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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

July 24, 1983: The Pine Tar Incident

If you were at Yankee Stadium thirty years ago today, you were there to witness George Brett of the Kansas City Royals getting tossed out of the game during the ninth inning for the infamous pine tar incident.

Future Hall of Fame slugger Brett was well known for the amount pine tar he used on his bat to improve his grip. At the top of the ninth inning, Brett came to the plate with a runner on first base. Pitcher Goose Gossage, who'd been brought in to close the game, tossed one right across the plate, and Brett knocked it into the seats, putting the Royals into a 5-4 lead.

Immediately, Yankees manager Billy Martin came out of the dugout to complain. He showed Brett's bat to the umpires and reminded them that Major League Baseball's rules forbid pine tar more than 18 inches from the handle of the bat. Using home plate as a ruler (it's 17 inches wide), they determined the bat was in violation. Brett was called out and the game was won by the Yankees.

Brett immediately charged from the dugout in protest and had to be restrained. The Royals quickly confiscated the bat to use as evidence in a formal protest, which they lodged with the American League. League president Lee McPhail ultimately agreed with the Royals--even if the bat was in violation, the rule had been designed to protect baseballs from being ruined by the tar, not because it gave batters an illegal edge. McPhail restored Brett's home run and ordered that the game be finished at a later date. The Yankees dragged their feet, hoping not to have the play the remaining out of the ninth inning, but on August 18, the game resumed. The Royals won, 5-4. Brett's bat was placed in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

You can watch the play-by-play of Brett's home run and the aftermath at Major League Baseball:

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

July 16 and 17, 1863 - The last days of the Civil War Draft Riots

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War Draft Riots -- still the deadliest civil disturbance in American history.

The riots lasted July 13 - 17; we'll be posting a summary of what happened each day, drawing from our own work and contemporary sources. (These are lightly edited versions of posts we wrote a few years ago.)

Jump to: July 13 | July 14 | July 15 | July 16-17

As Thursday, July 16, 1863, began, many New Yorkers were surprised to hear the news from Mayor George Opdyke that not only had the draft been suspended but that the city council had voted the day before to authorize a fund to pay for a substitute for any New Yorker who was drafted and chose not to serve. The city had appropriated $2.5 million dollars for the cause--money it did not have and which surely would have bankrupted the city if spent. Opdyke promised that the riots were coming to an end and ordered people to go back to work and for the street car lines to resume running.

But to add to the confusion, that same day the papers also published a proclamation from Governor Horatio Seymour--actually issued on Tuesday, two days earlier--letting them know there was riot going on. (In case, somehow, no one had noticed.)

A third letter also appeared in the press: an appeal from Catholic Archbishop Hughes to his flock urging them to come to his home on Friday to hear him in person.

What only a few people knew was that the military had begun to arrive from Gettysburg. The Seventy-Fourth Regiment arrived soon after midnight on Wednesday and by the end of Thursday, the Seventh ("Silk Stocking") Regiment, the Sixty-Fith Regiment and others had been stationed at points around the city.

The arrival of more troops did not instantly quell the riots: there was a bloody clash between about twenty-five soldiers and a crowd that chased them into a foundry on First Avenue. But by the end of the day--as a rainstorm tore through the city, naturally discouraging the mob--it seemed as if the riots were on the verge of burning themselves out.

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The next day, Friday, July 17, over 5,000 people gathered to hear Archbishop Hughes's address, but as J.T. Headley noted in Great Riots of New York, 1712-1873:
They were on the whole a peaceable-looking crowd, and it was evidently composed chiefly, if not wholly, of those who had taken no part in the riot. None of the bloody heads and gashed faces, of which there were so many at that moment in the city, appeared. The address was well enough, but it came too late to be of any service. It might have saved many lives and much destruction, had it been delivered two days before, but now it was like the bombardment of a fortress after it had surrendered--a mere waste of ammunition. The fight was over, and to use his own not very refined illustration, he "spak' too late."
There were no further outbreaks of violence that day and none the next day, Saturday, despite the news from Washington that the draft would be enforced and would recommence as soon as the city was ready.

As we write in Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City:
No one is certain how many people died in the clash. At the time it was estimated to be 1,000 but the official death toll afterward was reduced to just 100 people. The true figure may never be known, but surely rests somewhere in between, making the Draft Riots the single worst civil disturbance in American history.
Democrats, led by rising Tammany Hall powerbroker William “Boss” Tweed, reached a compromise which allowed the draft to continue. Tweed would appoint a commission on behalf of the city to hear claims by those who felt they could neither serve nor pay the $300 and the city would decide to hire substitutes on a case-by-case basis. In the end, through a combination of city money, medical infirmity, and people simply not reporting for duty, only one person from Five Points served in the war because of the draft.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

July 15, 1863 - Day 3 of the Civil War Draft Riots

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War Draft Riots -- still the deadliest civil disturbance in American history.

The riots lasted July 13 - 17; we'll be posting a summary of what happened each day, drawing from our own work and contemporary sources. (These are lightly edited versions of posts we wrote a few years ago.)

Jump to: July 13 | July 14 | July 15 | July 16-17

Wednesday, July 15--the third day of rioting--proved to be the pivotal day in the confrontation. Had the rioters made more headway on Wednesday, the city could have fallen into utter anarchy and chaos. Instead, it was anarchy and chaos that worked in the favor of the beleaguered police officers and soldiers protecting the city. Each day the nameless "mob" spread out around Manhattan to destroy property and kill and injure black New Yorkers, but because the rioters had no real leaders and no thought-out plan, most mob actions were short lived. Like so many explosions, they burned bright, caused a lot of damage, and soon fizzled out

Wednesday dawned hot. Many New Yorkers, fearing the city was about to fall to the rioters, spent the day trying to get out of town, clogging the Hudson and East River piers and flooding north out of the city toward the Bronx and Westchester County.

The police, many of whom had barely slept in 48 hours, tried to keep pace with the rioters. The police headquarters on Mulberry Street was connected via telegraph to the precincts for instant communication. Throughout the riots, police repair crews were constantly working on the telegraph lines in a vain attempt to keep information flowing in and out of the central command post, which was run by Police Commissioner Thomas Acton.

In The Volcano Under the City, an anonymously written 1886 book that purports to be the first "true" account of the draft riots, the author writes:
In many respects, Wednesday was, to the Metropolitan Police, the most trying day of the riot. All of them were weary, and many of them were more or less injured. Some had succumbed to their exertions under intense heat, and others required all their pluck and sense of duty to keep their wearied bodies up to their work. They had been on duty night and day, with rapid marches and with much hand-to-hand fighting against strong and desperate men. Well might President [aka Commissioner] Acton shout, as he did, with mingled humor and enthusiasm, from the front of the Central Office, to column after column of the men he was so proud of, as he hurried them off to their arduous and perilous errands:
"Go on, boys! Go on! Give it to them, now! Quail on toast for every man of you, as soon as the mob is put down. Quail on toast, boys!"
What kept Wednesday from being the worst day of the riot--and kept the riots from escalating--was the city's ability to protect its munitions. J.T. Headley, the other Nineteenth-century source for information about the riots, notes:
At about two o'clock in the afternoon word was received that a large number of muskets were secreted in a store on Broadway, near Thirty-third Street; and Colonel Meyer was ordered to proceed thither, with thirty-three soldiers belonging to Hawkins' Zouaves, and take possession of them. Reaching the place, he found a large mob gathered, which was momentarily increasing. He, however, succeeded in entering the building, and brought out the arms. An Irishman happening to pass by in his cart, the colonel seized it, and pitching in the guns, closed around it, and moved off.
The worst confrontation of the day took place on Wednesday evening. A regiment of soldiers under the command of Colonel Cleveland Winslow was sent to disperse the rioters who'd gathered at First Avenue between 18th and 19th streets. The Volcano Under the City describes the scene:
No sooner did the detachment make its appearance and undertake its appointed task than it was assailed by a dense mob in front, and by showers of missiles from the houses, including a brisk discharge of pistols and musketry. The fire from the mob in front instantly betrayed something like organization, for it was by volleys, given at the word of command. Here, at least, the rioters went into action under competent leadership, such as might have secured successes for them at many other points. Colonel Winslow and his men stood their ground courageously….Ten rapid rounds of grape and canister tore through the masses of the mob and hurtled along the wide avenue. The slaughter was horrible, and the ground was momentarily cleared; but not so were the buildings on either side. The actual number of killed and wounded cannot be estimated with any accuracy, but there were rows of bodies on the pavement for about two "blocks." The fire from the houses grew hotter, and Colonel Winslow saw that he must retire…. Every tenth man of the entire command was down, and others were falling fast, not to mention those who were disabled more or less by minor hurts. It was literally "decimated," and more than that, before it could escape. The military made good the retreat, and the mob was left in triumphant possession of the battle-ground.

