Friday, August 30, 2013

Historic or disappointing? How New York newspapers covered the first Labor Day -- September 5, 1882

Illustration of the first Labor Day parade around Union Square, 1882

Clothing cutters, horseshoers, shoemakers, upholsterers, printers, house painters, freight handlers, cabinet makers, varnishers, cigar makers, bricklayers and piano makers.

The first American Labor Day began on September 5, 1882, with 10,000 workers from a wide variety of occupations circling Union Square, then parading up to the area of today's Bryant Park. (A picnic 'after party' of sorts took place at a park at today's Columbus Avenue and 92nd Street.)   Individual workers organizations had taken to the street before, sometimes violently.  But this peaceful protest, this public solidarity, took the issues of New York laborers to the heart of the city in a way that could not be ignored.*

We take it for granted today.  Labor Day is no more than a day off for most people today.  But looking at the original press notices from newspapers of the day (from the following day, September 6, 1882) suggest an event certain New Yorkers recognized as monumental.  Others considered it trivial, a nuisance or even a dangerous gathering of malicious intent.

Union Square would continue to be the location of Labor Day festivities for decades afterwards.  The image below is of a parade from 1909 (courtesy LOC):

The New York Tribune begins nice enough. "The men who took part in the labor parade generally appeared to be persons of no small intelligence."  The paper's vitriol was saved for the leaders of the movement, in this case organizers from the Central Labor Union, "demagogues of the worst kind."

"It is a pity that workingmen allow themselves to be so cheapened."  The Tribune accuse the organizers of an ulterior motive -- political chest-thumping.  "But it is not at all unlikely that certain demagogues and dishonest leaders thought it a good time of year to show the two great political parties that there are ten thousand ballots in this city in the hands of men who ... might be at the disposal of somebody -- for a consideration."

Indeed, there would be a statewide election exactly two months later, sweeping a host of Democrats into office, including Grover Cleveland into the governor's office.

Even their reporting of the parade itself is tinged with a little condescension.  "The parade of workingmen yesterday morning was not nearly as large as was expected by the leaders.  This is probably due to the unwillingness of many workmen to lose a day's work."

Labor Day parade in Union Square, 1887 (NYPL)

The New York Times seemed to find the parade slightly whimsical, almost superfluous.  It echoed the disappointing turnout, but describes the event as calm, "conducted in an orderly and pleasant manner."

The coverage focuses undue attention on the paraders' fashionable attire.  "The great majority smoked cigars."  However they stress that the good behavior is attributable to the fact that organizers banned alcohol.  This detail is mentioned in no other coverage that I read.

Where the Tribune attested the lower-than-expected turnout to men not leaving their posts, the Times found a different reason -- "due to the fact that [laborers] preferred to enjoy the day in quiet excursions in Coney Island, Glen Island and elsewhere."

Children at the Union Square Labor Day parade, 1909 (NYPL)

The enthusiastic New York Sun describes it as a dry and brutal day. "[T]he rays of sun even in the early morning were very hot, and not a breath of wind brought relief from the oppressive heat."

The same parade considered disappointing by the Tribune and the Times was conversely described by the Sun as a mob scene.

"As far ahead as one could see and as far down the side streets as forms and faces could be distinguished, the windows and roofs and even the lamp posts and awning frames were occupied by people anxious to get a good view of the first parade in New York of workingmen of all trades united in one organization."

Far from a nuisance, the Sun recognized the parade as an important banner moment in history.  Its description of events is truly painstaking.

Many newspapers outside New York mentioned the parade the following day.  St. Paul's Daily Globe in Minnesota said "the great labor demonstration today was a success," quoting a number in attendance (20,000) almost double the actual projected number.

So did the Dallas Daily Herald, who put the event on their front page.  Meanwhile, it should be noted that most major New York newspapers neglected to put the labor parade on their front pages.

*New Yorkers, it should be noted, got the idea from Canada.  Read more about there here in my 2009 article. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Angels and mermaids: Puck Magazine's end of summer

This was the September 17, 1913 cover of humor journal Puck Magazine, featuring summer symbolized as a lovely mermaid on the back of a sea serpent, departing the Long Island shore.

She wasn't the only female embodiment in Puck that issue. In the illustration below, according to the official caption, "a female figure with wings ris[es] from the flames of summer romances that are burning out as the season comes to an end; she leaves behind many broken-hearted men on the beach at a summer resort."


In another image from that issue, summer stock actors put away their costumes, with the approval of Puck himself, while "a young woman learns that her engagement ring is next to worthless, both in economic value and romantic sentiment."  That's summer for you!

Puck Magazine made its home, of course, at the Puck Building, still ornamented with the Shakespearean imp himself that the magazine used for its mascot. Today it's the home REI sporting goods on the ground floor.

Did you know that the Puck Building used to be almost one-third larger but was partially demolished and its entranced moved with the construction of Lafayette Street?  For more information, check out my 2009 podcast on the history of the Puck Building (Episode #81).  Find it on iTunes or download and listen to it from here.  The original blog posting features a few more illustrations from Puck.

Images above of courtesy the Library of Congress who has a great collection of old Puck illustrations to thumb through.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Don the Talking Dog, German vaudeville sensation, saves a drowning man in Brighton Beach

There once was a talking dog named Don.

One hundred years ago today, he saved a man from drowning in Brighton Beach.  Don shouted or barked the word 'Help!' then ran to the waters to save him.

