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Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Year!

Thanks so much to everyone who has followed our blog this year. 2012 promises to be a fun year for Inside the Apple--we'll be posting articles on an array of topics, including a series related to the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.

We welcome suggestions. Sometimes readers will send in photos of buildings and ask, "What's this?" Sometimes, questions will come up on tours that we can't answer and the results end up on this blog. If you notice something around the city--or have a nagging question you've always wanted answered--put it in the comments or send it along to, and we'll try our best to answer.

In the meantime, we hope you have a great New Year's Eve. We will be watching the ball drop--as always, from the comfort and safety of our own home. If you don't know why it's a ball that drops, read our post from 2009 that explains it all.

Best wishes for 2012
Michelle & James Nevius

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Odd Couple

When we heard yesterday that Jack Klugman would be returning to the stage in Twelve Angry Men (he is the only cast member from the original 1957 film still living), our thoughts immediately turned to Klugman's most famous role--that of New York City sportswriter and notorious slob Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple.

Based on Neil Simon's hit play and film of the same name, the television show ran from 1970 to 1975. Klugman played opposite Tony Randall's Felix Unger, a photographer and neat freak. Though produced on a sound stage,* the opening credits were filmed on location around New York, and like many shows of that era, they provide a glimpse into the city of the time.

* Season one was filmed on the movie's set; subsequent seasons were in front of live audience  in Hollywood.

The two men live in Oscar's apartment at 1049 Park Avenue, from which they are seen emerging in the opening credits (above). A coop building from 1919, it hasn't changed much over the years, though we doubt Felix and Oscar were paying $8,100 a month rent (which at least one apartment is currently going for). Even adjusting for inflation, that would be about $1,500 in 1970, which still seems high. In the fourth season episode "The New Car"--filmed partly on location in New York--the characters inexplicably move to Central Park West and 74th Street, presumably into the San Remo.

Oscar is a writer for the New York Herald; the only problem with this is that the Herald had gone out of business in 1924, purchased by its rival the Tribune. (As the New York Herald Tribune, it continued publication until 1966; the International Herald Tribune is still in business.) The Herald was published from a wonderful Stanford White building on Herald Square, which is also gone. In the credits, we see Oscar getting out of a taxi in midtown, near Times Square.

Perhaps the best part of the original credits shows Felix and Oscar learning to dance at a maypole celebration on Sheep Meadow in Central Park. In the background the Century (25 Central Park West) and the old Gulf and Western building (now Trump International Hotel) loom over them.

Maypole celebrations in Central Park go back at least as far as 1909, and by 1914, the New York Times was reporting that 7,000 girls from sixty-eight public schools had come to the park to erect maypoles and dance. Indeed, maypole celebrations still take place each year in Central Park, though we're guessing nowhere near as many people show up.

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We'll be back before the ball drops to wish you a Happy New Year, but in the meantime, hope you are having a wonderful Hanukkah, that you amaze your friends with feats of strength tomorrow at Festivus, that you have a Merry Christmas, and a wonderful Kwanzaa.

Michelle and James Nevius
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Twenty-Three Skidoo

Here's another gem from the Inside the Apple archives. This postcard was made in 1908 and shows two birds ("Bird's eye view"--get it?) outside the Flatiron building at Fifth Avenue and Twenty-third Street. Because of the Flatiron's unique shape and its location along a broad crosstown thoroughfare, strong winds swirl near its base. When the building first opened, men used to flock to Madison Square to watch women walking by in the hope that the air currents would sweep up their skirts and reveal a glimpse of stocking.

This is exactly what is depicted in the postcard above: the gentleman in the background is giving a knowing wink as the lady's skirt and petticoats blow up, revealing her ankles. How risque!

In real life, there were a number of police officers posted to the Flatiron to encourage ogling men to move along. One common phrase they employed was "twenty-three skidoo!" Skidoo is a relative of skedaddle and means "to move along" or "go away." The number 23 was long thought to be a reference to the Twenty-Third Street; thus "23 skidoo" meant "stop hanging out on Twenty-Third Street."

However, it turns out that "23" was already a slang term for "get lost" before there was a Flatiron building, cited at least as early as 1899. What seems plausible is that the police wanted to get rid of men in front of the Flatiron, so combined two already existing phrases that each meant scram--"twenty-three" and "skidoo"--into a phrase that had a double meaning. Soon, "23 skidoo" was one of the most popular phrases in America--it is still sometimes employed today, over a century later.

