Sunday, October 30, 2011

Watch out for those naked Brooklyn lady ghosts!

Above: The unusual weather this weekend left my pumpkin with an unfortunate new hairstyle.

We hope you all have a fun and safe Halloween this year!  In this year's ghost-story podcast, I talked about a haunted church in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Apparently, other spirits find the neighborhood desirable. I'm reprinting an article from three years ago about one such reported sighting. The original article is here

While doing my ghost research this week, I came across an amusing article from an 1894 edition of the New York Times, back when ghost sightings might have merited a serious investigation. (Or, in this case, not so serious.)

The location of the haunting was Brooklyn's 27th Ward in today's Bushwick area.

After charting out the notion that Bushwick is an ideal place for ghost hauntings -- a "rocky, bleak, lonesome district" loaded with cemeteries and empty houses -- the article describes the ghost in strangely sensuous terms:

"The ghost which is at present disturbing the midnight rambles ... is that of a woman, who goes about in the scantiest attire, with disheveled hair and bare feet, and falls into a fit of hysterics as soon as anyone approaches."

The ghostly vixen spooked a set of women who ran home to tell their brothers, who then brandished revolvers and set out to, uh, do what? I'm not sure guns work too well with ghosts. The cocky search party came upon the apparition which "arose from the ground in front of them and waved its long, lean arms an uttered a weird cry that chilled their blood." The brothers dropped their guns and ran home.

The next night a bolder party of 200 men reportedly went out to the ghost location, around the cemeteries on the Brooklyn/Queens border (between Knickerbocker and Irving avenues). Having no luck in locating the spirit with the posse, one man braved it alone the next night. He returned home "with a face white with terror." He had not only glimpsed the spectre, but was privy to a "serpentine dance" and "moaning wail".

They time, the locals did what anyone would do when faced with supernatural entities -- they called the police. Apparently with nothing better to do, the precinct caption dispatched 300 officers, armed with everything from guns to rusty army swords, all in an effort to confront the spirit and, apparently challenge it to a duel. One officer even donned an ill-fitting suit of armor.

Given the dramatic response, it is no surprise that some officers remained skeptical. The theory of one officer Holliday: "I'll tell you what I think it is. I think it's will make a man see anything -- ghosts, snakes or anything else."

The entire area was covered by dozens of armed ghost hunters. However, as the New York Times drolly states, "three or four times there were cries that [the ghost] was coming, but it didn't come."

It is then decided that police might has not only scared away this ghost, but has rid all of Brooklyn of any spectral activity.

"There used to be ghosts in Brooklyn but since Superintendent Campbell took charge of the police department they have all been driven away." He fears Brooklyn's impending consolidation with New York, for "anti-ghost orders would be rescinded and our streets would be haunted day and night."

But it appears that didn't happen when the consolidation with New York came in 1898. Really, when's the last time you've seen a ghost in Brookyn? Hmmm?

You can read the entire article in all its glorious tongue-in-cheekness here.

The location of this scantily dressed spirit was right around here:

View Larger Map

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Statue of Liberty turns 125 years old: Eleven facts about the almost-comic calamity that was her 1886 dedication

The Statue of Liberty officially celebrates her 125th birthday tomorrow. Technically, I suppose, it's the anniversary of her dedication, a star-studded, pomp-laden ceremony that took place on Friday, October 28, 1886. But for many months previous, she was a fierce presence in the harbor, as the copper monument was arduously stitched together from far flung pieces -- including an arm which sat in Madison Square Park for many years -- upon a contentious new pedestal by Richard Morris Hunt.

The dedication ceremony was not the sterling event of pure American patriotism that one might expect. The reality of her debut proved far more interesting:

1) The weather was totally awful that day. Nasty weather, rainy and wet, nearly wrecked the day, with the statue surrounded in mist and then a 'regular London fog'.

2) It was as much a celebration of the French as it was of the statue. Despite the rain, a contingent of 20,000 men in French uniform marched down Fifth Avenue in the morning, and the French tricolor was waved alongside the flag of the United States from virtually every window and balcony.

3) The early action took place in Madison Square Park. The official ceremony began near the Worth Monument next to Madison Square Park, with President Grover Cleveland, the statue's creator Frederic Bartholdi and other luminaries in a parade reviewing stand, enjoying marching bands in the pouring rain. Apparently, Cleveland stood in the downpour for over two hours without an umbrella. (This is most peculiar behavior, considering what is popularly believed to have happened to President William Henry Harrison a few decades previous.)

4) No respect for veterans! A minor controversy erupted involving the participation of the three remaining living veterans of the War of 1812. They had been slated to join the parade, but somebody neglected to send a carriage for them. "The Memorial Committee of the Grand Army forgot us three times. We will never appear on a public occasion again," proclaimed 90-year-old General Abram Daly.

Below: The official invitation to the inauguration ceremony.

5) Lady Liberty was covered in a gigantic French flag. After the parade, all New Yorkers, en masse, rushed towards Battery Park, ostensibly to watch the dedication ceremony (but then, of course, it was too foggy to see anything). The dignitaries, meanwhile, maneuvered a boat through crowded waters over to Bedloe's Island. They were greeted by a looming, shadowy figure draped in a gigantic, wet French flag. The effect, according to the newspapers, was one of mystery and eeriness. "[T]he nearest of the men-of-war could be seen floating like phantoms on what might either have been fog or water so far as the eye could see." [source]

6) There's only room for one Lady at this ceremony. Despite being a celebration of a large, glorious woman, there were less than a dozen actual women invited to the Bedloe's Island ceremony, of the 2,500 or so that slowly made their way to their seats. (A boat of bold suffragists did navigate close to the island.)  In one way, it was for the best; it took hours for people to arrive at the island. The bandleader, the estimable Patrick Gilmore, played a bevy of marches and French folk songs until he and his musicians was soaking wet.

