Saturday, November 28, 2009

Corlears Hook and the Pirate Gangs of the East River

The Short Tail Gang sit underneath a pier at Corlears Hook, picture taken in 1890, long after all the great pirate gangs of the area had disbanded, been eaten by rats, or joined the Confederate army (listen to podcast for explanation!)

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: Corlears Hook and the Pirates of the East River

An illustrated map of the ward system of New York in 1817 highlights the Corlears Hook shorefront area of the Seventh Ward and the even more notorious Fourth Ward further down the coast. Much of the Seventh Ward was owned by the Rutgers family, who slowly parcelled out the neighborhood to shipbuilders, business owners and, eventually, tenements.

The East River shore in 1876, looking northeast from the uncompleted Brooklyn Bridge, all the way to Corlears Hook

Patsy Conroy, leader of one of the East River's most ruthless and ambitious gangs, terrorizing shipping vessels throughout New York Harbor.

The shore between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, early 20th century.

Corlears Hook Park was one of the first municipal parks, opening in 1905. This Lewis Wickes Hine photograph is from 1905 (courtesy of NYPL)

And finally, here's a film from 1903 depicting the entire East River waterfront at that time. This is more lower Manhattan than Corlears Hook, but it should give you some idea of how clotted and bustling the shoreline was.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving from the Bowery Boys!

There'll be a new -- shall I say, swashbuckling -- new podcast on Friday afternoon. Have a great holiday everyone! And remember to vote in the 2009 Podcast Awards (see sidebar).

Below: New Amsterdam becomes New York, from dead animal pelts to, um, a unicorn? Okay I have no idea what this print really means. Published in 1700, courtesy NYPL

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Turkeys (and Wolves and Turtles) in lower Manhattan

While walking around the Civic Center district this weekend, I stumbled upon this dedication to the original residents of Manhattan island, the Lenape, using some rather stiff, traditional images of a turkey, a turtle and a wolf.

The circumference of the dedication features the inscription, "Hay-la-py-ee-chen-quay-hee-las, The Place Where the Sun is Born, Menesenek, on the Island, Munsee, People of the Stony Country"

Why these particular creatures? The Lenape were actually divided into the three tribal groups, corresponding to these three creatures, whom they believed they were descended from according to ancient tradition. The Minsi (or, as indicated on the inscription, Munsee) meaning Wolf, "people of the stony country," were the Lenape clan who lived in the areas of New York City today. The Unami (or Turtle) and Unalachtigo bands of Lenape inhabited the areas of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania.

The dedication, located just east of Jacob Javits Federal Plaza with its wild swirly green benches, sits on an area once covered by Collect Pond and its surrounding marshes over 200 years ago.

Click here to see a cool little map indicating the Lenape regions of New York and New Jersey.

Speaking of turkeys, has anybody recently seen Battery Park's resident fowl Zelda?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hazy City: Brooklyn Bridge 1982

Hovering over the Brooklyn Bridge, 1982, Jet Lowe photographer (Photo courtesy LOC) Click photo for larger view

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mayor Cadwallader D. Colden: Would grandpa be proud?

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 Cadwallader D. Colden
In office: 1818-1821

The most remarkable thing about New York City having a mayor named Cadwallader Colden is the fact that he was not even the most famous New Yorker named Cadwallader Colden.

That distinction goes to his grandfather, an altogether different Cadwallader Colden than his grandson. I like him because he was a rather fascinating Renaissance man, despite the fact that he was also pro-British, stridently hated among the American rebels and the type of man that would have thrown me in jail on sight.

Ole Cadwallader was an Irish physician who came to the American colonies in 1710 (at age 22) to practice medicine. Establishing his practice in Philadelphia, he later came to New York and in 1743 wrote a now seemingly obvious treatise drawing a connection between New York's unsanitary conditions and its frequent outbreaks of yellow fever.

Elder Colden (at right) became governor of the New York colony in 1760 and later sparked ire among beleaguered New Yorkers, who burned his effigy over enactment of the Stamp Act. Colden ultimately represented the losing side of the American Revolution, and due to that, his other accomplishments are often overlooked -- he was the first in America to write about Newtonion scientific theories, and the first colonist to act as ambassador to the Iroquois Confederacy, the union of five Native American tribes.

