The Bowery Boys: New York City History
New York City history is America's history. It's the hometown of the world, and most people know the city's familiar landmarks, buildings and streets. Why not look a little closer and have fun while doing it?

Picture the neighborhood of SoHo (that’s right, "South of Houston") in your head today, and you might get a headache. Crowded sidewalks on the weekend, filled with tourists, shoppers and vendors, could almost distract you from SoHo’s unique appeal as a place of extraordinary architecture and history.

On this podcast we present the story of how a portion of “Hell’s Hundred Acres” became one of the most famously trendy places in the world.

In the mid 19th century this area, centered along Broadway, became the heart of retail and entertainment, department stores and hotels setting up shop in grand palaces. (It also became New York’s most notorious brothel district). The streets between Houston and Canal became known as the Cast Iron District, thanks to an exciting construction innovation that transformed the Gilded Age.

Today SoHo contains the world’s greatest surviving collection of cast-iron architecture. But these gorgeous iron tributes to New York industry were nearly destroyed – first by rampant fires, then by Robert Moses. Community activists saved these buildings, and just in time for artists to move into their spacious loft spaces in the 1960s and 70s. The artists are still there of course but these once-desolate cobblestone streets have almost unrecognizably changed, perhaps a victim of its own success.

Direct download: 01_232_Story_of_Soho.mp3
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While Greg and Tom are away this week on life-changing adventures, please enjoy this very New York City-centric episode of the Bowery Boys spinoff podcast The First: Stories of Inventions and their Consequences --

The Black Crook is considered the first-ever Broadway musical, a dizzying, epic-length extravaganza of ballerinas, mechanical sets, lavish costumes and a storyline about the Devil straight out of a twisted hallucination.

The show took New York by storm when it debuted on September 12, 1866. This is the story of how this completely weird, virtually unstageable production came to pass. Modern musicals like Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, and Hamilton wouldn’t quite be what they are today without this curious little relic.

Featuring music by Adam Roberts and Libby Dees, courtesy the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

And the voice of Ben Rimalower reading the original reviews of the Black Crook.

And our special thanks to Secret Summer NYC for sponsoring this episode. Please visit www.secretsummernyc.com for more information and to get tickets.

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Direct download: The_Bowery_Boys_Present__The_First_Broadway_Musical.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 6:49pm EDT

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, undercover police officers attempting to raid the Stonewall Inn, a mob-controlled gay bar with darkened windows on Christopher Street, were met with something unexpected -- resistance.

That 'altercation' was a messy affair indeed -- chaotic, violent, dangerous for all. Homeless youth fought against riot police along the twisting, crooked streets of the West Village. And yet, by the end, thousands from all walks of life met on those very same streets in the days and weeks to come in a new sense of empowerment.

In May of 2008, we recorded a podcast on the Stonewall Riots, an event that galvanized the LGBTQ community, giving birth to political organizations and a sense of unity and pride.

So much has changed within the LGBTQ community -- and so much was left out of our original show -- that's we've decided to do something unique. In the first half, we present to you our original 2008 history on the Stonewall Riots, warts and all. In the second half, we present newly recorded material, exploring the effects of Stonewall on the crises that faced the gay community in the 1980s and 90s.

Now an official U.S. National Monument maintained by the National Park Service, the Stonewall National Monument preserves New York City's role in the birth of the international LGBT movement.

And please forgive us in advance for being extra personal in this show near the end.

 

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Direct download: 231_The_Stonewall_Riots_Revisited.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 7:14pm EDT

Today we sometimes define New York City's African-American culture by place – Harlem, of course, and also Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant, neighborhoods that developed for groups of black residents in the 20th century.

But by no means were these the first in New York City. Other centers of black and African-American life existed long before then. In many cases, they were obliterated by the growth of the city, sometimes built over without a single marker, without recognition.

This is the story of a few of those places.  From the 'land of the blacks' -- the home to New Amsterdam and British New York's early black population -- to Seneca Village, a haven for early African-American lives that was wiped away by a park. From Little Africa -- the Greenwich Village sector for the black working class in the late 19th century -- to Sandy Ground, a rural escape in Staten Island with deep roots in the neighborhood today.

And then there's Weeksville, Brooklyn, the visionary village built to bond a community and to develop a political foothold.

Greg welcomes Kamau Ware (of the Black Gotham Experience) and Tia Powell Harris of the Weeksville Heritage Center to the show!

 
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Direct download: 230_Before_Harlem.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 7:55pm EDT

In early June of 2007, Tom Meyers and Greg Young sat around a laptop and a karaoke microphone, looked out over Canal Street in the Lower East Side and began recording the very first Bowery Boys: New York City History Podcast.

For ten years the Bowery Boys podcast has brought the history of this extraordinary city to life -- the people, places and events which have helped shape our modern metropolis.

In celebration of this anniversary, join them for their very first podcast event in front of a live audience as a part of the 2017 NYC Podfest festival. This show was recorded on April 9, 2017, at the Bell House, in Gowanus, Brooklyn.

They talk about how they met, how they came up with the idea for their show and run through a list of their favorite and most notable podcasts.

The Bowery Boys are joined by moderator Nat Towsen, host of the Nat Towsen Downtown Variety Hour every month at UCB Theater in the East Village. And stay tuned until the end! An unexpected guest arrives to present the Bowery Boys with a special gift.

FEATURING: Stories of Eartha Kitt, Boss Tweed, ABBA, Evelyn Nesbit, P. T. Barnum, Tallulah Bankhead, Donald Trump, Varla Jean Merman, the musical Rent and, of course, Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs.

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Direct download: 229_The_Bowery_Boys_Podcast_Live_In_Brooklyn.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 7:11pm EDT

The area of Lower Manhattan below Wall Street is today filled with investment bankers, business people and tourists. But did you know, over 300 years ago, that the same streets were once crawling with pirates?

