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.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A shallow and warm sea

Location:   Upstate New York
Year:   circa 400,000,000 million years ago

While New York State is not a treasure house of dinosaur fossils it is a treasure house of early marine fossils predating the Mesozoic Era. During the time before the dinosaurs New York was covered, uncovered, covered again, uncovered again, and covered yet again by a succession of shallow seas teeming with various forms of life. As the advance and retreat of these seas took millions of years, multiple layers of the flora and fauna of these successive eras may be found within New York State's boundaries. 


The seas that covered New York State contained vast coral reefs and submarine thickets of sea lilies that provided homes for armored squid and giant sea scorpions (the official State Fossil). Trilobites in their thousands of subspecies teemed in these warm water oceans.  The author Mark Twain collected brachiopods (sometimes called butterfly stones) on his Elmira farm. 


Upstate is so rich with fossil remains that a 19th Century survey of New York State fossils by James Hall, the first State Paleontologist, ran to 13 large volumes.

Armored squid by splat1347

Friday, July 18, 2014


Location:   Ludlow Street and Houston Street, Manhattan
Year:   1888

Katz's Delicatessen is a kosher style restaurant located at 205 Houston Street on the Lower East Side. The word delicatessen is a portmanteau word invented by Jewish immigrants from the English word delicacy and the Yiddish/German word essen, to eat. 

Katz's is most famous for its stuffed Pastrami sandwiches on rye. Pastrami  (פּאַסטראָמע) is a popular delicatessen meat usually made from beef brisket spiced with garlic, coriander, black pepper, paprika, cloves, allspice, and mustard seed. Just like corned beef, pastrami was originally created as a way to preserve meat before modern refrigeration.

Pastrami was brought to the United States by Jewish immigrants from the Balkans, and was originally a Turkish dish.  

New York’s Sussman Volk is generally credited with producing the first pastrami sandwich in 1887. Volk, a kosher butcher and New York immigrant from Lithuania, claimed he got the recipe from a Romanian friend. 

Volk prepared pastrami according to the recipe and served it on sandwiches out of his butcher shop. The sandwich was so popular that Volk converted the butcher shop into a restaurant to sell pastrami sandwiches. Soon enough, Volk had competition. The Iceland brothers opened their pastrami delicatessen in 1888, and not long after partnered with the Katzs, who bought them out in 1892. 

Katz's originally stood across the street, but the construction of the subway system necessitated a move in the late 19th Century. The original entrance was on Ludlow Street. Since its founding, it has become world famous among locals and tourists alike for its pastrami sandwiches and hot dogs, both of which are widely considered among New York's best. 


Each week, Katz's serves 10,000 pounds of pastrami, 5,000 pounds of corned beef, 2,000 pounds of salami and 12,000 hot dogs. During World War II, Katz's began the tradition of charging a special reduced rate for servicemen's families. Katz's would then ship it's cured meats overseas to U.S. duty stations. It's famous slogan is, "Send a salami to your boy in the Army," which more or less rhymes on the Lower East Side. 

Who first put pastrami on rye is unknown, and who added a side of cole slaw is also unknown, but this combination has become the "classic" New York pastrami sandwich. Another variation is the "Rachel," which adds Russian dressing and sauerkraut to the mix, as opposed to a corned beef-based "Reuben."   

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Death of a President

Location:   Buffalo, New York
Year:   1901 

The last photo taken of President McKinley, taken as he arrived at the Temple of Music. Note the lack of a bodyguard.

William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, was shot and fatally wounded on September 6, 1901 inside the Temple of Music on the grounds of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. 

The death of President McKinley

McKinley was shaking hands with the public when he was shot by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist. The President died on September 14 from gangrene caused by the bullet wound to his abdomen.

Leon Czolgosz, self-styled anarchist. Czolgosz was never clear on the reason for the shooting. After his execution, carbolic acid was poured into his grave to dissolve his body.

McKinley initially appeared to be recovering, but took a turn for the worse on September 13, and died early the next morning at the Milburn House in Buffalo. 

Milburn House, circa 1901

Vice President Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office at the Milburn House where he had come to see McKinley, and succeeded him in the White House. 

Theodore Roosevelt
After McKinley's murder, for which Czolgosz was put to death in the electric chair, the United States Congress passed legislation to officially charge the Secret Service with the responsibility for protecting the president.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Simple-Minded Fools"

Location:   New York City
Year:   November 11, 1807

Washington Irving was the first person to call New York City "Gotham." 

Irving lifted the name from a medieval English story of a town named Gotham which meant "Goat’s Town" and was populated by "simple-minded fools."

The reference first appeared in Irving's satire magazine Salmagundi, which was similar to today's Mad Magazine.

The Jupiter

Location:   Schenectady
Year:   1868

The Jupiter (Central Pacific Railroad Locomotive #60) was a steam locomotive which made history as one of the two locomotives (the other being the Union Pacific's No. 119) to meet at Promontory Summit, Utah on May 10, 1869 during the Golden Spike ceremony commemorating the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

The Golden Spike ceremony. Jupiter is to the left.

