Tag Archives: Titanic

A Haunting Look Inside the Lusitania

The Lusitania gets dwarfed by recollections of the Titanic.  But in many ways, the destruction of the Cunard Line’s premier ocean liner on May 7, 1915, was a deeper tragedy than that of the White Star liner.

As a casualty of war — sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of southern Ireland — the Lusitania disaster began a slow but inevitable march towards the United States’ entry into World War I.  Its destruction send a shockwave through Americans and Britons alike. Nobody sailing the Atlantic was safe.

Almost 1,200 people died that afternoon of May 7th. Among the deceased were millionaires (Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt),  impresarios (Charles Frohman), writers, scientists,  nurses and soldiers.

The ship itself was a major loss both for Cunard and the British military as the ship was fitted for active service. Here are a selection of images from 1905 (courtesy SMU Central University) of the Lusitania in all her glory, years before her demise.  Interspersed are some newspaper clippings from its initial launch in 1906 and some from 1907, the year the vessel first sailed to New York.

For more information on the Lusitania, check out our podcast on the Chelsea Piers or read my book review of Dead Wake, the latest by Erik Larson.

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“GLASGOW, Scotland, June 7. — The new Cunard Line steamer Lusitania, the world’s largest liner, was successfully launched at Clydebank to-day, and was named by Dowager Lady Inverclyde. Hundreds of visitors from all parts of the country, besides thousands of the local population, witnessed the ceremony.

The Lusitania is the first of the giant Cunarders to be launched, and her sister, the Mauretania, will follow her into the sea a month ago.  The Lusitania is 790 feet long, and her greatest breadth is 88 feet, while her depth molded is 60 1/2 feet.”

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Cabin accommodations:  552 first class, 460 second class, 1,186 third class. 2,198 total

Second class entrance
Second class entrance

NYT , July 31, 1907:  “LUXURIOUS OCEAN TRAVEL. The new Cunarder Lusitania is now afloat, and will soon be on her way to New York. She is at the present moment the largest and most richly appointed ocean steamship in the world, though she may take second place within a year or so.”

Side view of Lusitania showing the launching cradle and the propellers
Side view of Lusitania showing the launching cradle and the propellers
Interior staircase and elevator
Interior staircase and elevator

Headline from the New York Times, September 7, 1907:

LUSITANIA STARTS FIRST TRIP TO-DAY; Will Race the Lusitania Across in an Effort for a New Record. BOTH BOATS ARE FULL Colossal Ferries Groomed for the Event — Lusitania Will Burn 1,000 Tons of Coal Daily.

First class promenade deck
First class promenade deck

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From the New York Tribune, October 10, 1907

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Third class:

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The kitchen:

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Second-Class Ladies Lounge:

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Officers smoking lounge:

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From the New York Tribune, October 14, 1907

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First class smoking room, music lounge, and library entranceway:

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And pictures of the ‘regal suite’, the nicest rooms on the boat:

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An officer atop the navigation bridge:

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And finally — the navigation bridge

bridge

You can find many more images at Flickr Commons, courtesy Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library

Chelsea Piers: New York City
 in the Age of the Ocean Liner

PODCAST The Chelsea Piers were once New York City’s portal to the world, a series of long docks along the west side of Manhattan that accommodated some of the most luxurious ocean liners of the early 20th century.

1Passenger ocean travel became feasible in the mid 19th century due to innovations in steam transportation, allowing for both recreational voyages for the wealthy and a steep rise in immigration to the United States.

The Chelsea Piers were the finest along Manhattan’s busy waterfront, built by one of New York’s greatest architectural firms as a way to modernize the west side.  Both the tragic tales of the Titanic and the Lusitania are also tied to the original Chelsea Piers.

But changes in ocean travel and the financial fortunes of New York left the piers without a purpose by the late 20th century. How did this important site for transatlantic travel transform into one of New York’s leading modern sports complexes?

