Thursday, January 7, 2016

History Hunt in Fort Washington Park

I followed a clue in an old book that led me on an uptown Manhattan treasure hunt to this place:

Do you see the historical treasures there? Or recognize the location?

The clue I followed to find this hidden treasure was:
In a tangle of brushwood, south of the Rifle Redoubt, the hardy visitor may find the place....
I couldn't resist the call to the hardy visitor, and with some idea where the Rifle Redoubt is in Fort Washington Park, I headed out into the tangle of brushwood. A modern-day clue would be: directly under the George Washington Bridge, but the clue I followed was written before the bridge was built. No matter, I found the place.

You can see the object of the hunt better in this photo:

These metal anchors, secured forever into a boulder overlooking the Hudson River, once held the lines that supported a pole.

What's the big deal about a pole that is no longer there?

Well, the pole held a wire that was hauled in a boat across the Hudson River in 1843 and carried up the cliffs of Fort Lee, New Jersey. There, the wire was strung to more wire that went all the way to Philadelphia. It was along that wire that Samuel Morse transmitted the first telegraph message from Manhattan to Philadelphia and received the first telegraph message sent back to Manhattan.

In Manhattan, the wire ran to the house of Morse's friend, John James Audubon, who lived about a mile south of where Morse set the anchors in stone. In the basement of the house, where the telegraph machine was set up, Audubon and his family witnessed the success of Morse's long-distance communication experiment. It wasn't the first telegraph message ever, but it was the first that connected Manhattan to the mainland, and it was one of the earliest long-distant messages.

Home of John James Audubon where Samuel Morse set up his telegraph machine.
Once I spotted the two anchors, I assumed I had found the entire trove. I wish I had seen this illustration of the telegraph pole before making my adventure because I would've looked around the ground for more supports. I didn't realize how big the set up was on that hilltop:

Telegraph pole in Washington Heights as viewed from the site of Fort Washington, now Bennett Park. (detail)

Note: Try this Morse Code Translator to convert your type-written text into the dashes and dots of the Morse code. You can even hear what your message sounds like in the clicks and taps of a telegraph machine. - .... .- -. -.- / -.-- --- ..- / ..-. --- .-. / ... - --- .--. .--. .. -. --. / -... -.-- .-.-.-

Sources are here.

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