Tuesday, August 19, 2014

History In The Making 8/19: White House Down Edition

 Above: An engraving the gutted Capitol building by William Strickland (LOC)

Two hundred years ago this week (on August 24, 1814), the British invaded Washington DC and torched not just the White House, but a great many other government buildings. "Of the Senate house, the President's palace, the barracks, the dockyard, etc., nothing could be seen except heaps of smoking ruins" [Eyewitness To History]

The most recent New York Times' Streetscapes column by Christopher Gray explores Manhattan's aerial bridges and mentioned the Bowery Boys website and our recent photo gallery by Alexander Rea of the Gimbels traverse.  [New York Times]

You know what closes next week FOREVER? Kim's Video. Crank up your DVD players and go visit them one final time before they close on August 25. [Jeremiah's Vanishing NY]

Help save the Subway Inn, a classic dive bar near Bloomingdale's that's being shuttered for -- what else -- a luxury apartment building. [New York Neon]

Some fascinating history from Cincinnati -- a fiery courthouse riot that erupted in 1884 over the course of three bloody days. [Murder By Gaslight]

The Panama Canal opened 100 years ago on August 15, 1914.  The United State maintained a presence in the Canal Zone until 1999. [Smithsonian]

Below: The American steamship SS Ancon makes the first official transit through the locks of the Panama Canal, August 15, 1914:

Friday, August 15, 2014

The cocaine fiends of the Gilded Age: New York stages an intervention for its over-the-counter drug problem

We once lived in a world when cocaine was in nearly everything -- pain relievers, muscle relaxers, wine, fountain drinks, cigarettes, hair tonics, feminine products.  It was therapeutic, a "nerve stimulant," a natural remedy and an over-the-counter drug sold in a variety of forms and doses. The coca plant, to many, was "the most tonic plant of the vegetable world." [source]

The coca byproduct popped up in a variety of medicinal and recreational forms in the 1880s.  In particular, New Yorkers were wild about cocaine, especially those in the medical community.

"The therapeutic uses of cocaine are so numerous that the value of this wonderful remedy seems only beginning to be appreciated," said the New York Times in 1885.   "The new uses to which cocaine has been applied with success in New York include hay fever, catarrh and toothache and it is now being experimented with in cases of seasickness." They later report that even asthma could be eradicated by it.

Cocaine was the wonder drug of the early 1880s.  Not only could it cure disease; it could also dampen the senses.  In 1884, a doctor presented his findings at the College of Physicians and Surgeons (23rd/Park Avenue), heralding the successes of "anesthetic cocaine" in numbing patients during ear and eye surgeries.  It was even given as a pain reliever to horses.

A cocaine ad touting its use for "female complaints, rectal diseases":

By the 1890s, cocaine would be used as an anesthetic in a variety of cases, even injected directly into the spine.  As a miracle solution, "[t]hen came cocaine to claim her crown." [source]

There was even a cocaine district in lower Manhattan -- around the cross streets of William and Fulton -- where more of the drug was produced than perhaps any other place in the United States, by such manufacturers as McKesson & Robbins (95-97 Fulton Street) and New York Quinine & Chemical Works (114 William Street).

Below: Helmbold's Drug Store on Broadway and 17th Street, in Ladies Mile, would have sold a host of cocaine-related products in the 1880s. (NYPL)

"Cocaine looked to be the saviour of doctors the world over," wrote author Dominic Streatfeild in his book Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography,  "but, apart from its use as an anesthetic in surgical procedures, it was not really curing anything; it was just making people feel great for awhile."

By the mid-1880s, there seemed to be little doubt of cocaine's habit-forming qualities, but there were some notable holdouts.  William A. Hammond, the Surgeon General for the United States during the Civil War, didn't think so, frequently experimenting upon himself and later batting away concerns from some notable Brooklyn doctors.

"At first I injected one grain and experienced an exhilaration of spirits similar to that produced by two or three glasses of champagne," he told a newspaper in 1886.

But medical professionals soon grew weary as their hospitals and asylums soon filled with cocaine addicts, many who supplemented their habits with opium or morphine.

"No medical technique with such a short history  has claimed so many victims as cocaine," reported the New York Medical Record in 1887.

Sometimes it would be the doctors and nurses themselves that were trapped "in the clutches of cocaine." (The Cinemax show The Knick depicts this disturbing conflict within its main character, Dr. John Thackery, who at a certain point injects the drug straight into his penis and between his toes.)

