#272 Life in New AmsterdamThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
We are turning back the clock to the very beginning of New York City history with this special two-part episode, looking at the very beginnings of European settlement in the area and the first significant Dutch presence on the island known as Manhattan.
The Dutch were drawn to the New World not because of its beauty, but because of its beavers. Beaver pelts were all the rage in European fashion, and European explorers like Henry Hudson reported back that this unexplored land was filled with the animals and their beautiful coats.
Of course, people were already living here -- the tribes of the Lenape -- and the first settlers sent by the Dutch -- French-speaking Walloons -- encountered them in the mid 1620s. But relations were relatively good between the two parties at the beginning. Could the native Munsee-speaking people and the first Dutch settlers get along?
In this episode, we walk you through the first two decades of life in the settlement of New Amsterdam, confined to the southern tip of Manhattan. What was the island like back then? How did people live and work in a region so entirely unknown to its European inhabitants?
#271 Counter Culture: Diners, Automats, and Luncheonettes in New YorkThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
The classic diner is as American as the apple pie it serves, but the New York diner is a special experience all its own, an essential facet of everyday life in the big city. They range in all shapes and sizes -- from the epic, stand-alone Empire Diner to tiny luncheonettes and lunch counters, serving up fried eggs and corned beef.
In this episode, the Bowery Boys trace the history of the New York diner experience, a history of having lunch in an ever-changing metropolis.
There were no New York restaurants per se before Delmonico's in 1827, although workers on-the-go frequented oyster saloons and bought from street vendors and markets. Cellar establishments like Buttercake Dick's served rudimentary sustenance, and men often ate food provided by bars.
But once women entered the public sphere -- as workers and shoppers -- eating houses had to evolve to accommodate them. And thus was born the luncheonette, mini-lunch spaces in drug stores and candy shops. Soon prefabricated structures known as diners -- many made in New Jersey -- moved into vacant lots, streamlining the cheap eating experience.
Cafeterias appealed to New Yorkers looking for cleanliness, and those looking for an inexpensive, solitary meal turned to one unusual restaurant -- the automat. Horn & Hardarts' innovative eateries -- requiring a handful of nickels -- were regular features on the New York City streetscape.
How did all these different types of eating experiences culminate in the modern New York diner-counter experience? For that, you can thank the Greeks.
#270 Heaven on the Hudson: A History of Riverside ParkThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
In peeling back the many layers to Riverside Park, upper Manhattan's premier ribbon park, running along the west side from the Upper West Side to Washington Heights, you will find a wealth of history that takes you back to Manhattan's most rugged days.
The windswept bluffs overlooking the Hudson River were home to only desolate mansions and farmhouses, its rock outcroppings appealing to tortured poets such as Edgar Allan Poe. But the railroad cleaved the peace when it laid its tracks along the waterfront in the 1840s.
To encourage development, the city planned Riverside Park as a respite with commanding views of the river and a swanky carriage way for afternoon excursions. But the original plan by Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted only went so far -- right up to those pesky train tracks.
In the 20th century, residents along the newly chic Riverside Drive tired of the smoky mess. It would take the 'master builder' himself -- Robert Moses -- to finally conceal those tracks and create a new spot for recreational facilities. In doing so, he threaded his new park with a new noisemaker -- the Henry Hudson Parkway.
We give you the grand overview history of this extraordinary park THEN we visit the park itself to give you the full dynamic sound experience, reviewing Riverside's most spectacular attractions.
PLUS: The strange story of two great monuments at 125th Street, the final resting place for a great military leader and a five year old boy, whose tragic story has inspired generations of poets.
FEATURING: George and Ira Gershwin, Charles Schwab, Joan of Arc, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (in non political capacities!)
#269 Harry Houdini and the Golden Age of Magic in New YorkThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
Harry Houdini became one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century, a showman whose escape artistry added a new dimension to the tried-and-true craft of stage magic. In this show, we present not only a mini-biography on the daredevil wizard, but a survey of the environment which made him -- a city of magic, mediums and mystery.
New York during the late 19th century was a place of real, practical magic -- electric lights, elevated trains, telephones and other wonders that would have seemed impossible just a few decades before. Those that performed stage magic in a world of such unbelievable inventions would need to up their game.
The great names of European stage magic -- most notably Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin -- would give rise to spectacular performances on both vaudeville and legitimate stages. Performers like Howard Thurston would dazzle New York crowds with unbelievable demonstrations of levitation while Harry Kellar and his 'spirit cabinet' would seem to use sorcery from other worlds.