Perhaps it's appropriate that Colden died in September 1776, the year of the conflict that would run the British out forever. He might be scandalized to know that his grandson, born in 1769 in Flushing, Queens County, would become a model American. (Jr's father Cadwallader Colden II was more concerned with governing the family's lush 3,000 acre estate in Queens and remained essentially neutral during the Revolutionary War.)

Born in the trappings of wealth, Cadwallader III was shipped off to London for a proper education and returned to New York in 1785 to become a lawyer. With his high class connections, he quickly acquired an impressive client roster, in particular Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston, assisting in their control of ferry services in New York harbor. He became New York district attorney twice, 1798 and 1810.

Colden was a different man from his ancestor; he even fought against the British as a colonel of volunteers in the War of 1812. Surprising given his lineage, Colden was for many years considered a Federalist, the party of Alexander Hamilton. However, he considered as one of his closest friends a rather unlikely ally -- anti-Federalist DeWitt Clinton.

How they met probably had less to do with political alliances than membership of a rather notable society -- the Freemasons. In fact, Colden and Clinton were members of the city's most influential -- and still active -- Holland lodge. Within a few years, this affiliation would be political poison, with anti-Freemason candidates characterizing the secret organization as above the law and morally corrupt.

Colden's ascent into the mayor's office caught him within some serious political crossfire. Cadwallader's friend DeWitt became the governor of New York in 1817, making him the head of the Council of Appointments, which selected a mayor for New York, back in the heady days before elections. Clinton would use his influence to install his friend in the job in 1818, but not without Colden sustaining a little political injury.

One evening, Colden was in Albany and was invited inside a tavern for a glass of wine. He suddenly realized he was in a room filled with members of Tammany Hall, political enemies of the Federalists. Colden had once been a member of Tammany -- during their less politically active days -- and in 1793 had even spoke to an assemblage at Saint Paul's Church.

He was now on the opposite side. Immediately they pounced, urging him to not seek the mayor appointment. But no, he cried! "He exclaimed energetically against the trickery, declaring that he had not asked for the office of Mayor, but would only accept it if offered." When Clinton did grant him the job, Tammany made sure to make life difficult for him. For the entirely of his three one-year terms, Colden became a pawn in the battle between Governor Clinton and the ascendant Democratic machine.

Colden began work in the spanking new City Hall, the fourth mayor for the new building after Jacob Radcliffe, John Ferguson and, of course, DeWitt Clinton. (Below: looking up Broadway, circa 1819)

He prided in his city's budding sophistication and made civility and safety his chief concerns. First on his agenda: all those pigs running around. "Our wives and daughters cannot walk through the streets of the city without encountering the most disgusting spectacles of these animals indulging the propensities of nature." Animals were penned up and steep fines charged to butchers who kept pigs unproperly supervised.

Colden took a crack at the city's deeper seeded problems. Indeed he was governing over a growing city, population 123,706 as of 1820. With a big city came big city problems -- poverty, crime, homelessness.

The New York Society for the Prevention of Pauperism, lead by the mayor himself, investigated prison conditions throughout the young nation to come up with a local solution. At the time, the state penitentiary lay in today's West Village in a place called Newgate Prison. One of their findings was a need to separate younger delinquents from the adult criminals held there.

Colden proclaimed, "It must be obvious that under such circumstances it would be in vain to expect that their punishment will improve their morals: it can hardly fail to have a contrary effect."

The mayor set the stage for an innovative experiment, New York's House of Refuge, in an arsenal at Broadway and 23rd Street, essentially a reform school, built to incarcerate children age 16 and younger. It opened in 1825 (after Colden left office) with six boys and three girls as its pupils, many of them guilty only of homelessness and essentially kept here until adulthood. By the early 1830s, the House of Refuge would receive over 1,600 teenagers.

Below: The House of Refuge in 1832 (pic courtesy NYPL)

Like many mayors to follow, Colden also clamped down on liquor sales, even carrying around a 'red book' to notate violations and overheard complaints of local tavern owners.

Naturally, Colden would rally behind Clinton's most ardent cause, the Erie Canal. It opened in 1825, after Colden left office, but his support did indeed pave the way for New York to become, in his own words, "one of the greatest commercial cities in the world."

