Tag Archives: Herald Square

The Wheel: Ferris’ Big Idea (Special Preview of The First Podcast)

This is a special preview for the new Bowery Boys spin-off podcast series The First: Stories of Inventions and their Consequences, brought to you by Bowery Boys host Greg Young.

01: The first Ferris Wheel was invented to become America’s Eiffel Tower, making its grand debut at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. The wheel’s inventor George Washington Gale Ferris was a clever and optimistic soul; he did everything in his power to ensure that his glorious mechanical ride would forever change the world.

That it did, but unfortunately, its inventor paid a horrible price.

FEATURING a visit the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island, one of the most famous wheels in the world, and a trip to one of Chicago’s newest marvels — the Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier.

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.

And subscribe to The First here so that you don’t miss future episodes!

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
01 THE WHEEL: FERRIS’ BIG IDEA (The First Special Preview)

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

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The star of the show — George Washington Gale Ferris:

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… and the Ferris Wheel at the World’s Fair!

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Courtesy Chicago History Museum
Courtesy Chicago History Museum

Some intriguing finds I made while researching at the Chicago History Museum and the National Archives:

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The telegram from Luther Rice to George Washington Ferris that was read on the show:

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This was also featured on the show — the passionate letter from Ferris, asking Rice to join the project

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Images of wheel construction courtesy Scientific American.

Courtesy Scientific American
Courtesy Scientific American
Courtesy Scientific American
Courtesy Scientific American
Courtesy Scientific American
Courtesy Scientific American
Courtesy Scientific American
Courtesy Scientific American

 

New York Times, May 13, 1894 — This article mentioned the plan to move the Ferris Wheel to New York (but the plan fell through)

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From the New York Times, March 1, 1898

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PLACES TO VISIT:

The Chicago Navy Pier (featured on the show)

Chicago History Museum (featured on the show)

The Midway Pleasance and Jackson Park, Chicago

The Ferris House in Pittsburgh, PA

The Sears-Ferris House in Carson City, Nevada

The Wonder Wheel and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, Coney Island, Brooklyn (featured on the show)

The High Roller, Las Vegas, Nevada

Weiter Riesenrad (Vienna’s Giant Ferris Wheel), Vienna, Austria

THINGS TO READ:

Ferris Wheels: An Illustrated History by Norman Anderson

Circles In the Sky: The Life and Times of George Ferris by Richard G. Weingardt

Six Months at the Fair by Mrs Mark Stevens

ARTWORK FOR THE FIRST DESIGNED BY THOMAS CABUS. CHECK OUT HIS PORTFOLIO OF OTHER WORK HERE.

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The real ‘Miracle On 34th Street’: 21 great historical details from New York City’s most famous Christmas movie



The Bowery Boys Obsessive Guides look very, very closely at a classic movie filmed in New York City, finding buried history, additional context and a few secrets within various scenes and plot points. Filled with film spoilers so read this after you’ve seen the movie — or use it to follow along as you watch it!  Check out my previous guides for Midnight CowboyGhostbusters and The Muppets Take Manhattan.

“Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind… and that’s what’s been changing. That’s why I’m glad I’m here, maybe I can do something about it.” 

— Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwynn)

Miracle on 34th Street is the most famous New York City Christmas movie ever made, a celebration of post-war prosperity that happily substitutes Herald Square for the North Pole.

The movie is a complete inventory of the commercial Christmas experience. It treats the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade like a starting gate — Thanksgiving? What’s that? — and, like many Americans, spends much of its entire running time in department stores.

The central question posed by this 1947 classic is whether Macy’s newly hired Santa Claus (played by Edmund Gwenn) is actually the Santa Claus or just some crazy person. At stake is not only the entire world’s celebration of Christmas, but the heart of young Susan (played by Natalie Wood) who never believed in Santa, thanks to her mother Doris (Maureen O’Hara).

Manhattan is perpetually bustling, from the Upper West Side down to Foley Square. Despite its reputation as a saccharine sweet take on the materialistic component of the holiday, the film is really quite cynical, even dark, at times.  Throwing an old man into the Bellevue Hospital psychiatric ward in the 1940s is hardly what I call a warm and fuzzy image.

I recently dug deep into the film and found a great many fascinating details, many involving people and places that lived in New York City at that time.  Here’s my obsessive guide to what normally stuffy critic Bosley Crowther originally called “the freshest little picture in a long time and maybe even the best comedy of the year.”

1) Arranging Reindeer  The film opens with Kris Kringle walking south down Madison Avenue. Get it? He’s Santa. He’s from the north! Along the way he passes several long-vanished New York businesses — Rosenberg & Grief furrier, Janice Carol salon, Liszt jeweler (or possibly pawn shop?)

He stops to chastise a store clerk on 19 East 61st Street about the placement of reindeer in the shop windows. That shop belonged to the interior designer Lillian Schary Waldman, often employed by high society and responsible for the homes of a few celebrities including Danny Kaye.  

By the way, you’ll notice there’s no Rudolph in the Christmas display.  The red nosed reindeer was created in 1939, within a coloring book produced by Montgomery Ward (at right), but not popularly considered part of Santa’s team until the 1964 Rankin-Bass animated special. (EDIT: Thanks to the commenter for reminding me of Rudolph’s real coming out –the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” recorded by Gene Autry and Bing Crosby in successive years.)

2) Old Newsprint  The film occasionally uses the technique of turning newspaper pages as a way of setting the scene.  Notice the first time this is used, before the parade.  The prop designer constructed a phony newspaper but used real news articles from the New York Times.  Here’s the catch — most of the stories are well over a decade old! Some examples:  “NEW FRENCH CABINET UPHELD BY DEPUTIES” – Dec 23, 1932, “OUR SPEED PRAISED IN CHILD LABOR BAN” – July 20, 1933, and “EARTHS FORCES LAID TO COSMIC IMPULSE” – July 24, 1933

The curious Deitrich Knickerbocker balloon from the 1936 parade. (Courtesy Smithsonian)

3) The Real Parade  Santa Claus has appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade since the very first parade in 1924. One detail that did not quite make it into the modern era — knights in shining armor.  Santa arrived in Herald Square “in state. The float upon which he rode was in the form of a sled driven by reindeer over a mountain of ice.  Preceding him were men dressed like the knights of old, their spears shining in the sunlight.” [source]

The scenes of the Thanksgiving Day parade in Miracle are real, taken from the 1946 parade.  This mixing of live events and fictional set pieces (filmed in Hollywood) was rather unusual for the day.  “Scenes shot in actual New York settings add credibility to the film,” said Crowther.  Gwenn was even the parade’s real Santa!  “A somewhat frostbitten Santa Claus, in the person of Edmund Gwenn, the actor, gingerly climbed off his high perch and unveiled Macy’s mechanical windows….” [source]

4) Bad Santas  “These pants are gonna fall off in the midst of Columbus Circle,” said the unfortunately inebriated Santa, who is relieved of his duties and replaced by Gwenn’s Santa.  Several decades before Santacon, newspapers would occasionally make note of a Santa who would come to work “with liquor on his breath.”  It seems there were all sorts of lecherous Santas! In 1948, the year after Miracle, the New York Times Magazine notes a Santa who “grabbed a trim young mother, set her on his knee and suggested that they both go out and have a drink.”

5) Behind The Beard  Edmund Gwenn, the film’s jovial Kris Kringle, went on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. (Unfortunately, he beat Richard Widmark‘s work in the film Kiss of Death, widely considered to be one of the greatest film noir performances.)

Although he had made dozens of films, the British actor was known for his work on the stage.  In fact, right before starting work on Miracle, he gave what would be his last performance on the New York stage — the play You Touched Me with upcoming young star Montgomery Clift.

At right: Clift and Gwenn from their Broadway production of You Touched Me (Courtesy WalterFilm)

6) D-I-V-O-R-C-E  Miracle is unique in that its heroine is a divorced woman, but she’s badly treated by the film’s screenplay.  Note the look of shock on the face of Fred Galley (John Payne) when little Susan casually mentions that her mother and father are divorced.

After World War II, divorce rates skyrocketed in America as servicemen returned from war to changed domestic situations. Divorces were only “fault-based” at the time; “typical grounds were adultery, desertion, habitual drunkenness, conviction of a felony, impotence … and, most used by divorcing parties, ‘cruel and inhuman treatment’.” [source]

The film makes some unsubtle commentary — Doris (which even sounds like divorce) is depicted as a cold, cynical woman, lacking little joy. I mean, she’s the director of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and she doesn’t even bother to stay and watch it?

7) Locker Room Talk  We’re granted many scenes of Macy’s work spaces that customers don’t get to see, such as the locker room, where Kringle meets Alfred, the sometimes store Santa “with extra padding” and a thick Brooklyn accent — “just troo ’em on the floor!”

Macy’s was actually once renown for its locker room! From a report in 1913:  “At Macy’s there are vast locker rooms containing expanded individual metal lockers for the majority of the employees and some smaller ones for certain groups.  Never are two required to use one locker, except during Christmas rush. This is an exceedingly liberal policy, considering the size of the establishment, and a most desirable one.”

8) Toy Stores  We get to the crux of the tale when Kringle, now hired as Macy’s Santa, begins sending customers to other department stores in the city.  Most notably he sends a thankful mother (played by Thelma Ritter, in her debut film role) to Macy’s big rival Gimbels and another to a toy store called Schoenfeld’s, in Yorkville, at 1254 Lexington Avenue.

Here’s an ad for a toy submarine that was sold at Schoenfeld’s in 1927.

9) Cutthroat Business  Macy’s and Gimbel’s were the two biggest department stores in Herald Square and one of New York’s best known rivalries. “Would Macy’s tell Gimbels?” was a popular expression of the time, expressing the fierce secrecy in sales and marketing practices.  In Miracle, after Macy’s embraces Kringle’s policy of recommending items for sale at other stores, Gimbals tries to one-up their rival by adhering to the same policy and spread it to their stores across the country.

According to Gimbels lore, the company chairman Bernard Gimbel was asked to take the role of Kringle in Miracle. (I personally find this very hard to believe.)  Such a request would not have been made of Macy’s founder Rowland Hussey Macy as he had died almost 70 years before.

Below: Gimbels Department Store in Harold Square, taken in 1915, from the vantage of the Marbridge Building (Photo by the Wurts Brothers, courtesy Museum of City of New York)

10) Home Away From Home  When not at the North Pole, Kris Kringle resides at Brooks Memorial Home for the Aged at 126 Maplewood Dr, Great Neck, Long Island.  That’s a real address although you won’t find the grand exterior that was used in the film. Why would they put Kringle in a nursing home in Great Neck?  Perhaps it was a literary illusion to another great New York City fictional tale — Great Neck is called West Egg in The Great Gatsby, written only twenty-two years previous.

11) Santa Gets It Wrong Kringle is taken in for a psychological evaluation to prove his competence.  He’s fully prepared, of course, seeing as he’s frequently accused of being crazy.

He rattles off a list of questions that might be thrown his direction during the mental examination.  The trickiest?  “Who was the vice president under John Quincy Adams? Daniel D Tompkins. And I’ll bet your Mr Sawyer doesn’t know that!”

Tompkins was a great many things in his day.  Today he’s the namesake of Tompkins Square Park and Tompkinsville, Staten Island. But one thing he was not — he was never vice president under John Quincy Adams.  That was John C. Calhoun. Tompkins served under President James Monroe.

So what accounts for this obvious error? Is it a true gaffe or an insight into Kringle’s character? Maybe he was crazy! Or just in need of an encyclopedia.

By the way, the psychiatrist Sawyer is taking his examination cues from a 1946 book called Mastering Your Nerves: How To Relax Through Action.

12) Working Delusion  The handsome Doctor Pierce from the Brooks Memorial Home is sure the old man is suffering from a deeply held delusion.  But so what?

“Why there are thousands of people walking around with similar delusions, living perfectly normal lives in every other respect. A famous example is that fellow — I cant think of his name — but for years he’s insisted he’s a Russian prince. He owns a famous restaurant in Hollywood and is a highly respected citizen.”

Pierce is referencing an actual person named Michael Romanoff (at right), a noted ‘professional imposter’, who once walked the streets of New York City claiming he was Prince Michael Dimitri Alexandrovich Obolensky-Romanoff, nephew of Tsar Nicholas II.

In 1941 he opened the restaurant Romanoff’s in Los Angeles on North Rodeo Drive, enjoying newly found success in a town noted for its impostors.  The famous photograph of Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield is taken at Romanoff’s.

13) Martini Time! In a delightfully throw-away scene, Shellhammer, the head of Macy’s toy department, tries to convince his wife to let Kringle stay at their home.  In order to get her to agree, he gets her wasted on martinis.  “We always have martinis before dinner.  I’ll make them double-strength tonight.”

We have Prohibition to thank for martini hour in many American homes.  Driving alcohol consumption into private dwellings, the cocktail hour was firmly entrenched by the 1930s.  It was properly solidified by the world’s most famous martini drinker after James Bond — Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “Before dinner we usually had martini cocktails made by the President’s own hands,” said one cabinet member.  Many remembered that Roosevelt made very, very bad martinis, preferring to enhance them with a few drops of absinthe.

At right: A festive Gimbels ad which ran in the New York Times in 1946

14) Advertising Blitz Macy’s fully embraces the altruistic policy of directing shoppers to other stores if they are looking for an item that is not stocked. In a montage, we get to see some of the other department stores benefiting from Macy’s new rules — Bloomingdales, Hearn’s, Gimbels, Stern’s and McCreery’s. 

These stores were situated very close to one another during the 1940s and had followed each other up the island of Manhattan, beginning their existence in lower Manhattan, then moving to Ladies Mile in the late 19th century, then to Midtown by the new century.  For instance, Hearn’s went from Broadway and 8th Street, then to 14th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue (very near Macy’s old home).

McCreery’s made its Ladies Mile home at Sixth Avenue and 23rd Street.  Today it’s occupied by another building with a Best Buy on the bottom floor.  It later moved to 34th Street and Fifth Avenue.

For more information about the department store scene, check out our podcast on Ladies Mile.

15) Vintage Lunch  We see Alfred and Kris Kringle in another space for Macy’s employee’s — the cafeteria.  This was obviously filmed on location as evidenced by this picture of the cafeteria from 1948 (photo by Nina Leen):

16) The Nut House  Kris Kringle purposefully fails a mental exam — heartbroken by what he believes is a betrayal by Doris — and gets thrown into Bellevue Hospital for a few days. Kringle is seen in a relatively safe environment although the hospital’s reputation was less than rosy during this period. This is the era of shock therapy and other controversial treatments. In one experiment at Bellevue from the mid-1940s, almost one hundred children with diagnosed schizophrenia were given shock treatments six days a week.

 Bellevue was also famous during this period for its alcohol rehabilitation center.  In 1945, the film The Lost Weekend detailed one alcoholic’s “staggering ugly treatment” here.

17) Kooky Headlines In another swirl of headlines, we’re alerted to Kringle’s upcoming court trial to determine his true status.  Among the many headlines we see is one that makes a total assault upon the English language — KRIS KRINGLE KRAZY? KOURT KASE KOMNG “KALAMITY” KRY KIDDIES

This is a gag directed squarely at Daily Variety, who specialized in absurdist headlines as early as the 1930s.  In 1935 they went with the mind-boggling STICKS NIX HICK PIX, a headline later made famous in the 1942 film Yankee Doodle Dandy.

18) Historical Spot  The climax of the film arrives at a peculiar place — Foley Square and the New York County Courthouse, one of the pillars of this civic district. The building was a little over 20 years old at the time of this film, and it looks pretty much the same as it does today.  Along the top of the structure you can make out a carving of a 1789 quotation by George Washington — “The True Administration of Justice is the Firmest Pillar of Good Government.”

This building sets near the infamous intersection of Five Points and almost exactly on the spot were old Collect Pond once sat!

Below: New York County Courthouse, where Kringle’s fate is decided. (Photo from 1927, Wurts Brothers, courtesy Museum of the City of New York)

19) Kids Court  In an effort to prove the existence of Santa Claus, the son of the prosecutor is called to the stand.  His name is Tom Marrah (you know, because he’s the future — tomorrow) and he is questioned about his beliefs on Old Saint Nick. “He gave me a brand-new flexible flyer sled last year,” he proclaims, then proceeds to point out Kringle from the stand.

The scene is an amusing twist on the great tale of “Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus,” the famous confirmation of Santa’s existence that was published in the New York Sun fifty years earlier. The Virginia in question was also the child of a city employee — the coroner’s assistant — whose letter was answered by Sun editor Francis Pharcellus Church.  In the case of Miracle, it is a more assured child that confirms his identity.  Judge Henry X Harper — a Democrat, we learn — affirms Kringle’s existence to curry favor from the electorate.

20) Dear Santa  The final proof arrives, deus ex machina style, in the form of thousands of letters, re-routed from New York’s mail processing center to Foley Square.  Kringle’s lawyer Galley then proceeds to regale the hall with a brief history of the U.S. post office.  Galley informs the judge that the mail service was created in 1776 — technically it was 1775 — by the Second Continental Congress. Benjamin Franklin was indeed the first postmaster general.

So how many letters does Santa really get a year? In 2013 — even in the era of emails —  there were over one million letters from American children alone. [source]  Back in 1940, the postmaster’s office was inundated with correspondence. Letters address to Santa were “opened and read so that ‘the real worthy ones’  can be set aside from those which were childish requests.” Because how dare a child ask Santa a childish request.

The film may have played a hand into an increase of Dear Santa letters in 1947 — “up 25% over 1946,” according to reports.

From the 1940s article:

21) Christmas In June Miracle on 34th Street may be set during Christmastime, but it was originally released in the late spring, June 2, 1947. The film made its New York debut at the Roxy Theatre in a program that also featured comedian Jerry Lester, singer Art Lund, a puppet show and “the Gae Foster Roxyettes,” which replaced the original Roxyettes after they moved to Radio City Music Hall.

As part of the promotion for the film, Macy’s sent an undercover shopper into Gimbel’s to report for Macy’s-owned radio station WOR.  It’s doubtful that either department store took Santa’s advice and recommended visiting their competitor.

Inside Gimbels traverse, the secret perch near Herald Square

Looking up to the Gimbels traverse overhead on 32nd Street (Flickr/Docking Bay 93)

One of our podcast listeners Alexander Rea sent over the following photographs of a tucked-away place in one of the busiest areas of New York City — the Gimbels traverse on W. 32nd Street, in the Herald Square shopping district.

No doubt you’ve walked around the city and seen other sorts of traverses, those overhead bridges that link two buildings together, several stories up.  But the Gimbels traverse is perhaps the most interesting and the most beautiful in New York.  Today, this ornate treasure amusingly hangs right over Jack’s 99 Cent Store.  Here’s a bit of its history, revised from something I wrote a few years ago:

Macy’s kicked off the Herald Square department store district when it transferred here from its original 14th Street home in 1902.  [Listen to our Ladies’ Mile podcast for more information.]  Soon other department-store competitors of Macy’s flocked to the neighborhood in the early part of the 20th century. One strange vestige of this retail nostalgia still exists, in the form of a fabulous green copper traverse above W. 32nd Street.

Gimbels arrived in the Herald Square area in 1910 with a building designed by no less than Daniel Burnham (of Flatiron Building fame).  Gimbels was a more than worthy adversary of nearby Macy’s.  The early catchphrase ‘Well, would Macy’s tell Gimbels?’ exemplified the top-secret, competitive tactics of the two retail giants

Gimbels vied for attention with such wacky publicity stunts as sponsorship of a daredevil airplane race that sailed over the department store in 1911.  But despite (or perhaps, because of) other innovations such as the first ‘bargain basement’, Gimbels never reached the same hallmarks of class and reputation that Macy’s did.

