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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Postcard Thursday: Ode to Greater New York


One of the many gems in the digital collections of the New York Public Library is this piece of sheet music for an ode to be "sung by a chorus of 2,000 voices in the City Hall Plaza, New Year's Eve" in 1897.

That night was the last that New York City's territory consisted of Manhattan and a slim portion of the Bronx. The next morning, January 1, 1898, the city would officially consolidate into the five boroughs, with Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, and the rest of the Bronx coming into the fold.

The song begins, "Hail thee city, born to-day! / Commercial monarch by the sea," which underlines immediately the reason why the city was expanding. As New York was beginning to see its commercial status erode to cities like Chicago (then second most populous in the country), the unification of Brooklyn and Manhattan was seen as a good way to ensure the city's enduring mercantile prowess. The song's final line -- "When sister cities wed with thee / Joined in power and history" -- is a nod to Brooklyn, which Manhattan saw as having a parallel history and a natural extension of New York's territory.

Brooklynites didn't see it that way. As we write in Footprints in New York:
On December 31, 1897, an electric trolley car wended its way across the span of the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time. Employees of the trolley company made last-minute adjustments to the electric cabling and then, a few minutes before midnight, the Columbia and the Amphion—two “sumptuous” trolley cars (in the words of the New York Times)—ferried a delegation of Brooklyn dignitaries to Manhattan to celebrate New Year’s Eve. When the trolleys took them home again at the end of the party, their city was gone. At the stroke of midnight, Brooklyn had ceased to exist as an independent entity. It was now just one of five boroughs. 
On the Manhattan side, a celebration thrown by William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal was hampered by rain that turned to snow by midnight; still, an estimated 100,000 people came out to cheer the beginning of the new city. 
In Brooklyn, things were much more somber. Mayor Frederick Wurster welcomed Seth Low and other former mayors for an “observance” at Brooklyn City Hall. Though the reception was held for pro-consolidation advocates, it can’t have been a cheery occasion. The official poem written for the festivities ends its first stanza with “You, with me, must die.”
Just a few years after five-borough consolidation, New Year's Eve celebrations moved from City Hall Plaza up to the newly minted Times Square. You can read all about the Times Tower and the annual ball drop in one of our most popular blog posts here.

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