At right: A 1900 ad for an at-home drug therapy program provided by the St. James Society.  Interestingly, this was located on Tin Pan Alley and near the heart of the pre-Times Square theater district!

From a cursory perusal of newspaper from the late 1890s, one can find a notable doctor or two succumbing to drug addiction almost once a month. "COCAINE KILLS A DOCTOR," blared a headline from January 2, 1898.  Another physician "WAS CRAZED BY COCAINE." went another in 1895.

The euphoria over cocaine was over.  The number of cocaine addiction cases blossomed through the 1890s, just as moralists and social reformers were looking to eliminate vice from city streets.  In 1893, the first law aimed at cocaine (along with morphine, opium and chloral) made it available only by prescription which, like so many later pharmaceuticals, was merely a speed bump for the serious user.

Hysteria soon followed. Cocaine was associated with crime, with occultists, with loose women, with poor people, with African-American, Asians and Jews.  Here's a rather startling quote from a druggist in 1895: "[W]ith the exception of a few abandoned white women, its use is confined almost exclusively to the colored folk." (Several years later, the New York Times took this assertion to the next level.)

Meanwhile, newspapers seemed only concerned with the numerous rich, white addicts. And, of course, the many innocents who were lured by dealers on the streets and playgrounds.

Below: An illustration from the New York Tribune, 1912.  A 1907 law prohibited most sales of cocaine over the counter, creating an illicit 'street market'.  The Tribune dramatically displays the ways in which cocaine and other drugs were sold.  Note the headline underneath it!

Although still a legal substance, most products began advertising themselves as an alternative to cocaine. In 1895, you might find products that touted cocaine as a pain reliever;  ten years later, medicines were now proclaiming they were cocaine-free.

Below: A 1904 ad for "goat lymph tablets" reminds its readers that its free of "injurious drugs."

It would take several years to make cocaine entirely illegal.  During the 1910s, those who wanted it could make arrangements with a pharmacist, forge a prescription or, when all else failed, just rob the warehouses which stored cocaine.

In 1911, the drug was now a "poisonous snake," "the perfect intoxicant of the devil," its original uses in the United States now entirely forgotten and replaced with safer, less addictive alternatives.  (Dentists, for instance, would discover Novocaine.)

A series of local and federal laws in the mid-1900s assured that cocaine and other habit-forming drugs would be ushered off the market within the decade.

The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, passed in 1914, imposed stiff taxes on coca and opiate products, virtually eliminating any legal market for the drugs and insuring its manufacture and distribution be driven underground.

And just in time, too, for Prohibition was just around the corner!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Newsboys strike 125 years ago, but it wasn't yet a musical

Newsies hawk newspapers to riders of a passing trolley [LOC]

One hundred and twenty five years ago this week, hundreds of newsboys took to the streets in protest of unfair pricing and competition practices.  It was not their first time and, most memorably, it would not be their last.

"For an hour or two they made things very lively on Park Row," said the New York Times, "parading the street and stirring up a great commotion." [source]

You're probably familiar with the newsboys strike which occurred ten years later, the inspiration for the film and Broadway musical Newsies, a major labor protest that lasted almost two weeks and actually affected the sales of New York's major newspapers. [You can download our podcast on the Newsboy Strike of 1899 here, on iTunes (#105), or listen to it below via SoundCloud.]

Battles between newspapers and their youngest independent employees had been waged several times in the past, mostly because publishers could reintroduce bad business practices once a certain generation of newsboys grew out of their jobs.  It would not be until the 20th century that newsstands -- and the adults that owned them -- would become the primary source for selling papers.

Three years earlier, in 1886, a strike by Brooklyn newsies against publishers in that city sparked riots that lasted almost two days.  Brooklyn boys would also join their Manhattan counterparts in protest on August 12, 1889.

Below: Brooklyn newsboys, 1900, photo by Lewis Hine

The newsies strike in 1889 would be unsuccessful, but it's notable for being incredibly similar to the more famous strike ten years later.

In 1889, the Evening World (the newspaper of Joseph Pulitzer) and the Evening Sun (owned by Charles Dana) bumped up the price of their bundles of 100 papers from 50 cents to 60 cents.  The kids revolted.  Pulitzer's paper would pull this same tactic ten years later on a new batch of newsies, this time raising the prices due to the popularity of the (largely media manufactured) Spanish-American War.  When the war was over and sales decreased, the World attempted to keep the higher price, joined in this scheme by William Randolph Hearst and his New York Journal. The kids again revolted, but more successfully.

