Tag Archives: New York History

Old New York In Photos #30

Heat Waves In New York And Children Cooling Off

NYC Kids Playing at Hydrant

As New York City endures a heat wave this week, realize that for the majority of the 20th century there was virtually no air conditioning in most homes. The streets provided the easiest and most accessible way for children to cool off.

In New York, it is only recently that a heat wave has been defined as at least three straight days with temperatures reaching 90 degrees or more. Who decided this I do not know. Every region of the world has their own definition of what comprises a heat wave. Years ago, any sustained combination of high heat and humidity used to qualify as a heat wave.

This undated photograph above from the mid-1940’s shows city children on a Manhattan street playing and wallowing in the water. I like the fact that some of the people are looking directly at the photographer who is perched high above the street capturing the scene.

Cooling off Harlem 1933

This photo shows a Harlem street in 1933 with children gathering around a center stand sprinkler connected by a hose to the fire hydrant.

A four day heat wave in New York City that began June 7, ended on June 10, 1933 with a violent thunderstorm which dropped the temperature down to 86. The day before, the thermometer in the city reached the mid 90’s and reportedly hit 120 degrees in Hammonton, NJ, wilting strawberries right on the stem.

Joe Funranolla and Ray Bardini beat the heat by diving into the river July 22 1955

As unthinkable as it is now, for decades up until the 1970’s, to cool off many children would swim in the polluted East and Hudson Rivers. With the FDR Drive and the United Nations Secretariat Building in the background Joe Funranolla and Ray Bardini beat the heat by diving into the East River July 22, 1955. The temperature hit 96 that day.

It was the eighth day in July 1955 that the mercury went above 90 degrees. According to the New York Times, the record up to that time for 90 degree days in July was ten, which was accomplished in 1876 and 1952.

Boys Swimming East River 1937

This 1937 photograph shows teen boys making daring dives into the East River. The Williamsburg Bridge is in the background. I wonder how long it took to get back up to where they were diving from?

Hell Gate Bridge bathers Astoria Pool 1937

One thing has remained the same over the years: if they can get to one, kids still flock to the city pools. In this 1937 photograph the Astoria Pool entices a huge crowd, while the Hell Gate Bridge looms in the background.

The current heat wave will soon be over and when winter arrives, you can bet your bottom dollar many New Yorker’s will be saying they can’t wait for the warm weather.

150th Anniversary Of The New York City Draft Riots

July 13, 1863 The Civil War Draft Riots Begin + Related Book Recommendations

"The Battle in Second Avenue" from John Shea's 1886 book, The Story of a Great Nation

“The Battle in Second Avenue” from John Shea’s 1886 book, The Story of a Great Nation

If you’ve watched Martin Scorcese’s 2002 film The Gangs of New York, you saw a vivid depiction of what the Civil War Draft Riots may have looked like. In reality the tumult was probably a lot worse than what was portrayed on the screen. It was the most violent civil disorder in 19th century American history.

Protesting the conscription act, mobs of citizens went on a multi-day rampage of killing and looting.  The riots were quelled after four or five days. The estimated number of people killed was 105. The number of injuries was in the hundreds.

In a November 26, 1938 New Yorker story, journalist Meyer Berger wrote about combing through the original blotters at the West Forty-Seventh Street Police Station. Berger came across the station’s last riot related arrest which occurred on July 30, 1863.  Fergus Brennan, 35 was charged with being a leader of the rioters. He was held on $2,000 bail by Justice Kelly.

There are several books which cover the draft riots in detail. Among the best are: July 1863 by Irving Werstein (Julian Messner, 1957); The New York City Draft Riots by Iver Bernstein (Oxford University Press, 1990); The Second Rebellion by James McCague (Dial Press, 1968); The Devil’s Own Work The Civil War Draft Riots of 1863 by Barnet Schecter (Walker & Co., 2006) and The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863 by Adrian Cook (University of Kentucky, 1974).

Things You Didn’t Know About The George Washington Bridge

The George Washington Bridge Was Going To Have Its Steel Towers Covered In Stone

George Washington Bridge Under Construction circa 1930

The George Washington Bridge seen here during construction in 1930, was built from 1927 until 1931. Architect Cass Gilbert intended its towers to be sheathed in stone. Still visible on the towers are the hooks for which the stone was to be attached.

