Tag Archives: Stonewall

Two terrific, original NYC films, now streaming for free

Looking for something to watch this week or over the July 4th holiday? Two excellent films about New York City history and culture are now available for streaming for FREE and we are happy to recommend both to you:

 

Off Track Betty, a short dramatic film by Clayton Dean Smith, is a tribute (and a bit of an elegy) to a Lower East Side that’s now entirely gone, beautifully filmed in that area now entirely consumed by the Essex Crossing project. We especially love this film as we started the Bowery Boys podcast just a couple blocks from where Clayton shot this. This is a terrific and unconventional tribute to a particular wedge of New York City life.

You can watch the film here, directly on their website, or find it on Vimeo, Roku or Apple TV.

 

And in honor of the 48th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots (the subject of our podcast this week), check out this excellent episode of American Experience called Stonewall Uprising (which originally aired on April 25, 2011), now streaming for free.

From PBS: “When police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in the Greenwich Village section of New York City on June 28, 1969, the street erupted into violent protests that lasted for the next six days. The Stonewall riots, as they came to be known, marked a major turning point in the modern gay civil rights movement in the United States and around the world.”

You can watch it directly on the PBS American Experience website. Check it out!

 

 

Revisiting the Stonewall Riots: The Evolving Legacy of a Violent Night

PODCAST The legacy of the Stonewall Riots and their aftermath, in a podcast history told over nine years apart (May 2008, June 2017).

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, undercover police officers attempting to raid the Stonewall Inn, a mob-controlled gay bar with darkened windows on Christopher Street, were met with something unexpected — resistance.

That ‘altercation’ was a messy affair indeed — chaotic, violent, dangerous for all. Homeless youth fought against riot police along the twisting, crooked streets of the West Village. And yet, by the end, thousands from all walks of life met on those very same streets in the days and weeks to come in a new sense of empowerment.

In May of 2008, we recorded a podcast on the Stonewall Riots, an event that galvanized the LGBTQ community, giving birth to political organizations and a sense of unity and pride.

So much has changed within the LGBTQ community — and so much was left out of our original show — that’s we’ve decided to do something unique. In the first half, we present to you our original 2008 history on the Stonewall Riots, warts and all. In the second half, we present newly recorded material, exploring the effects of Stonewall on the crises that faced the gay community in the 1980s and 90s.

Now an official U.S. National Monument maintained by the National Park Service, the Stonewall National Monument preserves New York City’s role in the birth of the international LGBT movement.

And please forgive us in advance for being extra personal in this show near the end.

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 Google MusicStitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #231: THE STONEWALL RIOTS REVISITED

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An early advertisement put out by the Mattachine Society, urging people to look at homosexuals different.

NYPL

An example of the types of flyers circulating in the West Village following the Stonewall incident.

NYPL

 

 

The Stonewall Inn was closed shortly after the battle with police, not to be reopened again until 1990.

Photographer Diana Davies, courtesy NYPL
Photographer Diana Davies, courtesy NYPL
Photographer Diana Davies, courtesy NYPL

From the first parade (in 1970) to Central Park, the first of what would later be called the Pride Parade.

Diana Davies/NYPL

The parade ended with a gigantic rally in Sheep Meadow in Central Park.

Diana Davies/NYPL

From the parade the following year:

NYPL

NYPL

From a 1971 demonstration in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

NYPL

….and another near Radio City Music Hall.

NYPL

Gay rights demonstrations from 1971 at the state capitol in Albany, NY, from an incredible collection of pictures by Diane Davies, courtesy the New York Public Library.

NYPL

The entrance to Christopher Park in 1975, photo by Edmund Vincent Gillon

MCNY

Gay Liberation, how the statues looked when they were first installed in 1992.

Edmund Gillon/MCNY

An early AIDS march from 1983 which began near Stonewall in Sheridan Square.

During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s, many turned to the example of Stonewall as a way to unite the community and fight back against homophobia.

Photographer Gran Fury, Courtesy NYPL

An ACT UP sign for the Stonewall 25 parade and rally “How many of us will be alive for Stonewall 35?” On the opposite side: “AIDS. Where is your rage? ACT UP.”

NYPL

A sobering ACT UP ‘welcome wagon’ message. “But remember, when you are back at home, the brave legacy of the rebellious queens and dykes who sometimes embarrass you when you see our marches on television.”

NYPL

 

In front of Stonewall in 2013 after the announcement of the Supreme Court verdict in United States v. Windsor, overturning the Defense of Marriage Act.

Photo by Greg Young

Stonewall Inn and Christopher Park, 2015

Photo by Greg Young

Outside the Stonewall in 2016, following the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.

Photo by Greg Young

 

Stonewall 2016, now with police protection! Taken in August 2016, following the announcement of Stonewall as a National Monument.

Stonewall Inn: The story of New York’s newest National Monument (NPS 100)

This month America celebrates the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, the organization which protects the great natural and historical treasures of the United States. There are a number of NPS locations in the five borough areas. Throughout the next few weeks, we will focus on a few of our favorites.   For more information, you can visit National Parks Centennial for a complete list of parks and monuments throughout the country.  For more blog posts in this series, click here.
The following also features an excerpt from the Bowery Boys Adventures In Old New York, now available for sale wherever books are sold and online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

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STONEWALL NATIONAL MONUMENT
CHRISTOPHER STREET, WEST VILLAGE, MANHATTAN

On June 24, 2016, President Obama — who had conjured the name of Stonewall Inn in his 2013 inaugural speech — designated the location of the 1969 Stonewall Riots as a National Monument, to be overseen by the National Park Service.

Twelve days earlier, a gunman walked into a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and killed 49 people. It was the deadliest terrorist attack since September 11, 2001, and certainly the greatest single attack upon the American LGBT community in history.

For days after, a makeshift memorial to the Orlando victims sat in front of Stonewall Inn. Even today, as you enter the building, a list of their names greets you upon the wall, next to an older sign that states ‘THIS IS A RAIDED PREMISES’, a vestige of a time when gay bars were diminished, not decorated.

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Thus is the power of Stonewall’s symbolism, the dignity and community represented in the air around this stumpy, architecturally unspectacular structure.

Recognizing the enigmatic atmosphere of this place, Stonewall National Monument is actually the building proper and the portion of Christopher Street which sits in front of it, as well as the entirety of triangular Christopher Park.  This includes one very relevant piece of art — the four human statues known as the Gay Liberation Monument (placed here in 1992) — and one somewhat random inclusion — a statue to Union general Philip Sheridan.

IMG_9919

But perhaps the most unusual aspect to the National Park Service’s newest acquisition is that Stonewall Inn is still very much an active bar, even more so now for its fame. Its Big Gay Happy Hours are but one of many things which sets this NPS site apart from, say, Grant’s Tomb.

There’s a constant police presence in front of Stonewall Inn. On a given night you may even see armed guards out in front, a curious dichotomy with the drag queens who perform on the second floor. I cannot wait to see how they incorporate a temporary ranger station and a visitor center.

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It’s unfortunate that Stonewall — a historic symbol of safe space — should feel like slightly less of one because of current events. But this situation does provide another, more hopeful optic: the image of an alert and engaged law enforcement, entrusted in keeping a gay bar safe and secure.

If you could somehow go back in time to tell the men and women who were arrested in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, about this, they would have laughed (and maybe spit) in your face.

IMG_9921

 

In the 1960s the mob had a veritable monopoly on the Greenwich Village gay scene, tucked invisibly down the neighborhood’s side streets. No bar catering to gays and lesbians could stay open without paying bribes (to both the mob and the police), and complaining bar owners had a funny way of finding themselves arrested—or worse. Indeed, police detectives sometimes posed as gay men to corner alleged “homophiles.”

