Thursday, April 30, 2009

World's Fair 1939: Here's to the future, 70 years later


Seventy years ago, one of the strangest displays of American progress ever organized opened its doors in Flushing Meadows, Queens -- the 1939-40 World's Fair. This celebration of human advancement -- as demonstrated through miles of utopian kitsch and strikingly bizarre architecture -- was a reason for Robert Moses to turn the unsightly Corona Ash Dumps into a Queens super-park. The fair was advertisement as entertainment, with hundreds of modern gadgets displayed as novelties and staples of the future.

The park opened on April 30, 1939, because it coincided with another great day in New York City history -- the inauguration of George Washington. That's how important the city thought the opening of the fair way. With 200,000 people in attendance, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave an opening speech extoling the virtues of American ingenuity as he became the first president to be broadcast to television audiences. Oh, nobody had TVs at the time. NBC helpfully scattered a few dozen of them throughout the city in a coy publicity stunt. Below: the speech as seen via the newfangled 'television device':



Defined by the odd Trylon and Perisphere buildings, the fair seems like something truly imaginary. The land where the fair once stood now contains the ruins of a New York's other worlds fair, the event from 1964-65.

Below are some pictures of the extraordinary structures built especially for the 1939-40 "World of Tomorrow," photographs by Alfred Eisenstaedt and David E. Scherman (photography courtesy Life Magazine):











From the Atlantic Monthly (February 1939):

"One of Commissioner [Robert] Moses's most striking miracles is the conversion of a vast swamp and a small mountain of odorous refuse in Queens into the site for the New York World's Fair of 1939. He was given the task of preparing this uninviting terrain for the great exposition and spent more than $50,000,000 effecting the change.

By working twenty-four hours a day, with the aid of floodlights at night, the huge dump was leveled, two large lakes created, and the entire site transformed in less than nine months. Moses has seen to it that all schemes for the Fair conform to plans for the subsequent use of the site, with the result that the World's Fair of 1939 is being created in what will be the largest, and perhaps the most beautiful, of the city's parks.

Many hot battles have been fought over this big enterprise with Moses in the role of landlord to the Fair corporation, which is using his park and parkways. He refused to permit Grover Whalen to lead the Preview of the Fair Parade, held in April 1938 over Triborough Bridge, because, as he says, it would have inconvenienced the regular paying users, and because he regarded the preview 'as a silly and wasteful stunt.'"









From an early prospectus of the Fair:
"The Fair will dramatically display the most promising developments of ideas, products, services and social factors of the present day in such a fashion that the visitor may gain a vision of what he might attain for himself and for his community by intelligence and cooperative planning."



John Crowley in The World of Tomorrow: "Actually, Tomorrow scared me a little. Could I grasp the immense plan expressed in occult symbols all over the fair? Would I be up to tomorrow? It seemed so urgent that Tomorrow be dragged out of the Future where it lay, peacefully unborn. But why was it so urgent? Why?"



And finally, the true vision of the future: Elektro, the Smoking Robot



YOU MAY NOW SMOKE THIS CIGARETTE. GO ON. "And folks, he's only two years old, too. Just learning."

WNYC has some great audio samples from the fair, including snippets of FDR's opening day speech.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mayor Franklin Edson: Bronx man and distillery king



Above: a cartoon mocking Edson's hiring practices (courtesy New York Public Library Digital Gallery)

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

Mayor Franklin Edson
In office: 1883-1884

Although the political career of one-term mayor Franklin Edson was indeed brief, he helped commission both the city's largest acquisition of park land and one of its biggest improvements in drinking water. And he was present for the opening of one of New York's greatest landmarks. So how did the city thank him for his service? By nearly throwing him into Ludlow Street Jail -- where Boss Tweed had been left to rot just a few years before.

Edson, a transplanted New Yorker, was a farmboy from Chester, Vermont, born in 1832, who distinguished himself in the art of whiskey distillery -- distinghished with "precocious tact and sagacity," in fact.

He worked his way over to Albany, New York, as a successful distiller and grain merchant with his brother. Franklin took full advantage of drink demands during the Civil War; his company soon became so profitable that he moved the entire venture to New York in 1866.

Edson, a burgeoning booze mogul of sorts, immediately became a prominent merchant voice in Manhattan, becoming the president of New York's Produce Exchange three times, serving his first term in 1866 before he had to time to even unpack his moving boxes.

While this naturally afforded Franklin an incredible vantage for commercial power, it would soon place him in the crosshairs of political power as well. In later years he would be most proud of his Exchange days, priding himself in being one of the encouraging voices to tear down the inadequate castle-like Produce Exchange (designed by Leopold Eidlitz) and erecting the larger, more impressive George Post-designed Produce Exchange building near Bowling Green (which itself would be sadly torn down in 1957).

Below: the new Produce Exchange


What sets Edson apart from other future mayors of the time -- and what might have potentially hindered his political ambitions -- was that he loved the countryside, in this case Old Fordham Village, today a neighborhood in the Bronx.

He would live here for many years and would remain a member of the (now landmarked) Episcopal Saint James Church in Fordham for most of his days. Whether by design or coincidence, this love for what would become New York's northern borough would soon prove fruitful for the city as a whole.

Franklin was also a practicing anti-Tammany Hall Democrat. And who wouldn't be anti-Tammany during the 1870s? Edson became politically active in the years following the Boss Tweed scandals, when Tammany was still reeling for the highly publicized affair involving Tweed and then-mayor A. Oakley Hall.


Despite a slow rebounding, Tammany would never fully rinse off the stench of corruption. Naturally, Edson's prominence among the business class married nicely with mayoral ambitions by the mid 1880s and would eventually include a denunciation of Tammany practices and condemnation of Tammany boss John Kelly (at right). But not at first.

For the election in November 1882, the various Democratic factions, including the still-potent Irving Hall, soon decided on the relatively green Edson, because he was a uncontroversial, neutral choice. To Tammany's Kelly, Edson must have seemed a fairly agreeable pick indeed compared the previous mayor William Russell Grace, a reform Democrat rebelliously outside the realm of Tammany's power.

Edson easily swept past his opponent, railroad man Allan Campbell -- a sweet victory for John Kelly, as it was Campbell that had replaced Kelly as the city comptroller several years previous under the administration of mayor Edward Cooper. (Check out Edward's entry for some juicy details of the Kelly/Cooper rivalry.)

How did a political nobody -- a "seven day wonder in the political world" -- sweep so handily into office? It helps to ride coattails; during that same election, the popular Democrat Grover Cleveland was elected the governor of New York.

At first, Edson gave in readily to political favoritism, paying back some of his Democratic cohorts -- including many of the Tammany variety -- with lucrative city jobs, a decision which disgruntled many of his former supporters. In fact, he even appointed Richard Croker as fire commissioner; Croker would become the head of Tammany Hall in the 1890s. (Harper's Weekly has a coy little cartoon chiding the Croker decision.)

Like many before him, however, Edson soon grew tired of Tammany's corrupting influence and began adopting reform policies which were currently being installed on the state level. And also like many before him, his against-the-wind attempts at reform would essentially spell the end of his political career. Edson would serve but a single term and would almost entirely vanish from politics afterwards.

But not before throwing his weight behind a major expansion of the Croton Aqueduct, which within in a few years would triple the supply of water into the city. (In fact, most of the expansion he pushed for is still in use today.)

Edson is also partially responsible for the huge increase in New York park land, commissioning a citizens group in 1884 to lobby the state to purchase lands in the area of today's Bronx; accordiing to an old Bronx history, "the 'new' parks, as they were called, comprised 3,757 acres, now included in Van Corlandt, Bronx, Pelham Bay, Crotona, St. Mary's and Claremont parks."

And most notably, he was the first New York mayor to walk the Brooklyn Bridge, astride president Chester A. Arthur and governor Cleveland on the bridge's opening day, May 24, 1883. He would be met in the middle by the mayor of Brooklyn -- future New York mayor -- Seth Low.

He might have crept quietly into obscurity had Edson not been accused of contempt of court shortly after he left office, threatening a man in his early 50s with jail time with a stint at the notorious Ludlow Street Jail. Apparently, despite a court injunction, Edson had quietly made promotions to two posts -- the Commissioner of Public Works and the Corporation Council -- on his last day in office. However, after a stressful two months in court, Edson was declared not guilty of the crime.

This did not stop people from imagining the ex-Mayor trapped behind bars, as the newspaper illustration below evidences:



Edson died in 1904, at his home on the Upper East Side. 42 West 71st Street, to be exact, a block from the Dakota Apartments, which were completed during his tenure as mayor.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fenced in: the Coney Island-Puck Building connection



Steeplechase Park in the old days

With the nice weather, I was in a very Coney Island state of mind this past weekend. So I was happy to learn this week's podcast topic has its own connection to the amusement capital's glory days.

There's a black rod-iron fence that encircles the Puck Building, a rather curious feature on an already curious building. That fence was actually taken from one of Coney Island's greatest theme parks, Steeplechase Park.

When the gate was taken from Steeplechase and added to the Puck Building is a bit of a mystery, but the most likely date would have been 1964, when Steeplechase was closed for good.

Dick Zigun, the un-official 'king' of Coney Island, mentioned on the Coney Island message board: "In the 1980's there was ... an article and photo in The Daily News. It showed the Steeplechase Fence around the Puck Building in Manhattan (Lafayette and Houston)."

As one of the first Coney Island amusement parks, Steeplechase drew thousands of people each summer with such rides as the Human Roulette Wheel, the Pavilion of Fun, the parachute jump and of course the Steeplechase horse race.

Below: the Steeplechase fence wraps around the front of the Puck Building


Before heading out there this summer, check out our two-part podcast on the history of Coney Island: The Golden Age and 20th Century Freakshow.

(Thanks to podcast listener Bruce CS for sending in the above tip! Above postcard courtesy Adam Sandy.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Puck Building "What Fools These Mortals Be!"



A 6-foot plump gold impish figure stares down as you look up to observe the gorgeous red-brick design of the Puck Building, built for one of the 19th century's most popular illustrated publications. But this architectural masterpiece was very nearly wiped away by a sudden decision by the city. How did it survive?

Puck's utterance "What Fools These Mortals Be!" is the slogan for Puck Magazine and words written by Shakespeare.

Listen to it for FREE on iTunes or other podcasting services. Or click this link to listen to the show or download it directly from our satellite site



An illustration of what the Puck Building looked like pre-1897....


...and how the truncated Puck looks today.


The impish Puck standing at the corner of the building -- and above the western doorway -- is echoed in Puck's magazine banner


There are, of course, two Pucks at the Puck Building. A smaller, newer Puck stands over the main entrance. Neither this entrance nor the Puck above it existed before 1897.


An early issue of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. Keppler went to work for Leslie before striking out on his own with the far more satirical Puck Magazine.


Some images from Puck Magazine. Please click into the images for greater detail.

Below is a cover from 1881, satirizing Brooklyn's most powerful Democrat, Hugh McLaughlin, who frequently butted heads with Tammany Hall.


Republicans attempt to stitch together their fractured party, in an illustration by Keppler himself. Keppler was one of the most influential illustrators of his time, second only to the great Thomas Nast of Harper's Weekly.


Possibly the most powerful image the magazine ever ran was this one, mocking presidential Republican candidate James Blaine. Keppler was a supporter of Democrat Grover Cleveland, and cartoons like this swayed public opinion. Cleveland beat Blaine in the presidential election of 1884.



In the interior illustration below, Keppler displays his obvious anti-Catholic (and, by extension, anti-Irish) bias. Puck himself is inserted in this image at bottom left.


One of my favorite images, and a good example of Puck's centerfold illustrations, this one expanding on the war in 1883 between the Metropolitan Opera and New York's Academy of Music.


One hundred years after the Puck Building opened, another catty, satirical magazine Spy Magazine moved in, carrying on the tradition of political lampooning.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Female cross-dressing: the 19th century verdict

The cartoon below is from Puck Magazine, published in 1893. I believe this is a criticism of the 'manliness' of women's fashions in the 1890s, but I suppose it also works on an additional level as a 19th century indictment of gay marriage.