But perhaps I should explain.

In December 1910, the New York Times ran a startling announcement that a dog in Germany had been discovered that could pronounce certain human words.  The setter from Theerhutte was owned by an eastern German gamekeeper and possessed several human qualities, not the least of which was the name Don.  The dog had beautiful eyes "sometimes almost human in their expression" and was an "uncommonly intelligent animal," according to the Times.

Naturally, Don spoke only in German.  Being a dog, among the six words at his command were 'haben' (want), 'kuchen' (cakes) and 'hunger'.  You had to use your imagination, of course, but one could detect a slight difference in Don's barks that could be interpreted as separate words.

Despite some understandable cynics out there, Don was on his way to a career in the theater.

Above: Hammerstein's rooftop garden at the Victoria Theatre in Times Square, the stage where Don the Talking Dog made his debut.

Generally speaking, dogs were a definite novelty among the stars of the vaudeville stage. A troupe of animals called Wormwood's Dogs and Monkeys held court on the stages of Coney Island in the 1910s.  More renowned, perhaps, was the cross-dressing pooch Uno the Mind Reading Dog , who wowed theater crowds in 1910.

But the highest paid dog act up to that time was Dan the Drunken Dog, an animal who emulated the wobbling demeanor of an alcoholic, to the delight of audiences at the Oscar Hammerstein's Victoria Theater rooftop garden in Times Square.

None of these would reach the fame of Don the Talking Dog.  Hammerstein was so sure New Yorkers would love him that he posted a $50,000 bond to have Don brought to the United States.  The dog arrived in America on July 9, 1912 aboard the German steamship Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm, "absolutely refus[ing] to be interviewed at the pier, and indeed, had been too seasick on the way over to converse with anybody." [source]

At right: On the bill with Harry Houdini, from the New York Sun, July 21, 1912

A few weeks later, the German canine would make his debut on Hammerstein's rooftop garden, alongside master of ceremonies Loney Haskell.  "The trained growls which emanate from his throat can readily be mistaken for words," claimed a Variety reviewer.  "On the roof the audience, skeptical in the first place, became more so at Loney's [introduction], but after the dog had made its first try they became interested and later enthusiastic."

His salary was allegedly $1,000 a week, paid, of course, to his owner Martha Haberland.  Like many temperamental divas, Don disliked the roof garden lifestyle due to the sounds of traffic, preferring to perform inside theaters, not atop them. But he was huge success that year, touring to other Hammerstein stages before returning to Germany that fall, a bonafide American star.

Above: The Hotel Shelburne in Brighton Beach, where Don the Talking Dog saved a man from drowning

Don returned to Hammerstein's Times Square stage in 1913, this time performing alongside the likes of young comedian Sophie Tucker.  Later that summer he arrived in Brighton Beach to delight Brooklyn audiences.  It was here, on one of his afternoons off, that he rescued a drowning man with his famed ubiquitous voice.

The man was a waiter for the Hotel Shelburne who was actually out walking Don that afternoon.  The man jumped in the water for a swim and instantly lost his footing.  Don saw the man flailing in desperation in the ocean foam and, then, according to the New York Sun, allegedly unfurled one of his new words -- "Help!" -- startling everyone on the beach.*  The performer then swam over to the drowning man and began pulling on his bathing suit.

A passing policeman leaped into the water on his horse to rescue Don and the waiter.  This whole scene -- dog, horse, waiter, policeman -- was in turn rescued by three lifeguards in a boat. [source]

This was perhaps Don's shining moment. He shortly retired from the stage and finally died in 1915 back in Germany.  His final words, according the Evening World:  "Say goodbye to my old pal Loney Haskell."

*The Tribune reports the same event but does not mention this magical 'Help!'

Top pic courtesy New York Evening World. Bottom two images courtesy Museum of the City of New York.

Monday, August 26, 2013

NYC in the modern TV age, from Sesame Street to Seinfeld, as the arrival of cable brings new production to the city

Bill Cosby appeared in early episodes of Sesame Street, filmed at a studio on Broadway and 81st Street.  He would bring a much-needed hit to New York's television production scene over a decade later with The Cosby Show. (Pic courtesy Sesame Workshop)

PODCAST In the third part of the Bowery Boys Summer TV Mini-Series, I give you a grand tour of the New York City television production world from the 1970s to today, from the debut of Sesame Street in the Upper West Side to the new productions which flourished in the 1990s.

Along the way, hear about the debuts of public access, HBO, MTV, NY1 and, of course, the TV show that employed thousands of New Yorkers during its two-decade run -- Law and Order.

PLUS: A few locations used on Seinfeld, Sex and the City and The Cosby Show!

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

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

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #155 New York City in the Modern TV Age


A COUPLE CORRECTIONS:  I gleefully went off my notes on a few occasions this show, accounting for some mis-statements. For instance, The Cosby Show is obviously a 'family comedy', not a 'family drama'. And New York cable viewers could get MTV within a month of its debut, not a couple months.

OMISSIONS: To make this a 20-minute show, I did have to lose mentions of a few shows that featured New York City, such as NYPD Blue. But there was no excuse to breeze past the 1975 debut of Saturday Night Live, although it was briefly mentioned in part two in our discussion of 30 Rockefeller Center.  Also: while not as iconic show as the others mentions, many in the industry look to the moment in 2008 when Ugly Betty left Los Angeles for New York as another significant turning point.

The first episode of Rapid T Rabbit and Friends from 1983, which debuted in February 1983.

When actor Will Lee died in 1982, Sesame Street producers decided to have his character, Mr. Hooper, die on the show.


How Home Box Office looked in the 1970s:

A scene from Seinfeld featuring Keith Hernandez:

The original opening for Law & Order from its debut in 1990:

Carrie Bradshaw's first encounter with that bus and water puddle from the first season opener of Sex And The City:

Kaufman Astoria Studios opened in the 1920s as a silent film studio; today it hosts both TV and film productions. It's also the home of Sesame Street! (Photo courtesy Kaufman Astoria Studios)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Movin' On Up: A skewed history of New York City as depicted by the opening themes of 1970s TV shows

The camera zooms over the New York City skyline as an earnest pop tune -- usually devoid of any rhythm or edginess, but insanely catchy -- descends as though sent from outer space.

The next shot focuses on one particular landmark, a bridge or a park, letting you know, see we're not in some television studio in L.A., we're really here, the Big Apple!

Then the scene abruptly changes to an interior of an office or a flat, uninteresting living room, the cheerful face of a person about to embark into a series of adventures in that very city.  We meet the rest of the cast, a wacky bunch of people, urban people, who find themselves in comedic situations.  The city appears again in the background, but we're already off with our new friends -- the stars of 1970s prime time.

That's how a great many television programs began during the 1970s. New York City was heavily represented on television during the decade, an easily identified setting that could be depicted in two or three establishing shots before moving on to introduce the stars.

It popped up in no-nonsense crime dramas and sitcoms alike, an almost singular destination for television characters. (After the 'rural purge' of folksy TV shows, there was little room for small-town America;  places like Cincinnati,  MilwaukeeChicago and of course Los Angeles filled out the schedule.)

In reality, New York was entering a dark period of deteriorating public services, high crime and financial woes. While television news would often dramatically reflect this image out to America, television entertainment would do the opposite.  Few TV series of the period accurately reflected New York's troubles outside of a few occasional crime dramas and action shows (like 1977's Amazing Spiderman, at right).

Of course, most television shows about New York City in the 1970s were actually filmed in Los Angeles. And you couldn't fault sitcom creators for wanting to eschew real-life troubles that would distract from their clean and cheerful worlds of comic misunderstandings.  Even great detective shows like Kojak pulled their punches, largely because reality was often too graphic to present in prime time.

But an alternate world emerges from watching a series of television intros from the 1970s, pulled from top sitcom and dramas of the period.  New York City is essentially Midtown and Central Park (but for the few shows that ventured into the other boroughs), glamorous and utterly harmless, without edge.

And in those few shows that did exploit the city's dangerous side, the intros made clear -- through artistically rendered graphics -- that the danger was merely of the pulp variety.

A Woman's Playground
Many shows of the decade presented Manhattan as an aspirational destination, especially for women, even as thousands of people in real life fled the city.  Television was finally focusing on the adventures of single women, but to do so, New York had to be depicted as nearly flawless.

The iconic example of this is 'That Girl' starring Marlo Thomas.  In this 1970 opener, New York is nothing but glamour, shopping, Lincoln Center and Broadway.

The lousy sitcom On Our Own, New York's variant of Laverne & Shirley, opens with a couple of crazy gals heading to their job at an advertising agency.  The intro actually features a bit of physical violence against one woman, played up for laughs!

Not every show was so blind to the rough edges of New York.  But it required a tough lady like Rhoda, a native New Yorker, to maneuver all those sliding locks and tough-talking cabbies. (The third season intro is below, but the first season intro is probably the more memorable one.)

The Hustle-and-Bustle
As with the On Our Own intro, many workplace comedies chose to contrast their wacky interior antics with the frenetic urban rhythms of New York City.  It's as though the comedy you were about to see generates from walking through the crazy, chaotic streets of Midtown.

The intro to the Garment District comedy Needles and Pins ratchets the enthusiasm of That Girl's intro down to a quiet, confident strut. Yeah, I work here.

A variation of the buzzing energy of New York City being a impetus for comedy is seen in the intros for Saturday Night Live, even to this day.

The Taxi City
One identifying symbol of New York is the taxicab or, more specifically, the cabbie. While films like Taxi Driver were putting an ominous spin on this image, television still relied on the cab as shorthand for the modern urban experience.

And if you could somehow combine it with a basketball court -- as with Busting Loose -- then you know it's really, really New York.

The taxi is a vehicle of love in the romantic comedy Bridget Loves Bernie.  There's no way to see this today as anything other than slightly creepy.  This extended intro ticks off all the boxes -- cabs, school yards, the Queensboro Bridge, Central Park....

Taxis were so representative of the New York experience that one of the era's greatest sitcoms was centered around the industry. Taxi survived well into the 1980s showing a more realistic version of New York than other shows of the day.

It also features the Queensboro Bridge, a heavily used symbol for the expanse of the city.  Since shows of the period rarely went downtown, the Queensboro could sit in for the Brooklyn Bridge when long vistas of the East River were required.  (Taxi actually did go downtown; it was set in a garage at Charles and Hudson Streets.)

The Outer Borough
Television shows often went to the other boroughs when they wanted to express the clashes of modern life, contrasted against a more suburban backdrop which many Americans could more easily identify.