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Read about the building of the Flatiron in Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City

(Which, by the way, makes an excellent holiday gift -- read all about where to purchase it here.)

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

John Lennon's Murder

Today marks the thirty-first anniversary of John Lennon's murder at the hands of Mark David Chapman.

Though Lennon is most famous for living--and dying--at the Dakota on Central Park West, when he first moved to New York, he and wife Yoko Ono lived in Greenwich Village. You can read about their time in the Village in our blog post from 2008 or in Inside the Apple. (Which, BTW, continues to make an excellent gift this holiday season.....)

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Monday, December 5, 2011


On December 5, 1933, at 2:00 p.m., the 18th Amendment -- Prohibition -- was repealed, finally ending the so-called "noble experiment."

As we write in Inside the Apple:
The 18th Amendment, passed by Congress in December 1917 and ratified by the majority of the states in January 1919, was the outgrowth of years of temperance crusading in America. While there was always a moralistic tone to the temperance movement, there was also a genuine desire to improve public health. In no era did Americans drink as much as they did in the late 19th century. Alcohol was cheap, it was served at saloons that acted as de facto community centers, and it was considered by most immigrant New Yorkers to be safer than water. In Tompkins Square Park, in the middle of Kleindeutschland, Henry Cogswell, a crusading dentist from San Francisco, set up a temperance fountain in 1888 to provide clean drinking water and convince the Germans there to stop drinking beer—and stop feeding it to their children. Similarly, a working dairy was planned for Central Park directly next to the German children’s playground (called the “Kinderberg”), where children would be provided with free, uncontaminated milk. (The rustic Dairy was built, but no cows were ever brought to the park and it ended up as a restaurant. Today’s it’s the park’s gift shop.)
Read more about repeal in our blog post from 2008, or if you haven't seen it already, take a look at Ken Burns's Prohibition, which tells the sad story of the 18th Amendment from start to finish.

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And don't forget to pick up a copy of Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mantle Men and Namath Girls

Would you hire a temp from these guys?

In 1968, the ad agency Lois Holland Callaway thought so. Deciding that the time was right to diversify (and that New York was always filled with people looking for work), Lois Holland Callaway launched an employment agency.

To be the public face of the company, they picked Yankee great Mickey Mantle and Jets quarterback Joe Namath and named the new venture Mantle Men and Namath Girls. It seemed like a winning bet: the telegenic Mantle had already appeared in commercials for the company, including a well-known spot for Maypo cereal ("I Want My Maypo...I Want It!") and Namath was arguably the most famous sports figure in New York. The pair did personal appearances to hype the company, appeared in all of the print ads, and even made television commercials (a first for an employment agency). Soon, Mantle Men and Namath Girls had a dozen offices in the city and the suburbs; within a year it was the second-largest employment agency in the world.

(c) Bettmann/CORBIS

What the company didn't count on was a souring economy. According to George Lois, one of the company's founders, the recession of 1969--the worst since the Korean War--killed the venture. While more people out of work meant more business in the short term, it also meant fewer jobs, and Mantle Men and Namath Girls had grown too quickly to sustain itself. Lois Holland Callaway sold the company and by 1974 it had filed for bankruptcy.

The experience obviously didn't make Joe Namath shy away from advertising. In the 1970s, he went on to star in ads for Noxema shaving cream and Hanes' Beauty Mist pantyhose, which helped cement his status as a pop culture icon.

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For more about New York in the 1960s, pick up a copy of our book
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Evacuation Day... and more

We hope you are enjoying a wonderful holiday weekend. Yesterday's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was one of the largest in the parade's history--but did you know that in the early days, the parade started all the way up at 145th Street? You can read more about that in our Thanksgiving Day blog post from a few years ago.

Today is also a holiday: Evacuation Day, which celebrates the end of the Revolutionary War. The war ended November 25, 1783, right here in New York City. More details about Evacuation Day can be found at this blog entry or in Inside the Apple.

And speaking of Inside the Apple, since today is also Black Friday, we'd be remiss if we didn't remind you of all the ways you could get a hold of copies of our book for the people on your holiday shopping list.

The book is available from a number of independent bookstores, including our friends at Shakespeare & Company. Or, to find if there’s a bookstore in your neighborhood that carries Inside the Apple, use this handy Indie Bound site and just plug in your zip code.

All the Barnes & Noble stores in the city also carry the book.