In 1925, Gimbels decided to link its Herald Square store to a recently acquired annex across the street, via a custom traverse, a beautiful copper bridge, three stories tall, created by Richmond H. Shreve and William F. Lamb, a teeth-cutting project for two young architects who would go on to help design the Empire State Building.

Both the original Gimbels store and its annex have been radically modified over the years. Thankfully, the copper bridge (now, like the Statue of Liberty, in bright verdigris) has been left virtually intact.  Despite some fears that it might be getting ripped down, the musty but still beautiful sky bridge still hangs high above shopper’s heads, a reminder of a universe of cut-throat department-store wars.  (Inset pictures courtesy Flickr/moufle, Docking Bay 93)

Below: A sketch, dated 1927, by Gerald K Geerlings, showing the construction of the Gimbels traverse. Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York



Rea, who works in the old Gimbels building (today the Manhattan Mall), was recently granted brief access into the traverse, which spends most its existence sealed off and empty.  Here are some of the images he was able to capture in his brief time inside, revealing some old signage and the world outside from this rare vantage.  Thanks for sharing, Alexander!

The adventures of Tony Pizzo, the sailor handcuffed to a bike

It’s Fleet Week!  The streets of New York are filled with hundreds of Marines and sailors who arrived yesterday in New York Harbor.  I’m pretty sure, however, that none of them hit the streets handcuffed to a bicycle.

That distinction goes to the enigmatic Tony Pizzo who, in 1919, rode his bicycle from Los Angeles to New York City.  And then, the following year, he rode it back again.

Pizzo set off from Los Angeles in grand style 95 years ago this week (May 21, 1919), joined by fellow sailor C.J. Devine who was attached to another bicycle.  The men were handcuffed to these specially designed bikes during a ceremony in Venice Beach by none other that Hollywood’s greatest star — Fatty Arbuckle.

Pizzo embarked on the trip as a dare from Arbuckle, who wagered the sailor $3,500 that he couldn’t make it to New York by November 1.  Why a military man was wiling away his time doing this in the months after World War I is beyond me.  (One press clipping describes him as “a discharged sailor.”)  In reality this was an elaborate advertising stunt.  One newspaper reports that “[t]he men were advertising the Fisk tire, Morrow brakes and Crown bicycles.”

“One can hardly realize the trouble that these two riders were put to,” remarked the League of American Wheelmen, “for they had to eat, drink, wash and take care of themselves generally while handcuffed to their wheels.”

The two men made their way across America, selling souvenir postcards to fund their cross-country journey.  Unfortunately, in Kansas, Devine was hit by a car, so Pizzo went the rest of the way alone.

He finally arrived in New York on October 30, greeted by guests at the Hotel McAlpin in Herald Square. He checked into a room still handcuffed to his bicycle and was only separated from the device a day later by Mayor John Hylan.

Pizzo “regarded his bicycle with dislike,” according to the New York Times. “[H]e would not do it again for one million dollars.”

But, in fact, he did do it again, re-chained to the same bike, riding back to Los Angeles the following year.  Fortunately, Devine had recovered from his injuries and accompanied Pizzo as his manager.

Below: From a Philadelphia newspaper, May 1, 1920

Apparently Pizzo just couldn’t stop biking.  In 1921, he embarked on another dare, the intent of which is indicated on his retooled bicycle below — to visit the governors of all 48 states. (picture courtesy Flickr/Zaz von Schwinn)

Shower time: Drive-thru horse washes in Herald Square

I’m grateful to see horses getting a little love in the waning years of regular horse-drawn vehicles in New York. But never realized they had their own drive-thru horse wash!

This 1912 horse recuperation station was made possible by William J. Gane, the proprietor of a few Herald Square moving picture houses and a ‘pioneer exhibitor’, according to one source..  He personally funded these way-stations for heated horses at Broadway and 33rd Street.

“A horse fell down across the street one afternoon in June, and it looked like it was going to die,” Gane told the New York Sun. “They sent for a policeman to shoot the poor beast, but some of my men happened to be using a hose … and I had them pour water over the horses’s head and back for half an hour.  The policeman didn’t have anything to do, for the horse scrambled to his feet and went on.”

The New York Water Department initially fined Gane $10 a day for the waste of water, yet he obstinately refused to stop providing the street-side shower service.  He then installed the makeshift shower-head (pictured above) and the city left him alone.

Although some had sanitation concerns, others in the neighborhood thought the shower station good for business.  The Sun even trumpeted the benefits in the headline “Water Troughs in Front of Saloons Good For Business, Say Proprietors.”

“I like myself when I’m through with work,” said the man operating the horse showers, “and I suppose the horses might feel the same way about it.”