In the early decades of the British colony of New York, the city was quite an appealing destination for pirates and their ships filled with stolen treasure. After all, the port of New York was far away from the supervision of the crown, providing local merchants with ample temptations to do business with the high sea's most notorious criminals.

Captain William Kidd is a figure of legend, the most ruthless and bloodthirsty pirate on the planet. And yet, for many years, he was a respectable New York gentleman, with connected friends, a wealthy wife and a sumptuous home on Pearl Street near the original wall of Wall Street.

But Kidd sought adventure as a privateer and made a deal with prominent New Yorkers to scour British trading routes for pirates. This is the tale of how a dashing New York sea captain became branded (perhaps unfairly) as one of the most evil men of the ocean.

PLUS: Captain Kidd startling connection to New York's Trinity Church! And where in New York City might one find some of Captain Kidd's fabled treasure today?

 

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CORRECTION: From the final section — it is Blackbeard the pirate, not Bluebeard the pirate, who is made an example of by the English in 1718.


On the afternoon of May 6, 1937, New Yorkers looked overhead at an astonishing sight -- the arrival of the Hindenburg, the largest airship in the world, drifting calmly across the sky. 

New York City was already in the throes of "Zeppelin mania" by then. These rigid gas-filled airships, largely manufactured by Germany, were experiencing a Jazz Age rediscovery thanks in part to the Graf Zeppelin, a glamorous commercial airship which first crossed the ocean in 1928. Its commander and crew even received two ticker-tape parades through lower Manhattan.

In size and prominence, the Hindenburg would prove to be the greatest airship of all. It was the Concorde of its day, providing luxurious transatlantic travel for the rich and famous. In Germany, the airship was used as a literal propaganda machine for the rising Nazi government of Adolf Hitler.

But dreams of Zeppelin-filled skies were quickly vanquished in the early evening hours of May 6, 1937, over a landing field in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Its destruction would be one of the most widely seen disasters in the world, marking an end to this particular vision of the future.

But a mark of the Zeppelin age still exists on the New York City skyline, atop the city's most famous building!

Direct download: 01_227_The_Hindenburg_Over_New_Yo.mp3
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The Midtown Manhattan stretch of Fifth Avenue, once known for its ensemble of extravagant mansions owned by the Gilded Age's wealthiest families, went through an astonishing makeover one hundred years ago. Many lavish abodes of the rich were turned into exclusive retail boutiques, catering to the very sorts of people who once lived here.

On the forefront of this transformation were two women from very different backgrounds. Elizabeth Arden was a Canadian entrepreneur, looking to establish her business in the growing city of New York. Helena Rubinstein, from Poland by way of Australia, already owned an established company and looked to Manhattan as a way to anchor her business in America.

Their products -- beauty! Creams, lotions, ointments and cleansers. Then later: eye-liners, rouges, lipsticks, mascaras.

In this episode we observe the growing independence of American woman and the changing beauty standards which arose in the 1910s and 20s, bringing 'the painted face' into the mainstream.

And it's in large part thanks to these two extraordinary businesswomen, crafting two parallel empires in a corporate framework usually reserved for men.

ALSO: Theda Bara, Estée Lauder, Max Factor and a whole lot of sheep and horses!

Visit boweryboyshistory.com for images described in this show as well as other articles relating to New York City history.

Direct download: 226_The_Beauty_Bosses_of_Fifth_Avenue.m4a
Category:general -- posted at: 7:43pm EDT

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages -- the Bowery Boys present to you the tale of P. T. Barnum and his "Greatest Show on Earth," the world's most famous circus!

You can't even bring up the discussion of circuses without mentioning the name of Barnum. But in fact, he only entered the circus business in his later years, after decades of success with bizarre museums, traveling curiosities, touring opera divas and all manner of fabricated 'humbugs'.

In the late 19th century, in order for circuses to survive, innovators like Barnum needed to come up with startling new ways to get the attentions of audiences. Although his circus -- which would eventually merge with that of James Bailey and, later, the Ringling Brothers -- was a sensation which toured across the United States, it always began each season in New York, specifically situated on the northeast corner of Madison Square.

Tune in to find out how New York institutions owned by Barnum became imprinted on the basic structure of the classic American circus.  And join us as we visit the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, CT, to gather some insight on Barnum's unique genius.

CO-STARRING: Jumbo the Elephant, Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill, the Cardiff Giant and Tom Thumb!

Direct download: 225_P._T._Barnum_and_the_Greatest_Show_on_Earth.mp3
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You don't have a New York City without the Irish. In fact, you don't have a United States of America as we know it today.

This diverse and misunderstood immigrant group began coming over in significant numbers starting in the Colonial era, mostly as indentured servants. In the early 19th century, these Irish arrivals, both Protestants and Catholics, were already consolidating -- via organizations like the Ancient Order of the Hibernians and in places like St. Patrick's Cathedral.

But starting in the 1830s, with a terrible blight wiping out Ireland's potato crops, a mass wave of Irish immigration would dwarf all that came before, hundreds of thousands of weary, sometimes desperate newcomers who entered New York to live in its most squalid neighborhoods.

The Irish were among the laborers who built the Croton Aqueduct, the New York grid plan and Central Park. Irish women comprised most of the hired domestic help by the mid 19th century.

The arrival of the Irish and their assimilation into American life is a story repeated in many cities. Here in New York City, it is essential in our understanding of the importance of modern immigrant communities to the life of the Big Apple.

PLUS: The origins of New York's St. Patrick's Day Parade!

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Direct download: The_Arrival_of_the_Irish.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:24pm EDT