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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Postcard Thursday: Pocahontas

Pocahontas (Rebecca Rolfe) in 1616
What does Pocahontas have to do with New York City, you may ask. More than you might think, since the image above -- drawn in 1616 when she was in England -- was widely distributed and altered European views of what North America was like.

But the reason we're highlighting it today is that James had a travel story in the New York Post on Tuesday about visiting Jamestown, Virginia. You can read it at

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Postcard Thursday: (Nobel Laureate) Bob Dylan in New York

As you may have heard, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature this morning, which came as a shock to just about everyone. He is the first musician to be awarded the honor, and while he has long been seen as the leading figure in post-war music in America, this catapults his reputation to "a whole 'nother level."

We have a chapter about Dylan's New York in Footprints in New York, which includes a good precis of his time in the city.

As we write in the book, Dylan was
born as Robert Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota, on May 24, 1941; he grew up in the tight-knit Jewish community in Hibbing, his mother’s hometown. After graduating high school in 1959, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota but only lasted one year. While he was there, he tapped into the burgeoning folk scene and began consistently using the stage name Bob Dylan. Having been a rock and roller, Dylan’s musical trajectory changed around this time when he was introduced to the music of Woody Guthrie, which, in Dylan’s words, “made my head spin.” 
In January 1961, he arrived in New York City determined to do two things: perform in Greenwich Village, the center of America’s folk music revival, and meet Woody Guthrie. By the end of his first week, he’d done both. Dylan probably got to the city January 23, the day the front page of the New York Times proclaimed it the “coldest winter in seventeen years,” a line Dylan would borrow for one of his earliest compositions, “Talkin’ New York.” In No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese’s documentary on Dylan’s early career, the singer remembers that first day: “I took the subway down to the Village. I went to the Cafe Wha?, I looked out at the crowd, and I most likely asked from the stage ‘Does anybody know where a couple of people could stay tonight?’” 
Singer-songwriter Fred Neil presided over the bar’s eclectic all-day lineup. Dylan showed his chops by backing up Neil and singer Karen Dalton on the harmonica and was hired to “blow my lungs out for a dollar a day.” 
Immersing himself in the music scene, Dylan soaked up everything he heard, from live acts in the bars and coffee houses south of Washington Square to the records he’d spin at Izzy Young’s Folklore Center down the street from Cafe Wha?. In the meantime he continued to embellish his back story. In No Direction Home, Izzy Young recalls Dylan telling him, “I was born in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1941, moved to Gallup, New Mexico; then until now lived in Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, North Dakota (for a little bit). Started playing in carnivals when I was fourteen, with guitar and piano. . . .” 
Later, newspapers picked up the fake biography, writing about the cowboy singer from Gallup. Stretching all the way back to the city’s Dutch pioneers, people have come to New York to reinvent themselves, to cast off their old identities and strike out in new directions. Dylan’s fanciful back story may have been an extreme case, but it was effective.
There's much more in the book -- pick up a copy today!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

REMINDER: Central Park Walking Tour this Sunday at 10:00 AM

On Sunday, October 9, at 10:00 a.m. join us for a walk in and around Central Park as we celebrate Columbus Day and ask the question: Who was Christopher Columbus and Why does he deserve a holiday? As we look at the creation of Columbus Day back in 1892 and the explorer's controversial popularity, we'll talk about the importance of Italian-Americans to the history of New York City as well as looking at how Central Park was created as a social experiment to help the city's immigrants. The tour will last between 90 minutes and 2 hours.

$25 per person

Send an email with your name, the number in your party, and a contact cell phone number to

We will get back to you with the starting place within 24 hours.

Hope to see you on October 9!

James and Michelle Nevius

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Postcard Thursday: The Black Crook

courtesy of the New York Public Library
Last night, we saw a terrific production of The Black Crook at the Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side.

First performed in 1866 at Niblo's Garden on Broadway in what is today Soho, The Black Crook is considered by many to be the first modern musical comedy, where drama, dance, and song combine to tell a story. The story is a fantastical tale of a young woman, Amina, who is betrothed against her wishes to an evil count, who in turn imprisons her beloved, a peniless painter named Rudolphe.

Rather than play it entirely straight, this modern production intersperses the Black Crook story with the tale of how the musical came about. After a fire at the Academy of Music on 14th Street, a troupe of dancers from Paris and a theatrical producer were forced to team up to merge their two forms. The original production ran for over 400 performances (then a record) and one song from the production, "You Naughty, Naughty Men," quickly became a standard.

We don't want to give too much away, but the musical is by turns funny and moving, and everyone in the cast -- most playing two or three roles and a musical instrument -- is excellent.

If you go, stop in the lobby for a homebrewed 19th-century beer made from water, yeast, and molasses. It's a bit strange for modern palates, but will definitely help you transport back to the period.

