Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Before South Street Seaport: The lovely mess on the waterfront

Manhattan waterfront property, from Thomas Edison, circa May 1903: an uninterrupted swell of piers, tugs and steamships jutting into the water, the skyline obscured at camera angle by towers of masts. This short film starts immediately north of the Battery Maritime Building (next to the Whitehall Ferry Terminal) and scans the entire waterfront up to just south of the Brooklyn Bridge.

In comparison, this area seems virtually empty today, with the heliport, a small ferry terminal (including the IKEA shuttle), the old Fulton Fish Market, and, of course, the grand monstrosity that is South Street Seaport and Water Taxi Beach.



This and many other old silent films documenting New York are available for view at The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906, made available by the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Raise a toast to Vice President Daniel D Tompkins, forever an East Villager



So I got caught in the rain yesterday afternoon and happened to be by St. Mark's On The Bowery in the East Village, so I ran inside. And lo and behold, in the church yard, I stumbled upon the crypt marker of Daniel D Tompkins, who I just spoke about in this week's podcast -- the father of Tompkinsville and the Richmond Turnpike Company, precursor to the Staten Island Ferry.

Tompkins is interred with his wife's family in the Minthorne vault at St. Mark's. The smaller marker next to Daniel's is for another member of the Minthorne clan -- his father in law Mangle Minthorne.

Tompkins was a former New York governor and spent his last year, while nurturing his little community in Staten Island, as Vice President of the United States under James Monroe. His links to the city are numerous, of course. He was also a founder of the New York Historical Society and a vociferous rival of Columbia College classmate DeWitt Clinton.

His most notable accomplishment was probably as governor with an act of the gradual abolition in the state in 1817; however debts accrued during the War of 1812 led Tompkins to become an excessive drinker. He would often preside over the Senate totally trashed.

"He was several times so drunk in the chair that he could with difficulty put the question," according to a contemporary, Dr. James Bronaugh. Tompkins died 175 years ago this month, on June 11, 1825.

He is, of course, the namesake of the East Village's biggest park, Tompkins Square Park.

Monday, June 28, 2010

New York and Brooklyn's first ferry -- for a handful of wampum and the toot of a horn


ABOVE: A detail from an illustration of the northern points of the New Amsterdam colony, 1640.

The year 1642 saw the very first regular ferry service in New York Harbor, between the two small villages of Breuckelen and New Amsterdam. The populations of both areas numbered less than 1,000 at most, combined, and most were employed by the Dutch West India Company. New Amsterdam, under Peter Kieft, had a modicum of defenses (notably Fort Amsterdam) but that famous wall demarcating its northern border would only come many years later, as would Peter Stuyvesant.

Across the water, Breuckelen was nothing more than a cluster of basic structures along the shore, near the area where the anchorage of the Brooklyn Bridge sits today. Its long stretch of flat shore in full view of the harbor and a high bluff (later Brooklyn Heights) made it a choice spot for adventurous Dutch settlers who made it their home in 1636. In contrast, other areas of Long Island were settled by other nationalities under Dutch authority, e.g. the English settlements of Gravesend (modern Gravesend and Coney Island).

Just north of New Amsterdam resided a man who would be the first to link the two tiny settlements. Cornelius Dircksen was a farmer and inn owner with prime real estate, even in 1640, along the eastern stretch of Mannahatta at Peck Slip, just north of the city.

In the early 1630s, Dircksen's ferry was an irregular service, a way to earn extra income. Perhaps he considered it a special accomodation for guests of his inn. And who was staying at his inn, at this time? Mostly newcomers to New Amsterdam, or Dutch West India fur traders passing through.

As legend has it, if one of his guests or a passerby wanted conveyance across the river, they needed only to take a horn hanging from a tree and blow it. Cornelius would drop what he was doing to arrange the voyage, even if he was tending to his own fields. (I imagine the money must have been good.) His small boat would take passengers from the foot of his farm to a small landing on the other side -- not surprising in the area that would later develop the Fulton Ferry in the 19th century.

In 1642, Cornelius decided to jump into the ferry occupation full time. Dircksen was, according to old histories, "the earliest ferryman of whom records speak and was, probably, the first person who regularly followed that calling."

In a modest skiff, Cornelius (or his assistants) would take passengers across the harbor for shells: "the small price of three stuivers in wampum, meaning nine purple beads or eighteen white beads." Wampum would be the colony's most versatile form of currency, usable in both the Dutch settlements and with the Lenape themselves. The ride, often choppy and unpredictable, would sometimes take a full hour.

Cornelius owned the land on both sides but later sold the Breuckelen landing in 1643 to Willem Jansen -- who then opened a competing tavern there himself.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Staten Island Ferry: its story, from sail to steam


PODCAST The Staten Island Ferry is one of the last remaining vestiges of an entire ferry system in New York, taking people between Manhattan and its future boroughs long before any bridges were built. In Staten Island, the northern shores were spiked in piers, competing ferry operators braving the busy waters of New York harbor.

In the first of our summer-long podcasts BOWERY BOYS ON THE GO on New York public transportation, I look at the history of Staten Island's famous ferry, its early precursors, its connection to Cornelius Vanderbilt and a Monopoly property, and its evolution when the city took it over in 1905.

ALSO: Find out the curious story behind the name of Victory Boulevard and the neighborhoods of St. George and Tompkinsville.

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: Staten Island Ferry

From an old postcard, illlustrating why the Staten Island Ferry has become more than just a way to get to and from work. [NYPL]


The Clermont in the waters of New York Harbor, 1807. Robert Fulton's first steamship would revolutionize travel and change the rules of the ferry game. The first steamship off Staten Island waters would be the Nautilus in 1817, property of Daniel Tompkins. This Nautilus should not (obviously) be confused with Fulton's famous submarine of the same name. Although the boat seems to have inspired a building, called Nautilus Hall, on Tompkins' property. [Courtesy Gerald Massey]


One of the earliest known photographs of a "Staten Island Steamboat", taken in 1858 and about to chug by Castle William on Governor's Island, one of "Anthony's Instantaneous Views" from the George Eastman House archive.


This is a detail from an 1874 map of Stapleton and Clifton along the northeast shore of Staten Island. The area in green along the waterfront is Vanderbilt's Landing, at least the southern part of it. You can also find the Vanderbilt estate nearby. For a closer look, check out the map directly on the NYPL site and use the zoom in/out tools.


The Richmond Turnpike traveling through Tompkinsville, the town founded by Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins. The Turnpike, formerly a toll road and the basis of the Richmond Turnpike Company, would be renamed Victory Boulevard after World War I.


The Westfield disaster on July 1871, a boiler explosion that killed over 80 people, underscored the risks of early steam travel in the crowded waters of New York harbor. It remains the worst of several disasters in the Staten Island ferry's long history.


Named for George Law, the neighborhood of St. George was a bustling entertainment district, with hotels, light amusements and sports venues. This postcard is from 1886, illustrating the new St. George Cricket Grounds, built by developer Erastus Wiman.


When the city took over operation of the Staten Island Ferry in 1905, they commissioned five new boats, each named for a borough. Here's the Manhattan:

You used to be able to take your automobile on the ferry, as late as 2001 in fact, when due to security fears, vehicles were prohibited. Photo below 1963. [Magnum Photo, Leonard Freed photographer]


If you want to thumb through a spread of old photographs of prior ferryboats, check out this great site.

And this Flickr picture might be one of my favorite pictures ever.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bowery Boys On The Go: History of NYC Transportation



Wheels converge: Motor buggies, horse drawn carriages and other conveyances glide and to and from the railroad terminal ferry station at West 23rd Street (i.e. Chelsea Piers) Pic courtesy NYPL

Tomorrow we begin our first official summer blockbuster: a set of several podcasts in a row, themed BOWERY BOYS ON THE GO. Every two weeks, we'll be taking on the history of a certain aspect of New York City public transportation. Like always, the podcasts will be available every other Friday starting tomorrow. You can download them from iTunes, at other podcast services, and of course from links on this page.

Although the blog will be, as usual, quaintly all over the place, I'll try and focus a bit more on some of the history tales that we won't get to cover on the podcast.

So let's start! As an introduction, I give you this educational filmreel from the 1940s, vaguely about the wonders of New York City transportation:



You can watch the original here

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The greatest kiss in New York City history



Edith Shain, the Kissing Nurse, Dies at 91

Photo Life Magazine

'Stonewall Uprising' and reenacting a historical riot

BOWERY BOYS RECOMMEND is an occasional feature where we find an unusual movie or TV show that -- whether by accident or design -- uniquely captures an era of New York City as well as any reference or history book. Other entries in this series can be found here.

Rarely do documentaries on New York City history ever hit movie theaters, so I was excited to catch 'Stonewall Uprising' this weekend at the Film Forum. I found not only the subject matter interesting -- the Stonewall riots, as described by people who were there -- but the clever way the filmmakers visual ed an event with so little archival images to use.

The riots outside the Stonewall bar in June of 1969 set police officers against gay street kids and drag queens, and the chaos spilled out into the crooked streets of the West Village for days after. What followed could not have been predicted: the formation of a energized gay community and the birth of New York's annual Pride march.

The film, directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, makes use of excellent interviews from both participants in the riot, and even Seymour Pine, the officer in charge of closing Stonewall bar that fateful night, makes an appearance. Setting the oppressive atmosphere are several scenes of grainy industrial films, laying bare the social mores of the 1950s and 60s, and heavy reliance of CBS News's infamous expose 'The Homosexuals'. If anything, 'Stonewall Uprising' is a faithful adaptation of David Carter's terrific book on the same subject.