He was aristocratic, class-oriented but ultimately kind, they say. A reminiscence in the 1843 journal New Mirror quotes this certainly apocryphal story about the mayor's 'kindness'. One rainy night on his way to a dinner party, Cadwallader stepped up to a 'hackman', a type of carriage taxi, for a ride. The driver, "who had some old grudge against Mr. Colden," rudely sped away, leaving the passenger on the curb. He jotted down the cab driver's number and summoned him to City Hall.

"Poor Pat (for of course he was Irish)" as the article indicates, "went up the stairs, trembling at the fate which awaited him. When the mayor demanded to know why he was treated so rudely, the driver proclaimed,"you see I looked in your face, and , faith, you looked so like a jontleman I drove twice before that never paid me, I was afraid to thrust him agin!" Colden laughed, exclaiming, "Your wit has saved you this time!" and excused the driver.

Aligning with Clinton eventually became a bad idea. When Clinton was turned out of the governor's office, so too was Colden. But he still remained popular with New Yorkers, becoming a U.S. congressman, then a member of the New York state senate, in 1825.

In later life, he engaged in a couple unusual endeavors. The first was the construction of the Morris Canal in northern New Jersey, a conveyor of coal that operated for over a century. And in 1830, he briefly indulged in the hobby of horse racing, taking over the Union Course in Woodhaven, Queens. The closest you'll get to visiting Colden's racetrack is visiting the Union Course tavern, the oldest tavern in the borough. Colden died in 1834, in Jersey City.

You can find Cadwallader today right across the street from the Tweed Courthouse, in statue form, on the front of the Surrogate's Courthouse. He's joined there by many prominent New Yorkers, including fellow mayors James Duane, Abram Hewitt, Philip Hone and his friend DeWitt Clinton.


Share on Twitter

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

1855 New York City Hall: the Earliest View

The picture above, taken in 1855, may be the oldest existent photograph of New York's City Hall building. This is three years before the famous fire, caused by celebratory fireworks, destroyed the cupola and crown. The year this picture was taken, Fernando Wood became mayor of New York's, beginning a dominance of Tammany Hall that would last for generations.

Other major events in 1855: the city of Brooklyn absorbs Williamburgh and Bushwick, Castle Clinton opens as a immigrant processing center, and Walt Whitman would publish his first version of "Leaves of Grass."

The photo was shot by Silas A. Holmes, using a process involving salted paper, invented in 1833. Holmes had a photography studio in what would became New York's 'photography district', on Broadway in today's SoHo area. Like so many in this budding new field, Holmes made his living as a maker of daguerreotypes, a trendy fashion for New Yorkers and quite the novelty of the day.

Not too much is known of Silas, whose claim to fame is apparently patenting a now-forgotten photography process involving a two-lensed camera box.

Although his studio was among the "most popular of the New York photographers," he made some rather unwise investments "in property that finally swallowed up his earnings". He abandoned his profession entirely, ending up running a boardinghouse until his death in 1886.

I found the picture above while perusing the Library of Congress archives, but some of Holmes other works can be found in other places, including, oddly enough, in Los Angeles's Getty Museum. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has another 1855 photograph taken by Holmes, depicting Niagara Falls.

Chester A. Arthur's Indian food connection

One hundred and twenty-three years ago today, the 21st president of the United States, Chester A. Arthur, died in his Murray Hill home in New York City.

That home, 123 Lexington Avenue, holds a unique distinction in American history; it's the only extant building in New York City bearing witness to the swearing in of an American president.

George Washington, of course, was famously sworn in as our nation's first president at Federal Hall; however, that building was demolished in 1812, with the current structure calling itself Federal Hall built in 1842.

Arthur was quickly sworn in here at his lifelong home at 123 Lexington after the tragic assassination of James Garfield in 1881. He returned to this home after his presidency and died here on the morning of November 18, 1886.

The building holds a fascinating history, but it's difficult to tell from the outside. Today it is dominated by Kalustyan's specialty food and spice market which, to be fair, have been in the building since 1944 and is officially an institution for serious chefs.

For more information,Walking Off The Big Apple wrote a nice article on Chester and his home earlier this year. You can read his New York Times obituary here.

Location of Chester's home/Kalustyan's market:

View Larger Map

ShareShare on Twitter

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New York's first art museum: the Rotunda at City Hall

The Metropolitan Museum of Art contains a very unusual piece of art tied to the early history of City Hall. In fact, this piece is responsible for what is sometimes considered New York's very first art museum -- decades older than the Met itself.

The strange oil painting is called Panoramic View of the Palace and Gardens of Versailles by John Vanderlyn (pictured below). Strange, because it's a circular work of art, requiring its own room in the American wing of the Met, where it is broken into two pieces that immerse the viewer who walks between them.

Vanderlyn was a painter of great renown at the start of the 19th century, despite being a protege and close friend of disgraced vice president Aaron Burr. He went on to create portraits of many great men of the age, including several presidents.

The artist painted the Versailles panorama in 1818 in his childhood home of Kingston, New York, about a 100 miles north of the city. With the support of some wealthy New York patrons (including John Jacob Astor), Vanderlyn received permission from the city to build a small rotunda in which to properly display this odd, grandiose canvas. And prime real estate it was, located just a few steps north of the newly built City Hall at Chambers Street and Cross Street (or, today's Centre Street).

It was also next door to an abandoned almshouse; the residents of this facility had been shipped off to the newly created Bellevue Hospital by this time and the building's hallways were filled with loftier organizations, like the New York Historical Society and Scudder's American Museum. Classy, and perfect for a neighboring vanity museum.

Vanderlyn's self-designed gallery* was tiny but intense, a miniature Pantheon with domed roof 40 feet overhead. Uniquely, it was an art museum designed to focus on one artist -- Vanderlyn. However, the piece was not completed in time for the Rotunda opening, and another panorama was displayed -- a presentation of the city of Paris by Robert Barker, an Irish artist who allegedly invented the panoramic painting.

Eventually Vanderlyn brought Versailles to the Rotunda on May 26, 1820, as well other panoramas of Athens and Geneva, enhanced of course by the presence of more traditional paintings. The stipulation was that the artist could use the space as his own personal showroom for nine years, when it would pass over to the city for their own purposes.

Below: a segment of Vanderlyn's panorama

However, it appears he grossly overestimated his own appeal. Vanderlyn was constantly owing money for the building's upkeep and audiences never flocked to the gallery in numbers that would make it profitable. The artist would have to take some pieces on the road to boost interest in them.

Well before his nine years were up, Vanderlyn was interested in renewing his lease, but New York City had other plans. Despite the pleas of some of Vanderlyn's wealthy friends, the building was refitted as a small courthouse -- for a Court of Sessions (county-run criminal court) in 1829 -- and morphed, for a time, into New York's naturalization office and a neighborhood post office.

Art returned briefly to the Rotunda in 1845 when it was used in the inaugural display from the New York Gallery of the Fine Arts, a consortium of art collectors who pooled together a stagger rent of "$1 a year" to shhow off their collections of European paintings. The Gallery only stayed at the Rotunda for a short time, moving to a more elegant gallery at 663 Broadway in 1848 and dissolving entirely when they donated their entire collection to the Historical Society ten years later.

By then, the classic glory of the Rotunda had been muddied by additions mandated by the city to turn the domed structure into government offices. Where once the glories of Greece and France once hung, New York plopped down its water board and home of the Almshouse Commissioner. Despite an attempt at appropriate alternations -- including a "propylaeum, having a portico and four Doric columns" -- the Rotunda never again returned to any sort of aesthetic glory. It was ripped down entirely in 1870, in time for the city to start construction of the Tweed Courthouse.

As for Vanderlyn, true success continued to evade him. In 1842, he would paint one of his most well-known pieces, The Landing of Columbus, a commission from the U.S. government that was used on the five-dollar bill. Ten years later, Vanderlyn would alledged die in poverty back in his home in Kingston, where he had created the Rotunda panoramas.

His Versailles painting would receive a grand reception when it was donated to the Met in 1956. The museum built a special circular room just contain it.

Click here for a nice review of Vanderlyn's Versailles panorama and an overview of the entire panoramic phase of painting.

* Many sources seem to grant Vanderlyn the honor of designing the Rotunda himself, although one source lists a more-likely candidate -- Martin Euclid Thompson, who was actually an architect.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Epicenter: The glorious history of New York City Hall

City Hall, year 1900: Looks slightly different, doesn't it? The tower was rebuilt after a fire in 1917, and the entire exterior was redone in Alabama limestone in the 1950s

New York City Hall sits majestically inside a nostalgic, well-manicured park, topped with a beautiful old fountain straight out of gaslight-era New York. But its serenity belies the frantic pace of government inside City Hall walls, and disguises a tumultuous, vibrant history. There have actually been two other city halls -- one an actual tavern, the other a temporary seat of national government -- and the one we're familiar with today is a little less than 200 years old.

