When the Covid-19 pandemic threatened to shut down their Brooklyn tour-guide business—Turnstile Tours—husband-and-wife team Cindy VandenBosch and Andrew Gustafson reinvented their nine-year-old company on the fly.
Founded in 2012, Turnstile Tours’ unofficial motto is “We share stories of how New York City works.” By taking customers behind the scenes of different aspects of city life, especially in Brooklyn, the company aims to highlight the work of ordinary New Yorkers.
At our December member happy hour, we invited participants to share some of their favorite books about New York City, in any genre – fiction, nonfiction, poetry, photography, travel – and our members did not disappoint! Many showed off their extensive collections, and some even have entire shelves dedicated to nothing but books about the city.
Turnstile Tours, a Brooklyn-based company, normally offers custom-made walking tours of locations like the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the Essex Market, in partnership with local businesses and organizations. Today, the same ethos of community and access which animates Turnstile’s walking tours is available through its Virtual Programs.
Offered via Zoom webinar, the Virtual Programs are described as “online experiences…talking with makers, street vendors, and museum staff, showing artifacts and materials from our archives, and sharing stories and research that don’t always make it into our tours.” In one memorable program from early in the pandemic, tour guide Brian Hoffman spoke remotely with a woman buying a pint of lychee at the Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.
A selection of Turnstile’s Virtual Programs is available for free at the company’s website; new programs, generally, three or four per week, are e-ticketed events. And the company has now resumed in-person walking tours of Prospect Park, under precautions like limited group size and mandatory masks.
On Wednesday, June 17, Turnstile Tours will broadcast their 100th “virtual tour” since the New York City lockdown began, a trivia night looking back at the highlights of the last three months.
The small Brooklyn-based tour company – which develops and operates tours in partnership with the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, NYCEDC, Street Vendor Project, Prospect Park Alliance, and Brooklyn Historical Society – had to cancel thousands of tour reservations in the face of the pandemic, with no clear idea when, or if, they would be able to go back to work.
At 3:57 p.m. on May 2, 1982, the British submarine HMS Conqueror fired a spread of three torpedoes at the Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano, located approximately 230 nautical miles southwest of the Falkland Islands. Two of the weapons found their marks, fore and aft of the ship’s protective belt armor on the port side. In less than 30 minutes, the order was given to abandon ship, and Belgrano sank, taking 323 souls with her.
Since the WHO has categorized COVID-19 as a pandemic, the global economy has suffered, and millions of people are filing for unemployment. There are several webinars that are designed to help brands and companies stay relevant, but several lack the fundamental issue for most small business owners (i.e. restaurants, cafes, etc.), which is, how do I get money into my business now.
The hospital ship USNS Comfort is en route to New York City. One of just two hospital ships in the Navy fleet, it has been dispatched from Norfolk, while its sister ship Mercy recently arrived in Los Angeles. Comfort will dock at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal (and some dredging is required to fit the converted oil tanker into the berth), while the counterpart Red Hook Cruise Terminal is being converted into one of the city’s five emergency hospitals, along with the Javits Center, Bronx Expo Center, Queens Aqueduct, and the College of Staten Island (which, coincidentally, sits on the former site of Halloran Hospital, the Army’s largest hospital in World War II).
While you can still appreciate the beauty of the park for brief respites of fresh air with appropriate social distancing, the Prospect Park Alliance is encouraging visitors to head online to explore the green space with a new resource.
Virtual Prospect Park includes resources from educators, historians, gardeners and others to allow a look into Brooklyn’s backyard while following the directive to stay indoors as much as possible during the crisis.
After nearly 12 years of leading tours at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, one of the most difficult questions we get – and almost always from young people – is this: Were there slaves here?
This question is vexing not just because of the complex and painful subject matter, but also because the historical record is incomplete. The result is usually an imprecise and unsatisfying answer. In short, yes, enslaved people were an integral part of life at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for the 60 years leading up to the Civil War, just as they were across Brooklyn and New York City.
This is an effort to unpack that complexity and get somewhere closer to the historical truth of the matter.