Since people weren't exactly carting around video cameras to mob-operated gay establishments in the 1960s, the directors devise reenacted scenes. However, unlike the poorly acted and costumed reproductions that you sometimes see on the History Channel at 2 a.m., the visuals of 'Stonewall Uprising' are often disturbingly lifelike.

Outside a few notably modern camera angles, the footage often looks like the careful re-animation of old photographs, like some kind of new James Cameron viewer-immersing technology. I guess I was distracted by the reproduced scenes, yet it never took away from the film's intent, most likely because the candid interviews presented were fresh, often funny, and sometimes heartbreaking.

Check it out in a local movie theater or be sure to watch for it on television sometimes. (It's an American Experience production so I imagine it makes an appearance on PBS soon.)

For a refresher of the tumultuous events of that year, check out our podcast from 2008 on the history of the Stonewall Riots.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

History in the Making: Lost, Lost City Edition



Above: 15 Park Row, today the home of J&R Electronics (between Ann Street and Beekman Street), photography by the Wurts Brothers (NYPL)

Slawson & Hobbs was a prosperous New York real estate firm. You can read about their new offices at W. 72nd Street here. That office building is still around -- there's a Cold Stone Creamery on its ground floor today -- and turns a hundred years old this year.

Ah, even in a city so thoroughly studied, you can still find a little mystery under your nose -- witness the "magical, frozen-in-time interior" 5 Beekman Street [New York Magazine]

Seventy-five years ago this year, the treasures of philanthropist Henry Clay Frick -- not to mention his sumptuous Upper East Side mansion -- opened to the public. [Gothamist]

One more vanishing sign on the Lower East Side [Bowery Boogie]

Bizarre Big Bird-like entities inhabit the rafters of an Upper East Side apartment building. [Ephemeral NY]

Staten Island husband and wife painters Adeline Albright Wigand and Otto Charles Wigand, once forgotten, get their due this week at an exhibition upstairs at the Staten Island Museum. [SI Live]

Ugh! And I just discovered this weekend that Brooks of Sheffield has ended his wonderful Lost City blog and not without a few last digs at the encroaching spectre of gentrification. "I wrote thousands of words, and posted hundreds of pictures for four-and-a-half years—nearly 3,000 posts, all told. None of them made any difference. Not really." [Lost City]

Friday, June 18, 2010

Welcome to The Pansy Club: leave your wig at the door

Above: Karyl Norman welcomes you to the Pansy Club!

FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER To get you in the mood for the weekend, on occasional Fridays 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.

LOCATION: The Pansy ClubTimes Square, 48th Street and Broadway, Manhattan
In operation December 1930-31

The moral crusaders who succeeded in banning alcohol sales via the Eighteenth Amendment must have wondered where it all went wrong. Instead of ushering America down a path of productivity and moral fortitude, Prohibition sponsored a decade of unwritten rules, creating a shadow economy and empowering a criminal underworld.

Norms were upended, and the fringes of New York were defined by experimentation and playful risk. Harlem and Greenwich Village became the centers of culture, women found new avenues for empowerment, and black musicians mixed with white to create the sophistication of jazz.

It's in the light of this churning mix of invention that you have to approach one curious fad of the Prohibition era -- the pansy craze, an appreciation of drag-queen worship cultivated in the heart of Manhattan.

I'm not sure a place called The Pansy Club would be popularly received today, but when it opened in late 1930 it was risque and cool. Its location at 48th and Broadway planted it firmly in the theater district where it truly belonged, of course. But given the entertainments it generously offered, it's amazing to me it was allowed to open at all.

It makes sense that the speakeasy-fueled, white crowds, having fully sampled from black nightclubs of the 1920s, would venture into other subcultures on the fringe of bohemia. There were plenty of places in Greenwich Village for gay and lesbians to meet, and within them came camped-up forms of cabaret, with men in drag emulating the glamorous female stars of the day. It helped that some of those stars, like Sophie Tucker and Mae West, mixed with and borrowed from their costumed admirers.

It all built into a national, urban 'craze' in 1930 and 1931 for drag shows in a mainstream cabaret environment.  Why it neatly fit on the nightclub circuit -- and what made it somewhat more tolerable for conservative crowds -- was partially due to drag's close association with vaudeville.  Although the term 'pansy' was a derogatory one for gay men, for this brief time 'pansy clubs' were the hottest ticket in town.

The Pansy Club, at 204 W. 48th, in heart of Times Square (and about where the M&M Store is today) was not the only nightclub of this type, but when it opened the week before Christmas in December 1930, it was the showiest of the lot.

The Pansy Club featured standard-era vaudevillian and cabaret acts, but with a decided gay (read: scandalous) twist -- female impersonators, "a bevy of beautiful girls in 'something different' entitled 'Pansies On Parade'" according to a newspaper advertisement, one of the few documents that verify the club's brief existence.

