Thursday, October 29, 2009

History in the making - Everything's haunted! edition

Artist Charles Jay Budd depicts spectral lambs (?) terrorizing the New York Stock Exchange -- Life Magazine, 1905

Slithering spooks: With ghosts all over the city, are you surprised that the Bronx Zoo may also be haunted, by ghost reptiles? [Virtual Dime Museum]

Rewinding Rosemary: WOW. Scouting NY takes a look at Rosemary's Baby and the Dakota Apartments -- shot by shot, with images of what everything looks like today. Spoiler alert: it mostly looks the same. [Scouting NY via Vanishing Downtown]

Grave discovery: Hopefully you're already following the coverage of the terrifying tombstone found in Washington Square Park! [Gothamist]

Really scary: Eighty years ago today came a little thing called the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929. [PBS]

All grown up: Those looking for fall foliage might want to check out the leaves falling from Brooklyn's two biggest trees -- both at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. [City Room]

Run don't walk: Don't party too hard on Halloween! The next day is the New York City Marathon which starts at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, crossing through Brooklyn, Queens and (briefly) to the Bronx before entering Manhattan and finishing at Central Park. Visit their website and find a great place to stand and cheer on the runners. [ING New York City Marathon]

And give yourself a primer on the marathon's history before you go with our podcast from last year, featuring marathon participant Tanya Bielski-Braham [Pictures here]

New York City Marathon

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ghost walking: Halloween tours in New York City

Above: 782 Eighth Avenue, the caption reads: "House in which Miss Sigel was killed." Who is that person standing right next to the handwriting?

According to Shorpy (where you can find the full-sized picture), Miss Sigel "was found in 1909 bound in a trunk in her lover Leon Ling's fourth-floor apartment at 782 Eighth Avenue in New York, next to the Chinese restaurant where he was a waiter."

Sometimes called the Chinatown Trunk murder (although nowhere near actual Chinatown), the crime remains technically unsolved, although Ling disappeared from New York soon after discovery of the naked, noose-wearing corpse.

You won't find any ghosts of Miss Sigel there today; there's a distinctly unfrightening fire station at that address today. However if you're looking for a creepy way to celebrate New York City history this Halloween, here's a few suggestions:

New York Society for Ethical Culture candlelight tour
A landmark by flickering light, actors in costume and lots of candy! The New York Society for Ethical Culture hosts a weekend of family-oriented Halloween offerings this weekend, including a ghost tour of its famous Upper West Side building

Friday, October 30, 2009, 7pm – 10pm; Saturday, October 31, 2009, 6pm – 11pm
Visit their website for more info

Halloween at Green-Wood Cemetery
Brooklyn's most lavish home of the dead offers up its annual tour this weekend. Although it's a day tour -- helpfully lessening the creep factor -- it promises "tales of murder, mayhem, spirits, and ghosts .... with Green-Wood Historian Jeff Richman."
Saturday, October 31, and Sunday, November 1, 1pm
Meeting Point: Inside the main entrance at 25th Street at 5th Avenue
Go to Green-wood's website for tickets

If you're a braver soul, however, you might try:

Woodlawn Cemetery's nighttime tour
From their website: "Spend an evening in the cemetery learning the legends of Woodlawn. This perennial favorite takes you to the sculpture of “the Bride,” the graves of notorious figures and the monuments that share the tales of tragic events. Flashlights required!" Try both Woodlawn and Green-wood and spook yourself out -- and all your friends, when you tell them you've been to two cemeteries in one weekend.

Oct 29, 30, 31st; Nov 1 6 pm
Meet at Jerome Avenue Gate
Find more details here

The Bronck’s River & Oostdorp
Go back to the early days of early Bronx history with this Municipal Art Society tour of Bronx River and historic Westchester Square. Oostdorp was an old Dutch settlement that became the town of Westchester, which kindly gave its name to the entire county. A great walk on a fall day, although the only scares may be some of the redevelopment.

Saturday, October 31, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.
Meet at Whitlock and Westchester avenues (overlooking the Bronx River). $10 MAS members. Pay at tour. Or visit Municipal Art Society tour page

Spooks at Belvedere Castle
More for kids I think, but I'm sure they would kill you for just catching a glimpse of Central Park's most fairy-tale feature, now decorated for the season.

Friday, October 30, 4-8 p.m.
More info at the Central Park Conservancy

Prospect Park: Halloween Haunted Walk
Ghosts of Revolutionary War soldiers, suicide victims and more may greet you at this free daytime stroll around Lookout Hill. BONUS: there's a carnival afterwards. Braver souls can gallop over to Lefferts House for some ghost stories.

Saturday, October 31, 2009, Noon to 3pm
Begin at Prospect Park Southwest and 16th Street

Mayhem at the Merchant's House
They've been doing up Halloween all month. On the day itself, they have daytime tours with refreshments. At night -- this ghost stories with Anthony Bellov who will read from 19th-century horror classics in a parlor all done up as an creepy funeral decor.

Saturday, October 31
Tours: Noon to 5 p.m.
Ghost Stories: 7pm and 9pm
Visit their website for more info

We mentioned the Merchant's House as the topic of one of our ghost stories from our show Haunted Tales of New York. If you'd like to take a listen, the link is below, as well as links to our two prior ghost-story podcasts. Happy Halloween!

Haunted Tales of New York

Spooky Stories of New York

Ghost Stories of New York

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Wandering through Wave Hill and Hudson River history

Showtime in the Hudson River Valley has begun in earnest, with the change in season transforming New York in splatters of colorful chaos. You could simply wonder a city park of course, but I again recommend New York City's two best options -- the New York Botanical Garden and Wave Hill, both in the Bronx.

With Wave Hill, New York history buffs get an added bonus. Through November 29, the Lenape themed art show "The Muhheakantuck in Focus" presents abstract views of the Hudson as used by the original valley inhabitant. Muhheakantuck, "the river that flows both ways," is the original name of the Hudson River.

The show is displayed in Glyndor Gallery within one of Wave Hill's old mansion homes, although one installation by an artist named Edgar Heap of Birds presents startling glimpses of information via scattered highway signs over the campus:

John Coleman, incidentally, was the unfortunate member of Henry Hudson's Half-Moone party. (Learn more about it in our Henry Hudson podcast.)

Speaking of fall changes, we're change up our look around here over the next couple days including some new art for the blog and podcast. We apologize now in case things get a little odd as I test out various changes.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Steinway and Sons: piano men and kings of Queens

Inside Steinway Hall 1890: the 14th Street concert venue could seat 2,000 and also functioned as a showroom for Steinway pianos

Henry Steinway, a German immigrant who came to New York in 1850, made his name in various showrooms and factories in downtown Manhattan, enticing the wealthy with his award-winning quality pianos. At their grand Steinway Hall on 14th Street, the family turned a popular concert venue into a clever marketing opportunity.

But their ultimate fate would lie outside of Manhattan; the Steinways would graduate from an innovative factory on Park Avenue to their very own company village in Queens, the basis of a neighborhood which still bears their name today. You may not know much about pianos, but you've crossed path with this family's influence in the city. Tune in for this short history of Henry Steinway and his sons.

PODCAST Download this show it for FREE on iTunes or other podcasting services. Click this link to download it directly from our satellite site. Or click below to listen here:

The Bowery Boys: Steinway and Sons

As always, click on pictures for a bigger view

Hello Henry: Heinrich Steinweg made his first piano as a present for his bride. A year later he completed his very first grand piano and began a small manufacturing practice with his sons. They took the show on the road to New York in 1850.

First movement: Within three years of arriving in New York harbor, the Steinways had opened their first workshop on Varick Street, then moved to a larger space on at 82-88 Walker Street (illustrated below).

Daughter Doretta Steinway, in her later years. Doretta was key to Steinway's early success, due to her generous offering of free piano lessons to anyone who purchased an instrument from them.

Steinway Hall, built in 1864, was located at 71-73 East 14th Street, right off of fashionable Union Square. The hall hosted a great variety of functions, not just music performances. The illustration below depicts the frenzy outside of a Charles Dickens reading.

The front of the hall, which also featured a showroom of all the latest Steinway products. The venue was such a smashing success that other halls opened around the world.

The uptown Manhattan factory opened in 1860 at 52nd and 53rd streets and Fourth Avenue -- known as Park Avenue today. The new plant could manufacture up to 1,800 pianos a year. Look what stands there now!

To illustrate how fast the city was moving uptown, this photo shows the same factory just 30 years later. Its dated 1890, although at this time most Steinway operations had moved to their headquarters in Queens. Either they were still doing some work here at this time, or else nobody bothered to rename the building! Note the train tracks in front, rolling their way down to the Grand Central Depot.

Full house: After Henry's death in 1871, the Steinway boys would move the company's operation to Queens. William Steinway would display ambitions far beyond pianos, expanding his pursuits to include public transportation and even automobiles.

A bucolic illustration of Steinway's Astoria factory, with river access and company village for their workers. The move allowed the Steinways to expand; it also thwarted labor groups and gave the company more power over its employees.

In 1925, Steinway Hall moved uptown to 57th Street, not so terribly far away from their old factory. The sooty, smelly neighborhood had become Park Avenue, and 57th Street was graced with Carnegie Hall. So naturally, the Steinways got out of no-longer-fashionable Union Square and joined the high society ranks accumulating uptown.

The new hall, designed by Warren and Wetmore, was a far smaller venue but still featured a Steinway piano showroom. You can still stroll through it today and peruse their instruments.

The Steinway vault at Green-Wood Cemetery. I greatly encourage a visit to Green-Wood. And while you're visiting the Steinway, swing over and say hello to Boss Tweed! He's buried right nearby.

You can actually tour the Steinway Queens plant. You can find information at their official website.

And did you know that everytime you take the 7 train between Queens and Manhattan, you travel through something called the Steinway Tunnel?

Location of the Steinway factory:

View Larger Map

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rockaway Playland: all our toys are gone

ABOVE: The long-gone Rockaway Playland, Queens answer to Coney Island at Rockaway Beach that was wiped away for condo developments in 1987. A friendly reminder of what could have happened to Coney Island.

Look here for a huge selection of postcards remembering this forgotten Queens amusement park.

Below: Color saturated nighttime, circa 1939

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mayor Westervelt: "Police officers must wear uniforms!"

KNOW YOUR MAYORS Our modest little series about some of the greatest, notorious, most important, even most useless, mayors of New York City. Other entrants in our mayoral survey can be found here.

Mayor Jacob Westervelt
In office: 1853-1855

Dutch-blooded Jacob Aaron Westervelt, 24th man to become mayor of New York since the British evacuation of 1783, lived in a two-family home at 308 East Broadway near Grand Street. This seems like a rather odd spot for a mayoral residence today, and perhaps even then. Today there is no 308 East Broadway, there's only a grim-looking public school and a barren traffic island.

But there are some surviving row houses just down the block -- preserved Federal-style buildings at 247-249 East Broadway -- so just imagine a fancier version of these on the spot that Westervelt's residence once stood, many years before this neighborhood would become associated with squalor and overcrowding.

Now image this: an angry mob of 5,000 men with torches, surrounding this very home in the winter of 1853, painting a cross on the doorway and crying for his head. His crime: he sides with Catholics. Scandal! What would a mayor have to do garner that sort of reception today?

Westervelt is better known today for his original profession as master ship-builder. Few men who served as mayor of New York were better regarded internationally as Westervelt, who once received an honor from the king of Spain for making them some of the fastest ships in the sea.

Jacob was born twenty days into the year 1800 in Tenefly, New Jersey, but moved with his family into New York when he was only four years old. His father was a builder and constructed several new homes along Franklin Street, near the area being drained of that marshy, polluted mess known as Collect Pond.

By age 14, Jacob was apprenticing with famed shipbuilder Christian Bergh at his shipyard off Corlear's Hook -- not coincidentally more than a few blocks from Westervelt's later residence as mayor.

Bergh would spawn one of New York's wealthiest families, although incongruently his son Henry Bergh would become the best known member -- as the founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Henry is also known for this weird mausoleum at Green-wood Cemetery.

The Berghs would eventually abandon shipbuilding after Christian's death. His young apprentice Jacob would carry the torch for him, eventually taking over Bergh's shipyards, expanding with other business partners up and down the East River shore, and using southern American and European connections to soon dominate the shipbuilding business. By 1845, Westervelt had overseen the construction of dozens of clippers, schooners and steamships, among the fastest and most reliable on the Atlantic Ocean.

Below: an illustration of various boatbuilders in 1861, including Westervelt at bottom

As a pioneer of reliable and innovative shipping vessels, Westervelt's influence was felt internationally. In the world of mid-19th century politics, that made him an ideal candidate for public office, and especially to Democratic machine Tammany Hall. As one of Manhattan's most visible men of industry, Jacob employed hundreds of new Irish immigrants, Tammany's prime voting bloc. In fact, Westervelt had already briefly served as council alderman for his district in 1840.

In 1852, Tammany could use a man of relatively unblemished character. The stench of corruption was already swirling around the powerful, entrenched Democrats in office -- and this was in the years before Boss Tweed! Derisively known as the Forty Thieves**, the Democratic aldermen in City Hall were easily and openly bought, by everyone it seems but the mayor at the time, anti-Tammany reformer Ambrose Kingsland. City expenditures swelled, the elaborate web of political kickbacks and bribery gelling during this period.

But Tammany was looking to start fresh -- or at least strike the apperances of doing so -- choosing Westervelt as their reform-lite candidate in 1853, a symbol of prosperity in a wobbly New York economy. Westervelt, on the surface, looked like somebody who could quell the city's massive over-expenditure. On the strength of a surging Democratic national ticket with presidential candidate Franklin Pierce, Westervelt was easily elected by the largest margin yet during a mayoral race, defeating the now-forgotten Whig Morgan Morgans.

Although, this being the 1850s, one can assume that total to be highly suspicious. "No registry law was in force to hinder men from often as twenty times," claimed one early history.

Westervelt inherited several massive projects which were bloating the city budgets, including Central Park. Already a done deal when Westervelt entered office, the mayor sought to cut the park space in half due a bloated, overwhelmed city budget. Had Westervelt ruled the day, Central Park would have started on 72nd Street! His plans would be reversed a few years later by Mayor Fernando Wood.

More appropriately, Westervelt became president of a world's fair in 1853, more specifically called the Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations and housed in the glorious Crystal Palace in the area of today's Bryant Park. Having a man of industry preside over a fair of industry was both fortuous and apt; certainly examples of his own creations were displayed with other technological marvels of the age like the elevator.

Below: the well-uniformed Crystal Palace police officers (pic courtesy NYPL)

One of the mayor's lasting contributions was in New York police reform, creating a Board of Police Commissioners with himself in charge to apply a strict code of ethics to an already chaotic, corrupted body. In doing so, he wrangled away from his more corrupt Democratic brethren their ability to buy and sell police jobs as a form of political patronage.

But his most radical idea is today the most obvious: he mandated that every police officer should wear a uniform, an "expensive and fantastical" requirement according to his opponents who believed it "unrepublican to put the servants of the City in livery."

Westervelt managed to make himself with one very unpopular with one group: the Know-Nothings, a 'native American' group who feared the swelling hordes of Irish and Catholic immigrants and the Catholicism they brought with them. The group would reach peak influence across the country in the mid-1850s, and they would actually gain significant political traction in other cities. In New York, they more often showed their moxie in the form of rioting.

The mayor earned their ire on December 11, 1853, when he ordered a street preacher arrested for gathering a group of 10,000 to listen to his frothing Know-Nothing spiel. It probably didn't help matters that said preacher had organized on Westervelt's own wharfs on the East River!

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned Jacob's address -- 308 East Broadway. A bit out-of-way of New York's high society, sure, but Westervelt wished to be close to his ships. In fact, he and his partner Robert Connelly both built adjoining houses on this spot, facing Grand Street. According to Harper's, "Over the door was a large stone cap on which was carved the representation of a ships taffrail." (Taffrail is nautical for "the upper part of the ship's stern")

Thus, the angered Know-Nothing crowds were scant blocks from the mayors door. A reported 5,000 men gathered outside Westervelt's home, demanding retribution and the release of the arrested preacher. To remind the mayor what this argument was all about, they painted a gigantic cross upon the door.

This story outlines Westervelt's uneasy dual role as city leader and businessman. In 1855, the ships won out. Jacob bowed out, allowing Wood to finally ascend to the mayor's desk for the first time. His best work as a shipbuilder was indeed ahead of him, though he would make brief returns into the political fray, first as a state senator, then in a newly created job in which he was most qualified -- the New York commissioner for docks and ferries, from 1870 until his death in 1879. He died at his home on 63 West 48th Street, in the area of Rockefeller Center today.

Pictured at right: Westervelt at age 70

** Not to be confused with New York's first gang, also called The Forty Thieves

Friday, October 16, 2009

John Brown and the heady world of New York phrenology

Today is the 150th anniversary of the raid on Harpers Ferry in West Virginia by radical abolitionist John Brown (at left), a failed attempt to free slaves and start a revolution. I recently found this article outlining John Brown's various visits to New York City. Most notably, Brown met one of his lieutenants here, Hugh Forbes, who fought beside the failed Italian revolutionary Garibaldi.

Brown would often come to Manhattan to visit his son John Brown Jr, who apprenticed at the townhouse office of Fowler & Wells at 131 Nassau Street, near City Hall. (Find a picture of their later office at 27 East 21st Street here.)

What exactly was Fowler & Wells? They were practitioners in the antiquated art of phrenology, an actual 19th century science that gauged a person's brain capacity, personality and potential based on the size and shape of their skull.

According to the Kings Handbook of New York, the offices of Fowler & Wells featured various phrenology parlors and a lecture room populated with "the casts of heads of people who have been prominent in many ways over the years; also, skulls from many nations and tribes, as well as animal crania, illustrative of phrenology, and constituting a free public museum, and material for instruction in the institute."

Its founders Orson and Lorenzo Fowler popularized the pseudo-science writing various tomes on the subject like Matrimony, or Phrenology Applied to the Selection of Companions and Phrenology Proved, Illustrated and Applied.

John Brown Sr. actually got his head examined -- literally -- by Orson Fowler in 1847. His diagnosis? "You have a pretty good opinion of yourself. You might be persuaded but to drive you would be impossible."

Below: A picture of Lornezo seated in his New York office

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Balloon Girl Found!!

No chance of this young lady floating away with her helium souvenir from the New York World's Fair 1939-1940 [courtesy here]

History in the Making: Ghosts for Sale Edition

ABOVE Broadway Scares: Wood engraving from 1871. "The 'Pepper's Ghost' apparatus adapted for the stage. The actor's illuminated shape is projected onto the stage via an inclined plate of glass." (image courtesy NYPL)

Surreal Estate: On this week's podcast, we talked about the various ghosts supposedly haunting 12 Gay Street in the West Village. Well, guess what? You can now buy it! [Gothamist]

And while we're on the subject of ghosts, did the ghost of Patrick Henry really haunt the basement of Brooklyn's North Reformed Dutch Church? [Virtual Dime Museum]

Well This Is Unexpected: The Grateful Dead arrive at the New York Historical Society next Wednesday. Really. [NYHS]

3D Landmarks: Three-dimensional history courtesy a strange new Google Maps feature. [Brooklyn Heights Blog]

Exit Stage Right: Forty years ago today, Broadway shuts down for Vietnam Moratorium Day. [More at Playbill]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wonderland: Walt Disney's seven Big Apple moments

Yesterday's news about a new Times Square flagship store for Disney had me wondering what influence if any New York had on the career of Walt Disney, arguably one of the most successful men in history to make his name on the West Coast. Come to find out, the world might never have had Mickey Mouse and the rest without one New Yorker in particular.

Here's seven of the most significant New York moments for Walt Disney and the Disney empire:

1) Disney Discovered
Small-time Kansas City animator Walt Disney spent much of 1923 writing New York film distributor Margaret Winkler, hoping she'd take a look at a new film he was creating, Alice's Wonderland -- a coy, self-reflexive mix of animation and live-action. He was lucky; Winkler was looking to put pressure on her biggest star Pat Sullivan (creator of Felix The Cat), and Disney's strange little picture did the trick. She signed him and brother Roy, but retained editing control on the early 'Alice Comedies', inserting a Felix the Cat-like character named Julius, the first of hundreds of human-like animals in Disney films.

Winkler, by the way, was the first female film distributor in the United States and briefly one of the most powerful women in silent film -- at a time when the film industry was centered on the east coast.

Below:one of the Alice Comedies

2) Steamboat Willie
Disney would return to New York with his revolutionary 'Steamboat Willie', the first sound appearance of Mickey Mouse. On November 18, 1928, it quietly made its world premiere at the Colony Theatre (Broadway and 53rd Street, still around today as the Broadway Theatre). Sitting in the audience for everyone of its two-week performances was Walt himself.

Steamboat Willie was the opener on a bill of entertainment that also featured the film Gang War, starring Mary Pickford's brother Jack, an alcoholic mess who once dated Olive Thomas who allegedly haunts the New Amsterdam Theatre. 'Gang War' would be his final movie role.

3) Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs
Almost ten years later, Disney's first feature-length animated spectacle would have a far more grandiose reception -- a five-week run at Radio City Music Hall starting in January 1938. The New York Times exclaimed, "They're gay and friendly and pleasant, all of them, and so is the picture. Thank you very much, Mr. Disney, and come again soon." As legend goes, the upholstery of several Radio City Music Hall chairs had to be replaced, as children wet their pants as the first sight of the Wicked Witch.

Strangely, the film was later paired with an ice-themed short, Ski Flight, because during winter there's nothing people like to do more than sit and watch ski movies.

4) Fantasia
Disney's trippy concept film closed the loop; as one of Disney's first self-distributed films, it premiered November 13, 1940 at the same theatre that had once shown Steamboat Willie, only this time it was called the Broadway Theatre. (Today it's a mainstream musical stage featuring Shrek the Musical).)

There was more drama behind the screen than in front. One scene ("Ave Maria") had to be redeveloped, flown to New York and was literally spliced in with four hours to go before showtime.

5) The Worlds Fair 1964-65
The Worlds Fair of 1939 had clearly had its influences on Disney's future theme parks. So it was only natural to bring him in as a consultant for Robert Moses' crowning concrete spectacle of 1964. Disney Studios brought animatronic dinosaurs to life in the "Magic Skyway" for the Ford Motor Company pavilion (see picture below), a talking Abraham Lincoln, and of course 'It's A Small World'. Many more pictures of Walt behind the scenes at Disney and More.

6) Disney rewrites Broadway
Less than thirty years after Walt's death, the company enters -- and promptly conquers -- a new frontier: Broadway. Beauty And The Beast became its first permanent Broadway production when it opened in April 18, 1994. The swirling gala of dancing utensils and candelabras won the Tony for Best Musical, fueling a run that would make it the sixth longest running show in Broadway history and opening the flood gates of Disney-themed shows.

By the time 'Beauty and the Beast' closed in 2007, Disney had changed the rules of the Broadway musical and the actual physical makeup of 42nd Street itself, leading to the sanitation (i.e. 'Disney-fication') of the once-seedy boulevard

7) And hits Fifth Avenue, too
The invasion wasn't just on popular entertainment, but on the heart of New York retail. The first Disney store opened on Fifth Avenue on May 22, 1996. Ushered in by mayor Rudy Giuliani and Disney CEO Michael D. Eisner, thousands of shoppers flocked to the retailer, at the time setting the record for single-day sales at a Disney store. That's an awful lot of mouse-eared Statue of Libertys.

The company just announced that this 'World of Disney' location, at 55th Street, would be permanently closing next year, to make way for Disney's Time Square plans.

I should end by adding that when Disney moved in during the 1990s, it had kicked out a New York City institution -- the famous French restaurant La Côte Basque, a "high-society temple" and favorite of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The eatery moved around the corner but only lasted a few more years.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New York 1971: Above the Skyscrapers

Manhattan overhead, circa 1971 Notice the World Trade Center still under construction and the complete absence of Battery Park City

Courtesy Life Henry Groskinsky, photgrapher

Friday, October 9, 2009

Haunted Tales of New York: Urban Phantoms

Historic Gay Street, 1940: a tiny little lane literally crammed with ghosts

It's time for our third annual 'ghost stories' episode, our mix of historical facts and spooky legends from the annals of New York's past.

For this round of scary tales, we visit a famous 19th century townhouse haunted by a lonely spinster, a West Village speakeasy with some guests who still haven't gone home, and the site of a former restaurant that might be possessed with the spirit of a famous folk singer.

ALSO: we go back all the way to New Amsterdam for an old legend involving Peter Stuyvesant, a turbulent river, and the Devil himself!

PODCAST Download this show it for FREE on iTunes or other podcasting services. Click this link to download it directly from our satellite site. Or click below to listen here:

The Bowery Boys: Haunted Tales of New York

As always, click on pictures for a bigger view

POSSESSIONS: The former home of Seabury Tredwell at 29 E. 4th Street, now billed as the Merchant's House, is one of New York's most famous haunted houses, alledgedly still home to his daughter Gertrude. The house is a rare 'trapped in amber' experience, with family possessions that have never left the house since the family moved there in 1835.

Photo from 1936 by Berniece Abbott, but really, the house looks exactly the same:

Click here for more information on the Merchant's House Museum's October Halloween plans, which include funereal decoration, a coffin procession to nearby New New York City Marble Cemetery, and candlelight tours: Merchant's House

THE PARTY NEVER ENDS: 12 Gay Street, once a horse stable, housed Mayor Jimmy Walker's mistress Betty Compton and the creator of Howdy Doody. However, it was a former speakeasy in the basement that's given the building a rather ghostly entourage of spooks and apparitions, including the cloak-wearing Gay Street Phantom. Do deceased flappers and dead drunks still haunt this quiet little street?

HORROR: This famous puppet was born in the location of a former speakeasy. Might it too have been possessed with its former revelers?


WHAT LIES BENEATH: The rushing waters of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, linking the Harlem River to the Hudson River, have spawned many legends since the Dutch arrived. Does its unusual name hide a secret of something that lives underneath the turbulent waters? (Illustration courtesy NYPL)

DOOMED: Anthony Van Corlaer, trumpeter and sentry assigned by Peter Stuvesant to warn rural Dutch settlers of impending attack, met a watery end at the hand of the Devil himself, according to legend. Below: from the painting Antony Van Corlear Brought Into the Presence of Peter Stuyvesant

IN LIMBO: The tortured folk singer Phil Ochs killed himself in Far Rockaway, but is his spirit still haunting a former restaurant in SoHo?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Open House NY: Eight Best Bets (Still Available!)

Relive the 1964 World's Fair this weekend -- from a trolley

Open House New York, a weekend-long celebration of city-wide architecture, history and habitation, rolls out this weekend at a varied host of locales. If you're like me, you completely forgot to make reservations to any of the hottest tours. So if you're interested in checking out the famous Atlantic Avenue subway tunnel, the grounds of Fresh Kills, Prospect Park's austere Litchfield Villa, the Old Croton Aqueduct, sculptor Tom Otterness' studio, or Radio City Music Hall, you'll have to try another time.

However, there are still many opportunities that are either not yet filled or don't need a reservation at all. Here's eight of the most intriguing Open House sites still actually open:

Brooklyn Navy Yard -- by bus or bike
Fort Greene, Brooklyn
When: Bike tour Sat & Sun 9am; Bus tour Sat & Sun 2pm
You've seen it from the Manhattan side, you've walked or biked by this walled in Navy shipbuilding grounds, and you may have even pondered the mysterious Commodores Row. Why not take a look inside? They're offering tours by bus or, better yet, grab your bike and take a tour that also features the yard's "green elements."
Why go? Sounds like the perfect thing to do on a nice day
Do this: email and specify bike or bus tour.

