Monday, April 23, 2012

St. Patrick's Day

Some of the honored guests.
St. Patrick
My window painting.
Well, St. Patrick's Day arrived once again and that means another fine day for marching in the parade.  Plus, since I painted the windows of the local bar I got to drink for free that day.  I've found St. Patrick's Day to be kind of tiring, I'm on my feet the whole day, walking down to the parade, walking up Fifth Avenue, walking back, and then standing in a bar.  Most bars clear the chairs away to make room for the crowds, so needless to say, my dog's are barking by the time St. Patrick's Day is over. 

Supposedly, the custom of imbibing alcohol on St. Patrick's Day comes from an old Irish legend. As the story goes, St. Patrick was served a measure of whiskey that was considerably less than full. St. Patrick took this as an opportunity to teach a lesson of generosity to the innkeeper. He told the innkeeper that in his cellar resided a monstrous devil who fed on the dishonesty of the innkeeper. In order to banish the devil, the man must change his ways. When St. Patrick returned to the hostelry some time later, he found the owner generously filling the patrons' glasses to overflowing. He returned to the cellar with the innkeeper and found the devil emaciated from the landlord's generosity, and promptly banished the demon, proclaiming thereafter everyone should have a drop of the "hard stuff" on his feast day.  And here I was thinking that it was just an excuse to indulge in an unflattering Irish stereotype. 

All in all, it was a great day for the Irish ... again!  Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Brooklyn Bridge

The bridge looking from Manhattan.

The Brooklyn-side arch.
Construction of the bridge being covered in the April 28, 1883 edition of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is a very popular New York City tradition that I decided to take upon myself recently.  I had done it a number of times in the past, the first times while living near it in Brooklyn Heights in the summer of 2003.  One can walk across any of the bridges that go across the East River, but the Brooklyn Bridge is the nice one.  I walked across the Manhattan Bridge once a couple of years ago, and the small path that ran along all the rumbling trains going back and forth was not a very serene experience.  But the walking path that runs above vehicular traffic and below two of the most recognizable arches in the world has made it easy and pleasant for the pedestrian to walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back again. 

The bridge was designed by prominent 19th-century German suspension-bridge designer John Augustus Roebling, who suffered an injury when his foot was crushed by an incoming ferry.  His toes had to be amputated, but not even this prevented his wounds from getting infected and leading him to become bed-ridden and die shortly thereafter.  His son Washington oversaw the completion of the bridge, but also soon suffered from caisson disease, making it unable for him to supervise construction first-hand.  His wife Emily then took over, and helped deliver important messages from the engineers to her bed-ridden husband.  Despite some doubt that it would ever happen, the bridge opened on May 24, 1883, when U.S. President Chester A. Arthur and New York Mayor Franklin Edison walked across the bridge to greet Brooklyn Mayor Seth Lowe at the Brooklyn-side tower.  Six days later, a panic occurred that killed six people when a rumor started to spread that the bridge was going to collapse, but P.T. Barnum squelched all rumors of the bridge's instability when he led a parade across it with Jumbo, one of his most prized attractions, and twenty-one other elephants. 

I first walked across the bridge when I was living in the Brooklyn Heights area almost nine years ago.  The old wooden beams of the walkway are a little off-setting at first since you can see down to the speeding cars below, but they are pretty sturdy, as proven from the millions of people who walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back again each year.  It's those bicyclists you need to look out for!  Whether your on bike or on foot, just be sure to stay in your lane and check out this staple of New York City tradition.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Ticker-Tape Parade

A number of these signs were hung outside Trinity Church.
Another shot of the parade for Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969.
The parade for the 1996 World Series-winning Yankees.
New Yorkers welcome back the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969.
The dedication of the Statue of Liberty launched the first parade in 1886.
Giants Eli Manning and Justin Tuck this year, with Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo in the background.
Another Yankees parade up Broadway.
A marker on Broadway for the 1952 U.S. Olympic Team's parade.
A marker on Broadway for Queen Juliana's parade in April 1952.
Recently, in case you hadn't heard, the New York Giants won the Superbowl, and that meant it was time for a ticker-tape parade up lower Broadway, or as the city likes to call it, "The Canyon of Heroes".  Originally using ticker-tape, the long, narrow paper once used by brokerage firms to print out up-to-date stock market quotes, these parades now generally use shredded scrap office paper and confetti distributed by the city.  I even saw a couple rolls of toilet paper being thrown around.  If you ask me, it's not quite the same.  Ticker-tape parades, a tradition often associated with the city, now seem to be almost entirely reserved for winning sports teams, but in the nineteenth and early twentieth century they marked a much broader variety of special occasions.  In fact, the city commemorates each parade in the concrete up Broadway from Bowling Green up to St. Paul's Chapel.

The very first ticker-tape parade was an impromptu event held on October 28, 1886, in honor of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.  "Every window appeared to be a paper mill spouting out squirming lines of tape.  Such was Wall Street's novel celebration," reported the New York Times the following day.  The second one was held for the centenary of George Washington's inauguration, which also saw the dedication of the Washington Square Arch on Fifth Avenue and Seventh Street.  Not for another ten years was the third parade held, this time for Admiral George Dewey and his destruction of the Spanish fleet at Manilla Bay.  He, as well, was given an arch in his honor on Broadway between Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth Street, but it was quickly dismantled due to his rapid decline in popularity.  After  a parade in 1910 for Theodore Roosevelt on his return from his African Safari, and one in 1919 for General Pershing following the end of World War I, parades were basically thrown for any visiting foreign dignitary.  King Albert and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, the future Edward VIII of the U.K. while he was Prince of Wales, Albert Einstein (the only scientist to receive such an honor), former British Prime Minister David Loyd George, Crown Prince Gustav Adolf and Crown Princess Louise of Sweden, and W.T. Cosgrave of the Irish Free State all received parades while visiting.  In the late twenties, Charles Lindbergh, Richard Byrd and Baron von Hunefeld were all given parades to honor their trans-Atlantic flights.
Recently, however, it has become almost exclusively the domain of championship sports teams.  A couple of former co-workers of mine who worked at Fred Alger Management while it was located in the Twin Towers remembered how a parade for the Yankees in October became almost routine in the late nineties.  The city's most recent parade was actually my first.  I've got to admit, it wasn't exactly my cup of tea.  It was too crowded and too out of control.  I could barely walk down the street among all the loud-mouthed drunks.  Maybe I'm getting too old for this kind of stuff, but I've got to admit I wouldn't have liked it ten years ago either.

Now there are many calls to have a ticker-tape parade up lower Broadway for the Iraq War veterans.  It sounds good to me, and with these parades only being given for sports teams nowadays, it would be a return to a more traditional group of honorees.  I've been experimenting with my new video camera, so below is a video I took of some of the festivities.  It's mostly surrounding buildings and the backs of a few heads, and the pastor of trinity church on a ladder, blessing the crowd with incense.  Not the best video in the world, but hey, I'm working on it!

Sunday, January 22, 2012


McSorley's today.
McSorley's in the 1940s.
The interior in the 1940s.
Wonder Woman demands a drink in 1970.
John Sloane's sketch from 1913.
Woody Guthrie performing in McSorley's in 1943.
St. Patrick's Day 1943 at McSorley's.
The first time I walked into McSorley's Old Ale House and asked for a bottle of Bud was years ago and I was informed that they only sold their own ale.  As a matter of fact, McSorley's has only sold it's own ale since it opened it's doors in 1854.  As another matter of fact, the one big change that did take place required a decision from the Supreme Court, that being the admittance women.  The feminist landmark decision forced the bar to finally install a female rest room by 1986, but other than that little has changed.  Nothing has been removed from the walls since 1910, and souveniers from visitors past include handcuffs from Harry Houdini, a chair that Abraham Lincoln sat in when he visited in 1859, and wish bones left by soldiers during World War I.  Those wishbones that remain are of soldiers who never returned to take them back.

A loyal patron who was interviewed by the New York Times in 1913 had this to say:  "Somewhere below Fourteenth Street is a tavern of individuality.  I won't locate it any more definitely, because the circle of congenial souls who frequent it would never forgive me.  It would be spoiled for them if the crowds started going there."  Well, that's gone out the window!  Nowadays, McSorley's is one of the most touristy places in the city, always crowded, and over the years it's regulars have included Babe Ruth, Woody Guthrie and John Lennon.  But I've got to give them credit, despite everything that's changed around them, the owners of McSorley's have worked hard to stay true to their roots as much as possible. 

Joseph Mitchell, the long-time writer for the New Yorker who wrote a number of human interest stories about the more colorful characters in the city, wrote a great account of the old ale house in 1940 entitled "The Old House at Home", part of a collection of short stories entitled "McSorley's Wonderful Saloon".  It is named for the bar's original name, which it kept from it's opening in 1854 until 1908, and describes old John McSorley, who drank steadily from the age of twenty to fifty-four, but abstained for the last thirty-two years of his life saying that he had "had his fill".  Other than a brief experiment with spirits for a few months in 1905, John believed that all a man needed in life was a strong glass of ale.  He was a big eater, cooking a three pound t-bone steak every night after closing and eating onions like apples -- the stronger the better.  His motto was, "Good ale, raw onions, and no ladies", believing that men could never drink with civility in the company of women, and when Mitchell wrote his article in 1940, he described the majority of the clientele as old men who had drank their since they were young, and were now pretty much alone in the world.  They were retired, living off small pensions, spending their days at the bar and their nights sleeping in flophouses on the Bowery.

A case that went all the way to the Supreme Court forced the bar to break with it's most famous tradition and allow women to drink their in 1970.  And by the '90s, they introduced their first female bartender, a daughter of the current owner, much to the chagrin of some traditionalists.  If you get their early enough in the day and grab a table with your friends by the pot belly stove, it's a memorable experience of drinking ale served two mugs at a time and eating their signature dish of crackers, cheese and raw onions.