Houdini got his start in New York's dime museums, evolving from simple card tricks to elaborate routines of escape. He was a truly modern performer, borrowing from the magic masters and benefiting from an eager public, looking for a virtual superhero.
But stage magic had a surprising foe -- actual magic or, as practiced by hundreds of mediums and mystics, spiritualism. Suddenly, the craft of magical illusion seemed secondary to those who could practice those same arts via a connection with the afterlife. Houdini was drawn into the debate early in his career, and the conflict intensified with his unusual friendship with one of the greatest writers in the world -- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
#268 The Astonishing Saga of the Atlantic CableThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
New Yorkers threw a wild, exuberant celebration in the summer of 1858 in honor of 'the eighth wonder of the world', a technological achievement that linked North America and Europe by way of an underwater cable which sat on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.
The transatlantic cable was set to link the telegraph systems of the United Kingdom with those in the United States and Canada, and New Yorkers were understandably excited. Peter Cooper, one of the city's wealthiest men, was attached to the ambitious project as a member of the 'Cable Cabinet', as was Samuel Morse, the brilliant inventor who helped to innovate the telegraph.
But it was an ambitious young New Yorker -- a successful paper manufacturer named Cyrus West Field -- who devised the endeavor from the comfort of his luxurious Gramercy Park townhouse.
New Yorkers had so much to celebrate; a link with Europe would bring the world closer together, enrich the financiers of Wall Street and raise the city's international profile. The city partied so relentlessly that New York City Hall was almost destroyed in a frenzy of fireworks.
But had everybody started celebrating too early? Was the Atlantic Cable -- fated to change the world -- actually a terrible failure?
PLUS: A visit to beautiful Newfoundland and the origin of the journalism slang "scoop"!
#267 Broadway: The Story of a StreetThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
Today we're joined by Fran Leadon, the author of a new history of Broadway, called “Broadway: A History of New York in 13 Miles”.
We've discussed Broadway, the street, in just about every show we’ve done -- as so many of the city’s key events have taken place along Broadway or near it. And that’s also the point of Fran’s book -- by telling the story of a street, you’re actually telling the story of the entire city.
On today’s show, we’ll be discussing how Broadway moved north -- literally, how did it expand, overcoming natural obstacles and merging with… or avoiding... old, pre-existing roads, and how did it take such an unusual route?
And perhaps most surprisingly, how did Broadway survive the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 which imposed a rigid street grid on the city?
You’re in for a couple of surprises.
#266 New York City during the Revolutionary War (1776-1783)The Bowery Boys: New York City History add
What was life like in New York City from the summer of 1776 to the fall of 1783 -- the years of British occupation during the Revolutionary War?
New York plays a very intriguing role in the story of American independence. The city and the surrounding area were successfully taken by the British by the end of 1776 -- George Washington and the Continental Army forced to escape for the good of the cause -- and the port city became the central base for British operations during the conflict.
While British officers dined and enjoy a newly revitalized theater scene, Washington's spies on the streets of New York collected valuable intelligence. As thousands of soldiers and sympathizing Loyalists arrived in the city, hunger and overcrowding put the residents of the city in peril. When the sugar houses and churches became too filled with captured rebels, the British employed prison ships along the Brooklyn waterfront to hold their enemies.
This is a very, very special episode, a newly edited combination of two older shows from our back catalog. PLUS several minutes of new material, featuring stories that we overlooked the first time.
#265 Absolutely Flawless: A History of Drag in New York CityThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
Television audiences are currently obsessed with shows like RuPaul's Drag Race and FX's Pose, presenting different angles on the profession and art of drag. New York City has been crucial to its current moment in pop culture and people have been performing and enjoy drag performers in this city for over 120 years.
In the beginning there were two styles of drag -- vaudeville and ballroom. As female impersonators filled Broadway theaters -- one theater is even named for a famed gender illusionist -- thrill seekers were heading to the balls of Greenwich Village and Harlem.
By the 1930s, the gay scene began retreating into the shadows, governed by mob control and harshly policed. By design, drag became political. It also became a huge counter-cultural influence in the late 1960s -- from the glamour of Andy Warhol's superstars to the jubilant schtick of Charles Busch.
But it was the 1980s that brought the most significant influences to our current pop cultural moment. Joining Greg on this show are two experts on two late 80s/early 90s scenes -- Felix Rodriguez, a videographer of the ballroom culture (made famous by the film Paris Is Burning) and Linda Simpson, one of the great queens of East Village drag.
