Category Archives: Holidays

Festively bonkers: Welcome to the Dyker Heights Christmas light show

Holiday traditions in Manhattan are of course known the world over, from the glowing light displays of Park Avenue to the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. But they lack a certain human touch, spun from wealthy corporations and honored tradition.

Which is what makes Dyker Height’s annual lighting spectacular (festival? competition? freak show?) so fascinating. It’s Brooklyn’s biggest holiday event, run entirely by the community.

In the past two decades, the extravaganza has energized a normally quiet neighborhood few in New York know much about. For most of its history, Dyker Heights was virtually uninhabited, either by humans or two-story illuminated snowmen.

Below is a history of the  Dyker Heights neighborhood, interspersed with pictures I took of this year’s Christmas lights celebration:

Dyker Heights is named for an uninteruppted, sloping meadow which rolled down to the waters edge (today interuppted by the rushing traffic of Shore Parkway). Nobody’s certain where Dyker Meadow got its name, only that it originated from the days of Dutch occupation, either from a Van Dyke family which settled here, or, more generally, from actual dykes the family built to drain the meadow.

Tumuluous history springs up on either side of Dyker meadow and its small forests, as the British who land at nearby Denyce Wharf begin their invasion of Brooklyn in 1776, taking up battle with the Continental Army to the north and east. As part of the township of New Utrecht, the meadow was unsuitable for farming, but its forests were plenty suitable for firewood and materials for building homes.

For awhile, there was only a single dwelling here, atop a hill known as the Lookout, built by civil engineer René Edward De Russy.

Below: Not the home of René Edward De Russy

Development finally came to the area shortly before Brooklyn consolidated with New York. During the 1890s, the nearby area of Bath Beach was quickly becoming a resort getaway similar to Coney Island. Called Bensonhurst-by-the-Sea, the resort adhered to strict moral entertainments (i.e. no booze) and thus was destined to fail.

Luckily, by then, an elevated West End train line (the Brooklyn, Bath and Coney Island line) was attracting speculators eager to draw New Yorkers with residences built on old farmlands. By the late 19th century, the New York Times excitedly noted the saavy practices of land developers in this region of South Brooklyn.

The father of Dyker Heights is developer Walter L. Johnson, who in the 1890s scooped up the land, brought roads and utilities to this fairly remote part of Brooklyn, and quickly created a small community. He even named the area, the ‘Heights’ assumably tacked on to embue it was a cache similar to Brooklyn Heights. Johnson’s gamble paid off; in 1899, the Wall Street Journal proclaimed, “nowhere else in the consolidated city is there anything to compare it with. From here can be seen a marine panorama hard to beat.”


From the beginning, Dyker Heights was designed for home ownership — no tenements and few apartment complexes — and it’s a tradition which mostly lives on today. From an 1899 article: “Dyker Heights is carefully restricted, the restrictions running till 1915 and no building can be erected here on a plot of less than 60 by 100. Each building must cost at least $4.000 and stand well back from the street line.”

Below: A sampling of the dozens of electric manger scenes awaiting you in Dyker Heights.


Today Dyker Heights is a predominantly middle- to upper-middle class Italian neighborhood, anchored by the Dyker Heights golf course and sandwiched between Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst, with old Fort Hamilton to the southwest and what remains of the old Bath Beach resort area just southeast of here.

What Mr. Johnson could not have predicted — heck, what Thomas Edison, inventor of electric light bulb, could not have foreseen — is the annual holiday expression that occurs on the lawns of many Dyker Heights residences through December.

The neighborhood is already known for its unique, ornamented homes, front lawns festooned with fountains, animal statuary, ornate shrubbery, perfectly manicured grass and home waterfalls.

For the holidays, the busy lawns are then burdened with an abundance of lighted sculptures, animatronic dioramas, and every manner of festive lawn display imaginable. Dozens of trees of all varieties — from willows to even palm trees — are garbed in multi-colored lights.

Befitting an organic neighborhood celebration, the origins of this annual tradition are a bit hazy. Families began hosting displays as far back as the post-war years of the 1940s. An article from the New York Times  suggests that the neighborhood’s Italian leanings may have something to do with it.

The show is concentrated between 81st and 84th Street and between 10th and 13th Avenues, but in recent years, it easily spills over to other blocks and even into the borders of adjoining neighborhoods.

This is a curious tradition, as the best way to enjoy the show — on foot — is obviously the most uncomfortable, especially on brisk December evenings.  There are fine tour companies which present bus tours of the Christmas light show, and if you’re averse to chilly temperatures, they’re the best way to go. (Free Tours By Foot and A Slice of Brooklyn are two reliable tour operators which offer holiday bus tours well into the new year.)

But I prefer seeing the electric light madness on foot, soaking in the Christmas music that seems to emanate from every home. Just grab a giant coffee or cocoa and go! Most of the homes will be festively lit until at least New Year’s Eve.

Better yet, before or after your stroll, head up to this amazing place on 13th Avenue and 83rd Street and fill your pockets with cannoli.


By the way, much of the history of Dyker Heights was unearthed several years ago in a thesis paper by then student Christian Zaino.

A model example of a budding New York historian, his research was so exhaustive that one of Dyker Heights’ more glamorous homes — the Saitta House — entered the National Register of Historic Places on the strength of his research. In fact, this is probably one of the few instances that you can use Wikipedia for a resource, as Zaino wrote the page. (In 2014, he also made an hour long documentary film about the history of Dyker Heights. You can watch it here.)



Portions of this article were taken from another Bowery Boys article Blinded By The Lights of Dyker Heights.










O Canada! Fifty years ago Rockefeller Center hosts a foreign Christmas tree

The Christmas tree tradition in Rockefeller Center began in 1931, during the Great Depression, when workers constructing the visionary shopping center, office space and transportation hub first erected a modest tree within the excavation.

Every Christmas tree placed here after that was shipped in from upstate New York, New Jersey or somewhere in New England.

Photo by: NBC NewsWire
Photo by: NBC NewsWire

In honor of Canada’s upcoming 100th anniversary (1967), the Petawawa Forest Preserve  provided the annual holiday celebration with a massive 64-foot white spruce, shipped across land 550 miles over the Thousand Island Bridge and into New York state.

Once installed in front of the RCA Building, the tree was adorned with “five miles of of wire, 1,200 illuminated plastic balls in red, green, blue and yellow, and 4,000 clear 7-watt lamps.” [source]


The tree-lighting ceremony was held on December 9, 1966, and featured a whole bevy of Canadian stars — particularly Olympic figure skaters and the Little Singers of Mount Royal, a boys choir from Montreal. Canadian officials were on-hand to officially present the tree “as a gift of the people of Canada.”

There were a couple very, very non-Canadian occurrence that evening. The first was the temperature was 66 degrees, breaking the record high for that day.

The second was the deadly levels of smog.  According to the Times, “the air-pollution index also rose yesterday, and although it did not set a record, at 1pm it was 7.1 points above the normal 12 points.”

Christmas at Rockefeller Center 1966
Christmas at Rockefeller Center
CHRISTMAS AT ROCKEFELLER CENTER -- Aired 12/9/66 -- Pictured: NBC Color Mobile Units at the Christmas Tree Lighting in Rockefeller Center, New York City, on December 9, 1966 -- Photo by: NBC NewsWire
CHRISTMAS AT ROCKEFELLER CENTER — Aired 12/9/66 — Pictured: NBC Color Mobile Units at the Christmas Tree Lighting in Rockefeller Center, New York City, on December 9, 1966 — Photo by: NBC NewsWire


Five New York Landmarks get into the Halloween spirit

New York has a great many naturally spooky historical places, so it’s great to see a few of them get into the Halloween holiday spirit. Here are five places to visit this week if eating candy in a wig just isn’t enough for you. NOTE: These sorts of events sell out quickly so inquire with each place at once if you’re interesting in attending:

Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden, Manhattan

Friday, October 28

Halloween Murder Mystery — “Join us for a murder mystery game, loosely based on an actual newspaper account of an unidentified skeleton discovered at the Mount Vernon Hotel. Who was killed? By whom? With what? Explore the Museum by candlelight and collect clues to unravel the mystery and solve the case. Collaborate with others or go it alone, and find out how quickly you can uncover the truth.  ”

More information here

Merchant’s House Museum

Monday, October 31

Tales from the Crypt: Horror on Hallowe’en — “Patriarch Seabury Tredwell has died. His coffin sits in the front parlor surrounded by lilies and flickering candles; black crepe covers the mirrors. Join us for dramatic readings from the darkest of 19th Gothic literature and true ghost stories of the unsettling and unexplainable as reported by museum visitors.”

More information here

Fort Wadworth, Staten Island

Saturday, October 29

Ghostly Intimations — “Get spooked at Fort Tompkins! Join us for an evening of presentations exploring the fringes of photography, Victorian art, and occult phenomena. Co-presented by the Alice Austen House and Morbid Anatomy Museum, hosted by National Park Service inside a nineteenth century fort! Meet at Fort Wadsworth Visitor Center (210 New York Avenue, Staten Island). Bring your own flashlight! Cocktail party at Alice Austen House to follow at 10 pm. Festive attire encouraged!”

Purchase your tickets here

Wave Hill, the Bronx

Wednesday, October 26 & Saturday, October 29

Dead Botanists Walk — “Do you ever wonder how plants get their names? Many scientific plant names commemorate the botanists who undertook long and risky expeditions to seek out species new to science. Not a few of these intrepid souls met with violent ends. Tour the gardens with Horticultural Interpreter Charles Day to hear stories about some of the courageous people celebrated in plant nomenclature and see their coveted finds in Wave Hill’s living collection.”

This event is free with admission to the grounds.

 Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx
Sunday, October 30
Illuminated Mausoleum Night Tour — “Experience The Woodlawn Cemetery like never before! Enjoy a rare opportunity to visit the cemetery at night with illuminated mausoleums guiding your way. Some of Woodlawn’s 1300 mausoleums will be litfrom the inside to showcase the beauty of the historic structures’ stained glass windows, while others will be bathed in theatrical glow. Learn about the history of this National Historic Landmark and some of its 300,000 permanent residents, as you walk from one glowing building to another through complete darkness.”

Register here. NOTE: Other nights have already sold out, so get your admission now!

Below: Inside the Merchant’s House, 1943 (Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York)


The New York Christmas tradition in an uptown cemetery

Clement Clarke Moore, the lord of Chelsea (the manor for which the neighborhood is named), lived a long and distinguished life as an educator and land developer, dying in 1863 at his home in Newport, Rhode Island.  He was originally buried in the churchyard of St. Luke-in-the-Field (pictured below) in the area of today’s West Village . In 1891 the cemetery was redeveloped  and the remains were transferred to Trinity Church’s graveyard in Washington Heights.


What does all this have to do with Christmas you ask?

Moore was a revered scholar, former president of Columbia College (later Columbia University) and the developer of the General Theological Seminary on his old Chelsea property. But most everybody knows him better as the author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” or “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” a verse of holiday anticipation penned for his children.

For well over one hundred years an unusual ceremony has taken place at Church of the Intercession, the house of worship which sits upon  the grounds of Trinity Church Cemetery.

Church of the Intercession


The tradition was apparently initiated by a vicar at the chapel named Milo Hudson Gates. He “instituted the Christmas Eve service in which many hundreds of children went in procession to decorate the graves of Clement Clarke Moore, author of ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’, and Alfred Tennyson Dickens, son of Charles Dickens, author of ‘A Christmas Carol’.”

Hundreds of children, carrying lanterns and torches in the old days, gathered around Moore’s gravestone and sang Christmas songs.  “Carols were sung and wreaths placed on the grave,” according to a 1919 report. The famous poem by Moore was then recited.  (I’m not sure they still do the march to Dickens’ resting place.)

“His name was Clement C. Moore. His body sleeps beneath the Christmas trees that grow in Trinity Cemetery.” [December 23, 1918]

Below: Children surrounding the grave of Moore’s, sometime in the 1920s or 1930s (according the church website).


This tradition has survived into modern day with some interesting variations. Frequently a person dressed as Saint Nicholas (the saint, not the Santa) leads the procession. In recent decades, a person of some renown reads the poem such as in 2003 when basketball great Isiah Thomas brought Moore’s words to life.

