Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ladies, it's your day! A Leap Year tradition, New York style

 “When a woman has reached the age of thirty there is nothing left for her but to be good. I am going to make clothes for the poor. Hand me down that roll of flannel, Rachel: I mean to begin at once." 

"If it will be any comfort to you, my dear," began Rachel, soothingly, if monotonously. "I read the other day that women of thirty were all the fashion, and that girls of twenty were quite out of it." 

"That was written by a person of forty then, my dear.”

-- excerpt from 'A Woman of Thirty', New York Times, 1893

Happy Leap Day, single ladies! Put a ring on it! For four years -- 1,460 straight days -- men have been the initiators in romance. Women were to mildly express interest in a mate, her demure politeness disguising anything possibly resembling passion as she awaited a marriage proposal from the confines of her parents home. But not so on February 29, according to custom. On this day, women get to playfully assert themselves in the parlor, boldly proposing to the men they desire.

Although this Leap Day tradition allegedly dates back to the Elizabethan era and even further, the proper folk of the Victorian -- and within the societal confines of New York -- embraced it almost-seriously. But this was no mere pantomime of dating ritual, not simply a crusty poke at female status. Citing 'common law', the Independent in 1908 proclaimed, "[A]ny man refusing a woman's proposal on leap year shall give her a silk dress. Every maiden, widow or divorcee has, therefore, an opportunity this year to replenish her wardrobe even if she fails to satisfy her affections." (The advertisement at top seems to reference this detail of the ritual.)

The tradition in 19th century New York was recognized enough that an uptick in advertisements from female suitors could be found in newspapers on that particular day. A reporter for the Times peers in on "the ladies of Harlem" in 1856 to discover "the fairer half of the assemblage asserted the prerogatives which Leap Year confers upon them to the fullest extent. They selected their own partners for the dance and very probably some of them exercised their privilege of choosing a party for life."  There was even a well-received play by J.B. Buckstone which debuted in 1850 called 'Leap Year - A Ladies Privilege'.

But was this ridiculous tradition ever really taken seriously? There was doubt, even in the Gilded Age. I mean, women proposing marriage? Can you imagine? "It seems almost incredible to us that there was a time when it was considered a humorous thing for a civilized community to assume that women were in the habit of doing what no woman is known ever to have done," wrote a Times columnist in 1880

As with old customs, this might have been taken more seriously outside of major cities, as evidenced by this letter which ran in the New York Times in 1864: "A remarkable (Leap Year) courtship and marriage came off in our quiet village last week, resulting disastrously to all the parties concerned."

For New Yorkers, Leap Day does not seem to have been a 'holiday' that received serious consideration. Among the upper crust, a woman's proposal would have been scoffed at, regardless of the season, while it's doubtful certain lower class women wouldn't have waited for a calendar anomoly to do what she wished. If anything, the urban legend might have actually deterred potential marriage proposals. According to an 1884 article, "The ladies are afraid to marry this [leap] year because people will say they popped the question."

Even William Jay Gaynor, mayor of New York 100 years ago, dismissed the custom and the women of New York in a single swoop: "I do not think women care about leap year. They can propose if they want to, but bless them, leap year or no leap year, they would rather have the fellow propose to them."

Of course, I suppose some are trying to keep this weird custom alive even today.

Illustration at top from the Club Women of New York journal from 1904. Life advertisement courtesy New York Public Library.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Execution in Five Points: Piracy, slave trade and the Tombs

Sometimes you can look back at history and think that nothing ever changes. And sometimes you find something that makes New York seem extraordinary unrecognizable, a city besieged by near barbaric crises.

The image above depicts a scene from February 21, 1862, in the courtyard of the famous Tombs prison in the Five Points neighborhood. The notoriously dank and foul-smelling complex was the scene of a great many public executions since its opening in 1838, but the one which took place on February 21 was particularly urgent, the crime cutting to the core of America's central dilemma.

The man being hanged was Nathaniel Gordon, and his crime was international slave trade. America was in the throes of a Civil War between the North and South, waged with slavery as its central issue. But the import and export of slaves into the United States has technically been banned decades earlier, and the U.S. Piracy Act of 1820 included human cargo in its definition of international piracy. This did not deter Gordon, who sailed to North Africa in 1860 and loaded a boat with almost 900 people, intending to sell them to Southern plantations.

From a vivid description from Harper's Weekly, the boat was overloaded with "eight hundred and ninety-seven (897) negroes, men, women, and children, ranging from the age of six months to forty years. They were half children, one-fourth men, and one-fourth women, and so crowded when on the main deck that one could scarcely put his foot down without stepping on them. The stench from the hold was fearful, and the filth and dirt upon their persons indescribably offensive."

Gordon was caught just 50 miles offshore and brought to the United States for trial. He would have received a stern sentence even before the war, but with the conflict in full swing by the time of his trial in late 1861, Gordon's defense team never stood a chance. Despite pleas from wealthy supporters, Gordon was sentenced to die on February 7, 1862. President Abraham Lincoln commuted the sentence by two weeks, and Gordon's supporters might have even convinced him to commute it further had Lincoln's young son Willie not died of typhoid on February 20.

One notable fact about this execution is the Tombs (pictured above, in 1863) is a city prison, but the crime was a federal offense, the only such national execution to have taken place here. Most federal executions took place at military installations. For instance 'Pirate' Albert Hicks was hanged on Bedloe's Island, home of Fort Wood (and today the residence of the Statue of Liberty). Robert Cobb Kennedy, one of the Confederate conspirators who attempted to torch various New York hotels in November 1864, was executed at Fort Lafayette off the coast of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

Gordon was also the last person ever executed by the U.S. government for violations of the Piracy Act.

For more details on the execution, check out the great Corrections History blog which details the messy particulars of the execution.

Illustration above courtesy New York Public Library

Friday, February 24, 2012

When New York hosted the Oscars: The show goes bicoastal, as Audrey flips her wig and Eva Marie reveals a baby bump

Audrey, off Columbus Circle: Hepburn sits in nervous anticipation at the New Century Theatre, moments before she wins for Best Actress.

NOTE: In honor of this weekend's Academy Awards, I'm expanding this article originally posted last year with some revisions and newer information.

Despite the Academy Awards being a celebration of all things Hollywood, New York has actually hosted the Oscar ceremony on more than one occasion. Or rather, they co-hosted the event -- from 1953 to 1957 -- in a rare and soon abandoned bicoastal ceremony that taxed the mechanics of television's earliest production crews.

There were two reasons for this complicated arrangement. NBC, who was broadcasting the event, had most of their principal stages in New York. After all, the first NBC studios were at Rockefeller Center, where they still remain today. Even The Tonight Show, perhaps NBC's first and most famous Burbank production, filmed in Manhattan until the early 1970s.

