Friday, December 5, 2014


Location:   New York City
Year:   Present day

40% of all cigarettes sold in New York City are untaxed.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Queen City

Year:   1789
Location:   Buffalo

Mew York's Second City, Buffalo, was originally named Buffalo Creek. The name has nothing to do with bison; rather, it is derived from the French "beau fleuve" meaning "beautiful river." The city lies on the Niagara River.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Miracle on 34th Street

Location:   34th Street
Year:   1947

The perennial Thanksgiving/Christmas favorite, Miracle on 34th Street, was born on Christmas Eve 1944, when screenwriter Valentine Davies was caught in the last minute holiday shopping rush at Macy*s Herald Square, trying to buy a few last minute stocking stuffers for Mrs. Davies. 

Davies' friend George Seaton loved the story so much that Seaton covered the studio's expenses in live filming during the 1946 Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade. All the New York shooting was done in one take because of the frigid temperatures that November, and because the parade did not allow for re-shoots. Edmund Gwenn, who plays Santa Claus in the film was Macy*s Santa that year, and the people in the crowd are actual paradegoers. 

In a high-risk move, Macy*s and Gimbel's were given a "kill option" on the film to be exercised by either store at the time the final film was first privately screened. The use of either "kill option" would have required almost total re-scripting and re-shooting; fortunately, both stores embraced the film enthusiastically.  

Darryl F. Zanuck loved Miracle on 34th Street so much that he had the film released in June of 1947. 

Maureen O'Hara, who plays the skeptical Doris Walker, said that the cast and crew had a wonderful time working on the film, and it shows; the film was an instant hit and remains a nostalgic favorite. 

Ms. O'Hara, who is known as "The Lady Who Knows Santa Claus"  has said that by the time production wrapped everyone was convinced that Edmund Gwenn really was Santa Claus.  The beard is genuine. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

What's that smell?

Location:   Manhattan
Year:   Present-Day

The Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan is the only school in the world offering a Bachelor of Science Degree with a Major in Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dance The Night Away

Location:   The Big Apple
Year:   Now

Sanitation workers in New York City refer to  maggots as “disco rice.”

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Yellow Cabs

Location:   Manhattan and Chicago
Year:   Early 1900s

Ever wonder why New York taxis are all yellow?  It's because John D. Hertz, an enterprising immigrant from Hungary, discovered through his own researches that bright yellow is the color most quickly identified against a busy background. Beginning in 1915, Hertz founded the Fifth Avenue Cab Company in New York, the Yellow Cab Company in Chicago, and the nationwide Hertz Auto and Truck Rental businesses. Until he sold his interests in these companies in the 1940s, he maintained a virtual monopoly on the "pay-to-ride" / "pay-to-drive" industry in the Northeast and Midwest. Yellow became, and remains, the traditional color for taxis.

The Dutch skyscraper

Location:   New York, New York
Year:   1660s

The New York City skyline is world famous for its skyscrapers, which have been the tallest buildings in the world and the Western Hemisphere. In 1660, however, the New Amsterdam skyline was dominated by a two-story-high windmill.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Paying The Beer Tax

Location:   New York City
Year:   1931

Ah, Prohibition!  The Eighteenth Amendment was easily the most violated law in American history. Everybody violated the Volstead Act, even Volstead. Besides mountain moonshiners and urban bathtub gin distillers, numberless speakeasies and blind pigs dotted the American map ("blind pigs" got their name because they exhibited odd animals --- one-armed monkeys, tailless raccoons, and blind pigs --- for a small fee.  Visitors were entitled to a free snort with their admission price. Since the hooch wasn't being sold, technically it wasn't illegal). 

Gentleman Jim. "Would you care for some tea with that tea, sir?"
Bob Hope as "Beau James"
When it came right down to it, there was nothing New York City's "Night Mayor" Jimmy Walker loved more than a good brouhaha unless it was a chorus girl. "Beau James" was a fierce opponent of Prohibition, and made no secret of it, taking on the stodgy Federal government and its ardent (and not so ardent) drys at every opportunity. Populist that he was, he supported the citizenry's right to knock a few back.  In 1932,  he organized a "We Want Beer" parade down Fifth Avenue in lieu of a dry Oktoberfest. And he made sure, quietly, that the people got what they wanted.

Here's a toast to raising taxes!  ;)
Walker maintained several secret stashes of expensive liquor  for his own use all around the city. Walker might not have known it, but he had a friend in FDR, who kept his own secret stashes in the White House, the Presidential retreat at Shangri-La (Camp David), and at his home, "Springwood" in New Hyde Park, New York.

Bottoms up!

Friday, October 24, 2014

"When it rains, it pours."

Location:   Wyoming County, New York
Year:   1848

The Onondaga Salt Company opens its first salt mine in Wyoming County, New York, in anticipation of a massive demand for salt by the '49ers of the California Gold Rush.

Business booms, and the company relocates its headquarters from Syracuse to Chicago in 1849, changing its name to the Richmond Salt Company. In 1889, Joy Morton, the son of J. Sterling Morton, robber baron, politician, and founder of Arbor Day, buys the Richmond Salt Company, renaming it the Morton Salt Company  in 1910.  

In 1911, Morton devises a salt compound that does not cake with dampness.  In 1914, the company adopts its famous "Morton Salt Girl" logo and and motto, "When it rains, it pours." 

Eventually, the company becomes the world's largest producer of table salt. Its Wyoming County salt mine still produces salt to this day.  

History of the Umbrella Girl

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ithaca, New York, or: Sodom-By-The-Lake

Location:   Ithaca, New York
Year:   1790

The City of Ithaca, New York, at the southern end of Cayuga Lake, was named for Odysseus' home island in the eponymous Homeric epic. There are over 100 waterfalls within a ten square mile radius of the town. 

Originally Iroquois land, Euroamerican settlement in the Ithaca area began in 1790, when the U.S. Congress began giving land grants to Revolutionary War veterans in lieu of back pay.  

The region was known as "The Central Military Tract" and the main settlement was known first as "Ulysses" and then "Odysseus" before it became "Ithaca".  Ithaca was also informally called "Sodom-By-The-Lake" for awhile due to the many taverns and houses of ill-fame that served its early mostly male population. It is now the site of Cornell University and Ithaca College. 

Famous natives of Ithaca include "Roots" author Alex Haley, astronomer Carl Sagan, television writer Rod Serling, and former World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The blast-proof Buddhist

Location:   The Upper West Side of Manhattan
Year:   1955

Shinran Shonen (1173-1263) was the founder of the True Pure Land School of Buddhism in Japan. Ordained a monk at age nine, in his twenties he became disillusioned with the increasing deification of the Shogun within Japanese society and within Japanese Buddhist practice. He joined the monk Honen, who founded the Pure Land School.Pure Land Buddhism taught that society was so corrupt that individuals necessarily had to seek spiritual intercession from a higher power to achieve Enlightenment. Both men's practice focused on chanting the Nembutsu:

Namu Amida Butsu  --- "I take refuge in the Amida Buddha."

Due to their disregard for the Shogun, both Honen and Shinran were forbidden to associate or teach.  Although they each continued to teach secretly, their long separation caused the two men to develop different approaches to the practice they taught. Shinran believed that entry to the Pure Land (Enlightenment) could be attained in life, while Honen believed that it could only be attained at life's end. Honen died in 1212, the two men never having seen each other again. 

Although Shinran always considered himself a disciple of Honen's, their followers did not, and the Pure Land School and the True Pure Land School remained distinct. Eventually, Shinran's True Pure Land Buddhism (Jodo Shinshu or Shin Buddhism) became the largest Buddhist sect in Japan, a status it retains today. 

Shin temples all have a statue of Shinran standing guard at their entrance. The Shinran figure at the doorway of the New York Buddhist Church on Riverside Drive is unique. Until 1945, the statue stood before a Shin temple in Hiroshima just over a mile from Ground Zero of the atomic bomb blast. Although the temple was utterly destroyed in the blast, the statue endured, unscathed. 

In 1955, the statue was gifted to the NYBC as, “a testimonial to the atomic bomb devastation and a symbol of lasting hope for world peace,” as its commemorative plaque reads.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

She who climbs to the Sphinx's head a millionaire shall surely wed

Location:   Montauk Highway, New York
Year:   1899

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the Long Island village of Bayport was a fashionable resort area spotted with hotels and summer homes. South of Montauk Highway (Route 27A) and adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, large comfortable-looking clapboard houses are still the norm, while north of Montauk Highway, the area is impoverished.

A remnant of the resort days, a rather surprised-looking cement Sphinx stands on the grounds of the Fontana Cement Company along Route 27A. 

The Sphinx once stood in front of the now-vanished Anchorage Hotel. Emblazoned with the inscription:  "She who climbs to the Sphinx's head a millionaire shall surely wed," it's said that the owner of the Anchorage used to sit on a strategically-placed park bench nearby so that he could catch a glimpse of ladies' unmentionables as the daring young maidens of the area made the ascent. 

After the Anchorage burned down, the Fontana family bought the land and built a service station there. In 1972, the Fontanas moved the Sphinx to the family's cement company property as a unique business sign.    

Monday, October 20, 2014

Glorious Leader

Location:   250 East Houston Street, New York, New York
Year:   1989

A bronze statue of Vladimir Lenin stands atop an apartment building in New York's East Village. Why?  Nobody quite knows. And the Russian revolutionary stands in front of a huge clock face with its numbers all out of order. Why, you ask?  

Because it's New York. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"A suitable bathing suit . . . "

Location: Throughout The State
Year: Timeless

Just as the State of New York has passed all sorts of really peculiar State laws, local municipalities have done the same. A few of the oddest ones:

Town of Hempstead: 

It is illegal to be naked or fondle yourself in public unless you are breastfeeding or under 10 years old.

It is unlawful to operate a mechanical bull.

Town of Babylon: 

Anyone under the age of 16 cannot play commercial video games during school hours on any weekday that school is in session. 

It is illegal to shoot a bow and arrow. 

Residents must remove snow, ice, dirt or any other object or material from the sidewalk between the property line and curb line within four hours of its appearance, except from 9:00 PM to 7:00 AM.

Town of Kendall: 

During a concert, it is illegal to eat peanuts and walk backwards on the sidewalks.

It is against town ordinances to camp out on your own land more than 72 hours a month. If you want to camp out for 2 weeks you need a permit, which can only be obtained once a year.

Village of Sag Harbor: 

It is illegal to disrobe in your horse-drawn carriage, farm wagon, or gas-powered car. 

If one wishes to bathe within the municipal limits, they must be clothed in a “suitable bathing suit”.

Village of Head of the Harbor: 

It is illegal to hold a picnic in public.

Richmond County (Staten Island): 

It is illegal for a father to call his son a “faggot” or “queer” in an effort to curb "effeminate" behavior.

You may only water your lawn if the hose is held in your hand.

Nassau County: 

It is illegal to sell trading cards to minors depicting a heinous crime, an element of a heinous crime or a heinous criminal.

It is illegal to feed migratory waterfowl.

It is illegal to sell broad tipped markers to minors in fear of vandalism.

It is illegal to possess a deceptively colored handgun.

An employee is allowed seven days paid leave to donate bone marrow or 30 days paid leave as an organ donor. They can do this only if they provide their supervisor with written notice no less than 14 days before the surgery unless it is an emergency.

Suffolk County: 

You cannot release 25 or more helium balloons within a 24-hour period.

It is illegal to perform a concert under another band's name.

You cannot sell marijuana-flavored candy.

It is illegal to sell alcohol to an habitual drunkard.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Quincy Adams House

Location:    Deer Park, New York
Year:   1835

After President John Quincy Adams left office in 1829, he habitually spent his summers at his Long Island estate. The former President-turned-Congressman led the legislative fight against slavery from his summer house. 

Although the house itself no longer exists, the John Quincy Adams Primary School stands on the former grounds adjacent to appropriately-named Adams Street.  


Slippers . . . ?

Location:   New York State
Year:   It Seems Like Forever

New York State has an entire set of bizarre laws on the books, some of which date from colonial times, and some of which address out-of-date, one-of-a-kind, or simply strange circumstances:

When one is in a elevator, one is not permitted to talk to anyone and must look straight ahead at the door with one's arms crossed.

You are not allowed to divorce for irreconcilable difference unless the parties agree to it.

It is illegal for people to stand in public with two or more other people with their faces covered by masks or disguising their identity.

Slippers are not to be worn after 10pm

It is legal for women to be topless in public, as long as it is not for business purposes.

People cannot greet each other with their thumb up against their nose while wiggling their fingers.

It is against the law to throw a ball at someone's face for fun.

A license must be purchased before hanging clothes on a clothesline. 

A person is not allowed to walk around Sundays with an ice cream cone in his or her pocket.

A $25 fine can be levied for flirting.
It is illegal for women to wear body hugging clothing.

Jumping off a building is illegal and punishable by death.

In 1980, the State Senate passed a resolution to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ 1955 world championship. The resolution expressed the desire that someday the Dodgers will return to “their one and only true home.”

Monday, October 13, 2014

Camp Siegfried

Location:   Yaphank, New York
Year:   1936

After Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, he attempted to influence American public opinion by inducing German-American immigrants and ethnic German-Americans to actively support Naziism. The U.S.-based Nazi Party organization, eventually called the German-American Bund, had at its peak some 25,000 members. 

The group, headquartered out of New York City, ran several "summer camps" for children and families where Nazi indoctrination was on the daily entertainment schedule. The largest of these "summer camps" was Camp Siegfried, in Yaphank on Long Island, where portraits of George Washington and Adolf Hitler hung side by side.

"Come and meet people who think as you think!" the camp's brochure read.

The Bund remained active until America entered World War II in December 1941. Long under surveillance, most Bund members were interned along with other suspected pro-Fascist German-Americans and Italian-Americans, and, more famously and dubiously, Japanese-Americans. 

The largest Bund Internment Camp was in Crystal City, Texas, on the Rio Grande. 

With a captive audience at their beck and call, the Bund used the Crystal City Internment Camp as a recruitment center, convincing many otherwise-innocent young German-Americans that their internment proved that American democracy was a sham. Many embraced Naziism, and their descendants number among American neo-Nazis today. 

Monday, August 25, 2014


Location:   Newburgh, New York 
Year:   1949 

Motorcyclepedia is a comprehensive museum of the motorcycle. Started as a private collection by father and son Jerry and Ted Doering, Motorcyclepedia now showcases motorcycles of all makes and nationalities, from the most out-of-the-box Hondas to early steam-powered bikes, to German World War II half-tracks.

The earliest motorcycle in the collection dates to 1867. Many of the displays are one-of-a-kind designs. Motorcyclepedia's collection of Indian-brand motorcycles is the most complete in the world.

The museum houses custom Harleys, movie props like Peter Fonda's bike from Easy Rider, and a police motorcycle that served in JFK's motorcade the day he was assassinated.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Hall of Fame of Great Americans

Location:   Bronx Community College
Year:   1900
The Hall of Fame of Great Americans is the country’s original Hall of Fame. It was founded by New York University when NYU opened a Bronx campus (now Bronx Community College). 

Its main architectural feature, a 630-foot-high, open-air colonnade designed by the noted architect Stanford Law White,  gives visitors a panoramic view of the Cloisters across the Harlem River. 

The colonnade is home to 98 bronze busts, including those of Alexander Graham Bell, Eli Whitney, George Westinghouse, and President Franklin Roosevelt.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Cooper Union Dome

Location:   Lower Manhattan
Year:   1859

Peter Cooper established Cooper Union in 1859. Famed for many reasons, Cooper Union was the site of Abraham Lincoln's greatest early speech, the 1860 speech that ultimately propelled him into the White House. 

When Peter Cooper built Cooper Union Hall he included an elevator shaft --- even though the elevator had not yet reached its final, usable design. When Elisha Otis finally perfected the elevator, it took the shape of a rectangle, not the egg-shaped container that Cooper had anticipated. The original elevator dome however still graces the roof of Cooper Union Hall.     

The Pooh of New York

Location:   The New York Public Library
Year:   1921

In 1987, the publisher E.P. Dutton granted an odd bequest to the Children's Room of the central branch of the New York Public Library --- Winnie-the-Pooh.  The original Pooh is a stuffed bear purchased by A.A. Milne in 1921 at Harrod's in London as a gift for his son Christopher Robin. Milne later added other stuffed toys to his son's collection, including a tiger, a donkey, and a pig. As Christopher Robin grew a little older, Milne began making up bedtime stories for the boy in which his stuffed animals played the heroes. When Milne decided to write them down a beloved series of children's books was born. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Of Bears and Bulls . . . and Pigs

Location:   Manhattan
Year:   1860

The New York City Sanitation Department was established in 1860. Prior to that time, the city had no real trash collection system. Instead, herds of roaming pigs were allowed to do the job. Garbage was simply dumped out in roadways and alleys, and the pigs ate of it what they could, including the ubiquitous horse droppings that were everywhere.  Wall Street was particularly overpopulated with refuse-eating swine.

