No.76 A New Jazz Age on Governors island

Traveling around the world you are most often visiting places and looking at things from times past. Traveling and history naturally go hand in hand. And with every experience you inevitably try to imagine what it would have been like to be there when the event occurred. The best places allow for a really immersive experience. Some of our recent favorites have been the Tenement Museum in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and the Denis Severs House in London’s East End. These places help you get lost in the experience of another time. Now we have another favorite to share, the Jazz Age Lawn Party on New York’s Governors Island.

Ah, the Roaring Twenties. A time just after the end of WWI when people wanted to cut loose and have fun again. Women starting enjoying their newly won freedoms, cut their hair into a bob and shimmied into the latest fashion fad, the flapper dress. Being out, unescorted, was suddenly okay. And the new dance, the Charleston, suited the times because it could be danced equally well alone, as a pair, or in a group.

It was truly an exuberant time in history and one that you can do more than just dream about. You can experience it for yourself! For the last eleven years, on two summer weekends, the Jazz Age reappears in all its glory out on Governors Island in New York Harbor. Like a time warp of sorts, a small meadow is fully transformed into New York of the golden Jazz Age.

The Jazz Age Lawn Party is the brainchild of Michael Arenalla, the impresario of New York-based “Dreamland Orchestra” and a lifelong aficionado of the authentic sounds of the golden Jazz Age. One summer Michael invited some like-minded friends out for a celebration of 1920’s music and culture, and the Jazz Age Lawn Party was born. The yearly event for fun times, dressing up and dancing, is now a fixture on New York’s summer social scene.


Our first foray into the 1920s at the Jazz Age Lawn Party was on a hot Saturday morning in August. We made our way over to Pier 6 in Brooklyn to take the early ferry over to Governors island. Standing in line, the crowd was all decked out in their 1920’s finest. You are enveloped in a sea of flapper dresses, parasols, dark lipstick, and gentleman in seersucker suits and straw hats. First you feel like you might be guests of the great Jay Gatsby heading to his fabulous party on Long Island for the day. Then there are so many people in costume it becomes the norm and you just let yourself go, sinking into 1920’s bliss. The trip to the island is metaphorical as you leave the modern world behind and voyage to another age.


Disembarking we head just a short walk to Colonels Row, a triangular meadow lined with trees and the perfect setting for the event. We find a nice spot in the shade under the elm trees, and lay out our blankets next to the large dance floor and bandstand. To our shame, we realize that we are not as well prepared as our fellow party guests. Real Jazz-Age party-goers pay attention to every detail. Authentic wicker picnic baskets, stickered suitcases, and plenty of props make the whole scene era perfect.


If you are unprepared like us, no worries! There is a multitude of stalls selling everything you could possibly need to rid yourself of anything modern and unsightly.

As the band got started, the mood became more and more festive as picnic-basket-laden guests got situated. The signature Elderflower cocktail was a big hit and helped loosen up the crowd. Dancing ensued and the combination of food, friends and festivities slowly built through the day.


Aside from the music and dancing there are many other activities on offer: Compete in the pie contest, have your portrait taken recreating the famous Paper Moon scene, or inspect the vintage cars. Of course, the dancing lessons are a must and Brooklynite Roddy Caravella get the crowd all doing the Charleston in no time.


Having lived in New York for several years I cannot think of too many times that I saw that many people in such a good mood.

If you’re planning a trip to the Big Apple, try to arrange it so you can attend the Jazz Age Lawn party. It’s a great way to travel back in time, meet New Yorkers, and really get your feet tapping.


Getting your tickets early as they sell out fast. Ferries leave from Manhattan and Brooklyn. In June and August, it will be hot! So getting on the first boat and find a place in the shade might be the best way to enjoy the day. Make it a group outing. Bring some friends, food and definitely come in your 1920’s finest. For details and booking your tickets and directions go to: www.jazzagelawnparty.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Planning a trip to New York for the Jazz Age Lawn Parth? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.