Indie Bound
will point you to a local indepedent bookstore or Barnes & Noble’s website will show you if the book is in stock.

carries us, of course (usually at the best price) along with B&N, but so do a host of other retailers, including Powell’s, and some you might not think of, like and

·         Kindle
·         Nook
·         Sony E-Reader
·         Google Books
·         @ iTunes
·         @ Android Market


Monday, November 21, 2011

What's a Gustavademecum?

As we enter the week in which Americans spend more on food than any other (including $875,840,000 on turkey alone), our thoughts turn naturally to dining. We were combing through the Inside the Apple archives the other day, when we came upon this charming little booklet from 1940: the "Gustavademecum for the Island of Manhattan," a sort of scientifically-minded forerunner to Zagat. As the cover notes, the booklet was "prepared for the convenience of mathematicians, physicists, engineers, and explorers," and it's a small wonder.

For those whose Latin is a little rusty, "Gustare" is to taste and "vade mecum" literally means "to go with me" but colloquially refers to a handbook. Thus, a Gustavademecum is a tasting handbook.

On the inside front cover, the guide has a key to its descriptions and symbols. Some are straightforward, such as C for Cafe and R for restaurant. Then comes "DATA, verifiable," including:

L=general illumination, measured in lumens per square foot or foot-candles. When L=0.1, menu is just legible. L=1, one wax candle one foot distant. L=200, north window at noon, January 1.
N=noise level, measured in decibels. N=20, country house, no children. N=50, conversation intelligible at 3 feet. N=70, shouting level.

For most entries in the book, all that is provided is the address, type of cuisine, and price of the least expensive meal. All the other data was to be filled in by the user. One of the most complete entries is the Greenwich Village Casino which has D50EO7x2 -- that means it had a 50-square-foot dance floor, entertainment, and two, seven-piece orchestras.

The least expensive restaurant in the guide is the Actor's Kitchen at 229 West 48th, where dinner was just 35 cents. (As the name suggests, the Actor's Kitchen existed to provide cheap meals to working actors.) The priciest entry is The Colony at 667 Madison, where the least expensive meal was a three-course dinner for $4.00. The Colony--which first became known as a gambling den--will be the subject of a future blog post.

Perusing the list of eateries, most are now gone. Some old favorites are listed such as the "21" Club, Fraunces Tavern, and Tavern on the Green, but most of these restaurants are now just a dim memory. On the page excerpted above, the only place we recognize that's still going is Marie's Crisis, the venerable West Village piano bar. However, the ghost of Moneta's at 32 Mulberry Street is still hanging around. If you go to this block of Mulberry (just north of Mosco Street, opposite Columbus Park), you can see the faint trace of Moneta's sign on the facade of 32 Mulberry, revealed when the bar Yello went out of business and its awning was removed.

In the coming weeks, we'll research some of the old restaurants in the Gustavademecum and post our findings. Is there any old New York eatery you wish you knew more about? Let us know.

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Read more about New York in the 1940s in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City
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Friday, November 18, 2011

Pomander Walk

Photo by PilotGirl on flickr. 
Our friends over at Curbed published a nice map of New York's mews (mewses?) today, including one of our favorites, Pomander Walk. Though, as Curbed rightly notes, Pomander Walk isn't actually a mews because it never housed stables.

Pomander Walk was built in 1921-22 by Thomas J. Healy, a real estate developer and nightclub owner. When he acquired the lot between 94th and 95th Streets (near West End Avenue), Healy planned to put up a sixteen-story hotel. While waiting to raise the necessary capital for the project, Healy constructed this row of apartments (each house facade was originally designed to conceal two apartments, one upstairs and one downstairs) in a mock-Tudor style. He named it after Pomander Walk, a popular play that had opened on Broadway in 1910 and which was set on a similar, cute London Street. In truth, the Pomander Walk of the play was like many London terraces: every house was identical to its neighbor. To visualize what Pomander Walk probably should have looked like if Healy had been faithful to his source material, visit Washington Square North's "Row" between Fifth Avenue and University Place.

It was never Healy's intention to allow these apartments to stay; they were what's known as a "tax payer" -- properties designed to bring in enough revenue to pay the property taxes. As soon as Healy secured financing, these buildings were to be torn down and his hotel erected in their place. Healy, however, never moved forward with the hotel and charming Pomander Walk remains.


