Tom's midnight garden (NYC)

Yesterday while out shopping for printer toner I came across something a lot more interesting: a surveyor's map of New York, drawn in the winter of 1766.

I couldn't stop staring at it.

Did you ever read Tom's Midnight Garden as a child? It is a beautiful story. When an old grandfather clock mysteriously strikes 13, Tom goes outside his grandmother's flat to find that it has been transformed into a beautiful garden. He has been taken back through time, and urban congestion melts away into trees and clover. That is how I felt while looking at this map of NYC.

I lingered in the shop, entranced, and traced my fingers over the drawing. The New York traffic, buildings, people, even the very streets faded and vanished and I stood in an unfamiliar garden, blinking and trying to find my bearings.

There, somewhere in those green fields, or perhaps closer to that river (where did the river go? Does anyone know about a river around about West Houston today?), now stands 68 Thompson Street, the place I used to call home.

Yet nothing of what I know exists on this map. None of the street markets where I would buy cheap art and jewellery, none of the tiny basement venues where I would go to hear my talented friends sing, none of the restaurants where we would eat and drink and laugh and celebrate. There is no such thing as West Broadway, let alone the little cafe on the corner of West Broadway and Grand where I met the man I now call my husband.

It is all forests and a patchwork of fields.

I can recognise Bowery, called Bowery Lane, which merges into something simply labelled "Road to Albany and Boston" (written as Bofton). In what we now know as Downtown, there is a short road called Broad Way. It ends at a little triangle square of green in which is written "The intended Square or COMMON." You and I know this square better as City Hall.

The map cuts off at Greenwich Village, and the only named road up there is labelled "Road to the Obelisk." I did a bit of research. A little later, this road was also known as "Monument Lane," and until the 1770s, it did indeed lead to an obelisk, a memorial to British Major General James Wolfe, who died in the Battle of Quebec. Today you'll recognise this lane as Greenwich Avenue, and the site of the obelisk (now long gone, nobody knows exactly when or why) is Jackson Square Park.

Is this all boring you? I am so taken up in the magic of a world I know but completely don't know, that sometimes I forget I'm a bit of a nerd about these things, and not everyone shares my passion for finding links to the past.

I'll stop now. I promise to resume our regular programming tomorrow.

ps. You better believe I bought the map (it's a facsimile not an original, so I didn't have to sell Mr B's firstborn to buy it).

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