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 this episode, we look back on the one day of the year that New Yorkers look forward.  New Years Eve is the one night that millions of people around the world focus their attentions on New York City -- or more specifically, on the wedge shaped building in Times Square wearing a bright, illuminated ball on its rooftop.

In the 19th century, the ringing-in of the New Year was celebrated with gatherings near Trinity Church and a pleasant New Years Day custom of visiting young women in their parlors.  But when the New York Times decided to celebrate the opening of their new offices -- in the plaza that would take the name Times Square -- a new tradition was born.

Tens of millions have visited Times Square over the years, gazing up to watch the electric ball drop, a time-telling mechanism taken from the maritime tradition. The event has been affected by world events -- from Prohibition to World War II -- and changed by the introduction of radio and television broadcasts.

ALSO: What happened to the celebration which it reached the gritty 1970s and a Times Square with a surly reputation?

PLUS: A few tips for those of you heading to the New Years Eve celebration this year!

www.boweryboyshistory.com

Direct download: 195_Midnight_In_Times_Square_.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:55pm EST

Nellie Bly was a determined and fearless journalist ahead of her time, known for the spectacular lengths she would go to get a good story. Her reputation was built on the events of late September-early October 1887 -- the ten days she spent in an insane asylum.

Since the 1830s Blackwell's Island had been the destination for New York's public institutions of an undesirable nature -- hospitals for grave diseases, a penitentiary, an almshouse, even a quarantine for smallpox. There was also a mental institution -- an insane or lunatic asylum -- rumored to treat its patients most cruelly.

The ambitious young reporter decided to see for herself -- by acting like a woman who had lost her mind. Her ten days in this particular madhouse -- the basis of her newspaper articles and a book -- would expose the world to the sinister treatment of the mentally ill and the loathsome conditions of New York institutions meant to care for the most needy.

But would the process of getting this important story lead Nellie herself to go a little mad? And once she got inside the asylum, how would she get out?

ALSO: Not only is a vestige of the asylum still around today, you can live in it!

Direct download: 194_Nellie_Bly_final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:55pm EST

St. Mark's Place may be named for a saint but it's been a street full of sinners for much of its history. 

One of the most fascinating streets in the city, St. Mark's traces its story back to Peter Stuyvesant, meets up with the wife of Alexander Hamilton in the 1830s, experiences the incredible influx of German and Polish immigrants, then veers into the heart of counter-culture -- from the political activism of Abbie Hoffman to the glamorously detached parties of Andy Warhol. 

And that's when the party gets started! St. Mark's is known for music, fashion, rebellion and pandemonium. Let it be known -- this is one of the wildest, most creative, most exciting streets in New York City history. 

www.boweryboyshistory.com

Direct download: 193_St._Marks_Place.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:15pm EST

Don't be frightened! It's the ninth annual Bowery Boys ghost stories podcast. We're here to guide you through the back alleys ... OF TERROR!

In this installment, we take a look at the spectral lore behind some of New York City's most famous landmarks, buildings with great reputations as iconic architectural marvels and locations for great creativity. 

But they're also filled with ghost stories:

Who are the mysterious sisters in colorful outerwear skating on the icy pond in Central Park? And why are there so many uninvited guests at the Dakota Apartments, one of the first and finest buildings on the Upper West Side?

Meanwhile, at the Chelsea Hotel, all the intense creativity that is associated with this great and important location seems to have left an imprint of the afterworld upon its hallways.

Over at Grand Central Terminal, the Campbell Apartment serves up some cocktails -- and a few unnatural encounters with Jazz Age spirits.

Finally, on the Brooklyn Bridge, a tragedy during its construction has left its shadow upon the modern tourist attraction. Who's that up ahead on the pedestrian pathway?

A little spooky fun -- mixed with a lot of interesting history -- and a few cheesy sound effects!

www.boweryboyshistory.com

 

Direct download: 192_Haunted_Landmarks_of_New_York.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:47pm EST

A little after midnight on September 21, 1776, the Fighting Cocks Tavern on Whitehall Street caught on fire. The drunken revelers inside the tavern were unable to stop the blaze, and it soon raged into a dangerous inferno, spreading up the west side of Manhattan.

