The Bowery Boys: New York City History

The Bowery Boys: New York City History

United States

New York City history is America's history. It's the hometown of the world, and most people know the city's familiar landmarks, buildings and streets. Why not look a little closer and have fun while doing it?

Episodes

#222 Who Killed Helen Jewett? A Mystery By Gaslight  

In the spring of 1836, a young woman named Helen Jewett was brutally murdered with a hatchet in a townhouse on Thomas Street, just a few blocks northwest from City Hall.

This was not a normal crime. Helen was a prostitute of great beauty and considerable intelligence, making her living in a rapidly transforming city. Among her client list were presentable gentlemen and rowdy young men alike -- their kind fueling the rise of illicit pleasures throughout New York City in the 1830s.

This was the era of the sporting man. Young single men with a little change in their pocket hit the streets of New York after dark, looking for a good time. For some single young women struggling to survive, the sex industry -- from the 'high end' brothels to the grimy upper tiers of the theater -- allowed them to live comfortable, if secretive, lives. But it placed many in great danger.

The prime suspect for Helen's murder was a young Connecticut man who worked at a respectable New York firm. His trial would captivate New Yorkers and even interest newspaper readers around the country. But would justice be served?

ALSO: Find out how this incident helped shape the nature of American journalism itself.

PLUS: Meet more than one person named Ogden!

 

www.boweryboyshistory.com

If you like this show, check out the new Bowery Boys spin-off podcast series -- The First: Stories of Inventions and their Consequences. You can find it the same place you found this show.

#221 New York: Capital City of the United States  

During a handful of months in 1789 and 1790, representatives of the new nation of the United States came together in New York City to make decisions which would forever affect the lives of Americans.

In this second part of our two-part show on New York as the first federal capital of the United States, we roll up our sleeves and get down to business. (In the first part, he moved the capital to lower Manhattan and inaugurated ourselves a new president George Washington!) 

The men of the first Continental Congress -- which first met in the Spring of 1789 -- had a lofty job in front of them that year. They needed to not only construct the tools and offices of a brand new government, they were also tasked with defining the basic rights of American citizens via a set of amendments to the U.S. Constitution -- the Bill of Rights.

Now imagine doing this in your post-Colonial era garments during a hot summer, all crammed into a few rooms at Federal Hall, the former City Hall building on Wall Street.

It was here that the Bill of Rights was introduced, debated and voted upon. But those weren't the only monumental decisions being made in the city.

When nobody could come to an agreement on two major issues -- the assumption of state debt and the location of the permanent federal capital -- it was up to Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to craft a deal, made during a legendary dinner party on Maiden Lane. We live today with the critical decisions made by these three men on that night over food and wine.

ALSO: The tale of James Hemings, an enslaved man who became an accomplished French chef and most likely the cook for that very dinner, witness to the events in "the room where it happened."

 

boweryboyshistory.com

#220 George Washington's New York Inauguration  

The story of New York City's role in the birth of American government is sometimes forgotten. Most of the buildings important to the first U.S. Congress, which met here from the spring of 1789 to the late summer of 1790, have long been demolished. There's little to remind us that our modern form of government was, in part, invented here on these city streets.

Riding high on the victories of the Revolutionary War, the Founding Fathers organized a makeshift Congress under the Articles of Confederation.  After an unfortunate crisis in Philadelphia, that early group of politicians from the 13 states eventually drifted up to New York (specifically to New York's City Hall, to be called Federal Hall) to meet. But they were an organization without much power or respect.

The fate of the young nation lay on the shoulders of George Washington who arrived in New York in the spring of 1789 to be inaugurated as the first president of the United States. His swearing-in would finally unite Americans around their government and would imbue the port city of New York with a new urgency.

This is Part One of a two part celebration of these years, featuring cantankerous vice presidents, festive cannonades, and burning plumage! (Part Two arrives in two weeks.)

FEATURING Washington, Adams, Madison, Livingston and, of course, HAMILTON!

www.boweryboyshistory.com

#219 Newsies on Strike!  

We're in the mood for a good old-fashioned Gilded Age story so we're replaying one of our favorite Bowery Boys episodes ever -- Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst vs. the newsies!

It was pandemonium in the streets. One hot summer in July 1899, thousands of corner newsboys (and girls) went on strike against the New York Journal and the New York World. Throngs filled the streets of downtown Manhattan for two weeks and prevented the two largest papers in the country from getting distributed.

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

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

PLUS: Bonus material featuring a closer look at the Brooklyn Newsboys Strike and a moment with the newsies during the holidays.

