Image by Thomas Johnson from Brooklyn Museum in Wikimedia Commons
It’s the bicentennial of Walt Whitman’s birthday tomorrow, May 31st, and New York City is in a flurry of celebration. Though Whitman was born on Long Island, Brooklyn is where he came into his own as a poet. The poet lived and worked part of his life in what was then the independent city of Brooklyn and the borough permeates much of his work. Although more than a century of transformations have significantly changed the Brooklyn that Whitman knew, if one looks close enough it is still possible to see remnants of Whitman’s time.
It is also officially “International Whitman Week” where you can check out then exhibition at The Grolier Club “Poet of the Body: New York’s Walt Whitman” (where our photo of Whitman’s home at 99 Ryerson Street is on display), participate in the 16th annual “Song of Myself Marathon” at the Granite Prospect in Prospect Park, grab the copy of the Walt Whitman Bicentennial publications from the Walt Whitman Initiative (PDF version here), watch a film about a mass reading of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, a trip to Walt Whitman’s birthplace in Huntington, and more. Check out the other events and tours connected with International Whitman Week here and continue on for a self-guided tour of places where you can pay tribute to Walt Whitman in Brooklyn:
1. Fulton Ferry Landing
No person has ever described the commute of a typical Brooklynite as beautifully as Walt Whitman in his poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” In this poem, the poet describes the experience of crossing the East River from Brooklyn to Manhattan just before sunset. “Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta!—stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn,” the section we photographed above proclaims with the skyline of Lower Manhattan in the distance and the modern NYC Ferry right in the background. Fitting, as Whitman would have taken the ferry between Brooklyn and Manhattan, then entirely the City of New York, as the Brooklyn Bridge would not have been built.
Although the original ferry landing is now part of Brooklyn Bridge Park, the park itself commemorates it’s native son with an inscription of the poem along its railings. Fulton Ferry Landing is home to food vendors and Bargemusic, a classical music hall housed on a floating barge at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. You can discover more about the Brooklyn Bridge in our upcoming Secrets of Brooklyn Bridge tour.