October 25, 2008

Fort Totten, Finally

People are always surprised to find out how much war history there is in New York City, but there are forts all over the place. Castle Clinton, Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island, the former "numbered" forts by the Old Croton Aqueduct in the Bronx (as well as Fort Schuyler), and of course Fort Totten in Bayside, Queens.

I first discovered Fort Totten on the Open House New York schedule two years ago, but after having visited Floyd Bennett Field and Flushing Meadows Corona Park, I was too pooped to find my way to Bayside. After Edith and Eric ended up taking a tour this year and reported back, I became desperate to go.

Lucky for me, the NYC Parks were having a Halloween lantern tour of it this weekend. Right up my alley.

When we arrived we were a little confused, because we were surrounded by really little kids who'd brought their own glowsticks and flashlights. We kind of thought those would be provided, as they were at the Queens County Farm Museum corn maze, and that we would just be experiencing a nighttime tour of the fort. Instead, we got a strange little haunted house.

In a way, this one was actually better than Eastern State, because it was so dark, and the ghosts and goblins were so few and far between, we were almost always startled by them. Unfortunately for the kids, they were terrified, and their parents only encouraged the terror by pretending to be eaten by spiders and getting caught in webs and other unnecessary fake perils that the kids really believed.

I couldn't really see the layout of Fort Totten because it was so dark, but boy was it spooky. Lots of long, dark tunnels, with a red sky looming over us as the trees rustled and it let out a quietly dripping rain that made the floors beneath us slick and dank.

The tour was brief and the urban park ranger was sure to ease the fears of the kiddies by telling them it was all pretend, but I tried to suspend my disbelief as much as possible. Surely there was something ghoulish about this place, even if only the hauntings of the members of the Willets family....

Fort Totten is actually in good shape, not in ruins the way I normally like my historic buildings. But there are lots of abandoned barracks that are being torn down and that make the entire park kind of feel like a ghost town, including some spooky brick houses with chipped paint and gravestones in the front yard. And yet you can still see the Whitestone Bridge in the distance, a mere stone's throw away with the Bronx's city lights twinkling, reminding you of the present day, 200 years in the future from Fort Totten's origins.

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