Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Other Island

NEW YORK—(Feb.15, 2009) The two postcard sculptures of the 9/11 memorial in St. George on Staten Island stand as a window to where the Twin Towers once stood and are engraved with the names of the 274 islanders killed in the terrorist attack.

By Margaret DeJesus (

NEW YORK—Staten Island is the middle child who craves more attention. Of the five boroughs in the New York City family, it’s often forgotten and overlooked as it sits in the shadow of siblings like Manhattan and Brooklyn.

And it had to put up with a lot of their garbage too. The Fresh Kills Landfill, which opened in 1948 and closed in 2001, was at one time the world’s largest garbage dump and was even visible from outer space. But I assure you, the smell did not attack the nose half as aggressively as a trip over the Goethals Bridge to New Jersey would.

Then, there’s the identity crisis. When I tell people I’m from Staten Island, N.Y., their response tends to be, “I didn’t know Long Island was part of New York City.” Apparently Staten Island never crossed their radar.

A record high of 46 million tourists visited New York City in 2007 according to a report by NYC and Company, the city’s official marketing and tourism firm. Millions of people, whether for work or tourist fun, ride the Staten Island Ferry to Manhattan every year and enjoy the scenic route featuring the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. But I bet most never think twice about venturing out of the ferry terminal and exploring this island.

And they should because they’re missing out.

For starters, it has the best pizza in the city. Even Food Network’s Emeril Lagasse thinks so. Joe and Pat’s Pizzeria in Castleton Corners was featured on the best regional pizza styles episode of his show. It’s hard to resist a piping hot thin crust pizza with a perfect distribution of mozzarella cheese and fresh tomato sauce.

Staten Island is also home to the original Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices in Port Richmond. Lines stretch down the street on hot summer days for refreshing treats like a cool lemon ice or a light, creamy vanilla chip. Once you have a Ralph’s ice dripping down your hand, you know it’s summer.

Nicknamed the “Borough of Parks,” Staten Island is not a jungle of steel, glass high rises and yellow taxi cabs, but rather a flat forest of trees and homes. Silver Lake Park and Clove Lakes Park are just two of the borough’s green gems. The possibilities are endless: playing basketball, soccer or football; bike riding; rollerblading; picnicking; jogging or just plain walking.

Not to mention the scenery. During the twilight of a winter’s day, Silver Lake appears to shine.

Conference House Park, located at Staten Island’s southern tip, was the site of a 1776 Revolutionary War peace conference attended by a British commander and American dignitaries like Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. The old fashioned cobble stone house near the water built in the 1600s is both a New York City and national landmark.

Traffic is a nightmare though. According to a 2006 estimate, the borough’s population stands at 477, 377 and is expected to keep growing. For an island that is only 13.9 miles long and 7.3 miles wide, it could easily take an hour to go from one shore to the other. Outmaneuvering school buses, soccer moms and workers during rush hour on a weekday is no easy feat.

The beaches are worth checking out too. Although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend taking a swim in the water, unless of course you don’t mind sharing it with the occasional floating Coca Cola can, plastic bag, and shatters of broken sea shells.

Walking along the 2.5 mile long FDR Boardwalk, sunbathing on the sand, or fishing on the pier at Midland Beach to the soundtrack of seagulls also gets you an up close view of the Verrazano Bridge which connects Staten Island to Brooklyn.

It may not be the big time like Manhattan’s MET, but the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art hidden on Lighthouse Hill is certainly a cultural attraction. The collection features 17th to 19th century bronze figurines and Buddhist sculptures. The medicine Buddha sand mandala on the mock altar is a rarity since mandalas are usually dismantled and dispersed into water. The circular pattern of sand representing wholeness explodes in color, especially with shades of red, purple and yellow. The meditation garden carved within the steep hill outside has a wide view of the world below and wrought iron furniture for sitting to take it all in.

Richmond Town, once the center of commerce and government in the 1700s, is now a window to colonial history with 28 preserved buildings that date back centuries. Faded and cracked tombstones line the cemetery outside the stone Church of Saint Andrew founded in 1708. The family burial plot of Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American born saint, is situated there.

Just outside the ferry terminal in Saint George, two postcard sculptures stretched like wings honor the 274 victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack and serve as one of the city’s few memorials of the tragedy. Gazing across the water to where the Twin Towers once stood, they represent messages to lost loved ones.

Just before dusk on a cold February day, I notice that the sun rests just a little longer on Manhattan.

Visit the Borough President James Molinaro’s website for a list of island parks, cultural attractions and news at:

For a list of famous people who called Staten Island home at one time or another visit:

No comments: