Tag Archives: William Jay Gaynor

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?

The mayoral inauguration 100 years ago was quite a headache — “the Most Cheerless Day Ever Known at City Hall”

On Wednesday, January 1, 2014, Bill de Blasio will be inaugurated at City Hall to become the 109th Mayor of New York City, sworn in by President Bill Clinton.  Mayoral inaugurations are never very exciting, but they’re often reflected upon later as setting the tone for an administration, a clue to a possible style of governance.

A fine, athletic example that Mayor-elect de Blasio might consider would be that of William J. Gaynor, who celebrated his inauguration on January 1, 1910, by walking from his home that day in Park Slope, over the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall.  Brooklyn had been a part of Greater New York for only a decade by that point, and Gaynor one of its most esteemed residents.  Nobody doubted Gaynor’s pride that day in his home borough.  (De Blasio is also from Park Slope; his home is about ten minutes away from Gaynor’s residence on Eighth Avenue.)

Below: Mayor-elect Gaynor as he strolled across the bridge to City Hall

Four years later — after Gaynor died in office, from the internal injuries of an assassin’s bullet — New Yorkers elected the reformer John Purroy Mitchel.  He also made a bold statement during his inauguration on January 1, 1914, although one that cast a lingering pall over his subsequent accomplishments.

At right: Mayor-elect Mitchel with interim mayor Adolph Loges Kline, on inauguration day, 1914

Unfortunately for the young mayor-elect, he suffered from intensely painful headaches, and that morning, as he arrived at 9 a.m., Mitchel could barely withstand the pressure.

After greeting a few well-wishers and a brief meeting with reporters, he was sworn in during a private ceremony, made a five minute speech, then escaped into his private office, even as thousands lingered in the hallways and around City Hall for hopes of something — anything in the way of celebration — to occur.

Mitchel was noticeably aggravated and avoided any major announcements (such as the hotly contested job of Police Commissioner).

Early on, the police even dismissed the official receiving line of well-dressed politicians, the phalanx leaving with their hands unshaken.  This was a slight that many would never forget.  “[T]he reception room and corridor outside his office carried all the surging, bustling human exhilaration of Grant’s Tomb,” said the Evening World, who characterized the ceremony as “the most cheerless day ever known in City Hall.”

Many would consider this a hallmark of Mitchel’s style — distant and removed, hardly politic — a demeanor which would eventually label him as an elitist.

From the January 2, 1914, Evening World

For more on Gaynor, Mitchel and the tumultuous politics of 1914, check out our podcast on The Boy Mayor Of New York (Episode #156).

The Boy Mayor of New York: John Purroy Mitchel and a series of unfortunate events shake up a New York election


John Purroy Mitchel, the ‘boy mayor’, after his resounding victory. (LOC)

PODCAST As New York City enters the final stages of this year’s mayoral election, let’s look back on a decidedly more unusual contest 100 years ago, pitting Tammany Hall and their estranged ally (Mayor William Jay Gaynor) up against a baby-faced newcomer, the (second) youngest man to ever become the mayor of New York City.

John Purroy Mitchel, the Bronx-born grandson of an Irish revolutionary, was a rising star in New York City, aggressively sweeping away incompetence and snipping away at government excess.  Under his watch, two of New York’s borough presidents were fired, just for being ineffectual!  Mitchel made an ideal candidate for mayor in an era where Tammany Hall cronyism still dominated the nature of New York City.

Nobody could predict the strange events which befell the city during the election of 1913, unfortunate and even bizarre incidents which catapulted this young man to City Hall and gave him the nickname the Boy Mayor of New York.

But things did not turn out as planned.  He won his election with the greatest victory margin in New York City history.  He left office four years later with an equally large margin of defeat.  Tune in to our tale of this oft-ignored figure in New York City history, an example of good intentions gone wrong and — due to his tragic end — the only mayor honored with a memorial in Central Park.

 PLUS: The totally bizarre death in 1913 of Tammany Hall’s most popular leader

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

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

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #156 The Boy Mayor Of New York

Mayor William Jay Gaynor on his inauguration day in 1909, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall, from his home in Park Slope.

William Jay Gaynor at the very moment he was shot in 1910, on an ocean vessel docked in Hoboken.  This picture was taken by a New York World photographer, one of the most famous works of early journalism photography.

Gaynor (at left) attempted to stage a political comeback (after being by Tammany Hall) at the notification of his independent candidacy at City Hall in September 1913.  The shovel in front of him was his campaign emblem.  Within a few days, he would be dead of the assassin’s bullet he received three years earlier.

The death of Big Tim Sullivan also caused ripples in the mayoral election of 1913. The picture below is of the Bowery, overflowing with mourners. While Sullivan was out of politics (and in an asylum) by 1913, his sudden and unusual passing had an effect on Tammany Hall supporters, throwing another strange event into an already tumultuous year.

Mayor Mitchel with President Woodrow Wilson in May 1914, at a memorial service for American marines and seamen killed in Veracruz during the Mexican Revolution.

Mitchel at his desk at City Hall, presumably cracking down on some kind of over-expenditure or waste. Or possibly silently suffering from migraine headaches which plagued him during his entire term as mayor.

John with his wife Jane.

Gerstner Field in Louisiana, where Mitchel had his tragic airplane accident on July 6, 1918.

Another New York funeral: The body of John Purroy Mitchel is carried in a procession from City Hall, through the Washington Arch, and up to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Theodore Roosevelt, one of the pallbearers at Mitchel’s funeral, leaves St. Patrick’s in this short film by Edison.

The John Purroy Mitchel memorial, near the reservoir in Central Park. (Courtesy Flickr/stormdog42)

By the way, the recording that was featured in this episode is called ‘New York, What’s the Matter With You?, recorded by vaudeville star Nat M. Wills in 1913.  The song references Mayor Gaynor and his planned curfew of restaurants and bars that is mentioned in the podcast.  It references several dances of the day, including the grizzly bear.

 Most pictures above are public domain, courtesy of the Library of Congress

One hundred years ago today, the mayor of New York died

Mayor William Jay Gaynor’s final appearance at City Hall was at a notification rally, declaring his independent candidacy.  He brandishes a shovel as a symbol of a new era of subway construction (the eventual fruits of the so-called ‘dual contracts’ which had finally be agreed to earlier that year.)

Today’s mayoral primary falls on a very grim anniversary in New York City political history.  One hundred years ago today, Mayor William Jay Gaynor collapsed and died while on a voyage to Europe, succumbing to an assassin’s bullet which had been lodged in his throat for over three years.

Gaynor was not in New York when he was shot, and he was not in New York when he finally succumbed to its effects years later.  On August 9, 1910, he boarded a German ocean liner in Hoboken, New Jersey, for a planned trip to Europe. A disgruntled dock worker James J. Gallagher approached and shot him through the neck.  The moment was gruesomely captured by a New York World photographer.

Although the injury derailed Gaynor’s presidential ambitions, it did not prevent him from leaving office.  The bullet remained stuck in his neck, slowly weakening his health and eventually deterioriating his ability to speak.

But he remained a feisty opponent of city corruption. So much so that corruption-fueled Democratic machine Tammany Hall refused to support his re-election bid in 1913, throwing their support to judge Edward E. McCall, a more pliant candidate to their whims.  McCall would run against Fusion candidate John Purroy Mitchel, the firebrand reformer and president of New York’s Board of Aldermen (city council).

Gaynor would not be sidelined.  On September 3, he announced an independent run for the mayor from the steps of City Hall.  To a crowd of 5,000 supporters, Gaynor’s secretary had to read his speech for him as he was unable to raise his voice due to his injuries.  At the very end, however, as his secretary declared the mayor’s intention to eradicate graft, Gaynor leaped to his feet and cried, “Yes, that is what we are going to do — shovel all those miserable grafters into the common dump!”

Gaynor at his candidacy announcement, buffered by supporters

The following day, he boarded another ocean liner with his son, intending to convalesce for two or three weeks.  It was unannounced voyage — Gaynor naturally wanted to keep his deteriorating condition quiet —  although the newspapers found out and splashed it upon their front pages.  “It was a feeble figure that went slowly up the gangplank leaning heavily on the arm of his son Rufus,” said the Evening World.

He was intending to return on September 21.  However, six days into his voyage, on September 10, the mayor finally succumbed to his wounds, aggravated by other afflictions in his stomach and lungs.

His body was returned to New York on the RMS Lusitania nine days later.  The following day, his body lay in state at City Hall as thousands of mourners paid their last respects.