Mistress of ceremonies was one Karyl Norman, known in drag as the 'Creole Fashion Plate'. Born George Peduzzi from Baltimore, Norman became a star on the vaudevillian circuits in the US, Europe and Australia in a show that featured him both in and out of drag. As a published songwriter and a favorite of Tin Pan Alley, Norman would have been a big draw in 1930 and as a seasoned vaudevillian star would have brought a touch of credibility to a club with so shocking a theme.

According to Brooks Peters, the club was also "a haven for aging flappers and party-goers who liked “slumming.”"

Down the street was an even more popular draw. At Club Abbey (46th and 8th Ave) was a young Jean Malin (at left, courtesy Flickr), a Brooklyn-born wit and sometimes 'female impersonator' who hosted drag performances while charming audiences with interludes that made no disguise of his homosexuality.

What distinguished these places is that they were not considered gay and lesbian bars of the sort in the Village. However they did have a similar thread in common with them -- ownership by the mob, an association that led to the club's swift closings.

A gang shooting closed Club Abbey in January, and the police raided the Pansy Club that same month.  While the 'pansy craze' would live on in other cities -- it made a more lasting impression in Hollywood, naturally -- it retreated to the fringes again in New York.

And finally, for your Friday night celebration, here's a look at Jean Malin, who made a brief appearance in Hollywood films before Malin's untimely death in 1933. The film is 'Arizona To Broadway'.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Close-up at the DeMille: 'Psycho' opens in Times Square


\Photo courtesy the Hitchcock Papers

Fifty years ago today, a movie by a British director that was mostly filmed in Los Angeles made its New York City debut. That film, Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho', would change the medium forever, from its unrelenting suspense and terrifying soundtrack to that famous shower scene.

The movie was first shown at The DeMille Theater at Seventh Avenue and 47th Street. Fifty years of film and vaudeville proceeded it in the space; originally opened as the Columbia Theater in 1910, the movie house was purchased by the family of Walter Reade in 1960 and renamed after the famous silent-film director Cecil B. Demille whose films had once screened there.

Apparently, it was simultaneously screened at another theater, the Baronet, at 59th and 3rd Avenue.

According to a contributor to Cinema Treasures who recalls the opening: "One of the first to open there was Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," which created a sensation with its "No one admitted after the start of the movie" policy. If I recall correctly, "Psycho" ran day-and-date with the same policy at Reade's Baronet on Third Avenue. Those were the only two theatres in the Greater New York-New Jersey area showing the movie, and the grosses were astronomical."

Bosley Crowther's review for the New York Times ran the next day -- there were no press screenings, to preserve the film's surprises -- and in his usual style, seems only faintly ruffled by the film. "Frankly, we feel his explanations are a bit of leg-pulling by a man who has been known to resort to such tactics in his former films. The consequence is his denouement falls quite flat for us. But the acting is fair."

You can read his whole review here.

Click here to check out some great old pictures of the movie house, which closed in the 1990s. And of course, the always amazing Cinema Treasures has an exhaustive discussion of the theater's history.

Incidentally, the first television broadcast of 'Psycho' was also for New Yorkers -- by WABC-TV, who broadcast an edited 'toned down' version as the late night movie on June 24, 1967. (The edited version took a few knife thrusts out of the pivotal shower sequence.) CBS had planned to screen the film a year earlier, but after controversies surrounding the real-life stabbing of the daughter of a prominent senatorial candidate the week before, the station caved to protests and nixed the film.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

June 15, 1904: Remembering the General Slocum disaster



The morning of June 15 -- The steamboat smolders off of North Brother Island

Today is the anniversary of undoubtedly one of New York's most tragic events, a disaster that famously eradicated a neighborhood and became the city's single largest loss of life in the 20th century -- the explosion of the steamboat General Slocum.

SInce the invention of the steamboat, New York Harbor has seen its share of steamboat disasters, often by technical malfunctions like exploding boilers or sometimes by collision. But what took the Slocum on the morning of Wednesday, June 15, was a problem that faced many tenements at the time -- inflammatory materials catching fire with little to almost no preventions in place. The blaze began in a room full of kerosene and hay, its initial discovery by a child was ignored by the captain himself, and, when it was taken seriously, all available tools to fight the blaze -- hoses and buckets -- were rotted through and virtually useless.

When passengers tried to flee, they discovered that the life vests were old and disintegrating and rafts were merely decorative. Regular inspections of the boat's safety equipment had in the past been paid off in bribes; the result now manifest itself in a fast-burning ship with 1,342 passengers unable to escape.

The unlucky were the mostly women and children congregants of St. Marks Lutheran Church, in New York's Kleindeutschland (today, the heart of the East Village), the vibrant destination for new German immigrants, seeking solidarity and a friendly, recognizable culture in the new, foreign city.

Being a day excursion, most of the men were off at work, and their families were off to enjoy a daytrip picnic at Eatons Neck along Long Island's north shore. The Slocum never made it out of the East River however. The fire spread with such horrifying speed that I can only illustrate it the following way -- the boat left the 3rd Street Pier at 9:30 and less than an hour later, its smoldering hull ran ashore at North Brother Island, most of its passengers either burned alive, choking from smoke inhalation along the shores or drowned in the waters of the East River. According to author Edward O'Donnell, "At 10:55 a.m., even before the news of the disaster became general, the burning hulk that had been the General Slocum was raised by the incoming tide and set adrift."