Chrysler Building
Midtown Manhattan
Sat 11 am, 2 pm; Sun 12 pm
Get a primer on New York's classiest building from historian Robert Klara, who'll point out the richer characteristics of that lavish lobby and recount the story of the building's construction.
Why go? You can linger on the interior of the building without businessmen leering at you.
Do this: No reservation required, so just show up

Above: Pre-punk St. Marks Place

East Village on foot
Starts at the East Village Visitors Center, 308 Bowery
Sat 12, 2 pm; Sun 12, 2 pm
Lots of unsung history to hear about among the bars and sushi restaurants of the East Village, from the old punks of St. Mark's to the tenement lore of Alphabet City.
Why go? The fine folks at the Lower East Side History Project do this for a living.
Do this: email to reserve a spot

The 1939 and 1964 World's Fairs by trolley
Flushing-Meadow Park, Queens (meet at Calvert Circle
Park rangers leader a spirited tour of Flushing-Meadow's fair monuments, many in picturesque ruin.
Why go? Who turns down anything on a trolley?
Do this: Call 718-846-2731 for reservation

Scavenger Hunt through haunted Morris-Jumel Mansion
Washington Heights, Manhattan
Sat 11 am - 4 pm; Sun 11 am - 4 pm
I think this one is for kids, but the idea of scouring the former home of Eliza Jumel -- the same house used by George Washington as an encampment -- in a scavenger hunt sounds too tempting to ignore. Listen to our first ghost story podcast, featuring the tale of Mrs. Jumel, to get yourself in the mood.
Why go? You've always wanted to visit the Morris-Jumel Mansion, and you never turn down a scavenger hunt.
Do this: Just show up during the hours above

Robert Moses-era relic: Jacob Riis Park Bathhouse
Rockaway Beach, Queens
Open 9-5pm all weekend, but guided tour at 11am Sat
If you you're a fan of Moses or fascinated in his early vision of public spaces, a tour of the 1932 Jacob Riis Park Bathhouse will give you a great idea of that vision at its most aestheticly pure. Sounds worth the trek from any borough.
Why go? Mr. Moses commands you.
Do this: Call 718.318.4300 to reserve

Holy Ghosts of Chapel of the Good Shepherd
Roosevelt Island
Just Sat, from 9am - 4pm
This 1888 house of worship offered Blackwell's Island's many mental patients, prisoners, and the poor souls in the almshouse a touch of spiritual respite. While you're there, walk the length of the island and make a day of it.
Why go? I wish Open House featured more activities on Roosevelt Island, a place teeming with history from every nook
Do this: Just show up, no reservations, although you may have to stand in line

Sites of the Upper West Side
Meet at southeast corner of 96th St/ Broadway, Manhattan
Sat and Sun at 1 pm
This isn't just any old tour of the Upper West Side's fabled Bloomingdale area. Highlighted on the tour will be tales of both the first president (George Washington's sped through here chased by the British) and the latest (Barack Obama's Columbia years). I recommend pairing this with the Morris-Jumel tour, which is open all day.
Why go? Span centuries in just a few short blocks
Do this: Contact for reservations

Check out Open House's website for the complete program, including updated status on new places to visit and time changes.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

History in the Making: Trees and Castles Edition

ABOVE: CBS Radio Theater, later known as the Ed Sullivan Theater, home of David Letterman and his scandals (Circa late 1930s, photo by the Wurtz Brothers, courtesy NYPL)

QUEENS: The New York Times ponders the question of New York's oldest tree. We also pondered the same question a few months ago. The Queen's Giant is still the victor, but what about that chopped-down Great White Oak? [City Room]

MANHATTAN: Speaking of chopping down, the landmarked Corn Exchange Bank Building in Harlem unceremoniously loses two floors. [Gothamist]

BROOKLYN: The 1973 Park Slope Riot. No, it wasn't about baby carriages. [Save Park Slope]

BRONX: The fabulous story of Fonthill, fairytale castle in the Bronx, owned by one of the greatest actors of the 19th century, Edwin Forrest [Virtual Dime Museum]

STATEN ISLAND: Michael Bloomberg marched in the 19th annual Columbus Day Parade, alongside the mayor of Crespina, Italy, sister city of Staten Island. [SI Live]

OUTSIDE NYC: Also, former Bronx resident Edgar Allen Poe will receive a proper burial in Baltimore this weekend. [AP Press]

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

All that 'Jazz': Cinema history at Broadway and 52nd, 1927

Eighty-two years ago today, The Jazz Singer debuts as Warner's Theater at 1664 Broadway (at 52nd Street). It was the first film to feature sound in certain parts of the film. New Yorkers would have to wait another year for The Lights of New York, the first all talking picture.