 Photo courtesy the Library of Congress

The owls are not what they seem: It appears the clock in Herald Square may not be a portal for the Illuminati after all


Pic courtesy Brecthbug/Flickr
Bummer. I so wanted the spectacular owl-infested Herald Square clock, once perched atop the offices of the New York Herald across the street, to be a secret meeting portal for the Illuminati.

I facetiously brought up the theory in our December podcast on the history of Herald Square.  Upon the door of the clock, which sits in the northern portion of the plaza, is a strange symbol featuring an owl and stars:

Picture courtesy entrance/Flickr

The extravagant James Gordon Bennett Jr., the Herald’s editor at the end of the 19th century, has frequently been linked to the Illuminati.  They say the shadowy, all-powerful organization, with alleged ties to some of the darkest secrets from ancient history, gather to manipulate world affairs only at night. And thus their insignia features the owl — ever vigilant, mysterious and wise.

Bennett was obsessed with owls and festooned his lavish newspaper offices with the bird, many with glowing eyes.  Below: Roof decorations on the old Herald Building, pic courtesy NYPL

In fact, Bennett had commissioned Stanford White to design a lofty mausoleum for Bennett at his death, featuring an owl 200 feet high, to be placed in Washington Heights!  But when White was murdered on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden in 1906, Bennett’s grandiose plans were scrapped.

Below: The article from the New York Times, featuring a pencil sketch of the proposed owl monument.

The Herald clock features the goddess Minerva and her trademark companion — of course, an owl.  Like the owl, Minerva herself is frequently represented in Illuminati symbolism.  Adding to the mystery are the names of the two bell-ringers below here, Gog and Magog — entities from the biblical era and mentioned in the Book of Revelation. “When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the Earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle.”

So you can just imagine how this has stirred the conspiracy theorist community over the years.  It’s all practically begging for a Dan Brown novel or a Nicolas Cage film.  After all, if miles of underground passages exist underneath Trinity Church in ‘National Treasure’, what could possibly lurk here in Herald Square, beneath Bennett’s old symbol-laden clock?

Alas, one of our listeners Ryan Cox has dispelled the existence of any clandestine passageways with a few well-timed photographs. It seems the door is nothing more than a custodian’s closet!

Okay, I mean the realists among you probably assumed this the whole time.

But what if there’s a secret passage behind all the hoses and brooms?  What if Illuminati members step over the mop bucket to get there?

Four New York City landmarks turn 100 years old this year

1) Grand Central Terminal
The Grand Central Depot was first built at 42nd Street in 1871 as a hub for Cornelius Vanderbilt’s railroad operations. It was greatly expanded at the turn of the century. and by this time, the tracks headed north were electrified and buried, creating Park Avenue.

The present terminal was conceived in 1903 by two teams of architects and took a decade to construct. Meanwhile, the tracks heading north, now sunken and electrified, were covered with a new street and its air rights sold to become Park Avenue.

The ne plus ultra of Beaux-Arts New York opened in February 1, 1913, and its first train, the Boston Express, left the station two days later.

For more information, listen to our podcast on Grand Central Terminal (Episode #45)

2) Woolworth Building
The Woolworth Building and the current One World Trade Center are separated by a couple blocks — and one century. Just as New Yorkers marveled last year at what will be the city’s tallest building as it began to tower over downtown Manhattan, so too did the New Yorkers of 1912, at the ornate Cass Gilbert structure rising near City Hall. In January of 1912, newspapers were already proclaiming Woolworth the crown of “:the world’s greatest construction era.”

One World Trade Center will open later in 2013. The Woolworth opened on April 24, 1913 as New York’s tallest building until 1930. As you can tell from the 1910s postcard above, it rose next to the garish old New York Post Office at the foot of City Hall Park.

For more information, listen to our podcast on the Woolworth Building (Episode #76)

3) The Apollo Theatre
The theater that eventually became one of America’s top spotlight for new entertainers was constructed in 1913 — its architect, George Keister, designed many great theaters of the day, including the Belasco — and quickly became a home for Harlem burlesque acts under the name Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater.  While far from Times Square’s Broadway district, its stage has actually outlasted most of the theaters there.

It reopened in 1933 as the 125th Street Apollo Theater. It was around this time that the doors were opened to African-American entertainers.  Its ‘amateur nights’ would soon become world-famous for discovering major talent.

For more information, listen to our podcast on the Apollo Theatre (Episode #15)

4) Hotel McAlpin
New Yorkers got a look at Herald Square’s Hotel McAlpin — the tallest hotel in the world at the time — in a lavish open house on December 29, 1912.  Thousands marveled at its almost absurd size, suitable for 2,500 guests and 1,500 employees.  It was ready to welcome guests with the new year.

“The McAlpin has many features peculiar to it among hotels,” proclaimed the New York Times. “For one thing there is a woman’s floor to which no men are permitted and where even the clerks are women …The twenty-second floor is devoted exclusively to men.” And the 16th floor was known as the ‘Sleepy Sixteenth’, the silent floor.

Today the Hotel McAlpin is an apartment complex, the Herald Towers.

For more information, listen to our last podcast on the history of Herald Square (Episode #146)

Note: I don’t think the McAlpin is officially landmarked, only one in the historical sense.

Courtesy 1) Wurts Brother/NYPL; 2) NYPL; 3) Long Wharf Theatre; 4) NYPL

Four New York City landmarks turn 100 years old this year

1) Grand Central Terminal
The Grand Central Depot was first built at 42nd Street in 1871 as a hub for Cornelius Vanderbilt’s railroad operations. It was greatly expanded at the turn of the century. and by this time, the tracks headed north were electrified and buried, creating Park Avenue.

The present terminal was conceived in 1903 by two teams of architects and took a decade to construct. Meanwhile, the tracks heading north, now sunken and electrified, were covered with a new street and its air rights sold to become Park Avenue.

The ne plus ultra of Beaux-Arts New York opened in February 1, 1913, and its first train, the Boston Express, left the station two days later.

For more information, listen to our podcast on Grand Central Terminal (Episode #45)

2) Woolworth Building
The Woolworth Building and the current One World Trade Center are separated by a couple blocks — and one century. Just as New Yorkers marveled last year at what will be the city’s tallest building as it began to tower over downtown Manhattan, so too did the New Yorkers of 1912, at the ornate Cass Gilbert structure rising near City Hall. In January of 1912, newspapers were already proclaiming Woolworth the crown of “:the world’s greatest construction era.”

One World Trade Center will open later in 2013. The Woolworth opened on April 24, 1913 as New York’s tallest building until 1930. As you can tell from the 1910s postcard above, it rose next to the garish old New York Post Office at the foot of City Hall Park.

For more information, listen to our podcast on the Woolworth Building (Episode #76)

3) The Apollo Theatre
The theater that eventually became one of America’s top spotlight for new entertainers was constructed in 1913 — its architect, George Keister, designed many great theaters of the day, including the Belasco — and quickly became a home for Harlem burlesque acts under the name Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater.  While far from Times Square’s Broadway district, its stage has actually outlasted most of the theaters there.

It reopened in 1933 as the 125th Street Apollo Theater. It was around this time that the doors were opened to African-American entertainers.  Its ‘amateur nights’ would soon become world-famous for discovering major talent.

For more information, listen to our podcast on the Apollo Theatre (Episode #15)

4) Hotel McAlpin
New Yorkers got a look at Herald Square’s Hotel McAlpin — the tallest hotel in the world at the time — in a lavish open house on December 29, 1912.  Thousands marveled at its almost absurd size, suitable for 2,500 guests and 1,500 employees.  It was ready to welcome guests with the new year.

“The McAlpin has many features peculiar to it among hotels,” proclaimed the New York Times. “For one thing there is a woman’s floor to which no men are permitted and where even the clerks are women …The twenty-second floor is devoted exclusively to men.” And the 16th floor was known as the ‘Sleepy Sixteenth’, the silent floor.

Today the Hotel McAlpin is an apartment complex, the Herald Towers.

For more information, listen to our last podcast on the history of Herald Square (Episode #146)

Note: I don’t think the McAlpin is officially landmarked, only one in the historical sense.

Courtesy 1) Wurts Brother/NYPL; 2) NYPL; 3) Long Wharf Theatre; 4) NYPL

Eleven breathtaking views of the New York Herald Building, one of midtown Manhattan’s earliest tourist attractions

Click into the images within this post for a more closeup view!

When the extravagant James Gordon Bennett Jr. decided to move the offices of the New York Herald from grimy, old Park Row to the frenzy of uptown Manhattan, he wanted something spectacular and eye-catching.  As we mentioned in our newest podcast on the history of Herald Square, Bennett went the opposite direction of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who remained on on Park Row and put his publication in the tallest building in the world (the New York World tower, completed in 1890).

Bennett’s New York Herald Building, completed in 1894, sat at 35th Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, on the north side of the square his building would soon give its name. He wanted the structure to align with the theaters and hotels of the area; as designed by Stanford White, the New York Herald Building doesn’t tower over the neighborhood.

He wanted the newspaper to be essential to the rhythm and energy of this bustling intersection. It does so with its mysterious and fanciful ornamentation, its spooky owls, its ornate clock tower and its mechanical bell-ringers.

Below: the New York Herald Building, at 35th Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, a frilly Italian-style structure at the nexus of a growing New York in the 1890s. [LOC]

But the building became a component of the square with its open windows displaying the printing presses inside. Visitors would stand gawking as the presses furiously went about print the late-day editions. In the era before radio and television, the results of sporting events would be displayed on a billboard or “Play-o-Graph” that would attract thousands. It would be here that thousands of New Yorkers would gather to get the results of the World Series between the Red Sox and the Giants — occurring just uptown at the Polo Grounds!

The New York Herald Building became one of midtown Manhattan’s first big draws for regular New Yorkers and visitors to gather, get news, set their watches, dazzle at modern technology and ogle at the curious mix of high and low culture that sped through here. One decade later, Times Square would bring the same kind of excitement to another Broadway intersection.

Here are some additional views of the Herald Building, many romantic, most unbelievable, especially if you consider what sits there today:

Thousands of men gather to watch the results of the 1911 World Series — between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Athletics — displayed on a “Play-o-Graph” at Herald Building. Sports results were telegraphed from inside the building, and a mini baseball diamond was regularly updated, mirroring the real time action. [LOC]

Spectators watch the Herald presses in action. {LOC}

From the Appleton publication The New Metropolis, 1899 (courtesy CUNY)

The square in front of the Herald Building would also be used for immediate announcement, often taken right from the telegraph. These men are reading a military recruitment advertisement. [LOC]

A closeup of the ornate clock, with the goddess Minerva, its two bell ringers Scruff and Guff, and the series of owls perched at various spots around the building. From March 1921 (Courtesy NYPL)

A painting by Herman Hyneman from 1899, depicting a Herald newsie and a customer in the snow. [NYPL]

Also from The New Metropolis, an owl’s-eye view of Herald Square, from 1899.  The caption: “This is a vibrant reproduction of a color print by Canadian-born artist Charles William Jefferys (1869-1951) who once worked at the New York Herald. The Broadway Tabernacle Church, the 6th Avenue elevated train, the Herald Building and several theatres, including Koster and Bial’s, are depicted. The streets are teaming with cable cars, horse drawn vehicles and pedestrians.” Courtesy CUNY

And finally, an overhead view of the entire square. This is an image that was cleaned up and published by the great photo blog Shorpy. Click into the picture to see a rather magnificent view of the surroundings. Trust me, you may waste five minutes just looking at this one….

Eleven breathtaking views of the New York Herald Building, one of midtown Manhattan’s earliest tourist attractions

Click into the images within this post for a more closeup view!

When the extravagant James Gordon Bennett Jr. decided to move the offices of the New York Herald from grimy, old Park Row to the frenzy of uptown Manhattan, he wanted something spectacular and eye-catching.  As we mentioned in our newest podcast on the history of Herald Square, Bennett went the opposite direction of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who remained on on Park Row and put his publication in the tallest building in the world (the New York World tower, completed in 1890).

Bennett’s New York Herald Building, completed in 1894, sat at 35th Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, on the north side of the square his building would soon give its name. He wanted the structure to align with the theaters and hotels of the area; as designed by Stanford White, the New York Herald Building doesn’t tower over the neighborhood.

He wanted the newspaper to be essential to the rhythm and energy of this bustling intersection. It does so with its mysterious and fanciful ornamentation, its spooky owls, its ornate clock tower and its mechanical bell-ringers.

Below: the New York Herald Building, at 35th Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, a frilly Italian-style structure at the nexus of a growing New York in the 1890s. [LOC]

But the building became a component of the square with its open windows displaying the printing presses inside. Visitors would stand gawking as the presses furiously went about print the late-day editions. In the era before radio and television, the results of sporting events would be displayed on a billboard or “Play-o-Graph” that would attract thousands. It would be here that thousands of New Yorkers would gather to get the results of the World Series between the Red Sox and the Giants — occurring just uptown at the Polo Grounds!

The New York Herald Building became one of midtown Manhattan’s first big draws for regular New Yorkers and visitors to gather, get news, set their watches, dazzle at modern technology and ogle at the curious mix of high and low culture that sped through here. One decade later, Times Square would bring the same kind of excitement to another Broadway intersection.

Here are some additional views of the Herald Building, many romantic, most unbelievable, especially if you consider what sits there today:

Thousands of men gather to watch the results of the 1911 World Series — between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Athletics — displayed on a “Play-o-Graph” at Herald Building. Sports results were telegraphed from inside the building, and a mini baseball diamond was regularly updated, mirroring the real time action. [LOC]

Spectators watch the Herald presses in action. {LOC}

From the Appleton publication The New Metropolis, 1899 (courtesy CUNY)

The square in front of the Herald Building would also be used for immediate announcement, often taken right from the telegraph. These men are reading a military recruitment advertisement. [LOC]

A closeup of the ornate clock, with the goddess Minerva, its two bell ringers Scruff and Guff, and the series of owls perched at various spots around the building. From March 1921 (Courtesy NYPL)

A painting by Herman Hyneman from 1899, depicting a Herald newsie and a customer in the snow. [NYPL]

Also from The New Metropolis, an owl’s-eye view of Herald Square, from 1899.  The caption: “This is a vibrant reproduction of a color print by Canadian-born artist Charles William Jefferys (1869-1951) who once worked at the New York Herald. The Broadway Tabernacle Church, the 6th Avenue elevated train, the Herald Building and several theatres, including Koster and Bial’s, are depicted. The streets are teaming with cable cars, horse drawn vehicles and pedestrians.” Courtesy CUNY

And finally, an overhead view of the entire square. This is an image that was cleaned up and published by the great photo blog Shorpy. Click into the picture to see a rather magnificent view of the surroundings. Trust me, you may waste five minutes just looking at this one….