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.