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Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers.

Check out our new book online at www.footprintsinnewyork.com.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Hester Street

Today's postcard is appropriate for the middle of Passover: a street scene on the Lower East Side, showing vendors and shoppers along Hester Street. The architecture of this block (just west of Essex Street) is very similar to what one sees today. The building at the far right still stands, and the large edifice three-quarters of the way down the block is an elementary school that continues to welcome students.

Notice the wood-frame house, third from the right; until 2007, that building (or perhaps a similarly built successor) housed Gertel's, the beloved kosher bakery. After Gertel's moved out, the building was torn down so that high-rise apartments could go up in its place.

Around the corner on Essex is one of the only remaining kosher pickle places in the neighborhood, the Pickle Guys (which you've probably visited if you've taken our Lower East Side walking tour). The gregarious owner, Alan Kaufman, was recently on The Dinner Party Download, a syndicated radio program from American Public Media, to talk about the joys--and hazards--of making gallons of horseradish for the holidays. You can take a listen here

The streets of the Lower East Side aren't this crowded anymore, though if you go on Saturdays to the Hester Street Fair, you can experience the urban, hipster version of what the people in this postcard were doing over a century ago.

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Read more about the Lower East Side in
Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers


And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Win a copy of "Footprints in New York" + Ebook Release

Today is the official release date of our new book, Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers. As many of you know, the paperback edition has already been shipping and on store shelves for over a week.

However, as of today, ebook versions are now also available.

For Kindle click here.

For Kobo click here.

For Google Play click here.

If your preferred ebook format isn't listed above, please search for Footprints in New York on your favorite download site and let us know if it's there!

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We also wanted to let you know that if you'd like to try to win a free paperback copy of Footprints, Goodreads is currently sponsoring a contest and giving away 10 copies of the book.

To enter the contest, go to the Footprints page on Goodreads on or before April 18. There is no cost to enter, but you must be a Goodreads member (which is also free). Good luck!

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And don't forget that we'll be talking about Footprints in New York at the Salon @ Spoke the Hub in Park Slope, Brooklyn, on Friday, April 25, at 7:00 p.m. You can read more details at http://www.footprintsinnewyork.com/events.html.

Hope to see you there or at a walk or talk sometime this spring!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Battle of Lake Erie

Today's postcard takes us back to the Battle of Lake Erie, which was a decisive American victory in the War of 1812. This image shows Commodore Oliver H. Perry transferring his colors from his wounded vessel, the USS Lawrence, to the USS Niagara. After taking command of the Niagara, the British expected the Americans to retreat; instead, Perry pressed the attack, and by 3:00 p.m., the British had surrendered--the first time in history that an entire British naval squadron had surrendered.

The figure seated in the boat tugging on Commodore Perry's coat is his brother, Alexander, who was a midshipman on the Lawrence. A third Perry brother, Matthew, also served on the Lawrence that day. He would go on to become a Commodore himself and "open up" Japan (by use of force) to western trade in the 1850s. Today, by the way, is Matthew Perry's birthday--he was born April 10, 1794.

Though Rhode Islanders by birth, the Perrys had many connections to New York City. One of Oliver Perry's daughters married John LaFarge, the great painter and stained-glass artist, whose work can be seen around the city. One of Matthew Perry's daughters was the wife of August Belmont, the banker and horse-racing enthusiast who gave rise to the Belmont Stakes. Matthew Perry was originally interred in the churchyard of St. Mark's-in-the-Bowery on Second Avenue, but eventually he and brother Oliver (who'd been buried in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad), were both exhumed and moved to the Island Cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island.

Though the postcard above (based on an 1865 painting by William Henry Powell) shows Perry transferring the Stars and Strips to the Niagara, the Commodore's battle ensign was actually emblazoned with the words "Don't Give Up the Ship," the exhortation of his friend James Lawrence, who'd died on June 4, 1813, and for whom the USS Lawrence was named. Lawrence is buried at Trinity Church, Wall Street.

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Read more about New York's role in the War of 1812 in
Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers


And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Footprints in New York is Out!

Great news! Our new book, Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers, is finally out!