Abrons Arts Center at Henry Street Settlement
through October 7
TICKETS are $25 at

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Postcard Thursday: The Fire of 1776

courtesy of the Colonial Williamsburg Museum

This past week marked the anniversary of the Great Fire of 1776, which broke out sometime after midnight September 20-21.

As we write in Inside the Apple:
The fire started on the evening of September 21, 1776—perhaps in the Fighting Cocks Tavern on the wharf, though that has never been substantiated—and quickly engulfed the city west of Broadway. The churchyard surrounding Trinity Church kept the fire from heading south, but neither Trinity was spared, nor anything between it and St. Paul’s Chapel. St. Paul’s, itself only ten years old, had a bucket brigade manning its roof and was saved. In all, over 400 buildings were gone—nearly twenty-five percent of the city’s structures. 
The British immediately blamed the Americans. (One American blamed by the British was Nathan Hale, who was arrested for spying that same day. Hale, however, had nothing to do with the fire.) General Howe called it a “horrid attempt” by a “number of wretches to burn the town….” As most of the damage happened on “Holy Ground” and other Trinity Church property, some saw it as an explicit attack on the Church of England’s power and influence. In truth, the Americans had contemplated the idea of torching the city if it fell into British hands. One of Washington’s generals, Nathaniel Greene (the “Fighting Quaker”), had pressed Washington in that direction. However, when Washington floated the idea by John Hancock, the Continental Congress immediately nixed it and it is unlikely that either Washington or Greene disobeyed Congress.
The image displayed here, Représentation du feu terrible à Nouvelle Yorck, ca. 1776, is in the collection of the Colonial Williamsburg Museum, and is actually what's called a "cut-out optique view." The print, which was engraved by Francois Xavier Habermann in Germany and is attributed to French artist André Basset, was designed to be displayed in front of a candle.

As the museum's text panel explains, "windows, door, and the flames have been cut out using a knife and decorative punches. The colored paper pasted to the back of the print was thin enough to allow light to pass through the holes. The flicker of the a candle made the blaze come to life for the viewer."

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Our next public walking is Sunday, October 9, at 10:00 a.m. Join us as we explore Central Park and its many representations of Christopher Columbus. Click the link for details:

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Read more about NYC history in

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Postcard Thursday: Upcoming Walking Tour -- Christopher Columbus: Hero or Villain?

On Sunday, October 9, at 10:00 a.m. join us for a walk in and around Central Park as we celebrate Columbus Day and ask the question: Who was Christopher Columbus and Why does he deserve a holiday? As we look at the creation of Columbus Day back in 1892 and the explorer's controversial popularity, we'll talk about the importance of Italian-Americans to the history of New York City as well as looking at how Central Park was created as a social experiment to help the city's immigrants. The tour will last between 90 minutes and 2 hours.

Reserve your place on on before Wednesday, September 28, and the walk is just $20 per person. (Reservations received September 29 and later are $25 each.)

How to book:

Send an email with your name, the number in your party, and a contact cell phone number to

We will get back to you with the starting place within 24 hours.

Hope to see you on October 9!

James & Michelle Nevius

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Postcard Thursday: Henry Hudson's 1609 arrival

As we've noted on this blog before, there is a disagreement among historians about when Henry Hudson arrived in New York Harbor and first spied Manhattan island and the river that would eventually bear his name.

September 13th is the day traditionally held to be New York's anniversary and back in 2009, it was on that date that the city celebrated its 400th birthday, complete with a royal visit from the Prince of Orange (now the King of Netherlands) and Princess Maxima.

In fact, Hudson was already in and around New York days earlier.

For the record, this probably isn't Henry Hudson
We have a detailed description of Hudson's voyage thanks to the journal of his first mate, Robert Juet. Here's Juet's entry for September 13:
The thirteenth, fair weather, the wind northerly. At seven of the clock in the morning, as the flood came we weighed, and turned four miles into the river. The tide being done we anchored. Then there came four canoes aboard: but we suffered none of them to come into our ship. . . .
So, yes it appears that on September 13, the Halve Maen sailed four miles into the river. (A river which would only come to be known as the Hudson many years later; for a great portion of New York's history it was called the North River.)

The day before (Sept. 12), Juet notes:
Very fair and hot....we turned into the river two leagues and anchored.
And here is Juet's entry for September 11:
The eleventh was fair and very hot weather. At one of the clock in the afternoon we weighed and went into the river, the wind at south south-west, little wind. Our soundings were seven, six, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, twelve, thirteen, and fourteen fathoms. Then it shoaled again, and came to five fathoms. Then we anchored, and saw that it was a very good harbor for all winds, and rode all night.

