#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
#252 The Underground Railroad: Escape through New YorkThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
For thousands of African-American enslaved people -- escaping the bonds of slavery in the South -- the journey to freedom wound its way through New York via the Underground Railroad.
The Underground Railroad was a loose, clandestine network of homes, businesses and churches, operated by freed black people and white abolitionists who put it upon themselves -- often at great risk -- to hide fugitives on the run.
New York and Brooklyn were vital hubs in this network but these cities were hardly safe havens. The streets swarmed with bounty hunters, and a growing number of New Yorkers, enriched by Southern businesses, were sympathetic to the institution of slavery. Not even freed black New Yorkers were safe from kidnapping and racist anti-abolitionist mobs.
In this podcast we present some of the stops in New York along the Underground Railroad -- from offices off Newspaper Row to the basement of New York's first African-American owned bookstore. You'll be familiar with some of this story's leading figures like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Henry Ward Beecher. But many of these courageous tales come from people who you may not know -- the indefatigable Louis Napoleon, the resolute Sydney Howard Gay, the defiant David Ruggles and James Hamlet, the first victim of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act.
PLUS: A trip to Brooklyn Heights and the site of New York's most famous Underground Railroad site -- Plymouth Church.
#251 McGurk's Suicide Hall: The Bowery's Most Notorious DiveThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
The old saloons and dance halls of the Bowery are familiar to anyone with a love of New York City history, their debauched and surly reputations appealing in a prurient way, a reminder of a time of great abandon. The Bowery bars and lounges of today often try to emulate the past in demeanor and decor. (Although nobody was drinking expensive bespoke cocktails back in the day.)
But the dance hall at 295 Bowery, the loathsome establishment owned by John McGurk, was not a place to admire. It was the worst of the worst, a dive where criminal activity thrived alongside bawdy can-can dancers and endless pours of putrid booze.
In early March of 1899, a woman named Bess Levery climbed to one of the top floors of McGurk's -- floors given over to illegal behavior -- and killed herself by drinking carbolic acid. Within a week, two more women had ventured to McGurk's, attempting the same dire deed.
By the end of 1899, the dance hall had received a truly grim reputation, and its proprietor, capitalizing on its reputation, began calling his joint McGurk's Suicide Hall.
What happened to the Bowery, once the location of fashionable homes and theaters, that such a despicable place could thrive -- mere blocks from police headquarters? This is the history of a truly dark place and the forces of reform that managed to finally shut it down.
FEATURING: Theodore Roosevelt, Jacob Riis, Charles Parkhurst and some disreputable fellows by the names of Eat Em Up McManus and Short Change Charley.
This episode is sponsored by TNT’s new limited series The Alienist.
#250 The Empire State Building: Story of an IconThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
Start spreading the news .... the Bowery Boys are finally going to the Empire State Building!
New York City's defining architectural icon is greatly misunderstood by many New Yorkers who consider its appeal relegated to tourists and real estate titans. But this powerful and impressive symbol to American construction has a great many secrets among its 102 (or is that 103?) floors.
The Empire State Building project was announced in 1929 by former New York governor Al Smith. The group of wealthy investors he fronted were clear in associating the building with his image (the Empire State itself), and Smith was even there at the demolition of the building it would replace -- the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
A few weeks after the announcement, however, the stock market crashed.
In this podcast, we look at how this magnificent skyscraper was built with incredible speed and efficiency, to tower over a city entering the Great Depression. It quickly became a beacon of hope for many -- a symbol of American skill and the embodiment of the New York City spirit.
Tourists would indeed flock to it, enamored of the extraordinary views it offered for the very first time. (Most of its early visitors had never been in an airplane.) It would eventually become an object of great value and the subject of tabloid headlines -- many featuring the current President of the United States -- but it would never, ever lose its luster.
In fact, that luster, over the years, would become very well lit.....
#249 Madam C.J. Walker: Harlem's Hair Care MillionaireThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
In 1867, Sarah Breedlove was born to parents who had once been enslaved on a Louisiana plantation. Less than fifty years later, Breedlove (as the hair care mogul Madam C.J. Walker) would be the richest African-American woman in the United States, a successful business owner and one of black America's great philanthropists. At her side was daughter Lelia (later A'lelia) Walker, guiding her mother's company to great success despite extraordinary obstacles.
The Walkers moved to Harlem in the mid 1910s during the neighborhood's transformation from a white immigrant outpost to a thriving mecca for African-American culture. The ground floor of their spacious West 136th Street home was a hair salon for black women, opened during a contentious period when irate white property owners attempted to stem the tide of black settlement in Harlem.
The Walkers were at the heart of significant strides on African-American life. Madam used her wealth to support organizations like the NAACP push back against violence and racism. A'lelia, meanwhile, used her influence to corral the great talents of the Harlem Renaissance. The two of them would positively influence the history of Harlem and black America forever.
FEATURING: The words of Langston Hughes, describing one of the most fabulous parties of the Jazz Age!
#248 Sitting Down with Roz Chast of the New YorkerThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
This week, we celebrate the end of the year by sitting down with Roz Chast, who has been contributing cartoons to the New Yorker Magazine since 1978. Chast is out with a new book, "Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York", which is a guidebook to living in -- and loving -- New York.
We discuss her childhood in Brooklyn, life on the Upper West Side in the '70s and '80s, her favorite diner (which is still open!), working at the New Yorker, and much more.
#247 Rodgers and Hammerstein: The Golden Age of BroadwayThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II are two of the greatest entertainers in New York City history. They have entertained millions of people with their unique and influential take on the Broadway musical -- serious, sincere, graceful and poignant.
In this episode, we tell the story of this remarkable duo -- from their early years with other creators (Hammerstein with Jerome Kern, Rodgers with Lorenz Hart) to a run-down of all their shows. And almost all of it -- from the plains of Oklahoma to the exotic climates of South Pacific -- takes place on just two city blocks in Midtown Manhattan!
(Stay tuned to the end of the podcast for information on the music clips used in the show.)
#246 Tales from a Tenement: Three Families on the Lower East SideThe Bowery Boys: New York City History add
In today’s show, we’ll continue to explore housing in New York, but move far from the mansions of Fifth Avenue to the tenements of the Lower East Side in the 20th Century. Specifically, we’ll be visiting one building, 103 Orchard Street, which is today part of the Tenement Museum.
When we step inside 103 Orchard, we’ll be meeting three families who lived there after World War II: the Epsteins, the Saez-Velez family, and the Wong family. We’ll be getting to know them by walking through their apartments, faithfully reconstructed, often with their very own furniture, to tell their stories.
The Epsteins were Holocaust survivors who moved into the building in the 1950s, the Saez-Velez family moved in during the 60s and were led by a mother who left Puerto Rico and worked as a seamstress here, and the Wong family, whose mother raised the family while working in Chinatown garment shops, moved in during the 1970s.
They’re included in an exciting new interactive exhibition at the Tenement Museum. This exhibit, which includes a tour of the apartments, is called “Under One Roof”, and opens to the public this month. We’re led through it on our show by Annie Polland, the museum’s curator of this exhibit.