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?

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.

boweryboyshistory.com

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?

 

boweryboyshistory.com

 

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
Category:general -- posted at: 6:55pm EDT

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
Category:general -- posted at: 9:16pm EDT

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!

www.boweryboyshistory.com

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

One June afternoon in the spring of 1919, a group of writers and theatrical folk got together at the Algonquin Hotel to roast the inimitable Alexander Woollcott, the trenchant theater critic for the New York Times who had just returned from World War I, brimming with dramatically overbaked stories.  

The affair was so rollicking, so engaging, that somebody suggested -- "Why don't we do this every day?"

And so they did. The Algonquin Round Table is the stuff of legends, a regular lunch date for the cream of New York's cultural elite. In this show, we present you with some notable members of the guest list -- including the wonderful droll Dorothy Parker, the glibly observant Franklin Pierce Adams and the charming Robert Benchley, to name but a few.

But you can't celebrate the Round Table from a recording studio so we head to the Algonquin to soak in the ambience and interview author Kevin C. Fitzpatrick about the Jazz Age's most famous networking circle.

Are you ready for a good time? “The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.” -- Dorothy Parker

Direct download: 01_223_Algonquin_Round_Table.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:26pm EDT

In the spring of 1836, a young woman named Helen Jewett was brutally murdered with a hatchet in a townhouse on Thomas Street, just a few blocks northwest from City Hall.

This was not a normal crime. Helen was a prostitute of great beauty and considerable intelligence, making her living in a rapidly transforming city. Among her client list were presentable gentlemen and rowdy young men alike -- their kind fueling the rise of illicit pleasures throughout New York City in the 1830s.

This was the era of the sporting man. Young single men with a little change in their pocket hit the streets of New York after dark, looking for a good time. For some single young women struggling to survive, the sex industry -- from the 'high end' brothels to the grimy upper tiers of the theater -- allowed them to live comfortable, if secretive, lives. But it placed many in great danger.

The prime suspect for Helen's murder was a young Connecticut man who worked at a respectable New York firm. His trial would captivate New Yorkers and even interest newspaper readers around the country. But would justice be served?

ALSO: Find out how this incident helped shape the nature of American journalism itself.

PLUS: Meet more than one person named Ogden!

 

www.boweryboyshistory.com

If you like this show, check out the new Bowery Boys spin-off podcast series -- The First: Stories of Inventions and their Consequences. You can find it the same place you found this show.

Direct download: 222_Who_Murdered_Helen_Jewett__A_Mystery_By_Gaslight.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:56pm EDT

During a handful of months in 1789 and 1790, representatives of the new nation of the United States came together in New York City to make decisions which would forever affect the lives of Americans.

In this second part of our two-part show on New York as the first federal capital of the United States, we roll up our sleeves and get down to business. (In the first part, he moved the capital to lower Manhattan and inaugurated ourselves a new president George Washington!) 

The men of the first Continental Congress -- which first met in the Spring of 1789 -- had a lofty job in front of them that year. They needed to not only construct the tools and offices of a brand new government, they were also tasked with defining the basic rights of American citizens via a set of amendments to the U.S. Constitution -- the Bill of Rights.

Now imagine doing this in your post-Colonial era garments during a hot summer, all crammed into a few rooms at Federal Hall, the former City Hall building on Wall Street.

It was here that the Bill of Rights was introduced, debated and voted upon. But those weren't the only monumental decisions being made in the city.

When nobody could come to an agreement on two major issues -- the assumption of state debt and the location of the permanent federal capital -- it was up to Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to craft a deal, made during a legendary dinner party on Maiden Lane. We live today with the critical decisions made by these three men on that night over food and wine.

ALSO: The tale of James Hemings, an enslaved man who became an accomplished French chef and most likely the cook for that very dinner, witness to the events in "the room where it happened."

 

boweryboyshistory.com

Direct download: 221_New_York__Capital_City_of_the_United_States.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:50pm EDT

The story of New York City's role in the birth of American government is sometimes forgotten. Most of the buildings important to the first U.S. Congress, which met here from the spring of 1789 to the late summer of 1790, have long been demolished. There's little to remind us that our modern form of government was, in part, invented here on these city streets.

Riding high on the victories of the Revolutionary War, the Founding Fathers organized a makeshift Congress under the Articles of Confederation.  After an unfortunate crisis in Philadelphia, that early group of politicians from the 13 states eventually drifted up to New York (specifically to New York's City Hall, to be called Federal Hall) to meet. But they were an organization without much power or respect.

The fate of the young nation lay on the shoulders of George Washington who arrived in New York in the spring of 1789 to be inaugurated as the first president of the United States. His swearing-in would finally unite Americans around their government and would imbue the port city of New York with a new urgency.

This is Part One of a two part celebration of these years, featuring cantankerous vice presidents, festive cannonades, and burning plumage! (Part Two arrives in two weeks.)

FEATURING Washington, Adams, Madison, Livingston and, of course, HAMILTON!

www.boweryboyshistory.com

 

NOTE: In the show we accidentally say 'Yorkville' once when we meant 'Yorktown'. Blame it on our New York-centrism; Yorkville is a neighborhood in the Upper East Side!

Direct download: Episode_220_NYC_Capital_City.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:10pm EDT