In Footprints in New York (Lyons Press), the follow-up to our critically acclaimed history of the city, Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City, we explore the stories of notable citizens of the Big Apple—including Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant, religious dissenter Anne Hutchinson, writers Edgar Allan Poe and Edith Wharton, urban advocate Jane Jacobs, and musical legend Bob Dylan—and use them to guide the reader through four centuries of the city’s history. One part history and one part personal narrative, the book creates a different way of looking at the city’s past. We are really proud of the finished product and we hope that—just like on our walking tours—you’ll discover things about the city in these pages that you never knew. Some of our walking tour clients even make cameo appearances!

If you are in New York City, the book is already on store shelves at Barnes & Noble, the Strand, and other independent stores ahead of its official April 15 release date.

If you don’t live in NYC or want to order online, visit our “Buy the Book” page on our Footprints website, which not only has links to Amazon.com, but also to numerous other online retailers both in the USA and abroad. If you want to support your local bookstore, click the “Indie Bound” logo. There, you can enter your zip code and find the independent bookstore nearest to you that has the book in stock or will order it for you.


If you are going to be in New York on Friday, April 25, join us for our first book talk. It will be held at The Salon @ Spoke the Hub in Park Slope, Brooklyn. We’ll give a short, illustrated lecture, and afterward books will be available for purchase and signing. You can read more about the talk at www.footprintsinnewyork.com/events.html.

We also have upcoming events and walks in Manhattan in the works, so if you want to stay in touch about those, please sign to be on our mailing list or use the "Subscribe via Email" link at the bottom of this post to have these blog entries directly mailed to you when they are published.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Wall Street, 1847

A couple of days ago, we wrote about Frederick Muhlenberg, the first Speaker of House. When Congress first met, 225 years ago, its headquarters was in Federal Hall at the corner of Nassau and Wall streets.

Here's a view of Wall Street (not, technically, a postcard) from 1847, showing how the street had developed in the 70 years following Washington's inauguration. Rising up on Broadway is the familiar tower of Trinity Church, which at the time would have been brand new. The building flying the large American flag is what we today call Federal Hall National Memorial. It was also relatively new, having been opened five years earlier to serve as the United States Custom house. It would later become the U.S. Sub-Treasury before turning into a tourist attraction.

By 1847, Wall Street was the undisputed capital of the city's financial district; the other gleaming marble buildings you see lining the street were banks. However, all was not well in the financial markets: the failure of the harvest in Great Britain sent its economy into a panic, and the ongoing famine in Ireland reached its peak that year, sending over 200,000 Irish immigrants to New York.

What a contrast this serene street scene is from the view one would have had of Orange or Anthony streets in the heart of the Five Points, less than a half-hour walk away. The area around that intersection would soon become one of the most densely populated--and poorest--places in the country.

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Read more about New York in 1840s in
Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers


And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The First Speaker of the House

This year marks the 225th anniversary of the United States Congress, which began meeting in March 1789 at Federal Hall in Lower Manhattan. On April 1, the newly seated House of Representatives elected its very first speaker, Frederick A. Muhlenberg, a noted Lutheran pastor from Pennsylvania, and the son of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the leading Lutheran minister in the United States.

Muhlenberg's ties to the city extended deeper than just his time as Speaker. In 1773, he'd been called to be the pastor of Christ Church, the Lutheran parish located at the corner of Frankfort and William streets. (Pace University now stands here, obliterating William Street.) The church, built in 1767, was known as the "Old Swamp Church," a reminder that the area north and east of City Hall Park was still marshy ground in those days. Eventually, the swamp would be drained along with the Collect Pond, giving rise to the area known as Five Points.

Muhlenberg's tenure at the Old Swamp Church only lasted two years. An ardent patriot, he fled the city in 1776, around the time of the British takeover of the city. He went on to serve in the colonial assembly, be elected to the House from Pennsylvania, and be honored as first speaker.

Muhlenberg also became the House's third speaker (1793-95), and during that time a bill was introduced to have some laws translated into German. The bill was voted down 42-41, and later gave rise to the myth that Muhlenberg cast the decisive vote not to have German be the official language of the United States. However, the bill never had anything to do with an "official language" (which the U.S. has never had) and there's no evidence that Muhlenberg's was the deciding vote.