Using pigs was far from perfect. In the rain the streets became pits of disease-ridden goo, the pigs became rabid and feral (and in poorer areas sometimes ate small children), rats "big enough to wear saddles" competed with the pigs, and the muck all found its way into the city's water supply, causing typhoid and a dozen other infectious diseases even among the city's upper classes. 

Given New York's population explosion of the 1840s (Irish and German immigrants arrived by the million), the decision to employ humans as trash collectors came late to City Hall. But since 1860, the Sanitation Department has traveled every highway and byway of New York City in safe neighborhoods and bad, in all kinds of weather on a daily basis, keeping the city (relatively) clean.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The City of The Dead

Location:   Hart Island
Year:   1869

Marking the invisible boundary between the East River and Long Island Sound, Hart Island (the easternmost of the Pelham Islands group) lies just northeast of City Island, one of the major centers of recreational sailboating in the Northeastern United States. Known to the irascible sailors of City Island as "F*****g Island" due to the fact that it acts as a wind block in the channel, Hart Island is small (131 acres) and currently uninhabited, though in the past it functioned as the site of a psychiatric asylum, a tuberculosis quarantine, and a Civil War POW camp.  The ruins of each still dot the island.

City Island (left) and Hart Island (right). The Bronx is at the top. Due North --->

Since 1869, the City of New York has used Hart Island as its potter’s field, a burial ground for the indigent and unidentifiable. It is also the place that the deceased find their rest when emotionally distressed family members blindly check the "city burial" box on hospital forms. The potter’s field now takes up roughly 101 acres and is the largest tax-supported graveyard in the world.

More than one million people have been buried on Hart Island, and approximately 2,000 burials occur each year, including dismembered body parts. With one exception ---“special child baby 1 1985” (the first child to die of AIDS in New York City) --- the bodies are buried in mass graves. Hart Island is in fact the most densely populated unpopulated area in the City.

Children are buried in trench graves holding as many as 1,000 bodies each. One third of Hart Island's burials are young children. 

One of the memorial markers on Hart Island

Adults, who are sometimes later claimed, are buried in mass graves holding 50 corpses each. Incomplete records are kept of the burials on Hart Island, maintained, oddly enough, by New York City's Department of Corrections. The Department of Corrections also oversees burials, using convicts interned on Riker's Island for gravedigging and the actual labor of burial. The prisoners are paid fifty cents an hour for the work. The burials are conducted without services, a practice discontinued in the 1950s.  At least 85,000 of the dead are John and Jane Does "known only to God." There is not even an official map of the cemetery.

Hart Island is, by all accounts, a dreary place. Covered with scrub grass that is dull green in the warmer months and rust brown in the colder months, most of the island is a flat expanse. Except for a few scattered generic monuments provided by charitable organizations there are no grave markers --- individual or collective --- on the island. Plain white posts indicate used ground. The only individual memorial is a plaque near the dock paid for by the staff in honor of a colleague, a backhoe operator, who worked on the island for decades and elected to be interred in one of the island's anonymous mass graves. 

The only buildings of any size are the 19th Century ruins. A small Administration Building and garages for the cemetery's vehicles cluster around the access dock, and a small decrepit gazebo stands nearby, where rare visitors, usually family members of the deceased, may leave flowers or other memorabilia. No one is allowed into the cemetery itself except for staffers and the laboring convicts.   

What We Found at Hart Island, The Largest Mass Grave Site In the U.S.
A typical interment on Hart Island

Visitors are discouraged. There is some interest in making Hart Island more accessible, but in a city of eight million living, the concerns of the dead rank very low.

Unsurprisingly, Hart Island is said to be haunted by the spirits of the unquiet dead. Sailors claim that the moan of the wind passing between City Island and Hart Island is made up of the cries of lost souls.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Giving Vent . . .