FEATURING: Drag kings! Wigstock! And the famous drag queen who got struck by lightning.
#264 The Landmarks of Coney IslandThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
The Coney Island Boardwalk -- officially the Riegelmann Boardwalk -- just became an official New York City scenic landmark, and to celebrate, the Bowery Boys are headed to Brooklyn's amusement capital to toast its most famous and long-lasting icons.
Recorded live on location, this week's show features the backstories of these Coney Island classics:
-- The Wonder Wheel, the graceful, eccentric Ferris wheel preparing to celebrate for its 100th year of operation;
-- The Spook-o-Rama, a dark ride full of old-school thrills;
-- The Cyclone, perhaps America's most famous roller-coaster with a history that harkens back to Coney Island's wild coaster craze;
-- Nathan's Famous, the king of hot dogs which has fed millions from the same corner for over a century;
-- Coney Island Terminal, a critical transportation hub that ushered in the amusement area's famous nickname -- the Nickel Empire
PLUS: An interview with Dick Zigun, the unofficial mayor of Coney Island and founder of Coney Island USA, who recounts the origin of the Mermaid Parade and the Sideshow by the Seashore
EXTRA: Supporters of the Bowery Boys on Patreon will receive an extra bonus clip discussing two other Coney Island landmarks -- Childs Restaurant and the Parachute Jump.
#263 Ebbets Field and the Glory Days of the Brooklyn DodgersThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
The Robins. The Bridegrooms. The Superbas. The Dizziness Boys. Dem Bums. The Boys of Summer. Whatever you call them, they will always be known in the hearts of New Yorkers as the Brooklyn Dodgers, the legendary baseball team that almost literally defined the spirit of Brooklyn in the early and mid 20th century.
Equally as heralded is their former home Ebbets Field, a tiny stadium east of Prospect Park that saw several spectacular moments in sports history. This tiny but mighty field was also witness to many heart-breaking events for the Dodgers' unique die-hard fans.
In this show, we review Dodgers history from the perspective of the team's fans and the surrounding neighborhood. This episode features recollections from Brooklynites who grew up around Ebbets Field, a sampling of stories from the Brooklyn Historical Society Oral History Collection.
What was it like to grow up just a couple blocks from Ebbets Field? What makes Dodgers fans particularly unique in the world of sports? And what were the unfortunate series of events that led to the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn forever?
FEATURING: Jackie Robinson, Robert Moses, Branch Rickey, Leo Durocher and a wild lady named Hilda Chester, armed with her vicious cowbell.
#262 Secrets of the Cathedral of St. John the DivineThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
The Bowery Boys have finally made to one of the most enigmatic and miraculous houses of worship in America – the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. This Episcopal cathedral has a story like no other and a collection of eccentric artifacts and allegorical sculpture – both ancient and contemporary – that continues to marvel and confound.
Located in Morningside Heights in Upper Manhattan, St. John the Divine – named for the Apostle and author of the Book of Revelations -- is no ordinary cathedral (if such a thing exists). Every corner seems to vibrate on a different frequency from other Christian churches.
Many ideas have gone into creating St. John the Divine’s unique personality – a quirky mix of architectural styles, some outside-the-box ideas about community outreach, its embrace of the unconventional. But one particularly striking detail sets it apart from the rest: the Cathedral remains unfinished.
FEATURING: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Keith Haring, Duke Ellington, Martin Luther King Jr. and the high-wire antics of Philippe Petit.
ALSO: Tom and Greg explore the Cathedral -- from the crypt to the rooftop – with tour guide Bill Schneberger.
VISIT THE WEBSITE FOR SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT THE CATHEDRAL's 125TH BIRTHDAY PARTY -- FEATURING THE BOWERY BOYS
#261 The Huddled Masses: Emma Lazarus and the Statue of LibertyThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
The words of the The New Colossus, written 135 years ago by Jewish writer Emma Lazarus in tribute to the Statue of Liberty, have never been more relevant -- or as hotly debated -- as they are today.
What do these words mean to you? "Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore."
In this episode, Tom and Greg look at the backstory of these verses -- considered sacred by many -- and the woman who created them.
Emma Lazarus was an exceptional writer and a unique personality who embraced her Jewish heritage even while befriending some of the greatest writers of the 19th century. When the French decided to bestow the gift of Liberty Enlightening the World to the United States, many Americans were uninterested in donating money to its installation in New York Harbor. Lazarus was convinced to write a poem about the statue but she decided to infuse her own meaning into it.