Newsies were usually depicted in the press one of two ways -- pathetic whelps who latched on to any sign of good will or little criminals who were up to no good.  There was truth in both of these characterizations, but the stereotypes were often exaggerated.

The Times coverage of the 1889 strike upon the newspaper's competitors focused on the newsboys delinquent ways.  Of the strike, "[a] number of fights followed, and some of the boys were very roughly handled." A couple teenagers were dragged to the Tombs Prison Court, one for assaulting a police officer.

This less organized affair devolved into street gangs and attacks upon other newsies. "Several of the delivery wagons on the uptown routes had a serious time of it.  All the way up Broadway and on the west side they were followed by a howling mob of half-grown men and boys, who showered them with volleys of stones and brickbats at every opportunity."

At some point in the next decade, the price decreased back to 50 cents again.  When publishers would again attempt to raise the price, they would be met by a larger and more organized force.

Our 2010 podcast on the Newsboys Strike of 1899:

NOTE: Some girls also sold newspapers although I'm sticking with "newsboys" in this article as all the participants mentioned in the coverage of the 1889 event were young men.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lauren Bacall's Guide on How To Become A Successful Model in New York City, 1941

Lauren Bacall, the cinema and stage legend who died yesterday at age 89, was once the less enigmatic Betty Joan Perske, a New York girl with a lot of moxie.  As a sixteen year old, she ventured downtown from her home on the Upper West Side (84th Street, under the elevated train) to look for work as a model and actress.

In her great autobiography By Myself, she recounts her experiences as a teen model.  Go back in time and take her valuable advice on how to make it in the cutthroat world of the Garment District in 1941!

Know the finer places: "I asked a couple other girls how to find work modeling clothes on Seventh Avenue.  They said I should ... go down to certain Seventh Avenue buildings -- nothing really below 500 Seventh Avenue. The best houses were in 550 or 530 and you could squeeze in 495, but that was it -- anything below that was tacky."

Lie a little: At 498 Seventh Avenue, "[a] woman came out, looked at me, asked me about my experience -- I told her I had been a photographic model for several years (a white lie), that I was an actress, that I knew how to move and would certainly be a very good model."

Play act: "I kept telling myself, 'It's a part -- play it....'  Finally the woman asked me if I would try on one of the model dresses....I walked through the curtains.  Mr. Crystal asked me to turn -- I did, without falling down or getting dizzy..."

Dress the part:  "I spent the next week going through my scant wardrobe to make certain I had enough to wear to work.  Then a trip to Loehmann's in Brooklyn.  Loehmann's was a large store that stocked clothes from all the Seventh Avenue houses -- lower-priced clothes of unknown designers as well as the most expensive.... There were no dressing rooms in the store.  Women ran around in their slips, girdles and bras -- all shapes and sizes -- grabbing things from saleswomen as they brought them down. A madhouse."

Watch and learn:  At Crystal's, her first modeling house, "you undressed and either sat in a slip or put on a cotton smock.  There was a long make-up table with a chair for each of us....I watched [the older models] as they applied their make-up -- a base, then full eye make-up.  It didn't look heavy, but it was there. I did the best I could do with the face confronting me in the mirror."

Composure: "When I showed a dress and a buyer would ask to see it close to, I'd be motioned forward.  The buyer, male or female, would then feel the fabric, discuss it -- I'd stand there until I was dismissed.  An occasional male buyer would feel the goods a bit more than necessary and I never knew what to do.  I was petrified, though no one ever was really fresh, just suggestive -- just enough to make me aware that I'd better keep on my toes, protect myself."

Build from rejection:  She was laid off at Crystal's for being too thin (can you imagine?) but promptly got a job modeling evening gowns.  "I was much happier at Friedlander's than at Crystal's.  He laughed at all my little jokes, the other models were good girls (there were only two of them), the feeling was much cozier."

Plan your escape route: "The other girls seemed fairly uncomplicated to me -- they would keep on modeling until Mr. Right came along and then they'd get married and be all set."  But Betty wanted to be an actress.  On her lunch breaks, she would go up to Walgreen's at 44th and Broadway. Then this happened.

After six months she quit -- "I was not getting any closer to the stage in the Garment District" -- and eventually moved with her mother to 77 Bank Street in the West Village.  This allowed her a full time foray into theater work, first as an usher, then as a extra and bit part player.

