Presidents Day celebrates the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12) and George Washington (Feb. 22). New York City has several monuments dedicated to presidents, or you can pay your respects by visiting one of the sites listed below. By Jessica Allen.
Today, 123 Lexington Ave. is home to a phenomenal specialty food store, where you can stock up on spices, sauces, sandwiches, and all kinds of Indian desserts. Once you’ve had your fill, wander back outside, look up, and concentrate. Here, Chester A. Arthur was sworn in at his house as the 21st president of the United States after President James Garfield’s death in September, 1881. For a time, the dashing widower was considered DC’s most eligible bachelor. Then, illness, scandal, and political stalemate dimmed his shine.
In 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as the nation’s first president in Federal Hall, an important reminder of New York City’s role in colonial America. Previously, in 1765, the Stamp Act Congress adjourned here to protest taxation without representation, a meeting that essentially began the Revolutionary War. Here too, the First Congress composed the Bill of Rights and the Judiciary Act was passed. This structure (rebuilt in 1842 after the original building was destroyed in 1812) practically oozes history. You can even see the Bible on which Washington was sworn in.
In addition to green spaces, ballfields, bike lanes, and apartment buildings, Roosevelt Island boasts the romantic ruins of a smallpox hospital (currently closed to visitors) and a huge park dedicated to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The park celebrates the four freedoms outlined in FDR’s 1941 State of the Union: freedom from want, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, and freedom from fear. There are great views of Manhattan, Queens, and the East River too.
The memorial to General Ulysses Simpson Grant — commanding general of the Union Army and 18th president of the United States — and his wife, Julia, overlooks the Hudson River and watches over Riverside Park. The largest mausoleum in North America has an exterior carved from more than 8,000 tons of white granite. An oft-repeated story has Grant telling the then-president that he wouldn’t be attending a party at the White House by quipping, “Really, Mr. Lincoln, I have had enough of this show business.”
Before he was president, Abraham Lincoln was just an extremely tall, extremely articulate lawyer and state legislator from Illinois. An 1860 speech he gave at Cooper Union, a college in the East Village, cemented his political future and changed the course of U.S. history. During the so-called Cooper Union Address, Lincoln laid out a complicated argument against expanding slavery into the western territories, relying on 7,000 words’ worth of claims, facts, assumptions, and evidence. Fun fact: the famous Mathew Brady photograph at right was taken shortly before Lincoln gave the speech.
Thus far, Theodore Roosevelt is the only U.S. president to have been born in New York City. You can visit his birthplace on East 20th Street, where as a young, sickly boy, he discovered the restorative powers of exercise and developed a lifelong engagement with the outdoors. Although the original building was torn down in 1916, the site was purchased and a reconstruction of the townhouse was built after Roosevelt died in 1919. Today it’s full of furniture and knickknacks used by the family.