One of these dank and unappealing bars on Christopher Street was the Stonewall Inn. Its history was long and colorful: A former stable, it became a notorious “teahouse” in 1930, then a somewhat respectable restaurant, then was gutted in a fire before becoming a darkened-window dive bar catering to homosexuals in 1967.

Stonewall_Inn_1969

There was nothing especially notable about the Stonewall, with its watered- down drinks and its hat-and-coat check. There was dancing and a jukebox and a good mix of white, African American, and Hispanic patrons just looking to have fun. Wouldn’t you be upset if they kept shutting you down for no good reason?

This is precisely what the police attempted just after 1 a.m. on June 28, 1969, when uniformed and undercover cops raided the packed bar and prepared to arrest the patrons.

Protesters gathered in the streets outside the Stonewall Inn in the days following the riots on June 28.

Courtesy CNN
Courtesy CNN

But people were not having it. A crowd outside the bar began heckling the officers as they started their arrests, pulling patrons from the bar and loading them into wagons. One woman in handcuffs fought fiercely, inspiring an extraordinary coalition of street youths and drag queens to push back against restraint. The crowds swelled as patrons from other bars joined the fracas, filling Christopher Street and pushing back against police harassment until well after four in the morning.

insider-stonewall1-tmagArticle

What began as proper “rioting”—or aimless anger in the streets—grew more focused over the next several days, as hundreds of marginalized New Yorkers returned to the street in front of the Stonewall with a newfound sense of solidarity. Their example inspired people throughout the city—and around the country.

One year after the raid, activists would gather in front of the Stonewall and march up to Central Park, an event that would become the city’s annual LGBT Pride March.

Today gay pride celebrations and parades in many European countries are referred to as “Christopher Street Day” celebrations. Although Stonewall Inn has gained national importance today, it is Christopher Street itself that retains the symbolism for many.

And that is why a very small portion of that street — forever associated with struggle —  is America’s newest National Monument.

WANT MORE INFORMATION? Visit the NPS Stonewall National Monument site for more information.

LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST! We have an entire show on the Stonewall Riots. It’s Episode #49. You can find it on iTunes at the Bowery Boys Archive, featuring our older shows.  Or download it from here.

You can also hear it here via SoundCloud:

Upcoming history: New York City in new films and miniseries

Tired of superhero movies? An abundance of new period films and television mini-series are on the horizon, presenting unique aspects of New York City history (and the surrounding metropolitan area, as in the first example below).  Which ones are you excited for?

 

1

SHOW ME A HERO
HBO, six-part mini-series, Sunday, August 16
From the creators of The Wire, this is the tale of Yonkers mayor Nick Wasicsko and the complicated tale of desegregated public housing, a struggle which almost shut down the city.
Time and place: Yonkers in the late 1980s
Why see it? This is Oscar Isaac’s third period piece after A Most Violent Year (set in Greenpoint, Brooklyn) and Inside Llewyn Davis (set in Greenwich Village).

 

Courtesy Stonewall 45
Courtesy Stonewall 45

STONEWALL
In theaters, September 25
Roland Emmerich is better known for earth-shattering blockbusters like Independence Day, so imagine what his take on the Stonewall Riots of 1969 will feel like?
Time and place: Greenwich Village in the late 1960s
Why see it? A document of important history and, hey, maybe with explosions!

 

 

wtc

THE WALK
In theaters, September 30
Not to be outdone, Robert Zemeckis (Back To The Future, Forrest Gump) brings an IMAX, vertigo-inducing take on the story of Phillippe Petit (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the high-wire artist who walked between the Twin Towers.
Time and place: Manhattan in 1974
Why see it?  I’m interested to see how history translates in glorious 3D. This film seems as ambitious and high-risk as Petit’s original walk.

 

1

Above: From the Brooklyn Heights film shoot of Bridge of Spies (Courtesy Wikimedia/Autopilot)

BRIDGE OF SPIES
In theaters, October 16
The last time Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks collaborated on a war-themed film, it was Saving Private Ryan. This cold-war thriller, inspired by true events, takes a Brooklyn lawyer (played by Hanks) behind enemy lines to negotiate the release of an American pilot.
Time and place: All of the world, it seems, but 1960s Brooklyn Heights plays a pivotal role.
Why see it? I’m looking forward to the on-location shots which temporarily placed the streets of Brooklyn into a kinder, cheaper era.

 

Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures
Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

BROOKLYN
In theaters, November 6
A wistful romance about a young Irish woman (Saoisie Ronan) who moves to Brooklyn for a better life.
Time and place: Brooklyn in the 1950s (although none of the film was made here)
Why see it?  One of the best recent books about New  York, in the hands of some great talent.

 

Courtesy the Weinstein Company
Courtesy the Weinstein Company

CAROL
In theaters, November 20
Patricia Highsmith’s controversial novel (The Price of Salt) about an intriguing lesbian attraction between an older and younger woman is given the lush treatment by Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven).
Time and place: Manhattan in 1952 (although this too was mostly filmed elsewhere)
Why see it? A beautiful tale, in the hands of the perfect director and cast (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara)

 

And although these two films are not set in New  York City, they depict two uniquely important moments of historical relevance that might interest you:

This 1953 Boston police booking photo shows James "Whitey" Bulger after an arrest.. (AP Photo/Boston Police)
This 1953 Boston police booking photo shows James “Whitey” Bulger after an arrest.. (AP Photo/Boston Police)

BLACK MASS
In theaters, September 18
The wicked Whitey Bulger, the bloody gangster, who controversially becomes an FBI informant.
Time and place: Boston in the late 1970s and early 1980s
Why see it? This year’s submission in the crowded field of period gangster films, with Johnny Depp finally in a juicy role.

 

Sufferagette Emily Pankhurst addressing a meeting in London's Trafalgar Square, 1908.
Sufferagette Emily Pankhurst addressing a meeting in London’s Trafalgar Square, 1908.

SUFFRAGETTE
In theaters, October 23
The struggle for women’s right to vote in Great Britain, depicting many of the great crusaders of the day, including Emmeline Pankhurst (played by Meryl Streep)
Time and place: Great Britain in the late 19th century and early 20th century
Why see it?  Maybe this will inspire an equally exciting American version of the same tale! (NOTE: A reader notes that there is an American version — and a fine one at that — called Iron Jawed Angels, although I hope somebody makes another attempt at this subject in time for the 100 anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment.)

 

And that’s not even counting these other 2015 releases with historical themes and settings —  The Revenant (1820s North American Dakota Territory), The Hateful Eight (1860s Wyoming), In the Heart of the Sea (1820’s American seafaring) and Trumbo (1950s Hollywood).

In good company: The local significance of Obama’s inaugural quote: “Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall”

As many others today are ruminating on the symbolic and historic implications of yesterday’s presidential inaugural ceremony, allow me to dwell a little on a curious milestone of far lesser importance.

Until yesterday, no place in New York City has ever been mentioned in a presidential inaugural speech.  Not Ellis Island, not the Statue of Liberty, not Wall Street, not the World Trade Center, none of our fortresses or other towering landmarks.

In fact, New York as a city has actually been name-checked only once. (See below.)  But no individual place has ever been mentioned in what are considered to be the most memorable set of presidential speeches.

That is, until yesterday, when President Barack Obama referenced the name of a West Village gay bar — Stonewall Inn.

index

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”

“Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall” represent flashpoints of various American social movements.  With his mention of Stonewall — representing the Stonewall riots and subsequent street gatherings of June-July 1969, considered the birthplace of the gay-rights movement — the president has elevated the struggles of gay Americans to those of the women’s movement (the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848) and the African-American civil rights movement of the 1960s (the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965).

The rhetorical flourish of alliteration unites these movements by the places in which they occurred.  Stonewall thus becomes shorthand for the gay rights movement.  But as it is the actual name of a bar — still very much in operation, right off Christopher Park — Stonewall Inn now holds another very special place in history.