Just as important, many film stars were in New York, unable to get out of theatrical commitments on Broadway. And frankly, in the years before international television viewership, the Oscars simply did not have the same urgency as they do today. Thus, the award show came to them.

Judy Holliday gives Jose Ferrer a friendly squeeze -- and Gloria Swanson bursts with joy -- as Ferrer's name is announced as the winner of Best Actor, at La Zambra in midtown. (Getty Images)

23rd Annual Academy Awards
Best Picture winner: All About Eve
March 29, 1951

Before splitting the broadcast, the Oscars once tried a very strange live radio remote from a New York nightclub.

For the 23rd Annual Academy Awards, held on March 29, 1951, many nominees like Judy Holliday and Gloria Swanson remained in New York. Both Swanson and Jose Ferrer, starring in the Broadway comedy Twentieth Century, were nominated that year.

Instead of disappointing a sell-out theater audience, Ferrer invited all the nominees to an after-theater party at the La Zambra (127 W. 52nd Street), a nightclub owned by Spanish guitarist Vincente Gomez. A live radio link was set up among the tables, and nominees wined and dined waiting for their categories to be announced out in Los Angeles.

The club was hopping that night. Ferrer won Best Actor (for Cyrano de Bergerac), and Holliday won Best Actress (for Born Yesterday), giving their speeches into a radio microphone as champagne corks popped in the background. (Swanson, who thought she might win for Sunset Blvd., was less enthusiastic for Judy's win.) It's appropriate they were in New York, as Ferrer and Holliday both won for film adaptations of Broadway shows in which they had starred. And clearly underscoring the power that the New York stage still had on the film business, Best Picture went to the stage drama All About Eve.

Above: Shirley Booth accepts her Oscar in New York, as the audience in Los Angeles watches on. (LIFE images)

25th Annual Academy Awards
Best Picture winner: The Greatest Show On Earth
March 19, 1953

While the Los Angeles crowd were entertained by host Bob Hope, the attendees to the first official bicoastal New York ceremony were met by co-host Fredrick March, a two-time Academy Award winner. The event was broadcast from 5 Columbus Circle, at the International Theatre.

In 1953, the International was a worn out, tired New York stage, having gone through a host of different owners and renovations since it first opened -- as the Majestic Theatre -- in 1903. At different periods of time, it was owned by Florenz Ziegfeld and William Randolph Hearst, and its stage played hosts to virtually every form of entertainment, from burlesque to ballet.

Definitely an odd setting for an awards program, especially given that this was also the first Oscar show to be broadcast on television. But the International was owned by NBC, who had agreed to fund the inaugural broadcast. And NBC's fees to broadcast the program were especially valuable to Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as the film studios had refused to fund an elaborate bi-coastal show.

The broadcast began 7pm PST and 10 p.m. here, to accommodate the Broadway stars just stepping off the stage. Due to staggered entrances, many of the seats at the International were empty for much of the ceremony.

Among the nominees sitting in the Columbus Circle theater was Best Actress nominee Shirley Booth (at left), who was starring in the Broadway play The Time Of The Cuckoo on 40th and Broadway at the now-demolished Empire Theatre. She won the Oscar for the film version of Come Back, Little Sheba; she had won a Tony Award for the stage version in 1950.

Given the limitations of early television technology, it's amazing they were able to broadcast simultaneously between two coasts at all. Glitches did cause a few amusing gaffes for television audiences. When the universally reviled film The Greatest Show On Earth somehow won Best Picture over the favorite High Noon, the camera switched to the New York audience, who sat there not clapping and in mild confusion.

There would not be another Oscar telecast at the International, or anything else for that matter. The very next year, NBC moved out, and the theater was unceremoniously torn down, replaced with one of Robert Moses' pet projects, the ill-fated Coliseum convention center.

Above: Audrey snatches off her blonde Ondine wig as her limousine races her to the Oscar ceremony uptown.

26th Annual Academy Awards
Best Picture Winner: From Here To Eternity
March 25, 1954

For the remainder of the Oscars' short stay in New York, they were broadcast from the New Century Theater*, at Seventh Ave. and 58th Street, right off Columbus Circle and best known as the theater that Orson Welles and his spirited cast stormed in 1937 to perform his musical The Cradle Will Rock.

Film fans were set up in bleachers outside, just as they're popularly done out in Los Angeles. But one New York nominee didn't get there in time to meet her fans. Audrey Hepburn was down at the 46th Street Theatre performing the play Ondine (Playbill at right), costumed in a blonde wig. After the show, she raced to the Century in a limousine (with police escort, no less), ripped off her wig, rushed to the bathroom to wipe off her stage makeup, then settled into her seat for less than ten minutes before standing again to accept the trophy for Best Actress for Roman Holiday.

Here's video of Audrey's win. You can see the 'switch off' between the Los Angeles and New York feeds.

The show, hosted in New York again by Fredric March, had another New York icon receiving an Oscar that year -- Frank Sinatra, Best Supporting Actor for his role in the Best Picture that year. However, he was in Los Angeles to accept it.

(You can find tons of pictures of Audrey in her post-Oscar glow at the NBC Photo Bank.)

Above: Claudette Colbert and Joseph Mankiewicz presided over a sedate New York audience, while out in Los Angeles, audiences were energized by young comedian Jerry Lewis. (Courtesy Oscars)

27th and 28th Academy Awards
Best Picture Winners: On The Waterfront, Marty
March 30, 1955; March 21, 1956

It became obvious to most viewers that the bicoastal productions were becoming lopsided. After all, it was early evening in Los Angeles, and most of the young, fresh talent was there. In New York, it was post-theater time, and attracted the older stars -- some exhausted from stage productions. Nothing exemplifies this more than the 28th Oscar ceremony, hosted in New York by proper Claudette Colbert and Joseph Mankiewicz and in Hollywood by the hot new comedian Jerry Lewis, whose ribald antics made the New York cutaways seem drab.

But the awards were all about the East Coast. The Best Pictures these two years were for films set in Hoboken, NJ and the Bronx, respectively. Much of the cast of On The Waterfront were actually at the New York ceremony, including Best Supporting Actress winner Eva Marie Saint (pictured below), her pregnancy concealed by a jacket as she mounted the stage to accept her award. (Here's the video of her win, again highlighting the difference between the New York and the L.A. ceremonies.) Best Director Elia Kazan was also here to accept his trophy. Marlon Brando, however, was out in Los Angeles, apparently where the fun was.

The following year, this time with Colbert going solo as the East Coast mistress of ceremonies, Best Picture went to Marty, another show originating from New York. But not from a Broadway stage. As a symbolic move towards the importance of the small screen, the Ernest Borgnine vehicle was based on a teleplay from the Goodyear Television Playhouse.

