Excavating the Past – 20 Years since the Discovery that Changed 290 Broadway

Park Ranger Doug gives visitors a tour of the African Burial Ground.

By Elizabeth Myer

Situated in a bustling neighborhood just north of City Hall, EPA’s New York City headquarters is more than just an Energy Star certified building with sweeping views from the 30th floor’s “Round Room.” In fact, the ground on which the building was erected teems with history that long precedes the structure.

While digging in preparation for construction of this federal office space in 1991, workers stumbled upon skeletal remains from what was later revealed to be a 17th and 18th century burial ground, in what was then “New Amsterdam,” for over 400 free and enslaved Africans. New Amsterdam became what we now call Manhattan and an urban metropolis sprung up over the unmarked cemetery, only to be rediscovered 20 years ago at the start of this project.

Today, the 6.6 acre site is a National Monument located on the corners of Duane and Elk Streets. The space features a unique memorial complete with commemorative artwork. Tours are available to the public on weekdays from 9 am – 5 pm and they will not disappoint. The National Park Service  Rangers have a wealth of knowledge about the history of the burial ground as well as the distinct artwork onsite. Perhaps the most central piece, entitled The New Ring Shout, was built directly into the marble floor of the lobby in the tradition of world ceremonial ground markings. The most symbolic part of the work lies in the layering of multicultural references that flow harmoniously together. For me, that aspect of The New Ring Shout serves as a daily reminder that our ultimate purpose here at EPA is to foster a greater understanding and awareness of the work we do and how it relates to a diverse range of people and the environment.

For more information on the African Burial Ground, click here.

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