Read more about New York's hidden nooks and crannies in
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Monday, November 14, 2011

Happy Birthday to Moby Dick

photo by wallyg on flickr
"There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward…. Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?—Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries."
-- Herman Melville, Moby Dick 

One hundred and sixty years ago, on November 14, 1851, Harper & Brothers published Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Now considered one of the great pieces of American literature, it was a commercial and critical failure when it came out. (A fire at the warehouse in 1853 destroyed the bulk of Melville's unsold works, making a first edition a real rarity today.)

If you happen to be downtown today, you can celebrate Melville by visiting his birthplace--or, more precisely, by visiting a plaque in the wall. Melville was born on August 1, 1819, in a boarding house at 6 Pearl Street, a building which is now gone. Melville's father, Alan, was climbing the ladder of success, but in 1819 this once-fashionable neighborhood was rapidly declining as piers and warehouses were built to accommodate New York's role as America's biggest port.

Finding the Melville birthplace can by tricky. It is tucked away in the plaza behind 17 State Street. If you are on State Street, cut through between 17 State and the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, and you'll see Melville's bust on the far wall.

(And if you can't down to Pearl Street, you can celebrate Moby Dick in pictures here.)


Read more about Herman Melville's Manhattan in

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Should Tavern on the Green Be a "Casual" Restaurant?

As reported recently by DNAinfo, the Parks Department is on the verge of soliciting proposals for a new concessionaire to run the storied restaurant in the Central Park, Tavern on the Green (after an aborted attempt two years ago to install new management).

However, a number of attendees at the recent Community Board 8 meeting objected to the park's idea that the new Tavern be a "high quality casual restaurant." The problematic word in the Parks Department's presentation was "casual," which has led some to think that the new Tavern might not be fancy enough. (Or, as Gothamist succinctly put it: "NYers Worry an Olive Garden-Type Restaurant Will Open at Tavern on the Green.")

But how fancy should Tavern on the Green actually be? When the restaurant was created by Robert Moses in 1934, he promised that it would be a place where "the general public can get what it wants."

Through the early 1930s, the upscale restaurant in the park was called the Casino (where Rumsey Playfield now stands), which Moses wanted to tear down. As we write in Inside the Apple:

Moses had two primary objections to the Casino: one was that it that it catered to the city’s wealthy residents at the expense of the majority of park users. (In an era when a cup of coffee at a Horn and Hardart Automat cost a nickel, the Casino charged 40 cents.) Secondly—and perhaps more importantly—the Casino had been a favorite haunt of disgraced Mayor Jimmy Walker.... To remove the Casino, Moses needed to find an alternate spot for an eatery. And, since public sentiment opposed building anything new in the park, Moses instead came up with a clever plan to convert the 1870 sheepfold at 65th Street (constructed by Jacob Wrey Mould) into a “popular-priced” restaurant.

Scores of workers from the Civil Works Administration began converting the old sheepfold into the restaurant in February 1934. (In true Moses fashion, the conversion was well underway before the city announced what it was doing.) As the New York Times reported, the new Tavern on the Green promised "reasonably priced table d'hote luncheon and dinner and a la carte service within reach of the average purse. There will be no cover charge. A sandwich and a glass of beer will be served at a reasonable price if a more elaborate meal is not wanted."

Though it took some time for Tavern to figure out its pricing, the restaurant soon settled on a price-fixed dinner of $1.50--not the cheapest meal in town in 1934, but well within reach of many middle-class New Yorkers. The question now is whether or not the new Tavern on the Green will return to Moses's populist roots or be more like the glitzy tourist attraction of the 1970s and 80s presided over by the late Warner LeRoy. Stay tuned.....


Read more about New York's Robert Moses and Tavern on the Green in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Black Tom Explosion: July 30, 1916

This week, the Statue of Liberty (aka "Liberty Enlightening the World," its official name) will be turning 125 years old. In celebration, the National Park Service is installing five webcams atop the statue's torch, allowing virtual visitors the opportunity to see a view that's been off limits for nearly a century.*

There are many reasons the torch has been closed since 1916: it is very difficult to access; it was never designed for tourists (indeed, none of the statue's interior was built to host millions of visitors, giving rise to many of the statue's structural problems of the last few decades); the climb from the shoulder to the torch was done in near darkness.

