Archive for the ‘Holiday traditions’ Category

Halloween greetings from an older New York City

October 20, 2014

“The desire of young people to avail themselves of the Halloween idea with its funny and weird traditions has found many methods of expression in this city,” wrote the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1894.

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That year, Halloween parties were held in private homes, then dutifully written up, guest lists and all, in the Eagle.

SadiesmithhalloweenpartySocials featuring dancing and apple-diving, singing, and midnight flute-playing were organized, according to the Eagle.

Halloween fever had swept the city and become a commercialized venture, the holiday’s religious undertones long gone, this 1908 Eagle Halloween ad from Brooklyn department store Loeser’s makes clear—with masks, lanterns, candy, and nuts all on sale.

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Trick or treating and the annual Halloween parade in the Village hadn’t yet become a tradition, of course. But sending Halloween greeting cards seems to have been super popular by the turn of the century.

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These sweetly spooky early 1900s Halloween cards come from the New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery. More cards can be found here.

The Labor Day parade hits Union Square in 1887

August 30, 2014

A contingent of tobacco workers packed into a horse-drawn wagon turn west through the north end of Union Square in this Labor Day parade photo from 1887.

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It’s another first New York City can lay claim to: the first Labor Day parade was organized by the Central Workers Union to show “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” in the city.

At the time this photo was taken, the parade is only five years old. But it caught on quick. By 1894, the nation begins to celebrate “National Labor Day” on the first Monday of September.

[Photo: MCNY Digital Gallery]

How to outsmart the heat in summer 1899

July 21, 2014

MCNYsodawateradToday we survive summer heat waves with air conditioning and gelato runs.

But the “can’t-get-aways” of the 19th century city had to rely on other ways to keep cool, reports this cheeky New York Times Illustrated Magazine article from July 23, 1899.

One tactic was to loiter near electric fans: in offices, barber shops, and restaurants.

“When [fan loiterers] find a fan that suits them they plant themselves, so to speak, and remain as long as possible in placid enjoyment of the breezes furnished by other people’s money,” wrote the Times.

Fountains, Madison Sq. Park on hot day

“Every proprietor of an electric fan becomes acquainted during the heated term with these electric fan fiends.”

Some people engaged in “violent exercise.” These are the “misguided people who, given a temperature of a hundred in the shade, will choose a century run on a bicycle as the most enjoyable way of passing the time.”

Golf, baseball, and tennis “also have their enthusiastic hot-weather devotees, as a visit to Central Park any afternoon will testify.”

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Socializing on a roof garden was an option, or heading to the mall at Central Park to hear free music, or splashing around “gleefully as dolphins” in the fountain at City Hall Park—though the latter was reserved for newsboys.

You could always catch a cool breeze by riding streetcars, transferring from car to car to the farthest and coolest parts of the city.

“The happiest man of the season is one who has just discovered that he can ride from the Battery up to Hastings-on-Hudson for 8 cents,” states the Times.

Streetcarnyc1906Then there was the “soda water habit,” which caused afflicted people to guzzle all kinds of creamy, bubbly concoctions and risk “dyspepsia.”

Finally, the article took New Yorkers to task for dressing inappropriately.

“Young professional men get an idea that dignity is a matter of dress, and go about on hot days wearing high silk hats and frock coats that give one a high fever only to look at them.

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“It is true that lanky young men with very lean calves affect knickerbockers in Summer, and stout elderly women appear in light, airy muslins that would be suitable for slender girls of sixteen, but beyond this, and the general appearance of straw hats and shirt waists, there are few indications in the dress of New Yorkers that Summer is with us.”

[Photos: soda water ad, NYPL; splashing in the fountain at Madison Square Park, LOC; the roof garden at the Ritz-Carlton, NYPL; a street car with open windows, NYPL; a free summer concert on the mall, NYC Parks Department]

These tenements are always ready for July 4th

July 3, 2014

The iconic New York City walkup comes in all colors . . . but these are the only two I’ve ever seen that show off the red, white, and blue.

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This one is across the street from the Port Authority on 42nd Street. It’s the longtime home of Kaufman Army Navy Store, opened in the 1940s.

Why the American flag colors? A descendant of the store’s founder had the facade painted in 1969 as a “nod to the tradition of patriotism of military surplus stores from the 1950s,” quotes the New York Times in this story about Kaufman’s.

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Not to be outdone, this tenement on Avenue B (aka, the “German Broadway”) and East Fourth Street wears its patriotic colors (plus a little gold) proudly.

Explaining Coney Island to the rest of the world

June 30, 2014

Much has been written about Coney Island, once just a thread of sandy beach supposedly named for its rabbit population (konij is Dutch for rabbit).

By the 1880s, of course, this little outpost had become Sodom by the Sea—a tawdry playground of hotels, pavilions, dime museums, freak shows, amusement parks, exotic animals, and more, all bathed in thousands of colored lights.

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The phenomenon that was Coney Island attracted hordes of working class New Yorkers as well as foreign journalists, who wrote articles attempting to explain Coney to curious readers outside New York City.

Lunapark1906These articles serve as an illuminating look at the spectacle that rose out of the sand in just a few short post-Civil War decades.

“Coney Island, one of the great resorts for the million, is reached from the foot of 23rd Street in about an hour,” wrote English novelist Mary Duffus Hardy in her account of traveling through the United States in 1881.

“A few years ago it was a mere wide waste of sand, and was bought by a clever speculator for a mere song; it is now worth millions of dollars, and is covered on all sides by a miscellaneous mass of buildings of all descriptions.

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“The hotels are crowded, every nook and corner of the island filled to overflowing during the season; the beach is covered with a lively mass of holiday-makers, all bent on enjoying themselves; gay bunting is flaunting and flying everywhere; musicians are hard at work, beating drums, scraping fiddles, and blowing trumpets, as though their very life depended on the noise they are making.

Coneyislandpaddlingmcny1896“Altogether, it is a gay, stirring scene. Coney Island is not a place where the fashionable or aristocratic multitude most do congregate; it is a rather fast, jolly, rollicking place, and serves its purpose well, as the health-breathing lungs of a great city. . .  .”

In a 1905 issue of The Cosmopolitan, another English writer, Richard Le Gallienne, explained Coney Island this way:

“If you are too superior to have your fortune told by some peasant woman who knows nothing about it, and knows that you know that she doesn’t—don’t go to Coney Island.

Coneyislandsurfave1896mcny“Coney Island exists, and will go on existing, because into all men, gentle and simple, poor and rich—including women—by some mysterious corybantic instinct in their blood, has been born a tragic need of coarse excitement, a craving to be taken in by some illusion however palpable.

“So, following the example of those old nations, whose place she has so vigorously taken, America has builded for herself a Palace of Illusion, and filled it with every species of talented attractive monster, every misbegotten fancy of the frenzied nerves, every fantastic marvel of the moonstruck brain—and she has called it Coney Island.

NY3DBox“Ironic name—a place lonely with rabbits, a spit of sandy beach so near to the simple life of the sea and watched over by the summer night; strange Isle of Monsters, Preposterous Palace of Illusion, gigantic parody of pleasure—Coney Island.”

For more on Coney Island in the late 19th century, and all the other resorts and pleasure gardens where New Yorkers spent their leisure time, read New York City in 3D in the Gilded Age.

[Photos: Top, New-York Historical Society; two through five: MCNY/Byron Collection]

High-school girls in 1910 celebrate Midsummer

June 23, 2014

New Yorkers in 2014 enjoyed the summer solstice by going to the Mermaid Parade, testing out the new roller coaster at Coney Island, and cruising on Citibikes.

In the 1910s, they did it by reviving an ancient holiday most commonly celebrated in northern Europe: Midsummer’s Day.

Midsummersdayfestival1911The idea of bringing back this once-popular summer event—a festival of food, dancing, and maypoles—began with a group of students from all-female Washington Irving High School on 15th Street and Irving Place.

WilliamgaynormayorThey decided that Midsummer’s Day should be celebrated in the modern city with a traditional folk festival, with Mayor William J. Gaynor (left) in attendance.

According to a New York Times article, six girls sent and signed this very fanciful, slightly hippie-ish letter to Mayor Gaynor:

“Whereas the great family known as the City of New York should, like other happy families, take part in the joys of its daughters, you, the honored father of the city, are advised that your girls are minded to meet you in the family garden, Pelham Bay Park, June 24, 1910, and to pay you filial respect, to entertain you with songs and games, and otherwise celebrate our family loyalty.”

MidsummerdayfestivalrelayMayor Gaynor, impressed with the idea, promised to bring his wife and enjoy a luncheon on the grass in the Bronx with 2,000 Washington Irving students, alumni, and family members.

