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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Why Does a Ball Drop in Times Square on New Year's Eve?

Greetings faithful blog readers!

We hope that where ever you are you are ramping up to celebrate (or if you are in Asia, have already celebrated) a wonderful end to 2009 and start to 2010.

One of the most frequently asked questions we get when we are leading tours in Midtown is: "Why does a ball drop in Times Square on New Year's Eve?" So, in honor of that imminent event, we thought we'd re-run last year's New Year's Eve blog post (below, brought slightly up to date), which answers the question.

Enjoy your holiday, stay safe, and we'll blog again in 2010!

Michelle & James Nevius

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Tonight, an estimated billion people around the world will watch the illuminated ball drop in Times Square to ring in the new year. This New Year’s tradition dates back 102 years—the dropping ball replaced an earlier fireworks display—but the notion of dropping a ball as a way of keeping time is an older tradition.

In 1877, a ball was added to the top of the Western Union Building on Lower Broadway. Each day at noon, a telegraph signal from Western Union’s main office in Washington, DC, would trip a switch in New York and the ball would descend from the flagpole. Visible throughout the Financial District—and, more importantly, from all the ships in the harbor—it allowed people to reset their watches and ship chronometers. For the first time, New York ran on a standard time.

As the New York Times noted in 1877, this idea of a ball dropping to keep the time wasn’t new. For many years prior to the Civil War, the New York custom house had signaled the time with a ball drop and in the 1870s it was common to find time balls in major European ports. However, when it began operation in April 1877, the Western Union ball was the only one in a North American port and quickly became a fixture of the Manhattan skyline.

(Western Union, afraid that it wasn’t always going to work, set up a system whereby a red flag would be flown from 12:01 to 12:10 p.m. on days that the ball refused to drop. Further, information would be sent to the press each day informing them whether the ball actually dropped at noon or had fallen at the wrong time!)

In 1907, the New York Times—then owners of the skyscraper from which the ball drops on New Year’s Eve—adopted the time ball as their symbol for ushering in the new year. That original Times Square ball, made of iron and wood and lit by 25 incandescent lights, weighed 700 pounds!

In 1911, the original Western Union Building was demolished by the company’s new owners, AT&T, so they could erect a larger structure. (That impressive marble building, known as 195 Broadway, still stands.) Plans called for a new time ball, but by the time the new AT&T headquarters was finished, the ball had been replaced by a giant, gilded statue by Evelyn Beatrice Longman called The Genius of Electricity. (The statue remained on the building until 1980, when it was removed, restored, and installed in lobby of the AT&T headquarters in Midtown. It now resides in Dallas, Texas.)

For the past year, the Times Square ball has not only been lit by energy-efficient LED diodes, for the first time it stayed atop the old Times Building year round so that everyone who visited New York in 2009 could see the actual ball that drops on New Year’s Eve. Presumably it will stay atop its pole again in 2010.

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Read more about the history of Times Square in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa Flashback: F.A.O. Schwarz 1947

If you've seen Bad Santa or read David Sedaris, you've probably thought twice about sitting down on Santa's lap to ask for presents. Well, F.A.O. Schwarz was way ahead of you. Digging through the LIFE archive on Google images, we came across these photos of little kids phoning Santa in 1947. After some more research, we found the December 1947 issue of LIFE, which showcased F.A.O. Schwarz's innovative way of getting around having a department-store Santa.

The article began: "This little girl is talking to Santa Claus and so may any other girl or boy who telephones MUrray Hill 8-2xxx in New York between now and Christmas. This number connects with F.A.O. Schwarz's famous toy store, where a 29-year-old Santa, a Mrs. Claus and two assistant Santas for after-hour calls have been assigned by the store to discuss important aspects of Christmas with the younger generation."

Santa and Mrs. Claus dressed in character to answer calls.

"Dressed-up, department-store Santas have always been anathema to Schwarz's. Even the best actor, they felt, would disappoint children's expectation. But at the insistence of customers, Schwarz's unbent to the extent of an audible Santa this year."