But she still modeled for extra money, including a stint as a Montgomery Ward catalog model.   Although would soon move on to full-time acting, her experience as a model was invaluable once she was put in front of a movie camera.  Her cover work for Harper's Bazaar even got her noticed by director Howard Hawks.

Her debut in To Have And Have Not with future husband Humphrey Bogart electrified audiences.  Now as Lauren Bacall, she seemed to instantly generate magnetism. "Slumberous of eye and softly reedy along the lines of Veronica Lake," wrote Bosley Crowther for the New York Times, in her first film review," she acts in the quiet way of catnip and sings a song from deep down in her throat."

Or, Bacall might have said, she did the best she could do with the face confronting her in the mirror.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Tallest Building In New York: A Short History

Postcard from the past: When the Singer Building was the world's tallest (NYPL)

PODCAST One World Trade Center was declared last year the tallest building in America, but it's a very different structure from the other skyscrapers who have once held that title. In New York, owning the tallest building has often been like possessing a valuable trophy, a symbol of commercial and social superiority. In a city driven by commerce, size matters.

In this special show, I give you a rundown of the history of being tall in New York City, short profiles of the 12 structures (11 skyscrapers and one church!) that have held this title.  In several cases, these weren't just the tallest buildings in the city; they were the tallest in the world.

At right: The Metropolitan Life Building, the tallest building in the world in 1909

Skyscrapers were not always well received.  New York's tallest building in 1899 was derisively referred to as a "horned monster."  Lower Manhattan became defined by this particular kind of structure, creating a canyon of claustrophobic, darkened streets.  But a new destination for these sorts of spectacular towers beckoned in the 1920s -- 42nd Street.

You'll be familiar with a great number of these -- the Woolworth, the Chrysler, the Empire State.  But in the early days of skyscrapers, an odd assortment of buildings took the crown as New York's tallest, from the vanity project of a newspaper publisher to a turtle-like tower made for a sewing machine company.

At stake in the race for the tallest is dominance in the New York City skyline.  With brand new towers popping up now all over the five boroughs, should be worried that they'll overshadow the classics? Or should the skyline always be in a constant state of flux?

ALSO: New York's very first tall buildings and the ominous purpose they were used for during the Revolutionary War!

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 #169 The Tallest Building In New York: A Short History

And we would like to thank a new sponsor Audible, the premier provider of digital audiobooks. Get a FREE audiobook download and 30 day free trial at www.audibletrial.com/boweryboys. Over 150,000 titles to choose from for your iPhone, Android, Kindle or mp3 player Audible titles play on iPhone, Kindle, Android and more than 500 devices for listening anytime, anywhere.

CORRECTION: Ack, I keep saying Crystal Palace Exposition when it's actually Crystal Palace Exhibition! I mean, they basically mean the same thing, almost, right?

Photo courtesy Huffington Post

The current tallest buildings in New York City are

1) One World Trade Center -- 1,776 feet
2) 432 Park Avenue -- 1,394 feet
3) 225 West 57t Street -- 1,394 feet
4) Empire State Building -- 1,250 feet
5) Bank of America Tower -- 1,200 feet
6) Three World Trade Center -- 1,171 feet
7 tie) Chrysler Building -- 1,046 feet
7 tie) New York Times Tower -- 1,046 feet
9) One57 -- 1,005 feet
10) 4 World Trade Center -- 977 feet

It should be noted that eight of these buildings didn't exist 10 years ago

Statistics courtesy the Council On Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat

The sugar houses owned by the Rhinelander family. Others owned by the Van Cortlandts and the Livingstons would have all been the tallest structures in the city.

Trinity Church in 1889, the final year that it was the tallest permanent structure in New York City. (NYPL)

Trinity would be unparalleled in the New York skyline by any permanent buildings for almost 46 years.  But the Latting Observatory at the Crystal Palace Exhibition for a short time allowed New Yorkers the highest vantage on the island.

Joseph Pulitzer's New York World Building, in context with its surroundings, including its proximity to the Brooklyn Bridge. This location would be its undoing, as the building was demolished later to make way for an automobile ramp.  (Courtesy Rotograph Project)

The Manhattan Life Insurance Building became a new neighbor for Trinity Church in 1894.  Its lantern top served as a lighthouse and an office for the New York Weather Bureau. (NYPL)

The Park Row Building, the original 'twin towers' of lower Manhattan, was criticized for its two-dimensional design but it's managed to survive into modern times.  It used to host J&R Music World on its ground floor until that business closed last year.