Gaynor would be the second New York mayor to die in office — William Havemeyer died of a heart attack while in office in 1874 — and the fifth to die in office if you count those from before the Revolutionary War.

Gaynor’s passing turned the coming election into a free-for-all, with the remaining candidates scrambling to appeal to the former mayor’s moderate voting base.  In the end, Mitchel was elected that November, becoming the city’s second youngest mayor in history.

A memorial for Gaynor was placed in Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn in 1926, inscribed with the anti-corruption slogan “Ours is a government of laws not men.”  Gaynor lived in Park Slope at 20 Eighth Avenue.

Below are some images from his funeral at City Hall, September 20, 1913

All images courtesy the Library of Congress

Mourners at City Hall (LOC)

Former president William Howard Taft at Gaynor’s funeral (LOC)

The Incident at Healy’s: Wild nightlife in Columbus Circle, police brutality and spirited protests against ‘cafe curfew’

Columbus Circle in 1921, looking west. Healy’s was a few blocks north of this scene.

Many of New York’s most popular restaurants and cafes a century ago were located around Columbus Circle, lively hot spots that drew in the theater and burlesque patrons well into the late hours.  Crowds would exit the Park Theater and head over to Reisenweber’s Cafe to take in some champagne and cabaret, years before it would be associated with bawdy star Sophie Tucker.  Others might partake of the beefsteak at the Morgue on West 58th Street or Child’s Restaurant a block over.

One of the busiest spots was Healy’s (slightly north, at Broadway and 66th Street), a spacious dining and dancing spot,  featuring an indoor ice-skating rink and enormous ballroom, among its many indulgences. It was one of New York’s most trendy dining palaces in 1913, the site of a celebratory dinner by artists from the Armory Show just a few months before.

Below: An advertisement for Healy’s from 1914

But nobody was exactly celebrating at 1 a.m. on August 13, 1913, when the police burst into Healy’s and violently threw out all the patrons.  Men were grabbed by their collars and thrown to the sidewalk. Women screamed as they were separated from their tables, “shoved, pushed and dragged” to the doorway. Thousands of people had gathered outside, both curious and perturbed, shouting at the police and cheering on the discarded diners.

The drama made the front page of every newspaper the next morning. “Diners Thrown From Healy’s,” said the Sun. “Many Are Dragged Away Carrying Dishes and Table Cloths.”

So what was the problem exactly? Naturally, it had to do with liquor.

The fun began several days before, when Mayor William J. Gaynor instigated a new ‘cafe curfew’ for the wild lobster palaces and nightclubs that were turning Midtown into an all-night soiree.  Establishments holding proper liquor licenses must now close at 1 a.m. unless granted an exemption or extended license (often given to hotels).

This did not make Broadway proprietors happy, as it greatly cut into profits. However most restaurant and cafe owners along the White Light zone planned to comply with the order, fearing fines or police reprisals.

But Thomas Healy was ready to fight the law.  His lavish cafe at Broadway and 66th Street thrived on the after-theater, late-supper crowd, a party crew who liked their champagne.  Although Healy’s regularly closed at 2 a.m., that one lost hour would have greatly hurt business, Healy claimed.

He also contested the wording of the law. It stated that “any room which liquor is sold during lawful hours must be closed and the doors locked during the prescribed hours, whether for the sale of liquor and foods.” If his bar room was indeed locked up, why couldn’t his patrons stay and enjoy themselves in the dining room?

At left: An ad from 1915. Note the ‘Jungle Room, Log Cabin and Log Hut for famous Healy Beefsteak Dinner’

Healy stood ready to combat the mayor, keeping his place open while filing an injunction to keep the law at bay.

For several days, police entered the restaurant and asked patrons to leave at 1 a.m.  On Tuesday, August 12, police barricaded patrons in the restaurant, announcing that none of them could leave until 6 a.m.  But a defiant Healy removed his remaining diners out a back entrance, foiling the police.

This is certainly explains why the police were especially hostile the following day, August 13.  At 1 a.m, police officers mounted the orchestra stage and announced that everybody must leave the restaurant. Drunken patrons laughed and even booed the officer, many proclaiming they had no interest in leaving. Most likely, it was this stubbornness that ignited the rough-handling that followed.

“The recalcitrant guests found themselves enfolded in the uniformed arms, lifted into the air, rushed down the disordered aisles and literally thrown into Columbus Avenue,” reported the New York Times. “In the scramble, tables went over, chairs were smashed, electroliers were damaged, glasses and crockery were broken into fragments. There was pandemonium for a time.”

Violence returned the following night, Thursday, August 14, as rebellious New Yorkers were now insolently dining past the allotted time.  Promptly at 1 a.m., an increased force of fifty police officers rushed the restaurant. “Three hundred men and women were led, pushed, shoved, carried, clubbed and thrown out.” [source]

One of those patrons was New York District Attorney Charles S. Whitman (pictured above in 1910), a rumored candidate for mayor and one of the city’s most popular politicians. (In 1916, he would be elected governor of New York.) His appearance at Healy’s was clearly to draw attention. Thousands of people crowded the streets; the nearly elevated train station was filled with people trying to get a better look, and ‘automobile parties’ cruised by, desperate for a peek at the violence inside.

Whitman’s appearance had done the trick.  Gaynor backed down, allowing Healy’s to remain open if it wished. In fact, warrants were then issued for police detective John. F. Dwyer and two dozen police officers.

But Healy had created a bit of an unwieldy beast. Crowds gathered the next night and cars lined the street, anticipating more excitement, building uncontrollable mess that the proprietor actually called the police himself!  In the end, Healy did end up closing at 1 a.m., just for the protection of his own restaurant and staff.

Central Park’s Maine Monument

At Memorial Day celebrations one hundred years ago, one of New York City’s great war memorials was finally unveiled — the Maine Monument, at the southwest corner entrance of Central Park.  The monument pays tribute to the 266 American soldiers who perished on the USS Maine, which exploded in Havana, Cuba, on February 15, 1898.

Given the various wars which have involved the United States since then, this event is sometimes overshadowed, but it so horrified and angered Americans that emotions helped fuel the conflict known as the Spanish-American War later that year.

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This is often considered a war manufactured by New York publishers as anti-Spanish rhetoric in the papers — the seeds of so-called ‘yellow journalism’, featuring outlandish exaggeration or out-right fabrication to sell their product to New Yorkers — led directly into military engagement.

Newspapers were not only behind the causes of war; they were behind its monuments too.  Within days of the explosion, William Randolph Hearst called for donations for a memorial to the Maine’s fallen crew.

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Just as Joseph Pulitzer had done a decade earlier for the Statue of Liberty, Hearst went directly to its readers, young and old, to help fund a tribute to the Maine.  Given the wall-to-wall coverage of the war that year and the ample profits from newspaper sales, it’s strange that Hearst couldn’t just fund the whole thing himself.

Less than a month after the disaster, people around the country were fund-raising for the Maine Memorial.  In March 1898, a traveling comic opera crew was raising money in Oklahoma when its lead actress killed herself.  The following month, a vaudeville benefit at New York’s Koster & Bial in Herald Square was overtaken by sailors who took to singing patriotic songs from the balconies.

Hundreds of special benefits were hosted in theaters and stages across the country over the next decade.  It’s unclear how much of the proceeds ended up funding the monument, as it took well over a decade for money to be raised and its design — by New Jersey architect Harold Van Buren Magonigle, America’s go-to memorial designer of the Gilded Age — to be approved.  Magonigle enlisted his frequent collaborator Attilio Piccirilli to create the bronze and marble sculptures.

Some of that earnest enthusiasm seems to have disappeared when the memorial was finally dedicated on Memorial Day 1913.  According the New York Sun, leading New York artist erupted in “a storm of criticism” at the shiny, ostentatious design, with aesthetes calling the work a “misfit” and “a disgrace to the city.”

Many thought its relationship to the actual Maine was lost in vague theatrical symbolism.  “Architecturally and constructively the whole thing is cheap and bad.”[source]

Picture courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Picture courtesy Museum of the City of New York

The memorial was unveiled with a grand military parade and the attendance of ten warships in the harbor, including one from Havana.  There was, of course, one great conflict on everybody’s mind that day when, in the official ceremony, sworn enemies Hearst and Mayor William Jay Gaynor met at the unveiling. (Among many grievances, Hearst had unsuccessfully run against Gaynor for mayor in 1909.)  With utmost restraint, Gaynor managed to shake Hearst’s hand without punching him in the face.