Then, at 11:00 p.m., a second wave of soldiers descended on First Avenue under the command of Captain Putnam. Headley writes:
Putnam immediately charged on the crowd in the street, scattering them like a whirlwind. He then turned his guns on the buildings, and opened such a deadly fire on them that they were soon cleared. Having restored order, he halted his command, and remained on the ground till half-past twelve.
What most of those fighting did not know was that reinforcements were on the way. Late on Tuesday, Mayor Opdyke had telegraphed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in Washington requesting that New York's militia companies--fresh from winning the Battle of Gettysburg--be sent to the city to quell the riots. As the violence calmed for the night on Wednesday, those militia companies were fast approaching the city. By daybreak, they would be on Manhattan and the riots would soon be over.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

July 14, 1863 - Day 2 of the Civil War Draft Riots

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War Draft Riots -- still the deadliest civil disturbance in American history.

The riots lasted July 13 - 17; we'll be posting a summary of what happened each day, drawing from our own work and contemporary sources. (These are lightly edited versions of posts we wrote a few years ago.)

Jump to: July 13 | July 14 | July 15 | July 16-17

July 13, 1863--the first day of the Civil War Draft Riots--saw the attack on the draft office, the Colored Orphan Asylum, and houses of wealthy Republicans, including Mayor George Opdyke. (The attack on Opdyke's house didn't amount to much since it was one of the few places in the city protected by federal troops.)

But before we can get to the events of July 14, there was one final event on the first day of the riots that stretched through the evening into the second day: the attack on Horace Greeley's Tribune.

The Tribune was the most outspoken Republican paper in New York and Greeley--who would later go on to run for president in 1872--was one of the founding members of the party. (Indeed, it was Greeley who championed the name "Republican" in print for the new political faction.)

Throughout the day, Greeley and his managing editor, Sidney Gay, argued about whether or not to arm themselves. Greeley was adamantly opposed and when he was then urged to leave the Tribune's offices on Newspaper Row, he is said to have replied: "If I can't eat my dinner when I'm hungry, my life isn't worth anything to me."

Once Greeley had finally gone home for the day, Gay and other staffers began to arm the building. As journalist Joel Tyler Headley wrote in his 1873 survey Great Riots of New York, 1712-1873:
All day long a crowd had been gathering in the Park around the City Hall, growing more restless as night came on. The railroad-cars [ED: streetcars] passing it were searched, to see if any negroes were on board, while eyes glowered savagely on the Tribune building…. [T]he Park and Printing-house Square* were black with men, who, as the darkness increased, grew more restless; and "Down with it! burn it!" mingled with oaths and curses, were heard on every side.
At last came the crash of a window, as a stone went through it. Another and another followed, when suddenly a reinforcing crowd came rushing down Chatham Street*. This was the signal for a general assault, and, with shouts, the rabble poured into the lower part of the building, and began to destroy everything within reach. Captain Warlow, of the First Precinct, No. 29 Broad Street [joined forces with] Captain Thorne, of the City Hall [Precinct]….. Everything being ready, the order to "Charge" was given, and the entire force, perhaps a hundred and fifty strong, fell in one solid mass on the mob, knocking men over right and left, and laying heads open at every blow. The panic-stricken crowd fled up Chatham Street, across the Park, and down Spruce and Frankfort Streets, punished terribly at every step. The space around the building being cleared, a portion of the police rushed inside, where the work of destruction was going on. The sight of the blue-coats in their midst, with their uplifted clubs, took the rioters by surprise, and they rushed frantically for the doors and windows, and escaped the best way they could.
This ended the heavy fighting of the day, though minor disturbances occurred at various points during the evening. Negroes had been hunted down all day, as though they were so many wild beasts, and one, after dark, was caught, and after being severely beaten and hanged to a tree, left suspended there till [Police Commissioner] Acton sent a force to take the body down. Many had sought refuge in police-stations and elsewhere, and all were filled with terror.

* Printing-house Square (aka Chatham Street)
is today's Park Row, across from City Hall Park.

The second day of the riots, July 14, saw the intensification of attacks on black New Yorkers, and a number were lynched. As Barnet Schechter notes in The Devil's Own Work:
The pillaging of entire black neighborhoods that had begun the previous night continued on Tuesday. On Sullivan and Roosevelt Streets**, where blacks lived in great numbers, boardinghouses, a grocery, and a babershop burned down since they either were owned by blacks or catered to them. Some blacks were chased all the way to the rivers and off the ends of piers.
** Roosevelt Street ran where the Brooklyn Bridge now stands.

New York's governor, Horatio Seymour, arrived in the city that day and called for calm, but to little effect. Seymour, an anti-war Democrat, met with other high-ranking Democrats at the St. Nicholas Hotel on Broadway to determine the best course of action. What he did not do was to call on federal officials to declare martial law. While state militia troops were augmenting the police force, the federal army in New York was tasked solely with guarding military and federal installations, such as the custom house on Wall Street and Castle Clinton in Battery Park.

Violent clashes continued throughout the day, despite Seymour's efforts to send emissaries to calm the mob. As night fell, a group of rioters attacked Brooks Brothers, then located on Catharine Street on the Lower East Side. Not only was it a preferred clothier of the well-to-do, it also provided uniforms for the Union army. As Headley notes:
[S]oon from the crowd arose shouts, amid which were heard the shrill voices of women, crying, "Break open the store." This was full of choice goods, and contained clothing enough to keep the mob supplied for years. As the shouts increased, those behind began to push forward those in front, till the vast multitude swung heavily towards the three police officers. Seeing this movement, the latter advanced with their clubs to keep them back. At this, the shouts and yells redoubled, and the crowd rushed forward, crushing down the officers by mere weight. They fought gallantly for a few minutes; but, overborne by numbers, they soon became nearly helpless, and were terribly beaten and wounded, and with the utmost exertions were barely able to escape, and make their way back to the station. The mob now had it all its own way, and rushing against the doors, burst bolts and bars asunder, and streamed in. But it was dark as midnight inside, and they could not distinguish one thing from another; not even the passage-ways to the upper rooms of the building, which was five stories high. They therefore lighted the gas, and broke out the windows. In a few minutes the vast edifice was a blaze of light, looking more brilliant from the midnight blackness that surrounded it.
As the second day of the riots ended and the body count grew, the great unanswered question that hung in the air was: would tomorrow be better--or worse?

* * * *
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Saturday, July 13, 2013

July 13, 1863 - Day 1 of the Civil War Draft Riots

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War Draft Riots -- still the deadliest civil disturbance in American history.

The riots lasted July 13 - 17; we'll be posting a summary of what happened each day, drawing from our own work and contemporary sources. (These are lightly edited versions of posts we wrote a few years ago.)

Jump to: July 13 | July 14 | July 15 | July 16-17

Today marks the anniversary of the beginning of the deadliest civil disturbance in American history: the Civil War Draft riots, which gripped the city from July 13 to 17, 1863.

We devote a chapter in Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City to summarizing the riots, but thought we'd post a small entry each of the next few days highlighting just how terrifying the riots were. The text we quote below is from Joel Tyler Headley's Great Riots of New York, 1712-1873, one of the first attempts by a historian to process and explain what had happened in the city during those few days. (The book is an excellent account of the riots, but is strongly biased toward the police--to whom it is dedicated--and against the "low" Irish, as Headley calls them.)

As the name implies, the riots broke out over the Union's decision to institute a draft. Desperate for both soldiers and money, the government decided on a two-pronged approach: those whose names were called could either choose to serve or they could get out of service by paying $300 for a substitute. Instantly people began to complain that the Civil War had turned into a "rich man's war and a poor man's fight," and as the July date of the draft approached, those New Yorkers who could little afford to pay $300--for some people that was a year's salary--talked about taking matters into their own hands.

The draft actually began on July 11, a Saturday, and proceeded calmly. As we write in Inside the Apple:
On Saturday, July 11, the first names were picked and a little more than half of New York’s 2,000-man quota was filled without incident. But over the weekend Peter Masterson, leader of Fire Engine Company 33, decided the best way to make sure his men didn’t get called was to burn down the draft office, thus destroying any record of who was in the draft census. Word spread throughout the city of a planned confrontation at the draft board’s offices at the Provost Marshall’s office on Third Avenue at 47th Street. (This location had originally been picked because it was on the fringes of the city and thus was supposed to attract less notice.)

J.T. Headley then picks up the story:
Early in the morning men began to assemble here in separate groups, as if in accordance with a previous arrangement, and at last moved quietly north along the various avenues. Women, also, like camp followers, took the same direction in crowds. They were thus divided into separate gangs…armed with sticks, and clubs, and every conceivable weapon they could lay hands on, they moved north towards some point which had evidently been selected as a place of rendezvous. This proved to be a vacant lot near Central Park, and soon the living streams began to flow into it, and a more wild, savage, and heterogeneous-looking mass could not be imagined. 
After a short consultation they again took up the line of march, and in two separate bodies, moved down Fifth and Sixth Avenues, until they reached Forty-sixth and Forty-seventh Streets, when they turned directly east. 
The number composing this first mob has been so differently estimated, that it would be impossible from reports merely, to approximate the truth. A pretty accurate idea, however, can be gained of its immense size, from a statement made by Mr. King, son of President King, of Columbia College. Struck by its magnitude, he had the curiosity to get some estimate of it by timing its progress, and he found that although it filled the broad street from curbstone to curbstone, and was moving rapidly, it took between twenty and twenty-five minutes for it to pass a single point. 
A ragged, coatless, heterogeneously weaponed army, it heaved tumultuously along toward Third Avenue. Tearing down the telegraph poles as it crossed the Harlem & New Haven Railroad track, it surged angrily up around the building where the drafting was going on. The small squad of police stationed there to repress disorder looked on bewildered, feeling they were powerless in the presence of such a host. Soon a stone went crashing through a window, which was the signal for a general assault on the doors. These giving way before the immense pressure, the foremost rushed in, followed by shouts and yells from those behind, and began to break up the furniture. The drafting officers, in an adjoining room, alarmed, fled precipitately through the rear of the building. The mob seized the wheel in which were the names, and what books, papers, and lists were left, and tore them up, and scattered them in every direction. A safe stood on one side, which was supposed to contain important papers, and on this they fell with clubs and stones, but in vain. Enraged at being thwarted, they set fire to the building, and hurried out of it. As the smoke began to ascend, the onlooking multitude without sent up a loud cheer. Though the upper part of the building was occupied by families, the rioters, thinking that the officers were concealed there, rained stones and brick-bats against the windows, sending terror into the hearts of the inmates. 
As the day progressed, the mob grew in size and factions fanned out across the city. In bloody conflicts with the police, numerous officers were wounded including Police Superintendent Kennedy who was beaten and left for dead. Another target was the homes of wealthy Republicans and a string of houses along Lexington Avenue were set on fire and looted.

But the worst action of the day came at the Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue at 43rd Street. Headley writes:
[I]mpelled by a strange logic, [the rioters] sought to destroy the Colored Orphan Asylum…. There would have been no draft but for the war—there would have been no war but for slavery. But the slaves were black, ergo, all blacks are responsible for the war. This seemed to be the logic of the mob, and having reached the sage conclusion to which it conducted, they did not stop to consider how poor helpless orphans could be held responsible, but proceeded at once to wreak their vengeance on them. The building was four stories high, and besides the matrons and officers, contained over two hundred children, from mere infants up to twelve years of age. Around this building the rioters gathered with loud cries and oaths, sending terror into the hearts of the inmates. Superintendent William E. Davis hurriedly fastened the doors; but knowing they would furnish but a momentary resistance to the armed multitude, he, with others, collected hastily the terrified children, and carrying some in their arms, and leading others, hurried them in a confused crowd out at the rear of the building, just as the ruffians effected an entrance in front. Then the work of pillage commenced, and everything carried off that could be, even to the dresses and trinkets of the children, while heavy furniture was smashed and chopped up in the blind desire of destruction. Not satisfied with this, they piled the fragments in the different rooms, and set fire to them.
The orphanage was burned around 4:00 p.m., about the same time that another group decided to attack the home of Mayor Opdyke and as a third group began heading toward Newspaper Row (today's Park Row) to take out their vengeance on Republican newspapers like Horace Greeley's Tribune.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Shootout in Weehawken

