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

#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.

 

#203 Nikola Tesla in New York  

The Serbian immigrant Nikola Tesla was among the Gilded Age's brightest minds, a visionary thinker and inventor who gave the world innovations in electricity, radio and wireless communication. So why has Tesla garnered the mantle of cult status among many?

Part of that has to do with his life in New York City, his shifting fortunes as he made his way (counting every step) along the city streets. Tesla lived in New York for more than 50 years, and although he hated it when he first arrived, he quickly understood its importance to the development of his inventions.

Travel with us to the many places Tesla worked and lived in Manhattan -- from the Little Italy roost where the Tesla Coil may have been invented to his doomed Greenwich Village laboratory. From his first job in the Lower East Side to his final home in one of Midtown Manhattan's most famous hotels.

Nikola Tesla, thank you for bringing your genius to New York City.

www.boweryboyshistory.com

 

ARRIVING IN JUNE 2016: The Bowery Boys Adventures In Old New York, a time-traveling journey into a past that lives simultaneously besides the modern city.

Pre-order now at Barnes and Noble, Amazon or at your local bookstore.

#202 The Lower East Side: A Culinary History  

Join us as we experience the tastes of another era by visiting some of the oldest culinary institutions of the Lower East Side. From McSorley's to Katz's, Russ & Daughters and Economy Candy -- when did these shops open, who did they serve, and how, in the world are they still with us today? We explore the topic with author Sarah Lohman of the Four Pounds Flour blog.

Join us as we taste our way through the history of the Lower East Side!

www.boweryboyshistory.com

#201 GOWANUS! Brooklyn's Troubled Waters  

This is the dirtiest Bowery Boys podcast ever. Literally.

Brooklyn's Gowanus -- both the creek and the canal -- is one of the most mysterious and historically important waterways in New York City. By coincidence, it also happens to be among its most polluted, shrouded in frightening tales of dead animals (and a few unfortunate humans) floating along its canal shores. Its toxic mix is the stuff of urban legends (most of which are actually true).

But this was once the land of delicious oysters. This was the site of an important Revolutionary War battle. This was part of the property of the man who later developed Park Slope.

But, in current times, it ALSO happens to be one of New York City's hottest neighborhoods for real estate development. How does a neighborhood go from a canal of deadly constitution to a Whole Foods, condos and shuffleboard courts?

With so many personalities (and with Tom gone this week) I needed a special guide for this fraught and twisted journey -- writer and historian Joseph Alexiou, author of 'Gowanus: Brooklyn's Curious Canal', bringing his expertise to help me wade through the most toxic portion of the show.

 

www.boweryboyshistory.com

#200 Jane Jacobs: Saving the Village  

Washington Square Park torn in two. The West Village erased and re-written. Soho, Little Italy and the Lower East Side ripped asunder by an elevated highway. This is what would  have happened in New York City in the 1950s and 60s if not for enraged residents and community activists, lead and inspired by a woman from Scranton.

Jane Jacobs is one of the most important urban thinkers of the 20th century. As a young woman, she fell in love with Greenwich Village (and met her husband there) which contained a unique alchemy of life and culture that one could only find in an urban area. As an adroit and intuitive architectural writer, she formed ideas about urban development that flew in the face of mainstream city planning. As a community activist, she fought for her own neighborhood and set an example for other embattled districts in New York City.

Her legacy is fascinating, often radical and not always positive for cities in 2016. But she is an extraordinary New Yorker, and for our 200th episode, we had to celebrate this remarkable woman on the 10th anniversary of her birth.

PLUS: ROOOOBERT MOOOOSES!

 

www.boweryboyshistory.com

#199.5: Bowery Boys - Behind the Scenes  

As we prepare for our #200th episode -- and the release of the first-ever Bowery Boys book -- we've decided to take a look back at our last 100 shows, at some of the highlights of the past six or so years.  What were some of our favorite episodes? The most controversial episode?

But we start by officially introducing you to "The Adventures In Old New York", our new book coming out in May.  We give you a little insight into its development and what history you can expect to find in it.

www.boweryboyshistory.com

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