To get your colonial American fix, check out Staten Island’s Conference House. Built around 1680, it was the site of a star-studded 1776 peace conference that failed to end the Revolutionary War. Both John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were in attendance. But as a wise man once said, “Fun and failure both start out the same way,” and there’s still fun to be had at this historical site. On Sunday, the Conference House will host “Colonial Christmas,” a celebration featuring a craft market, free hot cider, and cookies.
The forgotten borough has a bad rap. Remember that episode of “Louie” in which Louis C. K. followed a high school punk home to tell his parents how much of a d-bag their son was? “Home” was Staten Island. The borough also took a knock from “Girls” when a plotline involved the return of a stolen dog to his owner. One of the characters kvetches the whole time—“Staten Islanders rage over the fact that we’re not in Manhattan”—and the punch line is his encounter with the dog owner’s belligerent daughter, who is described as being raised in a “trash heap.” But Staten Island, affectionately renamed “Shaolin” by the Wu-Tang Clan, has its redeeming qualities. Plus, you can get there for free via the Staten Island Ferry.
Neighborhood Watch: Staten Island
In “The Godfather,” Francis Ford Coppola used this Tudor home in Emerson Hill as the set of mafia boss Vito Corleone’s digs. The house appears in the film’s wedding scene, but the thick stone wall that Paramount Pictures built around the compound no longer exists. The actual residents reportedly scored some props from the set, including Marlon Brando’s cue cards.
This is where my family and I went to clog our arteries after my grandfather had triple bypass surgery. You can carbo-load on nine different kinds of authentic Italian pastas, or sample the restaurant’s award-winning wine list and rich desserts. Moral of the story: Leave the gun, take the cannoli.
Staten Island was once home to the largest landfill in the world. After its closing in 2001, the Department of City Planning spearheaded an initiative to convert the landfill’s 2,200 acres into a park. Scaled at almost three times the size of Central Park, Freshkills Park is expected to be the second-largest in New York City, after the Bronx’s Pelham Bay Park.
I once visited the botanical gardens for a funeral—I mean, a “celebration of life.” Make sure to stop by the Chinese Scholar’s Garden, modeled after a Ming Dynasty-era scholar’s garden. Also, explore the Connie Gretz Secret Garden, whose design was inspired by the garden in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famous children’s book. A hedge maze surrounds the garden, which is overlooked by a 38-foot castle. To get there, you have to cross a drawbridge that covers a moat.