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Read more about the early Federal period in New York in the Alexander Hamilton chapter of
Footprints in New York

Footprints in New York comes out April 15, 2014, but you can pre-order today from Amazon, and some outlets such as Barnes & Noble are already shipping. Also, it is already on store shelves at the Strand.

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Postcard Thursday: City College's Shepard Hall

This postcard, from about 1910, shows Shepard Hall at City College, and its commanding view of Hamilton Heights.

When City College was founded as the Free Academy of the City of New York in 1847, it was located downtown and soon outgrew its home. As we write in Inside the Apple:
Though enrollment increased dramatically in the years following the Civil War, the city did not approve a move by the college until 1895, when a tract of land in Harlem, along Convent Avenue, was purchased and George B. Post (who would soon begin work on the New York Stock Exchange) was commissioned to create a new campus. 
The resulting structures are the city’s best example of Collegiate Gothic architecture. Though there are entrance gates on all four sides, the tall walls of schist make the college an imposing, protective fortress—a true medieval walled city. Post chose Manhattan schist as his main material not only because of its aesthetic qualities, but because it was the right price: much of the bedrock came from the tunneling for the nearby IRT subway, which also provided a convenient station just a block away from campus. 
The grandest of Post’s five original 1908 campus buildings was the Main Hall (today’s Shepard Hall), a soaring cathedral-like space that was the primary classroom building. Other buildings housed academic offices and the college’s power plant, complete with a tall battlement-studded smokestack. (The smokestack still towers over Compton Hall, but is inoperable.)

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Read more about Hamilton Heights in

Footprints in New York comes out April 15, 2014, but you can pre-order today from AmazonBarnes & Noble, and many more.

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Today in history: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire went up in flames—one of the deadliest industrial fires in American history and a turning point for worker’s safety and unionization in America.

The factory was predominantly staffed with young women who lived in Little Italy and the Lower East Side, and when we are giving walking tours of those neighborhoods, our clients are sometimes surprised to discover that the factory was in Greenwich Village. So much of that neighborhood—including the Asch Building, where the fire occurred—is now dominated by NYU that it is easy to forget that the stretch of the Village on both sides of Broadway was once a vital part of New York’s garment industry.

In Inside the Apple we note:
Long before the fire broke out, the factory was infamous for its poor labor practices. In 1909, New York’s largest job action, known as the “Uprising of the 20,000” began when workers walked off the job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. For months, the majority of the city’s shirtwaist factories were crippled by the strike, but the factory owners refused to budge. Though the International Ladies Garment Workers Union brokered a settlement in 1910 that stopped short of forcing the recognition of their union, the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, refused to agree to it. The factory’s workers went back to work having gained few concessions.

On the day of the fire, a Saturday, only about half of the factory’s 500 employees had come to work. Just as the afternoon shift was ending, a fire broke out on the eighth floor. Typical of garment centers of the day, the factory floor was a virtual tinderbox, with clothes, scraps of cloth, and unswept trimmings everywhere. When the fire started, the majority of the workers on the eighth and tenth floors were able to escape,* but those on the ninth floor had been locked in. This was done, some speculated, to cut down on unauthorized breaks, though it is also likely that it kept union organizers off the factory floor. Soon the elevators stopped working, which meant that the only remaining exit was the fire escape. Tragically, the fire escape had been poorly installed and maintained, and when too many young women began to climb down, it collapsed beneath their weight, sending them plunging to their death. The rest of the women on the ninth floor were then faced with jumping out of windows or waiting to burn to death. Many chose the former, raining down on the assembled crowd from above. The fire department did arrive, but as their ladders reached no higher than the sixth floor, it did little to save the women. In the end, 146 women died, most of them at the scene—some were only thirteen years old.

* Blanck and Harris, the owners, were able to get up to the roof and escape from there.
Though the fire forced the Triangle's owners to abandon the factory, the building still stands at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street. Then known as the Asch Building, it was renovated and reopened the next year. However, a New York Times article from 1913 noted that the building's tenants hadn't learned many lessons from the fire -- "they were, in fact, heaping its floors with scraps of clothing and flimsy material... and permitting smokers to stand near these heaps--(revealing) once more the singular carelessness of humanity."

The building was purchased by NYU in 1929 and renamed the Brown Building; today, it houses university classrooms.

This post in adapted from an earlier entry in 2009, and one marking the centennial of the fire in 2011.