ALSO: The death of Thirteenth Avenue, an avenue you probably never knew New York City ever had!

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The Bowery Boys #180: Chelsea Piers in the Age of the Ocean Liner

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The offices of Steamship Row near Bowling Green and Battery Park. With the rise of ocean travel in the mid 19th century, passengers went to these buildings to make voyage accommodations.  These were later replaced with more lavish offices, many of which are still around in the neighborhood today.

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

 

A jaunty song written for the Cunard ship Mauretania, sister ship of the Lusitania.
A jaunty song written for the Cunard ship Mauretania, sister ship of the Lusitania.

 

The crazy scene out in front of West Washington Market in 1905. The market was built well before the Chelsea Piers and helped preserve a bit of 13th Avenue when most of that street was eliminated for the Piers’ construction.

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

Construction of the Chelsea Piers complex in progress, looking northwest from 16th Street, 1910.

Courtesy New York Department of Records
Courtesy New York Department of Records
Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

The lavish Chelsea Piers headhouse, designed by Warren and Wetmore of Grand Central Terminal. This picture was taken in 1910 at their completion. It looks very calm on the street in front, a rarity!

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

 

An insurance map from 1885, detailing the streets near the areas of waterfront along West Village and the Meat-Packing District.  Note the location of 13th Avenue along the water, running along the top from center to right. Most of this was removed for the construction of the piers.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

The arrival of the White Star ocean liner Olympic into New York harbor, 1911.

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

 

The Titanic on its maiden voyage on April 10, 1912. This was obviously taken from Southhampton where they had much more room for massive ocean vessels!

Titanic

 

Crowds gather at a location near Chelsea Piers awaiting the survivors of the Titanic disaster.

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

People gather in New York to await the arrival of survivors of the sinking of the RMS Titanic aboard the RMS Carpathia

The RMS Carpathia arrives at Pier 54 on April 18, 1912.  Reporters scurry to interview survivors of the Titanic.

Courtesy New York Times
Courtesy New York Times

The Lusitania in New York Harbor, and other with the Lusitania at Pier 54 (date unknown but obviously before the Chelsea Piers were completed)

lusitania

 

pier54cunardlusitania

This striking image (cleaned-up photography courtesy of Shorpy) shows the Chelsea Piers in context with the streets of Chelsea in front of it. 1920

Courtesy Shorpy
Courtesy Shorpy

 

An excellent image of the crazy pier situation in lower Manhattan. This picture is from 1931. Chelsea Piers would be in the upper left-hand corner.

Courtesy Internet Book Image Archives
Courtesy Internet Book Image Archives

 

There were of course other pier structures running down the Hudson shoreline, many of them quite imposing such as this one at Pier 20 and 21 for the Erie Railroad Company at the foot of Chambers Street, picture taken in 1930.

Wurts Brothers, courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Wurts Brothers, courtesy Museum of the City of New York

A photomechanical postcard of the piers further south of Chelsea Piers, 1916.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

The three largest ships in the world in 1940, all docked in mid-Manhattan, not Chelsea Piers because it could not accommodate their size.

The three largest ships in the world, all docked in mid-Manhattan, not Chelsea Piers because it could not accommodate their size (Courtesy State Library of New South Wales)
(Courtesy State Library of New South Wales)

 

This is what Pier 54 looked like in 1951 after Cunard and White Star merged to become a single transatlantic company.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

The piers of Washington Market in the 1970s. Most of the pier structures along the water had badly deteriorated by then.

Courtesy Andy Blair/Flickr
Courtesy Andy Blair/Flickr

The Elevated West Side Highway being torn down in front of Pier 62. The area looks quite different today. In fact Pier 62 is part of the Hudson River Park system.

Photo by Edmund V. Gillon, courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Photo by Edmund V. Gillon, courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

The Chelsea Piers sporting complex was constructed in the 1990s, saving a portion of the original Chelsea Piers from further deterioration. Although I think we can all agree the exterior could be a bit sexier.

chelsea

 

Meanwhile Pier 54 continues to find a variety of new uses.  Here’s a dance party deejayed by Paul Van Dyk from 2008.

Courtesy Rukes/Paul Van Dyk Fan Board
Courtesy Rukes/Paul Van Dyk Fan Board

 

And finally….

The complete words of Charles Dickens, describing his voyage over on the Cunard steamship Britannia to the United States in 1842 :

To say that she [the ship] is flung down on her side in the waves, with her masts dipping into them, and that, springing up again, she rolls over on the other side, until a heavy sea strikes her with the noise of a hundred great guns, and hurls her back — that she stops, and staggers, and shivers, as though stunned, and then, with a violent throbbing of her heart, darts onwards like a monster goaded into madness, to be beaten down, and battered, and crushed, and leaped on by the angry sea — that thunder, lightening, hail, and rain, and wind, are all in fierce contention for the pastry — that every plant has its grown, every nail its shriek, and every drop of water in the great ocean its howling voice — is nothing.  

To say that all is grand, and all appalling and horrible in the last degree is nothing. Words cannot express it. Thoughts cannot convey it. Only a dream can call it up again, in all its fury, rage and passion.

This is in describing his voyage to the United States. Horrible, to be sure.  But given the thousands of people who involuntarily traveled across the Atlantic in the decades earlier, and the wretched conditions they faced, it’s hard too be overly sympathetic to Mr. Dickens’ inconvenience!

A short history of New York City’s various Titanic memorials


From a 1912 handbill, drumming up support for a proper memorial. (Courtesy Seaman’s Institute)

In our podcast on the South Street Seaport, we forgot to mention a very interesting little landmark to the area — the Titanic Memorial, a 60-foot white lighthouse that sits in the little plaza at Fulton and Water Streets.

This was no mere decorative lighthouse as it seems today.  For much of its history, it was an operational light source, a beacon over the East River.  Below: The memorial’s first home, atop the Seamen’s Church Institute (Courtesy NYPL)

The Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, killing more than 1,500 people from all social classes.  The loss shook society to its core.  Among the victims were prominent New York businessmen and benefactors such as John Jacob Astor IV and Benjamin Guggenheim.  As New Yorkers mourned the loss of loved ones, they immediately funneled their grief into the building of memorials, the physical remembrance of a disaster that left virtually no trace behind.

Mayor William Jay Gaynor gathered community leaders to City Hall in May 1912 to solicit ambitious ideas of the new memorial.   The Evening World attributes one idea for a lighthouse to engineer Carroll Livingston Riker, who suggested “the lighthouse should be located at some perilous point on the coast, illuminated by a most powerful light and with a great fog horn that may be heard many miles as part of its equipment.”

Meanwhile, a less dramatic lighthouse memorial (pictured at right) was funded by J.P. Morgan and planned for the top of the new Seamen’s Church Institute at 25 South Street.  The lighthouse was equipped with a time ball which was lowered at noon to help distant sailors adjust their equipment.  (This same sort of ball is affixed to the top of One Times Square in 1908, dropped every year at ring in the new year.)

The lighthouse memorial was dedicated on the first anniversary of the disaster with many family and friends of victims in attendance.

The New York Times claims the lighthouse and ball drop features atop the Institute “were simply features of the existing plan, relabeled as a memorial.” [source]  However it became New York’s most prominent remembrance of the Titanic disaster after all when, over at City Hall, nobody could make up their mind on a truly grand memorial.  (All you need to know about the city’s failed efforts is illustrated in this 1912 headline on one meeting — “One Man Made 18 Speeches.”)

Meanwhile, there were other Titanic memorials being planned in other parts of the city.  In Greenwich Village, in the Washington Square studios of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the artist began work on a sculpture for a national memorial in Washington D.C.

She displayed a model for the memorial in February 1916 that drew gasps from society women.  “[T]he present figure with its pedestal extends from floor to ceiling and catches interesting lights that add to the highly dramatic conceptions.”  [source] At left: A study of the Titanic memorial which was displayed at Whitney’s Village studio. (Courtesy AAA/Whitney Museum)

Whitney’s triumphant statue –of a figure with arms outstretched (not unlike Kate Winslet’s pose in the film Titanic) — was completed in 1918 but not installed in Washington until 1930 due to waterfront construction delays.  A

Yet another Titanic memorial was planned in June 1912 to honor philanthropists Isador and Ida Straus near their home on the Upper West Side. A competition was held in 1913 for aspiring sculptors, with Augustus Lukeman’s pondering nymph the eventual winner. The statue and the newly named Straus Park were formally dedicated on April 15, 1915.

Featured at the dedication ceremony were 800 children who had been helped by Straus’ Educational Alliance in the Lower East Side.

Below: Dedication of Straus Square and its curious monument. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

As for the Titanic Lighthouse Memorial?  It sat dutifully atop the Seamen’s Institute for decades, its green light a welcome beacon to those entering the harbor.  By the 1950s, shipping no longer came through the area of New York’s waterfront, and the Institute eventually sold its building.

The lighthouse was donated to the South Street Seaport Museum in 1968, then a budding institution formed just a couple years prior to protect the historic structures of the area.  For a time, the lighthouse actually sat on the waterfront before relocating back to its present home in 1976, in a park partially funded by Exxon Oil.

There was one other memorial to the Titanic disaster — the Wireless Operators Memorial at Battery Park.  This bronze cenotaph and fountain was dedicated in 1915 to nine intrepid employees — “wireless heroes” — who died on the Titanic and in other ocean disasters.

Wrote J. Andrew White in 1915: “It is an eloquent reminder of a tradition that has grown out of the brand of courage which seeks no precedent, which, founded on the heroic action of a mere boy, has been written in the indelible annals of the men who go down to the sea in ships.”

But don’t go looking for the memorial today.  It’s been in storage since 2005. Will we ever see it again?

History in the Making: Double Decker Delight Edition


Ladies in their most decorative hats enjoy a sunny ride from a double-decker in the fleet of the Fifth Avenue Coach Company. Anybody recognize this street corner? There’s an advertisement for McMullen’s White Label Bass Ale, Guinness Stout, Appolinari’s mineral water on the building in the background. (Photo by Alice Austen, courtesy NYPL. Labeled 1896, but most likely much later, perhaps early-mid 1910s)


Sage Advice: Sixteen tips and observations from an opinionated 1916 New York tour guide. “Another characteristic of New York, and one that applies to all grades of society, is the lavish and conspicuous mode of dress adopted by New York women on the public streets” [Cenedella]

Evergreen: It’s Barbra Streisand‘s 70th birthday! Find out where she — and 19 other extraordinary female vocalists — got their start in New York’s hustling nightlife in an older 2010 post from this blog. [Bowery Boys]

On the Menu: Dying to go to the Howard Johnson’s restaurant depicted on last Sunday’s ‘Mad Men’ episode and partake of a big, BIG orange sherbet? The Plattsburgh location is closed, but The Retrologist takes you to an original restaurant that’s still open in Lake George. [The Retrologist]

Good Golly: The History Chicks podcast takes a look at the Titanic‘s most famous lady, the ‘Unsinkable’ Molly Brown. [The History Chicks]

The Wire: There are mysterious, almost invisible wires strung from lampposts all around the city. Ever notice them? [Slate]

Continuing Story: The latest on the embattled St. Mark’s Bookshop, one of the last independent bookstores in the East Village. [Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York]

Bronx Tracks: A meticulous truly adventurous walk along the old New York, Westchester and Boston Railway in the Bronx, with sights along Gun Hill Road, Dyre Avenue and stops near the old Freedomland amusement park. [Forgotten New York]

Commodious: The Brooklyn Historical Society takes a leap into the records of the Brooklyn Bureau of Sewers. [Brooklyn Historical Society Blog]

And, now, big news! We are very happy to announce our involvement as blog ambassadors for the Partners In Preservation grant program, sponsored by American Express and the National Trust For Historic Preservation. Forty historical places in New York City have been chosen to compete for $3 million worth of funding. It’s a great chance for us to finally give back to some of New York’s most treasured places we’ve spent years talking about. And you can help choose the grant awardees. More information on that this Thursday! [Partners In Preservation]

Doctor Alice, the Saks heiress, and the accidental nanny: Fascinating New York women who survived the TItanic



The Waiting Game: Down at the White Star Line’s Broadway offices near Bowling Green, anxious New Yorkers line the streets waiting for news about the sunken vessel. 1912

Over fifteen hundred people died the night the Titanic sank, April 14-15, 1912. The early reports from the New York newspapers, of course, spent their time mourning the city’s most connected figures to society. Even from some of the most obsessive sources on the Titanic, the details on the lives of dozens of men and women who died below deck are sometimes hard to locate.

There’s always been something slightly unsettling to me about using primary news sources for Titanic research. The weight of wealthy lives over poor ones — of women over men, and of American and British lives to all others — can be a little unsettling. For instance, an anecdote from an April 20, 1912, article in the New York Times: “…[I]t became known among those saved from the Titanic were six or eight Chinamen who were among the steerage passengers on the big liner. It seems that they climbed aboard one of the lifeboats without anybody making objection, despite the fact that many of the women in the steerage of the Titanic went down with the ship.”

Steep yourself in the gravity of this weekend’s many centenary Titanic remembrances fully knowing they sometimes embody a Gilded Age slant towards the great loss to New York high society. But this was indeed a tragedy that shook most of the entire world to its core and, in particular, changed the lives of many Americans, from tenements to townhouses.

The old-family names and the wizards of business (Astor, Straus, Guggenheim) have been well documented. But here I present the fates of five well-off but perhaps lesser-known New York women who survived the sinking of the Titanic with intriguing stories of their own to tell:


Dr. Alice Farnham Leader 
Born in New York, May 10, 1862
Alice would have been among the second generation of women trained in medicine, and a career in pediatrics was one of the few that a women of her day could ably progress towards. As late as 1907 she was employed at Bellevue Hospital as ‘a social service nurse‘.  However she wasn’t a practicing doctor by the time she boarded the Titanic; the 49 year old had retired when her husband died in 1908.

She was rescued by lifeboat no. 8, commanded by one of the Titanic’s most famous names: Noëlle Rothes, the Countess of Rothes. “The countess is an expert oarswoman and thoroughly at home in the water,” Alice told the press, who sadly seemed more interested in the fate of the the titled gentry than of this mysterious doctor who appears to have avoided the spotlight for the remainder of her life.

Afterwards: Dr. Leader is mentioned in a Utah newspaper in 1916, discussing the crisis of graying hair.  Her solution: “A head exercise for circulation is to lie on the couch with the head projecting beyond the couch. Bend the head forward, backward, to each side, to each side, then rotate.”
Died: April 20, 1944

Irene (Rene) Harris
Born: June 15, 1876
A New York stage actress with some considerable credits to her name, Harris boarded the Titanic with her husband Henry Birkhardt Harris, the theater impresario and partner (with Jesse Lasky) in the Folies Bergere, which has just opened in midtown the year before.

 Irene made it to a lifeboat but her beloved husband perished on the Titanic. The Times recounts her cable to the Hudson Theater: “Praying that Harry has been picked up by another steamer.”

Afterwards: Returning to the New York theater in grief, she sued the White Star Line for a large petition of damages, and perhaps with good reason; she discovered when she got home that her husband was nearly bankrupt from the Folies Bergere venture and other flops. So she decided to make her own money, soon becoming one of Broadway’s first female producers with such shows as ‘Lights Out’ and ‘The Noose’ and buying a Park Avenue apartment.

