Friday, June 25, 2010

Lower Manhattan: What's This Smithsonian Museum Doing in New York City?

The first stop on our tour of Lower Manhattan was the National Museum of the American Indian at Bowling Green—apparently the red-headed stepchild in the family of Smithsonian museums. You may want to consider a visit here because: A) it is free; B) it is not crowded; C) it is housed in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, a masterpiece of Beaux-Arts style (although unfortunately, much of the three-block facade was obscured by scaffolding when we were there), and; D) did I mention that it’s free? Just know that you’ll get what you pay for and don’t expect there to be any signage, employees able to dispense useful information, or actual exhibits.

One reason to go: the WPA-commissioned murals chronicling the history of New York City's shipping industry in the Custom House's giant oval rotunda

We hit the museum shop on the way out and managed to get out with only a board book for Jack (my third child, for those of you who may not be aware that there is, indeed, a third child in the mix) and a set of worry dolls each for Charlie and Vivi. According to Mayan legend, children who are having trouble sleeping because they’re worrying about something can express their worries to a worry doll and then put it under their pillow at bedtime. It’s believed that the worry doll worries in the child’s place so that that the child can get a good night’s sleep. I worry that none of my three children will ever sleep through the night at the same time again, so I’m putting these bad boys under my pillow in the hopes that they will bring us some good sleeping juju. Or I may just use them as earplugs so that I won’t actually know if my children are screaming their heads off in the middle of the night.

Mother's little helpers

As you know, all of our family outings center largely around eating, so after briefly checking out some Dutch Revival Buildings at 13-15 South William Street, we made our way to Stone Street, a quaint, cobblestone alley wedged between the skyscrapers of The Financial District and packed with hungry Wall Streeters at the outdoor cafes. We settled on Mad Dog & Beans Mexican Cantina and then stopped off at the tiny Greenmarket at Bowling Green. Here, we picked up a basketful of fat, little strawberries and ate them in Battery Park against the blessedly breezy backdrop of the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor.

Stone Street

Grilled corn at Mad Dog & Beans

Strawberries by the water


  • Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse
  • On the Day Peter Stuyvesant Sailed Into Town by Arnold Lobel

National Museum of the American Indian, The George Gustav Heye Center, Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, One Bowling Green, New York, New York 10004; (212) 514-3700;; We took the 1 train to South Ferry from the West Side, but it is also accessible from the 4/5 to Bowling Green or the R to Whitehall Street; Open daily 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Thursdays until 8:00 PM; **Free.

Mad Dog & Beans Mexican Cantina, 83 Pearl Street, New York, New York 10004; (212) 269-1177;

The Greenmarket at Bowling Green, 1 Bowling Green, near Broadway, Tuesday and Thursday, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, **Cash only.

Battery Park, Battery Place to South Street, New York, New York 10004,


  1. Mrs. Lehner,

    I must take offense, as the proud mother of TWO RED HEADED BOYS to your use of the phrase "red headed step child." Please use red headed in the future only to describe the most wonderful sites that you visit.


    Mother of TWO RED HEADS :)

  2. Dear Mother,
    Please excuse the turn of phrase. I just needed to emphasize that this poor museum seems to be the forgotten, out-of-favor member of the Smithsonian family. I could have used "black sheep" as well, but I'm sure I would have gotten offended posts from both the African American and the ovine communities.

    I will take your comment under advisement and refrain from using the term "red-headed" in only the most favorable context in the future.

    How are those two adorable redheads of yours, snacking and throwing tantrums in Italy?


    Practicing Mama..and daughter and granddaughter of redheads : )