The United Nations, of course, has been mentioned a few times, mostly in the 1940s and 50s. (Without surprise, mentions of the international body literally drop off to nothing after that.)  But all references relate only to the legislative body, not the actual place.  In fact, when it was first mentioned in 1949, by President Harry S. Truman — “We have constantly and vigorously supported the United Nations and related agencies as a means of applying democratic principles to international relations” — its headquarters in Manhattan had not even been completed.

Below: Federal Hall on Wall Street, site of the first American government and the inauguration of George Washington in 1789

When New York has been mentioned in inaugural addresses, it’s because it was the location of the first inaugural address in April 1789, when the seat of American government was in New York.

“This occasion derives peculiar interest from the fact that the Presidential term which begins this day is the twenty-sixth under our Constitution,” Benjamin Harrison remarked in his 1889 speech.  “The first inauguration of President Washington took place in New York, where Congress was then sitting, on the 30th day of April, 1789, having been deferred by reason of delays attending the organization of the Congress and the canvass of the electoral vote.”

George H.W. Bush makes specific mention of Washington’s inauguration in 1989, which happened to be the 200th anniversary of that event. “I have just repeated word for word the oath taken by George Washington 200 years ago, and the Bible on which I placed my hand is the Bible on which he placed his.  It is right that the memory of Washington be with us today, not only because this is our Bicentennial Inauguration, but because Washington remains the Father of our Country.”

While this means very little in terms of the city’s historical stature, it means a great deal to the gay rights movement, and certainly to the bar itself. Or as Stonewall Inn owner Stacey Lentz recently said: “We’re not just a bar. We’re the Stonewall. It’s like owning Rosa Parks’s bus. We don’t own the movement, but we own the bus.”

For more information on Stonewall Inn, check out our podcast #48 The Stonewall Riots (download here or on iTunes.)  

Pics courtesy NYPL

In good company: The local significance of Obama’s inaugural quote: “Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall”

As many others today are ruminating on the symbolic and historic implications of yesterday’s presidential inaugural ceremony, allow me to dwell a little on a curious milestone of far lesser importance.

Until yesterday, no place in New York City has ever been mentioned in a presidential inaugural speech.  Not Ellis Island, not the Statue of Liberty, not Wall Street, not the World Trade Center, none of our fortresses or other towering landmarks.

In fact, New York as a city has actually been name-checked only once. (See below.)  But no individual place has ever been mentioned in what are considered to be the most memorable set of presidential speeches.

That is, until yesterday, when President Barack Obama referenced the name of a West Village gay bar — Stonewall Inn.

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”

“Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall” represent flashpoints of various American social movements.  With his mention of Stonewall — representing the Stonewall riots and subsequent street gatherings of June-July 1969, considered the birthplace of the gay-rights movement — the president has elevated the struggles of gay Americans to those of the women’s movement (the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848) and the African-American civil rights movement of the 1960s (the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965).

The rhetorical flourish of alliteration unites these movements by the places in which they occurred.  Stonewall thus becomes shorthand for the gay rights movement.  But as it is the actual name of a bar — still very much in operation, right off Christopher Park — Stonewall Inn now holds another very special place in history.

The United Nations, of course, has been mentioned a few times, mostly in the 1940s and 50s. (Without surprise, mentions of the international body literally drop off to nothing after that.)  But all references relate only to the legislative body, not the actual place.  In fact, when it was first mentioned in 1949, by President Harry S. Truman — “We have constantly and vigorously supported the United Nations and related agencies as a means of applying democratic principles to international relations” — its headquarters in Manhattan had not even been completed.

Below: Federal Hall on Wall Street, site of the first American government and the inauguration of George Washington in 1789

When New York has been mentioned in inaugural addresses, it’s because it was the location of the first inaugural address in April 1789, when the seat of American government was in New York.

“This occasion derives peculiar interest from the fact that the Presidential term which begins this day is the twenty-sixth under our Constitution,” Benjamin Harrison remarked in his 1889 speech.  “The first inauguration of President Washington took place in New York, where Congress was then sitting, on the 30th day of April, 1789, having been deferred by reason of delays attending the organization of the Congress and the canvass of the electoral vote.”

