There is a ghost in Gracie Mansion, but we’ll get to that shortly.
The mayor’s official residence has a new look. Starting next month, visitors can tour the reopened de Blasio family digs and also see some new faces on the walls.
Nearly 50 new works of art have been installed to depict the wider city at the time of the mansion’s construction — not just the usual old white men. The new arrivals include a portrait of Frederick Douglass, a sculpture of a child laborer, and a Chinese porcelain vase imported by the East India Co.
It’s an admirable attempt to capture the true history of New York. Stately images of the family of philanthropist and former slave Pierre Toussaint coincide with a portrait of austere old white man Archibald Gracie, who built the house and was a founder of the New York Post. Who could argue with that? Well ... it so happens that Gracie looks a lot like another austere white man, George Washington.
On an early media visit, reporters were told that this was a portrait of Washington and that it was going to be moved. That created a ruckus. But it turned out the portrait didn’t memorialize the namesake of the bridge to New Jersey, but Gracie himself. And no, that portrait hadn’t been leaving the house anyway — just changing location within it.
The brouhaha over the nonexistent and ghostly “Washington” portrait only underscores the importance of images and their power to tell history. It might be said that history is written by the curators, as well as the victors.
George Washington isn’t diminishing in importance, in American society or in Gracie Mansion (a statuette of the founding father had been and remains on view with the new artworks). The inclusion of new story lines is vital for a city as diverse as New York, and we applaud Gracie Mansion’s new decor, even with the controversial opening.
And, Gracie’s not going anywhere. Space was found for him alongside the Toussaint family. Visitors to the People’s House will now find them residing in wary harmony.