Beer and tarantulas at Castle Clinton

On the bottom end of Manhattan Island is a fort that was built to repel the British; even though it has undergone many changes over the years, these days Castle Clinton is a popular place for New Yorkers and visitors alike.

Originally called West Battery and constructed on a man-made island, the fort was completed in 1811, and its purpose was to join with Castle Williams, built across the water on Governors Island to defend New York from the might of the British Navy during the war of 1812. Fortunately, nary a shot was fired in anger, so the fort was used for more peaceful purposes.

When landfill was dumped in the waters between the fort and Manhattan, it became part of Battery Park, was re-named Castle Clinton, then, a few years afterwards, was re-named Castle Gardens, became a popular beer garden, and then a place where impresarios, like P.T. Barnum, held concerts; and that’s where the tarantulas come in.

One of the most popular acts to appear at the Gardens in the early 1850s was the exotic dancer Lola Montez, who thrilled the crowds with her erotic Tarantula Dance.

Lola must have been too hot for the place, for soon after she left her mark, and prior to Ellis Island being developed, the castle became the major processing centre for immigrants to America.

Between 8 and 12 million immigrants began their American odyssey at the castle, and the real figure isn’t know as most records were destroyed in a fire.

Once Ellis Island was opened, Castle Gardens became the New York City Aquarium, and a very popular tourist attraction for almost fifty years.

Plans to knock it down were thwarted, when it was declared a National Monument, and finally, administration was assumed by the National Parks Service. The NPS restored it to its original state, and now Castle Clinton receives over three million visitors each year. In a return to the past, it has once again become a popular venue for concerts.

You can re-live the history of Castle Clinton by joining the free ranger guided tours, during which costumed rangers discuss the military history of Castle Clinton.

The castle is also the place to get your tickets for the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and a perfect place to sit and contemplate the fabulous Manhattan skyline, and reflect on a building that has welcomed millions of desperate people and enabled them to start new lives in America, whilst providing a place of entertainment in a location that is simply superb.

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