Below: Recovery workers scour the banks of the East River for days afterwards, looking for additional bodies


The tragedy sent the city into mourning. For the residents of Kleindeutschland, the disaster was simply too much to recover from. Of the 1,021 women and children who died, most lived in the German district of the Lower East Side. Their husbands and other family members moved on to other German neighborhoods, up to Yorkville or out to thriving districts in Queens and Brooklyn, or out of New York entirely.

Remnants of Little Germany can be found all throughout the East Village and Lower East Side, but for a memorial to the Slocum disaster, visit the original St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church on East Sixth Street.

Below: A funeral procession passes Avenue A and Sixth Street, the 'burial of the unidentified' according to the caption



[Pic from LESHP]

Monday, June 14, 2010

In Brooklyn, would newsboys sing for their supper?



Two wee newspersons prepare to disturb the air with their shrill, violent cries of commerce. Photo by Alice Austen[NYPL]

Those newsboys -- always causing trouble! Over 150 years ago in Brooklyn, it wasn't a strike that caused consternation with readers of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle; it was the mere sound of their harsh little voices.

In a Saturday, June 12, 1858, edition, one of the editors addresses the scandal: "The Sunday newsboys are engaging a great deal of attention just now. The police authorities have prevented them from hawking their papers on Sunday; and the Sunday papers retaliate by threatening to agitate for the suppression of church bells, whose noise is certainly as destructive of quiet as the lungs of the newsboys.

"As it it not so much the noise that is objected to as the character of the sound, a compromise might be effected by inducing the boys to advertise their wares on a musical key, and sing their merits to some pious tune....They might even adopt the use of bells themselves, as the knife-grinders do, and announce their approach by ringing one of the favored instruments"

Friday, June 11, 2010

Newsies vs the World! The Newsboys Strike of 1899


Are you tough enough to mess with them?

PODCAST Extra! Extra! Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst vs. the newsboys! Pandemonium in the streets! One hot summer in July 1899, thousands of corner newsboys went on strike against the New York Journal and the New York World. Throngs filled the streets of downtown Manhattan for two weeks and prevented the two largest papers in the country from getting distributed.

In this episode, we look at the development of the sensationalist New York press -- the birth of yellow journalism -- from its very earliest days, and how sensationalism's two famous purveyors were held at ransom by the poorest, scrappiest residents of the city. The conflict put a light to the child labor crisis and became a dramatic example of the need for reform.

Crazy Arborn, Kid Blink, Racetrack Higgins and Barney Peanuts invite you to the listen in to this tale of their finest moment, straight from the street corners of Gilded Age New York.

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: The Newsboys Strike of 1899



______________________________________________________
Newsboys in front of Seward Park. Caption: "Eisenberg Brothers, living at 27 Lewis Street. Benjamin, 8 years old, and John 10, selling Jewish papers [assumably the Forward] on East Broadway near Rutgers Street." By Lewis Hine (Courtesy NYHS)



Printing House Square, in a print from 1866, and the world of newspaper publishing in the mid-19th century. This was the heart of journalism in New York, where the streets reeked of ink, reporters and editors darted back and forth from their offices, and newsboys gathered to pick up their morning bundles of hot-off-the-press editions. (NYPL)


From another angle (print is labeled from 1870s) we see the offices of the Trubune, the Times and the World. The New York World at this time was under publisher Marble Manton was disreputable and unsuccessful.


The fate of the New York World was transformed when it was purchased by innovator Joseph Pulitzer, who modernized the publication -- introducing such staples of cover photographs and banner headlines -- and increased its popularity through sometimes sensational articles. (NYPL)


Not to be outdone, William Randolph Hearst stepped into the publishing fray in 1896 with the New York Morning Journal, matching the World head to head in pulling out the stops to increase circulation and ad revenue.


This is Duane Street in the early 1900s. I'm including this picture because the Newsboys Lodging House, where many of the strikers resided for a nickel a night, was located at 9 Duane Street, in the shadow of the World's distinctive tower.


Pulitzer's World Building from Park Row, designed by George Post, was at one time the tallest building in the world. It sits near the Tribune building, at center.
Newsboys were not the 'plucky', can-do ambitious entrepreneurs that pop culture has made them out to be, although sometimes (like this guy) they come close.



