Monday, December 31, 2012

An historic New Years Day editorial from 150 years ago, as the Emancipation Proclamation takes effect

In black churches throughout America 150 years ago, gatherers celebrated 'Watch Night' on December 21, 1862, counting down to the moment when Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation would take effect. The carte-de-visite above celebrates a watch night that took place in Boston. [LOC]

The following text is taken from the New York Tribune on January 1, 1863. (You can read the entire issue here.) With the North in the terrible throes of war, most of the issue is filled with battle reports.  New York City celebrations of the new year were most likely muted, with possible exception of a few saloons celebrating some odd-timed primary elections for various Tammany Hall job functions.

But for a great many, midnight brought in more than just a new year.  That day was significant for another reason.  President Abraham Lincoln's executive order, the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves in Confederate territories, took effect on January 1.

I'm reprinting the Daily Tribune's notice in full, both the significant and trivial portions, to give you a full sense of how the news was received, in this case, by the pro-Lincoln paper owned by Horace Greeley (over three decades before Mr. Greeley was immortalized in statuary in Herald Square). It's a celebration of a true historical event and the pursuit of freedom, with a snide insult lobbed at 'the low-born and vulgar [who] fear the competition of the negroes'.

Here's the original article, with excerpts from the text below it.

A Happy New Year -- Another New Year has dawned upon us, bringing tokens of love and friendship and pleasant congratulations. Have we realized the hopes of those who were so lavish with their good wishes one year ago, and enjoyed uninterrupted happiness? 

We have reached another way-mark on the road of life, and if we pause a moment and look back upon the past, we shall see here and there the green mounds of some who exchanged with us the compliments of the season twelve months ago. But this is not the time for sadness, even though the cold shadow has fallen upon our healths and upon our hearts.


Thousands of visitors today will leave their photographs with their lady friends, if they would have the world (their world) believe that they are not so deficient in noble emotions as a carte de visite*, they will show respect for themselves by respecting the rights of others whatever may be their creed or complexion. 

If President Lincoln today makes himself immortal in history by lifting up the downtrodden slave, so that while his feet stand upon broken fetters -- his heart shall beat in the air of freedom -- they should approve the deed, and hail the day as a happy one to four millions of human beings disenthralled**.  If the low-born and vulgar fear the competition of negroes and mistrust their capacity to cope with them in the common affairs of life, let not those who claim to be gentlemen begrudge the boon of happiness to the humblest of the human race.***

Today we commence a new era in our history. Slavery is abolished. The backbone of the Rebellion is broken, and long before another New Year's morning shall break up us the war will be over -- Liberty will triumph -- Peace will be established in all our borders, and the sword and shield of Justice shall be our defense in the face of all the nations.**** 

We shall mourn the loss of many who have fallen and who will fall in battle, but those who dare fight for their country can afford to die; their lives have not failed to produce good works.   If we honor those who fell at Antietam and Fredericksburg and on other battlefields, let us show ourselves worthy to wear their mantles.

*Small likenesses  -- essentially trading cards of yourself -- called carte de visite were especially trendy during the Civil War, both as a novelty and as a way of remembering those at war.

**The Proclamation could only be enforced in rebel territory under Northern control, so not all of the four million enslaved men felt its benefits on this date.

***Referencing fears of new immigrants that freed blacks would become a competitive labor force. These fears would, of course, culminate later that summer in the Civil War Draft Riots.

****Of course, we know now that the war would drag on for over two more years.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Bowery Boys Year In Review: Our 2012 podcasts

Above: A curious New Years postcard from 1913

Here's the list of our fifteen podcasts released in 2012, running the gamut from New York City's most popular landmarks to a look at some of the infrastructure that keeps the city running.

History is but a story with an unwritten ending. Two of our subjects this year -- the neighborhoods of Rockaway Beach and Red Hook -- experienced course-altering devastation that continues to this day due to Hurricane Sandy. Those neighborhoods are rebuilding but some areas will never be the same again.

In this year's shows, we spent time with tortured genius like Nikola Tesla and Samuel Morse, visited west side abattoirs, midtown's Trappist monastery and a few Bushwick breweries, imagined Edwin Booth's final performance, and one of Patti Smith's first, in a basement a few feet away from the body of Peter Stuyvesant.

We talked about New Yorkers who changed the course of rivers, sent radio signals for the very first time, broke social conventions to ride on two wheels and debunked magic at Carnegie Hall. While Rockaway Beach was experiencing the biggest hotel flop in history, men gathered to ogle the can-can dancers at the Haymarket in Herald Square.  And in midtown Manhattan, an icon takes its sweet time rising to become New York City's most famous church.

We also introduced you to a couple walking tours of New York City and hopefully there will be a few more completed in 2013.

The two most popular shows of the year, based on downloads, were St. Patrick's Cathedral and New York Beer History. My personal favorite? Probably NYC and the World of Radio. It's got music in it!

We both thank you all for listening in this year. Tom and I really could not do this without your love of New York City history, your enthusiasm and your feedback. And I'm telling you now -- 2013 will be our biggest year yet, with a lot of new projects and of course many more new podcasts.

Happy New Year! Here's the year in review. You can download all of these from iTunes, all free (except the Washington Square Park walking tour). You can also get them directly from our Libsyn page by clicking the links below:

#133 Red Hook: Brooklyn On The Waterfront
Red Hook, Brooklyn: A rich seafaring history, organized crime and the isolation of a beleaguered neighborhood

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

#135 The High Line
The High Line: The wild, wild West Side, cowboys included, inspires an elevated railroad and a remarkable park

#136 The High Line Walking Tour
The Bowery Boys High Line audio walking tour, featuring tales of the Titanic, the Manhattan Project and 1,000 Stevies

#137 NYC and the World of Radio
New York and the World of Radio: Live and on the air, inventors and stars at the dawning of the AM airwaves

#138 St. Mark's-in-the-Bowery
The secrets of St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery, and uncovering the East Village footprint of Peter Stuyvesant

#139 Brooklyn Academy of Music
The Brooklyn Academy of Music: Enduring floods, fires and snobbery to become New York's oldest home for the arts

#140 Rockaway Beach
The Rockaways and Rockaway Beach: The strange fortunes of New York's former resort oasis and amusement getaway

#141 New York Beer History
On The House: A history of New York City beer brewing

Washington Square Park Walking Tour
The Bowery Boys Washington Square Park Audio Tour: a stroll through New York history, now on sale everywhere!

#142 New York University (NYU)
New York University: A noble idea takes root in the Village, a school for the metropolis, but not without growing pains

#143 Water for New York: The Croton Aqueduct
The Croton Aqueduct: How New York got its drinking water

#144 Mysteries and Magicians of New York
Mysteries and Magicians of New York: Whimsical spirits, scary legends, strange magic and the original ghost busters

#145 Bicycle Mania: From Velocipede to Ten Speed
Bicycle Mania! The story of New York on two wheels, from velocipedes to ten-speeds -- with women's liberation in tow

#146 Herald Square
A whirlwind tour of Herald Square: More than just Macy's, the intersection of publishing, theater and debauchery

In addition, I also released a short show during the week of Hurricane Sandy, recounting the events as they had occurred that week. It was released just a few hours before midtown Manhattan returned to power, so it makes an interesting time capsule of the events.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Abercrombie & Fitch used to be more robust and gentlemanly

I've never understood why tourists wait in line to get into the Fifth Avenue Abercrombie & Fitch clothing shop, with its several floors of basic casual clothing, perfumed showrooms and salespersons who are often barely wearing the apparel they are attempting to sell.

But visiting an Abercrombie & Fitch store from one hundred years was quite a different place indeed. David Abercrombie founded the sporting goods store in 1892 from a storefront at 36 South Street, expanding in 1900 when one of his most loyal customers, lawyer Ezra Fitch, bought into the enterprise and moved it over to 314 Broadway. By 1917, the store had moved once again to an eight-floor building at Madison Avenue and 45th Street.

Here's an advertisement from the New York Sun, September 21, 1919, featuring apparel "which mate[s] with heather and scarlet leaves," perfect for big-game hunting -- or a social facsimile thereof -- golfing, driving or general travel. Children get special attention as well, with "outdoor clothes for boys which rival those of their fathers."

Click into the ad to get a closer look. The original ad is here if you'd like to inspect it more closely:

Courtesy the Library of Congress

Monday, December 24, 2012

'Twas the Night Before Christmas, 190 years ago, that an iconic poem was written in Chelsea

On Christmas Eve, one hundred and ninety years ago today, wealthy landowner and august Columbia professor Clement Clarke Moore completed a seasonal poem to read to his children. He penned the whimsical little tale -- a throwaway, really, in comparison to his great and respected writings in Greek and biblical literature -- from a desk at his comfortable, snow-covered mansion which the family called Chelsea.

The home sat atop an old hill (at around today's modern addresses of 422-424 West 23rd Street) overlooking Moore's estate which stretched south from here. His estate, of course, gives modern Chelsea its name. At right, the Chelsea estate on a cold winter's night.

Moore was allegedly inspired that afternoon during an outing to Washington Market to purchase a Christmas turkey. The market (pictured below in 1829) would have another holiday claim to fame: it was the site of America's first outdoor Christmas tree market.

The poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and often referred to as "'Twas The Night Before Christmas," would eventually help define Santa Claus mythology. It's perhaps the most important source in shaping the physical appearance and ritual behavior of the North Pole gift-giver and would provide inspiration to New York illustrators like Thomas Nast and, in the 20th century, the Coca-Cola advertising of Haddon Sunblom.  Moore is even credited with naming the eight reindeer.

But the poem was only originally intended for Moore's children. I'm not certain how many were around to hear it in 1822, but Moore and his wife Catherine Elizabeth Taylor would eventually have nine of them. One daughter, Mary Ogden, would later produce the first of dozens of illustrated versions of the poem.

At left: An illustration of Moore and his family from an edition published in 1896 (source)

The poem was published anonymously the following year, and Moore would only take credit -- at his children's insistence -- in 1844.

Given Moore's original hesitation, some scholars have suggested that another New Yorker, Henry Livingston Jr., may have penned it.  Until that is definitely proven, you are allowed to always think of the neighborhood of Chelsea -- just two blocks west of the Chelsea Hotel -- every time you hear it.

So jump in your 'kerchief, open your shutters and throw up your sashes, and give this little holiday poem a ripe rendition this year. You can find the full text here. But to quote the final section:

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

For more information on Moore and the Chelsea neighborhood, check out our podcast on the Chelsea Hotel.

Pictures courtesy NYPL

Thursday, December 20, 2012

New trailer for The Great Gatsby: What's behind the collar?

When the original trailer for Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby' came out in May, I respectfully nitpicked its depiction of 1920s Times Square. That same article applies to the new trailer

Read it here: Times Squared: Lovingly nitpicking 'The Great Gatsby' trailer

The Arrow collar sign makes a more prominent appearance here. The original 'Arrow Man' appeared in its most successful advertisements, a dapper model of a gentleman sporting Arrow's signature detachable shirt collar.

The secret behind the ads, created by legendary ad man J.C. Leyendecker, was that the most popular Arrow Collar Man -- model Charles Beach -- was Leyendecker's long-time lover and companion. The pair had lavish parties from their home in New Rochelle during the 1920s, parties which I imagine might have looked a bit like the ones in Luhrmann's film. (Well, I can imagine they looked that way, that is.)

Below: Beach in a 'satisfactory' detachable collar

Picture courtesy Today's Inspirations

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The deadly history of Doyers Street: new on AOL Video

As part of their 'What Remains' series, the AOL On video channel is focusing its attention on Doyers Street in Chinatown, and I make a guest appearance here talking about this mysterious street and its gangster past.  This is a brief but very dramatic history of the street known one hundred years ago as 'the Bloody Angle'. You may remember that we discussed this very notorious curve in our podcast on Chinatown about a year ago.

It's a pretty dark history, and given recent violent events in the news, you can watch this later if you're not in the mood. (There's some simulated gunplay and morbid graphics.) But there are reenactments by actors in costumes and lots of cool old photographs. I narrate some of this piece and make a brief appearance.

As an aside, it would be interesting if one day we could do some kind of video companion similar to this for the podcast. Thanks to AOL Video for inviting me to participate.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Eleven breathtaking views of the New York Herald Building, one of midtown Manhattan's earliest tourist attractions

Click into the images within this post for a more closeup view!

When the extravagant James Gordon Bennett Jr. decided to move the offices of the New York Herald from grimy, old Park Row to the frenzy of uptown Manhattan, he wanted something spectacular and eye-catching.  As we mentioned in our newest podcast on the history of Herald Square, Bennett went the opposite direction of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who remained on on Park Row and put his publication in the tallest building in the world (the New York World tower, completed in 1890).

Bennett's New York Herald Building, completed in 1894, sat at 35th Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, on the north side of the square his building would soon give its name. He wanted the structure to align with the theaters and hotels of the area; as designed by Stanford White, the New York Herald Building doesn't tower over the neighborhood.

He wanted the newspaper to be essential to the rhythm and energy of this bustling intersection. It does so with its mysterious and fanciful ornamentation, its spooky owls, its ornate clock tower and its mechanical bell-ringers.

Below: the New York Herald Building, at 35th Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, a frilly Italian-style structure at the nexus of a growing New York in the 1890s. [LOC]

But the building became a component of the square with its open windows displaying the printing presses inside. Visitors would stand gawking as the presses furiously went about print the late-day editions. In the era before radio and television, the results of sporting events would be displayed on a billboard or "Play-o-Graph" that would attract thousands. It would be here that thousands of New Yorkers would gather to get the results of the World Series between the Red Sox and the Giants -- occurring just uptown at the Polo Grounds!

The New York Herald Building became one of midtown Manhattan's first big draws for regular New Yorkers and visitors to gather, get news, set their watches, dazzle at modern technology and ogle at the curious mix of high and low culture that sped through here. One decade later, Times Square would bring the same kind of excitement to another Broadway intersection.

Here are some additional views of the Herald Building, many romantic, most unbelievable, especially if you consider what sits there today:

Thousands of men gather to watch the results of the 1911 World Series -- between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Athletics -- displayed on a "Play-o-Graph" at Herald Building. Sports results were telegraphed from inside the building, and a mini baseball diamond was regularly updated, mirroring the real time action. [LOC]

Spectators watch the Herald presses in action. {LOC}

From the Appleton publication The New Metropolis, 1899 (courtesy CUNY)

The square in front of the Herald Building would also be used for immediate announcement, often taken right from the telegraph. These men are reading a military recruitment advertisement. [LOC]

A closeup of the ornate clock, with the goddess Minerva, its two bell ringers Scruff and Guff, and the series of owls perched at various spots around the building. From March 1921 (Courtesy NYPL)

A painting by Herman Hyneman from 1899, depicting a Herald newsie and a customer in the snow. [NYPL]

Also from The New Metropolis, an owl's-eye view of Herald Square, from 1899.  The caption: "This is a vibrant reproduction of a color print by Canadian-born artist Charles William Jefferys (1869-1951) who once worked at the New York Herald. The Broadway Tabernacle Church, the 6th Avenue elevated train, the Herald Building and several theatres, including Koster and Bial's, are depicted. The streets are teaming with cable cars, horse drawn vehicles and pedestrians." Courtesy CUNY

And finally, an overhead view of the entire square. This is an image that was cleaned up and published by the great photo blog Shorpy. Click into the picture to see a rather magnificent view of the surroundings. Trust me, you may waste five minutes just looking at this one....

Friday, December 14, 2012

A whirlwind tour of Herald Square: More than just Macy's, the intersection of publishing, theater and debauchery

Herald Square at night, 1910, with the flurry of shoppers, the churn of printing presses, the clanking and soot exhaust of the elevated train, the rush of the streetcar. The theaters, the drinking, the dancing. (Courtesy the blog Ajax All Purpose Blog)

PODCAST Welcome to the secret history of Herald Square, New York City's second favorite intersection -- after Times Square, of course, just a few blocks north. But we think you may find this intersection at 34th Street, Sixth Avenue and Broadway perhaps even more interesting.

This is a tale of the Tenderloin, an entertainment and vice district which dominated the west side of midtown Manhattan in the late 19th century, and how it abutted the great cultural institutions that soon became attracted to Herald Square, from cheap aquariums to New York's greatest opera house.

By the 1890s, newspapers arrived to the area, including the one that gives Herald Square its name. A remnant of the New York Herald Building still sits in Herald Square and is the cause of some serious conspiracy. (Especially if you're afraid of owls!) But the Herald wasn't the only publication that got its start here; in fact, one of America's most famous magazines began in a curious office-slash-bachelor apartment facility just close by.

The department stores came at the start of the 20th century, and we bring you the tales of Macy's, Saks and Gimbels, not to mention their later incarnations, the Herald Center and the Manhattan Mall.

ALSO: Where on 32nd Street were crazy parties featuring a who's who of New York's greatest freak show performers? Where did a silent fim stunt man meet his end? And where in New York can you get the best in Korean pop music?

To get this week's episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to straight from here:
The Bowery Boys: Herald Square

The bawdy Haymarket dance hall, at 30th Street and Sixth Avenue, in a magnificent painting by John Sloan (1907) that conjures up the glamour and winks at its secret pleasures. Several of Sloan's works depict places located in the Tenderloin, a wide area of entertainment and vice west of Broadway. The original painting hangs in the Brooklyn Museum.

The Great New York Aquarium of W.C. Coup, bringing sea creatures to the corner of Broadway and 35th Street. (NYPL)

The character of Broadway between the intersections of 34th Street and 42nd Street (before they were known as Herald Square and Times Square, respectively) was changed forever with the construction of the Metropolitan Opera House, a vanity project for New York's new wealthy class. It was all for show; there were plenty of loges for the rich, but so little backstage room that set pieces were stored on the street. (NYPL)

The front of the New York Herald building, with its ornate clock face and Minerva statue. Please note the owls on the corners. (NYPL)

The two most dominant structures in Herald Square in the 1890s -- the Sixth Avenue Elevated and Stanford White's Herald building. "Running presses seen from street." (NYPL)

The Elevated and the Herald Building from another angle in 1936, with the new addition of Macy's -- and the little building which prevented Macy's from taking up the entire block! Today, that's still a Sunglass Hut. You can also see that the back of the Herald offices has already been demolished and replaced with an office building. The front would survive a bit longer and then too would be destroyed. (NYPL)

A view of Greeley Square, with the elevated to the right. This building is the Union Dime Saving Bank. The counting offices of the New York World were on the ground floor, however I'm not certain if they are there in the year this picture was taken (1899).

 Now here's a mystery for you -- this is Greeley Square, named for the statue of Horace Greeley which was definitely installed in 1894. Hmm, but where is it?

The Hotel McAlpin, at the southeast corner of 34th Street, the largest hotel in the world when it was built in 1912! Happy 100th anniversary to this accommodation, pivotal in New York City history.

Herald Square in an early (1896!) clip from Edison.

And an image for the holidays, from the 1940s! Courtesy Life Magazine

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Happy 12/12/12! December 12, 1912, that is.

From the New York Evening World, December 12, 1912

Interesting that they had to interview a Chicago civil engineer for this, as the first point seems rather obvious, and the second point, rather random.

Below: Twelve women from Morrisania, the Bronx, picture date unknown (NYPL)

Gawker has a link to the New York Times' take on this unusual date back in 1912.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The New York monkey fad of 1907: From Fifth Avenue to the fire department, primates were fashionable companions

The wacky IKEA monkey story of the past few days got me to wondering about wild animals as pets here in New York. After all, the wealthiest classes collected all sorts of unusual beasts for their amusement during the 19th century.  So many in fact that the Central Park Zoo -- or Menagerie, as it was called then -- was created as a repository for all those unusual creatures abandoned by their owners. (The Central Park Zoo was the topic of one of our first podcasts, all the way back in August 2007!)

A bizarre New York Sun article from March 1907 found an interesting correlation between elegant women and their companion monkeys.  They were such hot commodities with finer New York ladies that year that the animals were almost considered luxuries.

Monkeys rode snugly amid the elegant furs and finery of a modern woman.  "Out of ermine muffs, carried by smartly dressed women along Fifth Avenue, hideous grinning little faces peep out of you."  The best examples of woman-monkey companionship were the talk of the town;  one New York lady had her monkey trained to "manicure himself, don the right clothes at the right hour, eat daintily with his fork, pretend to smoke his after dinner cigarette and go to bed in a little iron bedstead."

At right: From the 1907 Sun article, a lady with her pet monkey (courtesy LOC)

"It is impossible to import enough monkeys to fill the present demand," one animal importer told the Sun.  "An installment of marmosets or ringtails no sooner reaches port than they are shipped to women all over the country."

It was an unorthodox but very charismatic choice, popular with actresses, princesses and rich ladies of a certain progressive bent.  The pet monkey was prepared to do the unthinkable in 1907 -- replace the yapping dog as the woman's preferred companion.  "To those who do not like monkeys, the popularity of the beast seems more objectionable than any other recent fad. The horse fad, the dog fad, the cat fad, the automobile fad, the ping pong fad, the bridge fad, the chameleon fad are more excusable to such people."

The popularity of the pet monkey, once associated with immigrant organ grinders on the streets of Five Points in the late 19th century, arose from increased scholarship on the animal, from stories of African safaris, and from seeing them in action at the House of Primates in the Bronx Zoo.

The animals were brought over on trading ships, basketfuls scooped up off the coasts of South America or even as far away as South Africa. (A boatload of 1,000 monkeys arrived in New York in 1909, a cargo which also included hundreds of exotic birds and a couple dozen pythons.)  If they survived, they were given to importers throughout the city or sometimes sold right of the dock.

Monkeys even found themselves in the service of New York area fire departments. In 1907, a Mercer Street crew enjoyed the alertness of a monkey named Jenny (pictured below), who once warned her fellow firefighters of a blaze by tossing pool balls down an iron stairway.

And a fire crew in Rockaway Beach was well-known for their monkey mascot Jocko (pictured at left, with fellow mascot, kitten Minnie) who occasionally attacked Italian peanut vendors.

It seems impossible to comprehend how nonchalant pet owners were regarding disease and injury.  The Sun article runs through some helpful hints about how to personally select your monkey from a writhing litter right off the boat:  "If the skin is yellow do not invest your money, for you may be quite sure that the monkey has tuberculosis. If the skin is black the monkey has blood poisoning."

Inevitably, the more untamed of these creatures did cause mayhem. In just one example from 1907, a Sixth Avenue monkey named Pete hurled flower pots at pedestrians, almost killing a woman.  On July 4, 1908, a Brooklyn, monkey named Nimbo set a house on fire by lighting fireworks.

And sadly, the monkey too soon fell victim to the inevitability of a passing fad.  By 1908, the New York Times was already proclaiming the Pomeranian as the new "hot" pet.

Below: From the Nov. 17, 1907 New York Tribune, Jenny the pool ball-hurling monkey mascot of the Mercer Street fire crew.