7) It was really too loud to be having a ceremony at all. Explosions and whistles, the "impish screech" of steamships and tugboats, filled the harbor in celebration, and nobody on Bedloe's Island could really signal to anybody to get them to stop. The dedication prayer and several speeches were drowned out. Ferdinand de Lessups, developer of the Suez Canal and head of the French delegation, dryly remarked of the noisy steamships, "Steam, which has done so much good in the world, is just now doing us a good deal of injury."

8) Unveiling fiasco! At the close of a very grand speech by New York senator William Evarts, a series of signals was to be sent to Bartholdi, holding a cord which would pull away the gigantic flag. There was a miscommunication however -- in the middle of Evarts speech -- and the cover was pulled off of Lady Liberty too early. This elicited a deafening, celebratory cry of horns, cannons and shouts from all around the harbor. Evarts, however, was still speaking. Nobody could hear him, and thus people at the ceremony actually began dispersing. Everts ended by turning to President Cleveland, who sat nearby, and uncomfortably finished his prepared remarks. Awkward!

9) No 'Enlightening the World' today. The weather was so bad that the Statue of Liberty's torch could not be illuminated, so plans for an elaborate 'pyrotechnic display' were scrapped.

10) The disaster that almost was: There were so many boats in the water -- with fog and mist still impeding visibility (as pictured above) -- that it is actually quite incredible that President Cleveland and the French dignitaries made it off of Bedloe's Island alive. In fact, the president had to transfer to a smaller boat which successfully got him to the Penn Railroad station on the New Jersey side.

11) Occupy Wall Street? The celebration didn't stop there. Parades and marching bands marched well into the evening, with apparently little crowd control. At around Broadway and Wall Street and further south to Maiden Lane, streets were so clogged that there was literally no movement for over an hour. Overhead, people shouted from rooftops and even shot off pistols. Meanwhile, further north on Canal Street, somebody actually had the wise idea of placing a cannon on a rooftop and firing it in celebration. (No word on any suspected damage.) The city's grand fireworks display did eventually take place, on November 1st.

For more information on the history of the Statue of Liberty, check out our podcast, recorded in October 2008! Download it here.

Photos courtesy Library of Congress digital archive

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Was New York not haunted enough for Alfred Hitchcock?

A still from 'The Wrong Man', a crime drama shot in New York in 1956. (Courtesy Empire Magainze.)

Alfred Hitchcock's innovative anthology series 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' debuted on CBS in the fall on 1955. As a filmed dramatic series (vs. the live camera TV hits like 'I Love Lucy' and 'The Honeymooners'), the weekly mystery program brought serious cache to the medium and set the bar high for genre anthology television, to be raised four years later by 'The Twilight Zone'.

Many episodes were filmed in New York, using Broadway's rich pool of stars. The city would itself be a star of several Hitchcock films, including one released the next year in 1956. The Henry Fonda crime drama 'The Wrong Man', based on real events, concerned a jazz musician from the Stork Club falsely accused of a robbery. Most notable were its scenes shot on location at Queens City Prison in Kew Gardens.

Before beginning production on 'The Wrong Man', Hitchcock wanted to wow Warner's studio executives and reporters with a fabulous New York soiree in March, done up Hitchcock-style. That meant conjuring up many of the mystery and horror themes the director was most famous for. So, on that note, Hitch requested his publicist look for an actual New York haunted house.

Now I can tell you from doing our annual Halloween podcasts that there are no shortage of 'haunted' New York locations. But it seems the publicists had a bit of a problem locating a suitable venue -- one that could host both ambassadors from the afterworld and a haughty contingent from the film world.

According to reports, Hitchcock loved some 'abandoned wine cellars' beneath the Manhattan end of the Brooklyn Bridge. (The article doesn't clarify where these are. Perhaps they were part of George Washington's old home?) But costs to install plumbing were prohibitive. Hitchcock "wanted women among his guests in the haunted quarters and women would want washrooms," according to reports.

He next turned to a very familiar haunted home -- the Merchant's House, allegedly possessed by its former owner Gertrude Tredwell. It was ideal, but the home owners were less than thrilled at hosting a saucy industry party and rebuffed the offer.

Frustrated, Hitchcock's publicists even put an ad in the paper, looking for ghost-filled venues. After a few disappointing offers -- including one in Jackson Heights, Queens, but the master of suspense feared his party guests would never venture that far -- he settled on a rustic old townhouse at 7 East 80th Street, right off the park. Not haunted, but plenty 'cobwebby', according to the press.

The party went off, with Hitch, without a hitch. The 'haunted-house' party included tombstone-shaped 'Carte de Mort' menus with a variety of macabre selections, including Corpse Croquette, Vicious-Soisse, Suicide Suzettes, Gibbeted Giblets, Ghoulish Goulash and "Fresh-cut Lady Fingers (in season)". (Revel in the rest of the menu here.)

Hitchcock received a true fright at the end of the year when 'The Wrong Man' was finally released and promptly flopped at the box office. It would be his final film for Warner Bros., whose executives at least got a kooky party out of the deal.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Notes from the Podcast (#130) Haunted Histories of NYC

We had a terrific time recording this year's ghost-story show -- Haunted Histories of New York. Here's some extra details about our four subjects that were left out of this week's show.

(By the way, if you wouldn't mind, please vote for us in this year's 2011 Podcast Awards. We're in the Best Travel Podcast section. Thanks!)

Liberty Island and the Captain Kidd's treasure
If indeed there was treasure buried on Bedloe's Island (today's Liberty Island), William Kidd and his motley crew would have concealed it there under the gaze of the island's owner. In the 1690s, when Kidd would have lived in New York, the island was owned by a woman -- Mary Bedlow Smith.

The small island property was originally owned by a Dutchman Isaack Bedloo, who remained in the harbor after New Amsterdam became New York in 1664. He even Anglicized his name, as evidenced by his daughter's name. She sold the island in 1732 to one of the most wealthy and powerful men in all the British colony -- Adolphe Philipse. From there, the island was often used as a quarantine station or 'pest house' to shelter those with communicative disease. Many hundreds of afflicted were thrown here in the mid-17th century, and many died here.

Below: A map of Bedloe's Island in 1766, before the construction of Fort Wood. The map is strangely situated, but I believe that the stone where Kidd's treasure was allegedly buried would have near the pointed end. (Courtesy the National Park Service.)

The Holy Ghost -- Most Holy Trinity, Bushwick, Brooklyn
Some believe that Most Holy Trinity's beloved Monsignor Michael May haunts the present halls of the church. On the occasion of May's funeral in 1895 -- he had died on the second floor of the adjoining rectory -- the church nearly experienced a tragedy from which it would have surely never recovered.

A New York Times article from February 1895 reveals that a chronic weakness was discovered to the building's architecture. As I mentioned in the podcast, vast, old passages exist underneath the church, extending to adjacent buildings. These passages had been used for safety during anti-Catholic attacks in the 1850s and even as safe havens for escaping Southern slaves on the Underground Railroad in the 1860s.

Monsignor May was so beloved that almost 5,000 people arrived for his funeral, the most the church had ever seen at one time. I'll let the article reveal the potential horror of this situation: "Carpenters and masons at work on the vault in the basement discovered that the floor above them had sunk several inches in the centre, and that the cross beams had split, as had the big girders supporting the cross beams."

The floor actually begin to sway in front of the masons. Within moments, the crowded church would have caved in, easily killing hundreds. What became one of the biggest gatherings in the church history would have instead become an unspeakable catastrophe.

The workmen advised the clergy to evacuate the center aisle and then worked briskly to create temporary braces. The crisis, thankfully, was averted.

The Lonely Acrobat -- Ghosts At The Palace Theatre

The tragic acrobatic act at the Palace Theatre that inspired the venue's most famous ghost story is veiled in mystery and misunderstanding. There's many falsehoods about the incident that Tom successfully dispelled, but there's one he missed. Most modern retellings call the acrobat in question Louis Borsolino.  His actual name, according to local papers in the troupe's hometown of Reading, PA, list hims as Louis Bossalina, pictured at right.By the way, the name of the particular trick that Bossolina was doing at the Palace Theatre that fateful day? It was called the Death Loop. He is popularly rumored to have died from the accident, an unsurprising assumption considering how many people saw the fall, knowing the name of the failed trick. In reality, Bassolina survived the ordeal and was released from the hospital nine days later. To be clear, he didn't die at the Palace; he went on to perform with the troupe until they disbanded in 1937.

He lived a perfectly normal life outside the spotlight, for over three more decades, before dying at age 61, in August 1963. If he truly haunts the Palace today, then the torment must have possessed him so greatly during life that he continually returns for repeat performances!

As you heard in the podcast, joining Louis' ghost at the Palace is an apparition of one of the theater's greatest stars. Here's a recording of Judy Garland's curtain call from her very last performance at the Palace Theatre on August 26, 1967. Judy would be dead within two years of a drug overdose. I wonder if anybody has ever seen the ghosts of Louis and Judy on the same night?

The Tale of Two Houses -- Kreischer Mansion
The famously haunted Kreischer Mansion was built for a son of brick mogul Balthazar Kreischer. He made his wealth using Staten Island clay to produce the building materials for a growing city, and he created a company town (appropriately called Kreischerville) near the Arthur Kill. But Kreischer got his start in the Lower East Side -- on a street that is no longer there.

Balthazar arrived in New York in 1836 and quickly excelled in construction, in the years following the Great Fire which destroyed hundreds of structures in the heart of the old city. By 1845, Kreischer entered into the brick-making business with one Charles Mumpeson. Although they had already discovered the potential of Staten Island clay -- their company was called New York and Staten Island Fire Brick and Clay Retort Works -- their original factory was at 58 Goerck Street at Delancey Street.

The odd little street, which ran parallel to the East River from Grand Street to East 3rd, was a vestige of an abandoned city plan, well before the great Commissioners Plan of 1811. Casimir Goerck was the surveyor for the failed plan, working with renown designer Joseph-Francois Mangin, best known for working on New York's new City Hall building. The plan was discarded, but two small Lower East Side streets from the plan were eventually used -- Goerck Street and Mangin Street.