The caption: Justice of the Peace (somewhat near-sighted): 'Want to be married? Well--er--eh--which one is the groom?'

Click on the image for larger view:



From New York Public Library digital gallery

Be back here tomorrow for a lot more on Puck Magazine....

Earth Day 1970: Two mayors share a clean, groovy vision



Above: Throngs enjoy a cleaner world by cramming themselves on New York's toniest avenue during the city's very first Earth Day celebration

Mayor Bloomberg's push for a cleaner, environmentally friendly New York City may be rather ambitious (and fraught with some mixed signals) but he's hardly the first mayor with green on the brain.

In fact, mayor John Lindsay pulled out all the stops for the first official Earth Day on April 22, 1970, with such a show that one could be mistaken in the belief that the holiday was created here. (It was officially sanctioned in Seattle the year before.)

In honor of the inaugural environmental holiday, Lindsay authorized Fifth Avenue closed for two hours, the streets filled with thousands of celebrants and protesters. The event culminated in Union Square, where the mayor -- along with actors like Paul Newman and Ali McGraw -- spoke to encouraging crowds about a cleaner city. Fourteenth Street between 3rd and 7th avenues was also shut down for an 'ecological carnival', which might not sound as fun as a real carnival. Except this was 1970, afterall.

Was Lindsay (left) before his time in his passion for pollution? Maybe. More likely, his constituents were. By 1970 the mayor attempted to bring a true sensibility of the bohemian to the city, allowing 'be-ins' in Central Park and promoting a virtue of 'Fun City', "a phrase that embodied the hope of New Yorkers for a more livable city," according to biographer Vincent Cannato. In fact, Earth Day was modeled after the Vietnam-era 'teach-in', essentially an educational outreach mixed with a smidgen of good times.

Lindsay even sounded a bit Bloomberg-ish that day: "...the city is contributing a billion dollars over the next ten years to mass transit construction. And then more, more and more we are discouraging automobile use in the central business areas, particularly." (Look here for the rest of the interview with Lindsay in Union Square talking to NBC about the first Earth Day.)

"If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the pollution," added governor Nelson Rockefeller in a speech to the crowds.

The massive rally, with a 100,000 in attendance, reportedly left little pollution in its wake (although that seems a tad revisionist to me). Crowds occasionally attacked gas-guzzling, pollutant-making cars as they went by, and one group of demonstrators curiously dragged around a net filled with rotting fish, shouting "This could be you!"

Lindsay would later close Fifth Avenue to traffic for several weekends that summer. Further paralleling his predecessor, Bloomberg followed suit last year with a vehicle-free Park Avenue.

Below: Like clean, little Whyos, this gang of adorable, broom-wielding Union Square scalawags prepare to attack the city's grime



By the way, click here for a list of all today's Earth Day festivities

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bronx's Grand Concourse: 100 years of lush style



The Concourse in 1966 (pic courtesy the Museum)

The Bronx's very own Champs-Élysées, the wide boulevard known as the Grand Concourse, turns 100 this year, and the Bronx Museum celebrates with Intersection: The Grand Concourse Beyond 100, part history lesson, part community outreach looking to revitalize and rethink the borough's most prominent street for a new century.

The Concourse was originally planned as a means for Manhattanites to get to Pelham Bay Park and to the newly built parkways along the north and east Bronx. What they got in 1909, as designed by engineer Louis Aloys Risse, far exceeded its function, a broad, elegant, tree-lined street lined with art-deco apartment buildings, ornate theaters and shops. Even Yankee Stadium tagged along in 1923.

The Museum's exhibit features photographs of its entire history, from its construction to its decline in the 60s and 70s. Although it's yet to truly return to the fortunes of its glory days, the Concourse will receive a partial restoration and rezoning of its lower section in a proposal from the mayor's office. The exhibit also presents a competition for budding civic planners on how the Risse's creation "can evolve in coming decades to cope with pressing needs for housing, green space, and transportation." (If you want to participate, the deadline for signing up is this Friday!)

