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?
Times Square is the centerpiece of New York for most visitors and a place that sharply divides city residents. Nothing about it sits still. Even its oldest buildings are severely transformed and slathered with electronic imagery.
In 1900, the neighborhood surrounding the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue was Longacre Square, the heart of the horse and carriage industry, and few dared put a legitimate theater or restaurant so far north. But with the construction of the subway came big changes, and when the new headquarters for the New York Times arrived, so did a new name.
Listen along as we travel through the decades, through Times Square's glory days of lobster palaces and celebrities, the introduction of electric advertisements, its gritty slide and eventual rebound. Is the new Times Square an extraordinary transformation? Or a travesty?
Direct download: Times_Square.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:28am EDT

You hear the name Mark Twain and think of his classic characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, his locales along the Mississippi River and his folksy wit. But he was equal parts New York as well, and the city helped shape his sharp, flamboyant character. Follow his course, from his first visit as an opinionated young man in 1853, to his later years in 1906 as a Fifth Avenue tenant, decked out with a cigar and signature white suit.

His tale offers a glimpse into the glamorous life of turn-of-the-century New York, from the smoke-filled billiard room at the Players Club to late nights at New York's dining palace Delmonico's. Tune in and find out which parts of Mark Twain's city are still around and which of his old homes you can still visit today. 

With co-stars Ulysses S. Grant, Helen Keller, Artemus Ward, and the frog that helped make Samuel Clemens famous.

 A slight correction: I mentioned in the show that Mark Twain only worked on one play in his lifetime, called 'Is He Dead?'. That might have been his only solo attempt, but he did try many years earlier to pen one in collaboration with Bret Harte. The play, called "Ah Sin: The Heathen Chinee", opened and closed in 1877. It was an unmitigated flop and a total creative failure. He worked on another collaborative play called "Cap'n Wheeler" the next year.


Direct download: 117_Mark_Twains_New_York.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:11pm EDT

Millions of years of space rocks, fossils, artifacts and specimens are housed in New York's world famous natural history complex on the Upper West Side. But few know the whole story about the museum itself. 

Residents of New York tried a few times to establish a legitimate natural history venue in the city, including an aborted plan for a Central Park dinosaur pavilion. With the American Museum of Natural History, the city had a premier institution that sent expeditions to the four corners of the earth.

Tune in to hear the stories of some of the museum's most treasured artifacts and the origins of its collection. And find out the tragic tale of Minik the Eskimo, a boy subject by museum directors to bizarre and cruel lie.

Direct download: 116_American_Museum_of_Natural_History.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:54pm EDT

During the construction of a downtown federal administration building, an extraordinary find was discovered -- the remnants of a burial ground used by African slaves during the 18th Century. 

In the earliest days of New Amsterdam, the first Africans were brought against their will to help build the new Dutch port, slaves for a city that would be built upon their backs. Later, forced to repress the cultural expressions of their forefathers, the early black population of British New York did preserve their heritage in the form of burial rites, in a small 'Negro Burial Ground' to the south of Collect Pond (and just a couple short blocks to today's City Hall).

How did this small plot of land -- and its astounding contents -- become preserved in the middle of the most bustling area of the most bustling city in the world? And why is it considered one of the most spectacular archaelogical finds in New York City history?

Direct download: 115_African_Burial_Ground.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:57pm EDT

It's our fourth annual 'haunted' podcast, and we've got four bloodcurdling stories for the season. The first three are spooky ghost tales -- a haunted boardinghouse on 14th street with violent, vain spirits; a short history of New York's seance craze and a man tormented with the spirit of a dead painter; and a glamorous pair of lovers whose angry spats in their midtown Manhattan penthouse during the Jazz Age kepts up the neighbors, even beyond the grave.

And finally, a tale with no ghosts at all, but a story with truly spine-tingling facts, featuring the eeriest island in New York, the final resting place for over 850,000 souls. Welcome to Hart Island.