#218 Lincoln Center and West Side Story  

Warm up the orchestra, lace up your dance slippers, and bring the diva to the stage! For our latest show we’re telling the origin story of Lincoln Center, the fine arts campus which assembles some of the city’s finest music and theatrical institutions to create the classiest 16.3 acres in New York City.

Lincoln Center was created out of an urgent necessity, bringing together the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, the Juilliard School of Music and other august fine-arts companies as a way of providing a permanent home for American culture.

However this tale of Robert Moses’ urban renewal philosophies and the survival of storied institutions has a tragic twist. The campus sits on the site of a former neighborhood named San Juan Hill, home to thousands of African American and Puerto Rican families in the mid 20th century.  No trace of this neighborhood exists today.

Or, should we say, ALMOST no trace. San Juan Hill exists, at least briefly, with a part of classic American cinema. The Oscar-winning film West Side Story, based on the celebrated musical, was partially filmed here. The movie reflects many realities of the neighborhood and involves talents who would be, ahem, instrumental in Lincoln Center’s continued successes.

FEATURING – Leonard Bernstein, Leontyne Price, James Earl Jones, Imelda Marcos, David Geffen and, naturally, the Nutcracker!

www.boweryboyshistory.com

#217: Truman Capote's Black And White Ball  

Truman Capote is a true New York character, a Southern boy who wielded his immense writing talents to secure a place within Manhattan high society. Elegant, witty, compact, gay -- Capote was a fixture of swanky nightclubs and arm candy to wealthy, well-connected women.

One project would entirely change his life -- the completion of the classic In Cold Blood, a 'non-fiction novel' about a brutal mass murder in Kansas. Retreating from his many years of research, Truman decided to throw a party.

But this wasn't ANY party. This soiree -- a masquerade ball at the Plaza Hotel -- would have the greatest assemblage of famous folks ever gathered for something so entirely frivolous. An invite to the ball was the true golden ticket, coveted by every celebrity and social climber in America.

Come with us as we give you a tour of the planning of the Black and White Ball and a few glamorous details from that strange, glorious evening.

FEATURING: Harper Lee, Lauren Bacall, Frank Sinatra, Robert Frost, Lillian Hellman, Halston, Katherine Graham and a cast of thousands (well, or just 540)

 

www.boweryboyshistory.com

#216: Edwin Booth and the Players Club  

Edwin Booth was the greatest actor of the Gilded Age, a superstar of the theater who entertained millions over his long career. In this podcast, we present his extraordinary career, the tragedies that shaped his life (on stage and off), and the legacy of his cherished Players Club, the fabulous Stanford White-designed Gramercy Park social club for actors, artists and their admirers.
 

The Booths were a precursor to the Barrymores, an acting family who were as famous for their personal lives as they were for their dramatic roles.  Younger brother John Wilkes Booth would horrify the nation in 1865, and Edwin would briefly retire from the stage. But an outpouring of love would bring him back to the spotlight and the greasepaint.

Edwin Booth would give back to the theatrical community for the formation of the Players Club in 1888. In this show, we’ll take you on a tour of this exclusive destination for film and theatrical icons, including a look at the upstairs bedroom where Booth died, still preserved exactly as it looked on that fateful day in 1893.

Boweryboyshistory.com

01 The Wheel: Ferris' Big Idea ('The First' Podcast Special Preview)  

01: The first Ferris Wheel was invented to become America’s Eiffel Tower, making its grand debut at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. The wheel’s inventor George Washington Gale Ferris was a clever and optimistic soul; he did everything in his power to ensure that his glorious mechanical ride would forever change the world.

That it did, but unfortunately, its inventor paid a horrible price.

FEATURING a visit to one of the most famous wheels in the world and a trip to one of Chicago’s newest marvels.

This is a special preview for the new Bowery Boys spin-off podcast series The First: Stories of Inventions and their Consequences, brought to you by Bowery Boys host Greg Young.

#215 Ghosts of the Gilded Age  

For this year's 10th annual Bowery Boys Halloween special, we're highlighting haunted tales from the period just after the Civil War when New York City became one of the richest cities in the world -- rich in wealth and in ghosts!

We go to four boroughs in this one (sorry Brooklyn!):

-- In the Bronx we highlight a bizarre house that once stood in the area of Hunts Point, a mansion of malevolent and disturbing mysteries

-- Then we turn to Manhattan to a rambunctious poltergeist on fashionable East 27th Street

-- Over in Queens, a lonely farmhouse in the area of today's Calvary Cemetery is witness to not one, but two unsettling and confounding deaths

-- Finally, in Staten Island, we take a visit to the glorious Vanderbilt Mausoleum, a historic landmark and a location with a few strange secrets of its own

PLUS: Stay tuned until the end to hear the trailer for the new Bowery Boys podcast series -- The First: Stories of Inventions and their Consequences

 

www.boweryboyshistory.com

#214 Bronx Trilogy (Part Three) The Bronx Was Burning  

The Bronx was burning. The Bronx is now rising.

