Canyon of Heroes | New York, USA

Even though I keep an on-going lists of grounds I want to see, photograph and write about, I am rarely so organized when it comes to carrying out those plans. More frequently, what tends to happen is this: I simply stumble upon grounds that look interesting, take photos of them, even though I have no idea what it is that I’m standing on (unless it is self-explanatory) and only later, as I sit down to write about it and do some research, do I find out its meaning and significance and, usually, kick myself for not knowing about it beforehand, as to have taken better and more informed photos.

That is what happened as I waited to meet my friend Maria on the corner of Fulton and Broadway in the Financial District. As I leaned against the fence of the Saint Paul Chapel, I noticed some black granite strips with inscriptions along the sidewalk. Since I didn’t have time to look at them carefully and didn’t want to stray too far from our meeting spot, I just quickly snapped some photos of the ones around me and could not, for the life of me, figure out what those dates and names meant.

It turns out that there are more than 200 of those inscriptions along the Canyon of Heroes – the section of lower Broadway, where the city’s ticker-tape parades traditionally proceed, in which shredded paper (originally actual ticker tape, but now mostly confetti) is thrown from nearby office buildings onto the parade route, creating a snowstorm-like flurry.

Traditionally advancing northward from Bowling Green to City Hall Park, ticker-tape parades have been taking place in New York City since the 1880’s, in celebration of all kinds of events and in honor of the personalities behind them.The inscriptions on the black granite strips list honorees – mostly people and sometime events, of past ticker-tape parades and their dates – from war and sports victories, through national and foreign dignitaries’ visits, to sea rescues, a flight over the North Pole and various other landmark flights, to space missions and expeditions to Antarctica. The first (impromptu) ticker-tape parade took place on October 28, 1886 to commemorate the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, while the most recent one (very much planned, I imagine) took place on February 7, 2012, in celebration of the New York Giants’ win of the Super Bowl XLVI.

The full list represents a kind of compact and skewed modern history of the world and sheds light into the ever-changing tastes of New Yorkers, when it comes to what and whom to celebrate. Looking at it, I see many that I wish had known about and taken pictures of:

  • June 18, 1910: Theodore Roosevelt, following return from his African safari;
  • April/May ??, 1921: Albert Einstein (the only scientist to ever receive a ticker tape parade tribute);
  • August 27, 1926: Gertrude Ederle, first woman to swim the English Channel and September 10, 1926: Amelia Gade Corson, first mother and second woman to swim the English Channel;
  • October 18, 1926: Queen Marie of Romania;
  • After 1936 Berlin Olympics, Jesse Owens following winning four gold medals in Nazi Germany;
  • November 18, 1947: U.S.-to-Europe “Friendship Train” bearing gifts and supplies;
  • September 17, 1949: Forty-eight European journalists on “American discovery” flight around United States;
  • November 13, 1951: Women of the armed forces;
  • May 20, 1958: Van Cliburn, winner of the Moscow International Tchaikovsky Competition (the only musician to ever receive a ticker tape parade tribute);
  • January 10, 1969: Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, and William A. Anders, following the Apollo 8 mission to the Moon and August 13, 1969: Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, and Michael Collins, following Apollo 11 mission to the Moon;
  • October 3, 1979: Pope John Paul II;
  • January 30, 1981: American hostages released from Iran;
  • June 20, 1990: Nelson Mandela of South Africa.
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