Two years later, a second memorial to the Maine was placed in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.  And in 1926, a lavish monument was placed in Havana, Cuba.

Taken 1920, courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Taken 1920, courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Panic at the Polo Grounds: The first Boston-New York World Series sparks an insane stampede 100 years ago

Above: the crowds at the Polo Ground for Game One. Many of these same people were certainly on hand for the fateful Game Four.

One hundred years ago today, in the frantic fall of 1912, even as the nation was in the midst of an intense three-way race to elect a new president, New Yorkers and Bostonians were overwhelmingly — perhaps even unnaturally — distracted.  For the first time ever — since the introduction of the World Series baseball championship in 1903 — a New York club was finally battling for ultimate victory against a Boston team.

The two cities had been in perpetual competition for most of their history; organized sport merely provided a formalized outlet to rally regional pride. [For more information, check out my article on the roots of the Boston-New York rivalry.]

The two cities should have already met on the diamond for the 1904 World Series, as the New York Giants were victors of the National League, while the Boston Americans led the American League.  Boston clutched that particular victory by defeating another team from New York, the upstart New York Highlanders (who later became the Yankees).

However, the Giants refused to play the Americans in the World Series, a tantrum thrown by managers aimed at the ‘inferior’ American League (originally the junior circuit). Rules were changed the following year to make championship play between the leagues compulsory.

Eight years later, in 1912, the New York Giants were matched against the same Boston team under their new name — the Boston Red Sox.  No hesitation this time around.  They were undeniably the two best terms in America, and both clubs were determined to win the title for their home cities.

For this Series, teams shuttled back and forth between Boston’s Fenway Park and New York’s premier baseball venue of the day, the Polo Grounds.

Above: A view of the Polo Grounds during Game Four, absolutely packed to the rafters

Game One, played at Polo Grounds, went to Boston.  Game 2, at Fenway, lasted so long — eleven innings — that the game was declared a tie on account of darkness. (Night baseball wouldn’t be played at Fenway until 1947!)  New York then won the second game at Fenway the following day, tying up the match.

For a fourth consecutive day of baseball, the teams were to return to the Polo Grounds (located at W. 157th Street and 8th Avenue). New Yorkers had the momentum, anxious to build upon their triumph in Game Three.  Both teams, already exhausted, packed into trains and headed back down to New York, arriving that evening at Grand Central. The Giants headed to their respective homes in the city, the Red Sox to their accommodations at Bretton Hall on Broadway and 86th Street.

Fans were already so excited for Game Four the next day that some were already lined up at Polo Grounds before the players even arrived in New York.

Unfortunately, one curious obstacle threatened to ruin everybody’s good time: mud.

The Polo Grounds were an uncovered grass field and throughout most of that evening it was pelted with rain, turning this fairly new ballfield (re-built in 1911 after a fire) into what the Evening World called “a mysty mystery” of gray and yellow-brown fog.  The infield was protected by a tarp, but the outfield was battered by the elements. Was it in any condition for a major baseball game?

Commissioners failed to decide that morning whether the game could commence, and baseball fans grew restless. Well, that’s an understatement. Giants fans were enraged. “[T]he lynching-hungry scream of an infuriated mob” filled the air around the stadium, as thousands more joined the brave few  still in line from the night before should the field reopen.

An Evening World reporter followed a groundskeeper along the soggy field who lamented, “They can play on it, all right … Sure, they can play, but oh, me poor grass!”

Umpires were given a police escort into the Polo Grounds at 11 a.m. to inspect the condition of the field. By that time, the mob was practically foaming at the mouth, with “a blood-curdling shriek of 10,000 fans stretch[ing] from 157th Street to 140th Street, thousands and thousands of them.” [source]

At left: Photo from the Evening World, 10/11/12

Precisely at noon, the commission, located at the Waldorf-Astoria, telephoned to announce that the baseball game could be played, and the throng thundered into the stadium. The Evening World compared it to the Spanish running of the bulls. “[N]o man of this generation ever saw such racing and pounding along the sloping approaches of the Polo Grounds and began slamming down seats at one minute past twelve o’clock today.”