The Jupiter was built in September 1868 by the Schenectady Locomotive Works of New York, along with three other engines, #61 (Storm), #62 (Whirlwind), and # 63 (Leviathan). All four engines were dismantled and sailed 'round the Horn to San Francisco, where they were loaded onto a river barge and sent to the Central Pacific headquarters in Sacramento, then reassembled and commissioned into service on March 20, 1869.

The Jupiter was a wood burning locomotive. The distinctive conical chimney, known as a 'balloon stack', contained a spark arrestor.

The ceremony, as seen from Jupiter's cab. The spark arrestor is clearly visible inside the balloon stack

The Jupiter was not the locomotive originally scheduled to appear at Promontory Point. This honor was to go to the Antelope, which was damaged in transit. Jupiter, the following train, was pressed into service.  

It took many years for the Central Pacific Railroad to appreciate the Jupiter. The original Jupiter was scrapped in 1909, much to the later chagrin of the company, who found the brightly colored locomotive in demand for appearances on holidays and commemorative events. 

The replica locomotives at Last Spike National Historic Site

Other Nineteenth Century 4-4-0 locomotives (the number refers to the front, center and rear wheel arrangement of a locomotive) were repainted in the Jupiter's distinctive livery and exhibited in its stead until an identical replica was built in 1979, 70 years after the original was scrapped.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"The House of Death"

Location:   Greenwich Village
Year:   1850

New York City's most haunted house, the "House of Death" at 14 West 10th Street is supposedly haunted by 22 ghosts, the most famous of which is Mark Twain, who resided there from 1900-1901.

A Greek Revival brownstone, “Number 14″  was home to many members of New York’s elite, including Mrs. James Boorman Johnston whose husband had been a founding member of the Underground Railroad.

In 1900, the building became the residence of author Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain). Sightings of Twain decked in a white suit have been reported on the first floor and near the staircase. In the 1930s, a mother and daughter claimed to have encountered the author sitting near a window where he stated, “My name is Clemens and I has a problem here I gotta settle.” He disappeared moments later.

The house has been visited by multiple paranormal investigators who claim to have sensed the presence of a lady in white, a young child, and a gray cat. Tragically, the brownstone was home to a real life demon named Joel Steinberg. Steinberg was charged with first-degree manslaughter for beating his 6-year old daughter to death in 1987.    

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Original Kazoo Company

Location:   Eden, New York
Year:   1916

The Original Kazoo Company in Eden, New York is the original kazoo company. 

The same belt and pulley machines that stamped and shaped the world's first metal kazoos in 1916 still stamp and shape kazoos today.  The finished product hasn't changed, either. The palm-sized, submarine-shaped musical instrument still makes a tinny vibration when someone hums into it.

The factory floor is now more a working museum than manufacturing facility. The plant, in a small corn farming community not far from Buffalo, opened in 1907 as a sheet metal workshop, producing stove and furnace parts and peanut vending machines. It began making kazoos in 1916 after its owner was approached about creating a metal version of the wooden instrument that had been around since the 1840s. Nothing much has changed since then, except the ownership.  Today, the site is operated by Suburban Adult Services Inc., a nonprofit organization serving mentally and physically disabled adults. As part of the acquisition deal, the original factory stayed in Eden and makes and sells 5,000 standard kazoos a year aside from the kazoo trumpets, french horn kazoos, trombone kazoos and other specialty kazoos it creates there.

The kazoo is believed to be the only musical instrument to be invented and produced in the United States. Today, the Eden factory produces the only American-made metal version. The most popular kazoo songs are Old MacDonald Had a Farm, I've Been Working on the Railroad, and Jingle Bells

OOF Hall

Location:   Manhattan
Year:   1819

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) is a U.S. fraternal organization based upon the Order of Odd Fellows (OOF) established in Great Britain in the 1700s. The IOOF was the first Fraternal Brotherhood to admit women, in 1851. 

Lodge degrees and activities aim to improve and elevate every person to a higher, nobler plane; to extend sympathy and aid to those in need, making their burdens lighter, relieving the darkness of despair; to war against vice in every form, and to be a great moral power and influence for the good of humanity.

Teachings in the Order are conducted through the exemplification of the Degrees of membership. The Degrees are conferred on the candidate by their Lodge, and are teachings of principles and truths by ceremonies and symbols. The Degrees are presented largely by means of allegory and drama. For Odd Fellows, the degrees in Odd Fellowship emphasizes a leaving of the old life and the start of a better one, of welcoming travelers, and of helping those in need.

The original Odd Fellows Hall in New York was built in 1847, in an Italianate style popular at the time. It stands at 165-171 Grand Street between Centre and Baxter Streets, on the northern border of Little Italy. Used by the Odd Fellows until the 1880s, the Hall moved uptown as the city grew, and the building was put to other uses. It is now a residential condominium.

