Glittering Jewels, Priceless Memories

By: Bill Bernstein

I recently visited a wonderful exhibit of Navajo jewelry at The National Museum of the American Indian (located within the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House at 1 Bowling Green). The exhibit, aptly named “Glittering World,” highlights the jewelry made by the Yazzie family and will be on display until next January 10.

While I recommend this exhibit as well as the rest of the museum’s displays, please pay attention to the other glittering jewel — the Cass Gilbert-designed, Alexander Hamilton U. S. Custom House. The building was used for around 70 years as the primary control point for freight entering and leaving New York area ports.  Back in the day, the magnificent rotunda, on the street level, was teeming with customs officials and runners from freight forwarding companies and shipping lines processing bills of lading and payments of federal customs duties.

And how do I know this?  Because, fifty years ago, my first summer job was as a clerk messenger for an international freight forwarder with offices on Beaver Street. My duties included regular visits to the customs house and to shipping lines around Lower Manhattan.  Visiting the exhibit brought back memories of that work and how important I was allowed to feel while contributing to international commerce.