To get to Alice Austen’s House, you need to take the ferry from Downtown Manhattan into Staten Island. I did just that one Saturday afternoon at the start of January keen to make sure I ticked the location off the list of the 111 places I should not have missed in New York.
Staying true to my passion for walking, I decided to walk to her house from the Staten Island Ferry Station, although some passers-by advised me to take the bus. I did wish I had taken the bus, as I noticed that the road I was walking down veered in the direction of a back street full of warehouses that did not necessary show a trace of a human foot.
As I was walking down the street, I was hoping and praying that it would lead to the destination I was hoping for. And that I would not end up on the front cover of a newspaper the following day. Quite literally, this was one of the two occasions when I felt like slapping myself for not being more careful with my whereabouts especially when I am miles away from home. The other occasion was during a trip to Naples, when I ventured to see the certezza that sits at the top of the city and walked for half an hour up back streets that looked like they had featured in Cosa Nostra.
Alice Austen was one of the first photographers to document New York life and society at the end of the 19th century – early 20th. She left behind an impressive collection of over 9,000 photos. Some of them are on display in her house, which has been converted into a museum.
I was ecstatic to find the place eventually and reach it safely. Looking around, my favourite photos were those of the Staten Island Hospital, photographed in the early 1900s. I also liked a photo illustrative of a medical check that an immigrant to the US went through at that time at Ellis Island.
Another thing I enjoyed about Alice’s house was the furniture. The parlour was specifically interesting, as it displayed various pieces of furniture faithfully recreating the mood of the past. The dark room, where she spent a lot of hours working on her photos, is a real window through time.