Having just returned from a two week family vacation in Vietnam — kayaking Halong Bay, shelling out $60 for a tailor-made 3-piece silk suit, and eating lots and lots of Pho — it’s a relief and a wonder to be back in New York. The energy and enthusiasm, the rushing and hustling, the moving to make it happen, all trademarks of our world-class city. Ho Chi Minh City (called Saigon by most of its eight million inhabitants) and Hanoi both qualify as such: both have nascent stock markets, luxurious high-rise condos, delicious street eats and magnificently mad traffic (more on Traffic NY vs. Traffic Saigon in next week’s LIH). What’s more, as a History Geek, the country’s museums, war sites and more were just exhilarating. While learning the history of their most revered leader, the guy on all the dollar bills, I was astonished to discover that Ho Chi Minh lived in New York for a year in the 1910s. It got me thinking: which other revolutionary leaders, still developing their political ideologies, spent time in NYC?
Ho Chi Minh (“He who enlightens”), born Nguyen Sinh Cung (“Nguyen the Leader”) has a personal history rife with holes. He didn’t keep journals, traveled all over the world during a 30-year exile from his homeland, had over 20 different aliases and most Vietnamese history books inflated his life accomplishments and deified him after his death in 1969, as is generally the case with Communist leaders. Therefore, exact dates and names are difficult to pinpoint. During his sojourns we know he lived in France and worked blue collar jobs, including waiting tables, cleaning clothes, and developing film. While in the France he also spent lots of time in the library, reading up on the French Revolution. Later on he lived in England and assisted the legendary pastry chef Escoffier at the Carlton Hotel. During one of the bizarre collusions of NYC history, Mae West, visiting London, told a reporter
she had met “Ho, Ho, Ho something. There was this waiter, cook, I don’t know what he was. I know he had the slinkies eyes though. We met in the corridor. We – well . . .”
In either 1917 or 18, Minh moved to New York City, spent a year here under the employ of a wealthy family in Brooklyn and attended one of Marcus Garvey’s legendary Universal Negro Improvement Trust meetings in Harlem. Ho Chi Minh, 50 years old, would return to Vietnam in 1940 and, with stops and starts, eventually lead his people to independence.
Another New York resident, in the most unlikely of places, was Giuseppe Garibaldi, champion of a unified Italy and resident of Staten Island from 1850-51 or ‘54. Garibaldi lived with Anthony Meucci, inventor of the “teletrofono.” Born in 1807 to a seagoing family in Nice, by his mid-twenties Garibaldi was fighting for the independence of Italy, which was divided up between French, Austrian and Spanish interests. He also traveled extensively, fighting for people’s rights in Brazil and Uruguay, which earned him the title “Hero of Two Worlds.” He was ill when he arrived in NY, and Meucci, living in a 4-room Victorian house in the Rosebank section of Staten Island with his wife, offered him lodging. The two men enjoyed hunting, fishing (Staten Island was still stocked with wildlife) and views of the harbor. Garibaldi returned to his native country and kept fighting for a constitutional monarchy under Victor Emmanuel II, who was installed in 1861 as the King of Italy. Garibaldi has a statue in the eastern part of Washington Square Park where he is incorrectly drawing his saber (in this pose, if he were to actually pull his sword from the scabbard, he’d slice off his own leg). Meucci went on to possibly invent the telephone in 1871, but due to a series of personal catastrophes, Alexander Graham Bell beat him to it in 1876. But that’s a different Lost in History altogether. Best of all, you can visit the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum
and wander all 4 rooms and soak in the history. There’s Garibaldi’s spectacles! And cap! And his famous red shirt! And I guess that’s what a teletrofono looks like.
Matt Levy is a licensed NYC tour guide and Junior Partner of The Levys' Unique New York!, a business he runs with his Dad (www.vintagenytours.com);
they are proud to be the only family of licensed NYC tour guides. While
not leading tours, Matt likes long walks on the beach, kittens,
reading, writing, cooking, cooking with a certain pretty girl, dancing,
dancing with a certain pretty girl, talking, talking with a certain
pretty girl, and building tall bikes.