Thus, it would appear that on September 11, Hudson "went into the river" and anchored in the "very good harbor," which means that on September 11, 1609, the Halve Maen was at anchor somewhere in New York harbor. Today, of course, we cannot think of September 11 without turning to more recent New York City events, but there's still no reason not to commemorate Hudson on the day he actually sailed into the harbor.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Postcard Thursday: Labor Day

If you've ever taken our tour of Union Square and environs, you may be familiar with the above picture. It depicts the very first Labor Day parade on September 5, 1882. Though the parade wended its way from City Hall to Union Square and finally up to 42nd Street, it's Union Square that is most associated with the events of that day, perhaps because of this image. (Union Square became so connected to the American labor movement that you will sometimes hear that the "union" the square is named after is a labor union. That's not true: the small square marked the place where Broadway and the Bowery met on the original 1811 grid plan of the city.)

The history of Labor Day in America is muddled. Many -- including the AFLCIO -- claim the holiday was the brainchild of Peter J. McGuire, the founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. Others claim Matthew Maguire of Paterson, New Jersey, was instrumental in getting the holiday adopted. Certainly Maguire led the parade in 1822, sitting beside noted abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher of Brooklyn in the lead carriage.

By 1894, Labor Day was a national holiday, despite the fact that May Day was associated with labor in many parts of the world. Eight years earlier, on May 4, 1886, in Chicago, a rally to support striking workers turned into a riot when someone threw dynamite at the police. Quickly dubbed the "Haymarket Affair," the events became the catalyst for turning May 1 into an International Workers' Day -- a day often marked by protest. To distinguish the new Labor Day holiday from the violence of Haymarket -- and divorce it from any questions of labor unrest -- the Cleveland administration instead picked the early September date of New York's commemoration. Within a few decades, it would come to signal the unofficial end of summer.

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it's the perfect time for a walking tour!

Check out our full menu of options at

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Postcard Thursday: Happy 100th Birthday to New York's National Parks

America's National Park Service is turning 100 years old today. Did you know that there are twenty-two National Parks in the state of New York, with a dozen parks, trails, monuments, memorials, and historic sites in New York City itself? Here are some of our favorites:

courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Hamilton Grange National Memorial

Built in 1802 and home to Alexander Hamilton for the last two years of his life, Hamilton Grange is one of the oldest homes left in Manhattan. With Hamilton-mania sweeping the nation, visitation has increased greatly at the house and there may be a wait for a tour, so schedule accordingly.

While we don't visit the Grange on our walking tour of Hamilton's New York, its makes a great complement to our guided exploration downtown. If you'd like to book a walk that takes your through what Manhattan would have been like during the Revolution and early Federal era, contact us at

courtesy of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum

In 1998, the independently operated Lower East Side Tenement Museum was designated a National Historic Site, four years after having been designated a National Historic Landmark. The best place to learn about the life of 19th-century European immigrants in New York (and, perhaps, in America), the museum also features one of the best New York/history-centric bookshops in the city.

courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
African Burial Ground National Monument

Tucked away at the corner of Elk and Duane streets (near Foley Square), the African Burial Ground actually consists of two parts: an outdoor memorial designed by Rodney Leon, and an indoor museum that is housed in the federal office building that was under construction when the burial ground was first unearthed. The most significant pre-Civil War black burial site in the north, the cemetery saw upward of 10,000 people laid to rest from the 1690s through the middle of the 18th century.

(We write about the African Burial Ground in the Delancey chapter of Footprints in New York.)

courtesy of the National Park Service
Castle Clinton National Monument

For many people, Castle Clinton is just a pit stop to pick up tickets for New York's most famous National Parks, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. But it is worth your time to explore the small museum here and the various displays inside the building's perimeter. One of the oldest structures downtown, the castle variously served as a fortification, a reception hall, a theater, an immigrant landing depot, and an aquarium.

(James's recent attempt to recreate an 1866 walking tour of New York City starts at Castle Clinton -- then known as Castle Garden.)

For a full list of National Parks in New York State visit:

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Postcard Thursday: The 19th Amendment

courtesy of the Library of Congress
On August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, granting women the right to vote across America.

The postcard above dates from ca. 1913, and was just one of many tools used by suffrage activists to convince the general public that women deserved a say in electoral politics. Though women were granted the right to vote in Wyoming as early as 1869, the campaign to open up the polls to all women was a long, hard battle.

A group of men -- and a few women -- gather at a women's suffrage rally at Park Row in Lower Manhattan. (They are clustered around the statue of Benjamin Franklin that still sits in front of Pace University.) Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Of course, on the other side, anti-suffrage activists had long waged a campaign to keep women from the voting booth. In this image from 1880 (below), the illustrator shows caricatures of "women dressing and interacting in society as men; drinking; voting for handsome candidates; driving ugly men from the polls; and a domestic scene showing a man taking care of children."

images courtesy of the Library of Congress

In 1915, the satirical magazine Puck took aim at men who opposed universal suffrage. If voting were opened to women, how many all-male bastions would be left?

The passage of the 19th Amendment was a major milestone, but as Slate recently pointed out, it didn't actual result in universal suffrage: poll taxes, literacy tests, and other barriers made it difficult for many women to exercise their rights.

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