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Friday, May 29, 2009

TV and Radio Appearances this Weekend

There are a couple of great opportunities to hear more about Inside the Apple this weekend.

On Saturday morning we will be interviewed on WFUV 90.7 FM, Fordham University's public radio station. We'll be appearing on their award-winning New York City program "Cityscape" hosted by George Bodarky. Each week, Bodarky highlights an interesting facet of New York from history to culture to public affairs. We were interviewed in the studio about the book and had a chance to talk about everyone from William "Boss" Tweed to Robert Moses and about some of our favorite places in the city.

The show will air at 7:30AM on Saturday, May 30th. However, if you don't live in New York or don't want to get that early on a Saturday morning, it will also be available as a podcast. For more information, visit

Then on Saturday night and early on Sunday morning, we will be featured on C-SPAN2's "Book TV" program. They are broadcasting the lecture we gave in mid-April at the New-York Historical Society; the talk features some of the stories from the book that specifically relate to the society, to New York's 400th birthday, or to the Upper West Side where the lecture took place. The show is about an hour long and includes a lively Q&A.

The program will be broadcast twice. The first airing is on Saturday, May 30, at 11:00PM Eastern time. Because C-SPAN2 shows things "live," that means it is airing at 10:00PM Central, 9:00PM Mountain, 8:00PM Pacific, 7:00PM Alaska, and 5:00PM Hawaii.

The show repeats at 5:00AM Eastern time on Sunday, May 31. (4:00AM Central; 3:00AM Mountain; 2:00AM Pacific, 1:00AM Alaska, and 11:00PM on May 30 in Hawaii.)

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dashiell Hammett's New York

Today, May 27, marks the birthday of Dashiell Hammett, the author credited with creating "hard-boiled" detective fiction. His most famous novel, The Maltese Falcon, follows Sam Spade, a San Francisco detective and is based on Hammett's own years living in California and working as a Pinkerton Detective.

After the publication of The Maltese Falcon, Hammett met playwright Lillian Hellman and the two began a three-decade affair. Based now in New York, Hammett began work on his final novel, The Thin Man, at the Kenmore Hall Hotel on West 23rd Street. (Hammett was perpetually broke and his friend, author Nathaniel West, was the night clerk at the hotel and managed to let Hammett stay there for free. There is also a story from this time--perhaps apocryphal--of Hammett sneaking out of the Pierre Hotel in drag in order to avoid paying his bill.) 

Published in 1934, The Thin Man provided a wonderful window into Prohibition-era New York and became Hammett's best-selling work. It was adapted into a film starring William Powell and Myrna Loy and though Hammett never wrote another book, the film series lived on through numerous sequels, finally giving Hammett some financial stability. 

Though suffering from tuberculosis after his army service in World War I, Hammett reenlisted after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was eventually sent to the Aleutian Islands as a private, where he edited a camp newspaper. Upon his return to New York, he moved to 28 West 10th Street, where it is said he enjoyed the building's lack of adequate heat because it reminded him of Alaska.

While living on West 10th Street, Hammett became heavily involved in left-leaning political causes, including the Civil Rights Congress, which was later designated a Communist front. Hammett was jailed for 22 weeks in 1951 for refusing to provide the list of names of donors to the Congress's bail fund. During the McCarthy era, the author was also blacklisted for refusing to testify, thus ending what was left of his Hollywood career.

After his release from jail, Hammett lived most of the rest of his life in Katonah, New York. He died at Lenox Hill Hospital on Upper East Side in 1961 and is buried--as a soldier who had fought in both World War I and II--in Arlington National Cemetery.

So, if you are out and about today in Greenwich Village, take a stroll down West 10th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues--one of our favorite blocks in the city--and pay your respects to a great New York writer on his birthday.

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More about Greenwich Village and Prohibition-era New York can be found in our book, Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gothamist interview

Just a quick update to let you know that a nice interview ran in today's Gothamist, the blog devoted to all things New York City. Check it out!

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Charles Lindbergh and the Orteig Prize

Eighty-two years ago today, in the early morning hours of May 20, 1927, aviator Charles Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field in Garden City, Long Island, and headed east. Thirty-three and a half hours later, he touched down at Le Bourget airport in Paris, making Lindbergh the first aviator to successfully fly nonstop from New York to Paris and the winner of the $25,000 Orteig Prize.

The Orteig Prize was sponsored by hotelier Raymond Orteig who owned the Lafayette and Brevoort Hotels in Manhattan. Orteig, hoping to boost Franco-American relations, first offered the prize to complete a transatlantic flight in 1919. When no one had made an attempt in five years, Orteig extended the competition and by 1926 it had begun drawing serious competitors. However, the hazards of aviation meant that by the time Lindbergh began his historic flight, six of his fellow competitors had died.

Lindbergh's flight in the Spirit of St. Louis began on May 20 at 7:52 a.m. with his ground crew pushing the heavy plane down the muddy runway. The plane carried 450 gallons of fuel but Lindbergh had removed as much as possible from the plane, including his sextant--meaning that Lindbergh would have to fly by the stars (if they were visible) or dead reckoning. Lindbergh dodged bad weather across the Atlantic (sometimes flying as low as twelve feet above the waves) and reached Le Bourget at 10:22 p.m. on May 21st where he was mobbed by a crowd of eager well-wishers.

Upon his return (by steamship) to America, Lindbergh was feted in Washington, D.C., before heading to New York. On June 13th, the aviator was honored with a tickertape parade on Lower Broadway. Three days later, he collected the Orteig Prize at a breakfast at the Breevort Hotel with Orville Wright in attendance. (The Breevort Hotel was demolished in 1953 to be replaced by the Brevoort apartments.)

