Inwood spreads across the northern tip of Manhattan, a self-contained pocket that is, in many ways, isolated from the rest of the island.
I picked it as my coronavirus biking excursion this weekend as a compromise to my kids. So this time it was hiking and not biking.
We started in Inwood Hill Park, the largest old-growth forest in Manhattan. Densely-wooded, the park attracts a modest number of visitors, mostly from the area.
It offers views of the Hudson, glacial potholes, caves that squatters used during the Depression and a plaque showing the spot the Dutch bought the island from the Native Americans in 1626. A giant tulip tree stood there for 280 years.
Hiking in the park consists of climbing steadily on dirt or poorly paved paths surrounded by lush, enveloping trees before descending down to fields and a marsh.
There’s an indication on the map where Isidor Straus, the owner of Macy’s Department Store who perished on the Titanic, owned a country house and also where a fort used by Washington in the Revolutionary War stood.
The area was first turned into a park in the 1920s. On the north side you can see the Columbia University boathouse and a giant C painted on the cliffs in Riverdale.
The Indian Road Cafe, opened by a guy who worked on the Sopranos for ten years, straddles the corner. Nearby Park Terrace W has several of my favorite houses in the city, single-family brick places with porches and garages.
The Church of the Good Shepherd is located on the corner of Isham Street and Broadway. There’s a garden on the side marked by a large steel cross that was salvaged from the wreckage at the World Trade Center.
When we paused to look at the cross, a guy named Tommy who was tending the garden encouraged us to step inside the gate.
Next to the cross there was a memorial garden for 33 people killed in the World Trade Center attacks. The people mostly lived in Inwood or Riverdale.
They made an exception to include Andrea Haberman, who was visiting from Chicago to visit the New York office of Carr Futures.
Her parents were worried about the trip, but she reassured them that three colleagues, Damien Meehan, Bobby O’Shea and Joseph Kellett had promised to keep an eye on her.
They all died when the planes hit the Twin Towers.
Tommy was best friends with the three men. He said volunteers at the garden positioned their stones to face Andrea’s marker so that even in death they could keep their promise and watch over her.
It was hard to hear that and not be moved. I looked at the kids to make sure they were absorbing this impromptu history lesson.
One other thing Tommy likes to point out is embedded in the sidewalk.
When the concrete was laid, some of the children of the victims pressed their handprints into the wet cement.
It’s been almost 20 years since the 9/11 attacks.
Those kids are all grown up. They have probably finished college. They may have moved or gotten married.
But they left an imprint in Inwood that reminds us of that terrible time.