George Washington Bridge Original Design

Proposed Original Design With Stone Arches

It was decided for practical reasons that the bridge towers did not need to be encased in stone. The Depression hit soon after construction started and the cost of procuring and installing the stone would have been prohibitive. The designers and builders reevaluated the whole look of the bridge and felt that there was a natural beauty in showing the function through the form of the exposed naked steel.

The bridge’s chief designer and engineer Othmar Ammann had incredible foresight. Though the bridge had only one level when originally constructed, the design he came up with allowed for the eventual addition of a lower level which was added in 1962. This increased the number of traffic lanes from eight to fourteen. Morning and evening rush hours can create delays of one hour or longer. Can you imagine what the delays would be like without the second deck?

12 other interesting facts about the George Washington Bridge:

1. When completed in 1931 the George Washington was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It was eventually displaced as the longest bridge by San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in 1937.

2. The bridge was completed eight months ahead of schedule and under budget.

3. To finance the bridge, the states of New York and New Jersey each advanced $5 million and $50 million in bonds were issued.

4. Tolls were set to pay off the bonds, which would mature serially starting in 1953. It was assumed after paying off the bond holders, the tolls would eventually be reduced or even eliminated. (Hah!) Continue reading

Crime In New York In 1852

“Charged With The Most Heinous Crimes”

Fate of New York ThievesIn The New-York Daily Times of August 3, 1852 on page 3 there appears a summary of events occurring in New York City.

The most interesting parts comprising this article of brief news items is the crime news.

The flowery language used in the stories to describe the offenses have to be read to be fully appreciated.

Here are some interesting statistics in the first news item and a couple of crime stories which are excerpted below:

Crime in the City – The Court of General Sessions commenced its August term yesterday and a frightful array of crime awaits its action. No less than 67 individuals, charged with the most heinous crimes are to be tried. The following is the calendar:

Grand Larceny          24
Murder                         8
Burglary                       7
Attempt to Kill            4
Robbery                       4
False Pretences           3
Forgery                         3
Incest                            2
Carrying Slung-shot    2

Riot                              2
Bigamy                        1
Rape                             1
Bastardy                      1
Attempted Burglary  1
Abandonment             1
Manslaughter              1
Disorderly House        1
Arson                            1

Some of the crimes are unique to the time including: “Carrying Slung-shot,” (a striking weapon consisting of a small mass of metal or stone fixed on a flexible handle or strap), “Bastardy,” (the begetting of an illegitimate child) and “False Pretences” (an illegal, deliberate misrepresentation of facts, as to obtain title to money or property).

After some reports on license statistics, recent immigration, and admissions to the city hospital and the news report goes on with additional lists and details of crimes recently committed –

Crimes and Casualties

An unusual number of charges were made yesterday morning at the Jefferson Market Police Court, principally for assault and battery and for gross intoxication. Sunday night was evidently spent immorally. Over thirty cases of this kind were disposed of before the following were brought into Court: Michael Edwards residing at Manhattanville, was charged by James Kaiting for a violent assault with intent to kill. It appears the prisoner struck the complainant on the head with an ax, inflicting a severe, but not a dangerous wound. A struggle ensued, in which the complainant, with the help of some bystanders, arrested his cowardly assailant. He was locked up to answer…

Among the charges disposed of, was the following aggravated case of assault, in which Patrick Wheelan, John Trihan, Patrick Farrall, John Townsend and Bridget Crawley figured as assailants. It appears that the accused were having a nice little “muss” for their own private gratification, when they were accosted by police officers Atherton, Jones and Scott, who exhorted them , under the threat of various pains and penalties, to keep the peace. This aroused Bridget, who forthwith made a descent upon officer Atherton, and was followed by the male prisoners, when a general melée occurred. Some broken heads and other injuries were the result, but the assailants were captured an secured. They were committed to answer…

First Pneumatic Mail Delivery In New York 1897

The Pneumatic Mail Tubes And The “Age of Speed”

