Spots in Staten Island You Absolutely Can't Miss

Spots in Staten Island You Absolutely Can't Miss

Clear Comfort

Clear Comfort is a Victorian-looking family house in the Eastern tip of Staten Island. It also is the background for a fantastic American story -- the story of Alice Austen. She lived her long life away from men. She also changed, perhaps without knowing it, our perception of life in the New World on the 19th century.

40 Years of Moments in 3,000 Glass Plates

Alice Austen

Before she was born on 1866, Alice Austen's father left the family house. This prompted her mother Elizabeth to move back with her parents in the Austen family house of Clear Commons, in Staten Island, where they lived as if out of an E.L. Doctorow novel.

Alice was the only baby in the house. This had its benefits: she received an unprecedented amount of attention and indulgence. And she also received a photo camera, which her uncle, a sea captain, had given her.

From that point on, she would voraciously photograph everything. Her family, the family's visitors, herself, her travels through upstate New York... Between 1880 and 1920, there was no place she wouldn't take her 50-pound equipment.

Since the family was wealthy, they could afford the thousands and thousands of plates she consumed every year. Even after they all died and Austed, a lesbian, was left alone, unmarried and, being a woman, no opportunity to make a living on her own.

Thankfully, she had enough resources to keep going.

This all changed at the age when change is less welcome -- in her 60s.

Turn of The Century, Turn of Events

Alice Austen was 63 when the 1929 Wall Street crash took away all of her money. Desperate and disoriented in her financial disarray, she gave several false steps -- she tried selling the family's posessions, mortgaging Clear Commons twice, serving tea in her backyard, moving to a smaller apartment... All these proved insufficent. The once artistically, affectionately and financially prosperous Alice Austen had to be admitted into the local poor house.

In the process, however, she found her way into history.

Austen had sold the contents of Clear Commons to a New Jersey dealer for $600. Some minutes before he arrived, she suffered a panic attack, presumably at the idea of losing everything. So she telephoned a friend from the Staten Island Historical Society. She told him to take as many things as he could before the dealer got there.

Loring McMillen, the man from the Historic Society, would arrive promptly. He discovered 3,000 glass plates of photographs of professional quality, meticulously documenting decade after decade of American life. He took them and gradually put them of display in different venues.

This allowed Alice Austen to move into a better nursing home. There, she would spend her final days, in economic poverty but rich in experiences.

Fort Wadsworth

Fort Wadsworth

This landmark has a lot of historical value. This is where George Washington set up a lookout in 1776, and soldiers in 1812 draped chains across the Narrows to stop British ships. But military history is only so interesting.

When you are here, it is best to enjoy the view. Across New York Harbor, you can see Manhattan rising with its intimating blue-and-gray-colored look. If you look to the right, you can almost make out the exact point where Manhattan ends and Brooklyn begins. The same can be said about New Jersey to the left. It's a unique perspective.