent weekend it was the destination for my son and I, part of a field trip for his social studies class. Eighth graders were required to visit one of a number of Revolutionary War sites.
There were a lot of options, including a remarkably intact farmhouse from 1785 that is surrounded by apartment buildings, the “Grange”, a lovely country manor built by Alexander Hamilton and the Morris-Jumel mansion where Aaron Burr lived after he shot Hamilton .
Field trips are amazing in New York City. My kids have been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see ancient Chinese calligraphy, the Museum of Modern Art to see Picasso, Carnegie Hall for concerts and the New York City Ballet to see the Nutcracker (a dress rehearsal).
The Moma let kids in before hours, a unique opportunity to stroll empty galleries. Parent chaperons were more excited than the children as we passed paintings by Rousseau, Magritte, Hopper, Dali, Gaugin, Kahlo and Wyeth. After the tour, the kids were escorted to a room to draw. The kids had no idea how amazing it was.
My friend Heather chaperoned a trip to the Met once. A gaggle of tourists asked her what was going on. She couldn’t suppress a self-satisfied smile when she answered, “It’s a school field trip.”
I found Fraunces Tavern overwhelming. You are standing in the room where the Father of the country made history when he decided to resign his commission. Many had urged him to seize power.
The next thing that strikes you is that there is no one there. The place is literally empty. My son asks me why. It’s hard to explain why fake places like Madame Tussaud’s wax museum on 42nd street are mobbed and this isn’t.
You notice things on field trips you wouldn’t otherwise. My son points out that Washington made his famous speech in the large, but common area that doubled as a dining room and sleeping quarters. The fancy dining space for gentlemen is across the hall.
Reading the plaques, we learn Fraunces, the owner, was a patriot who was captured during the war and forced to serve as a cook for a British general. It was probably a bad idea, as he ended up spying for the Americans.
We also learn that his arrest caused no interruption in business. Ever the practical New Yorker, Fraunces arranged to keep the tavern running during the British occupation by having his son-in-law, a loyalist, manage it.
The tavern was blown up twice. Once in 1775 by a British gunboat. And two hundred years later, in 1975, when it was the site of a terrorist attack by Puerto Rican nationalists. The attack killed four people and injured 53.
Standing in the empty museum it seems hard to imagine now that anyone anywhere, much less in Puerto Rico, which is currently seeking a federal government bailout, cared so much about the place.
**Published by Ted Merz Mar 19, 2016**