At right: The corner of Goerck Street and Rivington Street in 1939 (NYPL)

Kreischer maintained his brick factory here for years before moving the bulk of his operations to Staten Island. Goerck Street would disappear entirely with the construction of housing developments in the 1940s. A tiny vestige of Mangin Street, however, still hangs on, underneath the Williamsburg Bridge.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Haunted Histories of New York: What horrors lie beneath the foundations of the city's treasured landmarks?

Most Holy Trinity in Bushwick, Brooklyn, shrouded in shadow, a place where the ghosts of former clergy are alleged to lurk the halls and other spirits may torment the nearby school.

PODCAST What mischievous phantoms and malevolent spirits haunt the streets of New York City today? In our fifth annual podcast of local ghost stories, we bring you the histories of four very haunted places from three boroughs and a small island in the harbor.

The legend of Captain Kidd's buried treasure -- alleged to be buried in the New York region -- inspires our first ghost tale of two ambitious soldiers on a quest during a full moon, on an island that today contains the Statue of Liberty! Meanwhile, out in Brooklyn, a congregation gathers at a new Catholic church, but maybe they shouldn't have built it over a graveyard. Do the spirits of dead clergy haunt the halls today?

The Palace Theatre in Manhattan has hosted the greatest names in entertainment -- and continues to play host to the undead. And finally, we hesitate to bring you the malevolent events at the Kreischer Mansion in Staten Island. What is it about this house that has inspired stories for over a hundred years, and did ghosts from a century ago have something to do with a horrifying and gory crime that took place here just a few years ago?

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: Haunted Histories of New York

Click here for more notes on this podcast.

Bedloe's Island: Below is a depiction of its southern shore in 1831. It was on the northern end during this period that two sentries at Fort Wood had a most unfortunate encounter while searching for buried treasure. (Image courtesy NYPL)

Legends of Captain Kidd's treasure have possessed New Yorkers for centuries. It's rumored that he killed one or two of his men and buried their bodies with the treasure to 'guard' it. Do these bodies lurk underneath the shadow of the Statue of Liberty? (NYPL)

Most Holy Trinity in Bushwick, Brooklyn, site of alleged hauntings from a variety of spirits.

The Palace Theater rises over Times Square, hosting the greats of vaudeville. But the stage has also attracted its share of ghost sightings over the year, including that of one very tenacious acrobat.

The legendary Judy Garland appeared here in the 1960s. Does she still lurk backstage today?

The Tale of Two Houses: The Kreischer Mansion in southern Staten Island, famous among generations of children as being an iconic haunted house, was actually once two houses. Or rather, a parallel house, mirroring the other in every way, once stood nearby, home built for the sons of a prominent German brick maker.

The mansion in the mid 1980s (Courtesy Flickr/Revup67)

Video filmed of the Kreischer Mansion in 1983:

In 2003, some amateur ghost hunters were allowed to photograph the property, escorted by the house's caretaker at the time. From description, I believe the caretaker is the same person who committed a gory and terrible murder here just a few years later!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Home & Garden 1691: Captain Kidd's home on Pearl Street

Kidd's swanky new home on Pearl Street, which he shared with his high society wife and two lovely daughters. It was near the eastern gate to New York's northern wall, later to become Wall Street. In later years, landfill will would extend east, removing old Pearl Street residences from the waterfront.

Tomorrow's podcast will feature a spooky urban folktale about the buried treasure of Captain William Kidd. For a little background on Kidd's life, I'm reprinting this article from January 2010. (Original is here.)

In our 2009 podcast on Trinity Church, I refer to New Yorker and Trinity Church benefactor William Kidd as one of the most notorious pirates of the Atlantic Ocean. Now I feel that might have been a bit of slander.

It is true that Kidd, forever known to generations of seafarers as Captain Kidd, was vilified by the British for illicit profiteering and eventually hanged in London on May 23, 1701. But Kidd himself fought off the charges voraciously, and today historians believe Kidd was scapegoated and was himself following orders of the governor of the New York colony himself -- Richard Coote, the Earl of Bellomont. Yes, the man who tried to annul the charter of Trinity Church!

I'll save the details of Kidd's exploits for various pirate-themed blogs. Kidd may have been prosecuted unfairly, but the legend that arose around his real or imagined exploits makes him one of New York City's most notorious residents of the 17th century. Not only was Kidd one of early New York's most wealthy residents, but almost without question he had one of the best views in the city from his bedroom.

According to historian Richard Zacks, New York was "the pirate port of choice in the English colonies in North America" in 1690s, with its rich harbor and its relatively multi-cultural port. Still a volatile colony amongst England's land possessions, it was easy to walk around without harassment and recruit other like minded scallywags for upcoming jobs.

Below: A fanciful sketch by artist Howard Pile (dated Nov. 1894) for Harpers Magazine, with fort and windmill also in background [source NYPL]

Kidd was an employee of the Crown, a privateer essentially hired to capture pirates and any foreign vessels that got in England's way. He was based in New York for many of the same reasons more illicit sea captains were here -- opportunities, money and a suitable harbor for his vessel (Kidd's was called the Adventure Galley).

He came to New York in 1691 and soon married Sarah Oort, a woman with extraordinary bad luck. Her first two husbands had died, one at sea, and after Kidd's execution, she would then marry a fourth time. William and Sarah would have two daughters who would marry well into New York society despite their father's notoriety.