In the third and final part of our Bronx history series, we tackle the most difficult period in the life of this borough -- the late 20th century and the days and nights of urban blight.

The focus of this show is the South Bronx, once the tranquil farmlands of the Morris family and the location of the first commuter towns, situated along the new railroad.  By the 1950s, however, a great number of socio-economic forces and physical changes were conspiring to make life in this area very, very challenging.

Construction projects like the Cross Bronx Expressway and shifts in living arrangements (from new public housing to the promise of Co-Op City) had isolated those who still lived in the old tenements of the South Bronx. Poverty and high crime rendered the neighborhood so undesirable that buildings were abandoned and even burned.

Mainstream attention (from notable television broadcasts to visits by the President of the United States) did not seem to immediately change things here. It would be up to local neighborhood activists and wide-ranging city and state programs -- not to mention the purveyors of an energetic new musical force -- to begin to improve the fortunes of this seemingly doomed borough.

FEATURING an interview with Inside Out Tours founder and chief tour guide Stacey Toussaint about the new Bronx renaissance.

ALSO: Appearances by Howard Cosell, Sonia Sotomayor, Robert Moses, Grand Wizzard Theodore, and Jimmy Carter!

 

www.boweryboyshistory.com

#213 The Bronx is Building (Bronx Part 2)  

In the second part of the Bowery Boys' Bronx Trilogy -- recounting the entire history of New York City's northernmost borough -- we focus on the years between 1875 and 1945, a time of great evolution and growth for the former pastoral areas of Westchester County.

New York considered the newly annexed region to be of great service to the over-crowded city in Manhattan, a blank canvas for visionary urban planners.  Soon great parks and mass transit transformed these northern areas of New York into a sibling (or, perhaps more accurately, a step-child) of the densely packed city to the south.

The Grand Concourse embodied the promise of a new life for thousands of new residents -- mostly first and second-generation immigrants, many of them Jewish newcomers. But the first time that many outside New York became aware of the Bronx may have been the arrival in 1923 of New York's most victorious baseball team, arriving via a spectacular new stadium where sports history would frequently be made.

By the 1930s Parks Commissioner Robert Moses began looking at the borough as a major factor in his grand urban development plans. In some cases, this involved the creation of vital public recreations (like Orchard Beach). Other decisions would mark the beginning of new troubles for the Bronx.

#212 Bronx Trilogy (Part One) The Bronx Is Born  

The story of the Bronx is so large, so spectacular, that we had to spread it out over three separate podcasts!

In Part One -- The Bronx Is Born -- we look at the land that is today's borough, back when it was a part of Westchester County, a natural expanse of heights, rivers and forests occasionally interrupted by farm-estates and modest villages.  Settlers during the Dutch era faced grave turmoil. Those that came afterwards managed to tame the land with varying results.  Speculators were everyone; City Island was born from the promise of a relationship with the city down south.

During the Revolutionary War, prominent families were faced with a dire choice -- stay with the English or side with George Washington's Continental Army? One prominent family would help shape the fate of the young nation and leave their name forever attached to one of the Bronx's oldest neighborhoods. Sadly that family's legacy is under-appreciated today.

By the 1840s, Westchester County was at last connected to New York via a new railroad line. It was a prosperous decade with the development of the area's first college, a row of elegant homes and some of its very first 'depot towns'.  Two decades later, the future borough would even cater to the dead -- both the forgotten (at Hart Island) and the wealthy (Woodlawn Cemetery).

The year 1874 would mark a new chapter for a few quiet towns and begin the process of turning this area into the borough known as the Bronx.

FEATURING: Many places in the Bronx that you can visit today and experience this early history up close, including Wave Hill, Pelham Bay Park, Woodlawn Cemetery, City Island and more.

 

www.boweryboyshistory.com

Our book Adventures In Old New York is now in bookstores and online, wherever books are sold!

#211 The Notorious Madame Restell: The Abortionist of Fifth Avenue  

Ann Lohman, aka Madame Restell, was one of the most vilified women of the 19th century, an abortion practitioner that dodged the law to become one of the wealthiest self-made women in the Gilded Age. But is her reputation justified?

Thoughts on abortion and birth control were quite different in the 1830s, the era in which Madame Restell got her start. It was society and marital morality -- not science and religion -- that played a substantial role in New Yorkers' views on the termination of pregnancy.  Restell and countless imitators offers a wide range of potions, pills and powders to customers, provided in veiled wording in newspaper advertisements.

By the 1860s Restell was insulated from serious interrogation and flaunted her unique position in society by planting her Fifth Avenue mansion in a very controversial place. But she soon became a target of New York's most dogged reformer, a man who considered her pure evil and the source of society's most illicit sins.

www.boweryboyshistory.com

#210 Digital City: New York and the World of Video Games  

New York has an interesting, complex and downright weird relationship with video games, from the digital sewers below Manhattan to the neon-lit arcades of Times Square.  In this grab bag episode – filled with nostalgia and nerdyness -- we capture all sides of the relation.

First -- the relationship between the city and the arcade itself, once filled with shooting galleries, skee ball and pinball machines which, in  the 1930s. became public enemy number one for one of New York’s most powerful mayors.  

The era of Space Invaders, Pac Man and Donkey Kong descends in New York during its grittiest period – the late 70s/early 80s – and arrives, like an alien presence, into many neighborhood arcades including one of the most famous in Chinatown – an arcade that is still open and the subject of a new documentary 'The Lost Arcade'.

While the video game industry is not something New York City is particularly associated with, the city does in fact set the stage for this revolution of blips and joysticks at the start of the 20th century.  

Then it's on to Queens when you can find one of America's great tributes to the video game, in the arcade collection at the Museum of the Moving Image. 

At the end Greg goes into the games themselves to explore New York as a digital landscape that continues to be of fascination to game developers and players alike. 

So are you ready Player One? Grab your quarters and log in to this New York adventure through the world of video games.

 

boweryboyshistory.com

Our book The Bowery Boys' Adventures In Old New York is now out in bookstores and online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

#209 The Waldorf-Astoria's Complicated History  

You might think you know this tale, but do we have surprises for you.

The Waldorf-Astoria -- or the Waldorf=Astoria or even the Waldorf Astoria -- has been a premier name in hotel accommodations since the opening of the very first edition on 34th Street and Fifth Avenue (the location of today's Empire State Building).

But the history of the current incarnation on Park Avenue contains the twists and turns of world events, from World War II to recent diplomatic dramas. In essence, the Waldorf Astoria has become the world's convention center.

Step past the extraordinary Art Deco trappings, and you'll find rooms which have hosted a plethora of important gatherings, not to mention the frequent homes to Hollywood movie stars. But its those very trappings -- some of it well over a century old -- that finds itself in danger today as recent changes threaten to wipe away its glamorous interiors entirely.

boweryboyshistory.com

Our book The Bowery Boys' Adventures In Old New York is now out in bookstores and online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

#208 Great Hoaxes of Old New York  

New Yorkers can be tough to crack, maneuvering through a rapidly changing, fast-paced city. But they can, at times, also be easily fooled.

In this episode, we explore two of the wackiest stories in early New York City history, two instances of tall tales that got quite out of hand. While both of these stories are almost two centuries old, they both have certain parallels to modern-day hucksterism.

In the 1820s, the Erie Canal would completely change the fortunes of the young United States, turning the port city of New York into one of the most important in the world.  But an even greater engineering challenge was necessary to prevent the entire southern part of Manhattan from sinking into the harbor. You read that right -- New York was sinking! That is, if you believed a certain charlatan hanging out at the market.....

One decade later, the burgeoning penny press would give birth to another tremendous fabrication and kick off an uneasy association between the media and the truth. In the summer of 1835 the New York Sun reported on startling discoveries from one of the world's most famous astronomers. Life on the moon! Indeed, vivid moon forests populated with a menagerie of bizarre creatures and winged men with behaviors similar to that of men on Earth. 

www.boweryboyshistory.com

Our book The Bowery Boys' Adventures In Old New York is now out in bookstores and on line at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

#207 The First Subway: Beach's Pneumatic Marvel  

The first subway in New York -- the first in the United States! – travelled only a single block and failed to influence the future of transportation. And yet Alfred Ely Beach's marvelous pneumatic transit system provides us today with one of the most enchanting stories of New York during the Gilded Age.

With the growing metropolis still very much confined to below 14th Street by 1850, New Yorkers frantically looked for more efficient ways to transport people out of congested neighborhoods. Elevated railroads? Moving sidewalks? Massive stone viaducts?

Inventor Beach, publisher of the magazine Scientific American, believed he had the answer, using pneumatic power -- i.e. the power of pressurized air! But the state charter only gave him permission to build a pneumatic tube to deliver mail, not people.