And the tradition returns this year!  This Sunday, December 20, the Church of the Intercession begins with prelude music at 3pm and the official program at 4pm.  This year’s reading will be by William C. Rhoden, sports columnist for the New York Times.

Visit Intercession’s website for more information. The church and cemetery are located at Broadway and West 155th Street.

If you’re heading up there, why not get there an hour early or so and visit the Hispanic Society‘s amazing collection of Spanish artwork, just across the street at Audubon Terrace?





Midnight in Times Square: The history of New Year’s Eve in New York City

PODCAST The tale of New York City’s biggest annual party from its inception on New Years Eve 1904 to the magnificent spectacle of the 21st century. 

In this episode, we look back on the one day of the year that New Yorkers look forward.  New Years Eve is the one night that millions of people around the world focus their attentions on New York City — or more specifically, on the wedge shaped building in Times Square wearing a bright, illuminated ball on its rooftop.

1In the 19th century, the ringing-in of the New Year was celebrated with gatherings near Trinity Church and a pleasant New Years Day custom of visiting young women in their parlors.  But when the New York Times decided to celebrate the opening of their new offices — in the plaza that would take the name Times Square — a new tradition was born.

Tens of millions have visited Times Square over the years, gazing up to watch the electric ball drop, a time-telling mechanism taken from the maritime tradition. The event has been affected by world events — from Prohibition to World War II — and changed by the introduction of radio and television broadcasts.

ALSO: What happened to the celebration which it reached the gritty 1970s and a Times Square with a surly reputation?

PLUS: A few tips for those of you heading to the New Years Eve celebration this year!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

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Or listen to it straight from here:


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New Years Day celebrations have evolved since the days of New Amsterdam when visitations symbolized a ‘fresh start’ to the year.

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL


A decorative cigar box from the 1890s, ringing in the new year with a winsome damsel and wholesome scenes of winter beckoning you to smoke a cigar.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York


The crowds outside Trinity Church on 1906 gathered to usher in the new year. The church was traditionally the place people gathered before the Times Square celebration took off.



Fated to be the centerpiece of New Years Eve, One Times Square once wore some beautiful architecture until much of it was ripped off to accommodate a frenzy of electronic signs.

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL


Times Square in 1905 for the very first New Years Eve celebration albeit one with fireworks, not a ball drop.

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL


The party offerings at the Hotel Astor in Times Square in 1926.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York


The view of Times Square from the Empire State Building.

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL


New Years Eve 1938

AP photo
AP photo

The throngs in 1940 with the Gone With The Wind marquee in the background (not to mention Tallulah Bankhead in the play The Little Foxes!)

Courtesy New York Daily News
Courtesy New York Daily News

Ushering in 1953:


Celebrations were also held for a time in Central Park, like this festive group from 1969:

Courtesy New York Parks Department
Courtesy New York Parks Department

An electrician from the Artkraft Strauss Sign Corporation tests out the lighting effects that will greet the new year in 1992.


And here’s some videos of New Years Eve countdown past!

Mr New Years Eve himself — Guy Lombardo — here at the Roosevelt Hotel, ringing in 1958

From 1965-66:

A clip from Dick Clark’s first appearance in Times Square. It cuts away to Three Dog Night in California!

CBS’s New Years Eve program featuring Catherine Bach from The Dukes of Hazzard.

The absolutely bonkers ball drop for the new millennium.

Last year’s commentary by those wacky cards Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin.

Making Green: The history of New York’s Christmas tree market

For many, the Christmas holiday in New York City finally comes to life when the sidewalks sprout evergreens. The sight and smell of curbside Christmas tree sellers ushers in the season in the most pleasing way. (Pleasing for the passerby; on a rather cold day, I can’t imagine it too pleasing for the seller.)

As history has it, the presence of streetside Christmas trees in the city actually predates Christmas as a national holiday (1870).

In the mid-19th century, hardly any modern Christmas traditions existed. One that did was the Christmas tree, a pre-Christian ritual incorporated into holiday festivities in German-speaking European countries (Those traditional settlers, the Puritans, didn’t much care for Christmas at all.)