Most everybody knows the iconic theme song from All In The Family as delivered by Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton.  What you may not remember is yet another establishing shot of Manhattan, used to contrast with the rows of Queens homes.  In these few seconds, the intro excellently sets up the conflicts of modernity, a quiet residential present, and a duo that seem stuck in a sheltered past.

The same sort of pull-away from Manhattan is used in O'Connor's follow-up series, Archie Bunker's Place, which yanks the viewer away from the skyline, back over the Queensboro Bridge and down Northern Boulevard.  Archie has changed since those years at the piano, and so have his surroundings.  The blocks of uniform homes have been replaced with subway graffiti and bustling street life.

13 Queens Blvd went even deeper into Queens but still relied on the establishing shot of Manhattan to let viewers know how far we are from real urban issues. The show's situations were driven by the comic misunderstandings within an apartment complex, a little like One Day At A Time (set in Indianapolis) or Three's Company (set in Santa Monica) perhaps. The show didn't last long.

Brooklyn was represented in the 1970s by Welcome Back Kotter.  Set in a fictional high school, it is New Utrecht High School that's used in the opening.  While other sitcoms used a Manhattan establishing shot, Kotter prefers a beat-up sign that announces Brooklyn as the 4th largest city in America.  With its painted trains and lines of laundry, this might be the grittiest depiction of New York in a sitcom, even as its high school students (the Sweathogs) were incredibly unrealistic.

Movin' On Up
Mostly though, sitcoms preferred the fantasy, Manhattan as an Emerald City. (It was literally depicted as such in the 1970s musical The Wiz.)  No amount of deterioration seemed to supplant the image of Manhattan as having 'made it', especially when dealing with African-American television characters.

Taxis are again the vehicle of transformation in The Jeffersons, plucking George and Louise Jefferson from the land of Archie Bunker -- again, using the Queensboro Bridge -- and putting them in a luxury accommodation on the Upper East Side.

Two African-American boys are saved by a wealthy white man in Diff'rent Strokes.  For emphasis in the intro, Arnold and Willis are playing basketball, the de facto symbol in 1970s television of the inner city.

I don't know if the show was any good, but the intro to the 1970 sitcom Barefoot In The Park seems refreshing in retrospect.  The show, based on the Broadway show, features a young black couple trying to make it though the first years of marriage in Manhattan.  It seems to handle the subject with the same euphoria used in 'That Girl'.

They're riding a horse-and-carriage drinking champagne!  It literally does not get cheesier.

De-Glamorized New York
There were a few shows that felt embedded within the actual New York experience. Their intros reflect a certain melancholy, a feeling that perhaps the city was not always a whirlwind of breezy excitement. The champagne remains corked.

Barney Miller is one of the few shows actually set in Greenwich Village. Perhaps as a result, its establishing shot of Manhattan is moody, even dreary, a perfect backdrop for a comedy television show about criminal behavior.

In the opening to The Odd Couple, New York is an embodiment of its characters' anxieties and differences.  There is no establishing shot of Manhattan, no attempt to glamorize the big city.  These two are actually at odds with the city, not each other, as presented here.  The intro ends with a rare pan-up of the two characters with the city looming behind them.


The Wild East
In an opposite reaction to rural shows like Green Acres (where people fled New York), a maverick sensibility came to New York in the 1970s, especially in the detective genre, with iconoclastic characters bringing foreign forms of justice to an ungoverned city.

On McCloud, a New Mexico detective wrangles up a few pimps and car thieves, bringing fun but clumsy cowboy tropes to Times Square.  Unlike sitcoms, detective dramas actually went to 70s Times Square all the time for obvious reasons.  Although most did not bring stagecoaches with them.

Another bizarre crime-fighter to the New York skyline was the Amazing Spider-Man. We get a Manhattan establishing shot here, comically interrupted by Spiderman's awful costume.  They spend a great amount of time with Spidey on the Empire State Building; in fact most of the show was filmed in L.A.

You didn't even need a reason to bring in a cowboy. In the 1970 sitcom Mr Deeds Goes To Town, a folksy newspaper editor takes on the big city. The intro lays it on thick.

Groovy 70s Noir
A few crime dramas of the 1970s were actually filmed in New York City and thus could highlight the city a bit more fully in their intros.

The short-lived television version of Serpico features numerous places throughout the city, from the Battery to Times Square. And, yes, the Queensboro Bridge is again represented here via its subway stop.

New York's greatest television crime fighter of the 1970s was Kojak, so cool that the city is given a trippy noir vibe, peeking from the nooks of swirling graphics.  Of course most of Kojak was filmed in Los Angeles, but, according to writer Burton Armus, the production crew went to New York on occasion for "surrounding shots, background shots, one or two scenes."

Taking its cue from Kojak in its tone, Eischied was also a bit of a cowboy, bringing some Southern swagger to the mean streets of Manhattan. Its credit sequence is a confused mess.


And finally, check out this opening sequence from the 1973 television movie Brock's Last Case.  It doesn't really tie in to anything above, but it's a pretty amazing view of the Brooklyn waterfront.  This is what we lose when we put up things like Brooklyn Bridge Park. Proper places to chase down criminals!

Friday, August 16, 2013

George Opdyke: The mayor during the Civil War Draft Riots and his unsavory connection to New York's fashion industry

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

Mayor George Opdyke
In office: 1862-1863

The wealthy merchant and politician George Opdyke died on June 12, 1880, attended to by his family from their lavish home at Fifth Avenue and East 47th Street, just a few blocks from where the violent Draft Riots had ignited back in 1863.