But the major reason the torch closed was an explosion on the night of July 30, 1916, on Black Tom Island in New Jersey, where millions of pounds of ammunition was being stored by the National Storage Company and the Lehigh Valley Railroad for eventual shipment to allied forces in Europe. It was the largest explosion in modern history--the equivalent of a 5.5 earthquake--and was felt in five states: Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

Black Tom Island was originally a small island between Liberty (then Bedloe's) Island and Jersey City. By 1916, landfill had connected the island to the New Jersey mainland, and it was used as a major freight depot by the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

On the evening of July 30, the night watchmen noticed that there were fires on the pier where Johnson Barge No. 17 was moored. (The barge--which held 100,000 pounds of TNT--turned out to be illegally berthed there in order to avoid port charges. Even had it been legally moored, it seems like that would have made little difference.)

When it became clear that the fires were too large for the night watchmen to fight on their own, the Jersey City fire department was called in; however, it was too dangerous for them to proceed and at 2:08a.m. the first of a series of explosions rocked the island. Shrapnel and munitions were blasted in every direction; some lodged in the Statue of Liberty (which ultimately cost $100,000 to repair), some made it was far away as the Jersey City clock tower, stopping the clock at 2:12 a.m.

Almost everyone in Manhattan was awoken by the strength of the blast and there were numerous injuries, mostly from falling glass. As the head of the New York Plate Glass Insurance Company noted the next day, a million dollars of glass had rattled out of its casements in the city, mostly south of West 44th Street. (At least one person was injured from falling glass, however, at Third Avenue and 89th Street.)

At first, the guards at the pier were brought in for questioning, as it was believed that the smudge pots they'd lit to keep mosquitoes at bay had caused the fire. Soon, it became clear that the explosion was sabotage, and suspicion fell quickly on German agents living in the United States. Though the exact identities of the bombers were never known, the Mixed Claims Commission (set up after World War I to adjudicate claims against Germany) eventually decided to fine Germany $50 million for the explosion. The money was finally paid in 1979.

Meanwhile, the management of the Statue of Liberty decided that Lady Liberty's arm had been too weakened by the explosion to allow tourist traffic to continue to climb to the torch; the torch was never reopened.

The torch cams will go online on Friday, October 28, and can be accessed at

* A handful of maintenance workers have been allowed access to the torch since 1916, but no regular visitors. Still, that doesn't stop a lot of people from reminiscing about having "gone up to the torch" in the 1940s and 50s. Unless those people were VIPs or statue staff, it is very unlikely.


Read more about the Statue of Liberty in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thirteenth Avenue

In November 1883, a New York Times reporter took his readers on a walk along “the most peculiar of the many unique thoroughfares which lie within the limits of this City”: Thirteenth Avenue. Today, the street is even more peculiar—only one block of it remains, stranded and inaccessible on a pier in the Hudson River.

Thirteenth Avenue was created on April 12, 1837, when the New York State Legislature passed an act to “establish a permanent exterior street in the city of New-York along the easterly shore of the North, or Hudson’s River.” The act drew an imaginary line from West 11th Street to 135th Street in Harlem, and it permitted the city the rights to oversee the development of all the land that would be created by land-filling out from the city’s natural coast line.

While real estate speculators immediately began buying and selling lots in Hudson that could someday be filled to become properties that fronted Thirteenth Avenue, the new street was slow to develop. By the time the Times reporter was walking the street in 1883, only a few lots north of Thirty-Fourth Street had been acquired and the street dead-ended in a high wooden fence somewhere between Twenty-Sixth and Twenty-Seventh streets.

Despite the city having passed a measure to pave the street in Belgian block in 1874, its lower regions were still a “dreary waste” according to the Times. The street appears to have been the home mostly to lumber yards, saloons, and city dumps, where Italian women would “swoop down like a flock of vultures” when the ash cart arrived, hoping to find hot coals.

Three years later, in May 1886, the Times dispatched another reporter to write up his thoughts on Thirteenth Avenue. The article was substantially similar to the piece from 1883, though the new reporter did spend more time sampling the local saloons. He was particularly impressed with the saloon that served passengers bound to Hoboken on the ferry, which sat on the ground floor of a six-story brick warehouse.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the area was changing. The city began investing in improvements to the piers, in particular to be able to welcome the ever-growing class of luxury steamers (which would soon include the Lusitania and the Titanic). In order to build deep water piers that did not interfere with exiting navigation on the Hudson, the city began removing landfill east of Thirteenth Avenue—effectively destroying the street to make room for what today we call Chelsea Piers.

Somehow, however, one tiny block of Thirteenth Avenue never got removed from the map. If you cross the West Side Highway at Gansevoort Street, you reach a sanitation pier (and the name of the road officially changes to Bloomfield Street). If you were able to get to the sanitation parking lot along the river’s edge, you would be on the only remaining block of Thirteenth Avenue.