Join us as we explore the unusual history of this building, through ill-executed fireworks, disgruntled architects, and its near-destruction -- to be saved only by a man named Grosvenor Atterbury.

PLUS: We look at the park area itself, a common land that once catered to livestock, British soldiers, almshouses and a big, garish post office.

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: New York City Hall and City Hall Park

I'll Drink To That: Stadt Huys, New Amsterdam's town hall, was a multi-purpose stone building housing an inn, a tap room on the first floor and the workings of city government on the second floor. The building was the government center even when the British arrived and would only be replaced in 1700.

Federal Style: The second city hall, made from stones from the actual 'wall' of Wall Street, would be a bustling overstuff building and central to the beginnings of American history. For a couple years, as Federal Hall, it was the center of federal government; the votes for George Washington as the first president were counted here, and he was sworn in from the balcony. (Pic courtesy NYPL)

Park Purposes: Before City Hall arrives, the common ground held several buildings, includin almshouses and debtors prisons (depicted in the background) and an early version of the American Museum (which evolved to become Barnum's American Museum).

There Goes The Neighborhood: The image below depicts life in the year 1820. With the introduction of a shiny new City Hall, lavish rowhouses begin springing around the park, housing New York's elite. Just a few years before, they would have faced into almshouses.

D'oh!: Wanna know one really good reason why we don't shoot off fireworks in the middle of the city anymore? One robust fireworks celebration, honoring the laying of the Atlantic cable, caught the roof of City Hall on fire in 1858, causing extensive damage. (courtesy here)

The City Grows Up: New York's growth spurt starts around City Hall Park, with a few new skyscrapers becoming the tallest buildings of their times, including the World Building (pictured at center), the Park Row and St. Paul buildings (just south), and the Woolworth Building, on the park's west side.

The Municipal Building joins it a few years later....

Post Haste: The City Hall Post Office sat on the southern end of City Hall Park. In the picture below (not sure of date, but obviously early 1920s at earliest) it sits directly across from the Woolworth Building. The post office was demolished in 1939.

The front of the Post Office, entirely consuming the area that is today's southern end of the park and adjoining traffic triangle.

View Larger Map

Thursday, November 12, 2009

History in the Making: Arches and Awards Edition

Cleaner days: Far East Village, namely 10th Street and Avenue D, in a 1937 photograph by the always reliable Berenice Abbott [link: NYPL]

Some neighborhoods change slowly but consistently throughout the decades. In the East Village, however, whole areas are entirely revamped while others seem frozen in time. Check some of those changes out here, in some great before-and-after shots. [Flaming Pablum]

Northern Manhattan neighborhood Inwood has its very own Arc de Triomphe, the neglected gateway of a lavish, long-gone mansion, which now appears to be for sale to the highest bidder. [Gothamist] And more on the history of the Seaman-Drake Gate [Washington Heights history]

Forgotten New York goes from one end of 14th Street to the other. There used to be a day where you couldn't do that without getting mugged. Bonus points for featuring dear old favorite The Donut Pub. [Forgotten NY]

Wallabout, Brooklyn: it's more than prison ships! [Ephemeral NY]

A nice peek into a dive classic of ole: Maruffi's Bar, where cops would relax "by means of a large general fistfight" [Knickerbocker Village]


And finally, we're proud to announce that The Bowery Boys have been nominated for Best Travel Podcast of the year, in the 2009 Podcast Awards. Thanks to everybody who nominated us!

We're up against some steep competition in our category, including a Rick Steves show and a couple Disney podcasts. Personally all of my favorite podcasts are up for honors in other categories, so this is a great honor.

Voting for the awards begins tomorrow, November 13th, and runs until November 30th. You can vote once a day. Visit their website for more information on how to vote.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lower Manhattan's foreign architecture, 104 years ago

I would love to somehow display all of the fantastic photograph below, but cutting it in two does demonstrate an amazing change in the street scene of lower Manhattan.