The successful flight spurred tremendous interest in aviation and Lindbergh became America's most visible spokesman for commerical flight.

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Much more about New York in the Roaring Twenties can be found in Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City, available now.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

What's in a Name?: Lincoln Square

Glenn Collins at The New York Times posted an interesting blog entry today about the mystery surrounding the naming of Lincoln Center. The center, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, is named for nearby Lincoln Square. But there seems to be no evidence to explain why this small triangle of land where Broadway and Columbus cross each other at 65th Street* was named in 1906 after President Lincoln. If, indeed, it was named after the Great Emancipator at all.

But we have a theory as to why there's a Lincoln Square. In March 1891, the next triangle of land north--where Amsterdam and Broadway cross at 70th Street--had been named for recently deceased Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman (who'd lived in a townhouse nearby). Soon the Sherman Square Hotel opened and, just a few blocks south, the Tecumseh apartments; Sherman Square quickly became a real draw and the center of the neighborhood.

As the new IRT subway began to bring residents to the Upper West Side in 1904, real estate development reached a fever pitch. It seems plausible that it was developers who pushed the city to rename the area around 65th Street Lincoln Square in an attempt to raise property values. They may have reasoned that if a Sherman Square was good, wouldn't a Lincoln Square be even better?

As Collins points out in his article, details are hard to track down. But we wouldn't be suprised if the answer turns out to be this real-estate one-upmanship.

* Lincoln Square the northern of the two triangles at this intersection; Dante Square is the name of the southern one.

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Much more about the Upper West Side and the city's propensity for renaming things can be found in our book, Inside the Apple.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

William Jenkins Worth and Worth Street

The fall of Mexico City, 1847

Today, May 7, marks the anniversary of the death of General William Jenkins Worth, hero of the Battle of Chapultepec in the Mexican-American War and namesake of Fort Worth, Texas. But while Worth died of cholera in Texas in 1849, his remains ended up in New York, a city in which he never lived while he was alive.

That Worth was well-regarded in his life is unquestioned. A protégé of Winfield (“Old Fuss and Feathers”) Scott, Worth fought in the War of 1812, the Seminole War in Florida, and the Mexican-American War. At the Battle of Chapultepec, Worth’s division took Mexico City’s San Cosme Gate, thus gaining access to the city in what would prove to be a decisive battle in the war. When Mexico City fell to the Americans, it was Worth himself who raised the American flag from the top of the National Palace.

(Though the Mexican-American War is often overlooked these days, it was a major turning point in American history, netting the United States the territories of Arizona, New Mexico, and California. And the Battle of Chapultepec—also known as the “Halls of Montezuma”—is still commemorated in the opening line of the Marine Corps hymn.)

When Worth died in 1849, he was a famous man—but why he didn’t end up buried in Texas or in Hudson, New York (his childhood home) remains a bit of a mystery. Certainly, New York embraced him as a man deserving of all the pomp and circumstance it could muster. He was brought to the city and buried in a temporary tomb in Green-Wood cemetery while a proper monument could be erected at Madison Square. Once the monument was finished, Worth was reburied on November 25, 1857, in an elaborate ceremony after lying in state at City Hall. (November 25 was in those days an important holiday—Evacuation Day—which marked the end of the American Revolution.)

Like an Egyptian pharaoh, Worth had numerous objects entombed with him, and they provide a fascinating insight into the customs of the time. Worth was a Mason and so many Masonic items were included, ranging from The Masonic Manual to a list of the lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge in New York. Other items were particularly New York-centric and provide a time capsule of 1857; they include Valentine’s Manual, the constitution and by-laws of the Metropolitan Social Club, a catalogue of the New York Ophthalmic Hospital, and many documents pertaining to the building of Worth’s tomb. Added for good measure were newspaper stories covering George Washington’s funeral in 1799 and two pennies—perhaps on the general’s eyes—dating from 1787 and 1812.

The Worth Monument, which stands at the junction of Fifth Avenue and Broadway near the Flatiron Building, is one of only two stand-alone military gravesites of its kind in the city. (The other, grander structure is Grant’s Tomb in Riverside Park.)

But the tomb isn’t Worth’s only commemoration in New York. Running through Chinatown and Tribeca is Worth Street, which was named for him in the early 1850s. For many years that thoroughfare had been called Anthony Street and it was known as one of the worst streets in New York. Low-cost brothels clustered in the blocks of Anthony near the intersection of Orange and Cross Street. In 1829, the five-cornered intersection where Anthony, Orange, and Cross met had been dubbed “the Five Points,” and soon that name came to refer to the entire slum that radiated out from that hub.

By the 1850s, with a surge of poor Irish and German immigrants moving into Five Points, the city decided to improve the neighborhood’s fortunes through a little creative street renaming. If Anthony Street was terrible, they would literally wipe it off the map. In its place was Worth Street, named for the great hero of the war, and therefore free of any taint. (Around the same time, Orange Street was renamed Baxter in honor of Colonel Charles Baxter who had commanded the New York Regiment at Chapultepec and was killed. When Cross Street later became Park Street—now called Mosco Street—all three original street names that made up the infamous Five Points intersection were gone.)

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Much more about the Five Points, including a walking tour that takes you along General Worth’s street to all that remains of the original intersection, can be found in our new book, Inside the Apple. Pick up a copy at your local bookstore or order from Amazon or other online merchants.

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