Location:   Midtown Manhattan
Year:   1929

Thrilled by the success of the giant helium balloons that were the centerpiece of the 1928 Thanksgiving Day Parade (aka The Christmas Day Parade until the 1930s) Macy*s decided to add more balloons to the parade in 1929. 

All the 1929 balloons were new, since none of the 1928 balloons had survived last year's parade. At parade's end, the balloons had been dramatically released into the sky. Unfortunately, balloon designer Tony Sarg had forgotten that helium expands as atmospheric pressure lowers at higher altitudes, and the original balloons had exploded, startlingly, over Midtown. 

A charmless Captain Nemo on hooved feet floats down the Avenue in 1929. In the early years of the Parade the balloons all had a strange, surrealistic appearance.

For 1929, Sarg designed the balloons with a high altitude pressure valve. This allowed the helium to vent, and the balloons were anticipated to return safely to earth. Each balloon was printed with instructions asking the finder to return the balloon to Macy*s postage paid by the store, and offered a small honorarium for doing so. As the Great Depression had just begun, the honorarium, however small, was thought to be an incentive to return the balloons.

Unfortunately, this plan did not work out so well. A number of the balloons came down as planned, but were snagged in trees, on rooftops, or on chimneytops, and were torn, or were shredded by the wind, or were damaged during recovery by their well-meaning finders. Other balloons simply vanished: A few probably floated out over the Atlantic and fell into the sea; and undoubtedly, one or two became the found property of souvenir hunters. Not one usable balloon was returned to Macy*s. 

Having lost the giant balloons two years in a row, Macy*s decided in the future to forego the dramatic and popular balloon release ceremony, and focused its attention on making the arrival of Santa Claus the ultimate point of the Parade.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"Cut . . . and print!"

Location:  The Five Boroughs
Year:   Annually

There are over 40,000 location shoots per year on the streets of New York City,  including commercials, feature films, television shows, music videos and documentaries.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"The Hole"

Location:   Ozone Park, Queens
Year:  Whenever!

"The Hole" is a run-down area in Ozone Park, in the Borough of Queens. Low-lying, and lacking sewers, The Hole routinely floods after any heavy rain. Flooding is so common in this area of New York City that the residents own boats to move around locally. 

The Hole was also notorious for years (and still is) as a dumping ground for bodies. John Gotti, "The Teflon Don" of the Gambino Crime Family preferred The Hole as the Family's potter's field for whacked mobsters.

On March 18, 1980, Gotti's youngest son Frank, aged 12, was killed when he rode his motorbike into the path of an oncoming car. The unlucky driver, John Favara (who was not part of the rackets) soon after disappeared. When investigators searched The Hole for his remains they found the corpses of dozens of missing men. Favara's death ultimately caused Gotti's downfall, since other mobsters decided that Gotti, having killed a "civilian," was too bloodthirsty to remain in power, and he was ratted out by his own men. Gotti died in prison in 2002.

When the area floods, corpses are still occasionally washed from their shallow graves. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

City of Immigrants

Location:   New York City
Year:   2014

There are 800 languages spoken daily in New York City, making it the most linguistically diverse city on earth.  New York City has the largest Chinese population of any city outside of Asia. New York also has the largest Puerto Rican population of any city in the world.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

"The Howard Stern Bill"

Location:   New York State
Year:   1994

Howard Stern ran for Governor of New York in 1994 promising to limit road work to night hours. He eventually withdrew, but later that year, "The Howard Stern Bill" was signed into law which limited road construction in New York City and Long Island to night hours. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Westminster Kennel Club

Location:   Manhattan
Year:   Early 1876

The Westminster Kennel Club, America's premier forum for Show Dogs, is founded by a group of sporting young swells gathered together and talking about their favorite dogs over drinks. They name their group "Westminster" after their favorite New York hotel;  but the first organized dog show of the WKC is held in Philadelphia in July as part of the nation's Centennial celebration. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Having a blast at the Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Location:   Herald Square
Year:   1927

In 1927, as part of its third annual Thanksgiving Day Parade (oddly enough called the "Christmas Day Parade" in its early years), Macy*s asked the creator of Macy*s Christmas windows, Tony Sarg, to design giant balloons to capture the crowd's fancy.  Filled with helium, Sarg's first designs --- Felix The Cat, a dragon, an elephant, and a toy soldier --- were a huge success, and the balloons became the signature pieces of  the parade. The initial parades also featured live circus animals.

Sarg's original balloons were released into the sky at the parade's end, and startled everyone when they exploded over Manhattan. Sarg and his assistants had forgotten that helium expands at high altitudes.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges, or churches, or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors, but always most in the common people."

Location:   West Hills, New York
Year:   1810

One of America's greatest poets, Walt Whitman, was born in the village of West Hills near Huntington in 1819. The house Whitman was born in was built by Whitman's father in 1810, and is one of the few remaining examples of Long Island colloquial architecture. 

The house became a New York State Historic Site in 1957, and a National Historic Site (and listed on the National Register of Historic Places) in 1985. thus saving the house from the ever more-densely crammed reality of Long Island. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bungalow Bar

Location:   Four of the Five Boroughs
Year:   1940s-1960s

Bungalow Bar, founded by a Greek immigrant family, was a brand of ice cream sold from trucks to consumers --- mostly children --- on the streets in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens Staten Island and The Bronx, as well as in Yonkers and Nassau County during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. 

Bungalow Bar trucks had a distinctive, quaint, and decidedly old-fashioned look: white, with rounded corners, and made to look like a small, mobile bungalow topped with a dark brown shingle roof. Good Humor's trucks appeared larger, more angular, and more modern. 

Perhaps for this reason, Bungalow Bar suffered from a terrible --- and completely undeserved --- reputation among children, who believed the product inferior. This reputation was not helped by Bungalow Bar's prices which were half of Good Humor's. Children mocked Bungalow Bar with a rhyme that had many neighborhood variations:
Bungalow Bar
Tastes like tar
Put it in a jar

And throw it far
in Flatbush, Brooklyn; and
Bungalow Bar
Tastes like tar
The more you eat

The sicker you are
in Queens; and another, from the Bushwick section of Brooklyn:
Bungalow Bar
Tastes like tar
Take a bite

And spit it far

Bungalow Bar, just like Good Humor, went out of business when the price of gasoline rose dramatically in 1973. Without a national presence in stores, Bungalow Bar vanished completely.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Panorama of The City of New York

Location:   The Queens Museum
Year:   1964

The Panorama of the City of New York is the jewel in the crown of the collection of the Queens Museum and a locus of memory for visitors from all over the globe. Conceived as a celebration of the City’s municipal infrastructure by urban mastermind and World’s Fair President Robert Moses for the 1964 Fair, the Panorama was built by a team of more than 100 people working for the great architectural model makers Raymond Lester & Associates over the course of three years.

Comprising an area of 9,335 square feet and built to a scale of 1:1200 where one inch equals 100 feet, the Panorama is a metropolis in miniature. Each of the city’s 895,000 buildings constructed prior to 1992 and every street, park and some 100 bridges are represented and assembled onto 273 individual sections comprising the 320 square miles of New York City. In this miraculously scaled cityscape, the borough of Manhattan measures a seemingly vast 70 x 15 feet and the Empire State Building is a towering 15 inches tall while the Statue of Liberty is only 1-7/8 inches in height. Long Island and New Jersey peek onto the model as black shadowy masses to the east and west.

The Underground Home

Year:   1964
Location:   Flushing Meadow Park, Queens

One of the oddest and least seen exhibits at the World's Fair of 1964-65 was the "Underground Home" a modular, fully-functional subterranean residence. Designed by a Texas builder named Jay Swayze in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Underground Home was designed to protect families from the aftermath of an atomic attack. Swayze included grow lights in the Underground Home so that residents could have live plants, though the model was decorated with both real and silk plants. Small, invisible and expensive, the Underground Home was affordable only by a few wealthier Americans, though Swayze claimed to have 516,000 orders on the books (he also claimed that over a million people had toured his exhibit, an impossibility given its size versus the length of the Fair).  Although the Underground Home was a bust in 1965, Swayze resurrected the idea in 1980 when Ronald Reagan became President.  The fall of the Soviet empire finally put paid to the Underground Home, though a few remain spotted around the country, true architectural oddities.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Secret of Silver Street

Location:   Patchogue, New York
Year:   After 1945

William Patrick Hitler (1911-1987), who Adolf Hitler called, "My loathsome nephew,"  was the son of Alois Hitler Jr., Adolf Hitler's half-brother.

"Willy" Hitler was born in 1911 in Liverpool. During the prewar years of National Socialist Germany, Willy lived high off the Nazi hog, using his family connections to live the life of a playboy, carousing with showgirls, drinking heavily, cadging money from high Nazi officials, driving the most expensive German automobiles which he got for free, and generally making a high-profile pest of himself to his totalitarian uncle, who seemed to be powerless to stop him. According to many sources, Willy knew a family secret --- and Der Fuhrer was terrified that he might spill the beans.   

As the clouds of war gathered over Europe, Willy returned to England, arriving there in 1939. Again, he capitalized on his family connection, working for MI-6 and doing anti-Nazi propaganda spots for public broadcast. 

After a brief time in Britain, Willy moved to New York City. Again, he used his name to work for the State Department, feeding information to the American government.  

After 1945, Willy changed his name to "Patrick _______________" (the family's new last name is closely-kept information), and moved from New York City out to Patchogue on Long Island, where he bought an unobtrusive house on Silver Street. He kept a low profile, though he spoke German at home with his family (oddly enough, as he had been raised by his English mother in Liverpool). A few of the neighbors noted "Patty"'s distinct resemblance to Adolf Hitler, but no one knew him as anything but Patty who kept very much to himself/  Perhaps a little "Boys From Brazil"-like, Patty ran a small business out of his house --- doing blood tests. 

He married and raised four Baby Boomer sons with a passion for The Beatles, named Alexander, Louis, Howard and Brian, before he died in 1987 at age 76.

Howard died in a car accident in 1989. The other brothers continued low-profile jobs, Alexander as a social worker, Louis and Brian with their own landscaping business.  None of them have children. They are the last members of Adolf Hitler's paternal bloodline.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Battle of Oriskany

Year:   1777
 Location:   Oriskany, New York 

The Battle of Oriskany, fought on August 6, 1777, is remembered as the bloodiest battle of the American Revolution. 

A Patriot force of 800 men, made up of the Tryon County Militia and Oneida warriors under the command of General Nicholas Herkimer attempted to relieve isolated and threatened Fort Stanwix. 

Herkimer had not wanted to fight. An experienced soldier, he realized that the County Militiamen were inexperienced and ill-trained, and he feared disaster at the hands of the enemy, who had received weapons and training from the British. Several of his subordinates accused him of cowardice, so, stung, he chose to lead the relief column. 

Herkimer's men were ambushed and defeated by a combined force of Loyalist Militia, Mohawks, Senecas  and other allies of several non-Haudenosaunee Native American tribes, numbering about 500 men. The commander of the Loyalist forces was Leftenant Colonel Barry St. Leger, whose Adjutant was General Herkimer's own brother. 

This was one the few battles in the war in which almost all of the participants were North Americans; no overseas British troops or officers were involved.  Indeed, the Battle of Oriskany was effectively a Civil War, with members of the Six Nations tribes fighting on both sides and Loyalist and Patriot friends, neighbors, and family bearing arms against each other.  

The Loyalists ambushed the Patriots in a small valley about six miles east of Fort Stanwix, near the present-day village of Oriskany, along a stream known today as "Bloody Creek." Bloody Creek has a steep and narrow valley, but the valley was the easiest path through the heavily wooded and tumbled area. Thus, the Patriots were bottlenecked in the valley when the ambush occurred. Herkimer, who was leading the force, was shot from his horse, and died two days later.

The Seneca war chiefs
Sayenqueraghta and Cornplanter led the first assault along with the famed Mohawk war chief known as Joseph Brant.   

In the resulting confusion, numbers of Patriots tried to flee, only to be cut down by Loyalist troops. The Patriot force lost 500 of its 800 men. The Loyalists lost 150 of 500, mostly Native Americans.   The battle turned however, when a raiding force from Fort Stanwix, hearing the nearby gunfire, arrived and scattered the pro-British forces. Thus, despite the losses, Oriskany is accounted an American victory.  

The Battle of Oriskany led to the shattering of the Iroquois Confederacy, a result which strengthened the American position. 

The area around Fort Stanwix itself was not pacified until mid-August, when a large contingent of Continental troops under General Benedict Arnold arrived to reinforce the fort.