Just by looking at this photograph below (from 1905), can you tell which Manhattan corner this is? (Click to get a closer look)

This is the right side of a long panoramic photograph. If you were to look at the left side of the photo, you'll be able to place it:

The building at the far right of the top photo is the City Hall Post Office, a controversial "monstrosity" which sat in the area of City Hall Park from 1878 until 1939. In the center sits the storied Astor House, extremely past its prime when this photo was taken. It would be demolished in the 1920s.

To the far left is of course St Paul's Chapel, one of Manhattan's most enduring, toughest buildings, surviving catastrophic fires, terrorist attacks and over two hundred years of tourists.

For a glimpse of the entire panorama, click here (pic courtesy LOC).

As a bonus, here's an Alice Austen photograph of some scrappy shoeshine boys from 1896, photo taken near the corner of Broadway and Vesey -- the same corner as depicted in the photographs above, ten years earlier (you can recognize the Astor House entrance):

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cocktails with 'Mad Men' at the Hotel Pierre

The following posting is littered with television spoilers, so please avert your eyes if you're a 'Mad Men' fan who hasn't seen last night's season finale.

The show is always a scavenger hunt for New York history buffs, the dialogue sprinkled with famous locations and events, most notably an entire episode to the destruction of Penn Station Last night's episode, however, brought an accumulation of New York hotel namedropping.

-- Withered Don Draper, newly separated from his wife, mentions he's staying at the Roosevelt Hotel not far from the fictional Sterling Cooper offices at 405 Madison Ave. Up until then, the hotel, built in 1924, was best known as the residence of New York governor Thomas Dewey, who actually used a suite here as his administrative office. (Sorry Albany!)

-- The rascally Pete Campbell, perhaps reflecting his ambitious social standing, mentions the luxury Sixth Avenue hotel St. Regis as a meeting place to his wife. Like any good Mad Man alcoholic, he could have enjoyed a bloody mary downstairs at the King Cole lounge, where the drink was allegedly first created.

-- Last week's episode featured a sexual liaison between Peggy Olson and Duck Phillips at the Elysee Hotel at 54th and Madison, against the backdrop of the assassination of JFK. Peggy and Duck might have ran into Marlon Brando or Joe Dimaggio, who both lived at the Elysee. Another famous figure in 1962, Tennessee Williams, resided here for many years and choked to death on an eyedrop bottle cap in one of the rooms here in 1983

-- The culmination of Mad Men's high-class hotel fetish is a doozy: the ad firm actually moves into a hotel. In this case, the Hotel Pierre on Fifth Avenue, overlooking Central Park. This ornate 1930 gem, rescued from bankruptcy by J. Paul Getty, is slightly north of Madison Avenue's ad-agency row. No doubt the characters will want to take a break from their new endeavor by having a few cocktails one block away -- at the Copacabana, still one of New York's most popular nightclubs in the early 60s.

And that's not even to mention one of the show's central plots this season -- the relationship with Don and hotel magnate Conrad Hilton.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Re-visiting the secrets of Randall's and Ward's Islands

"Gimme penny, poppy?" The desperate scene at the Randalls Island nurseries, circa 1867, according to Harpers Weekly journal. (image courtesy NYPL)

Tom was hit with the flu this week (not the swine kind as far as I can tell) so we don't have a regular podcast for you. It'll be ready by next week!

In the meantime, I put up a new 'illustrated' version of my Randall's Island podcast in our archive feed. You can get it by clicking the iTunes link below or going directly to our feed page.
The Bowery Boys - NYC History: Bowery Boys Archive - NYC History: Bowery Boys Archive

The smaller islands of the East River reveal fascinating secrets of the city's past, and Randall's and Ward's Islands are no exceptions. Found out how these former potter's fields are related to the most important Olympics-related event New York City has ever seen. The cast includes a swashbuckling British engineer, Jesse Owens, Tony Bennett, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Fiorello LaGuardia, Robert Moses, and Pearl Jam!

Listen to a regular-audio version here:

Randall's Island and Ward's Island

Randall's Island and Ward's Island -- before the merge

View Larger Map

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Yet another page in New York Yankees history

History is always easy to follow with the New York Yankees, because they always repeat it. This is their 27th World Series win -- a streak which began 86 years ago. They will of course receive a tickertape parade down the 'Canyon of Heroes', a tradition which has feted astronauts, foreign dignitaries and concert pianists.

Fears that the team would lose their mojo in a new stadium were unfounded. Thank god they unburied that Red Sox jersey from under the new Yankees Stadium last year. The team also won in 1923, the very first year of the original Yankee Stadium.