On July 11, 1804, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were rowed across the Hudson River so that they could shoot at each other. This, in 1804, seemed like a fine way to settle one's differences.

In our new book, Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers (Lyons Press), one chapter concerns the duel:
According to the Code Duello, gentlemen only needed to meet on the field of honor and delope, or discharge their weapons. They could shoot into the ground and the debt would be satisfied. 
Hamilton had resolved before the duel that he would not shoot Burr. In a letter discovered with his will after his death, Hamilton had written: “if our interview is conducted in the usual manner, and it pleases God to give me the opportunity, [I will] reserve and throw away my first fire, and I have thoughts even of reserving my second fire.” 
The two men arrived in Weehawken about half an hour apart. Burr and his party, including his second William P. Van Ness, got there first and began clearing the dueling grounds. Hamilton, Nathaniel Pendleton, and David Hosack, a physician, arrived around seven in the morning. By prearrangement, the seconds were to keep their backs turned away from Hamilton and Burr. Since dueling was illegal, this would give them the chance, if questioned, to say they hadn’t seen anything. 
Hamilton, as the challenged, had brought the pistols, and he was given the choice of his weapon. Hamilton took his time getting into position. He cleaned his glasses. He repeatedly tested his aim. Was this a show of nerves—or was he trying to provoke Burr? The pistols belonged to Hamilton’s brother-in-law, and he may have had the opportunity to practice with them. Did that give him an unfair advantage? Even if it did, it turned out not to matter. 
Hamilton fired first. His bullet flew above Burr’s head, lodging in a cedar tree. 
Then Burr fired. His aim was true, and his shot lodged in Hamilton’s spine, having first lacerated his liver. Doctor Hosack, waiting nearby, recalled later: "I found him half sitting on the ground, supported in the arms of Mr. Pendleton. His countenance of death I shall never forget. He had at that instant just strength to say, 'This is a mortal wound, doctor,' when he sunk away, and became to all appearance lifeless…."

Hamilton wasn’t dead—not yet. He was ferried across the river to the home of his friend William Bayard on Jane Street. Bayard was from one of the oldest and richest families in the city—he was the great-great-great nephew of Judith Bayard, wife of Peter Stuyvesant—and owned vast property in what is now Greenwich Village. Hamilton was carried to a second-floor bedroom where Dr. Hosack attended to him. A rider was dispatched to the Grange to fetch Eliza—but only to tell her that Hamilton was suffering from “spasms.” He had hidden the duel from her in advance, but he could hide it no longer.
If you want to know more about our new book's release, please sign up for our not-at-all-spam-like newsletter by sending "SUBSCRIBE" to We'll be doing lectures, special walking tours, and more in the spring to celebrate.

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you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes & Nobleetc.) or
from independent bookstores across the country.

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

ONE at Central Park

It may sound like a luxury apartment building, but "ONE at Central Park" is actually a pretty cool-sounding aerial dance project to be performed above Wollman Rink this October.

In the words of the project's website: "ONE at Central Park is a first time, one-hour experience of moving sculpture comprised of human bodies for mass public viewing. Conceived, created and choreographed by Aly Rose, it consists of over 100 performers dancing while suspended 150 feet in the air within 6 cantilever structures erected inside Wollman Rink."

You can watch a video of the concept at, and read more about it at

Here's the catch -- they are trying to raise $100,000 on Kickstarter in the next five days and are still $14,000 short. We threw in a couple of bucks because we think it sounds like a fun idea. (We are in no way affiliated with the artists -- we just love dance, acrobatics, and Central Park.) You can reach the Kickstarter page at

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