In the 17 years since those terrible days, New York had grown mightier with vast wealth, in an explosion of prosperity that would inaugurate the Gilded Age.  But while the scars of the Draft Riots had faded from the city streets, they never quite faded from Opdyke, who had been mayor of New York during the violent outbreak.

At right: George Opdyke, in a photo taken by Matthew Brady

Some of the violence that week in July had been directed towards Opdyke, one of the most prominent Republicans in a city of Democrats. His former home at 57 Fifth Avenue had been attacked twice by rioters.  He was considered the face pro-Lincoln, pro-war, and, thus, pro-abolitionist forces in New York

Yet had it not been for the institution of slavery in the South, Opdyke might never have even made his fortune.

George Opdyke was born to a large New Jersey farming family in 1805, working his way from the fields to the classroom, becoming a young school teacher at an early age.  Like so many teenagers in the early 19th century, job opportunities out West spoke to his sense of adventure.  With $500 in their pockets, Opdyke and a friend settled in Cleveland, Ohio, opening a clothing store and tailor for workers of the newly constructed Erie Canal.

Opdyke soon found a more profitable application for his young business -- the high mark-up manufacturing of cheap slave clothing.  He moved to New Orleans and began an incredibly profitable plant there, making inexpensively produced clothing for the plantations of the deep South.

In fact, Opdyke became so successful that, in 1832, he moved to New York to open a larger clothing factory on Hudson Street.  According to historian George Lankevich, Opdyke "built the city's first important clothing factory, selling his goods largely to southern plantations and creating the basis of a new industry."  It was the first large-scale, ready-to-wear clothing establishment in New York, soon employing thousands; so, yes, this is how the New York fashion industry begins.

Below: Brooks Clothing Store in 1845, a rival of Opdyke's clothing business. Opdyke would have some rather controversial connections for Brooks Brothers during the Civil War. (NYPL)

And a successful political career begins as well.  By 1846, Opdyke, now a millionaire and a well-connected member of mid-19th century New York society, entered a life of politics.

Interestingly, he was originally associated with the Free Soil Party, an early anti-slavery effort, illustrating how businessmen often separated certain moral beliefs from their business practices. (Early on, he would become one of Abraham Lincoln's most ardent supporters.) The Free Soilers were soon be incorporated into the burgeoning Republican Party, and Opdyke's first appearance in New York state assembly, in 1859, was as a Republican.

That same year, Opdyke became the Republican's best chance at winning the mayor's seat in New York. However, he vied for the job with two other seasoned politicians -- unscrutable Democrat Fernando Wood and former mayor and sugar king William Havemeyer.  Thanks to machine politics and the uncertainty of war with the South, Wood prevailed that fall, becoming mayor of New York at the start of the Civil War. (I have an entire podcast on Wood's roller-coaster career in politics.)

But tides would change in Opdyke's favor.  Pro-Union sentiment surged through the nation and in New York City by the start of the war.  And by the time of the next mayoral election in 1861, situations were ideal for a Republican to take charge.

It helped that Democrats were divided -- Tammany Hall went with C. Godfrey Gunther, while Wood formed his own alternative political machine Mozart Hall.  But it was Opdyke that prevailed, although barely.  He beat Gunther by a whopping 613 votes. (But he did beat Wood in Wood's own ward.  That must have felt good.)

Part of Opdyke's appeal at that moment was his deep connections to the Lincoln administration. When the flags were waving in New York, Opdyke was an ideal representative, encouraging support for the war, hosting troops in the city, raising money for the effort.  But when enthusiasm for the war withered, so did Opdyke's reputation.

Below: The draft riots, which paralyzed New York in July 1863

Opdyke's unwavering support for the draft backfired severely in the summer of 1863. When New Yorkers took the street on July 13, 1863, burning the draft offices and taking out their anger on black citizens and prominent Republicans, Opdyke topped the list of most despised New Yorkers.  He had very little power to quell the violence; the police department was placed under state control, and state militia had been called away.

While his home was nearly destroyed, it was his political reputation that took the greatest hit. At first, he had vetoed a plan by the Common Council to pay for substitutes for any drafted New Yorkers. But a month later, working with Tammany Hall, he essentially endorsed a similar bill to avoid more violence.

This saved New York, but it did not save him.  On election day, that December in 1863, he was replaced with the Democrat Gunther, whom he had narrowly beat just two yeas before.

His woes weren't quite over. A political feud with newspaper editor Thurlow Weed revealed some unpleasant information about Opdyke in the press. "[H]e had made more money out of the war by secret partnerships and contracts for army clothing, than any fifty sharpers in New York," claimed the irate newspaper editor.

At right: Opdyke in later life (NYPL)

Opdyke had profited handsomely from the war through his own clothing plant and in deals with rival clothing manufacturer Brooks Brothers.  Opdyke took Weed to court for libel in December 1864, but the jury essentially exonerated Weed, delivering an indecisive verdict "as to whether Weed should pay nominal damages of six cents, or be acquitted." [source]

In later life, Opdyke took up banking with his sons, representing the concerns of various railroad companies. He "retired a few months before his death with a large fortune." [source]

After his death, the Opdykes would sell their house to railroad tycoon Jay Gould.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Blackout 2003: Where were you when the lights went out?

Photo above courtesy Drew Dies/Flickr He has a cool set of pictures from that day here.