According to New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro in his book on the 1912 World Series ‘The First Fall Classic’, the stadium filled to capacity with thousands more watching from various nooks and crannies, over 40,000 people, “officially…the third largest in this history of this stadium (and, thus, the history of the sport) but unofficially shattered that record to smithereens.” Many thousands more listened in to an announcer in Herald Square.

And so, here’s the punchline: after all that madness, the New York Giants lost the game, on the muddy and thoroughly distressed Polo Grounds, to the Boston Red Sox, 3-2! The New York Times intoned, “Nine Grim Innings To Red Sox Victory.”

In fact, they went on to lose the entire series to Red Sox.

Below: For Game One, Mayor William Jay Gaynor threw out the first pitch, sitting alongside the mustachioed Massachusetts governor Eugene Foss. Less than a year later, Gaynor would succumb to injuries brought on by a bullet lodged in his throat, the unlucky souvenir of an 1910 assassination attempt. [Read more about Gaynor here.]

Ladies, it’s your day! A Leap Year tradition, New York style

 “When a woman has reached the age of thirty there is nothing left for her but to be good. I am going to make clothes for the poor. Hand me down that roll of flannel, Rachel: I mean to begin at once.” 

“If it will be any comfort to you, my dear,” began Rachel, soothingly, if monotonously. “I read the other day that women of thirty were all the fashion, and that girls of twenty were quite out of it.” 


“That was written by a person of forty then, my dear.”

— excerpt from ‘A Woman of Thirty’, New York Times, 1893

Happy Leap Day, single ladies! Put a ring on it! For four years — 1,460 straight days — men have been the initiators in romance. Women were to mildly express interest in a mate, her demure politeness disguising anything possibly resembling passion as she awaited a marriage proposal from the confines of her parents home. But not so on February 29, according to custom. On this day, women get to playfully assert themselves in the parlor, boldly proposing to the men they desire.

Although this Leap Day tradition allegedly dates back to the Elizabethan era and even further, the proper folk of the Victorian — and within the societal confines of New York — embraced it almost-seriously. But this was no mere pantomime of dating ritual, not simply a crusty poke at female status. Citing ‘common law’, the Independent in 1908 proclaimed, “[A]ny man refusing a woman’s proposal on leap year shall give her a silk dress. Every maiden, widow or divorcee has, therefore, an opportunity this year to replenish her wardrobe even if she fails to satisfy her affections.” (The advertisement at top seems to reference this detail of the ritual.)

The tradition in 19th century New York was recognized enough that an uptick in advertisements from female suitors could be found in newspapers on that particular day. A reporter for the Times peers in on “the ladies of Harlem” in 1856 to discover “the fairer half of the assemblage asserted the prerogatives which Leap Year confers upon them to the fullest extent. They selected their own partners for the dance and very probably some of them exercised their privilege of choosing a party for life.”  There was even a well-received play by J.B. Buckstone which debuted in 1850 called ‘Leap Year – A Ladies Privilege’.

But was this ridiculous tradition ever really taken seriously? There was doubt, even in the Gilded Age. I mean, women proposing marriage? Can you imagine? “It seems almost incredible to us that there was a time when it was considered a humorous thing for a civilized community to assume that women were in the habit of doing what no woman is known ever to have done,” wrote a Times columnist in 1880

As with old customs, this might have been taken more seriously outside of major cities, as evidenced by this letter which ran in the New York Times in 1864: “A remarkable (Leap Year) courtship and marriage came off in our quiet village last week, resulting disastrously to all the parties concerned.”

For New Yorkers, Leap Day does not seem to have been a ‘holiday’ that received serious consideration. Among the upper crust, a woman’s proposal would have been scoffed at, regardless of the season, while it’s doubtful certain lower class women wouldn’t have waited for a calendar anomoly to do what she wished. If anything, the urban legend might have actually deterred potential marriage proposals. According to an 1884 article, “The ladies are afraid to marry this [leap] year because people will say they popped the question.”

Even William Jay Gaynor, mayor of New York 100 years ago, dismissed the custom and the women of New York in a single swoop: “I do not think women care about leap year. They can propose if they want to, but bless them, leap year or no leap year, they would rather have the fellow propose to them.”

Of course, I suppose some are trying to keep this weird custom alive even today.

Illustration at top from the Club Women of New York journal from 1904. Life advertisement courtesy New York Public Library.