Read more about New York's waterfront in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Firefighters' Memorial in Riverside Park

Today was the annual gathering of the Fire Department in Riverside Park to pay tribute to their fallen comrades at the Firefighters' Memorial at 100th Street. Thousands of fire personnel attend this ceremony each year, which shuts down Riverside Drive for a number of blocks on either side of the monument.

The memorial itself was installed in 1913 and unveiled by Mayor Gaynor--one of his last official acts before his own death. The idea behind honoring New York's firemen came from the city's Episcopal Bishop, Henry Potter, who was the chairman of the memorial committee. Potter lamented the fact that in a city that was quick to honor less deserving citizens, no one took the time to commemorate these "soldiers in a war that never ends."

Originally slated for Union Square, the memorial was ultimately landscaped by architect H.V.B. Magonigle specially for this spot at 100th Street. The carvings are by Attilio Piccirilli, who, along with his many brothers, was part of the greatest stone carving family in the city. (The Piccirilli brothers work can be seen at the USS Maine monument in Columbus Circle and the Museum of the American Indian on Bowling Green, among many other places.) On the front, a horse-drawn fire engine races to a blaze; on either side, allegories of Duty and Sacrifice flank the main fountain.

Few people who don't live in this neighborhood ever explore the statuary in Riverside Park, but this monument alone is worth a trip to the Upper West Side.


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

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Showdown with the Soviets in Grand Central Terminal

This week marks the fifty-fourth anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 1, the Soviet satellite that was the first to achieve a successful low Earth orbit. Sputnik was launched during the International Geophysical Year (IGY), which ran from July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958. (The IGY was supposed to foster international scientific cooperation; it did that, but it also gave the Americans and the Soviets and excuse to try to out-do each other in what would soon be known as the "Space Race.")

Both the United States and the Soviet Union had announced in 1955 that they would put a satellite in orbit during the IGY. At first, the United States backed the U.S. Army's Explorer program, which planned to use a Redstone ballistic missile to launch a satellite. When the IGY began on July 1, 1957, the United States had little to show for it. So, the Chrysler Corporation, the Redstone's manufacturer, decided it would show the American public just how impressive its products could be, and arranged to have a missile installed in Grand Central Terminal.

In the first week of July, the missile arrived by train from Detroit; the cargo was shunted onto track 16, because the entrance to that track (today partially hidden by a food vendor) was the only one wide enough for the missile to pass through. Over the next few days, the sixty-eight-foot tall Redstone was assembled in Grand Central's main hall. Though the missile was short enough to fit, it needed to be held in place by wires at the top. To achieve this, a hole was punched into the roof--and it's still visible to this day. If you look at the zodiac on the terminal's ceiling, find the fish that make up Pisces; near one of the fish is a dark circle in the roof: that's where the missile was held aloft.

The Redstone stood for three weeks, allowing thousands of commuters to see the weapon that the New York Times said could "[deliver] an atomic punch 200 miles." Which was to say--we may not have a satellite in orbit yet, but we can blow you away.

By the time the Redstone was put on the display, the U.S. had moved away from the Army's Explorer program in favor of the Navy's Vanguard program. However, when Sputnik achieved orbit on October 4, 1957, it lit a fire under the United States and government rushed back to the Explorer program. On January 31, 1958, Explorer 1 achieved orbit and began the United States' exploration of space. The Explorer program is still active to this day.


Read more about Grand Central Terminal in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Reminder: October 9 Christopher Columbus / Central Park Tour

Greetings! Just a reminder that if you want to sign up for our walking tour of Central Park and the Upper West Side next Sunday (with a focus on Columbus Day and Italian-American history), your last chance to get the discounted price of $10 per person is today. Any reservations made through midnight tonight (EST) will be just $10 per person; tomorrow the price goes up to $15 per person.

The tour is Sunday, October 9, at 3:30PM, and we'll walk for about 90 minutes, covering topics as wide ranging as the origins of Columbus Day to the anti-immigrant ideas embodied in various places along Central Park's famous Mall.

You can read more about the tour at, including complete instructions on how to reserve.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial

We are just back from visiting the new memorial at the World Trade Center site. Since many of our walking tour clients have asked about the memorial, we thought we'd share our experience. It is well worth a visit and one of those moments when the reality of the design is better than the architectural renderings. And, despite the prediction that this will be one of the most visited places in New York, it manages to stay (mostly) serene.

