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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.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Blizzard of 1888

We hope that everyone is enjoying their blizzard safely and warmly! Twenty inches of snow were reported in Central Park--which is half of what came down in the famous blizzard of 1888.

Here's our recap of that famous 19th-century blizzard:


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Thursday, December 23, 2010

World Trade Center Tops Out (and messes with everyone's TV)

Forty years ago today, at 11:30 a.m. on December 23, 1970, the north tower of the original World Trade Center "topped out" when its highest piece of structural steel was hauled into place. At 1,370 feet, this made the World Trade Center the world's tallest building -- a title it would hold until the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) in Chicago topped out until May 1973.

map courtesy of New York magazine.
As the Twin Towers reached their final height, people in the Bronx and Westchester began to notice a problem: their television signals were becoming blurred or full of static. Late in the design phase of the World Trade Center, engineers had realized that VHF television signals beamed from the top of the Empire State Building would hit the Twin Towers and bounce back 35 millionths of second later; this may not seem like much, but it was enough of a delay that people in the path of the second signal -- see map, left -- ended up with interference. The problem was going to last until new television antennas could be affixed to the top of the World Trade Center; in the meantime, broadcasters came up with a stop-gap measure of broadcasting on a separate UHF frequency. The only problem? Many televisions in 1970 didn't have UHF built in, and a converter cost $25.

In September 1970, New York magazine ran a long story entitled "Is the World Trade Center Worth All the Problems It's Causing New York," detailing the television broadcasting woes, along with other complaints that were commonly leveled against the complex: it's too big; the Port Authority is wasting money on real estate; there will be too many people flooding into Lower Manhattan for the the subways to handle. Other interesting information from the piece (which you can read here):
  • There was talk of extending the soon-to-be-built Second Avenue subway south of 34th Street to accommodate the added Wall Street traffic.
  • Another subway proposal: build "people movers" from the WTC to the Lexington Avenue and Second Avenue lines.
  • It was estimated that only 2,000 people out of 150,000 a day were going to use the Hudson Tubes (aka the PATH train) to commute to the World Trade Center.
  • The Port Authority was asking WTC tenants to stagger their work schedules so as to ease the burden on the subways.
A portable Sony color TV in 1970 runs you $309.95
The money quote comes from then-Congressman Ed Koch: "Public funds ought to be used for better purposes, such as mass transit. This is antiseptic.... [David] Rockefeller is leveling everything and putting up clean towers that match the Chase Manhattan Bank. I place the blame for this on him."

Were you around in 1970 when the television signals went haywire? If so, let us know in the comments.

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Read more about the rise and fall of the World Trade Center in

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Birth of the Crossword (or "Word Cross")

Today marks the anniversary of the first modern crossword puzzle, published in the New York World on Sunday, December 21, 1913.

By 1913, the World was one of the most famous newspapers in, well, the world. Joseph Pulitzer had purchased the paper in 1883 and raised its circulation through sensational news coverage (so-called "Yellow Journalism"), stunt reporting, like that of Nellie Bly, and a focus on distractions and pastimes. The World was beloved for its comic strips and Sunday Fun section.

The crossword (then called a "word cross") was added to the Sunday Fun section by Arthur Wynne, an English emigrant who worked for the World and had been asked to create a new puzzle for the paper. Remembering a game called magic square that he'd learned as a child, Wynne created a simple, diamond-shaped grid and wrote short clues. The puzzles became an overnight sensation, copied by newspapers throughout the city, and--eventually--the world. (Notably, the New York Times was slow to join the party. A Times editorial called crosswords "a primitive form of mental exercise" in 1924, and the paper did not publish the first of its famous puzzles until 1942.)

We've included Wynne's first crossword at left; if you can't read the clues, a clearer version is here. Notice that the clues are written to let you know which space the word starts and ends on; e.g., "1-32 To govern" is the 4-letter word that stretches from cell #1 to cell #32. Have fun!

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Read more about Joseph Pulitzer and the New York World in

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

George B. Post (1837-1913)

Today marks the 173rd birthday of George B. Post, one of New York's most influential Beaux-Arts architects.

Post was born in New York City on December 15, 1837, and graduated from the University of the City of New York--today called NYU--in 1858 with a degree in Civil Engineering. Post immediately apprenticed to Richard Morris Hunt, who had recently returned from Paris with a degree from L'ecole des Beaux Arts. Post worked with Hunt at his Tenth Street Studio in Greenwich Village for a few years; however, as soon as the Civil War broke out, Post volunteered and became a captain of New York's 22nd Regiment. The company saw action not only at the front, but also during the quelling of the New York City Draft Riot in 1863.

In the post-war era, Post went on to rival his former teacher in terms of influence. Alas, many of his great New York buildings are now gone, including  the Produce Exchange, the Cotton Exchange, and Joseph Pulitzer's World building, the first skyscraper to call itself the tallest building in the world. But what remains of Post's work is spectacular, including the New York Stock Exchange (1903), the Harlem campus of City College (1907), the Brooklyn Historical Society (1881), and the original Williamsburg Savings Bank (1875) at 175 Broadway in Williamsburg. Post was President of the Architectural League, the American Institute of Architects, the Fine Arts Federation of New York, and the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park, where he oversaw the construction of the studio building for artists who were club members.

(Post also worked in other cities, most notably at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, where he built the Manufacturers and Arts Building, and as the architect of Wisconsin's Capitol in 1906.)

If you work or live near one of Post's buildings, take a moment today to stop and admire his handiwork. Happy Birthday, George!

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Read more about the New York Stock Exchange,
City College, and other Post buildings in

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

30 Years Ago Today: John Lennon's Murder

"Everywhere’s somewhere, and everywhere’s the same, really, and wherever you are is where it’s at. But it’s more so in New York." -- John Lennon

Unless you are in a media blackout, you've probably already heard that today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the murder of John Lennon. Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, moved to New York City in August 1971, first living on Bank Street in Greenwich Village before settling at the venerable Dakota on Central Park West. Lennon was returning from the recording studio on the night of December 8, 1980, when he was shot by Mark David Chapman, a fan who had earlier that day waited outside the Dakota for Lennon's autograph.

Media outlets around the world have been flooded with Lennon articles in the past few days; here's a sampling of some of the more interesting explorations into Lennon in New York City.

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Read more about John Lennon in New York in

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