Below: Eva Marie Saint, in shock, approaches the podium to accept her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for On the Waterfront, her tasteful ensemble barely concealing her pregnancy. (Courtesy Life images)

29th Academy Awards
Best Picture Winner: Around The World In 80 Days
March 27, 1957

It was clear by this time that the two coast production was more trouble than it was worth. While Hollywood went with Jerry Lewis again, while New York opted for the elegant but comparatively unexciting Celeste Holm (at right). The New York Times called it 'a colossally listless affair.' One of the few shining moments was an honorary Oscar to New York vaudevillian and Macy's Thanksgiving balloon inspiration Eddie Cantor.

This would be the last year New York hosted the Oscars. And this would be the last hurrah for the New Century Theatre as well. It would be torn down in 1962 and replaced with the rather sleek, curvy 200 Central Park South co-op.

*NOTE: The official Academy Awards website actually has the Academy Awards ceremony in 1954 held at the Center Theatre, the former RKO Roxy Theatre that was originally built as a smaller companion to Radio City Music Hall. However most sources have the New Century (often just called the Century or the NBC Century) as the location. Additionally, the Center Theatre was torn down in 1954. The announcement of its demolition was in October 1953, before the '54 Oscars ceremony.

To make it even more confusing, New York also had a Century Theatre on the other side of Columbus Circle that was demolished in the 1930s. Hopefully I've gotten these theaters all straightened out!

ALSO: You might like to see the Life Magazine photographs of Audrey pictured above in the context of the original Life Magazine article.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

It's time to shape up New Yorkers! Retro fitness madness

I was perusing the New York State video archives and came across the following 1985 video from the New York State Health Department, a "public service announcement encouraging New Yorkers to exercise."

Truly a masterpiece of font and graphic art, rendered even more amazing by the mono quality of the tape.


An unrelated by interesting fact about the New York Health Department: They began distributing free condoms for men at New York STD clinics as far back as 1971, one of the first cities to do so (although men in military were provided with free condoms as far back as the 1940s). Once health organizations became aware of the AIDS epidemic in the mid 80s, the department expanded condom distribution to other community groups. By 2008, the New York condom had a 'fresh new look' -- embossed with a sleek NYC logo -- becoming not only a useful tool, but a tourist collectable!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Big Wind of 1912: New York skyscrapers in peril, as monster gales hurl "men and women down city streets"

Trauma in Times Square: An electrical sign destroyed by the massive windstorm of February 22, 1912. One Times Square sits to the left, and the Hotel Astor is in the distance. [LOC] Shorpy has an another angle of this damaged storefront.

"The great gale that blew in with Washington's birthday will not soon be forgotten. It was the biggest New York ever knew." -- New York Evening World, Feb. 23, 1912

 I hope you'll indulge me for just one more post about life in February 1912. In fact, my last two posts on pilot Frank Coffyn and the exhausted women of Astor Place have led up to this event, a catastrophic weather anomaly which occurred on February 22, 1912, an event the New York Times referred to as 'The Big Wind'.

This particular day has also been called "a significant day in the history of tall buildings," although I doubt anybody today will be celebrating this rather vicious and sudden test of architectural endurance.

New Yorkers thought it might be worse. The storm system began the previous day as a blinding Midwestern blizzard, paralyzing the railroad and killing cattle. St. Louis received its greatest snowfall ever up to that time from this churning storm, and Chicago reported winds of up to 50 miles per hour. If it held this pattern by the time it hit the East, New Yorkers feared another storm of the level of the Blizzard of 1888, which buried the city in snow, rendered transportation useless, and killed more than 200 people.

In one respect, the city was fortunate that snowfall was relegated to upstate New York. The grim meteorological trade off, unfortunately, was a day of powerful, otherworldly wind gusts, almost double the strength of those during the infamous 1888 storm.

The worst of it came after midnight, when a terrifying frozen bluster "swooped down on the city with all its length and breadth" at speeds of 96 miles per hour. At one point, devices in Central Park registered an unthinkable 110 miles per hour. By morning it had settled to 70 miles per hour and held that speed steady for much of the day. [source]

Some called this "giant among gales" a day-long cyclone, and it certainly acted like one -- uprooting trees, destroying rooftops and even depositing whole houses into the river. People were blown off their feet, carts went flying and pedestrians dodged falling telephone poles in terror. Most leaving home wearing hats ran back inside without them.  If any of those women from yesterday's Astor Place post were trekking through the plaza with their home-work today, they most likely lost it to the wind.

Foremost on the minds of most New Yorkers was the fate of its skyline. In 1888, during the last harsh storm, there were no skyscrapers. In 1912, there were several over 30 floors, including the city's tallest, the 50-floor Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower off Madison Square. Although most buildings were designed to withstand significant wind trauma, none of them were prepared for winds above 70 miles per hour. And the building slated to become the next tallest in New York -- the Woolworth Building -- was still under construction, its metal skeleton now a potential arsenal of deadly debris.

Panes of glass shattered throughout the city, but it appears most of New York's tallest structures survived without significant damage. In fact, it was the shorter, older structures that fared worst, many of them designed with little protection from powerful winds.

Below: the downtown Manhattan skyline in 1912. Most of these buildings survived the 'Big Wind' with only damage to their windows. [pic]

Not that modern invention came away unscathed that day. The electrical signs of Times Square, many no more than a few months old, were no match for the powerful gusts. Several were destroyed, including a one provocative sign at 47th Street, featuring "two scantily clad electric boys who box nightly in Summer underwear." [source] Next to the Hotel Knickerbocker, a 200-foot electric sign crumbled to the sidewalk below in front of Hepners Hair Emporium, a police officer racing into the establishment a minute before the sign crashed into the plate glass window of the railroad ticket office next door.

Across the street, at the Times Building, a drug store window exploded, and "many bottles of perfume and drugs" were hurled at passers-by.

Most boats all along the waterfront were either damaged or untethered. Predictably, beach houses on Rockaway Beach and other quieter locales fared the worst. The luckiest structures survived with nary a window remaining; those less fortunate were found floating offshore. In Astoria, Queens, the roof to the jail was taken off, to the fright of the occupants inside.

At right: Times Square in August 1912. The White Rock sign was probably not around for the February wind storm. The 'electric boys' sign described above sat at this intersection.

In Red Hook, Brooklyn, turbulent winds kept a raging fire alive at a brick manufacturing plant, distributing flaming pitch shrapnel to several buildings across the street, including a hay and horse feed dealership! (One of many reasons they don't keep hay dealerships in crowded cities today.) The brick factory, which took several hours to control, was about three blocks from the location of today's IKEA store.

February 22, 1912, happened to be the 180th anniversary of George Washington's birth, and hundreds of veterans tried marching from Jefferson Market to Union Square. Flags raised aloft in celebration were torn to ribbons. Nobody was injured, although the gusts caused major inconvenience, "Salvation Army object lessons and banner bearers bowled over by the wind."  [source]

Others were not as fortunate. The Times attributed at least one death to the storm and over a dozen concussions from flying debris, messenger boys and seamstresses blown into windows or railings or hit by signs or dislodged cornices. One man, waiting for his wife at St. Patrick's Cathedral, had his neck slashed by flying glass. Where physical harm was avoided, humiliation took its place. A society woman on Riverside Drive, wearing "superabundantly costly furs," was picked up and thrown into a horse.

Meanwhile, down at the Battery, Frank Coffyn was preparing for another takeoff off the water on his pontoon-equipped airplane. The wind had other plans, ripping the wings off the plane and spoiling Coffyn's flight. Later that day, Coffyn wired his old boss Wilbur Wright for replacement parts. (See my post from last week for more information of Coffyn's harbor flights..)

By the late evening, winds had died down to a mere 44 miles per hour. (For comparison, New York City's average wind speed today is just 12.2 miles per hour.) In the morning, things were back to normal -- except for huge mess of metal and glass left scattered on the streets.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

This woman's work: Exhausting images of Astor Place and Lafayette Street

Gritty streets, circa 1912. Looking up Lafayette Street, below Astor Place. "The breaking point. A heavy load for an old woman." The building to the right is the DeVinne Press Building, built in the 1880s, and today home to Astor Center Wine & Spirits. In the distance: the Wanamaker Department Store building, today the home to K-Mart! Look here and turn the angle north for the present view of this street. [Source: LOC]

Lewis Hine hit the streets of New York in 1912 looking for dirt. And he found it. The teacher-turned-social activist and photographer had found the camera a useful tool in illustrating poverty and had already drawn attention to deplorable child labor conditions. In the wake of early social crusaders like Jacob Riis, Hine's photos helped the poorest New Yorkers by showcasing their daily toil in a landscape of decrepit quality.

Beyond the social commentary, however, these are still fascinating portraits of New York. None are more striking to me personally than his images taken one hundred years ago this month from Astor Place and along Lafayette Street. Many New Yorkers marveled that month at the exploits of daredevil pilot Frank Coffyn over New York harbor, but after the fun was over, many came home to this.

A highly energetic crossroads today, the destination of college students, shoppers, and theater goers, Astor Place has clearly cleaned up its act since Hine sat his tripod here a century ago. With these particular images, Hines was specifically commenting on 'home-work', poor women and children taking raw materials or clothing to mend back to their tenements, turning their confined living quarters into personal sweatshops.

They say other things to us today. The street conditions speak for themselves. But see if you can identify some of these street corners!

Caption "Woman crossing Astor Place with home-work": Looking up Fourth Avenue, with the Wanamaker department store building (designed by the great Daniel Burnham in 1904) to the left.

Two pictures on the same street corner. Notice the condition of the street in the background. The shop sign advertises 'Choice Fruits, Candies, Cigarettes, Hot Frankfurters'. They also have a public AT&T telephone.

I find this one the most intriguing. "Young girl carrying bundle of coats home to be finished." She's clearly walking up (or down?) along the Third Avenue elevated train. Keep in mind, in context to last week's post on the Coffyn flight, that it's so cold in New York at this time that the East River has frozen over in many places.

Pictures courtesy of the Library of Congress. You can check out their digital archives for hundreds of other Hine photographs from this era.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mitt Romney visits the New York World's Fair, May 1964

Apparently there's some controversy involving the latest campaign ad from presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.  The ad, aimed at Michigan primary voters, displays the photograph at top while Mitt's voiceover discusses 'going to the Detroit auto show'. That may have just been some unfortunate sound editing, as Mitt was not in Detroit, but rather at the New York World's Fair for 'Michigan Day' on May 18, 1964.

With his father, Michigan governor George Romney, young Mitt would have started his day with a breakfast at the fair's spacious Top of The Fair Restaurant, entertained by master of ceremonies Arthur Godfrey and the musical stylings of the Michigan State marching band and a vocal ensemble from the University of Detroit. After a tour of the fairgrounds, the Romneys presented New York governor Nelson Rockefeller with a bushel of Michigan apples. For lunch, the governors and their entourages enjoyed a turkey luncheon at the Belgian Village (one of the more popular destinations thanks to a hot new food item, the 'Belgian waffle').

Many states had individual pavilions at the fair, including Alaska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri and others. (And, obviously, New York.) Michigan didn't have a pavilion per se, but was clearly represented via the automotive pavilions. In the second photo above, the Romneys are headed towards the General Motors pavilion, one of the highlights of the fair, with its kitschy Futurama presentation. Teenage Mitt would certainly have been subjected to this spectacular and bombastic prediction of the future. Perhaps he was as filled with wonder as the child in this video:

It's interesting that Romney was there with Rockefeller, as both were seeking the Republican nomination for president later that year. Both men were sidelined at the convention that year in favor of Barry Goldwater.

Pictures courtesy the AP

Thursday, February 16, 2012

New York City from the sky: The first aerial photographs

Frozen flight: Frank Coffyn sails underneath the Brooklyn Bridge and above the East River during the dead of winter. 

This month we celebrate the 100th anniversary of a spectacular series of flights over the skies of New York City. These weren't the first flights over the city -- those had occured in the fall of 1909, during the Hudson-Fulton Celebration -- or even the most daring or most publicized. (Aerial competitions like the Great Gimbels Air Race of 1911 might take those titles.)

These flights, which took place in February and March of 1912, were important not only due to the bravery and braggadocio of the pilot, derring-do Frank Coffyn, but because of his companion, American Press Association photographer Adrien C. Duff, who shot the first ever photographs and the first ever film of New York City from overhead. By doing so,  this also makes Duff the very first airplane passenger over New York Harbor.

Coffyn, a former Wright Brothers employee, accepted the offer of Brooklyn film studio American Vitagraph to figure out a way of snapping images of New York from above. This was a tricky task to be sure in 1912. Manned flights had only been invented by his former employers a few years previous. Planes had to be very light and until that moment could only carry the pilot and necessary equipment.

Below: Frank Coffyn, in a picture with a Wright Bros plane in 1911 (Photos courtesy Library of Congress)

Even trickier, Coffyn wanted to lift off from the harbor directly and not from the icy landing strip based on Governors Island. To that effect, he furnished his plane with pontoons, allowing it to float upon the unfrozen shoreline.

His first successful flight skimming off, and then above, the Hudson River was on February 6, 1912, "proving that the aeroplane also a near cousin of the mudhen or the duck." [source]  He continued to make successive flights over the next few weeks, this time from the shore of the Battery and up the East River. On February 13, 1912, he became the first pilot to fly underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, so low that he reportedly felt the smoke from a passing tugboat.

As a May 1912 edition of Metropolitan Magazine put it: "In February – New Yorkers saw Frank T. Coffyn with his Wright hydro aero-plane travel over the surface of the half-frozen river, maneuvering in the water like a motor-boat, skating on the ice at top speed – then rise in the air over the ferryboats, under and over the bridges and around the Statue of Liberty."

