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Hidden New York: St. Augustine’s Church

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St. Augustine Church on the Lower East Side was built way back in 1828, one year after slavery was legally abolished in New York State.

Today, it stands proud along Henry Street with a tiny plaque on the outside declaring it a New York City Landmark. On the inside, a simple church with a small, but proud congregation.

The church is full of history including rumors and stories that the great Edgar Allan Poe would frequent the last pew of the church and listen to mass. Afterwards, it was said that he would often write some of his greatest works while in that pew.

But, high above the pews on the first floor are two rooms, clearly visible with a hidden history.

"They are the galleries," describes Penny King - who is the chairperson for the church. "According to research, those galleries are where slaves would actually sit."

In fact, even though slavery was legally abolished, it lingered on. The story goes that owners would bring their slaves to the church, force them to go in different entrances and then climb narrow staircases to the galleries where they could watch the mass out of sight from everyone else.

In fact, the galleries were designed with seating low to the ground, so if a person down below looked up - it would look like the gallery was actually empty.

In the summertime- the heat was on.

"There is no air up here," describes King. "Can you imagine sitting down this low and be in the smoldering heat just sitting here."

When she says no air, she means there are no windows - so now breeze could enter those rooms.
However, being an optimist, King tried to see the positive in the rooms.

"It was actually the best seat in the house," she says. ‚Äč