Today is the tenth-year anniversary of the Northeast Blackout of 2003 which shut down power for most of New York City (and much of the Northeast) for almost 24 hours, with some areas experiencing outages well into the second day.

I was on the 35th floor of the Bertelsmann Building in the middle of Times Square. My co-workers and I traipsed down 35 floors under the glow of emergency lighting.

As ATM machines were offline, I had a grand total of $5 in my pocket, so I was unable to enjoy any of the cheap-beer and bbq fests that were underway in the East Village, as bars and restaurants rid themselves of items before they spoiled.  Down in the Lower East Side, it was a lonely night under candlelight, trying to tune in updates on my old battery-operated portable television.

We still didn't have electricity the next day, so I walked the Manhattan Bridge over to Cobble Hill, where power had been restored, and there I hung out at my friend's shop Halcyon the entire day, a place filled with Manhattan refugees that day. I returned over the bridge in the evening, but the Lower East Side still did not have power.

The heat was slowly driving people insane; I remember seeing a woman carrying groceries for some place a few miles away and almost collapsing on the street.  Had the power not returned then that evening at 10 pm, it probably would have gotten a bit messy in the LES. (It all seems so relatively manageable, of course, in light of the Sandy blackout.

Here's a few more recollections from Twitter. If you lived in the northeast United States then, where were you ten years ago during the blackout?  Leave your recollections in the notes here, or on Twitter of Facebook:

Some links on the blackout:

Gothamist: Flashback -- Massive Blackout Hit NYC 10 Years Ago Today
New York Times: Original coverage from August 2013
WNYC radio piece of the tenth-anniversary of the blackout

The Incident at Healy's: Wild nightlife in Columbus Circle, police brutality and spirited protests against 'cafe curfew'

Columbus Circle in 1921, looking west. Healy's was a few blocks north of this scene.

Many of New York's most popular restaurants and cafes a century ago were located around Columbus Circle, lively hot spots that drew in the theater and burlesque patrons well into the late hours.  Crowds would exit the Park Theater and head over to Reisenweber's Cafe to take in some champagne and cabaret, years before it would be associated with bawdy star Sophie Tucker.  Others might partake of the beefsteak at the Morgue on West 58th Street or Child's Restaurant a block over.

One of the busiest spots was Healy's (slightly north, at Broadway and 66th Street), a spacious dining and dancing spot,  featuring an indoor ice-skating rink and enormous ballroom, among its many indulgences. It was one of New York's most trendy dining palaces in 1913, the site of a celebratory dinner by artists from the Armory Show just a few months before.

Below: An advertisement for Healy's from 1914

But nobody was exactly celebrating at 1 a.m. on August 13, 1913, when the police burst into Healy's and violently threw out all the patrons.  Men were grabbed by their collars and thrown to the sidewalk. Women screamed as they were separated from their tables, "shoved, pushed and dragged" to the doorway. Thousands of people had gathered outside, both curious and perturbed, shouting at the police and cheering on the discarded diners.

The drama made the front page of every newspaper the next morning. "Diners Thrown From Healy's," said the Sun. "Many Are Dragged Away Carrying Dishes and Table Cloths."

So what was the problem exactly? Naturally, it had to do with liquor.

The fun began several days before, when Mayor William J. Gaynor instigated a new 'cafe curfew' for the wild lobster palaces and nightclubs that were turning Midtown into an all-night soiree.  Establishments holding proper liquor licenses must now close at 1 a.m. unless granted an exemption or extended license (often given to hotels).

This did not make Broadway proprietors happy, as it greatly cut into profits. However most restaurant and cafe owners along the "White Light zone" planned to comply with the order, fearing fines or police reprisals.

But Thomas Healy was ready to fight the law.  His lavish cafe at Broadway and 66th Street thrived on the after-theater, late-supper crowd, a party crew who liked their champagne.  Although Healy's regularly closed at 2 a.m., that one lost hour would have greatly hurt business, Healy claimed.

He also contested the wording of the law. It stated that "any room which liquor is sold during lawful hours must be closed and the doors locked during the prescribed hours, whether for the sale of liquor and foods." If his bar room was indeed locked up, why couldn't his patrons stay and enjoy themselves in the dining room?

At left: An ad from 1915. Note the 'Jungle Room, Log Cabin and Log Hut for famous Healy Beefsteak Dinner'

Healy stood ready to combat the mayor, keeping his place open while filing an injunction to keep the law at bay.

For several days, police entered the restaurant and asked patrons to leave at 1 a.m.  On Tuesday, August 12, police barricaded patrons in the restaurant, announcing that none of them could leave until 6 a.m.  But a defiant Healy removed his remaining diners out a back entrance, foiling the police.

This is certainly explains why the police were especially hostile the following day, August 13.  At 1 a.m, police officers mounted the orchestra stage and announced that everybody must leave the restaurant. Drunken patrons laughed and even booed the officer, many proclaiming they had no interest in leaving. Most likely, it was this stubbornness that ignited the rough-handling that followed.

"The recalcitrant guests found themselves enfolded in the uniformed arms, lifted into the air, rushed down the disordered aisles and literally thrown into Columbus Avenue," reported the New York Times. "In the scramble, tables went over, chairs were smashed, electroliers were damaged, glasses and crockery were broken into fragments. There was pandemonium for a time."