But it was one particular flight on February 8th that is of historic significance. For he was joined on this flight this time by Duff, the 'swashbuckler of the camera'. During the short flight, Coffyn took Duff from the Battery past Governors Island, over the ships of the harbor, around the Statue of Liberty, then back to Manhattan. (You can read a news report of the event here.)

Duff was actually strapped onto the lower wing, with his legs dangling off the side of the plane! Both Coffyn and Duff were frozen to the bone by the time they landed.

Duff took nine photographs in all, of which only a few were usable. Here the first of Duff's pictures, and the first ever taken of New York from the sky. In this case, it's of Castle Williams on Governor's Island. (Photos courtesy the Frank Coffyn Collection.)

Coffyn eventually fulfilled his original mission with Vitagraph, bringing Duff back on his plane on February 12th to operate the moving-picture camera and making the very first film overhead New York. The footage is not the most vivid, partially because Duff's hands became so cold that he could barely operate the crank-operated camera.

Later on, Coffyn attempted to operate the camera himself. This proved to be less successful, as a couple days later, he dropped the camera into the East River. Vitagraph released the usable footage to theaters in April. Here's a newsreel incorporating some of Coffyn's own footage and some great shots of him taking off from the Battery shore.

And whatever happened to Adrian C. Duff? He took that sense of adventure, enlisted in the U.S. Army, and became a noted photographer during World War I. Here's one of his more famous images. He wrote of his exploits in a 1918 article for the Fulton Evening News. He survived the rigors of war only to die in a grim taxicab accident in Brooklyn in 1920.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bialystoker Home, a remarkable Lower East Side treasure and home for assisted living--now in need of some assistance

Bialystoker Home for the Aged may not make it into many tourist guides, but this Lower East Side art deco artifact holds an important link to New York's immigrant history. It was just born on the wrong side of the street, and because of that, it's an endangered structure.

On the south side of East Broadway, between Canal and Montgomery, stands some of New York's most important Jewish landmarks, from the towering gleam of the Forward Building to a cluster of surviving 1830s rowhouses and tenement synagogues that held the first critical waves of Jewish immigrants in the mid-19th century.

At right: The Bialystoker building on its opening in 1931 (courtesy the Museum of Jewish Heritage)

On the north side of East Broadway, however, these sorts of historical structures east of the Seward Park Library were knocked down and replaced in the 1950s with an immense cooperative village in the fashion of Stuyvesant Town, a series of housing towers interlocked with open spaces and playgrounds.

The Bialystoker building (228 East Broadway), which opened in 1931, is a relic in comparison to its immediate neighbors, a parking garage (which notably collapsed in 1999) and a banal 1960s medical building known for a chipping mural on its side and to HBO subscribers as 'the New Zealand consulate' on the TV series 'Flight of the Conchords'. (Full confession: I lived across the street for both the collapse and the filming, so I find the block particularly endearing.)

Its two-toned tannish, art deco facade by architect Henry Hurwit makes an unusual silhouette for the neighborhood, and perhaps that alone should make it a candidate for preservation. But it's the building's unique history that makes a necessary keepsake of the Lower East Side.

This and many other structures around here trace to a specific immigrant lineage -- the Polish Jews of Bialystok, near the border of Belarus. It's remarkable to think of thousands of Bialystok immigrants -- nearly the entire Jewish population of the city -- crossing the ocean, entering Ellis Island, and settling  here, and specifically here, in this area of the Lower East Side.

Around the corner, up two blocks, is the Bialystoker Synagogue, a refitted 1826 Episcopal church that collected various neighborhood Jewish congregations and moved in here in 1905. From a cursory glance at its exterior, you might never know that inside is one of New York's most stunning synagogues. And hopefully everybody is familiar with the wondrous, doughy bialy, the cousin to the bagel, and its supreme baker Kossar's Bialys up on Grand Street.

The synagogue is an official historic landmark, and Kossar's a treasured stop on walking tours. The former Bialystoker nursing home has no such protections.

The elderly home was funded by a Bialystoker aid society in the 1920s as an alternative to standard city institutions. The cornerstone was laid in September 1929, accompanied by a massive parade, 25,000 people carrying "flags and banners with Jewish inscriptions and marched through Canal, Grand and other streets." [source]

The new arrivals to the neighborhood benefited from the charity of wealthier Jewish immigrants who had arrived earlier and funded projects to ease overcrowding and providing health and education services catering to specific religious customs. The Bialystoker building is perhaps the most striking example of this beneficence. Its design is Moorish Art Deco, of a kind you might see off to a corner in Rockefeller Center. Possibly considered plain in its day, but now seen as beautiful and understated. In particular, its doorway is a marvel; the artfully carved BIALYSTOKER is joined by a dozen medallions representing the twelve tribes of Israel.

Its grand opening on a hot summer day in June 1931 was a premiere event, with another parade drawing tens of thousands, and people crammed onto rooftops and fire escapes to witness the event. Awaiting inside were rooms for several dozen residents, as well as "auditoriums, dormitories, two synagogues, sun parlors and hospital wards." [source] The Museum of Jewish Heritage has some remarkable photographs of the opening which you can peruse here.

The nursing home has faithfully and quietly served the community for 80 years. Along the way, its seen some prominent and very, very old residents (like 111-year-old Benjamin Kotlowitz). Last year, due to mounting debts and "inadequate Medicaid reimbursement," the home was forced to close for good.

The building is currently on the market and, as it has not been landmarked, is a candidate for demolition. You can sign a petition here to help the effort to get this unique building saved. The Friends of the Lower East Side also has more information on this remarkable window on New York's immigrant history.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Notes from the podcast (#134) St. Patrick's Cathedral

A spectacle from a hundred years ago: St. Patrick's in 1912, in a gauze of electric lights. The picture below this post illustrates how this particular light performance made the church standout among the as-of-yet mild landscape of Midtown East. Pictures courtesy the Library of Congress

We hope you like our new podcast on St. Patrick's Cathedral. Very odd timing to be releasing a Catholic themed podcast, given that Archbishop Dolan is set to turn Cardinal tomorrow and, oh right, the contraception controversy.

The church is closely linked to the history of early Irish New Yorkers. However there were obviously huge bodies of Catholics of other nationalities in the mid-19th century, particularly German Catholics. Archbishop John Hughes himself said that "people were composed of representatives from almost all nations." That said, Germans Catholics opened their own churches, in particular the Roman Catholic Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, opening in the East Village in 1852, in the new German enclave of Kleindeutschland.

Here's an interesting read about the 1989 ACT UP protest at St. Patrick's, from a person who was actually arrested at the protest!

VISIT: The official site for St. Patrick's has a historical timeline, a map, and information on tours.

MUSIC: The music in this week's show is from the album 'O Come Let Us Sing', featuring the St. Patrick's Cathedral Choir and St. Patrick's organist Donald Dumler. You can find the album on iTunes.