That didn't stop Beach, who began construction of his extraordinary device literally within sight of City Hall.  How did Beach build such an ambitious project under secretive circumstances? What was it like to ride a pneumatic passenger car?  And why don't we have pneumatic power operating our subways today?

FEATURING: Boss Tweed at his most bossiness, piano tunes under Broadway and something called a centrifugal bowling alley!

#206 The Lenape: The Real Native New Yorkers  

Before New York, before New Amsterdam – there was Lenapehoking, the land of the Lenape, the original inhabitants of the places we call Manhattan, Westchester, northern New Jersey and western Long Island.  This is the story of their first contact with European explorers and settlers and their gradual banishment from their ancestral land.

Fur trading changed the lifestyles of the Lenape well before any permanent European settlers stepped foot in this region. Early explorers had a series of mostly positive experiences with early native people.  With the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam, the Lenape entered into various land deals, ‘selling’ the land of Manhattan at a location in the area of today’s Inwood Hill Park.

But relations between New Amsterdam and the surrounding native population worsened with the arrival of Director-General William Kieft, leading to bloody attacks and vicious reprisals, killing hundreds of Lenape and colonists alike. Peter Stuyvesant arrives to salvage the situation, but further attacks threatened any treaties of peace.  But the time of English occupation, the Lenape were decimated and without their land.

And yet, descendants of the Lenape live on today in various parts of the United States and Canada.  All that and more in this tragic but important tale of New York City history.

 

www.boweryboyshistory.com

#205 The Disappearance of Dorothy Arnold  

The young socialite Dorothy Arnold seemingly led a charmed and privileged life. The niece of a Supreme Court justice, Dorothy was the belle of 1900s New York, an attractive and vibrant young woman living on the Upper East Side with her family. She hoped to become a published magazine writer and perhaps someday live by herself in Greenwich Village.

But on December 12, 1910, while running errands in the neighborhood of Madison Square Park, Dorothy Arnold -- simply vanished.

In this investigative new podcast, we look at the circumstances surrounding her disappearance, from the mysterious clues left in her fireplace to the suspicious behavior exhibited by her family.

This mystery captivated New Yorkers for decades as revelations and twists to the story continued to emerge. As one newspaper described it: "There is general agreement among police officials that the case is in a class by itself."

ALSO: What secrets lurk in the infamous Pennsylvania "House of Mystery"? And could a sacred object found in Texas hold the key to solving the crime?

www.boweryboyshistory.com

#204 The Cotton Club: The Aristocrat of Harlem  

The Cotton Club, Harlem's most prominent nightclub during the Prohibiton era, delivered some of the greatest music legends of the Jazz Age -- Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Fletcher Henderson, Ethel Waters, the Nicolas Brothers.  Some of the most iconic songs in the American songbook made their debut at the Cotton Club or were popularized in performances here.

But the story of gangster Owney Madden's notorious supper club is hardly one to be celebrated.

That the Cotton Club was owned by Prohibition's most ruthless mob boss was just the beginning. The club enshrined the segregationist policies of the day, placing black talent on the stage for the pleasure of white patrons alone. Even the club's flamboyant décor -- by Ziegfeld's scenic designer, no less -- made sure to remind people of these ugly admission practices.

This is the tale of Harlem late night -- of hot jazz and illegal booze, of great music and very bad mobsters. Featuring some of the greatest tunes of the day by Ellington, Calloway, Waters, King Oliver and more.

 

www.boweryboyshistory.com

 

THIS PODCAST FEATURED MUSICAL SNIPPETS FROM THE FOLLOWING SONGS:

Black and Tan Fantasy - Duke Ellington

Drop Me Off In Harlem - Duke Ellington

Speak Easy Blues - King Oliver Jazz Band

Charleston - Paul Whiteman

Mood Indigo - Duke Ellington

Swing Session - Duke Ellington

If You Were In My Place - Duke Ellington

Minnie the Moocher - Cab Calloway

I've Got The World On A String - Duke Ellington

Stormy Weather - Ethel Waters

On The Sunny Side of the Street - Duke Ellington

 

NOTES ON THIS SHOW:

-- I made two amusing flubs in this show 1) Duke Ellington's nickname is probably inspired by the Duke of Wellington, not (obviously) the Duke of Ellington, 2) the name of the movie with Lena Horne and the Nicholas Brothers is obviously named Stormy Weather, not  Stormy Weathers (which must be the name of a drag queen somewhere)

-- Jack Johnson's story is so much more complex and I wish I had more time to talk about him.  For more information, check out the incredible documentary (and the book it's based on by Geoffrey C Ward) called Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.

 

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