Violence returned the following night, Thursday, August 14, as rebellious New Yorkers were now insolently dining past the allotted time.  Promptly at 1 a.m., an increased force of fifty police officers rushed the restaurant. "Three hundred men and women were led, pushed, shoved, carried, clubbed and thrown out." [source]

One of those patrons was New York District Attorney Charles S. Whitman (pictured above in 1910), a rumored candidate for mayor and one of the city's most popular politicians. (In 1916, he would be elected governor of New York.) His appearance at Healy's was clearly to draw attention. Thousands of people crowded the streets; the nearly elevated train station was filled with people trying to get a better look, and 'automobile parties' cruised by, desperate for a peek at the violence inside.

Whitman's appearance had done the trick.  Gaynor backed down, allowing Healy's to remain open if it wished. In fact, warrants were then issued for police detective John. F. Dwyer and two dozen police officers.

But Healy had created a bit of an unwieldy beast. Crowds gathered the next night and cars lined the street, anticipating more excitement, building uncontrollable mess that the proprietor actually called the police himself!  In the end, Healy did end up closing at 1 a.m., just for the protection of his own restaurant and staff.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Profound clutter: Photographs of New York artist studios

The studio of William Merritt Chase in the Tenth Street Studio Building at 51 West 10th Street. Another appears below. [Smithsonian]

Take a look at these extraordinary photographs of artist studios in New York City from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, the interiors of apartment buildings and houses rendered into a lovely chaos.  Hopefully you'll find them as inspiring as I do.  Off to make a mess in my apartment!

Click into each photo for greater detail:

Betti Richard, bronze sculptress, in her studio of towering religious figures.  She would later get married to the Austrian ambassador to the United Nations and spend "cocktail hour[s] as hostess and partygoer." [Smithsonian]

Abraham Walkowitz, at his studio at 8 West 23rd Street. The artist, a Russian immigrant who spent his youth in the Lower East Side, is famous for his paintings of dancer Isadora Duncan. [Smithsonian]

Zelma Baylos in her studio at Carnegie Hall, taken between 1910-1915. The Carnegie Hall studios fostered the careers of hundreds of artists until 2010, when the remaining artists were evicted and the space turned into a music education center. [LOC]

Dr. Selma Burke in her Greenwich Village studio, date unknown.  Burke is best known for her plaque of Franklin D. Roosevelt hanging in Washington DC, long rumored to be the inspiration for the U.S. dime.  [Smithsonian]

Another image of William Merritt Chase's studio, taken sometime in 1900. Chase was an early American Impressionist painter and one of New York's most admired art figures during the Gilded Age. [Smithsonian]

Leon Dabo in his Brooklyn studio, taken around 1910.  Dabo, primarily a landscape artist, was one of the organizers of the Armory Show of 1913. [Smithsonian]

John Sloan and his wife in their Staten Island studio, photographed by Berenice Abbott. [courtesy Staten Island Museum]

Bessie Potter Vonnoh, in her studio at 33 West 67th Street, taken sometime after she moved here in 1905. [LOC]

The photography studio of James L. Breese, nephew of Samuel Morse, taken in 1899. [NYPL]

Edward Hopper in his Washington Square studio, photographed in 1948, by the great Berenice Abbott. [Smithsonian]

The studio of William Couper, which he shared with father-in-law and fellow sculptor Thomas Ball, taken between 1910-15. Located at 207 E. 17th Street, in Manhattan. [LOC]

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thieves of Book Row: Strange treasure among the stacks inspires New York's most intellectual black market

The used bookstores of Book Row, the above shot from Fourth Avenue and 10th Street, 1938 (courtesy NYPL)

BOWERY BOYS BOOK OF THE MONTH Each month I'll pick a book -- either brand new or old, fiction or non-fiction -- that offers an intriguing take on New York City history, something that uses history in a way that's uniquely unconventional or exposes a previously unseen corner of our city's complicated past.  You can find some our past selections here and links to purchase them from Amazon at the bottom of this post.

Thieves of Book Row
by Travis McDade
Oxford University Press

You probably own a book that you consider priceless, not for its physical value, but for the knowledge it imparted upon you, or the adventure it provided.  Books can bring you into their worlds, and they can capture who you once were when you first read them.

Now separate those meaningful values and see your favorite book as nothing but an object -- a precious, rare artifact, hoarded like jewels by wealthy collectors. A one-of-a-kind bound volume as desirable as fictional literary treasures like the Maltese Falcon or the Holy Grail.

From the late 19th century until the end of the jazz age, criminals worthy of a film noir backdrop were on the prowl for these objects, spiriting them away in coat pockets and sprinting through the streets of Manhattan to deliver them to book-buying fences.  It was in this manner that hundreds of books changed  hands from the advent of mass-market publishing to the end of the jazz age, creating New York's most intellectual black market.

Welcome to the world of Thieves of Book Row, an intriguing new historical investigation by Travis McDade that uncovers an unusual criminal undercurrent that thrived in New York upon the increasing stature of books as exotic, desirable artifacts.

The rare book market exploded in the late 19th century as Americans became wealthier and created their own personal libraries.  The development of American identity after the Civil War turned obscure, small-run volumes of Americana by local historians into highly sought-after items.  Early editions by famous poets and novelists, manufactured in modest runs, were hunted down by Gilded Age millionaires who could spend months seeking one particular book.