Pneumatic Tubes Produce Exchange Post Office 1897

Reading Howard Wallace Connelly’s highly entertaining 1931 autobiography Fifty-Six Years In The New York Post Office–  A Human Interest Story of Real Happenings in the Postal Service (self-published) the following anecdote begins Chapter VI:

When the pneumatic tubes were installed at the General Post Office, October 7, 1897, we Supervisors were given a fine treat after the ceremonies were over. A rough hastily constructed row of steps (circus show style) had been erected facing the tubes. Senator Chauncey M. Depew was Master of Ceremonies. Probably over a hundred friends and Post Office officials were spectators. The first tube contained only a large artificial peach. The roar of laughter that greeted it was heartily joined by the Senator. A Bowery audience that had attended a political meeting at which he was the principal speaker, instead of trying to break up the show, took quite a liking to the speaker and a loud voiced man yelled, “Chauncey, you’re a peach.” Hence the laugh when the first tube arrived. From the second tube, a cat was taken. How it could live after being shot at terrific speed from Station P in the Produce Exchange Building, making several turns before reaching Broadway and Park Row, I cannot conceive, but it did. It seemed to be dazed for a minute or two but started to run and was quickly secured and placed in a basket that had been provided for that purpose.  A suit of clothes was the third arrival and then came letters, papers, and other ordinary mail matter.

Hah-ha very funny. The postal officials must have had a ball putting a cat into the tubes. Can you imagine the public outcry if something like that was done now?

Connelly omits that the first parcel actually sent through the tubes was sent by Depew to the Produce Exchange Post Office which included Continue reading

All New York City Sidewalks Are Not Created Equal

What Is The Width Of The Sidewalks In Manhattan?

Following up on our November 19, story, All New York City Streets Are Not Created Equal, the 1904 World Almanac has a list of the width of Manhattan’s sidewalks. The chart can provide the answer to which avenue has wider sidewalks Fifth Avenue or Lenox Avenue? While this may not be a burning question on anyone’s mind, it is interesting to see how much the sidewalk width varies from street to street and avenue to avenue.  The obvious differences are plainly apparent to any New Yorker walking the streets so we thought it would be worth it to reproduce this list with the actual measurements.

Width of Sidewalks in Manhattan Borough

In streets 40 feet wide 10 ft.
In streets 50 feet wide 13 ft.
In streets 60 feet wide 15 ft.
In streets 70 feet wide 18 ft.
In streets 80 feet wide 19 ft.
In streets above 80 feet, not exceeding 100 feet. 20 ft.
All streets more than 100 feet 22 ft.
Lenox and 7th Avenues, north of W. 110th St 35 ft.
Grand Boulevard (Broadway above 59th Street) 24 ft.
Manhattan St. 15 ft.
Lexington Avenue 18 ft. 6 in.
Madison Avenue 19 ft.
5th Avenue 30 ft.
St. Nicholas Avenue 22 ft.
Park Avenue from E. 49th to E. 56th St. and from E. 96th St. to Harlem River 15 ft.
West End Avenue 30 ft.
Central Park West, from W, 59th St. to W. 110th, East side 27 ft.
Central Park West, from W. 59th St. to W. 110th, West side 35 ft. 6in.

How many of these sidewalk measurements remained the same throughout the 20th century is open to conjecture. I would imagine that many sidewalks have had their original dimensions changed due to the high value of Manhattan real estate.

click to enlarge

This photograph, taken November 10, 1914 at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street looking south, has a clear view of the sidewalk. The men near the carriage are standing in front of the Hotel Savoy (built 1892 – demolished 1927). On the right at 58th Street is the Cornelius Vanderbilt II mansion (built 1893 – demolished 1926).  It does not appear that the sidewalk is actually 30 feet wide.

How The Super Wealthy Woman Of 1903 Lived

“Free To Indulge Her Whims and Fads In Whatever Way The Gay World Of Society, And Her Own Inclination, May Lead Or Tempt Her”

Let’s say you are the wife of a turn of the century financier. How do you run your household and spend your time and money? Is there no one to teach you except your family or contemporary one percenters?

Fortunately there was a book written just for the rare woman who needed such advice.

