Health and Living Podcasts

Moving Day! Mayhem and Madness in Old New York

EPISODE 324 At last! The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast looks at one of the strangest traditions in this city’s long history — that curious custom known as Moving Day.

Every May 1st, for well over two centuries, from the colonial era to World War II, rental leases would expire simultaneously, and thousands of New Yorkers would pack their possessions into carts or wagons and move to new homes or apartments. 

Of course, for the rest of the world May 1 would mean all different things – a celebration of spring or moment of political protest. And it would mean those things here in New York – but on a backdrop of just unbelievable mayhem in the streets.

There are a few theories about the origin of Moving Day but most of them trace back the Dutch colony of New Netherlands. So why did New Yorkers continue the custom for centuries?

FEATURING Davy Crockett, Lydia Maria Child, The Jeffersons, Mickey Mouse and an amazing New Yorker named Amy Armstrong with a really stubborn husband.

PLUS: Greg reads a poem.

To get this episode, simply stream or download it from your favorite podcast player.

Or listen to it straight from here:

Moving Day (in Little Old New York), 1827, Unknown Painter (Met Museum)
Harry T. Peter’s Collection of Pictorial Newspaper Illustrations, The First of May in New York City – Moving Out. Courtesy New-York Historical Society Library
Newspaper illustration 1869
A circa 1921 Pierce Arrow moving van parked on the street, Byron Company. 1921. Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
An illustration by Philip Reisman, 1929, courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Moving Day 1936 in an illustration by painter and cartoonist Don Freeman. Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

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3 replies on “Moving Day! Mayhem and Madness in Old New York”

Many people could renew their leases. But there were no protective rent regulations in the 19th century, thus landlords could raise rent and discriminate without warning.

This makes some of my family history make more sense. My great-grandparents lived in Manhattan, around where MSG is now, in the 1870s. According to their children’s birth certificates and census records they lived in the same neighborhood, but in different buildings throughout the years. So I assume that was because they were moving frequently most likely on Moving Day.

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