But the value of books went beyond particular authors and titles. Public lending libraries, such as the Astor and Lenox libraries, made old books available for the general public.  The concept of a 'rare book' room was still many years in the future, so older books frequently went into circulation. By the early 20th century, the New York Public Library and associated neighborhood libraries sprang up throughout the city, and for the first time, regular New Yorkers could experience great works of writing themselves.

With mass production of books came the advent of used bookstores, which clustered in New York City north of Astor Place in an area called Book Row and later in areas of midtown Manhattan.  As McDade illustrates, it was here that the book thief thrived, as crooked book sellers went into overdrive to provide rare, valuable objects for a growing number of wealthy book lovers.

In fact, a ring of book thieves terrorized book stores and libraries up and down the East Coast, common criminals often led by a book seller with connections to wealthy buyers. Hardly a trifling crime, book thieves were considered "the meanest thief God ever let live" by 1907 and were harshly prosecuted. A few thieves you will meet in McDade's engrossing investigation will end up in Sing Sing Prison.

Below: Outside of the New York Public Library central branch on 42nd Street, early 1920s 

Robbing from a public library was akin to snatching a book from a poor child's hands. "Stealing books from the libraries of the public is one of the unspeakable crimes -- like stealing coins from the eyes of a dead man," said a judge in 1904.

The centerpiece of this tale is the theft of a particular volume: Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems by Edgar Allan Poe, an author whose book value skyrockets during the Gilded Age.  What makes this book theft so intriguing is where it was stolen from -- the virtual fortress of the New York Public Library's main branch.  The best passages in Thieves of Book Row describe the methodical heist of this and other precious volumes from NYPL's Reserve Book Room, walking you step-by-step through this criminal enterprise.

If you love books, it will be McDade's backdrop that may appeal to you more, a world of bookstores that has disappeared, dozens of stores stocked with thousands of old book, clustered along a few city streets.  Today, the Strand BookstoreAlabaster Bookstore and a couple others are all that remain of this once remarkable district in the Village.

Along the way, you'll meet the New York Public Library's jazz-age investigator G. William Bergquist and a shifty assortment of book thieves, some of middling intelligence. It seems many of these desperate men were simply too busy shoving volumes into their coats to actually read any of them.



Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The readers have spoken! A revised list of 50 essential non-fiction books on New York City history

Last week I posted a list via Riffle Books of my personal choices for 25 books on New York City history that I think everybody should read.  But it was a far from perfect list, so I solicited your help to choose 25 more.

And all I can say is -- WOW! I got almost 150 additional selections from you. Thanks for sending in your suggestions. There were dozens of terrific titles suggested by you, and I apologize if your favorite didn't make the final cut below. I whittled the submissions down to 25 and added those to the previous list, to create the new suggested reading below of 50 Favorite NYC History Books.  In addition, I also made a couple adjustments to my original list based on reader's suggestions.

There was such strong reaction that expect to see new book lists in the coming months for historical fiction, essays, memoirs, biographies, guidebooks, reference, children's and young adult, and other categories.  Thanks again!


The books on the list with no covers include 'Harlem' by Jonathan Gill, 'The Most Famous Man In America: Henry Ward Beecher' by Debby Applegate, 'Scenes from the Life of a City' by Eric Hornberger, and 'The Tiger: The Rise and Fall of Tammany Hall'. by Oliver E. Allen

Please feel free to concur or disagree in the comments section below. This is by no means a definite list! There are too many great ones and I'm discovering new ones each day. Who knows, if I recreate this list a year from now, there might be many new replacements.

Friday, August 2, 2013

New York City in the Golden Age of Television: Behind the scenes with nine classic TV shows filmed in the city

The Beatles in one of their many appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. [source]

PODCAST This is the second part of the Bowery Boys TV Mini-Series, covering the years of New York City television production from the late 1940s to the 1960s.  Some of the most classic television shows ever made -- and many still around today -- were filmed from various locations in midtown Manhattan.

The insatiable appetite for television programming in the United States after the war created a new industry out of the roots of radio, with the television networks NBC, CBS, Dumont and ABC trying out almost every conceivable form of entertainment.  Their efforts in the late 40s and 1950s created many standard forms of programming -- the morning show, the late show, the situation comedy and the game show.

This podcast is arranged a little bit like a leisurely Midtown walking tour, taking you past four of the greatest locations in NYC television history.  We give you the back story behind nine television shows that were filmed in New York City in this period -- Howdy Doody, Texaco Star Theater, the Today Show, the Tonight Show, What's My Line?, The $64,000 Question, Life Is Worth Living, The Honeymooners and the Ed Sullivan Show.

This show definitely features the strangest cast of characters we have ever discussed -- television's most influential chimpanzee, a regal bishop superstar, a freckled marionette, a buxom blonde, and the father of Sigourney Weaver!

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

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

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys: New York City in the Golden Age of Television 1947-65

  CORRECTION: In this week's show, I say that the Blizzard of 1947 occurred on the exact date as the debut of Howdy Doody (December 27, 1957). The storm actually hit in the two days before that date -- December 25-25. But the city was a total mess for days after.

J. Fred Muggs, Dave Garroway and Phoebe B. Beebe on the Today Show. Courtesy NBC Television

The glorious Dagmar from 'Broadway Open House'! [source]

A few episodes of some of the show's we talked about in the podcast:

 The $64,000 Question

 Life Is Worth Living with the Bishop Fulton Sheen

 Texaco Star Theater from November 1949

What's My Line? -- a collection of clips

The Honeymooners -- the episode called "The Bensonhurst Bomber"