Despite his career, Kidd was considered a respectable New York gentleman -- much, I imagine, because of his wife's standing from her prior two marriages. Also, their digs weren't bad. Although the Kidds owned several properties (again, thanks to Sarah), their primary residence was at the 119 Pearl Street (pictured at top), at the corner of Hanover and Pearl streets, a location which would have been waterfront property back in the day. It was also closely situated to Hanover Square, New York's retail district and later home of the colony's first newspapers.

The sizable home was located next to New York's old wall, a fortification that would be ripped down within the decade and replaced with the street named after it.
The Kidds home was especially lavish for the time, with "104 ounces of silverware," a healthy wine cellar and the biggest Turkish carpet in the city. Their wealth would have made them candidates for a pew at the newly built Trinity Church in 1696. Although Kidd provided equipment to help build the church, it appears Kidd himself never worshipped there. (His wife Sarah most likely did.)

Virtually no traces of this era exist in downtown Manhattan today, and the land extension east and the skyscrapers built there eradicate the view the Kidds would have had from their home.

Over a hundred years later, at the same address lived a man named Jean Victor Marie Moreau who would also influence world history: he's best known as one-time right-hand-man of Napoleon Bonaparte, banished for betrayal in 1804 and sent to America, where he lived for a time at 119 Pearl.

You can read a nice, lengthy piece about Kidd and his New York connections here at Maritime History.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Podcast Rewind: Spooky Stories of New York

Above: the Algonquin Hotel, home to those bawdy rakes of the Round Table during the 1920s. You may find yourself meeting one of them even today.

A special illustrated version of our ghost-story podcast, Spooky Stories of New York (Episode #65). is now available on our NYC History Archive feed. Just hit play and images of our topic will appear on any compatible media player

By popular demand, we return to the creepier tales of New York City history, ghost tales and stories of murder and mayhem, all of them at some point involving great American icons -- Alexander Hamilton, P.T. Barnum, Dorothy Parker and Mark Twain. Featuring a murder at a Manhattan well, a bloody slaying in rural Staten Island, the lingerings of New York's most fabulous undead, and the most haunted home in Greenwich Village!

Download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, or you can listen to the cleaned up audio version (without visuals) right here: Spooky Stories of New York

Original version released Oct. 10, 2008. Picture above courtesy the New York Public Library/Wurts Brothers.

AND ARRIVING THIS FRIDAY: Our fifth annual 'haunted' podcast, retelling famous folklore and stories of the supernatural, all with a basis in actual New York City history. Our prior shows include the one listed above, as well as the original Ghost Stories of New York, Haunted Tales of New York, and last year's Supernatural Stories of New York.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Open House NY: Ten unique destinations, no reservations

Open House New York, throwing wide the doors of dozens of previously unavailable landmarks, begins its tenth year this Saturday morning. And if you're like me, you've once again forgot to make any reservations to any of the hottest tickets. Several of them are already sold out.

But do not fret! There actually seem to be many more free, no-reservation places involved this year, so many one need only visit Open House's interactive map to plan out a day of free events.

Better still, with some creativity and possibly an unlimited Metrocard, you can observe the city as you've never seen it. Not as skyscrapers, but a city of lighthouses, country homes, and endless beautiful vistas with nary a ticketholders-only line in sight.

NOTE: While there are no 'reservations' per se, there is 'pre-registration' for some venues in order to get into them for free. Visit Open House New York's website for more information.

1 Wave Hill (Bronx)
Not the easiest place to get to, but well worth a couple subway transfers. Wave Hill in the Bronx is one of my favorite places in New York. (I don't know why, but I always feel like I'm visiting the set of an English costume drama when I'm here.) This sumptuous mid-19th century manor (a summer home for Mark Twain) has a beautiful grounds and gardens, but it's the view of the Hudson River and the Palisades that are worth the trip.
Saturday, October 15: 09:00 am - 04:30 pm
Sunday, October 16: 09:00 am - 04:30 pm
Guided tours do need a reservation. Information here.

2 TWA Flight Center, JFK Airport (Queens)
If you're willing to brave JFK Airport on a Sunday afternoon, Eero Saarinen's fanciful terminal is open for viewing. Get in touch with your inner stewardess and check out the fantastic architecture here (and lament the passing of the nearby I.M. Pei-designed terminal, soon to be demolished.)
Sunday, October 16: 01:00 pm - 04:00 pm

3 Lighthouse Tender LILAC (Manhattan)
Moored to a dock near Tribeca, this former Coast Guard steamship from 1933 is open for exploration, ready for you to pose for your newest Facebook picture, standing gallantly in its wheelhouse.
Saturday, October 15: 01:00 pm - 06:00 pm
Sunday, October 16: 01:00 pm - 04:00 pm
Information here

4 Seguine Mansion (Staten Island)
If you really want to feel like you're getting out of the city, the Seguine Mansion in southern Staten Island offers a dislocating voyage to the bucolic 19th century. There are many great old homes open for viewing this year (including previous recommends like the Morris-Jumel Mansion and the Bartel-Pell Mansion) and the Seguine, home of a former railroad baron, is among the best preserved and most secluded. They also have horses!
Saturday, October 15 : 10:00 am, 1:00 pm, 3:00 pm
Information here

