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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.

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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.


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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.

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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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