* * * *
Read more about the Lower East Side home of the Triangle workers

Footprints in New York comes out April 15, 2014, but you can pre-order today from AmazonBarnes & Noble, and many more.

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Brooklyn City Hall

Here's a nice shot of Brooklyn Borough Hall—though, as you will notice at the bottom of the postcard it is still labelled "City Hall," even though there was no longer an independent city of Brooklyn when this postcard was issued. (There's no date on the card, but we guess it is from about 1908, a full decade after Brooklyn became a borough.)

As we write in Inside the Apple:
Through the seventeenth century, Brooklyn remained a predominantly rural area—by 1800, the entire county had only 4,495 residents.... However, in the first years of the 19th century, Brooklyn's waterfront began to emerge as a commercial hub to rival Manhattan.
In 1836, many of the waterfront communities of Brooklyn incorporated into a city of their own, in part to regularize and oversee the port. The new city held a design contest for a grand city hall to stand just up the hill from the ferry. However, the contest’s winner, Calvin Pollard, got no further than laying the foundations before Brooklyn had to quit the project due to lack of funds. By 1845 funds had been secured and builder Gamaliel King (who’d been the runner-up in the contest) was brought on to finish the job as long as he could make his building fit into Pollard’s foundations. The resulting City Hall, opened in 1848, is one of the most impressive Greek Revival buildings of its era.
We pick up the story in Footprints in New York:
The desire to unite Brooklyn and Manhattan predated the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge by decades. It was first suggested in the 1820s, and by the time of the Civil War, New York had already seriously considered annexing Brooklyn, if only to bolster its revenues. In 1868, Central Park commissioner Andrew Haswell Green proposed a consolidation of “New York and Kings County [Brooklyn], a part of Westchester County [the Bronx], and a part of Queens and Richmond [Staten Island], including the various suburbs of the city. . . .”
As Green noted in his proposal, the more than 1.5 million people in New York’s environs were “all drawing sustenance from the commerce of New York” while “contributing but little toward the support of its government.” It’s a problem that still vexes the city to this day—thousands of people come into New York to earn money, then retreat to the suburbs to spend that money and contribute to another municipality’s tax base. In the nineteenth century, the primary suburb was Brooklyn, and New York wanted its piece of the pie.
On January 1, 1898, the two cities finally merged, and Brooklyn's City Hall was demoted to being Borough Hall. The fancy Beaxu-Arts cupola was added that same year, perhaps as a consolation prize.

In the foreground of the postcard, notice the statue of Henry Ward Beecher. During the creation of Cadman Plaza, Beecher's statue was moved to the other end of the plaza, and now faces Borough Hall.

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Read more about Brooklyn and five borough consolidation in

Footprints in New York comes out April 15, 2014, but you can pre-order today from AmazonBarnes & Noble, and many more.

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bob Dylan's Recording Debut

Fifty-two years ago today, the young Bob Dylan--who'd taken the Greenwich Village folk scene by storm a year earlier--released his debut on Columbia Records.

As we write in our new book, Footprints in New York, Dylan
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?’”
From that cold January morning, it was a rapid trajectory to Dylan's first album, simply titled Bob Dylan. The album features thirteen tracks, most of them traditional folk and blues numbers except the sardonic autobiography of “Talkin’ New York,” and “Song to Woody,” an elegy to his hero. The tune to “Song to Woody” is borrowed from Guthrie’s “1913 Massacre,” and the words were written one afternoon at the Mills Bar on Bleecker Street, a local hangout.

One original Dylan composition that didn't make it onto the album (or any album until 1991's Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3) was "Hard Times in New York Town." Written very much in the same vein as "Talkin' New York," the songs encapsulates the joys--and troubles--of Dylan's first year.


This version of the song, performed on Cynthia Gooding's radio show Folksinger's Choice, is the best version we've heard. (We particularly like the reference to Peter Minuit--who we talk about a lot in the first chapter of Footprints in New York.)

As a bonus, here's Dylan's "Song to Woody," with some video at the beginning of Guthrie himself performing.


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Dylan's New York is the subject of an entire chapter in

Footprints in New York comes out April 15, 2014, but you can pre-order today from AmazonBarnes & Noble, and many more.

And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

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