If history follows a similar pattern (i.e. the results of the 1924 season), next year's World Series will be won by the Washington Senators, who exist today as the Minnesota Twins franchise. At least they played New York in the series; however it was the New York Giants, and now they're in San Francisco.

The Mets had a new stadium this year too, but instead of luck, it brought an almost record-setting number of injuries to team members. Better luck next year!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Voted down: Six New York City mayoral wannabes

By the end of the day today, one person will be named the mayor of New York City and many other people will be named the losers.

But take heart! Many fine people have lost the race for mayor. Today I focus on six rather interesting ones. Reverend Billy, take stock! If you lose today, you join the good company of the following people:

Samuel F.B. Morse
Sure, we know him as one of the 19th century's most important inventors, creator of the telegraph and the dots and dashes that bear his name. But did you also know Morse was a virulent anti-Catholic and was once a mayoral candidate in 1836 for the Native American Party -- in this case, 'native' American meaning anybody not newly immigrated? He saw Catholic conspiracies everywhere. People were not convinced; he received less than 1,500 votes. (He would run again in 1844 and not even muster 100 votes.)

Why he lost? As he had not achieved name recogniztion yet, his campaign against Tammany-backed Cornelius Lawrence was doomed from the start.

If he won... Morse was also a prolific portraitist and could have done his own to hang in City Hall

Cynthia Leonard
A political thinker, sufferagette and stage mom, Leonard played by her own rules. Nobody was going to tell her that a recently seperated woman couldn't move to New York with her two lovely daughters and run for mayor of New York City in 1888! Why hasn't Meryl Streep made this woman's movie yet?
Why she lost? Being a rich New York woman in 1888 might have granted you social powers, but few political ones
If she won... The newspapers would have ignored her and written all about her daughter -- the glorious Lillian Russell, who the press was already obsessed with. Most likely, her daughter's ambiguous affair with Diamond Jim Brady would have scandalized New York more than it already did.

Henry George
The political economist and founder of philosophical land theories appropriately named Georgism desperately wanted to share his vision with New Yorkers, running for mayor in 1886 under the United Labor Party, and actually beat out a young politico named Theodore Roosevelt. Both lost to Abram Hewitt. He ran again in 1897 under the far more ambitious party title The Democracy of Thomas Jefferson.
Why he lost? The first time, he didn't have Tammany's backing or Hewitt's appeal. In 1897, there was another minor snafu; George died four days before the election, of a stroke brought on by campaigning.
If he won... The city would have been ran by his son, Richard F George, who stood in for his dead father.

William Randolph Hearst
Perhaps more ingraciously known as the inspiration for Citizen Kane, newspaperman and millionaire Hearst couldn't buy himself the mayor's seat, believe it or not, running in 1905 and 1909 under the fleeting Municipal Ownership League and Civic Alliance parties, respectively
Why he lost? Tammany Hall was re-ascendant at the turn of the century, and Hearst their biggest enemy.
If he won...One of the richest men in America and owner of a media empire as mayor? Never happen. ALSO: Citizen Kane might have been even more interesting.

Robert K. Christenberry
Thrown to the wolves as a token Republican candidate against a popular incumbent Robert Wagner, Hotel Astor manager Christenberry was crushed by his opponent, receiving slightly more than 25% of the vote.
Why he lost? He wasn't the most politically saavy man who ever lived.
If he won...He would have been the first mayor with no right hand (he lost it in the war)

Kenny Kramer
The man who inspired a character on Seinfeld threw his ballcap into the ring as the Libertarian Party candidate in 2001.
Why he lost? For one, the man who won, Bloomberg, is a billionaire. Also, Kenny may have had a credibility problem. When he tried running in 1997 -- with Seinfeld still on the air -- the Daily News ran an article 'No Joke! Real Life Kramer's Running"
If he won...then who would run the Seinfeld Reality bus tours?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Before you vote! Some cagey advice, circa 1876

Tomorrow New Yorkers go to the polls to vote for mayor.  Remember: don't wear false disguises to vote numerous times.  Don't beat up poll workers or throw ballot boxes into the river.  And don't vote under your dead grandmother's name. Or else, this could happen to you:

"Imprisoning alleged illegal voters on election-day in United States Commissioner Davenport's cage, in the new post-office building" (Courtesy NYPL)