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Amusements and Thrills Podcasts

The Crystal Palace, America’s first World’s Fair and bizarre treasury of the 19th century

PODCAST New York’s Crystal Palace seems like something out of a dream, a shimmering and spectacular glass-and-steel structure — a gigantic greenhouse — which sat in the area of today’s Bryant Park. In 1853 this was the home to the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, a dizzying presentation of items, great and small, […]

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Amusements and Thrills Bowery Boys Bookshelf

The literary Coney Island

Everybody sees Coney Island a little differently. Most people know it for the amusements but not everybody has the same feeling about them. One person craves the beaches, the food. Another prefers a stroll along the boardwalk, fireworks, an evening Cyclones game. Others live nearby, too familiar with the swelling weekend crowds. And some people […]

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Amusements and Thrills

Bogie and Bacall meet Basie and Billie

This actually happened. For the debut of the new film Key Largo — starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall — the exhibitors at the Warner Strand Theater (at Broadway and 47th Street) has a special treat in store. The Strand Theatre, which opened in 1914, has already made history a few times in New York. […]

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Amusements and Thrills

Stanley Kubrick’s photos of people in a haunted house 1946

Before he became an iconic filmmaker, the Bronx-born Stanley Kubrick was an ace photographer, wandering the city with his camera and beautifully capturing aspects of New York street life. In 1946 he became the youngest photographer ever employed by Look Magazine (located at Madison Avenue and 52nd Street), a Life Magazine look-alike that still managed millions […]

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Amusements and Thrills Mysterious Stories

Harry Houdini sitting upon his own grave 1916

Anybody watching the Houdini mini-series on the History Channel? It’s, um, interesting, I guess.  It breezes over any actual character development — eschews all forms of subtlety — and lingers upon vast areas of speculation in his biography.  This would be totally unacceptable if it were anybody else but Harry Houdini, who routinely blended fact […]

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Amusements and Thrills It's Showtime

New York’s amusement palace Niblo’s Garden returns (sort of)

It’s the return of Niblo’s Garden, the 19th century pleasure garden and entertainment palace once on Broadway and Prince Street!  Except this time around, it’s in a cemetery. Niblo’s is perhaps most famous as being the site of the first Broadway musical (at least, some form of it).  The venue’s impresario William Niblo is buried […]

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Amusements and Thrills Bridges

The ten greatest fireworks displays in New York City history

Above: One of my favorite pictures of the Williamsburg Bridge, at its opening in 1903 Nothing befits a fireworks display quite like a skyline to frame it, and no city has a skyline quite like New York City.  And so, despite the obvious dangers of setting off thousands of pounds of explosives in a crowded, […]

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Amusements and Thrills

The decline and fall of Coney Island’s original Thunderbolt

Coney Island gets a brand new star attraction this week — the 2,000-feet Thunderbolt roller-coaster in Luna Park.  It’s “narrower than most apartments” (according to Gizmodo), a bright orange ribbon ride that squiggles, rises and plummets within a disturbingly wonky silhouette. It also takes its name from one of Coney Island’s most famous roller-coasters, designed by […]

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Amusements and Thrills

Coney Island’s many death and destruction amusements

The entrance to the Johnstown Flood presentation (Cleaned-up photo courtesy Shorpy) On May 31, 1889, a dam near the town of Johnstown, PA, collapsed after a brutal day of torrential rain, flooding the valley with 20 million tons of water and destroying everything in its path. There was virtually no escape, and 2,209 people died […]

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Amusements and Thrills Queens History

African lions and dinosaurs, musical plastics and electricity: The sights and sounds of the 1964-65 World’s Fair

The World’s Fair of 1964-65 opened fifty years ago today!  We visited this unusual New York mega-event on the podcast a few years ago.  Give this show a listen to get a good introduction to our city’s strangest celebration of the future.  You can listen to it here or download it from the Bowery Boys […]

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Amusements and Thrills Bridges

How the cliffhanger was born 100 years ago

What does the George Washington Bridge have to do with The Perils of Pauline, the classic film serial which debuted 100 years ago this week?  They’re both cliffhangers of the literal sort — and almost the same cliffs, it turns out. Many consider the Pauline film series to be the first “movie blockbuster,” filled with […]

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Amusements and Thrills

History in the Making 3/19 “Opulent Grandeur” Edition

Arriving at Madison Square Garden one century ago, you would find the Barnum & Bailey circus in town with their new spectacular, The Wizard Prince of Arabia. (Poster from the blog My Delineated Life) All Nine Lives: The odd, little tale of Peter, the pole-sliding fire cat from Bushwick. [The Hatching Cat] Prince Charles: What do […]

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Amusements and Thrills

Charles Kellogg, the man who put out fires with his voice

New York has seen its share of bizarre entertainments, especially back in the days of vaudeville, when people would pay for almost anything that amused or titillated.  A few months ago, I wrote about the novelty star Don the Talking Dog, who allegedly spoke a handful of English and German words. But another vocally talented […]

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Amusements and Thrills

Meet the Mastodon Hog, the biggest star at a 14th Street museum

Worth’s Museum of Living Curiosities, one of New York’s most popular dime museums, paired cheap ‘curios’ with vaudeville performances on the main stage.  On December 29th, 1889, the star of the show was a massive hog named I-Am. “The Biggest Porker in existence. Guess his weight. If you do you will get a prize. Every […]

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Amusements and Thrills

Don the Talking Dog, German vaudeville sensation, saves a drowning man in Brighton Beach

There once was a talking dog named Don. One hundred years ago today, he saved a man from drowning in Brighton Beach.  Don shouted or barked the word ‘Help!’ then ran to the waters to save him. But perhaps I should explain. In December 1910, the New York Times ran a startling announcement that a dog […]