Water features: New York’s first fountains, now with music

The very first decorative fountain in New York City was the City Hall fountain, unveiled on October 14, 1842 during the ceremony for the opening of the Croton Acqueduct, the sophisticated series of pipes and reservoirs that provided New Yorkers with their drinking water. The fountain, which propelled water 50 feet in the air, was… Read More

Mad Men

‘Mad Men’ notes: The rock gods of Forest Hills, Queens

WARNING The article contains a few spoilers about last night’s ‘Mad Men’ on AMC, so if you’re a fan of the show, come back once you’re watched the episode. Lusty groupies, ample drug intake, smoky hallways and deafening rock music. One might have thought last night’s ‘Mad Men’ — partially centered around the backstage antics… Read More

New York City Hall: Open for business for 200 years!

Above: City Hall in 1900 (Courtesy NYPL) Never have I been more elated to write about a City Council meeting. At the start of the 19th century, city affairs were still being conducted on Wall Street at Federal Hall. For many years they shared the corridors with George Washington and the first American Congress.  By… Read More

Getting serious: Civil War barracks in City Hall Park

By the middle of May 1861, almost a month into the Civil War, most New Yorkers still swelled with enthusiasm for the Union cause, demonstrated at the great rally in Union Square just a few weeks earlier. Since that historic gathering, the streets were regularly filled with parades, rallies and general cries of support for President… Read More

Old Swamp Church and the first U.S. Speaker of the House

Federal Hall, home to the first House of Representatives 1789 [NYPL] This week the United States got a new Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, and its first female ex-Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. This changing of the guard got me to wondering how many politicians representing New York had ever held this powerful job.… Read More


Mesmerizing: The forgotten museum of Rubens Peale

Believe it or not, this long-gone, unsuccessful attempt at a museum actually figures into the larger tale of a major New York institution, which we cover on this week’s podcast and which will be available for download by Wednesday. This is a reprinted article from May 15, 2008 with some modifications. Original is here. What… Read More


The New York City Subway and the creation of the IRT

PODCAST In the fourth part of our transportation series BOWERY BOYS ON THE GO, we finally take a look at the birth of the New York City subway. After decades of outright avoiding underground transit as a legitimate option, the city got on track with the help of August Belmont and the newly formed Interborough… Read More

Before it begins: Emptiness underground, part 2

Like the set of a future German expressionist film, the brand new power station for Interborough Rapid Transit’s underground train service sits ready for use, 1904. (Actually the station isn’t ‘underground’; it sat on the far west side on 58th Street and 11th Avenue) The gleaming yet strangely spooky City Hall Station, still under construction… Read More

1855 New York City Hall: the Earliest View

The picture above, taken in 1855, may be the oldest existent photograph of New York’s City Hall building. This is three years before the famous fire, caused by celebratory fireworks, destroyed the cupola and crown. The year this picture was taken, Fernando Wood became mayor of New York’s, beginning a dominance of Tammany Hall that… Read More

Lower Manhattan’s foreign architecture, 104 years ago

I would love to somehow display all of the fantastic photograph below, but cutting it in two does demonstrate an amazing change in the street scene of lower Manhattan. Just by looking at this photograph below (from 1905), can you tell which Manhattan corner this is? (Click to get a closer look) This is the… Read More

Voted down: Six New York City mayoral wannabes

By the end of the day today, one person will be named the mayor of New York City and many other people will be named the losers. But take heart! Many fine people have lost the race for mayor. Today I focus on six rather interesting ones. Reverend Billy, take stock! If you lose today,… Read More

Independence Day 1876! (Where are you, Mr. Tweed?)

(Click for greater detail) The city of New York unfurled its patriotism in a lavish celebration of America’s 100th birthday. The illustration above pictures a great rally at Union Square. Later revelers would gather at City Hall for an elaborate fireworks display with “volumes of sulphurous vaper wreath[ing] the City Hall until it seemed some… Read More

Charming mayor A. Oakey Hall: coy, clueless or corrupt?

An early portrait of A. Oakey Hall as photographed by Matthew Brady KNOW YOUR MAYORS Our modest little series about some of the greatest, notorious, most important, even most useless, mayors of New York City. Other entrants in our mayoral survey can be found here. Mayor A. Oakey Hall In office: 1869-1872 Few leaders of… Read More


PODCAST: The Woolworth Building

When this classic photo was taken in 1928, the Woolworth Building was still the tallest in New York F.W. Woolworth was the self-made king of retail’s newfangled ‘five and dime’ store and his pockets were overflowing with cash. Meanwhile, in New York, the contest to build the tallest building was well underway. The two combine… Read More


PODCAST: Who Murdered Mary Rogers?

It’s a mystery! It’s 1841 and the most desirable woman in downtown Manhattan — the ‘beautiful cigar girl’ Mary Rogers — is found horribly murdered along the Hoboken shore. Hear some of the stories of this case’s prime suspects and marvel at the excessive attentions of the penny press. Also: Edgar Allen Poe takes a… Read More