The book which could now be slightly updated and reprinted for today’s super wealthy billionaires is called, Millionaire Households and Their Domestic Economy With Hints Upon Fine Living by Mary Elizabeth Carter published by D. Appleton & Company 1903.

Miss Carter was not a society lady, but had managed a house for the wealthy Vanderbilt family.

With chapters such as Fine Living or Housekeeping; The Hostess’s Wardrobe; The Lady’s-Maid; The House-Maid; The Parlor-Maid; The Servant’s Dining Hall-Maid; The Butler and His Staff; The Valet; Monsieur Le Chef and His Aids; Side-Lights and Shifting Scenes When The “Smart Set” Dine; the book has everything you would need to know as the grande dame running an American version of Downton Abbey.

We learn from Miss Carter that a butler is more than just a servant. She writes, “When the ubiquitous newspaper reporter appears the butler knows how to get rid of him with as little information imparted as will spare the family from false statements or ridicule. During these interviews he requires his entire stock of aplomb. He must withhold all information possible, while appearing to give it out freely.”

This book was not for the 1% that we hear so much about today. In 1903, Millionaire Households and Their Domestic Economy would apply to only o.oo5% of Americans, since there were about 4,000 millionaires out of 80 million people living in the United States at the turn of the century. Approximately half of those millionaires resided in New York State. It is safe to say this book probably did not sell very many copies. It is also important to remember how much a million dollars was back in 1903. One would need to have about twenty million dollars today to have the purchasing power of a millionaire in 1900.

Comparatively today, globally there are about 10 million people (exclusive of their home) with a net worth  of one million dollars or more and approximately 3.1 million of them reside in North America.

The book gives a complete view into the way the millionairess should conduct her household. While the advice the book offers might seem frivolous and somewhat outrageous to read today, Continue reading

Riding A Turn Of The Century New York Stagecoach

New York Transportation In The Early 1900’s

Hamilton Fish Armstrong was the longtime editor of the magazine Foreign Affairs. His charming memoir, Those Days published in 1963 by Harper and Row is a wonderfully evocative description of an upper middle class boyhood spent in New York City, the Hudson Valley and Quebec. The book’s dust jacket description states that it is: “A lively, spontaneous re-creation of the childhood of a famous editor and writer at the turn of the century – an unforgettable picture of a vanished New York.”

It’s one of those out of print, forgotten books that deserve to be read by a new generation. I highly recommend it.

Here is an excerpt from pages 68-69 where Armstrong describes getting uptown to school from his home on 10th street via the Fifth Avenue coach which was pulled by horses.

When I was nine the time came for me to go to a “real” school uptown, and unless it was pouring pouring rain or snowing I went of course, on skates. When the weather ruled this out I used the Fifth Avenue stage or the Sixth Avenue El.

On the stage I rode by choice  on the outside, either perched up behind the driver or, if I was lucky, along side him. Continue reading

Old New York in Photos #19

Traffic Signal –  Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, 1922

The Beginning of New York City’s Traffic Lights

This ornate traffic light, was one of seven put up in New York City on the heavily traveled Fifth Avenue in 1922.

The city had experimented with traffic signals in 1917 when a device invented by an engineer, Foster Milliken, was installed at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. The device was a revolving flashlight that would flash signals as red to stop and green for go.  This may sound ridiculous now, but in the early days of traffic signals there was no standard for color relating to traffic. Continue reading

The Forgotten Brooklyn Elevated Train Crash Of 1923

June 25, 1923 Intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues

Photo © Osmund Leviness

“Those who died were fortunate it seemed to me when I looked inside the cars. As long as I live I can never forget it. All the people were in a mass there, struggling and screaming, with blood running over them. They all seemed to be bleeding or stained with blood. One woman’s head was terribly cut on top, and one jaw seemed to be crushed in. The hand of another woman was almost cut off. One woman I took out through a window died a few minutes after I carried her into the post office. I can’t forget the inside of those cars. They looked like my idea of purgatory.” –  Traffic Officer Joseph J. Ryan who was on the scene immediately after the crash.

This incredible accident happened 89 years ago, Monday, June 25, 1923  as two cars of the BMT derailed and plunged 35 feet into the street at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues in Brooklyn. Continue reading