Why October 6th? Yom Kippur that year fell on Oct. 7, a holiday which features prominently in the film.

The theatre where this historic premiere occurred is long, long gone. Built in 1924 (as the Piccadilly Theatre), Warner Brothers bought it for $835,000 the year of Jazz Singer's release, to use their showcase screen in New York. But the once modern theatre was soon left behind as films became more lavish and technologically sophisticated. It was torn down in 1952.

According to the wise people at Cinema Treasures, the movie house when through numerous names during that time, including the New Yorker, the Oriental, the Abbey, the Continental, the Manhattan and the Republic.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Americans: NYC's first professional hockey stars

The New York Rangers , the city's ice hockey hope since 1926, began their season on Friday, losing one that night and recovering on Saturday versus Ottowa Senators.

Okay, so I'm not going to pretend that I've ever been a hockey fan before this year. However, geek alert, I have this uncanny ability to trick myself into liking something by studying and absorbing its history. To see that bloody ice, those flying sticks, that vulgar degree of unsportsman-like agitation! When Sean Avery, who will debut this week after an injury, punches somebody in the face, it's part of a proud tradition that harkens back generations.

While the Rangers often play fourth-fiddle in the pantheon of high-profile New York sports teams, they've been part of the city for decades, playing their first game on November 16, 1926, against the Montreal Maroons. They beat the Maroons -- and almost everybody else, winning the American Division title (though losing the Stanley Cup) their very first year.

Believe it or not, however, the Rangers were not even New York's first hockey team. Enter the far less successful but not forgotten New York Americans, one of the few U.S. sports teams to be owned by a Prohibition bootlegger.

Ice hockey was invented in Canada, flourishing and expanding there, but before the 20th century began spilling over the border to the United States and into New York, with amateur leagues in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and even a Columbia University team. Hockey's first home in New York was St. Nicholas Rink, a sports venue at 69 West 66th Street (at Columbus Avenue) which opened in 1896 as an exclusive site for ice sports until a more popular sport -- boxing -- forced it out in 1920.

Which was fine for ice hockey enthusiasts, because the sport was moving on to a brand new venue -- Madison Square Garden. In this case, we're not talking about the Stanford White classic which actually sat in Madison Square or the current MSG at 34th street above Penn Station. No, from the years 1925-1968, another building held the name, located at 50th Street and 8th Avenue. Today, Worldwide Plaza stands in its place.

This MSG, owned by the flamboyant promoter Tex Rickard, would famously stake its reputation on boxing and circuses. But in its first year, Rickard agreed to open the floor to brand new ice hockey team.

The Canadian National Hockey League was a granting franchise licenses to various American cities. The franchise promoter Thomas Duggan saved one for himself and set his sights for a New York team. His only setback was money. This being 1925, smack in the heart of Prohibition, it's no surprise he turned to famous bootlegger and mobster Bill Dwyer for assistance. Yes, New York's first ice hockey team was funded by one of the city's most notorious gangsters.

By 1925, Dwyer had even spent some time in jail for bribing the Coast Guard. He looked at funding sports teams as a vie for 'legitimate' business, although it was his amassed wealth by illicit gains that was actually used to sculpt the new team. When members of an Ontario team the Hamilton Tigers revolted against their management, Duggan simply bought out all the players, moved them to New York and -- certainly thumbing their noses at their old Canadian owners -- called them the New York Americans.

The Americans, garbed in patriotic colors, played their first game on December 15th, 1925, against the Montreal Canadiens. At least in 1925, Americans were no match in the game of hockey against Canadians, and they lost 3-1. And would continue to lose, from 1925 to 1941, once or twice making division playoffs but mostly placing last.

But New Yorkers, at least that first year, were intrigued. Attendance was so strong that Rickard, jealous of Duggan and Dwyer's success, wanted his own team, one in which he didn't have to split the profits. And so, the very next year, on the very same ice as the Americans, the New York Rangers made their debut. They were an even bigger hit because they actually won games, partially due to being placed in a division with fewer seasoned Canadian teams.

By 1941, the Americans were overshadowed, utter defeated and out of steam. A brief ploy to rebrand the team as the Brooklyn Americans -- they never actually played any matches in Brooklyn -- only delayed the inevitable, and the team's franchise was bitterly not renewed.

Most Rangers fans are probably not too familiar with the Americans' record, but they are familiar with Rangers 'curse' placed upon them by then-Americans coach Red Dutton, who supposedly declared that their rivals would never win another Stanley Cup while Red was still alive. It worked. The Rangers would not take home the cup until 1994, seven years after Red's death. Talk about holding a grudge!