A Lewis Hine photograph with the caption "Group of newsboys starting out at Brooklyn Bridge early Sunday morning." The newsies got up every morning to pick up their bundle of newspapers. New York newspapers raised the price of these bundles during the Spanish-American War, when circulation increased. When the war was over, many newspapers lowered the price. All but the World and the Journal. [NYPL]


A cluster of newsboys, amongst sailors and businessmen, out at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, 1903. Brooklyn newsies had taken on the newspapers via a strike as far back as 1886 and joined their Manhattan counterparts in fighting back at Pulitzer and Hearst.(Courtesy Shorpy, who has a beautiful larger version)


The life of the newsie aged children prematurely. Getting up early, staying up late, most of them homeless and scrounging for nickels and dimes to survive, the 19th century newsboy got by on emulating adulthood. The boys below were photographed by Lewis Hine in St. Louis. (from Shorpy, who have a larger view)



Hine and Staten Islander Alice Austen are the two most well-known photographers of everyday life in New York and captured life on the streets in all its unglamorized tarnish. Below, Austen captures a newsie hard at work in 1906.



Although most newsies were boys, there were many newsgirls as well, such as this young lady in a fetching hat. Photo by Alice Austen. [NYPL]


Even with aid organazations like the Children's Aid Society and lodging homes for wayward waifs, many newsboys lived their entire lives on the streets. The picture below is from 1912, by Hine. (NYPL)


Why do photographs of young kids from this era seem to resonate so strongly? You can look at these pictures and see your own children, nieces and nephews and neighbors. As children -- particularly poor ones-- have few of the fashionable trappings of adults of this era, we're able to recognize common expressions. I highly recommend checking out the collections of Lewis Wickes Hine and Alice Austen at both the New York Public Library Digital Collection and the Library of Congress.

Finally, here's a one more photograph from 1943 of a modern newsie, decades after the strike, by another great photographer Gordon Parks (yes, the director of Shaft). I like that he's standing in front of a sign for the Journal-American, the newspaper that Hearst's Journal morphed into.
[LOC]

And I couldn't close without a little nod to that oft-maligned, cult classic Newsies , featuring fictional portrayals of Racetrack Higgins, David Simmons and of course Kid Blink (in a reduced role from his actual participation in the strike) (Thanks to Pengo for the link suggestion)



Finally I deeply apologize: I'm sadly aware that my impersonation of a newsboy's dialect had a bit of an Ozark twang in it! I was never meant for the stage, I guess....

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Here comes the Puerto Rican Day Parade!



A very different Puerto Rican Day parade, in 1966

The Puerto Rican Day Parade returns to Manhattan boulevards this Sunday, so I thought I would reprint my old article from 2008 to celebrate:

Manhattan's largest parade happens this Sunday, June 13th: the annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade, an event that yearly brings national pride, festivity, chaos and anxiety to most of the city.

The first Puerto Rican Day parade occured all the way back in 1958, a replacement to a modest Hispanic Day Parade. (Which would return on its own in 1965 and still marches every year in the city in the fall.) The separation from the rest of the Hispanic community would be a contention the following year, but now it seems natural that Puerto Rican organizations would break off into their own celebration. After a huge migration during the '30s and '40s, Puerto Ricans were the largest Hispanic community in New York -- 600,000 by 1960. (They have recently been eclipsed in New York's population by Dominicans.)

The parades have always been popular ever since the first one down Fifth Avenue, in April 1958, with 5,000 marchers and almost 125,000 onlookers. By 1962 it would move to the second Sunday in June and remain there until today. Why June? Organizers wanted politicians from Puerto Rico to attend the parade and most would not be finished with local government business until May 30th.

The name of the parade would expand in the 1990s as the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, recognizing a united front with similar parades in other cities.

Recently the city has been dogged by violence from parade revelers, including a 2000 'wilding' attack on over 50 women in Central Park. The parade itself however, while as chaotic as any marching through the city, is a wonderful burst of music and energy featuring pop stars, celebrities and politician -- from Hillary Clinton and Tego Calderon to 2006 grand marshalls Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. (The 2008 king of the parade was Ricky Martin.)

The New York Post ran a rather exhaustive history of the parade in 2007 which you should check out for some tantalizing details about political uprising, tenacious beauty queens, and stubborn mayoral candidates.

Below: Tito Puente in 1987


Pics courtesy the Smithsonian National Museum of American History archives

Before the New Yorker, there was another New Yorker

Journalists Harold Ross and Jane Grant founded the New Yorker magazine in 1925, but another weekly journal with that same name debuted on the streets of the city over 90 years earlier. It was a short-lived publication, existing not more than a few years, but it helped sharpen the talents of its young publisher, Horace Greeley.

At age 23, Greeley (at right) embarked on the venture on March 1834 with a rather modern objective -- to be politically neutral. (Don't they all start out that way?) And studious in its presentation, to the letter. "If there is a thing that will make Horace furious," according to one of his proof-readers, "It is to have a name spelt wrong, or a mistake in election returns."

Despite that, Greeley's New Yorker was a very traditional publication, exhibiting none of the zest of the penny press, rows of staid columns of text, formal headlines and a very austere masthead. (You can read one volume of articles here.)