This icon of republican government -- and friendship between France and America -- would soon come to mean safe harbor and welcome to millions of new immigrants coming to America. But are Lazarus' words still relevant in the 21st century?
#260 Journey to Grey Gardens: A Tale of Two EdiesThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
In this episode of the Bowery Boys, Greg digs into the back story of one of the most famous documentaries ever made – Grey Gardens. The film, made by brother directing team Albert and David Maysles, looks at the lives of two former society women leading a life of seclusion in a rundown old mansion in the Hamptons.
Those of you who have seen the film – or the Broadway musical or the HBO film inspired by the documentary – know that it possesses a strange, timeless quality. Mrs Edith Bouvier Beale (aka Big Edie) and her daughter Miss Edith Bouvier Beale (aka Little Edie) live in a pocket universe, in deteriorating circumstances, but they themselves remain poised, witty, well read.
But if our histories truly make us who we are, then to understand these two extraordinary and eccentric women, we need to understand the historical moments that put them on this path.
And that is a story of New York City – of debutante balls, Fifth Avenue, Tin Pan Alley and the changing roles of women. And it’s a story of the Bouviers, who represent here the hundreds of wealthy, upwardly mobile families, trying to maintain their status in a fluctuating world of social registers and stock market crashes.
This is story about keeping up appearances and the consequences of following your heart.
FEATURING: A very special guest! The Marble Faun himself -- Jerry Torre, who swings by the show to share his recollection of these fascinating women.
#259 Crossing to Brooklyn: How the Williamsburg Bridge Changed New YorkThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
Sure, the Brooklyn Bridge gets all the praise, but New York City's second bridge over the East River has an exceptional story of its own.
In this episode, we'll answer some interesting questions, including:
-- Why is the bridge named for a 19th century industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn and why is it not, for instance, called the Manhattan Bridge (a name not in use yet in 1903) or the East River Bridge (which was its original name)?
-- Why did everybody think the bridge looked so unusually ugly and how did the city belatedly try and solve the problem?
-- Why did one population in the Lower East Side find the bridge more important than others?
-- Why was the bridge is such terrible shape in the 20th century? Did it really almost collapse into the river?
-- And where can you find the original name of the Brooklyn neighborhood -- Williamsburgh?
PLUS: How the fate of the two neighborhoods linked by the Williamsburg Bridge would change radically in 115 years
We'd like to thank WeWork for sponsoring the Bowery Boys as well as our additional sponsors Hulu (and the gripping new thriller The Looming Tower) and Audible. For a free 30-day trial (and a free audiobook) go to audible.com/bowery or text BOWERY to 500-500
#258 Tales from Tribeca HistoryThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
TriBeCa (Triangle Below Canal) is a breathtaking neighborhood of astounding architectural richness. But how much do you know about this trendy destination and its patchwork of different histories?
You'll be surprised to learn about the many facets of this unusual place, including:
-- Lispenard's Meadow, tracing back to the property's first Dutch settlers;
-- St. John's Park, New York's first ritzy residential district;
-- Washington Market, the open-air marvel that fed New Yorkers for 150 years;
-- the Ghostbusters Fire House, a pop-culture landmark that witnessed an astonishing architectural shrinkage;
-- the AT & T Long Lines Building, an imposing monolith with mysterious secrets contained inside;
and the TriBeCa Film Center, bringing a new direction to the neighborhood thanks to its co-founder Robert De Niro
PLUS: What are codfish cheeks? Pert nurses? Weekend leathers?
#257 Frozen In Time: The Great Blizzard of 1888The Bowery Boys: New York City History add
This year marks the 130th anniversary of one of the worst storms to ever wreak havoc upon New York City, the now-legendary mix of wind and snow called the Great Blizzard of 1888.
The battering snow-hurricane of 1888, with its freezing temperatures and crazy drifts three stories high, was made worse by the condition of New York’s transportation and communication systems, all completely unprepared for 36 hours of continual snow.
The storm struck on Monday, March 11, 1888, but many thousands attempted to make their way to work anyway, not knowing how severe the storm would be. It would be the worst commute in New York City history. Fallen telephone and telegraph poles became a hidden threat under the quickly accumulating drifts.
Elevated trains were frozen in place, their passengers unable to get out for hours. Many died simply trying to make their way back home on foot, including Roscoe Conkling, a power broker of New York’s Republican Party.
