Walt Whitman at 200: Celebrating his life and legacy in the cities of New York and Brooklyn

A very special episode of the Bowery Boys podcast, recorded live at the Bell House in Gowanus, Brooklyn, celebrating the legacy of Walt Whitman, a writer with deep ties to New York and its 19th century sister-city Brooklyn.

On May 31, 1819, the world will mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Whitman, a journalist who revolutionized American literature with his long-crafted work Leaves of Grass. The 19th century cities of New York and Brooklyn helped shape the man Whitman would become, from its bustling printing presses to bohemian haunts like Pfaff’s Beer Cellar.

To help them tell this story, Greg and Tom are joined by guests from the worlds of academia, literature and preservation:

Karen Karbiener, NYU professor and head of the Walt Whitman Initiative, an international collective bringing together all people interested in the life and work of Walt Whitman

Jason Koo, award-winning poet, and founder and executive director of Brooklyn Poets, celebrating and cultivating the literary heritage of Brooklyn, the birthplace of American poetry

and Brad Vogel, executive director at the New York Preservation Archive Project and board member of the Walt Whitman Initiative, leading the drive to protect New York City-based Whitman landmarks.

This episode was recorded as part of the Brooklyn Podcast Festival presented by Pandora.

Listen Now: Walt Whitman New York Podcast

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For a list of Walt Whitman celebrations in New York City and around the country, visit the Walt Whitman Initiative for details. And the week of Whitman’s bicentennial (May 27-June 1) is International Whitman Week!

Some images from our live show:

jenna_scherer/Instagram

Jason Koo reading “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”

Courtesy Marie Carter

Jason Koo, Brad Vogel and Karen Karbiener

Courtesy Marie Carter

This is a recording of what many consider the actual voice of Walt Whitman, recorded on wax cylinder, reading a section of his poem “America”. (There is some controversy over its veracity.)

An illustration of the interior of Pfaff’s Beer Cellar, depicted here in 1857 (the seated gentleman is Whitman).

The location of Rome Brothers printing house (at Cranberry and Fulton streets), depicted here in 1949 in an illustration by Josephine Barry.

Museum of the City of New York

Whitman’s birthplace in Huntington, Long Island, still stands and is well worth a visit. It’s lovely! Unfortunately the landscape around the house has changed dramatically.

Whitman in 1854

Library of Congress

Whitman in 1890, photographed by George C. Cox

Museum of the City of New York

FURTHER LISTENING

Before Whitman, Poe found inspirations for his poetry in New York and in another future borough — the Bronx:

Whitman was a young man living in New York when a terrible blaze destroyed much of the city (not to mention job prospects):

Downtown Brooklyn, the area where Whitman once lived and published, has gone through several transformations since he lived here: