They’re Disappearing from the Wall Street Area, and They Are Endangered from Boston to Los Angeles.
Someone is taking down the great, helpful, fascinating history signs in New York City’s Wall Street area. We discovered this while updating our Lost New York Scavenger Hunt and preparing the new Hamilton: The Scavenger Hunt, starring Alexander Hamilton. Until now the neighborhood has been better served than most downtown areas across the country, but now it’s heading for amnesia, and due to the opposite of a build-up of plaque (sorry). As we’ll show you, no matter the subject, the march of time hates history signs.
See that blackened out sign in the photo? That stands near the Watson House on State Street, across from New York City’s Battery Park. It is the only house to survive the Great Fire of 1776, which turned most of the city south of Wall Street to cinders. But tourists and curious locals will be left in the dark now.
Here’s what that sign used to look like, back when it included information about the fire and how the columns are said to be former shipmasts.
A few blocks away, there’s no longer a sign on Stone Street explaining how it was Manhattan’s first paved street. On Pine Street, outside Chase Plaza, a sign with the history of how the modern Chase tower dramatically changed the Wall Street area has disappeared. Across William Street from India House, a sign explaining the pre-Civil War’s history, and how the plaza once was the site of a slave market, has left no trace.
Also gone: the sign pictured above, about the Federal Reserve Building, seen in the background. Another sign down the block used to reveal that across the street Franklin D. Roosevelt had an office in a building with charming alligators carved near the entrance. Not anymore.
It’s amazing how much cities that thrive on tourism are haphazard with history signs or do without them altogether. Fans of our Secrets of Old Boston Scavenger Hunt and the Secrets of Old Philadelphia Scavenger Hunt know that those cities’ signs make scattershot efforts to inform people about Revolutionary history along the Freedom Trail and near Independence Hall. On the Race to the White House Scavenger Hunt you won’t encounter many history signs: Washington D.C. places few and far between, seemingly randomly placed (though informative when available).
Not all hope is lost. In Chicago, the Loop Movie Locations Scavenger Hunt takes advantage of many excellent signs. That said, two of our favorite were uprooted and carted away: one outside the Oriental Theater, and the one in the photo at right showing a bygone towering parking solution.
Some more good news: Although Los Angeles barely acknowledges the concept of history, some wise people not too long ago added lots of new history signs to the Santa Monica Pier—see an example in the photo below. We’ve peppered our updated Santa Monica Pier Pressure Scavenger Hunt with a few.
Perhaps city officials increasingly suppose that people interested in the past can access it on their smartphones and ebook readers. Well, perhaps we should be happy: more than ever people will appreciate the historical tidbits we provide on our outdoor scavenger hunts.