New York City History: The Bowery Boys (general)
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?

Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr met at a clearing in Weehawken, NJ, in the early morning on July 11, 1804, to mount the most famous duel in American history. But why?

 

This is the story of two New York lawyers -- and two Founding Fathers -- that so detested each other that their vitriolic words (well, mostly Hamilton's) led to these two grown men shooting each other out of honor and dignity, while robbing America of their brilliance, leadership and talent.

 

You may know the story of this duel from history class, but this podcast focuses on its proximity to New York City, to their homes Richmond Hill and Hamilton Grange and to the places they conducted their legal practices and political machinations.

 

Which side are you on?

 

ALSO: Find out the fates of sites that are associated with the duel, including the place Hamilton died and the rather disrespectful journey of the dueling grounds in Weehawken.

 

CORRECTION: Alexander Hamilton had his fateful dinner as the house of Judge James Kent, not John Kent, as I state here.

Direct download: 168_DUEL_Aaron_Burr_vs_Alexander_Hamilton.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:29 AM

Cleopatra's Needle is the name given to the ancient Egyptian obelisk that sits in Central Park, right behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This is the bizarre tale of how it arrived in New York and the unusual forces that went behind its transportation from Alexandra to a hill called Greywacke Hill.

 

The weathered but elegant monolith was created thousands of years ago by the pharaoh Thutmose III.  Thanks to the great interest in Egyptian objects in the 19th century -- sometimes called Egyptomania -- major cities soon wanted obelisks for their own, acquired as though they were trophies of world conquest.  France and England scooped up a couple but -- at least in the case of the ill-fated vessel headed to London -- not without great cost.

 

One group was especially fascinated in the Alexandrian obelisks.  The Freemasons have been a mysterious and controversial fraternity who have been involved in several critical moments in American history (including the inauguration of fellow Freemason George Washington.) A Freemason engineer and adventurer named Henry Honeychurch Gorringe discovered an incredible secret on the remaining Alexandria obelisk, a secret that might link the secretive organization to the beginnings of human civilization.

 

But how do you get a 240 ton object, the length of a 7-story building, across the Atlantic Ocean and propped up in New York's premier park which had just opened a few years before?  

 

We let you in on Gorringe's technique and the curious Freemasons ceremony that accompanied the debut of the obelisk's cornerstone.

 

PLUS: We have a secret or two to reveal ourselves in this episode. This is a must-listen podcast!

 

www.boweryboyspodcast.com

Direct download: 167_Cleopatras_Needle_and_the_Freemasons_Secret.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:26 AM

On June 15, 1904, hundreds of residents of the Lower East Side's thriving German community boarded the General Slocum excursion steamer to enjoy a day trip outside the city.  Most of them would never return home.

The General Slocum disaster is, simply put, one of the greatest tragedies in American history.  Before September 11, 2001, it was the largest loss of life of any event that has ever taken place here. 

This is a harrowing story, brutal and tragic.  The fire that engulfed the ship near the violent waters of the Hell Gate gave the passengers a horrible choice -- die by fire or by drowning.  In the end, over one thousand people would lose their lives over an horrific event that could have been easily prevented.

But in this tale are some surprising and even shocking stories of human survival, real stories of bravery and heroism. 

 

www.boweryboyspodcast.com

Direct download: 166_General_Slocum_Disaster.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:49 AM

Ladies' Mile -- the most famous New York shopping district in the 19th century and the "heart of the Gilded Age," a district of spectacular commercial palaces of cast-iron.  They are some of the city's greatest buildings, designed by premier architects.

Unlike so many stories about New York City, this is a tale of survival, how behemoths of retail went out of business, but their structures remained to house new stores.  This is truly a rare tale of history, where so many of the buildings in question are still around, still active in the purpose in which they were built.

We start this story near City Hall, with the original retail mecca of A.T. Stewart -- the Marble Palace and later his cast-iron masterpiece in Astor Place.  Stewart set a standard that many held dear, even as his competitors traveled uptown to the blocks between Union Square and Madison Square.

Join us on this glamorous journey through the city's retail history, including a walking tour circa 1890 (with some roleplay involved!) of some of the district's best known buildings.

PLUS: Why is Chelsea's Bed Bath and Beyond so particularly special in this episode?

 

www.boweryboyspodcast.com

Direct download: 165_Ladies_Mile.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:18 AM

England's great thespian William Macready mounted the stage of the Astor Place Opera House on May 10, 1849, to perform Shakespeare's Macbeth, just as he had done hundreds of times before.  But this performance would become infamous in later years as the trigger for one of New York City's most violent events -- the Astor Place Riot.

 

The theater, being America's prime form of public entertainment in the early 19th century, was often home to great disturbances and riots.  It was still seen as a British import and often suffered the anti-British sentiments that often vexed early New Yorkers.

 

Macready, known as one of the world's greatest Shakespearean stars, was soon rivaled by American actor Edwin Forrest, whose brawny, ragged style of performance endeared the audiences of the Bowery.  To many, these two actors embodied many of America's deepest divides -- rich vs. poor, British vs. American, Whig vs. Democrat.

 

On May 10th, these emotions overflowed into an evening of stark, horrifying violence as armed militia shot indiscriminately into an angry mob gathering outside the Astor Place theater.  By the end of this story, over two dozen New Yorkers would be murdered, dozens more wounded, and the culture of the city irrevocably changed. 

 

www.boweryboyspodcast.com

Direct download: 164_Astor_Place_Riots.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:49 PM

The glory of early New York City came from its role as one of the world's great ports.  Today the South Street Seaport is a lasting tribute to that seafaring heritage, a historical district beneath the Brooklyn Bridge that contains some of the city's oldest buildings.

 

But there are many secrets here along the cobblestone streets.  Schermerhorn Row, the grand avenue of counting houses more than two centuries old, is built atop of landfill.  Historic Water Street once held a seedy concentration of brothels and saloons. Not to mention a very vibrant rat pit! And the Fulton Fish Market, the neighborhood's oldest customer tradition, once fell into the river.

 

The modern South Street Seaport, a preservation construct of concerned citizens, become popular with tourists during the 1980s but saw severe damage during Hurricane Sandy.  It's now the subject of some potentially dramatic changes.  How much of an adherence to the traditions of the past will determine the Seaport's future?

 

ALSO: The FDR Drive -- How it almost went below the Seaport!

Direct download: 163_South_Street_Seaport.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00 AM

The George Washington Bridge is surprisingly graceful, but politically scandalous.  And we're not talking about the current crisis being faced by current New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

 

Figuring out a way to cross over the Hudson River (not using a boat or ferry) between New York City and New Jersey has been a challenge engineers and builders have tried to solve for over two hundred years.  With the formation of the Port Authority in 1921, there was finally an administrative body with the ability to bring a Hudson River bridge to life.

 

At the core of this story is a professional disagreement (or betrayal, depending on how you see it) between Gustav Lindenthal, the dreamer of a monumental crossing twice the size of the Brooklyn Bridge, and his protégée Othmar Ammann, who envisioned a simpler crossing in a less populated part of town. 

 

The eventual bridge was built thanks to a few strategic, political moves by the New Jersey governor, but some of its original ornamentation was left off during the Great Depression. Still, even today, it's considered one of the most beautiful bridges of the Hudson River. Here's the story of an under-appreciated masterpiece that two states are proud to share.

 

ALSO: The story of the little red lighthouse and the great big flag!

 

Direct download: 162_George_Washington_Bridge.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:16 AM

The New York Fire Department protects the five boroughs from a host of disasters and mishaps -- five-alarm blazes, a kitchen fire run amok, and even those dastardly midtown elevators, always getting stuck!  But today's tightly organized team is a far cry from the chaos and machismo that defined New York's fire apparatus many decades ago.

New York's early firefighters -- Peter Stuyvesant's original ratel-watch -- were all-purpose guardians, from police work to town timepieces.  Volunteer forces assembled in the 18th century just as innovative new engines arrived from London.  By the 19th century, the fire department was the ultimate boys club, gangs of rival firefighters, with their own volunteer 'runners', racing to fires as though in a competition. Fisticuffs regularly erupted.  From this tradition came Boss Tweed, whose corrupt political ways would forever change New York's fire services -- for better and for worse.

Volunteers were replaced by an official paid division by 1870.  Now using horse power and new technologies, the department fought against the extraordinary challenges of skyscraper and factory fires.  There were internal battles as well, as the department struggled to become more inclusive within its ranks.

But the greatest test lay in the modern era -- from a deteriorating infrastructure in the 1970s that left many areas of New York unguarded, and then, the new menace of modern terrorism that continues to test the skill of the NYFD.  From burning chimneys in New Amsterdam to the tragedy of 9/11, this is the story of how they earned the nickname New York's Bravest.

Direct download: 161_Fire_Department_of_New_York_FDNY.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:03 AM

Central Park has frequently been called 'the people's park," but we think Tompkins Square Park may have a better claim to that title.  From its inception, this East Village recreational spot -- named for Vice President Daniel D Tompkins -- has catered to those who might not have felt welcome in other New York parks.

Carved from the marshy area of Peter Stuyvesant's old farm, Tompkins Square immediately reflected the personality of German immigrants who moved here, calling it Der Weisse Garten.  With large immgratns groups came rallies and demands for improved working conditions, leading to more than a number of altercations with the police in the 19th century.

Progressives introduced playgrounds here, and Robert Moses changed the very shape of Tompkins Square.  But the most radical transformation here took place starting in the late 1950s, with the introduction of 'hippie' culture and infusion of youth and music. By the 1980s, the park became known not only for embodying the spirit of the East Village through punk music and drag shows, but also as a haven for the homeless.  Clashes with police echoed the altercation that happened here one century before.  The park still maintains a curfew left over from the strife of the late 1980s.

FEATURING:  Lillian Wald, the Grateful Dead, Charlie Parker, Lady Bunny ... and Chevy Chase? 

Direct download: 160_Tompkins_Square_Park.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:48 AM

The Broadway Musical is one of New York City's greatest inventions, 150 years in the making! It's one of the truly American art forms, fueling one of the city's most vibrant entertainment businesses and defining its most popular tourist attraction -- Times Square.

But why Broadway, exactly? Why not the Bowery or Fifth Avenue? And how did our fair city go from simple vaudeville and minstrel shows to 'Shuffle Along', 'Irene' and 'Show Boat', surely the beginning of the truly modern American musical?

This podcast is an epic and wild musical adventure in itself, full of musical interludes, zipping through the evolution of musical entertainment in New York City, as it races up the 'main seam' of Manhattan -- the avenue of Broadway.  We are proud to present a tour up Broadway, past some of the greatest theaters and shows that have ever won acclaim here, from the wacky (and highly copied) imports of Gilbert & Sullivan to the dancing girls and singing sensations of the Jazz Age.

STARRING: Well, some of the biggest names in songwriting, composing and singing. And even a dog who talks in German!

And featuring our new sponsor Squarespace!

www.boweryboyspodcast.com

Twitter: boweryboys

Direct download: 159_The_Broadway_Musical__Setting_the_Stage.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:55 AM