Saturday, July 5, 2014


Location:   New York City
Year:   1928

New York City has always been famous for its Mayors. There have been 114 of them, all male, including acting Mayors, since 1666. 

The various "Hizzoner"s, as they are always called, have run the gamut from the reform-minded William Strong and Seth Low of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries to the angelic such as Fiorello LaGuardia, to the incompetent such as Abe Beame and David Dinkins of the late 20th Century, to the dramatic such as John Lindsay and Edward Koch, to the politically corrupt, such as Fernando Wood and Jimmy Walker. Running a city with a greater population than most of the States even today takes a certain charisma and unchallenged ownership of brass hardware.  

Walker is a case in point. The popular Mayor ran the city with a maximum of corruption and a maximum of dash during the Roaring Twenties --- one might say they might not have roared so loudly but for "Beau James", who enjoyed violating the Volstead Act many times daily, loved being in front of news cameras, and made a point of consorting with fan dancers and burlesque girls. When (later Mayor) La Guardia criticized Walker for giving himself a raise in pay from $25,000 to $40,000, Walker's laughing and effectively neutralizing response was simply to raise his hands in mock astonishment and declare, "Why, that's cheap! Think what it would cost if I worked full time!"

Friday, July 4, 2014

"God Bless America"

Location:   Yaphank, New York
Year:   1918

"God Bless America" was written by an immigrant tunesmith, Israel Balin, better known as Irving Berlin, in 1918 during the First World War. The song was written for a musical revue called "Yip, Yap Yaphank" that was being staged by the soldiers serving at Camp Yaphank (later Camp Upton), where Berlin himself was stationed. 

Too serious for a comedy show, Berlin did not publish the song until 1938, just as new storm clouds descended upon Europe with the advent of World War II. Kate Smith, who was known for her energetic singing style, made "God Bless America" into her personal signature number. 

There have been many calls to turn "God Bless  America" into the new, or at least the alternate, National Anthem.

"God Bless America" has been  associated with liberal causes and the expansion of American civil rights throughout its history, as Berlin himself believed in. As a youngster, his family had fled religious persecution in Tsarist Russia.

Beginning in the 1990s, the song has become increasingly and inappropriately associated with Christian conservatives and Tea Party members who have no idea what the song celebrates.

It is important to remember that this song was written by a man fleeing persecution, and is intended as a musical honorarium to the freedoms he found in the United States. Many among America's Right Wing have shown that they will steal, co-opt and pervert anything, including your freedoms as an American
(though not their own) , in order to pursue their bizarre social agenda, cloaking the worst anti-Americanism in the Stars and Stripes.

May Kate Smith sit on them . . . and may God bless America!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Poe Cottage

Location:   The Grand Concourse in The Bronx
Year:   1846-1849

After leaving Greenwich Village in 1846, Edgar Allan Poe and his family rented a small cottage in the rural village of Fordham in what is now the Bronx. Poe lived in this little cottage for the rest of his life. Poe Cottage is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The cottage itself dates from 1797.

The house originally sat on two acres of land and Poe paid five dollars per month in rent. It is comprised of a dowmstairs kitchen, a tiny sitting room and a porch on the first floor, and two small bedrooms and a study upstairs. In this home, Poe wrote the poem "Annabel Lee" while the family cat sat on his shoulder. 

His wife Virginia died in the cottage's first floor bedroom on January 30, 1847. Poe himself died on October 7, 1849, while in Baltimore on business.

Poe Cottage today

The Faux Poe House

Location:   Greenwich Village
Year:   1844-1846

Edgar Allan Poe lived at 85 West Third Street in Greenwich Village from 1844 to the early months of 1846 before moving to a cottage in Fordham in The Bronx. Poe wrote and revised and published "The Raven" during his time on Third Street. 

Poe's bedroom in the tiny, narrow house on West Third Street was a casketlike 9 1/2 feet wide. The original house was demolished by New York University in the year 2000 when they expanded Furman Hall. In a hideously clumsy attempt at "preservation" they added a facade to one part of Furman Hall that is "suggestive" (at a stretch) of the original 19th Century house. The facade covers a portion of Furman Hall that is a half a block away from the original structure. Only a few of the original exterior bricks were used to decorate the interior of the faux Poe house.    

The Poe House, before and after

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Haunted Firehouse

Location:   Greenwich Village
Year:   1906

84 West 3rd Street is the former Fire Patrol Station Number Two. Constructed in 1906, the building is said to be haunted by the ghost of an FDNY firefighter named Schwartz, who in 1930 hung himself from the rafters after he discovered his wife was cheating on him. 

After Schwartz's death, firefighters claimed to have heard strange noises and to have seen the shape of Schwartz suspended in midair. 

The old firehouse is now currently the private residence of CNN anchorman Anderson Cooper.