Fri, 31 May 2013
Bellevue Hospital, you might have heard, once had a very notorious psychiatric ward. But those horror stories have only distracted from the rather breathtaking -- and heart-breaking -- history of this historic institution, a lifeline not only for the sick, but for the poor, the incarcerated, the abandoned -- even the dead!
The hospital traces its origins to a six-bed almshouse that once sat near the location of New York City Hall today. Despite its humble and (to the modern eye) confusing original purposes, the almshouse was miles better than the barbaric medical procedures of early New York, courtesy the ominous sounding 'barber-surgeons'.
A series of yellow fever epidemics moved care for the sick to a former mansion called Belle Vue near Murray Hill -- and, in fact, with a strong connection to Murray himself! Soon the institution fulfilled a variety of roles and in rather ghastly conditions, from 'pest house' to execution ground, from a Pathological Museum to New York's first city morgue.
A great many medical advances came from Bellevue, not least of which the origins of the modern ambulance. But some of that progress has been obscured by the reputation of the Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital which opened in 1931 and 'hosted' a variety of famous people with disturbing issues.
And in the 1980s, Bellevue would take on another grim role -- during the most distressing years of the AIDS crisis.
Fri, 3 May 2013
If you had told 1840s religious leader William Muhlenberg that his innovative new Church of the Holy Communion, designed by renown architect Richard Upjohn, would become the glittering seat of drugs and debauchery 150 years later, he might have burned it down then and there.
But thankfully, this lovely building is still with us, proving to be one of the most flexible examples of building use in New York City history.
This unusual tale begins with the captivating relationship between Muhlenberg (the grandson of America's first Speaker of the House) and Anna Ayres, the First Sister in charge of the Sisterhood of the Holy Communion. The two of them helped create one of New York's great hospital centers. But was something else going on between them?
The Church of the Holy Communion survives the elevated railroad and the fashionable stores of Ladies Mile, and it weathers the various fortunes of the neighborhood. When it is finally sold and deconsecrated, it briefly houses an intellectual collective and a drug rehabilitation center before being bought by Canadian club impresario Peter Gatien, who turns it into an iconic and sacrilegious symbol of New York nightlife.
And today, it makes for a truly bizarre retail experience. Warning: This episode might give you whiplash.
Fri, 5 April 2013
Here's the story of how two very big cities and a whole bunch of small towns and villages -- completely different in nature, from farmland to skyscraper -- became the greatest city in the world.
This is the tale of Greater New York, the forming of the five boroughs into one metropolis, a consolidation of massive civic interests which became official on January 1, 1898.
But this is not a story of interested parties, united in a common goal. In fact, Manhattan (comprising, with some areas north of the Harlem River, the city of New York) was in a bit of a battle with anti-consolidation forces, mostly in Brooklyn, who saw the merging of two biggest cities in America as the end of the noble autonomy for that former Dutch city on the western shore of Long Island. You'll be stunned to hear how easily it could have all fallen apart!
In this podcast is the story of Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island (or Richmond, if you will) and their journey to become one. And how, rather recently in fact, one of those boroughs would grow uncomfortable with the arrangement.
Fri, 8 March 2013
A long, long time ago in New York -- in the 1730s, back when the city was a holding of the British, with a little over 10,000 inhabitants -- a German printer named John Peter Zenger decided to print a four-page newspaper called the New York Weekly Journal.
This is pretty remarkable in itself, as there was only one other newspaper in town called the New York Gazette, an organ of the British crown and the governor of the colony. (Equally remarkable: Benjamin Franklin almost worked there!) But Zenger's paper would call to question the actions of that governor, a virtual despot named William Cosby, and in so doing, set in motion an historic trial that marked a triumph for liberty and modern democratic rights, including freedom of the press and the power of jury nullification.
This entire story takes place in lower Manhattan, and most of it on a couple floors of old New York City Hall at Wall Street and Nassau Street. Many years later, this spot would see the first American government and the inauguration of George Washington. But many could argue that the trial that occurs here on August 4, 1735, is equally important to the causes of democracy and a free press.
And somehow, we manage to fit Kim Kardashian into this.
Direct download: 149_John_Peter_Zenger_and_the_Freedom_of_the_Press.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:28 AM
Fri, 8 February 2013
This year is the 125th anniversary of one of the worst storms to ever wreck havoc upon New York City, the now-legendary mix of wind and snow called the Great Blizzard of 1888. Its memory was again conjured up a few months ago as people struggled to compare Hurricane Sandy with some devastating event in New York's past.
And indeed, the Blizzard and Sandy have several disturbing similarities. But the battering snow-hurricane of 1888, with freezing temperatures and drifts three stories high, was made worse by the condition of New York's transportation and communication systems, all unprepared for 36 hours of continual snow and wind.
The storm struck in the early hours of Monday, and so thousands were attempting to make their way to work. It would be the worst commute in New York City history! Fallen telephone and telegraph poles became a hidden threat under the quickly accumulating drifts. Elevated trains were frozen in place, their passengers unable to get out for hours. Many died simply trying to make their way back home on foot, including Roscoe Conkling, a power broker of New York's Republican Party.
But there were moments of amusement too. Saloons thrived, and actors trudged through to the snow in time for their performances, And for P.T. Barnum, the show must always go on!
Fri, 11 January 2013
The Armory Show of 1913 was the mainstream debut of modernist art -- both European and American -- to New York City audiences. Galleries had previously devoted themselves to the great European masters, antiquity and American landscapes as a way to influence the taste of a growing city. But even though vanguards like Alfred Stieglitz debuted artists like Picasso and Cezanne into his Fifth Avenue gallery, those names were still barely known to the average New Yorker.
The Armory Show, located at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue, changed all that, but not without controversy. When the exhibition debuted on February 17, 1913, writers and art critics exploded in shock and outrage.
This is the story of an important moment in American art history, but also a moment in New York City pop culture, an event that shook society and challenged its beliefs about taste and beauty -- not a small thing in the waning years of the Gilded Age.