Having printed out tickets in advance, we arrived about ten minutes before our 5:45 p.m. reservation and there was no line; there were, however, about 30 people in line who had 6:00 p.m. reservations and had arrived early. At least right now, there's no need to get there in advance (and, indeed, they explicitly ask on the ticket that you don't arrive more than 30 minutes before your reservation.)

The very first memorial staff member you encounter will ask you to keep your ticket handy as you will need to show it at least four times as you wend your way through security and into the memorial itself. Despite this admonition, we saw numerous folks scrambling to find their tickets. It's only about ten minutes from the time you arrive until you enter the memorial; just keep your ticket in hand. And while life sometimes doesn't allow such advance planning, if you can leave all your bags at home, it will speed up the security line.

The staggered ticket times ensure that the memorial doesn't feel crowded. If you are looking to find a particular name (or names), you can look that information up online before you get there or go to the information kiosks located outside the Memorial Museum. (Note that the museum is not yet completed and won't open till next year; this fact seemed to surprise a number of visitors.) At the kiosks, you can either print out a map with the location of the name you are trying to find, or have that information sent to you as an email or text message. However, when we tried to send the information to a phone it didn't work. Maybe that was just us.

It took us about a half hour to walk around the entire area, looking at the memorial waterfalls from all sides. We could have lingered longer--there are benches and a number of visitors were sitting amid the trees, just soaking it all in.

If you don't have tickets, but still want to go down, there is a visitor's center at the corner of West and Albany streets where you can see artifacts found at the site and watch a video. (And buy gobs of 9/11 memorial paraphernalia.) Just outside the visitor's center is a staircase leading up to the pedestrian walkway to the World Financial Center. Take this passage until you are over West Street and you'll get a view into the memorial. You'll see the trees and get a peekaboo view of the waterfalls.


Read more about the World Trade Center in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Christopher Columbus and Central Park Walking Tour

Sunday, October 9, 2011
at 3:30PM

Christopher Columbus & Central Park
Reservations taken 10/3 or earlier: $10 per person
Reservations taken 10/4 or later: $15 per person

Join James Nevius, co-author of Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City, on Sunday, October 9, at 3:30 PM, for a walk celebrating Columbus Day and the importance of Italian-Americans in New York’s history. There’s no better place to do that than Central Park; we will talk about the four (that’s right four) different Columbus memorials once slated for the park, visit the bust of Giuseppe Mazzini, explore the history of the Mall and Terrace, and more. (We’ll also be looking at things in Central Park that have nothing to do with Columbus or Italian-American heritage.)

Copies of Inside the Apple will be available for purchase at the tour.

รจ  To reserve, send an email to with

  • Your name
  • The number in your party
  • A contact cell phone number
  • A good email address where we can send you information about where the tour will start.

PLEASE NOTE that if you reserve no later than Monday, October 3, the cost is just $10 per person. All reservations received starting Tuesday, October 4, will be $15 per person.

This tour will have only a limited number of spaces, so please reserve early to avoid disappointment.

Payment will be taken at the start of the tour by cash only. Directions to the tour’s starting point will be sent out after your reservation is confirmed.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Henry Hudson's Arrival -- September 13? September 11?

Today is the day traditionally held to be New York's anniversary -- 402 years ago today, Henry Hudson sailed his ship the Halve Maen ("Half Moon") into the river the bears his name and thus began European involvement in the place we now call New York.

Two years ago, it was on September 13, that the city celebrated its 400th birthday, complete with a royal visit from the Prince of Orange and Princess Maxima.

But why September 12 or 13, when--in fact--Hudson was already here days earlier?

We have a detailed description of Hudson's voyage thanks to the journal of his first mate, Robert Juet. Here's Juet's entry for September 13:
The thirteenth, fair weather, the wind northerly. At seven of the clock in the morning, as the flood came we weighed, and turned four miles into the river. The tide being done we anchored. Then there came four canoes aboard: but we suffered none of them to come into our ship. . . .

So, yes it appears that on September 13, the Halve Maen sailed four miles into the river. (A river which would only come to be known as the Hudson many years later; for a great portion of New York's history it was called the North River.)

This is what happened on the 12th:
Very fair and hot....we turned into the river two leagues and anchored.