CORRECTIONS: I made a big blunder in this episode. I've always prided myself in New York movie trivia, yet I flubbed it in this episode. 'The Godfather III' was filmed at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, not at the new one. Sorry for the error.

Speaking of the old cathedral, it's now a basilica, if you haven't heard. Although we speak about the original Mott Street cathedral in this episode, you might like to check out our old show (Episode #9). You can tell we've come a long way in this podcasting thing!

TIMELINE: We do things a bit out of order at the start of the show, so I thought I'd lay out some of the key dates for you for reference. St. Patrick's website also has a historical timeline that you can use to follow along. But of the things we speak about:

1801 -- David Hosack opens his Elgin Botanical Garden in the vicinity of today's Rockefeller Center.
1808 -- The Diocese of New York is created
1810 -- The land where St. Patrick's sits today is sold to an insurance company, the Eagle Fire Company. One of the trustees of the board is Archibald Gracie. By this time, the Jesuits had already constructed a building on this property.
1813 -- Augustin De Lastrange arrives in New York. The following year, he bought the structure and, for a short time, sets up a Trappist monastery here.
1815 -- St. Patrick's Cathedral opens downtown at Mulberry Street.
1828 -- The mid-Manhattan land is sold to Francis Cooper, on behalf of St. Peter's and St Patrick's, with the intention of building a cemetery
1838 -- John Hughes is made a bishop
1850 -- The Diocese of New York becomes an archdiocese
1858 -- The cornerstone to St. Patrick's new cathedral is laid. By this time, the controversial figure Madame Restell has already built her mansion across the street, and quite on purpose it seems.
1864 -- John Hughes dies
1878 -- The 'Great Cathedral Fair' is held, raising enough funds to finally complete the structure
1879 -- The new Cathedral is officially dedicated
1888 -- The cathedral's distinctive spires are finally completed.

Friday, February 10, 2012

St. Patrick's Cathedral: Stately grace in bustling Midtown, thanks to a fiery archbishop and a venerable hairdresser

During its early years, St Patrick's neighbors were luxurious mansions. Today the surrounding streets house retail and tourist attractions. (Picture courtesy Library of Congress)

PODCAST One of America's most famous churches and a graceful icon upon the landscape of midtown Manhattan, St. Patrick's Cathedral was also one of New York's most arduous building projects, taking decades to build. An overflow of worshippers at downtown's old St Patrick's demanded a vast new place of worship, even as most Catholic New Yorkers were having an uneasy time due to religious prejudice by angry 'nativists'.

 Enter 'Dagger' John Hughes, the relentless first Archbishop of New York, who hammered the city for equal treatment for Catholics and managed to construct several New York institutions still in existence. Many scoffed at his idea of building a gigantic cathedral so far north of town.

We explore the early years of this once-quiet piece of mid-Manhattan real estate and some of the notable events that have taken place at St. Patrick's since its opening.

 ALSO: The tale of the revered Haitian hairdresser in the crypt!

You can tune into it below, download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, or get it straight from our satellite site.

Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys: St. Patrick's Cathedral

Notes, corrections, clarifications, sources, and additional information will be posted on Tuesday. Because the set-up was so complex this time around -- we bounced around quite a bit between the years 1800 and 1850 -- I'll also have a timeline that can accompany that show.

 Before 'uptown' St. Patrick's, there was downtown St. Patrick's, the original cathedral which was consecrated in 1815. By the 1850s, with the number of Catholics growing due to immigration, a larger, grander structure was required, one that reflect the congregants' growing influence. The image below is from St. Patrick's before the 1866 fire. The facade was rebuilt with less ornamentation.

The land where St. Patrick's sits today was wooded and sparsely populated 210 years ago. But for a short time, in 1814, a Trappist monastery sat here, the haven of French refugee Dom Augustin de Lestrange.

The undisputed religious leader of New York's Catholic community was Archbishop John Hughes, whose fierce tenacity -- and curious signature -- earned him the nickname 'Dagger John'. He spearheaded the construction of a new cathedral, in an area of town that, in the 1850s, was nowhere near the center of the city. 'Hughes' Folly' would take two decades to build; by the time it was completed, Fifth Avenue had entirely transformed. The Archbishop's risk had paid off. (courtesy NYPL)

Sunday morning mayhem at St. Patrick's Cathedral at the start of the 20th century. Fifth Avenue became a veritable procession of New York's wealthiest residents. (NYPL)

An image from the late 19th century. The famous 20,000-lbs. bronze doors, featuring three-dimensional sculptures of saints, would not be installed until a few decades later. (Courtesy NY State Archives)

Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral, during the funeral of former mayor Jimmy Walker, November 1946. (courtesy Life)

Worshippers in 1944, as photographed by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life Magazine.

Another shot of St. Patrick's in 1909, in one of the last years the cathedral would be surrounded with residential homes. By 1924 it would get its neighbor Saks Fifth Avenue. Fifteen years after that, Rockefeller Center would rise across the street.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

From prison to post office: The odd fate of a Dutch church

Say a prayer for the Middle Dutch Church (pictured here from sometime before the war) as things are about to get very ugly.

 One need only walk through the Limelight Marketplace -- perhaps stopping to grab a slice of Grimaldi's pizza or a champagne damask lace duvet at Brocade Home -- to understand the strange flexibility of church architecture. I've pondered before on this former Richard Upjohn-designed Episcopal church at West 20th Street and Sixth Avenue, transformed into a rehab center in the 1970s, then a notorious nightclub in the '80s.

But the Limelight is only the most extreme example of church alteration in New York. Brooklyn Heights has so many churches that some have been turned into swanky loft apartments. This is not a new trend. New York grew so rapidly in the 19th century that small stone and clapboard churches, once situated on the outskirts of town, found themselves surrounded. As population shifted, congregations left, and other civic services moved in.

The Middle Dutch Church was built between 1726 and 1731, a vestige of Manhattan's Dutch Reformed community that traced itself back to New Amsterdam's very first house of worship. Its location at Nassau Street and Cedar Street made it central to the lives of colonial New Yorkers, but a series of historical twists ensured a few less hallowed activities would take place here.

Below: The church and the adjoining 'sugar house' in 1830, years after being turned into a horrifying prison complex.

During the Revolutionary War, the occupying British turned the damaged and deteriorating Middle Dutch and its neighboring sugar house into a prison for unruly rebels. An old Times article estimates that up to 8,000 prisoners were held here in those years.  "When the victims confined to the Middle Dutch church crawled to the windows begging for food, a sentinel, pistol in hand, would turn back the gifts of the charitable." [source]

"The whole floor of the Church was one caked mass of dead, dying, excrement and vermin," reported the Times, "supernatural" conditions that probably echoed throughout the entire city, choked off during the occupation years between 1776 to 1783.

I'm grimly speculating that prisoners were transferred the prison ships of Wallabout Bay at some point, for the building was emptied, "the planking torn up, tan laid down, and a riding-school established for the recruits of the English riding-horse."

When the British galloped out of New York entirely in 1783, the beat-up old building sat virtually unused -- although Benjamin Franklin may have used the belfry for electricity experiments, according to one source -- before being turned back into a church, re-opening on July 4, 1790. It stayed as a church for 44 years, even as New York's population migrated north.

Under a cloud of debt, the church finally closed in 1844, with its final service symbolically held in both English and Dutch languages.

If Franklin (America's first postmaster general) indeed practiced with electricity here, then the next transformation seems natural. With the federal standardization of postal rates in 1845, New York found itself in need of a central post office. So the U.S. government leased the old church -- buying it outright in 1861 -- and radically transformed the building into New York's central post office.

Special delivery: The interior of the Dutch church turned post office in 1871 (NYPL)

The poor building, renovated and stretched thin, could barely process the flow of mail coming through the city by the late 1860s, so a new central post office was built -- the odd, greatly loathed City Hall Post Office building.

The old Dutch church, now 150 years old, was considered a city treasure, but real estate in downtown Manhattan was now being carved out for skyscrapers. The church of a thousand faces, to the curiosity of "thousands of relic-hunters and citizens," was finally torn down and replaced with the Mutual Life Insurance Building in 1882. The ornate Mutual Life had a good run but was demolished -- with a part of Cedar Street erased -- to make room for One Chase Manhattan Plaza.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Bowery Boys back catalog -- fully illustrated!

Above: How people used to listen to podcasts in the 1930s.

 If you've been listening to our latest podcasts and want to take a dip into our history, episodes #3-#50 are available on a second podcast RSS feed: NYC History: Bowery Boys Archive. You can subscribe to that feed at the link or go to podcast aggregators like iTunes and directly subscribe.

Some of those earlier shows feature such topics as the Flatiron Building, Macy's, The Astor family, Apollo Theatre, the Chrysler Building, the New York Yankees, Studio 54, Union Square, the Brooklyn Bridge, Katz Delicatessen and a great many more.

In addition, I'm also adding to the feed some of the newer episodes (#51-#65 so far), with illustrations of the people and places being discussed. These images will pop up on your listening devices. Most of the shows in this archive feed are illustrated, although some of the earliest ones are not.

Meanwhile, we will have a new full-length podcast available for download by Friday.

Pictured above: A 1930s Harlem scene in front of a local shop, courtesy Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Marilyn Monroe's surprising link to a few Broadway classics

Monroe on the New York set of 'The Seven Year Itch', the film version of a Broadway box office success.

The heavily-hyped 'Smash' debuted last night on NBC, a glossy musical-drama unspooling the backstage tribulations of a new Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Although Monroe was once married to one of Broadway's greatest playwrights (Arthur Miller) and personally coached by the stage's most renown drama coaches (Lee and Paula Strasberg), she never hit the legitimate stage herself.

I'm surprised this 'Marilyn Monroe musical' idea is taken as such a revelation in the show. Many of Marilyn's big cinema breakthroughs were plucked from Broadway shows, and her film resume has even inspired a couple Broadway musicals:

'All About Eve' (1950)
Inspired the musical 'Applause'
Opened: March 30, 1970 at the Palace Theatre (aka the 'haunted' theater)

The Role: You would hardly call the Oscar-winning 'Eve' a true Marilyn movie, although her brief scene as Miss Caswell is indeed a memorable one. For the Betty Compton/Adolph Green musical adaptation, her role was entirely deleted. People were too busy lavishing praise upon Lauren Bacall, stepping into the Bette Davis role, to notice.

'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' (1953)
Original musical: 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' by Joseph Field and Anita Loos, Music by Jule Styne, Lyrics by Leo Rubin
Opened: December 8, 1949, at the Zeigfeld Theatre

The Role: Believe it or not, the role of Lorelei Lee on Broadway was originated by a young actress in her first starring role -- Carol Channing. That role would define Marilyn's sophisticated sexpot image in the Howard Hawks film edition.

And then: A quarter century later, Channing returns to Broadway in a re-tinkered version of 'Blondes' called 'Lorelei'. It was actually a bigger hit, in part to the genius lyrical contributions of 'Applause's Compton and Green.

'The Seven Year Itch' (1955)
Original play: 'The Seven Year Itch' by George Axelrod
Opened: November 20, 1952 at the Fulton Theater

The Role: When it arrived on film, the role of 'The Girl' gave us this iconic Marilyn image. It unfortunately had less effect on the career of Austrian-born Vanessa Brown, who originated the role.

Also in the Broadway cast: Tom Ewell, habitue of Sardi's Restaurant, who played opposite Marilyn in the film. Anybody looking for him could find him parked at Sardi's 'little bar'.

'Bus Stop' (1956)
Original play: 'Bus Stop' by William Inge
Opened: March 2, 1955, at the Music Box Theatre

The Role: Kim Stanley played the role of 'Cherie', Marilyn played a variation the following year, in a film loosely based on the stage play
Also in the Broadway cast: An Elaine Stritch so scrappy she was nominated for a Tony

'Some Like It Hot' (1959)
Inspired the musical 'Sugar'
Opened: April 9, 1972 at the Majestic Theatre

The Role: The musical debut of Marilyn's greatest film role was played by Elaine Joyce, later a popular television personality and best known, in some circles, as being the obsession of writer J.D. Salinger.

I couldn't find any video of Joyce in 'Sugar', so enjoy this clip of her on 'Match Game' instead:

Another Marilyn Monroe musical film, 'There's No Business Like Show Business' (1954), isn't based a stage musical at all, but took its title straight from a song in the Broadway musical 'Annie Get Your Gun' (which debuted in 1946)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Boston vs. New York: You think this is just about sports? Origins of an epic rivalry, from Puritans to the Super Bowl

The Metropolitans vs. the Beaneaters, captioned: "Boston and New York players on opening day, 1886, at the Polo Grounds, 5th Ave. and 110th St., NYC. posed in front of stands; Boston player in back row on left has his middle finger raised in obscene gesture."  LOC

Eli Manning, Tom Brady -- how heavy the burden you bear on your shoulders!

When the New York Giants meet the New England Patriots this Sunday for Super Bowl XLVI, the beast of an old rivalry will once again emerge from the gridiron, the latest configuration of a fierce competition between two of America's greatest cities.

While the rivalry between Boston and New York primarily manifests within the world of sports -- the venue of modern warfare --  it echos a spirit of competition that has existed between the coastal cities for over two centuries. But how did it begin?

The cultures of the cities which would become Boston and New York were drastically different from the very start. Boston, after all, was founded in 1630 by Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (at right), a society based on specific religious values, with little tolerance for variation. New Amsterdam, New York's pre-cursor, developed as a company town in the 1620s and was quite renown for being notoriously value-less, relatively speaking.

The Puritans, with a moral superiority that paralleled national antagonisms, believed a distasteful mix of cultures, an abhorrent godless mixture festered there in New Amsterdam. As a secular development, New Amsterdam fostered a policy of religious freedom far more in keeping with modern American ethics than the stringent, finger-pointing Puritans. Many so-called heretics fled the Puritans and were granted haven by the Dutch.

The Puritans were fortified by their connection to England, while New Amsterdam was a rowdy outpost of a faltering world power. By 1644, Massachusetts had created a powerful alliance with other colonies, allowing England a stronghold in the New World. New Amsterdam, meanwhile, deteriorated as the Dutch focused on warfare with the Lenape and encroaching colonies such as Swedish. Peter Stuyvesant arrived in 1647 to shape up the Dutch town, but by then motions were already in place to drive them out entirely.

By 1664, the Dutch were thrown out of New Amsterdam and the defeated city was renamed New York, part of a larger British colony named for the Duke of York.  Boston, for its part, became the premier British bastion, capital of the Dominion of New England, and a place many believed chosen by God (the storied 'City Upon a Hill') as a shining beacon of humanity. Boston was right to have an attitude. Even as New York and Boston became competing ports in the British era, the Massachusetts city always had the edge.

America has benefited from Boston pride. The opening salvos of American independence were born from clashes between Boston citizens and British soldiers, rebellion in the form of bloody clashes (the Boston Massacre) and economic unrest (the Boston Tea Party). As colonists rose up against British oppression during the Revolutionary War, they could look to the Boston battle at Bunker Hill as an example of victory and perseverance.

Bostonians celebrated Evacuation Day on March 17 because the British were booted from there in 1776 and never returned. New Yorkers celebrated the same holiday on November 25 because the British kept that city for most of the war and weren't expelled from it until 1783.

Both cities struggled for economic footing after the war. Both had sophisticated ports and bustling harbors ready to send and receive shipping vessels, manufacturing plants rivaling anything overseas, and a growing class of wealthy old-family elites. In Boston, they were the Brahmins and went to Harvard. In New York, they were Knickerbockers and turned to Yale or Princeton. (Columbia was not quite in their league yet.)

Below: Boston in 1873

But only one city had access to a river inland, a point made explicit with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. Suddenly, New York became a gateway into the expanding American west. Not only would New York traders and merchants grow rich and form a nouveau upper-crust (thriving in the wake of men like John Jacob Astor), the canal would siphon away much of Boston's livelihood, one ship at a time.

Bostonians were not pleased. The founder of Boston's first daily newspaper saw a diversion of goods to New York as 'evil' and recommended the city jump on a newfangled transportation idea just debuting in England -- the steam-powered railroad. Within a few years, train tracks stretched down the old Boston Post Road (almost, but not quite, to New York) in an effort to connect Boston to the waters of the Hudson River. Or as author Eric Jaffe observes: "...the goal of everyone involved in Boston's railroad system at the time was clear: to move Manhattan toward the [Massachusetts] Bay along the highways of the future."

The two cities remained locked in quiet, but stiff, competition throughout the 19th century, not only in industry and trade, but in intelligentsia, literature, politics and social 'quality'. The dynamics of both cities changed with the immigration boom that began in the late 1840s. Soon, one fifth of the populations of both cities would be Irish. The culture of Boston was greatly affected, perhaps more that any American city, by these new Irish arrivals, but it was New York that felt the most weight. By 1860, with New York as the biggest city in America, even the city of Brooklyn had a greater population than Boston.

Bostonians had their legendary, steely pride for their city -- in many ways, America's first, greatest city -- but New York was a powerful, untouchable metropolis by the time of the Gilded Age. Despite its grime and squalor, despite its sinful and corrupt reputation (or perhaps because of it), New York had bested Boston to become the biggest, richest, most powerful city in America by the time of the Civil War.

Below: New York City in 1873 (from George Schlegel lithograph)

And so it was that, in the late 19th century, an apparatus arose for which the undercurrent of rivalry between the cities could take a more explicit, more robust form -- sports.

Universities already organized sports teams -- with accompanying rivalries of their own -- and now, in the post-war era, professional teams began sprouting up in a wide variety of games. The first sports leagues formed in the Northeast, thus it was natural that teams from Northern and Rust Belt cities would often clash.

The first organized baseball league principally concerned New York and Brooklyn teams. (Don't even get me started on the New York/Brooklyn rivalry!) Teams wouldn't truly take on defined regional characters until the formation of the National League in 1876, which included the Boston Red Stockings, a precursor of the Sox, among its original teams.

The two baseball franchises that would cement the Boston-New York conflict were born in the 20th century. The Boston team came first, in 1901, with the inauguration of the American League, but were not referred to by their distinctive bold-colored foot coverings until 1908. In 1904, the Boston team was declared champion of the American League. However, National League teams looked down upon the 'inferiority' of the younger American League teams, and thus, what might have been the first World Series -- between the Boston Red Sox and National League victors the New York Giants -- never occurred.

The Giants were considered New York's principal baseball franchise and even spawned a successful soccer team. (They frequently played a soccer spinoff of the Boston Beaneaters.) By this time, another New York team limped into the city in 1903 -- the Highlanders, who later changed their name to the New York Yankees.

In 1918 came an event that changed the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees forever. Red Sox star Babe Ruth was traded to the New York Yankees during the off-season 1919-1920, allegedly because Sox owner Harry Frazee was looking to finance his Broadway musical offering No No Nanette. (That's the popular legend, although many believe the trade was to finance another, equally  ridiculous production called My Lady Friends.)

Whatever the origin of the 'Curse of the Bambino', it had a psychological effect on fans and players on both sides. Boston, once the league's most successful squad, didn't win another World Series until 2004, while the Yankees, well, changed sports history with 27 World Series victories.

The deep animosity spilled over into other sport match-ups. In basketball, the New York Knicks pale under the legacy of the Boston Celtics, simply put the best basketball team in history. In hockey, the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers became the first two American teams to play each other for the Stanley Cup in 1929. The Bruins cleaned the ice with the Rangers.

But it's in football that the two cities have had some truly dramatic clashes. The New York Giants football team, hardly a threat when they first formed in the late 1920s, were a force to be reckoned with by the time they first met the Boston Patriots in 1960. Notably, when the Boston team changed its name to the New England Patriots and moved to Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough in 1971, the first game they played was against the Giants.

The Giants and the Patriots have met in the Super Bowl just once before -- and notably so -- in 2008. New York was the victor, in one of the greatest upsets in sports history. This Sunday, Boston seeks revenge. As you sit through a halftime show with Madonna (a New Yorker in her formative years), ponder upon the weight of history hanging over both teams.

To sports fans: I welcome any clarification of details if I've gotten something wrong!