A View of Wall Street, Opening Day 2010

Wallst Beau Willimon on the first trading day of the new year, following the decimations of the previous 28 months, in The Daily Beast:

2:39 p.m. (DJ 10590 +160 +1.55%)

By mid-afternoon, Wall Street was teaming with tourists. I decided to join their ranks and visit some of the local landmarks. Directly across Wall Street from the Exchange stands the Federal Hall National Memorial building. George Washington’s first inauguration took place on this site in 1789. Inside were a number of exhibits chronicling the history of the Wall Street area. Here you are reminded that Wall Street wasn’t always about finance. In fact, it used to be the northern extremity of the New Amsterdam, acquiring its name because of an actual wall used to stretch along its length, built by the Dutch to keep out the Native Americans in northern Manhattan.

I chatted up National Park Ranger E.L. Hooper, who showed me several floor-to-ceiling cracks in the masonry supporting the enormous rotunda—fissures caused by the collapse of the Twin Towers in 2001. Federal Hall was closed for two years to repair the damage.

Since the business of Federal Hall is not business, but history, I asked Ranger Hooper if he felt insulated from all the financial activity across the street. “Pretty much,” he said, “but we get a couple hundred folks come in here every day asking where the Stock Exchange is, or thinking this building is the Exchange itself, or wondering why they can’t get inside the Exchange.” (The public viewing gallery at the NYSE has been closed since the 9/11 attacks.) “And it was pretty crazy around here during the financial crisis,” he added. “There were TV cameras everywhere, and we had all sorts of weird protests going on outside.” Among some of the protests he witnessed were a troop of bikini-clad women parading down the street on a chilly November day, a man who skulked around in a bear costume, and a duo of street performers—one of whom juggled hatchets while the other played saxophone on a pogo-stick, both wearing signs that read “This is what we’re forced to do for work now.”

After leaving Federal Hall, I treated myself to a hot dog from a street vendor. While I was waiting in line, I got to talking with a Jamaican security guard from Deutsche Bank named George. George had been working on Wall Street for seven years and grown familiar with many of the employees who passed through the Deutsche Bank doors every day. “When things were good, it was so busy in the morning you almost got knocked over from all the people rushing down the street,” he said.