But there were moments of amusement too. Saloons thrived, and actors trudged through to the snow in time for their performances, And for P.T. Barnum, the show must always go on!
This is a re-release of a show we recorded back in 2013. We think the comparisons to Hurricane Sandy that were made in that show feel even more relevant today.
#256 DUMBO: Life on Brooklyn's WaterfrontThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass (DUMBO) is, we think, a rather drab name for a historically significant place in Brooklyn where some of the daily habits of everyday Americans were invented.
This industrial area between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges traces its story to the birth of Brooklyn itself, to the vital ferry service that linked the first residents to the marketplaces of New York. Two early (lesser) Founding Fathers even attempted to build a utopian society here called Olympia.
Instead the coastline's fate would turn to industrial and shipping concerns. Its waterfront was lined with brick warehouses, so impressive and uniform that Brooklyn received the nickname "the Walled City".
The industries based directly behind the warehouses were equally as important to the American economy. Most of their factories comprise the architecture of today's DUMBO, grand industrial fortresses of brick and concrete, towering above cobbled streets etched with railroad tracks.
The cardboard-box titan Robert Gair was so dominant in this region that his many buildings were collectively referred to as Gairville. But coffee and tea traditions also came here -- not just the manufacture, but the revolutionary ways in which people with buy and drink those beverages.
How did this early New York manufacturing district become a modern American tech hub, with luxury loft apartments and splendid coffee shops? This story of repurpose and gentrification is very different from those told in other neighborhoods.
PLUS: And, no, really, what is up with that name?
#255 The Rescue of Grand CentralThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
The survival of New York City's greatest train station is no accident. The preservation of Grand Central Terminal helped create the protections for all of America's greatest landmarks.
By the 1950s, this glorious piece of architecture -- opened in 1913 as a sensational example of Beaux-Arts architecture -- was severely unloved and truly run down. It was also in danger. Long distance railroad travel was no longer fashionable and its real estate seemed better suited for a trendier skyscraper.
With the destruction of Penn Station in the mid-1960s, it seemed Grand Central was next. Let's make room for progress! So how did it manage to survive?
In this episode, we welcome our special guest Kent Barwick, the former executive director of the Municipal Art Society, who was there, in the middle of the fight to save Grand Central. He joins us to talk about the preservation battle and the importance of one particular ally -- Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
It certainly took thousands of people -- idealists, activists and regular New Yorkers -- to save this iconic building. But how did this one woman of great renown and prominence bring her personal history into the building, all in earnest efforts to save it?
#254 The Destruction of Penn StationThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
The original Penn Station, constructed in 1910 and designed by New York's greatest Gilded Age architectural firm, was more than just a building. Since its destruction in the 1960s, the station has become something mythic, a sacrificial lamb to the cause of historic preservation.
Amplifying its loss is the condition of present Penn Station, a fairly unpleasant underground space that uses the original Pennsylvania Railroad's tracks and tunnels. As Vincent Scully once said, "Through Pennsylvania Station one entered the city like a god. Perhaps it was really too much. One scuttles in now like a rat."
In this show we rebuild the grand, original structure in our minds -- the fourth largest building in the world when it was constructed -- and marvel at an opulence now gone.
Why was Penn Station destroyed? If you answered "MONEY!", you're only partially right. This is the story of an architectural treasure endangered -- and a city unprepared to save it. Should something so immense be saved because of its beauty even if its function has diminished or even vanished? Does the public have a say in a privately owned property?
PLUS: We show you where you can still find remnants of old Penn Station by going on a walking tour with Untapped Cities tour guide Justin Rivers.
#253 Opening Day of the New York City SubwayThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
What was it like to experience that epic symbol of New York City – the world famous New York City subway system – for the first time? In this episode, we imagine what opening day was like for the first New York straphangers.
We begin by recounting the subway system's construction and registering the excitement of New Yorkers in the days leading up to the opening on October 27, 1904. That fateful day was sheer pandemonium as thousands of people crammed into brand spanking new stations to push themselves into the system's new subway cars.
“For the first time in his life Father Knickerbocker went underground yesterday; went underground, he and his children, to the number of 150,000, amid the tooting of whistles and the firing of salutes, for a first ride in a subway which for years had been scoffed at as an impossibility.” [New York Times, October 28, 1904]
After listening to this show, we hope you gain a new appreciation for this modern engineering marvel. Hopefully it will make that next subway delay more bearable!
Special thanks to Kieran Gannon for helping with the editing of this show