Visit the Bronx Museum's website for more information. The Museum, conveniently located on the Concourse, runs the exhibit until July 20th.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Bowery Boys: New York History Trivia Night returns!



Our trivia night last fall, brought to you in association with the Municipal Art Society, was such a wild success that we're bringing you some new rounds in a new location!

The Bowery Boys are your masters of ceremony for the second lively MAS evening of New York City trivia: history, architecture, culture, and more. Put together a team of experts (up to four to a team) and join us! Great fun and glamorous prizes, including the eight DVD set of New York: A Documentary Film by Ric Burns for the grand prize winner!

The winner of the last trivia match was the dynamic duo the Astoria Aces. The trivia questions will be more challenging than before, and we've reworked our 'final faceoff' to make it even more exciting.

Monday, May 11, 6:30pm – 8:30pm
The Musical Box, 219 Ave. B, New York, NY (map)
Just $5 to play, MAS members free.
The Musical Box is easy to find -- just take the L train to First Ave., then walk two blocks.

We once again thank the Municipal Art Society for getting us involved in another event. Get there early because it was standing room only last time around.

You can look here for a list of the trivia questions we used last time around. Good luck!



Photos courtesy Life Google images

Friday, April 17, 2009

Birdland: I know why the caged bird bebops



FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER To get you in the mood for the weekend, every other Friday we'll be featuring an old New York nightlife haunt, from the dance halls of 19th Century Bowery, to the massive warehouse clubs of the mid-1990s. Past entries can be found HERE.


Charlie Parker was the king of the jazz scene, father of bebop, and a figurehead of bohemian New York -- the original hipster, before the term moved on to other connotations. He is also the reason for Birdland, the influential midtown jazz club that's still with us today.

Parker was born in 1920 in another jazz capital, Kansas City, Mo, and moved to New York at 19 years of age. He quickly worked his way into jazz's inner circle, performing saxophone in Harlem and midtown clubs with names that would soon become legendary in the genre -- Art Tatum, Thelonius Monk and especially Dizzy Gillespie, Parker's frequent duet partner. Through these collaborations, Parker helped create the style of jazz known as bebop, a frenetic, dirty and liberal type of jazz which required a mastery over their instruments along an uncharted, often improvised melody.

By 1949, he was the biggest star in jazz music, defining the sound through dozens of recordings and spectacularly unpredictable live performances. (He was also severely abusing alcohol and drugs by this time, too.)

He had also acquired the well known nickname, the Yardbird. There are multiple theories as to how he obtained that name; by the 40s, it was most popularly shortened to the Bird. The fan site Bird Lives has a compendium of back stories of how the name came to be.

BELOW: Parker performs at Birdland, 1951


Young Bronx-born songwriter Morris Levy, meanwhile, was making his own way through New York's music scene, most notably in the 40s as manager of Topsy's Chicken Roost. Seizing upon the connections he made there, Levy decided to head out on his own, while promising Parker a club of his own to perform in. And so became Birdland, opening near the end of 1949, at 1678 Broadway on 52nd street.

“Bird was very excited about that," recalled renown jazz drummer Earl Haynes. "I remember on opening night there were lines of people outside, waiting in bad weather.”

The club, the self-proclaimed 'jazz corner of the world', sat 400 amidst a cabaret space adorned with actual caged birds and a 'bullpen' behind the bar "where penniless college kids and struggling musicians" took their place.

Birdland quickly took off as New York's leading jazz club of the 1950s, attracting the genre's greatest names: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Lester Young, not to mention Gillespie and Monk. And of course, Parker would perform there regularly. At one point, he couldn't acquire a cabaret license because of his substance-abuse problems; as a result, he would actually be barred from performing in any New York club, including his own.

BELOW Eroll Garner and Art Tatum perform in 1951. You get a great sense of the room -- and the clientele! -- in this picture.



As the club became more popular, Birdland's tables were surrounded by a bevy of glamorous stars on any given night, like Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Marlene Dietrich.

According to Ebony editor Allan Morrison, "Birdland was both a cultural vantage point and a barometer of trends where all the big names in jazz performed."

