Thanksgiving 1990 - August 17, 1993


On Thanksgiving 1990, the same weekend that Dances with Wolves opened, theater artists Gabriele and Nick erected a tipi made of 78 U.S. Domestic #3 mailbags in New York City's then longest-existing shantytown known as The Hill, located at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge at Canal and Chrystie Streets. The tipi was dedicated on December 29, 1990, in commemoration of the centenary of the Wounded Knee Massacre, "in remembrance of the lives lost and to the sovereignty and dignity of all disenfranchised individuals today."

Until August 17, 1993 -- the day the City bulldozed the Hill including the tipi poles -- Gabriele and Nick performed theater, exhibited art, but mostly, they lived among their neighbors, getting to know and love them, and watching many of them die.

Gabriele kept a journal [contact Gabriele Schafer for access] that details their day-to-day lives as they navigate drug dealers, one of New York's largest-ever police corruption scandals, city politics in the Dinkins era (elected to clean up the homeless problem) and the media. It traces the steps of how a shantytown went from the anonymity of waist-high huts hidden in the weeds, to a tour bus and celebrity stop; from addicts just getting by, to a drug supermarket; from a close-knit encampment, to a crime scene that entangles everyone from pushers, to users, to the cops, to the artists themselves, after one day the unspeakable happens: their most innocent neighbor burned to death in his hut in an arson fire that was targeting someone else.

With the 30-year anniversary approaching, it is important to finally recount this epic bit of New York City history. The people involved -- heroic and deeply flawed -- deserve to have their stories told. Mr. Lee and his shantytown neighbors' life stories should be celebrated and memorialized.

The work on The Hill was extensively documented, both comtemporaneously in news articles and over the years in museum retrospectives, books and journals (contact Gabriele for details). In 2020 , NYU's Fales Library will be archiving this documentation into their permanent collection.