George H.W. Bush makes specific mention of Washington’s inauguration in 1989, which happened to be the 200th anniversary of that event. “I have just repeated word for word the oath taken by George Washington 200 years ago, and the Bible on which I placed my hand is the Bible on which he placed his.  It is right that the memory of Washington be with us today, not only because this is our Bicentennial Inauguration, but because Washington remains the Father of our Country.”

While this means very little in terms of the city’s historical stature, it means a great deal to the gay rights movement, and certainly to the bar itself. Or as Stonewall Inn owner Stacey Lentz recently said: “We’re not just a bar. We’re the Stonewall. It’s like owning Rosa Parks’s bus. We don’t own the movement, but we own the bus.”

For more information on Stonewall Inn, check out our podcast #48 The Stonewall Riots (download here or on iTunes.)  

Pics courtesy NYPL

Violence across time: the riots of London and New York

Above: The 1863 Draft Riots and the aftermath of violence in London

In a couple weeks, Tom and I will finish off our three-part Civil War series with a strange tale taking place during the war’s final years. But it seems I can’t quite get our last subject — the 1863 Draft Riots — out of my mind, especially in light of the ongoing riots in London. I don’t profess any particular knowledge on the subject of rioting or its underlying psychology, and I’m far from truly understanding the nuances of the current strife in the UK. But having just studied and talked about violence in the streets of New York, the events in London seem uncannily similar in many ways.

A popular instinct upon hearing about the deadly riots of the summer of 1863 is that such gruesome and senseless mass violence in New York couldn’t happen today. Why, we’re civilized now! There’s always an assumption that people were just more violent back then. And in a sense, that is true. As an example, the rioters in 1863 were only a couple generations from one that used dueling as an acceptable form of resolving conflict. War was in their backyard; death, by epidemics, by diseases today eradicated, was in the front.

The city seemed to stand on two sides, financial and social divides with little to bridge them. It took the announcement of a Union conscription drive — and a $300 exemption for the wealthy — to highlight the disparity of class that played out every day, stripping bare the mechanism to expose the racism (‘nativists’ vs. immigrant, black vs. white) that seemed to fuel almost every aspect of life in New York in the 1860s.

Although the linchpin of the London riots resembles that of other modern conflicts (like the Los Angeles riots of 1992), other details seem to parallel those that occurred in New York almost 150 years ago.

An initial peaceful event (in this case, a protest march in the Tottenham police station) quickly overtaken by mob rule. An initial police action that proves too inadequate. City leaders, off vacationing, caught off-guard. Conflicts between rioters and law enforcement driven by raw anger of class inequality, eventually stripped to acts of thuggery against innocents and, by the third day, spreading like a virus to the surrounding areas. And as we learn more of the individual stories from the London streets, I’m afraid the ugliest aspect of the Draft Riots will also be revealed here — the systematic violence amongst the rioters along racial lines.

That’s nothing explicitly linking the two events other that the very nature of rioting itself. And this is not to say that, ultimately, the London riots may, in some ways, be worse. But I think it’s important to keep in mind when returning to the Draft Riots that such violence and turmoil is not a part of mere historical mindset, but of a chaos that can still make itself known in the modern-day urban world.

New York’s rioters were disorganized and fueled by rumor and assumption. Even with an Internet, 24 hour news coverage and Twitter, the London rioters seem similarly dislodged. But there is one striking difference: UK law enforcement has already arrested hundreds, some thanks to photographic and video evidence. In New York, few rioters were ever prosecuted. That’s partially due to the ascent of the Democratic machine Tammany Hall, which favored the motivations of the Irish rioters. In London, we may find that the political climate there will also influence who is ultimately convicted.