Greeley often supplemented the journal's reporting with his own poetry. Eventually, objectivity went out the window as his views on such topics as capital punishment and slavery were soon made clear to readers, but the paper would never exhibit the type of showy grandstanding of Benjamin Day's far more successful New York Sun newspaper, started just the year before.

From an early biography of Greeley: "Were Greeley and Co. making their fortune meanwhile? Far from it. To edit a paper well is one thing; to make it pay as a business is another."

The journal only lasted for a few years, and by 1841, Greeley was off on a more exciting, a more opinionated and a far more profitable venture -- the New York Tribune.

But on top of giving Greeley a fledgling publication for him to cut his teeth on, the first New Yorker also gave American journalism another prominent figure: young Henry Jarvis Raymond, one of Greeley's reporters who later went on (in 1851) to found the New York Times.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

150 years ago: 'Malaeska', the birth of the dime novel



Today marks a big literary milestone of sorts. Serialized Harlequin romances, comic books, cheap paperbacks and pulp magazines filled with tales of gangsters and spies all trace themselves to the 'dime novel', a cheaply produced, cheaply bought publication of the mid and late 19th century, introducing breezy, far-flung tales to readers of lower classes. Although at first these items were mere reprints from newspapers, the form soon took on a life of its own, expanding with original stories and helping create the conventions of virtually every major adventure and action tale in its wake.

The very first of this mini-books was published today, June 9, 1860, 150 years ago, the amazing tale of Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter, 128 pages of Hudson River Valley drama written by Ann S. Stephens, a 19th century serial writer whose breathless stories would define the genre and, by extention, the story trappings of the 20th century pulp genres.

Stephens' sad tale recounts the illicit affair between a hunter living in Manhattan and a Mohawk woman. Their bi-racial child ends up living in white culture, while Malaeska is first made a servant and then banished. I'll spoil the ending for you: when Malaeska confronts her son about his heritage, he responds by leaping off a cliff to his death.

You can read the novel's entire content here hosted by Northern llinois University Libraries. The novel's first run alledgedly sold over 300,000 copies. To put that into perspective, Uncle Tom's Cabin, possibly the most influential American novel of the 19th century published just a few years before, sold that amount in its first year.


The experimental novel form was produced by Irwin P Beadle (at right), a publisher who collaborated with several partners (notably Robert Adams, George Munro, and Beadle's own brother Erasmus) through the 1890s in producing hundreds of pop publications, including songbooks and weekly newspapers. But it would be the 'dime novel' which Beadle would both coin and prosper from, planned and produced from Beadle's offices on William Street, first 141 William, then down the street at 118.

'Malaeska' would shortly be followed by such titles as 'Myra, The Child of Adoption', 'The Slave Sculptor', 'Chip, The Cave-Child', and many, many more titles sure to ruffle today's modern levels of political correctness.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

History in the Making: Open Galleries Edition



The Museum of the City of New York building, circa 1940s, photography by Wurts Brothers (courtesy NYPL)

Free art: The institutions along Museum Mile are free today at 6 pm. Go early: the crowds are notoriously insane. Definitely check out the Museum of the City of New York, including its exhibit on the quirky art stylings of Charles Addams. [Museum Mile Festival]

Fire brand: An interesting take of the fire that burned down P.T. Barnum's American Museum, featuring the recollections of the rector across the street at St. Paul's Chapel and the American spy who may have helped put out the blaze. [Trinity Wall Street]

Speculation: Was New York prostitute Carrie Brown a victim of Jack the Ripper? [Murder By Gaslight]

Not a sinkhole: It's an archaeological dig at City Hall, peering into the area's early history as a place for almshouses. [City Room]

Out of tune: There may be an art exhibit held in one of the old (and unlandmarked) buildnigs of Tin Pan Alley on June 10 -- if the landlord doesn't shut it down. [Lost New York]

Open all night: Jeremiah's fascinating quest to find the diner that inspired Edward Hopper's Nighthawks painting. [Vanishing New York]

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mayor Thomas Gilroy: printer's devil, and Tammany's, too



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 Thomas Francis Gilroy
In office: one term 1893-1894

When it comes to corruption, you can't get more front and center than Thomas Francis Gilroy. His political education came from the most dishonest names in public service, he was elected mayor in one of the most rigged elections in New York history, and he reigned as a mere figurehead controlled by the ruling political machine. There is little to distinguish him but for his uncanny knack of latching on to the most corrupt men in government.

But didn't he look dashing! "Gilroy was one of the most striking looking mayors this city has ever had, with iron-gray hair, a heavy mustache, a well-knit erect physique and ruddy cheeks," according to his obit.

In the alternating crests of corruption and reform in New York City government, Gilroy rose when wrong was king and kept his head low every time else. It might have been different for Tommy, as his chums called him, if not for the connections of Boss Tweed, the notorious head of Tammany Hall and the embodiment of New York machine politics.

Gilroy was a bit of a rarity for the late century, a mayor born in another country but of a nationality greatly valued by future Tammany leaders. He was seven years old in 1847 when his parents brought him over from Sligo, Ireland, just one of millions of Irish newcomers at the beginning of a mass wave of immigration that would last decades.

As a teenager, sometime in the 1850s, he began on-the-job training as a printer's devil for a young, well-known publishing company, G. Putnam Broadway*, who would produce work by Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne and most notably to Gilroy, Washington Irving. According to Gilroy: "They were getting out Irving's 'Life of Washington' [the writer's bio on George Washington] to be sold on subscription. It was a godsend for me to be in a bookstore. I read everything I could lay my hands on."

"I don't believe I was a very good servant though, for as soon as the subscription business was done, the publishers let me go." Gilroy is being modest here; he would be a most excellent servant to the political machine.

He moved onto other publishers and by 1864 had become a proofreader. It may have been through his publisher that he made his introduction with city politics, and Tammany Hall in particular. He soon moved on to a useless city job, his title 'sixth clerk to the Croton Aqueduct Department', one of hundreds of padded government jobs requiring no conceivable skills except mendacity and blind ambition.

Gilroy's home in the 1860s at the corner of Broome and Mott streets would have placed him near the epicenter of immigrant life in New York, which may suggest his usefulness within Tammany. Tommy was the boilerplate Irish American that Democrats liked in their ranks and lusted after during elections.

He became a confidante of Boss Tweed's in early 1870, at the height of the notorious boss's power as the city's commissioner of public works. Apparently not busy enough in his Croton Aqueduct duties, Gilroy served as Tweed's personal 'messenger', delivering the type of 'messages' one can only imagine and marvel at.

Tweed was arrested in the fall of 1871, but Gilroy had already moved on, as clerk and personal secretary to state senator Herry Genet (at right). Sometimes nicknamed 'Prince Hal', Genet was left picking up the pieces of a tattered political machine in the wake of the Tweed scandal and would himself had been shipped off to prison in 1873 on corruption charges had he not escaped from jail and fled the city. (He was eventually caught years later.)

After these associations, Gilroy kept a lower profile, but always worked within the Tammany system, damaged by the Tweed scandals. He became a Mott Haven court clerk in 1874 -- the year it was annexed by New York -- and observed this Bronx neighborhood grow from an industrial backwater to a tony residential area.

Below: a home in Mott Haven, circa 1890 (NYPL)


People generally have a short memory when it comes to government corruption, and by the mid 1880s, Tammany Hall was back in full swing. Gilroy took a cozy clerk job closer to City Hall in 1885, benefiting financially from the kind of kickbacks perfected by the Tweed Ring.

He was so snug with Tammany that he was chosen by Boss William Crocker to oversee the campaign of Hugh Grant, who became mayor in 1889. As a reward, Grant make Gilroy commissioner of public works -- the same job Boss Tweed had once held! And just to make the parallel complete, he became Tammany's grand sachem in 1891. Make no mistake however; the man behind the curtain -- behind both Grant and Gilroy's ascensions -- was Crocker.

According to Oliver Allen: "There was no question that the good times were now rolling for Tammany Hall; it could hardly lose an election." Crocker decided, after two two-year terms of Grant, that Gilroy should replace him, and rigged the election to assure that victory, crushing his republican opponent Edwin Einstein. In fact, in one Lower East Side district, 389 votes went to Gilroy and three to another candidate. Croker vowed he would find out who those three voters were. (Also on the ballot that year: Grover Cleveland for president, see 1893 souvenir print below)

Gilroy kept things status quo, for Tammany, that is. According to Burrows and Wallace, City Hall distributed funds from "municipal employees and saloonkeepers" by city charities in need although stopped short of initiating a promised jobs program to deal with a growing unemployment rate. He rejected calls for improved public baths and additional schools, this in a decade of massive immigration swells.

Gilroy is notable only for coming in at the end of Tammany's moment of glory. He had inherited a deeply corrupted police force, so ineffective that a state commission was called in 1894 to expose the deep fissures. The Lexow Committee would eventually uncover an institutional system of "extortion, bribery, counterfeiting, voter intimidation, election fraud, brutality, and scams." All of it, naturally, inextricably tied together with Tammany leadership.

Gilroy tried desperately to turn the tide by appointing a 'bi-partisan' board of police directors, Democrats and Republicans. This paltry concession persuaded no one. By the next election, New York was a reform mood. In fact, Gilroy didn't even bother running again; after briefly putting Macy's president Nathan Straus on the ticket, the Democrats replaced him with also-ran Hugh Grant.

To no avail; Tammany's nearly decade-long reign was (temporarily) over, as gruff reform candidate William Strong won handily. (The story picks up in my article on Strong's tenure as mayor.)

Gilroy had played his last political card by this time. After a short stint as a bank president, Tommy retired to his homes, one on West 121st Street and another on Far Rockaway, where he died on December 1, 1911.

*The company still exists today as a division of the Penguin Group: Penguin Putnam Inc, frequently publishing juvenile literature