5 The Arsenal (Manhattan)
I feel like the Arsenal, older than the Central Park which surrounds it, never gets its proper due. This Sunday gives you a good excuse to give this Gothic Revival castle -- and home to both New York's first menagerie and natural history museum -- a little attention.
Sunday, October 16: 10:00 am - 04:00 pm
Information here

6 Church Of St. Paul & St. Andrew (Manhattan)
There are a great many historic churches open for viewing this weekend, but if you haven't seen this building's almost whimsical Renaissance architecture (designed by R. H Robinson, early skyscraper architect), it's worthy of the stop.
Saturday, October 15: 12:30 pm - 05:00 pm
Information here

7 Henrick I. Lott House (Brooklyn)
What's the newest, oldest house in New York? Get a little sneak peek at this newly refurbished home, virtually unchanged since most of it was constructed in 1800, incorporating an even older structure from 1720. This building's been around longer than most of the stuff I write about on this blog. Take a look before it officially opens to the public.
Saturday, October 15: 11:00 am - 03:00 pm
Sunday, October 16: 11:00 am - 03:00 pm
Information here

8 Prison Ship Martyr's Monument (Brooklyn)
Sure, you can visit this memorial to the Revolutionary War anytime you like here in Fort Greene Park. But this weekend, there'll be somebody on hand to give you some insight into this Stanford White-designed marvel, honoring the American patriots who were kept, tortured and killed in decrepit prison vessels in nearby Wallabout Bay during the war.
Saturday, October 15: 11:00 am - 03:00 pm
Sunday, October 16: 11:00 am - 03:00 pm
Information here

9 Brotherhood Synagogue (Manhattan)
This beautiful building has always been a tad disorienting. Still looking as it did in the mid-19th century as a Quaker Meeting House, it's now a stunning synagogue, right off of Gramercy Park.
Sunday, October 16: 12:00 pm - 04:00 pm
Information here

10 Maple Grove Cemetery (Queens)
Just in time for Halloween, this quiet, landmarked cemetery in Kew Gardens will play host to Spirits Alive on Saturday, featuring people in period costume, depicting residents of the cemetery. People in period costume -- in a graveyard, via a self-guided tour -- is always a must-see for me. I will push you out of the way to get to this. (Just kidding. There's plenty of room at ole Maple Grove!)
Saturday afternoon  2 pm - 4 pm (other sources say it lasts until 6pm)
Also: reservations for tours on Sunday
Information here

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Park life: The anniversary of a name change in Chinatown

Next week begins 'ghost stories' week on the blog, but I need to make one more trip to Chinatown, the topic of the last podcast. As I just wrote about Columbus Day last week, I would be remiss if I skipped this very coincidental date in history. It was exactly one hundred years ago yesterday that the name of Mulberry Bend Park was officially changed to Columbus Park.

The park, of course, originally replaced the most decrepit of Five Points' slums, allowing a sliver of greenery and sunlight to slip into the overly dense neighborhood. It took the city years to wrestle the original rundown tenements from their owners. "In its place will come trees and grass and flowers," proclaimed its chief proponent Jacob Riis. The placid, English design by Calvert Vaux, typical for its day, insured a park so formal that people weren't even allowed on the grass. (Today, located at the cusp of Chinatown and the Civic Center, the park is so busy and cluttered that it appears to almost have no grass at all.)

Mulberry Bend Park, named for the infamous hook in Mulberry Street to the park's east side, opened in 1897. By this time, the area was populated by a mixture of immigrants, the largest group from Italy. Italian Americans soon defined the culture of the park's surrounding streets, with obvious exception of those streets to the east dominated by Chinese businesses.

In 1911, the city explicitly declared the neighborhood's changing character, at the behest of the Italian community, by renaming the park for America's most famous Italian connection, the explorer Christopher Columbus. A crowd of 8,000 people gathered on Columbus Day that year to reopen the park under its new name.

The park now took on a more athletic character, with new track and field facilities, and on that first day with its new name, Columbus Park hosted competitions between boys from local playgrounds. "There were dashes, relay, half mile and potato races, shot puts and high jumps," reported the Sun. "Five thousand more or less enthusiastic mamas and babies and papas and little mosquitolike boys insinuated their way to the very bars of the park enclosure...and looked on at the games."

Above: Mulberry Bend Park in 1900

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Podcast Awards: Cast your vote for the Bowery Boys!

We were nominated this year for Best Travel Podcast in the 2011 People's Choice Podcast Awards. Thanks to everybody who submitted our show for consideration!

The voting for the awards begins today. You can visit once a day between now and next Friday, October 21. Just visit their website and click on the Bowery Boys at the bottom of the list in the category of Travel.

Of course, while you're there, support your other favorite podcasts with a vote in several other categories. There are several history themed shows in the Education category, including The History Chicks and Hardcore History.

Tom and I really, really appreciate your support. There's not a huge prize attached with this honor, but every little bit of recognition helps as I try to expand the Bowery Boys into other realms beyond the podcast and the website. Plus, you know, voting for stuff is fun!

You can cast our ballot here: Podcast Awards

(You'll be interested to note that we are up against five podcasts that are Walt Disney themed. But where would Disney be without New York, hmm?)

Above: New York women voting for the very first time, 1917. Picture courtesy the Library of Congress

Friday, October 7, 2011

That time Christopher Columbus annoyed Robert Moses

Above: Columbus Circle in 1913. Robert Moses wasn't annoyed with this statue of the explorer, as far as I know, but in 1956, he placed the hideous New York Coluseum convention center next to it, marring the area for decades. (Pic by Irving Underhill, courtesy NYPL)

Christopher Columbus is among the most honored figures in New York statuary, appearing abundantly throughout the five boroughs -- standing prominently, nestled in parks and squares, peering from building features.

I've located a seemingly complete list of New York Columbus monuments, strangely enough, on a German website, inclusive even of Chris's appearance of 8th Avenue subway tiles.

While the one perched atop the column at Columbus Circle is the most famous, perhaps the most interesting one sits in Columbus Park, in Astoria, Queens. Depicting a young, robust explorer, the statue was erected here in 1941 in recognition of the area's growing Italian population. But youthful Chris was almost immediately removed to the basement of Queens Borough Hall, for fears it would get melted down in wartime scrap-metal programs. It was returned to dignity by the end of the war and has commanded the crossroads here ever since.

Had Parks Commissioner Robert Moses had his way, however, the striking, romantic monument would never have seen light of day. "We don’t think the statue looks like anything we have read about Columbus, or that as a piece of symbolism it represents anything associated with Columbus," Moses complained.

“Anything Moses doesn’t design himself, he thinks is no good.” replied Queens Borough President George U. Harvey.

Nearby you'll find a dedication plaque from the Italian Chamber of Commerce. Your eyes aren't deceiving you; it lists a dedication date of 1937. Although sculptor Angelo Racioppi had completed the work by then, the community couldn't afford the base until a few years later!

At right: Racioppi works on Astoria's Columbus as part of the WPA program.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The phantom of a great fire in Bryant Park

Were you in Bryant Park yesterday? Did you happen to imagine that you sniffed a very slight whiff of smoke? It was just a ghostly reminder of one of the most famous fires in all of New York history -- the destruction of the legendary Crystal Palace exhibition hall, which sat here for five glorious years until its consumption in flame on October 5, 1858.

One of New York's most spectacular and famous buildings (modeled after a similar structure in London), the Crystal Palace housed the marvels of American technological might for display, a glimmering temple to the industrial age. Some historians speculate that the Crystal Palace was the first American building to be photographed. Inside, one could find the a model of the first operating elevator here, or cable wires that would later be used with success on the Brooklyn Bridge.

And to the area before fire safety. Amount of time it took for the Crystal Palace to be entirely destroyed? Twenty-five minutes.

Illustration courtesy NYPL

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Jack Finney's 'Time And Again', preservation by sci-fi

The Dakota Apartment circa the 1890s: If you arranged everything just right, could you go back to it?

The writer Jack Finney, who was born a hundred years ago this week, on October 2, 1911, turned the Dakota Apartments into a time machine in his 1970 novel 'Time And Again'. He inspired a legion of New York City history lovers (including myself) and a simple (if scientifically absurd) way of traveling in time, technically obtainable by anybody with adroit attention to detail.

Finney was hardly a New York literary figure of note. Born in Wisconsin, Finney moved to New York in the 1940s to work in advertising but detoured in to a successful short-story writer. He had already moved from New York in 1954 when a set of his serialized stories were compiled for the novel The Body Snatchers, which inspired the classic film Invasion of the Body Snatchers and its many derivatives.

Time travel and New York were common themes in his work. In the 1950 tale 'The Third Level', a man finds a mysterious concourse at Grand Central Terminal and a train that carries him to the year 1894. Almost two decades later he wrote 'The Woodrow Wilson Dime' about a bored advertising executive who enters an alternate New York universe (imagine 'Mad Men' as a science fiction.)

But Time And Again, first published in 1970, was his greatest success, a time-shifting novel short on scientific rationale, but large in nostalgia and architectural romance. The plot involves a curious scientific experiment that delivers a man back to the date January 21, 1882, to locate the sender of a mysterious letter that foretells "the destruction by fire of the entire World."

The key to the novel's success were its illustrations and photographic reproductions. Pick up an old copy today and you'll wonder why the smudged, sometimes darkened reprinted photographs would excite anyone. When I first picked it up, probably twenty years ago, that was part of the allure. The book itself had a creaky, dated presentation and a wide-open earnestness about it. It was ideal for burgeoning history lovers, never lecturing its readers. You felt you were joining Finney himself as he excitedly flipped through a stack of old photographs and imagined a reason for stepping into the images.

Perhaps that's because the science fiction behind it almost blushingly simplistic. Essentially, anyone can go back in time. All you have to do is recreate a situation exactly as it might have been at a selected date, then hypnotize yourself into thinking it into reality.

For this reason, the Dakota Apartments are chosen for the time experiment. Finney certainly chose the location due to the building's pristine, unchanged condition. (Meanwhile, as he wrote, Roman Polanski would film 'Rosemary's Baby' here, placing the structure into a far darker fantasy context.)

"We know exactly when all the apartments facing the park have stood empty, and for how long," proclaims a scientist. "Picture one of those upper apartmenets standing empty for two months in the summer of 1894. As it did. Picture our arraging -- as we are -- to sublet that very apartment for those identical months during the coming summer....I believe it may be possible this summer, just barely possible, you understand, for a man to walk out of that unchanged apartment and into that other summer."