Of course, you don’t need to reach back too far in New York City history to find similar events either. From the Harlem riots of the mid 20th century to even the Stonewall Riots in 1969, seemingly small events (the arrest of a shoplifter, the closure of a dive bar) can auger or spark violent outrage to devastating effect.

And it was twenty years ago this very month that New York saw its last deadly riot in Crown Heights, bringing to force the underlying conflicts of that neighborhood’s black and Jewish populations. Those events began one hot August Monday when a Guyanese child was struck by an automobile in a Hasidic motorcade. By the end, dozens were injured, property burned and one man was killed.

That was just twenty years ago. London is just a seven hour flight from New York. All of a sudden, a 148-year-old riot doesn’t seem like a historical artifact anymore.

Top picture courtesy NYPL. Bottom picture courtesy IBT/Reuters

‘Stonewall Uprising’ and reenacting a historical riot

BOWERY BOYS RECOMMEND is an occasional feature where we find an unusual movie or TV show that — whether by accident or design — uniquely captures an era of New York City as well as any reference or history book. Other entries in this series can be found here.

Rarely do documentaries on New York City history ever hit movie theaters, so I was excited to catch ‘Stonewall Uprising’ this weekend at the Film Forum. I found not only the subject matter interesting — the Stonewall riots, as described by people who were there — but the clever way the filmmakers visual ed an event with so little archival images to use.

The riots outside the Stonewall bar in June of 1969 set police officers against gay street kids and drag queens, and the chaos spilled out into the crooked streets of the West Village for days after. What followed could not have been predicted: the formation of a energized gay community and the birth of New York’s annual Pride march.

The film, directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, makes use of excellent interviews from both participants in the riot, and even Seymour Pine, the officer in charge of closing Stonewall bar that fateful night, makes an appearance. Setting the oppressive atmosphere are several scenes of grainy industrial films, laying bare the social mores of the 1950s and 60s, and heavy reliance of CBS News’s infamous expose ‘The Homosexuals’. If anything, ‘Stonewall Uprising’ is a faithful adaptation of David Carter’s terrific book on the same subject.

Since people weren’t exactly carting around video cameras to mob-operated gay establishments in the 1960s, the directors devise reenacted scenes. However, unlike the poorly acted and costumed reproductions that you sometimes see on the History Channel at 2 a.m., the visuals of ‘Stonewall Uprising’ are often disturbingly lifelike.

Outside a few notably modern camera angles, the footage often looks like the careful re-animation of old photographs, like some kind of new James Cameron viewer-immersing technology. I guess I was distracted by the reproduced scenes, yet it never took away from the film’s intent, most likely because the candid interviews presented were fresh, often funny, and sometimes heartbreaking.

Check it out in a local movie theater or be sure to watch for it on television sometimes. (It’s an American Experience production so I imagine it makes an appearance on PBS soon.)

For a refresher of the tumultuous events of that year, check out our podcast from 2008 on the history of the Stonewall Riots.

Underground: Pre-Stonewall gay and lesbian New York


Girls will be girls: lesbians in the 1920s

For the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the New York Blade asked me to do a brief article on the history of New York’s gay and lesbian scene in the years before the riots.

You can read the article, entitled STONEWALL 40: Our History Before Pride and Rainbow Flags directly at their website. A couple paragraphs are excerpted below:

The good times stopped rolling in October 1929 with the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression. Forty years before Stonewall, a different kind of gay life emerged in New York City.

Prohibition was abandoned in 1933, but with the introduction of the New York State Liquor Authority, restrictive laws made selling liquor to homosexuals illegal. No longer hidden in a shuffle of illegal speakeasies, the viable gay underworld could have withered if not for an unlikely savior and curse: the mafia.”

If you happen to find a print edition, there’s a full page map detailing some old New York gay hotspots from as far back as the mid-19th century, including Cercle Hermaphroditis, the Pansy Club and the Slide. A PDF version of the entire issue can be found here.

(Picture above courtesy the History of Gay Bars in New York, a highly recommended website if you’re interested in this secret and almost forgotten world of mafia-run, underground establishments.)