But her wealth didn’t make it out of the Great Depression, and she spent her last days living in Manhattan hotels.  In 1958, she was subjected to a screening of the Hollywood film ‘A Night To Remember‘. “I think your film title is a mistake,” she said. “It was a night to forget.”
Died: September 2, 1969

Margaret Hays
Born: December 6, 1887
If not for the tragic sinking of the Titanic, Margaret Hays’ fate might have made a charming family comedy. The young woman lived at 304 West 83rd Street and had gone to Europe with two school friends Olive and Lily. And there was another lady, or rather, Lady, Margaret’s Pomeranian dog.

All three friends and her little dog too made it to a lifeboat, but Margaret’s story was just beginning. Onboard the rescue ship Carpathia were two small frightened French boys. They had been separated from their father Michel who was never found. Hays, who spoke French, took the boys into her care during the somber voyage and well after they arrived in New York. They stayed at her home on West 83rd — she distracted the distraught boys with carriage rides up Riverside Drive — until their mother arrived from France.

On her arrival, it was revealed that their father had taken the two boys against their mother’s will during a bitter divorce battle.

Afterwards: Hays married a Rhode Island doctor and lived in relative comfort, dying during a vacation in Argentina.
Died: August 21, 1956

Below: The ‘Titanic orphans’, named Michel and Edmond (not Louis & Lola!), below with their mother at Hays’ West 83rd Street townhouse.

Leila Meyer
Born in New York, September 28, 1886
The young socialite and daughter of Andrew Saks (founder of Saks Fifth Avenue) met aspiring Wall Street broker Eugene Meyer and married him in 1909. While traveling, Leila was wired the tragic news that her father had died. (Later, she discovered that a sizable part of their fortune had been willed to her.) Leila and her husband boarded the Titanic to return home. She made it to a lifeboat; her husband died aboard the ship.

Afterwards: She later remarried and lived the remainder of her life at 970 Park Avenue, rarely speaking to the press about her tragedy, although her spectacular jewelry collection was frequently remarked upon in women’s magazines.
Died: November, 27, 1957

Mrs. Charlotte Appleton
Born in New York, December 12, 1858

Charlotte was well versed in the thrill of ocean travel. Her father, once a well-known dry goods importer, worked for the firm which operated the Black Ball Line, one of the oldest shipping companies in New York and no stranger to a few shipwrecks of its own. She married into the prestigious Appleton   publishing family and was on the Titanic with two sisters, returning from a funeral in England.

Afterwards: Mrs. Appleton’s name is familiar with Titanic buffs as she was an acquaintance of Col. Archibald Gracie IV, the great-grandson of the man who built Gracie Mansion and one of the more notable bold-faced names on the Titanic. Mrs. Appleton lived the remainder of her life at 214-33 33rd Road, the oldest house in Bayside, Queens.
Died: June 25th, 1924

Some pictures and many of the birth/death dates above are courtesy Encyclopedia Titanica. Top picture courtesy the Library of Congress.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post accidentally killed off Archibald Gracie IV on the Titanic! The gentleman survived. In fact, his survival memoir became one of the core sources for early Titanic historians. More about that in our podcast on his ancestor, the first Archibald Gracie and Gracie Mansion.

Sigourney Weaver boards an off-Broadway ‘Titanic’ in 1976

Queen of the world: Weaver sets an uncharted course on a small SoHo stage.

Perhaps you are as confused as I am by the picture above, one that appears to put the lovely young Sigourney Weaver‘s face upon the body of a child. Ah, the magic of the theater! The future film star was in her late 20s when she joined this peculiar production of the ‘Titanic‘ tragedy, written by her friend and frequent collaborator Christopher Durang.

The bizarre one-act made its debut at the tiny Midtown theater before making a proper off-Broadway launch at the Van Dam Theatre (today’s SoHo Playhouse) in May 1976. Far from concerning itself with the eventual tragedy, Durang’s comic-farce is a sex romp which eventually pairs up provocative combinations of the show’s cast, a ribald smorgasbord of sexual fluidity.

Weaver, playing the role of Lidia, transforms into a variety of different women, including the daughter of the captain of the Titanic. Critics proclaimed her the “principal attraction” of the unusual play. “She begins in pigtails and tiny skirt as a sexy Shirley Temple and ends as a predatory black widow in deep decolletage,” said Times critic Mel Gussow.


This was not the only doomed ocean liner lampoon by Weaver and Durang! Inserted astride ‘Titanic’ was a Brechtian cabaret co-written by the pair, called ‘Das Lusitania Songspeil. In 1980, an expanded version of this randy show made its debut on the boards of the Westside Theater in Hell’s Kitchen, a late-night wintertime smash that earned the pair Drama Desk nominations.

Keep in mind this is a few months after the release of her breakthrough film ‘Alien’, whose sequel (which she also starred in) was directed by James Cameron, who would also find later inspiration on sunken ships. Although I think most of us prefer her as a Hollywood star, Weaver’s off-Broadway credits were so impressive by this time that New York Magazine referred to her in 1981 as “just about the best all-purpose actress in town.”

Durang’s ‘Titanic’ — which he himself considers a “really difficult play” — is sometimes revived on college campuses. Broadway would eventually embark on its own ‘Titanic‘ in 1997, an expensive musical production by Maury Yeston and Peter Stone that would debut at the Lunt-Fontanne at 205 W. 46th Street*. Although dogged with early technical difficulties and critical skepticism that would parallel the issues faced by “Spider-Man: Turn Of The Dark,” it became a modest hit, thanks in part to the film version directed by James Cameron.

*Currently home to ‘Ghost’ a musical based on a film.

Pictures above are courtesy Christoper Durang, a website that has lots more information about this curious play.

Where golf balls fly: Pier 59 at Chelsea Piers



The West Side Elevated Highway zooms past Pier 59, still in operation but long past her prime. (1951) Courtesy NYPL

There are very few angles on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic tragedy that aren’t being excessively covered in other places this week. So instead of focusing on the ship and its passengers, I thought I’d look at some Titanic-associated places in New York that haven’t been as breathlessly described or breathlessly refitted for 3-D..  For instance, the Chelsea Piers golf driving range.

The once-great West Side piers of the Gilded Age’s finest luxury vessels sat mostly haunted and decrepit by the 1950s. The lust for ever grander vessels ultimately created boats that were too big for the piers to accommodate. Midtown piers took most of the traffic by the 1940s, and there seemed little to save along the western waterfront by the 1970s. Some piers burnt down and were never replaced; others became drab parking garages; and still others, a wonderful place to find a gay hustler.

Pier 59 had once been the berth of the White Star Line with a glamorous Beaux-Arts dock designed by Warren and Wetmore of Grand Central Terminal. By the 1990s, developers looked again hopefully for the pier to draw people of means. “This is where we’ll put the golf driving range,” said a developer of the Chelsea Piers Sports Complex to New York Magazine in December 1994. The immense rehabilitation project had already begun by then and would soon envelop four former piers.

The driving range arranges players on multiple levels, an innovation taken from Japanese driving ranges and described as “golf as imagined by Terry Gilliam.” [source]

In June 1911, this pier welcomed its largest visitor, the White Star Olympic liner, on its maiden voice. The Olympic just happened to pass the Cunard’s Lusitania in the New York harbor that morning. Of course, Pier 59 was to have greeted the Titanic on its arrival here on April 17, 1912, and leave again on April 20. But the gloom that hovered over the pier  hardly slowed ocean traffic. The Olympic would continue to use the pier until it was pulled from service during World War I. On August 13, 1914, the ship Philadelphia arrived here with the first Americans fleeing the war.

Although most of the shipping industry avoided using Pier 59 by the 1960s, it did occasionally get some unusual arrivals. In 1960, the freighter Pioneer Tide arrived here with some unique passengers — 13 one-humped camels.

The Bowery Boys High Line audio walking tour, featuring tales of the Titanic, the Manhattan Project and 1,000 Stevies



Cookie heaven: Trains pull into a factory owned by the National Biscuit Company, between W. 15th and 16th streets, July 30, 1950. Could those cars be filled with crates of freshly made Oreo cookies? (See comments section below for the anser.) By 1958, the snack company had pulled all production from New York’s west side. Photo courtesy Ed Doyle/Flickr


PODCAST Welcome to our unofficial High Line audio walking tour! In our last podcast (episode #135), we gave you a history of the High Line, the one-mile linear park situated atop a stretch of abandoned elevated railroad tracks along the West Side. This time, I’ll take you on a tour along the High Line itself.

This will incorporate some history of the elevated line itself, but it’s geared towards describing the history of the surrounding neighborhoods. This is intended to be listened to as you walk along the High Line, beginning at the park’s southern entrance at Washington Street and Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District. We’ll end at 30th Street. This tour will last a little over an hour or so — depending on what speed you choose to enjoy the High Line. But take your time!

Along the way, I’ll share tales from almost 200 years of history, from the early days of Fort Gansevoort during the War of 1812 to the underground club life of the 1990s. Featuring New York stories of the Titanic, the Lusitania and the Manhattan Project. And starring a wild array of people who have influenced these neighborhoods, including Abraham Lincoln, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Drew Barrymore, REVS, Cass Gilbert, a feisty lady named Tillie Hart, and a whole lotta people dressed like Stevie Nicks.

ALSO: You might want a handful of Oreos after you’re done.

To get the walking tour, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.


Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys High Line Walking Tour

This tour covers two hundred years of history, starting with the construction of Fort Gansevoort, built to protect the city from potential attack during the events leading up to the War of 1812. (Courtesy NYPL)

A map of the High Line, courtesy the Friends of the High Line. This walking tour follows this path directly from the southernmost entrance at Gansevoort Street, all the way up to W. 30th Street.

If you’re not able to walk the High Line anytime soon, never fear! Google Maps actually allows you to ‘walk’ the High Line.

 
View Larger Map

Although you won’t experience any vehicular traffic on this tour, please be aware of other visitors to the High Line as you listen. Stand over to the either side as you listen. There are some narrow paths, uneven walkways, benches and other nooks built into the surface of the High Line, so watch your step.

At the end of the tour I mentioned a Chelsea gallery tour that also provides a great perspective on the neighborhood while leading you through the scene’s best art shows. You can find more information about tours at New York Gallery Tours. In addition to the Chelsea scene, they also provide guided tours of the Lower East Side and Upper East Side art scenes.

CORRECTION: There is a very hilarious mis-statement near the end of the show. The Morgan Processing and Distribution Center is 2.2 million square feet, NOT 2.2 square feet. That would be the size of a flower box, I think. I’ve added the correction to the podcast show notes.

The Narrows sans bridge, from the age of the Titanic


One hundred years ago: here comes the RMS Olympic, sailing into the harbor at right. The lead ship in the White Star line, the Olympic would be cruising the Atlantic several months later, on the morning of April 15, 1912, when its sister ship the Titanic sent out a distress call, having hit an iceberg several hours previous. The Olympic was, unfortunately, too far to come to its rescue.

In the aftermath, the Olympic crew went on strike, fearful that their vessel was ill-equipted for a similar disaster.

Notice at least nine or ten other boats in the distance, many of them (and most likely, the Olympic as well) containing newcomers on their way to Ellis Island.

Below: two portside views of the Olympic from July 1911 as it pulls into dock, surrounded by tiny little tugboats. I believe these are photos from the vessel’s second or possibly even third entry into New York. It was officially launched in June of that year. (You can read more about its first year and its relationship with the Titanic here.)


Pics courtesy the Library of Congress.