Simply by bringing a structure and its surroundings into physical replica of the past can one actually get there. Keep in mind when this was written. Pennsylvania Station had been destroyed seven years before the publication of 'Time And Again'. The New York Landmark Preservation Commision was but a few years old. People were beginning to fight for their neighborhoods and protect aging city relics.

'Time And Again' was a manifesto for preservation. In essense, keeping an area locked in a certain place in history created some kind of metaphysical bridge. Or, more easily put, magic.

Having returned to 1882, the main character wanders the city and marvels in wonder. His adventures take him the offices of the New York World, the old City Hall Post Office and Gramercy Park.. The plot, involving jealous lovers and blackmail, incorporates actual historical detail into the adventure, although not in anyway one would consider subtle. For instance, my favorite detail of the book is easily the disembodied arm of the Statue of Liberty, sitting in Madison Square Park years before it was attached its body.

'Time And Again' is written with awe while keeping a certain distance. (Finney was no historian.) The story takes place within a snowglobe of New York more than an actual depiction of it. In other words, there are no visits to Five Points or the Lower East Side, for that matter. Later books, like Caleb Carr's 'The Alienist', would take a more technical, tour-guide approach to its descriptions. 'Time And Again' is simple in its tintype illustration of old New York but leaving someting to the imagination makes it an inspiring read, even today.

By the way, Finney wrote a sequel called From Time To Time that was published in 1996, a year after his death. The book takes place in 1911, the year of Finney's birth.

Top picture courtesy NYPL

Monday, October 3, 2011

Crazy Sober: Hatchet lady Carrie Nation vs. New York City

I enjoyed the first part of the Ken Burns and Lynn Novak documentary series 'Prohibition' which debuted last night. But let's be honest, the second part -- introducing the Roaring 20s and the godfathers of organized crime -- should be far more provocative. After all, morally righteous reformers did what they believed was right for their day, but few had dynamic personalities that resonate in our imaginations today.

That is, except for Carrie Nation, that hatchet-wielding temperance terror whose unorthodox and non-peaceful displays of protest made her a national celebrity. Literally taking directives from God, Nation battle-axed her way through small Midwestern towns, protesting the sale of liquor with violent force, chopping at bartops, bottles and furniture with her signature hatchet, accompanied by a righteous choir of church ladies belting hymns while dodging splinters.

Nation was regularly arrested and fined, but under the cover of doing God's duty -- and riding a swell of anti-liquor sentiment -- she managed to continue her vicious tirade across the country, becoming the temperance movement's most colorful star. She even sold minature replicas of her well-known weapon to fund her cross-country adventures.

Nation's reputation had obviously preceded her when she arrived in New York on August 28, 1901. Law enforcement and nervous saloon owners braced for the worst. After freshening up in a suite of rooms arranged for her at the Victoria Hotel on 27th Street and Broadway, Mrs. Nation headed down to police headquarters on Mulberry Street to address the general drunkenness conditions of the city directly with police commissioner Michael Murphy.

Their exchange was not pleasant. Nation demanded to know why the city kept saloons open on Sunday. Murphy replied that it was legal to do so. She bitterly lectured back with a Bible verse; Murphy replied, "Don't quote scripture at me, Madame. Go back to Kansas and get that off on your husband."

After a few more volatile exchanges, Nation was forcefully removed from police headquarters. (Certainly, this result was one she had intended. Her press agent was waiting outside with a throng of curious onlookers.) Nation next decided to harangue the mayor and prepared to visit City Hall. When message was sent that the mayor didn't care to meet with the fiery reformer, Nation decided to do what came most naturally -- she headed for a bar, hatchet in hand.

The unfortunate establishment in her crosshairs was that owned by famed boxer John L. Sullivan, himself a celebrity of some flamboyance. Having spent the 1880s as one of America's most legendary bare-knuckle fighters, he was famously brought down (in a gloved match) by 'Gentleman' Jim Corbett in 1892. Like many boxing stars before him, Sullivan ended up in New York as a saloon owner, at 1177 Broadway, between 27th and 28th streets (at right). And right near the hotel hosting Carrie Nation!

In a bit of braggadocio, Sullivan had proclaimed to the press that if Nation ever bothered to stop by, he would "thrust her into a sewer hole."

Nation accepted the invitation, arriving by carriage and demanding Sullivan meet her out front. The famed boxer, however, refused to come outside, the New York Times even mentioning, "A shutter in one of the blinds in the room usually occupied by Mr. Sullivan was seen to move."

The mighty athlete was certainly fearful of his property being chopped to ribbons. This wasn't some Bowery dive bar, after all. But while the authorities were certainly no friends of Nation, she was a very popular symbol among New York's temperance supporters. Arresting such a known figure would have actually played into Nation's intentions.

Best to wait out the storm, I suppose. By that afternoon, Nation has left town via Grand Central, off to more wily stunts in the Midwest. Drinkers and cops alike raised a toast in relief.

BY THE WAY: This summer I took a trip back to Ozarks (where I'm originally from) and spent an evening in marvelous Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Carrie Nation spent her final years here, appropriately opening a boardinghouse for widows and proper ladies called Hatchet Hall. The Hall is still preserved near the center of town (pictured below) and across from a boarded-up water spring that was also named in Nation's honor. She collapsed during heated speech right up the road from Hatchet Hall in 1911 and died shortly thereafter in a Kansas hospital.

Picture of Sullivan's courtesy Sepiatown. Picture of Hatchet Hall courtesy me.