Some reports state that the fire started accidentally in the tavern fireplace. But was it actually set on purpose – on the orders of George Washington?

To understand that damning speculation, we unfurl the events that lead up to that moment – from the first outrages against the British by American colonists to the first sparks of the Revolutionary War. Why did New York get caught up so early in the war and what were the circumstances that led to the city falling into British hands?

Underneath this expansive story is another, smaller story – that of a young man on a spy mission, sent by Washington into enemy territory.  His name was Nathan Hale, and his fate would intersect with the disastrous events of September 21, 1776.

PLUS:  The legacy of St. Paul’s Chapel, a lasting reminder not only of the Great Fire of 1776 but of an even greater disaster which occurred almost exactly 225 years later.
 
www.boweryboyshistory.com
 
This episode is brought to you by Trunk Club, taking the hassle out of shopping by shipping you a trunk of clothes that fit perfectly and make you look like a million bucks. To take advantage of this unique styling service and to support the Bowery Boys, go to trunkclub.com/BOWERY for a trunk full of clothes that you’ll love wearing

Direct download: 191_Great_Fire_of_1776.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:49pm EST

 The gripping and startling tale of Typhoid Mary is a harrowing detective story and a chilling tale of disease and death. Why are whole healthy families suddenly getting sick with typhoid fever -- from the languid mansions of Long Island's Gold Coast to the gracious homes of Park Avenue? Can an intrepid researcher and investigator named George Soper locate a mysterious woman who may be unwittingly spreading this dire illness?

Mary Mallon -- is she a victim or an enemy? One of the weirdest and divisive tales of the early 1900s. What side are you on?

 

www.boweryboyshistory.com

Direct download: 190_Typhoid_Mary.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:58pm EST

In this episode, we recount almost 175 years of getting around New York in a private ride.  The hansom, the romantic rendition of the horse and carriage, took New Yorkers around during the Gilded Age. But unregulated conduct by ‘nighthawks’ and the messy conditions of streets due to horses demanded a more sophisticated solution.

At first it seemed the electric car would save the day but the technology proved inadequate.  In 1907 came the first gas-propelled automobile cabs to New York, officially ‘taxis’ due to a French invention installed in the front seat.

By the 1930s the streets were filled with thousands of taxicabs. During the Great Depression, cab drivers fought against plunging fare and even waged a strike in Times Square. In 1937, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia debuted the medallion system as a way to keep the streets regulated.

By the 1970s many cabdrivers faced an upswing of crime that made picking up passengers even more dangerous than bad traffic.  Drivers began ignoring certain fares – mainly from African-Americans – which gave rise to the neighborhood livery cab system.

Today New York taxicab fleets face a different threat – Uber and the rise of private app-based transportation services. Will the taxi industry rise to the challenge in time for the debut of their ‘taxi of tomorrow’?
 
Boweryboyshistory.com

Direct download: 189_Taxi_final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:28pm EST

On the evening of June 25, 1906, during a performance of Mam'zelle Champagne on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden, the architect Stanford White was brutally murdered by Harry Kendall Thaw. The renown of White's professional career -- he was one of New York’s leading social figures -- and the public nature of the assassination led newspapers to call it the Crime of the Century.  But many of the most shocking details would only be revealed in a courtroom, exposing the sexual perversities of some of the city’s wealthiest citizens.

White, as a member of the prestigious firm McKim, Mead and White, was responsible for some of New York's most iconic structures including Pennsylvania Station, the Washington Square Arch and Madison Square Garden, where he was slain. But his gracious public persona disguised a personal taste for young chorus girls, often seduced at his 24th Street studio, famed for its "red velvet swing".

Eveyln Nesbit was only a teenager when she became a popular artist's model and a cast member in Broadway's hottest musical comedy. White wooed her with the trappings of luxury and subsequently took advantage of her. The wealthy playboy Harry Thaw also fell for Nesbit -- and grew insanely jealous of White. Soon his hatred would envelop him, leading to the unfortunate events of that tragic summer night.

www.boweryboyshistory.com

Direct download: 188_Stanford_White_final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:39pm EST

In the 1890s a newspaper rivalry between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer helped bring about the birth of the comic strip and, a few decades later, the comic book.  Today, comic book superheroes are bigger than ever -- in blockbuster summer movies and television shows -- and most of them still have an inseparable bond with New York City.

What's Spider-man without a tall building from which to swing? But not only are the comics often set here; most of them were born here too. Many of the greatest writers and artists actually came from Jewish communities in the Lower East Side, Brooklyn or the Bronx.

For many decades, nearly all of America's comic books were produced here.  Unfortunately that meant they were in certain danger of being eliminated entirely during a 1950s witch hunt by a crusading psychiatrist from Bellevue Hospital.

WITH a special chat with comics historian Peter Sanderson about the unique New York City connections of Marvel Comics' most famous characters.

FEATURING: The Yellow Kid, Little Orphan Annie, Batman, Doctor Strange and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

ALSO: What iconic movie maker once co-owned New York's very first comic book store?

 

Check out www.boweryboyshistory.com for images relating to this program.

Direct download: 187_Super_City__New_York_and_the_History_of_Comic_Books.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:29pm EST

Hell’s Kitchen, on the far west side of Midtown Manhattan, is a neighborhood of many secrets. The unique history of this working class district veers into many tales of New York's criminal underworld and violent riots which have shaken the streets for over 150 years.

This sprawling tenement area was home to some of the most notorious slums in the city, and sinister streets like Battle Row were frequent sites of vice and unrest. The streets were ruled by such gangs as the Gophers and the Westies, leaving their bloody fingerprints in subtle ways today in gentrified building which at one time contained the most infamous speakeasies and taverns.

We break down this breathtaking history and try to get to the real reason for its unusual name. And we have a devil of a good time uncovering it!

www.boweryboyshistory.com

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

Direct download: 186_Hells_Kitchen.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:38pm EST

What can you find on Governors Island?  Almost 400 years of action-packed history!  This island in New York Harbor has been at the heart of the city's defense since the days of the Revolutionary War, and its story takes us back to the very beginnings of European occupation in America.

Its two fortifications -- Castle Williams and Fort Jay -- still stand there today, evidence of a time when New York was constantly under threat of attack and invasion. During the Civil War, these structures served as prisons for Confederate soldiers.

The rest of the island was a base for the U.S. Army for almost 150 years before ceding to the Coast Guard in the 1960s. Their community transformed the island into a charming small town; quite the contrast with the city across the water! 

Today Governors Island has become an exciting park ground and events area, hosting art, music festivals and Jazz Age picnics.  But its history remains virtually untouched around these new activities. In this show, we head out to Governors Island for an exploration of its magnificent history firsthand .

www.boweryboyshistory.com

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.
We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

Direct download: 185_Govs_Is_final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:35pm EST

For our 8th anniversary episode, we're revisiting one of New York City's great treasures and a true architectural oddity -- the Flatiron Building.

When they built this structure at the corner of Madison Square Park (and completed in 1902), did they realize it would be an architectural icon AND one of the most photographed buildings in New York City?

The Fuller Construction Company, one of the most powerful firms in Chicago, decided to put their new New York office building in a flashy place -- a neighborhood with no skyscrapers, on a plot of land that was thin and triangular in shape. They brought in one of America's greatest architects to create a one-of-a-kind, three-sided marvel, presenting a romantic silhouette and a myriad of optical illusions.

The Flatiron Building was also known for the turbulent winds which sometimes blew out its windows and tossed up the skirts of women strolling to Ladies Mile. It's a subject of great art and a symbol of the glamorous side of Manhattan.  We bring you all the sides of this structure's incredible story.

www.boweryboyshistory.com

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon (patreeon.com/boweryboys) and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a patron.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

Direct download: 184_The_Flatiron_Building.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:50pm EST

The Lower East Side is one of the most important neighborhoods in America, with a rich history as dense as its former living quarters.  Thousands of immigrants experienced American life on these many crowded streets. In this podcast, we look at this extraordinary cultural phenomenon through the lens of one of those -- Orchard Street.

Its name traces itself to a literal orchard, owned by a wealthy landowner and Loyalist during the Revolutionary War.  By the 1840s the former orchard and farm was divided up into lots, and a brand new form of housing -- the tenement -- served new Irish and German communities who had just arrived in the United States.

A few decades later those residents were replaced by Russian and Eastern European newcomers, brought to the neighborhood due to its affordability and its established Jewish character.

Living conditions were poor and most tenement apartment doubled as workspaces.  Meanwhile, in the streets, tight conditions required a unique retail solution -- the push cart, a form of independent enterprise that has given us some businesses that still thrive on Orchard Street today.

You can see this century-old life along Orchard Street today, if you know where to look. Luckily that's what we're here for! With some help from Adam Steinberg at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, where the best place to interact with a preserved view of the old days.

www.boweryboyshistory.com

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a patron.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

Direct download: 183_Orchard_Street.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:22am EST

Mae West (star of I'm No Angel and She Done Him Wrong) would come to revolutionize the idea of American sexuality, challenging and lampooning ideas of femininity while wielding a suggestive and vicious wit. But before she was America's diamond girl, she was the pride of Brooklyn! In this podcast, we bring you the origin story of this icon and the wacky events of 1927 that brought her brand of swagger to the attention of the world.

The Brooklyn girl started on the vaudeville stage early, following the influences of performers like Evelyn Nesbitt and Eva Tanguay. She soon proved too smart for the small stuff and set her aim towards Broadway -- but on her terms.

West's play Sex introduced her devastating allure in the service of a shocking tale of prostitution.  It immediately found an audience in 1926 even if the critics were less than enamored. But it's when she devised an even more shocking play -- The Drag -- that city leaders became morally outraged and vowed to shut her down forever.

From Bushwick to Midtown, from the boards of Broadway to the workhouse of Welfare Island -- this is the story of New York's ultimate Sex scandal.

www.boweryboyshistory.com

Direct download: 182_Mae_West_on_Broadway.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:37am EST

Park Slope – or simply the park slope, as they used to say – is best known for its spectacular Victorian-era mansions and brownstones, one of the most romantic neighborhoods in all of Brooklyn.  It’s also a leading example of the gentrifying forces that are currently changing the make-up of the borough of Brooklyn to this day.  

During the 18th century this sloping land was subject to one of the most demoralizing battles of the Revolutionary War, embodied today by the Old Stone House, an anchor of this changing neighborhood.  In the 1850s, the railroad baron Edwin Clark Litchfield brought the first real estate development to this area in the form of his fabulous villa on the hill.  By the 1890s the blocks were stacked with charming house, mostly for wealthy single families.

Circumstances during the Great Depression and World War II reconfigured most of these old (and old fashioned) homes into boarding houses and working-class housing. Then a funny things happens, something of a surprising development in the 1960s – the arrival of the brownstoners, self-proclaimed ‘pioneers’ who refurbished deteriorating homes.

The revitalization of Park Slope has been a mixed blessing as later waves of gentrification and rising prices threaten to push out both older residents and original gentrifiers alike.

PLUS: The terrifying details of one of the worst plane crashes in American history, a disaster that almost took out one of the oldest corners of the neighborhood.

And special thanks to Kim Maier from the Old Stone House; Julie Golia, Director of Public History, Brooklyn Historical Society; and John Casson and Michael Cairl, both of Park Slope Civic Council.

Please help support the Bowery Boys by making a small donation at our site -- https://www.patreon.com/boweryboys
 

Direct download: 181_Park_Slope.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:02am EST

The Chelsea Piers were once New York City’s portal to the world, a series of long docks along the west side of Manhattan that accommodated some of the most luxurious ocean liners of the early 20th century.  Passenger ocean travel became feasible in the mid 19th century due to innovations in steam transportation, allowing for both recreational voyages for the wealthy and a steep rise in immigration to the United States. The Chelsea Piers were the finest along Manhattan’s busy waterfront, built by one of New York’s greatest architectural firm as a way to modernize the west side.  Both the tragic tales of the Titanic and the Lusitania are also tied to the original Chelsea Piers.
 
But changes in ocean travel and the financial fortunes of New York left the piers without a purpose by the late 20th century. How did this important site for transatlantic travel transform into one of New York’s leading modern sports complexes?
 
ALSO: The death of Thirteenth Avenue, an avenue you probably never knew New York City ever had!
 
www.BoweryBoysHistory.com

Direct download: 180__The_Chelsea_Piers.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:28pm EST

In our last show, we left the space that would become Bryant Park as a disaster area; its former inhabitant, the old Crystal Palace, had tragically burned to the ground in 1858.  The area was called Reservoir Square for its proximity to the Murray Hill Reservoir, the imposing Egyptian-like structure to its east, but it wouldn't keep that name for long.

William Cullen Bryant was a key proponent to the creation of Central Park, but it would be on this spot that the poet and editor of the New York Evening Post would receive a belated honor in 1884 with the re-naming of old Reservoir Park to Bryant Park.

With the glorious addition of the New York Public Library in 1911, the park received some substantial upgrades, including its well-known fountain. Over twenty years later, it took on another curious present -- a replica of Federal Hall as a tribute to George Washington.

By the 1970s Bryant Park was well known as a destination for drug dealers and most people shied away from its shady paths, even during the day.  It would take a unique plan to bring the park back to life and a little help from Hollywood and the fashion world to turn it into New York City's most elegant park.

www.boweryboyshistory.com

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Direct download: 179_The_Fight_for_Bryant_Park.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:46pm EST

New York's Crystal Palace seems like something out of a dream, a shimmering and spectacular glass-and-steel structure -- a gigantic greenhouse -- which sat in the area of today's Bryant Park. In 1853 this was the home to the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, a dizzying presentation of items, great and small, meant to exemplify mankind's industrial might.

We take you on a breathtaking tour of the Palce and its legendary exhibition, including the Latting Observatory (the tallest building in New York!)

Whatever happened to the Crystal Palace? And what inventions contained within do we still benefit from today?

www.boweryboyshistory.com

Direct download: 178_The_Crystal_Palace.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 8:06pm EST

Little Italy is the pocket-neighborhood reminder of the great wave of Italian immigration which came through New York City starting in the late 1870s.  This was the home of a densely packed, lively neighborhood of pushcarts, cheese shops, barber shops and organ grinders, populated by thousands of new immigrants in dilapidated old tenements.

The area has some of New York's oldest still-operating shops, from Ferrara Bakery to Di Palo's.  But there's also a dark side to this neighborhood, memories of extortion plots by the Black Hand and a perpetual presence of organized crime.

The present-day Little Italy is completely charming but constantly shrinking. How long can the neighborhood survive in the face of a growing Chinatown and the threats of gentrification?

PLUS: Our love/hate relationship with Nolita -- REVEALED!

www.boweryboyshistory.com

Direct download: 177_Little_Italy_Grande_Storia.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 1:26am EST

 Grab your fedora and take a trip with the Bowery Boys into the heart of New York City's jazz scene -- late nights, smoky bars, neon signs -- through the eyes of one of the greatest American vocalists who ever lived here -- Billie Holiday.

This a tour of the three great jazz centers of the early and mid 20th century -- 133rd Street in Harlem, 52nd Street (aka Swing Street) in Midtown, and Greenwich Village.

Featuring snippets of some of Holiday's greatest vocal performances.

 

Please note our new website address: www.boweryboyshistory.com

Direct download: 176_Billie_Holidays_New_York.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:03am EST