Although the tradition did exist in the United States thanks to the Dutch, it was German immigrants who popularized it. As a huge surge in German immigration began in the 1840s, it’s not surprising that New York’s first Christmas tree market — in fact, the first mass-market sale of Christmas trees in the United States — came along shortly after, in 1851.

Unloading Christmas trees, photo from 1901-1915

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

It doesn’t appear that ‘jolly woodsmanMark Carr, living in the lush Catskill Mountains, even celebrated Christmas, but he certainly heard tales of families driving outside of town and chopping down evergreen trees to drag into the city. The go-out-and-get-it-yourself approach probably only benefited the wealthy or anybody with a horse and wagon and the time and energy to travel into the forest and find one. Carr, finding the spirit of the holidays (capitalism) deep within him, thought he’d bring the forest to the city folks.

So a couple weeks before Christmas in 1851 — things didn’t start so early back then — Carr and his sons chopped down a couple dozen fir and spruce trees, shoved them into two ox sleds, carted them over to Manhattan on a ferry and set up shop in the Washington Market paying one dollar for the privilege of taking up a sidewalk at Washington Market with his rather ungainly merchandise.

Holiday revelers were thrilled to be spared the journey out of town, and Carr’s entire stock of evergreens sold out within the day. No surprise this financial opportunity was mimicked by other farmers the next year, and within a few years, the open-air Christmas tree market was born.

Below: A Christmas tree seller on Catherine Street, 1941, photo by Beecher Ogden

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Carr, of course, became the Vanderbilt of the Christmas tree, raking in the dough year after year, selling trees for decades. Carr’s sons were still selling trees in the city as late as 1898, in a city quite transformed, or as the old House Beautiful magazine put it, “Mark Carr’s little sidewalk stand now rents for several hundred times what he paid for it.”

His innovation may be responsible for a whole host of domestic decoration, delivered fresh to the customer. “It is safe to say that 200,000 Christmas trees will be on the market here this year,” said the New York Times in 1880, “besides many tons of Christmas greens.”

Below: Christmas tree sales at Barclay Street, near the site of today’s World Trade Center



By the 1870s boatloads of evergreen trees from Maine were pulling into New York. The task of moving a forest into crowded Manhattan required additional greased palms.

From an 1878 New York Tribune article: “A preliminary trip to the city is … necessary to engage a position on the street or dock, and the rent for this varies from $10 to $75. Then comes the night-watchman and tips (it is whispered) to harbor-masters and police sergeants, so that a dealer who invests $1,000 often realizes little for his labor which extends through three solid months.”

For decades, well into the 20th century, it was easiest to get the trees near the waterfront.  “West Street is now the Christmas tree market in the city,” said the Times in 1908. “Not only is the city’s entire demand supplied practically from this one market, but thousands of Christmas trees are shipped by the West Street dealers to all the surrounding towns and cities in New York State, New Jersey and even to points much further away.”


West Street was still the central location of prime Christmas tree sales by the 1930s, but sellers were increasingly bringing their wares onto city streets. Tree markets were a regular seasonal site by the 1950s, with the deterioration of the New York waterfront.

What has drastically changed is the time of year that trees have become available.  “Prospective buyers … feigned surprise at seeing Christmas trees this time of year,” claimed an article published on December 19, 1951. “Most householders, it is well known to Christmas tree retailers, put off buying a tree in the hope that frantic merchants will have to unload at a low price just before Christmas when the market is glutted.”

Within a New York lodging house, 1910-1915

Library of Congress
Library of Congress


Note: This is an expanded version of an article which originally ran on this blog in 2009.



Wacky, windy and weird: 1964 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Linus the Lion-Hearted at the 1964 Macy’s Parade

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of 1963 had been a downer of a parade.

President John F. Kennedy had just been assassinated a few days before but, deciding that cancelling the event would be “a disappointment to millions of children,” the parade went on as planned.  Leading the parade that year was a 38-foot rubber Unisphere to promote the upcoming World’s Fair. Further back in the line was young television star Michael Landon.

Flash forward to the following year — the World’s Fair out at Flushing-Meadows had celebrated a rocky first year. Landon’s Bonanza was about to become the most popular show on television, a distinction it would hold throughout the mid-1960s. New York City was, generally speaking, in a cautiously more festive mood.

Not that the specter of the previous year’s tragedy was far from people’s minds. “Americans plan to savor the traditional cheer of Thanksgiving today in an atmosphere that contrasts with the numbing experience of last year,” said the New York Times. [source]

Below: Macy’s in 1964 (courtesy The Paper Collector)

For their part, Macy’s was trying to whip New Yorkers back up into a holiday shopping frenzy. Among the hottest items advertised by the department store during Thanksgiving week were Hitachi record players, Consolette hair dryers and mink coats for $99.99.

The 1964 Thanksgiving Day parade (November 27) held a certain campier flair than normal, loaded with family-friendly cheerfulness slightly more heightened than normal, with a few assorted mishaps and lots of goofiness mixed in. Why? For the same reason the 1964 is among the most memorable in parade history — television:

First in Color:  NBC has been broadcasting the parade since 1952.  By 1964 coverage had expanded to 90 minutes — in 2014, it’s three hours — and now, for the first time ever, it would be broadcast in color. Several NBC shows had gone to a color broadcast previously, but Americans didn’t yet have affordable color sets at home. But by 1964 sets were finally being mass produced and sold as luxury items in department stores.

There were a little over one million color televisions in American homes with the potential to tune in to a color broadcast in 1964. Ten years later, that number would rise to almost 45 million.

The Official Debut of Lip-Syncing:  But some lamented the attention to the television audience. At one point, the parade was held up for eight minutes while waiting for a television signal.  “Near Herald Square television took over the parade …. and some of the spontaneity went out of it.”  [source]

Performances were pantomimed while songs were pumped in for the television audience. The Times notes that cameras zoomed in on “performers who were only feigning a performance.” Today, of course, this is a regular feature of the parade and almost none of the performances (outside of the marching bands) feature live singing.

At right: The hosts at the 1968 parade

Lorne and Betty:  The hosts of NBC’s 1964 broadcast were Lorne Greene — Landon’s Bonanza co-star — and the effervescent Betty White, celebrated star of a 1950s show called Life With Elizabeth.  Greene was perhaps one of NBC’s hottest actors at the time, while White was busy as a television spokeswoman. She was also a regular host of the Tournament of Roses parade.  Almost every role you’ve ever loved Betty White in lay far in the future for her at this time.

First Men In the Moon: Being a special televised event meant more promotion of film and television properties.  Among the most unusual was the space-themed float promoting the new film First Men In The Moon, a British sci-fi romp featuring special effects by Ray Harryhausen.

The float did its best to simulate Harryhausen’s unique creations — ‘Moon Cows’, gigantic bugs who poked their heads out of craters upon a floating moonscape. Lorne Greene is reported to have said, “Wow look at those big grasshoppers!” [source]

The Sound of Puppets:  A few stars of the upcoming film The Sound of Music would appear in the parade. No, not Julie Andrews, bur rather the colorful marionettes of Bil Baird, featured in the ‘goatherd’ scene of the film.  I’m not sure how they were presented, and I assume most of the spectators were unable to see them perform.

The Fate of Dino the Dinosaur:  A great danger threatened the 1964 parade — horrible winds. Fortunately no spectators were injured by the gusts, some up to 21 miles an hour.

The balloons did not emerge unscathed.  Dino the Dinosaur (not to be confused with Dino, the dog from the Flintstones) would grow to become a favorite site in the 1960s and 70s. (He’s pictured at right, from the 1963 parade.)

But at the 1964 parade, a sudden gust blew the dinosaur into a lamppost at Columbus Circle, tearing a hole in its side.  Its handlers along the avenue continued to pull the beast down the street, but by the time they got to Macy’s, the dinosaur was partially deflated and dragging the ground.

Popeye The Limp Sailor: Dino wasn’t the only balloon with performance mishaps. The impressively sized Popeye balloon failed to properly inflate the night before; or as the papers note, “there was not enough spinach in the pumps, and Popeye wouldn’t expand at all.”

He was unceremoniously replaced in the parade by a dragon balloon that Macy’s just had lying around.

Donald Duck (pictured below from 1964) had fewer troubles that year.

Linus the Lion-Hearted: Pictured at top, this balloon with excellent posture debuted at the 1964 parade. It was based upon a Crispy Critters breakfast cereal spokesman who had his own television show which debuted just a couple months earlier.  However, when the FCC determined in 1969 that advertising mascots could not also have children’s show, Linus was abruptly cancelled. He would still make frequent appearances in the parade until 1991.

The Soupiest Star: New to NBC, New York City and to the parade itself was children’s comedian Soupy Sales (pictured at left), whose daily show Lunch with Soupy was a local hit that year. He was probably one of the biggest hits in the parade, riding atop a rocking horse, as his trademark beaming grin was as noticeable as the floats themselves.

The Drunk Munster: And then there was Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis, the stars of NBC’s monster comedy The Munsters.

From a prior article — because this incident has fascinated me for years — “[The] stars of The Munsters, appeared in the 1964 parade in their ghoulish costumes, riding along in their ‘Munster Koach’ car. Neither star was very amused. Gwynne was high on ‘nerve medicine‘ and began cursing at the crowd.”

According to their makeup man (pictured below, in the front seat): “I was in the Koach handling the loudspeaker and radio system that was playing the Munsters song.  Fred had brought along a bottle with him, wrapped in a paper bag, and he got fractured [drunk]. And Al was mad at him. Fred was cussin’ at people. I just kept the music up so nobody could hear him.” [source]

Passing the hosts Greene and White in the media box, Herman Munster fired off a rude expletive in their direction as well

Here are some video highlights from the parade, with the Munsters stars prominently featured:

“Peacock NBC presentation in RCA color” Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of NBC via Wikipedia – 

History in the Making 11/24: Big Thanksgiving Rodents Edition

[Mickey Mouse balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.]

Mickey Mouse at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, 1980 (courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

The Christmas Trash Strike of 1981 My new story for A24 Films and A Most Violent Year is up — a look at the strike by the New York sanitation department which kept New Yorkers in feet of garbage. And just in time for the holidays! [NYC 1981]

Thanks Untapped Cities!  They’ve named the Bowery Boys podcast one of the top ten best produced podcasts in New York City. And we’re in some very good company. [Untapped Cities]

Cass Gilbert, the architect of the Woolworth Building, was born 155 years ago today.  Before the Woolworth, he designed three other beautiful structures for the city, and all of them — including the Alexander Hamilton Custom House — are within a short walking distance from his most famous building. [Bowery Boys]

Bright Idea: Did you know New York city had 62 lampposts that have been given official landmark status? [Off the Grid]

Killer ‘Serial’: The true-crime mystery podcast Serial is almost single-handedly changing the way people thing of podcast. If you’re a fan of podcast, you’ll find this article from the Wall Street Journal especially fascinating. [Wall Street Journal]

Save the Edison: The mission to save the Cafe Edison in the old Hotel Edison is underfoot, including weekend lunch mobs and celebrity appearances (well, fake celebrities). [Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York]

Meet Me for Afternoon Tea:  Another midtown classic, the Russian Tea Room, is still going strong and still worth a visit. [Gothamist]

#bikenyc:  Where should New York put its next protected bike lanes? [Streetsblog]

And sadly DeRobertis Pasticceria & Caffe, the Italian bakery which has fed cannoli to New Yorkers since 1904, is closing its door. [Gothamist]


On this Veteran’s Day, a salute to the Harlem Hellfighters!

The men of the 369th who were awarded France’s Criox de Guerre for distinguished acts of heroism:  Pvt. Ed Williams, Herbert Taylor, Pvt. Leon Fraitor, Pvt. Ralph Hawkins. Back Row: Sgt. H. D. Prinas, Sgt. Dan Strorms, Pvt. Joe Williams, Pvt. Alfred Hanley, and Cpl. T. W. Taylor

New York’s 369th Infantry Regiment was America’s first African-American regiment engaged in World War I.  While many white American soldiers would have been happy to serve next to trained regiments of any color, intense racial prejudice in the United States forced many who signed up to fight for their country to instead be assigned to the French army.

Nicknamed the Harlem Hellfighters, the regiment served alongside the French during the summer and fall of 1918.  Perhaps the most famous soldier of the 369th was Private Henry Lincoln Johnson (at right) whose deadly efficiency on the battlefield earned him the grim nickname Black Death.  He became the first of dozens from the 369th to receive the prestigious Criox de Guerre, the equivalent of the American Medal of Honor.

They returned to New York in February 1919 and marched through the streets of Manhattan on February 17 — from Greenwich Village to Harlem, in triumph.

From the New York Times the following day:

New York’s negro soldiers, bringing with them from France one of the bravest records achieved by any organization in the war, marched amidst waving flags and cheering crowds yesterday from Twenty-third Street and Fifth Avenue to 145th Street and Lenox Avenue.”

“At Thirty-Fourth Street the men marched under a shower of cigarettes and candy, and such tokens were pitched at them at other points in the line, but the files did not waver for an instant.

The men of the 369th photographed as they arrive back in New York City, 1919

From original caption (courtesy US National Archies):  “[The] 369th New York City Infantry (old 15th) [African American] troops and some of the 370th Infantry, Illinois [African American] troops, one of the most decorated regiments in the United States Army return to New York City. They saw [the] longest service of any American regiment as part of a foreign army, and had less training than any before going into action. They were never in an American division or brigade always being with the French.”

The 369th marching up Fifth Avenue.

The men are shown here in this assortment of newsreel footage from the war:

Pictures from the U.S. National Archives

Happy Rosh Hashanah! Images of Jewish New Years’ past

Look to the stars children! A vintage Rosh Hashanah card manufactured by the Williamsburg Art Company in the 1920s.

Rosh Hashanah is here — the first of Tishrei, year 5775.  Presented here are a selection of photographs from the Library of Congress depicting Jewish New Yorkers celebrating the new year (or, at least, on their way home to start the festivities).  These images date from 1909-1915, although most are 1912.  As most of these photographs were possibly taken (or labeled) by non-Jewish photographers, some of the meaning is a little lost.  If you have any insights into these images, please leave a comment!

And there’s some detective work to be done here. For instance, anyone recognize this synagogue?

One hundred years ago, Jewish New Year celebrations were especially fraught due to the events in Europe. Ethnics groups from embattled countries, in fear their rituals made them targets for local violence, made doubly sure to distance themselves for the politics of the day, while affirming their continuing connection to their Jewish brethren.

A leader of the reformed Jewish congregation proclaimed, “The conservative and patriotic citizenship of America refrains from endorsing the attitude of any country involved in the horrible European conflict. … [O]ur hearts go out to the 300,000 men in the Russian army who, having bled and suffered at the hands of their country on account of being Jews, are now suffering and dying for their country because as Jews they are loyal to the flag under which they live.” [source]

This one is dated September 1912 although there was not a “Jewish New Year Parade” and this is hardly an image of a parade anyway!

There appear to be a series of old Rosh Hashanah photographs focusing on boot blacks polishing the shoes of young ladies.  I doubt this was an actual custom but more a recognition of the fact that many young boot blacks came from Jewish families. (However, for Passover, people leave their shoes at the door.)

The smile of the girl at center is totally making my day:

Here’s a telling detail from 1914:  New Jersey decided to hold a statewide primary election on the same day as Rosh Hashanah that year, disenfranchising thousands of Jewish voters “who are prohibited from signing their name.” Registering to vote was quite different back in the day; luckily, there was an alternate date provided that fell before the holiday, but no attempts were made to actually move election day.  [source]

Then there’s this captivating image:

So what’s going on in the picture above, taken on the Williamsburg Bridge in 1909?  Per some commentary from a Library of Congress commenter:  “If this was photo was indeed taken around Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) as the notation implies then these people are most likely taking part in a “tashlich” ceremony. The ceremony is when the previous year’s sins are symbolically “cast off” by throwing pieces of bread into a flowing body of water.”

And finally here’s some rather imaginative Jewish New Year postcards that were manufactured by the Williamsburg Art Company sometime in the 1920s.  While the company was located in Brooklyn, all of these were actually manufactured in Germany.