Direct download: Supernatural_Stories_of_New_York.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:02pm EDT

It's the 1820s and welcome to the era of the pleasure garden, an outdoor entertainment complex delighting wealthy New Yorkers in the years before public parks. Niblo's Garden, at the corner of Broadway and Prince Street, was the greatest of them all, with an exhibit room for panoramas and one of the first proto-restaurants. But it was Niblo's Theatre that set the stage for its reputation in the 19th Century. And in 1866, a production debuted there that would change everything -- the gaudy, much-too-long spectacle The Black Crook, known as the very first Broadway musical.

Music in the episode by Elgar

Direct download: Niblos_Garden.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:06pm EDT

Gracie Mansion today serves as the city's official mayoral residence. But who was Archibald Gracie, and why did the city take over his country house?

Direct download: Gracie_Mansion.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:24am EDT

Art. Vandalism. Blight. Freedom. Crime. Creativity. Graffiti has divided New Yorkers since it first appeared on walls, signs and lampposts in the late 1960s. Its ascent paralleled the city's sunken financial fortunes, allowing simple markings to evolve into elaborate pieces of art. The only problem? The best examples were on the sides of subway cars which the city promptly attempted to eradicate, their attempts thwarted by clever, creative artists and a downtown culture that was slowly embracing graffiti as New York City's defining art form.

This is a history of the battle between graffiti and City Hall. And a look at the aftermath which spawned today's tough city laws and a warehouse space in Queens called 5Pointz, where graffiti masterpieces thrive in abundance today.

Direct download: Subway_Graffiti.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:49pm EDT

The amazing New York City subway system travels hundreds of miles under the earth and elevated through the boroughs. In this episode, we let you in on how it went from one long tunnel in 1904 to the busiest subway on earth.

This is our last episode in our series BOWERY BOYS ON THE GO, and we end it on the expansion of the New York City subway. Find out how some as innocuous sounding as the 'Dual Contracts' actually become one of the most important events in the city's history, creating new underground rounds into Brooklyn, the Bronx and (wondrously!) and finally into Queens.

Then we'll talk about the city's IND line, which completes our modern track lines and gives the subway its modern sheen. After listening to this show, you won't look at the Herald Square subway station the same way again.

ALSO: Bernard Goetz and the future history of the Second Avenue Subway!

Direct download: Subway_2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:33pm EDT

#109 New York City Subway, Part 1: Birth of the IRT

In the fourth part of our transportation series BOWERY BOYS ON THE GO, we finally take a look at the birth of the New York City subway. After decades of outright avoiding underground transit as a legitimate option, the city got back on track with the help of August Belmont and the newly formed Interborough Rapid Transit. 

We'll tell you about the construction of the first line, traveling miles underground through Manhattan and into the Bronx. How did the city cope with this massive project? And what unfortunate accident nearly ripped apart a city block mere feet from Grand Central Station?

Direct download: Building_the_Subway.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:07am EDT

For the third part of our Bowery Boys On The Go series, looking back at the history of New York City public transportation, it's a look at the long gone, forgotten methods of getting around the city. The streets were mostly dominated by horse-based transport, but this was smelly and slow -- not to mention awful on the animals. So the city experimented with new ways of moving the masses: by cable car (exported form San Francisco), the trolley and the monorail.

Along the way, you'll find out the connection between the cable car and New York's most famous art-house movie theater, discover the origins behind the name of a classic New York sports team, and hear the contributions of a man known as 'the black Edison'. 

ALSO: hear about the failed experiments in monorail technology!

Direct download: Cable_Cars_Trolleys_and_Monorails.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:47pm EDT

#107 New York's Elevated Railroads

Before there were subways, New York City transported travelers up and down the length of Manhattan by elevated railroad, an almost unreal spectacle to consider today. Steam engines sat high above several avenues in the city, offering passengers not just a faster trek to the northern reaches of Manhattan, but a totally new way to see the city in the 19th century.

Welcome to our second podcast in our series Bowery Boys On The Go, a look at the history of New York City transportation. Before we get to those famous 'El' trains, we explore the earliest travel options in the city -- the omnibuses and horse-drawn railcars, the early steam successes of the New York and Harlem Railroad and Hudson River Railroads, and something affectionately nicknamed the one-legged railroad. 

What were some of the more peculiar ideas for improving travel? And why was the idea of a subway immediately shot down by the city? Let's just say -- Boss Tweed and Jay Gould are involved.

ALSO: What were the different motivations driving transportation progress in the city of Brooklyn? Well, it has something to do with the beach.

Direct download: New_Yorks_Elevated_Railroads.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:29pm EDT

The Staten Island Ferry is one of the last remaining vestiges of an entire ferry system in New York, taking people between Manhattan and its future boroughs long before any bridges were built. In Staten Island, the northern shores were spiked in piers, competing ferry operators braving the busy waters of New York harbor.

In the first of our summer-long podcasts BOWERY BOYS ON THE GO on New York public transportation, I look at the history of Staten Island's famous ferry, its early precursors, its connection to Cornelius Vanderbilt and a Monopoly property, and its evolution when the city took it over in 1905.

ALSO: Find out the curious story behind the name of Victory Boulevard and the neighborhoods of St. George and Tompkinsville.
Direct download: 106__Staten_Island_Ferry.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:02pm EDT

Extra! Extra! Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst vs. the newsboys! Pandemonium in the streets! One hot summer in July 1899, thousands of corner newsboys went on strike against the New York Journal and the New York World. Throngs filled the streets of downtown Manhattan for two weeks and prevented the two largest papers in the country from getting distributed.

In this episode, we look at the development of the sensationalist New York press -- the birth of yellow journalism -- from its very earliest days, and how sensationalism's two famous purveyors were held at ransom by the poorest, scrappiest residents of the city. The conflict put a light to the child labor crisis and became a dramatic example of the need for reform.

Crazy Arborn, Kid Blink, Racetrack Higgins and Barney Peanuts invite you to the listen in to this tale of their finest moment, straight from the street corners of Gilded Age New York.
Direct download: Newsboys1899.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:02pm EDT

Modern American rock music would have been a whole lot different without the rundown dive mecca CBGB's, a beat-up former flophouse bar that made stars out of young musicians and helped shape the musical edge of downtown Manhattan. Owner Hilly Kristal may have initially envisioned a place for 'Country Blue Grass and Blues', but the music spawned by this little hole in the wall would define the contours of American punk and new wave.

The Ramones, Blondie, the Talking Heads and hundreds of others bands would never have been the same without this dank little club with the most notorious bathroom stalls in New York. Tune in to hear a tale of the club's rather inauspicious start and find out why, even as a venerated music icon, it was forced to close its doors.
Direct download: CBGBs.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:32pm EDT

#103: Case Files of the NYPD We're playing Good Cop / Bad Cop this week, as we take a close look at four events from the early history of the New York Police Department. You'll meet shining stars of the force like Jacob Hays, who kept the peace in the early 19th century armed with a mean billyclub -- and the only man to ever hold the title of High Constable of New York. And then you'll encounter Joseph Petrosino, the Italian immigrant turned secret weapon in the early battles against organized crime.

Not all the early men in blue were so recommendable. During the Police Riot of 1857, cop turned against cop while the city burned and "Five Points criminals danced in the streets." And finally there's the lamentable tale of officer Charley Becker, the only member of the New York Police Department to be executed for criminal misdeed. But did he really commit the crime -- commissioning the murder of a nervous gambler who was prepared to rat him out?
Direct download: NYPD_files.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 8:16am EDT

Today it's known as Brooklyn's thriving Russian community next door to the amusements of the neighborhood of Coney Island. But a hundred years ago, the neighborhoods of Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach were the homes of lavish hotels catering to the upper and upper middle classes. While many people were playing at Coney Island's Steeplechase Park, Dreamland and Luna Park, the wealthiest were playing at the three most toniest hotels -- Brighton Beach Hotel, the Oriental Hotel and Manhattan Beach Hotel.

Find out the origins of these long-gone resorts and how they make their mark on the current neighborhoods. 

ALSO: Why should we care so much about one particular raging anti-Semite? And why did the Brighton Beach Hotel, several thousand tons of it, have to get dragged inland 500 feet?
Direct download: Brighton_Beach.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:23pm EDT

#101 The Bronx Zoo

New York City's most exotic residents inhabit hundreds of leafy acres in the Bronx at the once-named New York Zoological Park. Sculpted out of the former DeLancey family estate and tucked next to the Bronx River, the Bronx Zoo houses hundreds of different species from across the globe, many endangered and quite foreign to most American zoos. The well meaning attempts of its founders, however, have sometimes been mired in controversy. The highlight of the show -- and the institution's lowest moment -- is the sad tale of Ota Benga, the pygmy once put on display at the zoo in 1906!

ALSO: We take you on a tour of the zoo grounds, unfurling over 110 years of historical trivia, from the ancient Rocking Stone to the tale of Gunda, the Indian elephant who may also have been a poet.

Direct download: Bronx_Zoo.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 8:14am EDT

#100 Robert Moses

EPISODE 100 We obviously had to spend our anniversary show with the Power Broker himself, everybody's favorite Parks Commissioner -- Robert Moses.

A healthy debate about Moses will divide your friends, and we provide the resources to make your case for both sides. Robert Moses was one of the most powerful men in New York from the late 1920s until the late 1960s, using multiple appointed positions in state and local government to make his vast dream of a modern New York comes to fruition.

That dream included glorious parkways and gravity-defying bridges. It also included parking lots and the wholesale destruction of thousands of homes. World's fairs and innovative housing complexes. Elevated highways plowed through residential neighborhoods -- straight through Harlem, midtown Manhattan, and SoHo.

We get into the trenches of some of Moses's most renown and controversial projects -- the splendor of Jones Beach; the revolutionary parks and pools; the tragedy of the Cross Bronx Expressway, and his signature project, the Triborough Bridge.

What side will you come down on -- did Robert Moses give New York City the resources it needs to excel in the 20th century, or did he hasten its demise with short-sighted, malignant vision?


Direct download: Robert_Moses.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:19am EDT

#99 Madison Square Garden

Madison Square Garden is certainly the recognizable name in arena entertaining, hosting sports, concerts, even political conventions. But it adopted that reputation from three other buildings which also called themselves 'Madison Square Garden'. 

The first, inspired by P.T Barnum and a popular bandleader, staked its claim in the hottest area of New York in the 1870s. The second, a classic designed by the city's most famous architect, featured both trendy new sports and high society events. The third Garden, moving up town, stripped off the glamour and helped make the Garden's sporting reputation.

We'll also tell you about the most famous event to ever happen in any Madison Square Garden -- a shocking and brutal murder which led to the 'trial of the century'.

Direct download: Madison_Square_Garden.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 8:41pm EDT

#98 Manhattan Bridge

I love the Manhattan Bridge, but there's no doubt it's had a rocky history. For one hundred years, it's withstood more than just comparisons to its far more iconic neighbor, the Brooklyn Bridge. Built to relieve pressure on the East River's best known bridge, the Manhattan Bridge went through two different engineers -- and a couple different ambitious designs -- before finally being completed by another architect who then went on in 1940 to design one of the WORST bridges in America. And what serious design flaw has afflicted the bridge for its entire history?

Listen in and find something to appreciate in this seriously under appreciated marvel of the East River.

Direct download: 98_Manhattan_Bridge.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 9:20pm EDT

#97 Trinity Church Trinity Church, with its distinctive spire staring down upon the west end of Wall Street, is more than just a house of worship. Over three different church buildings have sat at this site, and the current one by architect Richard Upjohn is one of America's finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture. The church collected Manhattan's upper crust for decades and functions as one of the city's most powerful landowners. Listen to our short history on the New York institution and find out who's buried in their famous churchyards -- Founding Fathers, inventors and a whole lotta Astors.
Direct download: 97_Trinity_Church.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 11:00pm EDT