And here is Juet's entry for September 11:

The eleventh was fair and very hot weather. At one of the clock in the afternoon we weighed and went into the river, the wind at south south-west, little wind. Our soundings were seven, six, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, twelve, thirteen, and fourteen fathoms. Then it shoaled again, and came to five fathoms. Then we anchored, and saw that it was a very good harbor for all winds, and rode all night. 

Thus, on September 11, Hudson also "went into the river" and anchored in the "very good harbor." That means that on September 11, 1609, the Halve Maen was at anchor somewhere in New York harbor. Today, of course, we cannot think of September 11 without turning to more recent New York City events, but there's still no reason not to commemorate Hudson on the day he actually sailed into the harbor.


Read more about Henry Hudson and early New York in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Jenny Lind Comes to America

Do you remember the frenzy when the Beatles came to America in 1964? The enthusiasm that greeted them almost matched the public's reaction on September 1, 1850, when Jenny Lind, the "Swedish Nightingale" came to New York.

The difference between the two? People had actually heard the Beatles. With no phonographs or radios, Americans simply had to take it on faith and the word of the concert promoter that Lind was the greatest soprano they would ever hear. The name of that promoter? Phineas T. Barnum.

By 1850, Barnum was well established as one of the great American showmen. As we write in Inside the Apple:

In 1835, [Barnum] took over the promotion of Joice Heth, a black woman who claimed both to be over 160 years old and to have been George Washington’s nurse when he was a baby. She quickly was earning Barnum $1500 a week (this in an era when many Five Pointers might not make that much in three years). By the 1840s, Barnum was running variety shows and in 1841 he purchased a permanent home for his exploits at the corner of Broadway and Ann Streets. Called simply the American Museum, it featured everything from minstrel shows to Charles Stratton, who was just 25 inches tall and nicknamed “Tom Thumb.” It was here that Barnum could have—but probably did not—speak the oft-quoted words: “There’s a sucker born every minute but none of them ever die.” (He definitely said the less quotable: “The people like to be humbugged.”)
While on tour in Europe with Tom Thumb, Barnum heard about Lind and her ability to sell out theaters, but Barnum never actually heard her sing. That didn't matter to him: he met with Lind and convinced her to come to America on tour. Lind agreed on the condition that Barnum give her an advance of $20,000 (even being conservative, that's probably half a million dollars today). Barnum had to borrow the funds, and while Lind was preparing to sail to America in August 1850, Barnum was doing everything possible to convince New York's audiences that they were about to welcome into their midst the greatest singer alive--perhaps the greatest singer of all time.

When Lind's ship, the Atlantic, arrived in New York, it seemed like Barnum had succeeded. Throngs of people gathered along the shoreline to watch and as the Atlantic approached its berth at Canal Street, about 40,000 crammed themselves onto the surrounding piers and the roofs of buildings to catch a glimpse of the Swedish Nightingale.

Lind's carriage carried her and Barnum (who'd been piloted out to the Atlantic while it was still in the harbor) to the Irving Hotel at Broadway and Chambers. They passed through two triumphal arches erected for the occasion. Once ensconced at the hotel, Lind was forced to make appearances at the balcony to satisfy the well-wishers who crowded onto Broadway.

The next day, Barnum and Lind began searching for a proper theater in which Lind could perform. (Barnum had begun construction on a "Jenny Lind Theater," but it wasn't ready in time.) After rejecting famous spots like Niblo's Garden, Lind and Barnum finally decided on Castle Garden in Battery Park with September 11 to be the first performance.

Realizing that he could charge as much as the market would bear, Barnum decided to sell tickets to the performance at auction. The first ticket was purchased for $225--to put that in perspective, that amount was about the annual wage of most working class New Yorkers. While most tickets ended up selling for less than $10, Barnum was still able to rake in close to $25,000 in sales.

To further engage the public, a song-writing contest was held. The winning lyrics would be set to music and would be Lind's final song during the concert. The winner was Bayard Taylor (who also received $200), whose winning song featured such deathless prose as:
I greet with a full heart, the Land of the West,
Whose Banner of Stars o'er the world is unrolled;
Who empire o’ershadows Atlantic’s wide breast.
And opes to the sunset its gateway of gold! 
Lind's concert was a staggering success as was her subsequent tour of America, where she played in Boston, Charleston, New Orleans, St. Louis, and a host of other cities. At a certain point, Barnum decided to stop promoting Lind and without his showman's talents, she drew smaller and smaller crowds. In 1852, she returned to Europe a very rich woman, having earned perhaps as much as $3 million over the course of her stay in the United States.
* * *

Read much more about the history of New York in

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