The extraordinarily unusual headquarters for the Singer Sewing Machine Company.  The Singer Building has the rare distinction of being the tallest building every purposefully torn down when it was demolished in the 1960s.

Madison Square was already graced with both the Flatiron Building (below) and Madison Square Garden when it finally got its tallest skyscraper..... (NYPL)

...the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower, pictured here with an early airplane above it, in a postcard produced by Underwood & Underwood. (NYPL)

The Woolworth Building (featured here on a cigarette card) is one of the greatest extant examples of pre-zoning law construction with no setbacks along the front side.

The Manhattan Company Building (or 40 Wall Street) sat among a host of other skyscrapers and was only briefly the city's tallest building until Walter Chrysler and William Van Alen debuted their surprise uptown.

The Chrysler Building in 1930 with its spire freshly attached to the top, making it (for a little over a year) the tallest building in the world.

The Empire State Building became the tallest building -- and the defining symbol of New York City -- thanks to a determined executive from General Motors and Al Smith, the former governor of New York.

The World Trade Center returned attention to lower Manhattan and set a new record for height, literally leaving other former record holders in its shadow. (Photo courtesy Life Magazine)


AIA Guide To New York City 2014
Empire State Building: The Making Of A Landmark -- John Tauranac
Higher: A Historic Race to the Sky and the Making of a City -- Neal Bascomb
Manhattan Manners -- M. Christine Boyer
Pulitzer: A Life In Politics, Print and Power -- James McGrath Morris
Rise of the New York Skyscraper -- Sarah Bradford Landau
Skyscrapers:A Social History of the Very Tall Building In America -- George H. Douglas
Supreme City -- Donald Miller
and resources from the Landmark Preservation Commission and the New York Skyscraper Museum

Pictures courtesy New York Public Library

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Knickerbocker Hospital: An inspiration for Cinemax's The Knick

Photographed dated 1886, the institution was called Manhattan Hospital then, changing its name for to J. Hood Wright Memorial Hospital, then to Knickerbocker Hospital in 1913 (Picture courtesy the Museum of the City of New York)

On Friday begins The Knick on Cinemax, a historical drama set in the turn-of-the-century Knickerbocker Hospital. . Last year, Tom wandered around the Broome Street set of The Knick. (Check out his pictures here.)  Are you checking this out live this Friday night (August 8, 10pm)?  Follow along with me on Twitter where I'll try and keep up with historical tidbits about the era and the events that are depicted.

Although the hospital depicted in the show is technically fictional, there was a Knickerbocker Hospital in New York during this time period. It will be interesting to see if the show's institution bears any resemblance to the real Knickerbocker:

Knickerbocker Hospital
Location: Covent Avenue and 131st Street
The hospital depicted in The Knick is much, much further downtown.  However, with the arrival of elevated trains and, later, the subway, some new immigrants would have settled in upper Manhattan to escape the crowded tenements. So the types of patients treated at these institutions would have been similar.

Purpose:  According to the 1914 Directory of Social and Health Agencies, "Gives free surgical and medical treatment to the worthy sick poor of New York City.  Incurable and contagious diseases and alcoholic, maternity and insane patients not admitted.  Emergency cases received at any hour."
Statistics:  In 1914, they had 57 beds, 1,096 cases treated in a year
Funding: Care is free to "the worthy poor" and the hospital is supported by charitable contribution

History:  The hospital began its existence as the Manhattan Dispensary in 1862, located in upper Manhattan when it pretty much looked like this:  (Image courtesy the US National Library of Medicine)

The hospital treated injured Civil War soldiers.  It was founded by a Philadelphia railroad man named James Hood Wright who worked for banker J.P. Morgan.  

Mr. Wright died suddenly on November 12, 1894, collapsing at an elevated train station on Rector Street and never regained consciousness.  In honor of his contributions, the hospital was renamed the J. Hood Wright Memorial Hospital, although, from reading the news clipping below, it seems that was not a great idea.

The name change was facilitated by a lack of funding for the hospital.  In 1910, hospital executives blatantly proclaimed "the hospital was inadequate to serve the needs of the west side of Harlem."

From a notice in the New York Sun, June 23, 1913:

"The J. Hood Wright Memorial Hospital, which was incorporated in 1868 as the Manhattan Dispensary, has got permission from Supreme Court Justice Page to change its name to the Knickerbocker Hospital.

The petition says that since Mr. Wright's death the population of the district served by the hospital has increased greatly and the necessity of more funds for the hospital has increased proportionately.

The hospital managers and Mr. Wright's heirs believe that the present name of the hospital leads to the belief that it is so liberally endowed it does not require outside assistance and for this reason, none have been forthcoming.  They say Mr. Wright desired outsiders to contribute."

J. Hood Wright is memorialized in a public park just off the Manhattan approach to the George Washington Bridge. located on the land where Mr. Wright's mansion once stood.

At right: A photo of the old Wright house. You can see the George Washington Bridge in the background. (Courtesy Museum of the City of New York)

The Knickerbocker's neighborhood of Harlem became the heart of New York's African-American culture, but hospital staffing did not reflect this change.

There were many reported incidents of black patients being poorly treated here during the 1920s and 30s.  According to author Nat Brandt, the wife of W.C. Handy "lay critically ill in an ambulance for more than an hour while officials of Knickerbocker Hospital discussed whether to admit her." [source]

In May 1959, Billie Holiday was admitted here after collapsing in her apartment, but her liver and heart disease were so advanced that she was transferred to a hospital better suited for treatment. (She died a few weeks later.)

Knickerbocker Hospital remained open until the early 1970s when mounting debts almost forced it to close.  The state of New York took it over and renamed it Arthur C. Logan Memorial Hospital after a prominent black physician.  That hospital seemed to suffer from the same financial woes as the others and eventually closed for good in 1979.

I'm looking forward to doing more research New York's medical institutions in the coming weeks, and I hope the show does it justice!

A scene from The Knick. There will be blood, I believe....

(Photograph courtesy Cinemax)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Voyage into war: New Yorkers enlist for France a century ago

Men and women aboard La Lorraine, heading to France and the prospects of a grave war.

War was newly ablaze in Europe one hundred years ago today. A latticework of alliances was slowly drawing virtually country on the continent into a conflict which would rage for years and later become known as World War I.  Austria-Hungary and Germany had already declared war on Russia one century ago, and within the week, France and Britain would join in.

The effect on the streets of New York City was immediate.  Many had arrived from the warring countries via Ellis Island.  A great many New Yorkers with strong ethnic and regional ties either to Germany or Russia lived alongside each other.

A great many wished to return home and fight for their countries. Many men were reservists for their respective countries and rushed to their consulates in New York to enlist.  "Germans, Austrians and Hungarians paraded the streets singing the songs of their fatherlands," said the New York Times. "The Russian, French and British reservists did not display their patriotism in the streets, but they registers it at their consulates and let it be known that they were eager to fight for their native land."

On the morning of August 5, 1914, the French steamship La Lorraine -- fatefully named for a region which would much later be a scene of great warfare -- left the dock of New York City with over 10,000 people, not only French reservists heading home to reenlist, but many Americans who volunteered to serve alongside them.  "Among the volunteers was an entire class of young engineer students from a school in Chester, Penn."

"'It made us all very grateful.' said M. d'Anglade, the French Consul General, 'for it made us think in offering their services to France these young Americas had remembered the Marquis de Lafayette.' "

Even Mayor John Purroy Mitchel came by to wish the vessel a safe voyage.  As the boat sat at dock, reservists and other patriotic men and women aboard the vessel began singing "Marseillaise," their friends and loved ones at the dock joining them in song -- "the loudest and most enthusiastic demonstration that had been made on the waterfront in many months." [source]

This voyage, believe it or not, had a deep impact on New York restaurant culture.  Aboard the ship were dozens of chefs, cooks and bakers, many employed by noted restauranteur Louis Mouquin, who tearfully bid adieu to his colleagues. "[H]e did not believe a French chef or waiter would be left in New York in another week," said the Evening World.

Here are some moving pictures of these French volunteer bidding farewell to New York.  Many of them would never return. (Pictures courtesy Library of Congress)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Happy birthday Herman Melville! Some New York City trivia Plus: News on our upcoming podcasts

"Of a Sunday, Wall-Street is deserted as Petra; and every night of every day it is an emptiness." -- Herman Melville, Bartelby the Scrivener.  The lithograph above is what Wall Street would have looked like in Melville's day. (NYPL)

Herman Melville, one of America's greatest writers of the 19th century, was born 195 years ago today.  Here are five New York-centric facts about Melville that you may not have known:

1)  Melville was born at 11:30 pm on August 1, 1819, at 6 Pearl Street. Today, across the street from that approximate location of the address sits a Starbucks, the coffee franchise named after a character in Melville's Moby Dick.