From the successes of Birdland, Levy would go on form Roulette Records and become one of the most unscrupulous music moguls in the rock and R&B era. He was responsible for some of the biggest R&B hits of the 60s -- and also notorious for his mob connections and a penchant for strong-arming recording artists into sharing publishing rights with him. (He also allegedly owned the phrase 'rock and roll'.) He died in 1990 before he could serve a ten-year jail sentence for extortion.

How's this for a lineup in 1951? From left to right: Tommy Potter, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane


Parker meanwhile, had met his tragic end many, many years previous, a victim of rampant substance abuse. His last performance at Birdland was on March 5, 1955, dying in New York one week later.


The Birdland club drifted against the headwinds of the 1960s, where rock clubs like the Peppermint Lounge ruled midtown. "Birdland has gone off the cool," lamented Oscar Goodstein to Time Magazine. By 1965, the club on 52nd street closed its doors.

With the consent of Parker's widow Doris, John Valenti reopened Birdland in 1986 on the Upper West Side, 2745 Broadway at 106th Street, in a more intimate, triangular shaped space.

Watching the rebirth of midtown in the 1990s, Valenti decided to move the club back downtown in 1996 to its present location at 315 W. 44th Street, between 8th and 9th avenues. They get fewer celebrities, but a lot more tourists, sampling the newest crop of jazz stars.

BELOW: Ella Fitzgerald electrifies the room

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Yankee Stadium Opening Day: April 18, 1923


The first Yankee Stadium, all shiny and new in 1923

Today is opening day at the new high-tech Yankees Stadium as Derek Jeter and crew get used to that new stadium smell while fending off the Cleveland Indians. And legendary Yankees catcher and manager Yogi Berra, who turns 84 this year, will be there to throw out the first pitch.

Just two years before Berra was even born, however, came Yankee Stadium's first opening day, on April 18, 1923. Back then, the Yankees were Babe Ruth, baseball's magnetic star whose popularity caused Yankees owners Jacob Ruppert and
Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston to built the new stadium in the first place.

But despite the stadium being 'the House that Ruth Built', he didn't throw the first pitch. That honor went to governor Alfred E. Smith, hurling the ball at catcher Wally Schang. The Yankees went on the crush the Boston Red Sox that day 4-2, thanks to an effortless three-run homer from Ruth.

Above: an original opening-day program, curiously with Yankees owners Ruppert and Huston -- not Ruth -- on the cover

Click here to hear our podcast on the history of the Yankees.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Hudson-Fulton Celebration: not just another party



Four hundred years ago, on September 12, Henry Hudson sailed into New York harbor and casually discovered the island of Mannahatta, the future home of New Amsterdam, Wall Street, and the New York Yankees.

Two hundred years later, ferry mogul Robert Fulton patented the steamboat, an engineering marvel he perfected, but did not invent. Fulton, a Pennsylvanian who originally tested his ship in Paris, became associated with New York with the development of the successful Clermont North River steamboat service in 1807.

Reason to party, right?

New Yorkers thought so 100 years ago, planning the official Hudson-Fulton Celebration in the fall of 1909, as a grand, showy pat on the back to America's industrial might. A state-wide soiree, it was New York's own unofficial world's fair, a chance to trumpet its innovations and riches via a celebration of its history and the central role of the Hudson River.

Make no mistake: as much as this was a celebration of New York, it was also a celebration of New York's wealthy. This was the height of the Gilded Age, after all. The original plan was forged by Theodore Roosevelt's uncle Robert, and the planning committee included Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, former vice president Levi Morton, Macys co-owner Oscar Straus, and members of the Rockefeller and Van Rensselaer families. They were celebrating New York; by extension, they were celebrating themselves.

From September 25 to October 11, the river was clogged with shipping and military vessels festooned with electric lights, while overhead the skies were filled with nightly firework displays. Inaugeral nautical displays were capped with the ceremonial entry into the harbor of both Hudson's ship the Half-Moone and Fulton's Clermont, both re-created for the event. (The Half-Moone and Clermont unceremoniously collided into each other during the ceremony!)

Below: a postcard of the Half-Moone on its 'revisit' to New York harbor


On land. it was a veritable history geek's dream, with festivals and parades devoted to New York City's past. Each day featured a different 'historical pageant' in each borough, culminating in two far livelier 'carnival pageants', one in Manhattan on October 2, and in Brooklyn one week later.

The historical pageant would be a six-mile, papier-mache Beaux-Arts extravaganza, striding from Central Park to Washington Square Park, displaying the political correctness of the day. The parade was led by a series of floats referred to as 'the Red Man Band', with such dioramas as 'the Legend of Hiawatha' and 'the War Dance', escorted by members of Tammany Hall.

Dutch-themed floats depicted Jonas Bronck, Peter Minuit's purchase of Manhattan island, and a friendly game of bowling at Bowling Green. British and Revolutionary War floats followed, featuring the death of Nathan Hale and the legend of Rip Van Winkle. Peter Stuyvesant, Alexander Hamilton, the Statue of Liberty, the Marquis de Lafayette -- they were all represented.

Below: part of the Hudson-Fulton history parade, 1909



Of course, that was nothing compared to the absolutely bizarre Carnival Pageant. Rather than represent anything relating to the celebration at hand, organizers chose to, according to official history, "recall the poetry of myth, legend, allegory and in a few cases of historic fact, which, while foreign in local origin, is an heritage of universal possession and belongs to all nation."

Bafflingly, this led to a highly flamboyant parade with such European folklore themed floats as the "Crowning of Beethoven," "Lohengrin," "Walkure", "Frost King", "Orpheus Before Pluto" and "Elves of the Spring" -- almost 30 in all. A couple sample descriptions:

Frost King -- "This float represented the mythical Frost King, who has control over the snows and other elements of the winter. Around him were grouped his fairies, who have charge of the winds, the snows, the frost and the thaw. The Frost King was represented in his own directing the elements."

Elves of the Spring -- "This float represented the opening of the flowers and the fairies issuing therefrom, suggesting the magical change which comes over the face of nature with the retreat of winter."

Keep in mind that many of the myths depicted in the carnival may have been quite familiar to New York's new populations of European immigrants. Had such a procession sprouted up on the streets today, it might be mistaken for the Halloween parade.



The Metropolitan Life Tower, the tallest building in New York, lights up the night sky during the 1909 Hudson-Fulton celebration

Meanwhile, mayor George McClellan Jr. and other city officials were busy elsewhere, as a flurry of monuments and plaques were dedicated that day. In fact, if you're walking around the city and find any dedication related to the days of Dutch Manhattan, most likely it's from the Celebration -- from the marking of the old Dutch wall on Wall Street to the marker dedication to Dutch school teachers in Washington Square.

Strings of electric lights were hung from every available landmark and structure, in a sense creating the modern New York skyline that very day, as New Yorkers could now admire their city for the first time at night. Not just incidental illumination, but a decorative show that could be seen from miles away.

Thousands of lights were hung from the bridges and official buildings in all boroughs, paired with "elaborate private illuminations by the owners of large office buildings, stores and dwelling houses," the lighted vessels in the harbor and the various pyrotechnics throughout the city to create "a veritable City of Light."

Of course, the most well-known -- and most historically significant -- event from the Hudson-Fulton Celebration was Wilbur Wright's flight from Governor's Island circling the Statue of Liberty, the very first flight over New York waters. (Check out our podcast on LaGuardia Airport and the history of flight for more information.)

Below: Amazed New Yorkers stare as Wilbur takes a second trip through New York skies, up the Hudson River to Grant's Tomb, then back to Governor's Island


This year we should be celebrating Hudson, Fulton and Wright, I guess. There are celebrations planned throughout the state, and we'll hear more about them starting in June and continuing through the fall. Manhattan has already received a new commemorative flag in honor of the event.

And naturally, we'll be alerting you to some of these events on this blog. Maybe we'll even have our own. Anybody got a elf costume?

By the way, the official history of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration is worth a look, especially for its descriptions of regular events.