We kicked off the day today with a special walking tour of Greenwich Village, lead by Kirsten Miller, author of the Kiki Strike: The Shadow City and Kiki Strike: The Empress’s Tomb. Her series is about a group of girls who call themselves the “Irregulars,” and explore hidden passageways and tunnels that are deep under the pavements of New York City. This morning, Kirsten took the Thalia Kids’ Book Club campers all over Greenwich Village to see, for ourselves, some of the hidden secrets that remain from New York’s past and inspired the story of Kiki Strike.
Walking with Kirsten, we realized how many interesting things there are to see and notice in the city if we just took the time to look around! Like Gail Carson Levine told us yesterday, our powers of observation are incredibly important when it comes to writing stories, and for Kirsten, it was no different. Kirsten explained how she would walk around Greenwich Village when she was living in the neighborhood, just exploring and taking note of peculiar or fun sights. By peeking around buildings and through gates, Kirsten uncovered a lot of secrets of the Village that she shared with us today.
Using the booklets that Kirsten made especially for our campers, “A Dark and Dangerous Tour of Greenwich Village,” we followed a route that took us through areas of the city where traces of the past have been left behind, like clues to the city’s history. There are far too many to mention them all, but there were a few favorites that we can share. Kirsten showed us bootscrapers, once used to scrape mud and dirt off of one’s shoes before entering the building, that remain in stairway entrance gates from 200 years ago.
Our adventurous author also led us to hidden courtyards, such as Milligan Place, and hidden houses, like 58A Charles Street, which, cloaked between large buildings and behind narrow gated alleys, are almost unnoticeable to those who pass by. She even showed us a little house, over 200 years old, that inspired the setting of Kiki’s hidden residence in Kiki Strike. Kirsten told us that she once again only had to look and observe in order to find these places, and confessed that she loves peeking behind gates and over fences to see what interesting and inspirational secrets might lay beyond them.
Finding these secrets, however, were only part of the research that Kirsten did to find out so much about New York City’s past. Doing further research on the history of the city and what it was like during the 18th and 19th centuries, Kirsten then learned so much more. She told us that, for Kiki Strike, she learned about real underground tunnels that exist under Chinatown (but not Greenwich Village), which you can
go into and visit! One of the most interesting things that Kirsten also revealed was the inspiration for her idea of an underground city, which is actually not something that she saw during her careful observations of the city, but a real news story. Watching the news, she heard about a hole that had opened up on the street and lead to a room, fully preserved, underneath the pavement. Unfortunately, she said, they filled in the room to repair the street and it is no longer there, but the idea itself triggered the amazing story of Kiki Strike and the Shadow City.
Stopping at Washington Square Park for lunch with Kirsten, our campers had their books signed and then posed for a group photo with another fantastic author!