2)  His grandfather Peter Gansevoort, a colonel in the Continental Army, had a fort named after him on the west side of Manhattan, in the area of today's Meatpacking District.  Gansevoort Street is a lasting tribute to both the colonel and his fort.

Melville worked on whalers and merchant ships as a young man, acquiring the rich experiences he would immortalize in his writing. For a time, he also worked in a customs office at West Street and Gansevoort Street, almost exactly where the old fort once stood.

3)  His family's wealth widely fluctuated, and Herman's father was at one point thrown in debtor's prison.  But at the height of the Melville's prosperity, they managed to live in a luxurious townhouse at 675 Broadway, between Bond and Jones Street. (Click the address to see what's there today.)   In the 1820s, that would have put them in the lap of wealthy New York.

4)  Melville was very familiar with all of downtown New York's seaport culture but made special note to mention those places along the East River -- WhitehallCorlear's Hook and Coenties Slip -- in his book Moby Dick.  These locations along the east side would have been his landscape as a youth, the places where his mind began crafting tales of adventure. From Moby Dick:

"Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?- Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep." 

5)  For much of his later career, Melville lived at 104 East 26th Street.  Most of his greatest works had already been written, but it was from this house that he started a novella called Billy Budd. Uncompleted at the time of his death in 1891, it was later published and is today considered one of his greatest works.  There's a plaque nearby where this building once stood, making note of this important literary spot.

Above: Boys in fancy dress marvel over baby bears at the Bronx Zoo (NYPL)

Bonjour and hey! I've just returned from Europe where I saw Tom Meyers get married to his partner amid the bucolic beauty of southern France.  This may shock you but there was not a single pun made the entire ceremony.

This was also the longest vacation I've taken since starting the Bowery Boys so I thank you for your patience in the general silence around these parts.  I'll have a Parisian flavored posting on Monday or Tuesday.

The podcast release schedule has been very erratic this summer so we've tried to give you a little extra doses wherever possible.  Sohis month you'll be getting TWO new shows.  Here's the layout:

August 8 -- A new solo podcast
August 22 -- Tom returns with a new duo show

At that point we'll return to our monthly schedule with the next show on September 19.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Root for the Mets and help save the World's Fair Pavilion!

The New York State Pavilion in its prime. (NYPL)

The New York Mets owe much to Robert Moses and the World's Fair of 1964-65.  The fledgling baseball team was still playing at the decrepit old Polo Grounds when plans were hatched for their new home out in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, named for their primary benefactor William Shea.  The Mets opened Shea Stadium just a few days before Moses opened the gates at the World's Fair.

The origins of the two are linked in the imagination, and now the Mets are helping to bring a little attention to the one of last remaining vestiges of the World's Fair -- the New York State Pavilion.

On Friday, August 1, the Mets game at Citi Field against the San Francisco Giants (who trace their lineage to the New York Giants) will benefit an initiative by the People for the Pavilion to preserve and the Pavilion and seek possible reuse for this unusual structure.

If you purchase a ticket to the game here, portion of the proceeds go to the preservation group.  Plus you get a free Mets Pavilion tee-shirt!

For more information on the unique connection between the team and the park, go back into the Bowery Boys Archives and listen to our shows on Shea Stadium (Episode #62) and the World's Fair of 1964-65 (Episode #33). [Archives]

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Before the flapper, the naughty 'vamp' scandalized New York

Above: Clara Bow, in It (1927), one of the roles that made her an major film star.

Two iconic actresses of the early silent film industry share a birthday today -- Theda Bara (born July 29, 1885) and Clara Bow (born in Brooklyn, July 29, 1905).  Bow became the screen's leading flapper archetype of the 1920s, but Bara's exotic, controversial antics set the stage one decade earlier.  In honor of their birthdays, I'm re-running this article from last year about 'the vamp', a sort of proto-flapper popularized by Bara and the ladies of the Ziegfeld Follies, later to influence the changes in perceptions of women in the 1920s.

 Maneater: Theda Bara in an unconventional portrait. Her publicist claimed it was her lover and that 'not even the grave could separate them'.

"A vampire is a good woman with a bad reputation, or rather a good woman who has had possibilities and wasted them" -- Florenz Ziegfeld

Progressive, liberated women were clearly so frightening one hundred years ago that equating them to undead, bloodthirsty creatures borne of Satan didn't seem so unusual.

In the late 1910s, women were on the verge of winning the right for equal representation in the voting booth. Women were asserting power in unions, and, in the wake of disasters like the Triangle Factory Fire, those unions were influencing government policy. They were taking control of their destinies, their fortunes, even their sexuality (Margaret Sanger's first birth control clinic opened in 1916).

This surging independence came just as the entertainment industry heralded the female form as one of its primary attractions. Ziegfeld's sassy, flesh-filled Follies -- and its many imitators -- defined the Broadway stage, mixing  music, sex and glamour with a morality-shattering frankness.

But it was the birth of motion pictures that gave the allure of female bodies an unearthly, flickering glow, as nickelodeon shorts became feature-length films, and the first era of the movie siren was born.

Combine the power of liberation with the erotic potential of cinema, and in the late 1910s, you got the vampire (or as we would come to know, the 'vamp').

The queen of the vamps was one of America's most mysterious movie stars -- Theda Bara (at left). The magnetic actress, with her steely gaze and jetblack hair, was the prototype for a movie bad girl. She shook convention so dramatically that a critic called her a "flaming comet of the cinema firmament."

From 1915-1919, she made over three dozen films, most in movie studios located in Fort Lee, New Jersey. It were here that she acquired her famous nickname, based upon her role as a home wrecker in a film inspired by Rudyard Kipling's 'The Vampire'. During this period, Bara lived in Manhattan's Gramercy Park with her family -- at 132 E. 19th Street.

She put a face to a new sort of young lady. These were the spiritual children of the prior generation of newly empowered women who fought against the constraints of Victorian society. A few years later, as another vein of female power (the temperance movement) helped bring about Prohibition, these young women would be called flappers, carefree and fueled on the powers of jazz and illegal alcohol.

But to the established class, these ladies weren't trend-setters. They were devils in black gowns. 'Know a 'Vampire' by the Card She Plays', warned a New York Evening World article from March 1919, accompanied by a Theda Bara-like illustration of a snake-like monster.

The article recounts the efforts of a Newark judge attempting the rid the streets of "flirty girlies," as he called them. "A vampire is a woman who flirts on the street with men, bleaches her hair, camouflages her face, disguises herself with clothes and gives wrong names, but is unable to change her eyes or dimples." The article laughs off his puny efforts. "Can vamps, of whatever sort, BE suppressed?"

Vampires were of course more readily seen in Times Square, dancers, actresses or cabaret stars. But even your stenographer could be one!, warned one article.

Unlike Bara's iconic identity as a raven-locked seductress, most 'real' vampires were blondes. "[T]he vampire of real life hath the golden hair of an angel, which is never disarranged, same when she letteth it down, to DISPLAY it, on the beach," warned columnist Helen Rowland, with a little tongue in cheek. (Ms. Rowland was famous for her writings as a 'bachelor girl'.)

"No one ever saw a vampire in a high neck dress," said an Evening World advice columnist in 1918. "All vampires must reveal their collar-bones and the contiguous territory."

The woman vampire was an urban creature, up all night, sleeping all the day. The city was partial cause for her condition. As the New York Times suggested in 1920, "The idea of New York as a vampire to the rest of the country is one which a number of persons have entertained and expressed. To some of them the vampire is Wall Street, to others it is the region of white lights [Broadway]."

Many actress got stuck with the term 'vamp' or 'baby vampire' -- or else, embraced the coy terminology. Juliette Day was a known 'baby vampire' for her role in the scandalous 1916 play 'Upstairs and Down'. It's no surprise that in the film version from 1919, the role is reprised by the notorious Olive Thomas, a Ziegfeld girl who met a bitter end the following year.

Some actress fought against the alleged stigma. Actress Clara Joel, playing a vampire-type role in a 1918 film, made it known in the Tribune that "she is not a vampire and that she was born in Jersey City."

The irony of stage actresses trying to shed a vampire image is that Theda Bara, the original vampire, in her first stage attempt in 1920, flopped. The play was supernatural-themed 'The Blue Flame' which opened at the Shubert Theater to cavalcades of unintentional laughter.(A 'terrible thing', according to the Times critic.) Bara, who had to deliver such lines as "Did you remember to bring the cocaine?" was roundly trashed.

Shortly thereafter, the vampire moved to Los Angeles. Her film career lasted a few more years, but sound pictures and a strict Hollywood production code pretty much eradicated the existence of vamps on the screen. In New York, meanwhile, her sultry spawn morphed into flappers, populating the speakeasies and cabaret nightclubs of the city.

Below: A 1919 romp called 'The Vamp' performed by the Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra