Tag Archives: publishing

The Puck Building and its mischievous tenant, Puck Magazine

PODCAST  A 6-foot plump gold impish figure stares down at you as you look up to observe the gorgeous red-brick design of the Puck Building, built for one of the 19th Century’s most popular illustrated publications. But this architectural masterpiece was very nearly wiped away by a sudden decision by the city. How did it survive?

Puck’s utterance “What Fools These Mortals Be!” is the slogan for Puck Magazine and words written by Shakespeare.

WITH several new minutes of material outlining the Puck Building’s recent history!


THIS IS A SPECIAL ILLUSTRATED PODCAST!  Chapter headings with images have been embedded in this show, so if your listening device is compatible with AAC/M4A files, just hit play and a variety of pictures should pop up.  The audio is superior than the original as well. (This will work as a normal audio file even if the images don’t appear.)

For this and our older episodes (Episodes #5-#79), subscribe to The Bowery Boys: NYC History Archive feed, on iTunes, directly from our host page, or directly via our RSS feed.


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!


The Puck Building, before the cut — When Lafayette Street was drilled further south, the western part of the Puck had to go…

British Library
British Library

After the cut — A new western face greets construction workers building Elm Street (later Lafayette Street)

New York Public Library
New York Public Library


Courtesy Beyond My Ken
Courtesy Beyond My Ken


FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE! The entire first issue of the first Puck Magazine produced in New York City.  (There were of course issues before this one produced in St. Louis.)  12 North William Street was the magazine’s address for a brief time before moving into the Puck Building later that year.

This issue is courtesy the Hathi Trust, Google Books and the University of Iowa. Read a whole stack of Puck Magazines from 1877 here:

The cover introduces Puck to the chicken coop of newspapers:




I am here.  And I don’t apologize for being here. I only hope my appearance will be as agreeable to you as it is to me. I have a mission to fulfill. Everybody has; but like almost everybody else I can’t exactly tell what that mission is until I have found out definitely myself.  I know I am expected to be good-natured and smile at things as they pass: I intend to. I may even venture to observe that I shall smile at some things whether they pass or not. But while putting my girdle round about the earth, I hope I shall gather, in a genial, pleasant way, a harvest of things that may sink deep into the soul of even those who refuse to smile on the slightest provocation. I shall have pensive moods — occasionally; no oftener than circumstances compels, but often enough to prove that I have not come merely as a flippant plaything to amuse you in your idle moments, but rather as a pleasant confidential companion, who will be the best-natured fellow in the world — if you will only let him.

Faithfully yours,



“A man complained that he had a pane in his stomach. On investigation, it was found that he’s only swallowed blue glass.”

Note the droll political poem about Rutherford B Hayes at top left:


The satire of one of New York’s gentlemen’s artistic clubs might actually be based upon actual men. The writing is so dry it’s a bit hard to tell. “The members are as jolly a set of fellows as you ever met; they have peculiarities, of course, but they are pleasant ones; they have equally, of course, their weaknesses, but they are amiable ones.  Let me attempt to describe some of them.”



















Super City: New York and the History of Comic Books

PODCAST  A history of the comic book industry in New York City, how the energy and diversity of the city influenced the burgeoning medium in the 1930s and 40s and how New York’s history reflects out from the origins of its most popular characters.

 In the 1890s a newspaper rivalry between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer helped bring about the birth of the comic strip and, a few decades later, the comic book.  Today, comic book superheroes are bigger than ever — in blockbuster summer movies and television shows — and most of them still have an inseparable bond with New York City.

What’s Spider-Man without a tall building from which to swing? But not only are the comics often set here; the creators were often born here too. Many of the greatest writers and artists actually came from Jewish communities in the Lower East Side, Brooklyn or the Bronx.

For many decades, nearly all of America’s comic books were produced here.  Unfortunately that meant they were in certain danger of being eliminated entirely during a 1950s witch hunt by a crusading psychiatrist from Bellevue Hospital.

WITH a special chat with comics historian Peter Sanderson about the unique New York City connections of Marvel Comics’ most famous characters. Sanderson is the author of The Marvel Comics Guide to New York City and The Marvel Encyclopedia.

FEATURING: The Yellow Kid, Little Orphan Annie, Batman, Doctor Strange and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

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.

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:
The Bowery Boys #187: Super City: New York and the History of Comic Books


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!


COMING THIS FALL:  Superheroes’ ties to New York City history will be further explored this fall in the New-York Historical Society’s Superheroes in Gotham exhibition, which opens October 9, 2015.
(Friday, October 9 is the start of ComicCon weekend).


A young New York boy enjoys his comic book on the Bowery. Photo taken in 1940 by Andrew Herman.

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

And here’s the comic book he’s reading from March 1940, illustrated by George Papp.

Courtesy Comic Vine
Courtesy Comic Vine


In this 1947 photograph taken by Stanley Kubrick, a boy watches his baby sister and enjoys a Superman comic book while his mother shops inside.

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

An issue of DC Comics’ Superman from March 1947, with a cover by George Roussos and Jack Burnley

Courtesy DC Comics / Comic Vine
Courtesy DC Comics / Comic Vine


A girl takes a peek at some of the comic book offerings at Woolworth’s. Photograph by Stanley Kubrick taken in 1947.

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

An issue of More Fun Comics from June 1947, produced by DC Comics:

more fun


The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, published in 1842, is considered by many to be the wellspring from which the comic medium derives. You can read the entire issue over at the Darmouth College Library website.

Courtesy Dartmouth College Library
Courtesy Dartmouth College Library


A Yellow Kid adventure which would have sprung out from the newspaper due to its vivid colors.

Image courtesy Comix  Takoma; art by Richard Outcault
Image courtesy Comix Takoma; art by Richard Outcault


Both Hearst and Pulitzer ran versions of the Yellow Kid comic strip during the years that they were drumming up propaganda which lead to the Spanish-American War. The unscrupulous nature of their efforts earned them the phrase ‘yellow journalism’, inspired by their war of the popular comic strip by Richard Outcault,

Courtesy the Library of Congress
Courtesy the Library of Congress


A section of the colorful comics section of the New York Journal, 1898.

“Familiar Sights of a Great City—No. 1 The Cop is Coming!” by Walt McDougall, New York Journal, Sunday, January 9, 1898  via New York Review of Books
“Familiar Sights of a Great City—No. 1 The Cop is Coming!” by Walt McDougall, New York Journal, Sunday, January 9, 1898 via New York Review of Books


Little Orphan Annie became the biggest crossover star of the early comic strip era.  Long before there was a musical, Annie starred in this 1932 melodrama, one of the earliest comic-to-movie crossovers.



New Fun Comics #1, the very first comic book to contain all new material, and not merely reprints of newspaper comic strips.



The Batman debuted in Detective Comics in 1939, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. The city features in these adventures was Gotham City, startlingly similar to the city outside the creators’ windows.

Courtesy DC Comics
Courtesy DC Comics


Gotham City, aka New York City, in 1939

Courtesy U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation
Courtesy U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation


Vault of Horror, one of an assortment of shocking comic books produced by EC Comics in the early 1950s. The cover art is by Johnny Craig.

Courtesy EC Comics
Courtesy EC Comics


Bill Gaines, publisher of EC Comics, at his offices at 225 Lafayette Street.

Courtesy Tebeosfera
Courtesy Tebeosfera


Dr. Fredrick Wertham, the writer of Seduction of the Innocent, who lead a charge against the comic book industry.





A young Stan Lee during the war as a member of the US Army’s Signal Corps. He even managed to do a bit of illustration for the cause!

stan lee


The Thing from the Fantastic Four with the  Yancy Street Gang, a variation on Delancey Street in the Lower East Side.

Courtesy Marvel Comics via Comic Viine
Courtesy Marvel Comics via Comic Viine


Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum is located on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village

Courtesy Marvel Comics
Courtesy Marvel Comics


What would Spider-Man be without New York City? The image of the Brooklyn Bridge (called the George Washington Bridge in the story) is featured in a classic tale involving the death of his girlfriend Gwen Stacey, written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Gil Kane, John Romita and Tony Mortellaro,

Courtesy Marvel Comics
Courtesy Marvel Comics


A page from Maus by Art Spiegelman, the graphic novel that brought the medium to a new level of respectability in literary circles.

Courtesy Art Spiegelman
Courtesy Art Spiegelman


The comic book/graphic novel continues to evolve and reach new heights of success and respectability.  Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, published last year, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for best autobiography.


Courtesy Roz Chast/Bloomsbury
Courtesy Roz Chast/Bloomsbury

The Avengers defended New York during an alien attack in their blockbuster film in 2012

Courtesy Film Frame/Marvel
Courtesy Film Frame/Marvel


All images on this website are owned by the original comic book companies which produced them.  Please see individual companies for more information.



If you’re into digging more into this subject, here are a few sources that I used for this podcast:

Jews and American Comics: An Illustrated History of An American Art Form, with written contributions by Paul Buhle

The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America by David Hadju

Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangster and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones

Comic Book Century:  The History of American Comic Books by Stephen Krensky


Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution by Ronin Ro


The Marvel Comics Guide to New York City by Peter Sanderson


The top image is from Godzilla #24, released by Marvel Comics in July 1979. Herb Trimpe penciler, Dan Green inker, im Novak letterer, from a story by Doug Moench, edited by Allen Milgrom and Mary Jo Duffy


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. 

Spectropia, or How to Make Ghosts in Your Home

Above: The cover of the New York edition of Brown’s optical illusion book

One of the hottest books in New York City in the fall of 1864 was an optical illusion collection that conjured ghosts through a simple trick of the eye.

Spectropia, or surprising spectral illusions showing ghosts everywhere and of any colour was both a parlor amusement and picture-filled chapbook written and illustrated by J. H. Brown, an early skeptic of the spiritualism movement.

From the books introduction: “It is a curious fact that, in this age of scientific research, the absurd follies of spiritualism should find an increase in supporters; but mental epidemics seem at certain seasons to affect our minds, and one of the oldest of these mental afflictions — witchcraft — is once more prevalent in this nineteenth century, under the contemptible forms of spirit-rapping and table-turning.”

To counter the phonies, Brown presents readers with a nifty optical illusion that will allow its readers to create their own ghosts at home.

According to advertisements for the book:

The directions are very simple.  You have merely to hold the volume so that the strongest possible light will fall upon the engraved plate; look at it steadily without blinking for nearly a minute; then turn and look steadily for the same length of time at any white surface which is in part shadow, and the object or specter will presently appear.”

“The effect is best by gaslight.” My goodness, what isn’t?

Here’s a sampling of the illustrations.  See if they work for you! And yes, definitely try these out if your home is equipped with gaslight….

The book was produced in New York by publisher James Gregory at 540 Broadway in today’s SoHo area. (It’s the building where the Steve Madden shoe store is today.).

Believe it or not, Spectropia was a hot gift under the tree that Christmas. The New York Times lists it that year in their recommended holiday gift list. “The publications of Mr. JAS. G. GREGORY, of No. 540 Broadway, are characterized by good taste and fine execution.”  Mr. Gregory kept the book in publication for several years afterwards or at least until the novelty wore off.

You can read the book here.  And here’s a PDF.

Below from the New York Daily Tribune, September 13, 1864

Hot off the press: the bicentennial of the Bronx Gutenberg

Hoe Avenue in the Bronx has nothing to do with farming, although it once indeed ran through a grand 19th century farm estate.

The avenue’s namesake, Richard March Hoe, born 200 years ago today, brought about a revolution in the world of printing. Without his innovations, the phrase ‘hot off the press’ might never have come about.

His father Robert Hoe, born in England in 1784, the year after America won its independence, moved to the new country and began a printing press business in lower Manhattan (10 Cedar Street) with his two brothers-in-law. Hoe tinkered with improving the hand-operated press machine for the ever-demanding industry of New York publishing. But it would be his young son Richard (born Sept. 12, 1812), taking over the reigns of the company in the 1830s, who would change the world of printing forever.

At right: ‘Colonel’ Hoe with his spectacular invention

The answer, of course, was steam power. It had forever changed the worlds of industry and transportation during this period. In 1843, R. Hoe & Company introduced a rotary printing press (nicknamed the ‘lightning press’), using a revolving cylinder drum that rapidly turned out thousands of printed pages using steam power.

His influence on the publishing world by the 1840s cannot be overstated. New York’s penny press, led by newspapers like the Sun, the Tribune and the Herald, utilized the technology to expand their circulation. Soon newspapers across the country were being made using the Hoe printing press, inspiring the growth of daily publications, turning the newspaper into an everyday item and creating a greater demand for the quick delivery of information.

Above: R. Hoe & Company at 504-520 Grand Street.  

Like many great business moguls of the age — certainly men like Thomas Edison were paying attention — Hoe both innovated himself and bought inventions from others, generating a mini-publishing revolution from his headquarters at 504 Grand Street in Manhattan (pictured above).  In 1871, his factory eventually produced America’s first web press, generating two-sided printed pages from a single roll of paper. [source]

If that wasn’t enough, a decade later, Hoe acquired the technology to fold the newspapers as they came off the press.

Interestingly, the company also distinguished themselves in the manufacture of saw blades, a side business not completely unrelated, as they were used to cut metal type.

While Hoe conducted business from the Lower East Side and from offices in London, the printing-press mogul resided in a lavish 53-acre estate named Brightside near the Bronx River, on land once owned by the family of Gouverneur Morris, with plenty of room for an orchard and land for his prize-winning Jersey cattle. His brother Robert bought the neighboring land and opened his own estate called Sunnyslope.

Most signs of these estates is long gone, of course, with the exception of Hoe Avenue.  For modern pop culture junkies, the street is perhaps best known for the Hoe Avenue peace meeting, an assemblage of New York street gangs calling for a truce that inspired the plot of the 1981 film ‘The Warriors (in particular, the ‘Can you dig it?’ scene).

Nearby you’ll find another street named for printers: Aldus Street, a modification of the name Aldo Manuzio, a 15th century Italian printer  At the corner of Aldus and Hoe is a small playground called Printer’s Park, with playground equipment made to look like a rotary printing press.  And nearby is a small garden called — no beer jokes please — the Hoe Garden.

Richard Hoe died in Florence, Italy, on June 7, 1886.

Pictures courtesy New York Public Library.

Autumn Illustrated: A publishing house in Union Square

Have a little fall color, courtesy a 101-year-old edition of one of America’s most important childrens literary magazines. St. Nicholas Illustrated Magazine, filled with full-color artwork, contests and short stories by prominent writers like Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott, was created by Charles Scribner’s publishing company in 1873, notable for employing one of the first powerful female editors — Mary Mapes Dodge.

By 1910, it was distributed by the Century Company, another publishing house located on Union Square, next door to the once-great Everett House. The Century’s swanky office building is still around today, as a retail space for Barnes & Noble.

Magazine cover courtesy NYPL

Brooklyn invents the movie magazine, a century ago

The Motion Picture Story Magazine, the first American magazine devoted exclusively to motion pictures, released its first issue one hundred years ago this month.

The deluge of movie periodicals that would debut afterwards would help define Hollywood movie stars, foster their fan bases, promote studio films and sculpt the mythology of film history. And it all began from a tiny magazine produced in Brooklyn, at 175 Duffield Street, to be exact.

The magazine wasn’t entirely born without ulterior motive. It was produced by two partners, one of which, John Stuart Blackton, was the head of the young Vitograph Studios. Blackton, a former news reporter turned early film mogul, produced and even starred in pictures filmed from the Vitagraph rooftop soundstage at 140 Nassau Street in Manhattan.

By 1906, Blackton had a Brooklyn location in mind and moved there — Avenue A and East 15th Street in Midwood, to be exact.

Blackton didn’t produce the magazine as a mere mouthpiece for his studio, but to help promote the entire industry. In fact, the cover of the first issue, from February 1911, featured not a movie star, but the man most influential to the entire business at the time — Thomas Edison. The New Jersey inventor who had launched the film industry with his Kinetescope had given Blackton a tour of his Black Maria studio in West Orange, NJ, which inspired him and his business partner Albert E. Smith to later form the rival film studio.

Edison’s appearance was a nod to his influence. Not to mention that Vitagraph was also a partner in Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company, a trust that kept the young movie industry under the monopolistic control of a few companies.

As the title hints, the Motion Picture Story Magazine reiterated the storylines of several movies of the day. Considering this was early in the silent era — with few title cards and no film over 20 minutes long — the magazine used writers to flesh out the stories. In essence, the descriptions would have enhanced the story, and few would have considered the articles as ‘spoiling’ the action.

More importantly, the magazine also featured photographs from the films themselves. And in a greater innovation, some of the stars themselves would be featured in closeup, full-page portfolios. This swiftly became the most popular part of the magazine as actors became name movie stars that audiences began seeking out.

It didn’t just provide pretty pictures. The magazine soon began playing along with the film studios, reinforcing the images studio head wished to convey of their early film stars. Motion Picture Story Magazine was more a precursor to a polish-and-shill, People Magazine-style publication than it was to a gossip rag or a serious film journal.

At left: The December 1912 issue, featuring a still from the long forgotten film The Kerry Gow

The magazines would be sold at nickelodeons and movie theaters around the country. To get a sense of what a typical issue would look like the Internet Archive has a copy of the December 1912 that you can read online and even download. (You can find it here.) The issue is stuffed with portraits of current stars, several story descriptions, and lots of early industry ads, most from movie businesses based in New York.

By 1914, the magazine changed its named to simply Motion Picture Magazine and moved its offices to 26 Court Street, across the street from old Brooklyn City Hall. A whole crop of movie magazines had debuted as a result of Motion Picture‘s success, including the Chicago-based Photoplay Magazine. And Variety, a weekly tabloid launched in Manhattan in 1905 that reported on the vaudeville industry, had greatly expanded its film coverage over the years. (It had made film history years before, publishing in 1907 the first movie review.)

The principal driver of the magazine’s content seems to have been Blackton’s original partner, Eugene Valentine Brewster, a rather colorful character himself. Brewster was a lawyer, politician and occasional film director who left his wife (after a messy divorce) for film star Corliss Palmer. Eugene has flaunted his affair with the actress in front of his wife, even inviting Palmer to live in the couple’s Long Island home “on account of the work in which they were engaged in.” Mrs Brewster received payback, not only from her now ex-husband, but in the form of a successful damage lawsuit against Palmer herself.

At left: Eugene Brewster with Corliss Palmer