This kid has to call from a pay phone.

The article goes on to mention that in previous years, F.A.O. Schwarz's president, Philip Kirkham, would play Santa for "special customers' children" by shouting up the dumbwaiter. It also notes that the store's staff thought he was "a little daft."

Today, of course, Santa is all high-tech. You can visit the North Pole via webcam, track his progress on NORAD, or download this app that will phone your children and have Santa admonish them for being bad (or something like that).

No matter what you celebrate, we hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday season!

Michelle & James Nevius

* * *

Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Charging Bull turns 20

If you worked on Wall Street twenty years ago, you would have showed up to work the morning of December 16th to find a surprise: Arturo DiModica's massive Charging Bull statue nestled underneath the Stock Exchange's massive Christmas tree.

As we write in Inside the Apple:

The 7,000-pound statue was finished in late 1989. Having scoped out Wall Street to discover when the night guards at the New York Stock Exchange would be scarce, DiModica pulled onto the street in a flatbed truck on the evening of December 15, 1989, lowered the bull into place, and took off, leaving behind a sheaf of flyers telling people about his gift. To DiModica’s surprise, a Christmas tree had been put up in front of the Exchange since he’d done his reconnaissance, and so he was able to tuck the bull underneath the tree as a Christmas present. The flyer announced that the work attested “to the vitality, energy and life of the American people in adversity” and that it was “offered honorably”—and free—”in acknowledgment of American dynamics.” *

The statue lasted a day in front of the exchange before Dick Grasso had it hauled away--presumably to be melted down for scrap. It was rescued by Parks Commissioner Henry Stern who unveiled it in its new "temporary" home in Bowling Green Park on December 21st, where it has remained ever since.

It seems that for its first few years in Bowling Green, the statue was paid little notice--it appears rarely in the press or guidebooks from the early 1990s. Today it is one of the most visited--and photographed--spots in Lower Manhattan. Just don't try publishing those photos without DiModica's permission: it may be in a city park, but DiModica owns the statue and the copyright on its image. Just ask the folks at Random House.

* Thanks to Inside the Apple friend Matthew Henry
for sharing DiModica's flyer with us.

* * *

Read more about Charging Bull in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

>>> It makes a great Holiday Present! <<<

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy Birthday, Fiorello!

courtesy of the LIFE magazine archive at Google.

Today, December 11, marks the 127th birthday of Fiorello La Guardia, who some argue was New York City's greatest mayor.*

The future mayor was born Fiorello Raffaele Enrico La Guardia on December 11, 1882, at 7 Varick Place.** His father, Achille, was a Protestant musician from Southern Italy and his mother, Irene, hailed from a Jewish family in Trieste. La Guardia was raised as an Episcopalian -- did he attend the Italian-Episcopal Church of San Salvatore on Broome Street as a child? We'll have to research this and find out.

When La Guardia was three years old, his father took the position of bandmaster for the Eleventh Infantry Regiment and the family moved to Fort Sully, South Dakota. At age 18, La Guardia entered the foreign service and returned to New York in 1907 to study law at New York University. A gifted linguist (he knew at least eight languages), La Guardia worked as a translator at Ellis Island before entering politics, first as a Deputy Attorney General for the State of New York, then as a U.S. Congressman. He first ran for mayor in 1929, but was defeated by the incumbent, "Gentleman" Jimmy Walker. By 1933, Walker had resigned in disgrace and La Guardia won easily, serving as the city's mayor until 1945.

La Guardia died in 1947 at his home in the Bronx. That same year, the New York Municipal Airport that La Guardia had championed -- and which was already known to many as LaGuardia field -- was officially renamed LaGuardia Airport. In 1959, La Guardia became to only former mayor to get his own Broadway musical, Fiorello!, which starred Tom Bosley of Happy Days fame as the mayor. The show went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama, a rare feat for a musical.

In 1967, then-council member Edward I. Koch introduced a bill to rename a section of West Broadway near the former mayor's Sullivan Street birthplace and on September 25th of that year, Mayor Lindsay created La Guardia Place. If you are in the Village today, go pay a visit to the statue of La Guardia by Neil Estern that was erected there in 1994 and wish him a happy birthday!

* Readers of Inside the Apple will note that our vote goes to DeWitt Clinton -- you can read more about him in the book and we'll blog about him in the future.

** Varick Place was the name for a stretch of Sullivan Street south of Washington Square Park. When the entire street was renamed Sullivan in the 1916, the La Guardia family's residence was renumbered 177 Sullivan; the building collapsed in 1987 during a renovation.

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Read more about Fiorello La Guardia, Jimmy Walker,
and New York during the Depression and World War II in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Boss Tweed Escapes!

Today, December 4, marks the anniversary of William M. "Boss" Tweed's escape in 1875 from the Ludlow Street Jail on the Lower East Side. (The jail stood on the site now occupied by Seward Park High School.)

To recap the story up to this point: in 1871 Tweed had been arrested for embezzling from New York City; he was accused of lining his pockets with everything from the rental of the city's armories to fake carpenter's contracts at the New York County Courthouse on Chambers Street. As we point out in Inisde the Apple, the projected final costs of the courthouse--now known universally as the Tweed Courthouse--made it twice as expensive as William Seward's purchase of Alaska.

Tweed was successfully prosecuted by Samuel J. Tilden, who would go on to be New York's governor and the 1876 Democratic nominee for the presidency. Tweed was convicted of multiple misdemeanor counts and sentenced to twelve years in prison. However, in doing so, the sentencing judge had violated New York State law, which stipulates a maximum one-year incarceration for misdemeanors. Tweed was freed in 1875, but Tilden, now governor, immediately had him re-arrested. The state had civil charges pending against Tweed and didn't want him to flee the jurisdiction.

Tweed was transferred to the Ludlow Street Jail, but on most days his sympathetic jailers allowed him out to enjoy carriage rides in Central Park or visit with his family. On December 4, after a long day out, Tweed asked to visit his wife, who he claimed was ill. Soon after arriving at his home on Madison Avenue, Tweed excused himself to go upstairs. A few minutes later Tweed's two minders asked someone to fetch the Boss as it was getting late and they needed to get back to Ludlow Street. Moments later, Tweed's son Richard came down the stairs and announced: "Father's gone."

The embarrassed sheriff, William C. Conner, immediately issued a $10,000 reward for Tweed's return. However, the police had few leads and though the newspapers filled their pages over the next few days with speculation as to his whereabouts and erroneous Tweed sightings, it soon seemed that Tweed was gone for good.

He wasn't, of course, but that's a story for another day....

* * *

Read more about Boss Tweed in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Inside the Apple -- A Great Gift

This week, the holidays are upon us: Evacuation Day [see Wednesday's post], Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s – no matter what you celebrate, ’tis the season for merriment… and gift giving!

You love New York—why not share that love this year with copies of Inside the Apple? With 182 insightful chapters and 14 self-guided walking tours of the city, it is a unique way for your friends and family to learn more about the Big Apple.

But don’t just take our word for it:

The New York Times
“A smart and entertaining window on the city of the past.”

The New York Post
“Tour de force…. While the highlights of any history of New York City are all there (e.g. Ellis Island, Boss Tweed, Central Park, the murder of Stanford White) the stories seem fresher here, thanks to tour guides Michelle and James Nevius' knack for lesser-known facts and anecdotes and their deep appreciation of historical context.”

Publishers Weekly
“Considering New York's dense history, these tours offer something for everyone…. Not even natives know this much.”

Outlook Traveller Magazine
“Buzzing as New York City is, there must be several ways to write guidebooks about it that’ll hold readers in thrall. This one — with its explosive retro cover design that seems to leap off the page — is devoted to the city’s chequered history and attends to the matter streetwise…. Anecdotal and thorough, this lovely guidebook to New York City is quite as much for the newcomer as it is for the native dweller.”

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The book is available at bookstores across the country (and around the world), large and small. Consider supporting one of great New York City independents. Inside the Apple is available from many local NYC stores, including Shakespeare and Company, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum Shop, and Idlewild Books. Visit them in person or order online!

If you prefer an online merchant, the best prices can often be found at Or follow these links to Borders or Barnes & Noble and you can order online or check your local store for availability.

If you’d like to see if an independent bookstore in your neighborhood carries Inside the Apple, visit, where you can find your closest store or order online.

* * *

Visit our home page to read more about
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

We hope everyone is having a wonderful Thanksgiving. We were just watching the annual Macy's parade and thought we'd share a few interesting tidbits from last year's blog entry. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Evacuation Day! (2009)

Happy Evacuation Day!

226 years ago, George Washington returned to New York City to officially end the Revolutionary War; for many years, the date of his return, November 25, 1783, was celebrated as Evacuation Day. Read more about it in our blog post from last year.

(And since we're taking the day off, Happy Thanksgiving, too!)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Billy the Kid -- Outlaw from the Lower East Side

Today -- November 23rd -- either is (or isn't) the 150th birthday of Wild West outlaw Billy the Kid who either was (or wasn't) born on the Lower East Side at 70 Allen Street.

Very little is known about Billy the Kid's early life -- even his birth name remains a mystery. During his short life he went by many aliases, most notably William H. Bonney, but it seems likely he was born William Henry McCarty. His mother, Catherine McCarty, probably immigrated to New York during the Irish Potato Famine; during the worst year of the famine, 1847 -- "Black '47" -- over 200,000 Irish arrived in New York City.

Many authors cite 70 Allen as Billy the Kid's birthplace, but scant evidence ties him directly to the Lower East Side. In 1848, Doggett's New-York City Directory lists 70 Allen as the place of business of a cloth dyer named Thomas Smith, who lived next door at 70-1/2 Allen. An 1860 directory also lists a dyer at that address. Could No. 70 have housed residents? Anything would have been possible in the burgeoning Irish neighborhood.

By the 1870s, 70 Allen was part of E. Ridley & Sons, the noted department store. (We covered the bizarre murder of Edward Ridley earlier this year.) The building no longer stands; it was destroyed during the widening of Allen Street in 1931-32.

The date of Billy the Kid's birth is even hazier. November 23, 1859, first appears in the The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid, a book written by sheriff Pat Garrett, Billy's eventual killer. However, Garrett's co-author, Ash Upton, was also born on November 23. Coincidence? Or did Upton, not knowing Billy's actual birthday, simply substitute his own? Unless some new evidence turns up, it seems like we'll never know.

How long did the family continue to live in New York? Another mystery. By 1870, Catharine McCarty and her sons are in Kansas. In 1877, Billy moved to Lincoln County, New Mexico, where he would live out the rest of his short life. He was killed on July 14, 1881; Garrett's book came out the next year and soon Billy was a folk legend and a powerful symbol of the Wild West.

The Billy the Kid story has been told countless times, perhaps never more powerfully as in Sam Peckinpah's 1973 film, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid:

Billy the Kid's story is a good reminder that while New York was the largest port of entry for immigrants in the 19th century, many of those families only made the city their home for a short time before heading west.

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Read more about Irish New Yorkers in the 19th century in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

Saturday, November 21, marks the 45th anniversary of the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which was at the time the longest suspension bridge in the world.

The bridge was the brainchild of Robert Moses, who had more influence on New York City that perhaps any other individual in its history. The bridge, connecting Staten Island to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, was the last major arterial road in Moses's grand plan to connect all of New York by automobile. (Among Moses's many other projects included the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, Robert F. Kennedy (nee Triborough) Bridge, and the Cross-Bronx Expressway.) The bridge was the last project designed by engineer Othmar Ammann, who had started his career in New York working with famed Beaux-Arts architect Cass Gilbert on the George Washington Bridge in 1927.

Though the bridge promised to slice commuting time to Manhattan in half, it was not without controversy. Many residents in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, were displaced for the bridge's massive footing. And on Staten Island, residents worried that such easy access to their island would encourage a building boom and ruin its rural charm. As former resident Tom Goff told the New York Times on opening day: "It was all woods. I picked my first potato on Staten Island."

There was also controversy surrounding the name. The Italian Historical Society of America suggested the Verrazano Bridge to honor Giovanni da Verrazzano, the Italian explorer who first sighted Staten Island in 1524. (Somewhere along the way the second z in Verrazzano's name got dropped from common usage.) Governor Nelson Rockefeller agreed and on Verrazano Day in April 1959, he publicly backed the name for the as-yet-to-be-constructed span.

Immediately, there was backlash. The Staten Island Chamber of Commerce fired off a letter to Governor Rockefeller questioning the wisdom of honoring "a foreigner who made a navigational mistake." They suggested calling it the Staten Island Bridge instead in order to allow their island to get a little bit of the limelight. Though the controversy raged for some time, Robert Moses quietly stepped in and named the bridge the Verrazano-Narrows, thus honoring both the Italian explorer and the body of water it spans. The name of the bridge today is so well-known that many don't realize that the body of water that flows underneath it is simply called the Narrows--the Verrazano part applies only to the bridge itself.

When the bridge opened it cost $0.50 to cross; combined with the $0.35 toll on Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel meant that for $0.85, one could drive from Staten Island to Manhattan. Adjusting for inflation, that same trip should cost $5.85 today. Instead, at full fare it costs $16.50 (for cash users) or $13.71 (EZ-Pass). Staten Island residents get a further break on the bridge tolls and car poolers get an even bigger discount, but even so the cheapest that drive can cost in 2009 is $7.13.

There has been some talk recently of adding pedestrian and/or bike paths to the bridge, but until that happens the only way to access the bridge on foot is as part of the annual New York City Marathon.


* * *

Read more about Robert Moses and his effect on New York in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Manhattan Company vs. the Chrysler Building

The Bank of the Manhattan Company by CR on flickr.

A couple of weeks ago, there were a number of commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the Great Crash of 1929 which led to the Great Depression. As the stock market was plummeting, however, buildings in the Financial District were still soaring to new heights, including the Bank of the Manhattan Company at 40 Wall Street, which was racing against the Chrysler Building on 42nd Street to be the tallest building in the world.

Eighty years ago today--on November 12, 1929--the Manhattan Company finally topped out at 925 feet. As far as anyone knew at the time, that meant it was the tallest building in the world. (The New York World, reporting the day's events, noted that it had bested the rival Chrysler Building which only stood at 808 feet.)

But the news of the Manhattan Company topping out was overshadowed by a construction accident an hour before the ceremony. In front of a large crowd of spectators, a half-ton block of limestone that was being hauled up the building broke free from its harness at the 35th floor. The huge stone tore through the 8th-floor setback and through three more stories of steel and concrete before stopping at the fifth floor. Debris rained down onto Wall Street; one piece struck Helen Pratt, who was waiting in a car parked across the street. She was only slightly injured and insisted on being taken home and not to the hospital. One of the building's construction workers, James Bellis, was injured by a piece of falling scaffolding and taken to the hospital but was ultimately fine.

The accident so overshadowed the reason people were there -- to see the building's last piece of structural steel hoisted into place -- that the New York Times didn't even bother reporting on the building's completion. Indeed, those news outlets that did proclaim 40 Wall Street to be the "world's tallest tower" were in for a rude shock. Just four days later, it was revealed that the Chrysler Building was not 808 feet tall as previously reported, but that its spire--hoisted into place on October 23--was its crowning architectural element, bringing its full height to 1,046 feet. That not only made the Chrysler Building significantly taller than the Manhattan Company, it also made it taller than the Eiffel Tower and thus the tallest structure in the world.

After the Bank of the Manhattan Company merged with Chase in 1955 to become Chase Manhattan, the skyscraper at 40 Wall went through a succession of owners, including at one time Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Donald Trump purchased the dilapidated tower in 1995 for $1 million and emblazoned his name in large, shiny letters across the front, thus causing all sorts of tourists to think it is Trump Tower and might be full of wanna-be apprentices. Trump has tried to sell the building at least once but has yet to find suitable buyers.

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Read more about this skyscraper race, the Great Crash of 1929, and New York during the Depression in Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

The History of Yankee Ticker Tape Parades

photo of the 1996 ticker tape parade for the Yankees by Ruby Washington / New York Times

Anyone who’s read our book or this blog knows we have a thing for ticker tape parades. So, of course we are excited for tomorrow’s parade honoring the New York Yankees 27th world championship. It will be a record-setting ninth parade for the Bronx Bombers. However, while many people associate ticker tape parades with winning sports franchises, honoring the local teams is a relatively modern development; the Yankees didn’t get their first parade until 1961.

The first ticker tape parade was held in 1886 in honor of the opening of the Statue of Liberty, but the parades did not become a regular occurrence until the beginning of the 20th century. The first sports-related parade was August 6, 1924, honoring the U.S. Olympic team (featuring three-time gold medal winner Johnny Weismuller) returning from the Paris games. Two years later, golfer Bobby Jones got a parade (the first of two) as did the first woman (Gertrude Ederle) and the first mother (Amelia Gade Corson) to swim the English Channel.

Baseball did not get its first parade until Connie Mack was honored in 1949 for his remarkable 50-year career as the manager of the Philadelphia A’s.* When the Giants won the National League Pennant in 1954, they were the first local team to be given a parade; but why the Dodgers or Yankees did not get one the next year (or the year after that) when they faced off in the World Series remains a mystery. Indeed, the Yankees were in the World Series every year from 1955 to 1958 with no recognition. In 1960, the Yankees won the pennant -- but lost the series to the Pirates, but at the beginning of the next season they were honored with a parade up Broadway. (Perhaps the only time a team has been thrown a parade for not winning the World Series.) That parade was perhaps as good omen, as the 1961 season featured the Roger Maris-Mickey Mantle home run contest and a victorious trip to the World Series. The team was honored again at the start of the 1962 season for having won the World Series. (There is some question as to whether this was a true parade; the Yankees were certainly honored at City Hall. Did they also ride up Broadway in a motorcade as they'd done the year before? We're still searching....)

The Yankees weren’t honored again until 1977, when they won the first of two back-to-back World Series. Parades were held in 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000 to celebrate those victories – and now, of course, we’ll add one more tomorrow.

If you go to the parade, which begins at 11:00 a.m. check out the plaques embedded in the sidewalk. They list everyone who has ever been honored with a parade and stretch from Bowling Green Park to the foot of City Hall Park.

* Correction: An astute reader points out 1949 would have been Mack's 49th anniversary as the A's manager. The official sidewalk plaque states that the parade was to honor Mack's 50th anniversary, but looking back now at the press coverage, that was not the intent at the time. In truth, the parade honored Mack's lifetime contributions to baseball (he'd been a player and manager for 65 years). The next day, August 20, 1949, was "Connie Mack Day" at Yankee Stadium and Mack was honored again at the stadium.

* * *

Read more about ticker tape parades in Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

William Jay Gaynor: The Assassinated Mayor

As we wait for the results of today's mayoral election (or Mike Bloomberg's next tweet), we thought we'd take a look back at what was happening in New York a hundred years ago today, when William Jay Gaynor was elected mayor.

Gaynor, a native of the village of Oriskany in Oneida County, was best known as a jurist, having been appointed to State's Supreme Court in 1893 and the Appellate Division in 1905. Tammany Hall Democrats, disappointed by their two-term standard bearer, George B. "Max" McClellan, picked Gaynor to run in 1909. Gaynor handily defeated the Republic/Fusion candidate, Otto T. Bannard, in part because Republican votes were siphoned off by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst who ran as an independent.

Instead of appointing Tammany Hall cronies to fill vacancies at City Hall, however, Gaynor instituted broad-reaching civil service reforms and was a champion of extending the new IRT subway. But what Gaynor is best remembered for is the attempt on his life on August 9, 1910.

Gaynor was posing for photographs aboard the SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, the steamship that was about to leave Hoboken to take the mayor on his summer vacation to Europe. As he stood on deck, he was approached by J.J. Gallagher, a former municipal dock worker who had been fired about a month earlier. Gallagher shot the mayor at close range--just as New York World photographer William Warnecke snapped a picture (above)--and was immediately subdued. When asked why he'd done it, Gallagher said simply: "He took away my bread and meat. I had to do it."

Though the bullet lodged in Mayor Gaynor's throat, he made a relatively speedy recovery. (Gallagher, meanwhile, was tried, found insane, and sent to an asylum in Trenton, New Jersey.)

In 1913, Gaynor received the backing of a reform coalition to run for a second term as mayor. (Tammany Hall wanted nothing more to do with him.) On September 3, he left for Europe on the SS Baltic and six days later, he died in a deck chair of a heart attack; it is unclear whether or not Gallagher's assassination attempt had weakened the mayor and contributed to his death. Gallagher was never tried with murder--he had died at the Trenton asylum a few months earlier.

Very few New York City mayors are honored in our parks, but if you happen to be in Brooklyn Heights, head to Cadman Plaza where you'll find the handsome Gaynor Memorial by Adolph Weinman. (Weinman is best known in New York for his statue Civic Fame which stands atop the Municipal Building on Centre Street.)

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Read more about New York's famous (and not-so-famous) mayors in Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Washington Square Tombstone Unearthed -- Part 2

photo courtesy of the New York City Parks Department.

Following up on our post yesterday, the Parks Department has revealed the tombstone that was recently uncovered in Washington Square Park. It reads:

"Here lies the body of James Jackson, who departed this life the 22nd day of September 1799 aged 28 years native of the county of Kildare Ireland."

You can read more about the discovery in Gothamist and the New York Times.

(And, of course, you can read more about Washington Square Park its role as a city cemetery in Inside the Apple.)

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Washington Square Tombstone Unearthed

image courtesy of the LIFE Magazine archive on Google.

As has been reported in Gothamist, Curbed, and elsewhere, the WSP blog broke the news yesterday that a tombstone has been unearthed during the ongoing renovations of Washington Square Park.

It is well-known that the park was once a potter's field and by some estimates up to 20,000 people were buried there. (We write about the park's early history in depth in Inside the Apple.) However, what has people scratching their heads is the fact that you don't normally find a tombstone in a potter's field.

The tombstone isn't so mysterious, however. Only a portion of today's park was the potter's field. As Luther Harris writes in his wonderful book, Around Washington Square:

The land area [of the original square]...was about 6-1/4 acres, a respectable public space, but not a grand one. Much narrower than today's square, the potter's field was limited on the east by a strip of church cemeteries, and on the west by Minetta Creek, which ran southwest from the foot of Fifth Avenue to the corner of MacDougal and West Fourth Street. (italics added)
Thus, it seems likely considering where the current excavations are happening that what's been unearthed is a tombstone from one of these church graveyards. The Scotch Presbyterian Church owned the largest cemetery and vehemently opposed the park's usurpation of their land. Perhaps this is one of their brethren? We await a full report.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

New York City "Bucket List"

We've mentioned in the past that we've written and narrated a few tours for our friends over at CityListen Audio Tours, which produces wonderful (if we do say so ourselves) walks of New York, Paris, Chicago, and San Francisco.

We are guest blogging for CityListen today; they asked us to come up with a "Bucket List" of places in New York that everyone should see before they die. That list, of course, could have hundreds of entries, but we limited ourselves to ten. What would be on your list? Head on over to the blog and let us know!

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Continue to Celebrate New York’s 400th at the New York Public Library, South Street Seaport, and the Bard Graduate Center

In the last week, we were able to visit three exhibitions currently on view that are tied to the ongoing celebrations of Henry Hudson’s arrival in New York in 1609: New Amsterdam: Island at the Center of the World at the South Street Seaport Museum; Mapping New York’s Shoreline, 1609-1909 at the New York Public Library; and Dutch New York Between East and West: The World of Margrieta van Varick at the Bard Graduate Center. Each show has something to recommend it and together they make a great way to explore the importance of Dutch New Amsterdam and the influence of the Dutch on future generations.

Mapping New York’s Shoreline, 1609-1909
This exhibition has the broadest mission of the three. However, it lacks focus, presenting everything from early views of New Amsterdam to aerial maps of Hoboken, New Jersey. And while the exhibit bills itself as four hundred years of maps, the Dutch period is only slightly represented (and in maps and images that are better seen at the South Street Seaport show; see below).

On the other hand, the show’s overly broad scope is also its strong point: the (late) Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal of Jordan Map Division is one America’s finest cartographic collections and with such a rich variety of New York maps to choose from, the curators do a good job of illustrating the growth and change of the island over the last four centuries. Particularly interesting is the section on Henry Rutgers’s farm, which occupied what is now the Lower East Side south of Division Street, and the maps that depict how the area was turned into the wealthy suburban enclave in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. (The Lower East Side was gentrified even then!)

New Amsterdam: The Island at the Center of the World
The New Amsterdam exhibition at the South Street Seaport Museum also features a number of maps, many of them borrowed from the Dutch National Archives, and they are stunning. The best piece in the show is the Castello Plan, the 1660 map of New Amsterdam drawn by surveyor Jacques Cortelyou, which was the first accurate depiction of the city. Many of the images in the collection are by cartographer Johannes Vingboons. Though Vingboons never left the Netherlands, he worked from charts, maps, and other sketches to create incredible watercolor views of Dutch territories from New Amsterdam to Indonesia.

What has been touted most about this show is the inclusion of “Manhattan’s birth certificate” – a letter from Pieter Schagen that mentions the 60 guilder deal struck by Peter Minuit in 1626 to purchase the island of the Manhattan. As we mention in Inside the Apple, there was once an actual deed for this transaction, but it was thrown away or auctioned off over 200 years ago. So what we have today isn’t the original birth certificate, but more of a birth announcement. (Alert the birthers!)

The exhibition is well worth savoring, but don’t expect it to be easy to follow. The rooms are poorly arranged the explanatory text panels are sometimes confusing (or just plain wrong). But that shouldn't stop you from visiting this wonderful show.

Dutch New York Between East and West: The World of Margrieta van Varick
To round out your exploration of Dutch America, head up to the Bard Graduate Center to get a peek into the sort of life a wealthy New Amsterdammer would have lived.

The show revolves around the inventory of Margrieta van Varick (of the Varick Street van Varicks), which enumerates Margrieta’s extensive holdings when she died in Flatbush in 1695. Having lived in the Netherlands, Dutch-controlled Malaysia, and Brooklyn, Margrieta had acquired a tremendous array of objects. On top of that, she owned a textile shop and would have had goods in the inventory that were her stock in trade. Finding the actual objects listed was impossible; instead, the curators found contemporary examples of the types of things she owned, from a Japanese silk robe to incredible detailed silver children’s toys. If you are interested in New York’s early history or just simply like looking at wonderful decorative art, this show is a must-see.

Mapping New York’s Shoreline, 1609-1909. On view at the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (that’s the main branch) at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Through June 26, 2010.

New Amsterdam: The Island at the Center of the World. On view at the South Street Seaport Museum at 12 Fulton Street. Through January 3, 2010.
Dutch New York Between East and West: The World of Margrieta van Varick. On view at the Bard Graduate Center, 18 West 86th Street. Through January 3, 2010.

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