After eating, a Midsummer procession was to occur. “Competitive songs and dances will follow, with the ancient midsummer torch race and other traditional games,” the Times wrote.

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I couldn’t find an account of how the Midsummer Day festival went off. And unfortunately, when it came time to do it again in 1911, the Mayor didn’t show, according to a 1911 Times article.

But thousands of Washington Irving girls did. These photos, from the Bain Collection of the Library of Congress, are from the June 24, 1911 festival.

When the circus thrilled at Bellevue Hospital

April 28, 2014

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus still comes into town every year. (And up until recently, by foot!)

But perhaps no one welcomed clowns, elephants, horses, and the rest of the dazzling show quite like the patients of Bellevue Hospital.

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From 1908 to the 1960s, the circus set up in the interior courtyard, where patients could watch the action in wheelchairs or stretchers from Victorian-era balconies.

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“It was a picturesque and unusual spectacle, that audience of patients in pink-striped hospital robes or in gray ones, with a nurse here and a doctor there, and crowds of little children—some touched by the great white plague, some little cripples, and some little convalescents,” wrote The New York Times during a 1912 performance.

CircusbellevuecloseupThat year, an audience of 600 witnessed the band, jugglers, acrobats, contortionists, and a “champion roper” who did “marvelous things with a lasso.”

By the 1950s, the audience numbered in the thousands.

In 1952, a Times reporter noted that on the day of that year’s scheduled show, “the marble corridors of the wards echoed with the chatter and rumble of prone-carts, wheelchairs, while nurses and attendants carried physically afflicted children and escorted adult patients to the temporary grandstands.”

CircusbellevueacrobatsBellevue discontinued the tradition in 1967, when the balconies were demolished for the construction of a modernized hospital building.

Ringling Brothers brought the tradition back in 2013, performing at Brooklyn Hospital Center before a show at the Barclays Center.

Colonial New York’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade

March 17, 2014

In the Fifth century, the British-born missionary known as St. Patrick began converting the Irish to Christianity.

In the 18th century, St. Patrick got his first parade—held not in Ireland but on the streets of lower Manhattan.

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[St. Patrick's Day in Union Square, 1874]

Depending on the source, it was either 1762 or 1766. The small celebratory march took place near City Hall on March 17, the feast day of St. Patrick. The parade was composed of Irish soldiers serving in the British Army in a pre-Revolutionary War city.

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[Marchers in the St. Patrick's Day Parade on Fifth Avenue in 1909, then below in 1913]

The marchers wore green (banned in Ireland at the time) and played bagpipes, just like today. “The tradition of a militia-sponsored event was continued until 1812, when Irish-American fraternal and benevolent societies assumed organizational responsibility, although soldiers continued to lead the march,” wrote The New York Times.

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As Irish immigrants poured into the city in the 1840s and 1850s following the potato famine, the parade swelled to massive proportions.

Through the 19th century, it followed a circuitous route from Second Avenue and 23rd Street down to City Hall, up Seventh Avenue, and back again to the East Side before ending a Cooper Union.

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[the parade in 1949 at St. Patrick's Cathedral]

“Mayor Abraham Oakey Hall (1868-1872) attended the festivities dressed in emerald-green coat and shirt, and facetiously insisted that his initials were short for “Ancient Order of Hibernians,” the Times wrote.

The Irish may have been unloved as an ethnic group, but vote-hungry politicians realized they couldn’t ignore the popular parade and began making appearances.

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[In 1956, these Irish wolfhounds were the mascots of New York's celebrated 69th Army Regiment, aka the "Fighting Irish"]

“In 1887, newly-elected mayor Abram Hewitt broke tradition by refusing to review the parade or fly the shamrock flag at City Hall, lecturing the city that ‘America should be governed by Americans.’ He was not reelected,” reported the Times.

By the middle of the 20th century, the parade featured close to 200,000 marchers and millions of spectators. Despite its reputation for rowdiness and controversy over who can march and who cannot, politicians continue to show up, Mayor de Blasio not withstanding.

All the ways New York celebrated the New Year

December 30, 2013

You could make the argument that New York practically invented, or at least modernized, the New Year holiday.

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It all started with the early Dutch settlers, who began the tradition of New Year’s calling: going around the colony “calling” on their friends and neighbors to wish them well in the coming year (and indulge in plenty of pipe-smoking and partying too).

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In the 19th century, New Year’s calling persisted, and bells would ring at midnight on January 1 at Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan.

By the 20th century, both traditions were replaced with something new: the dropping of an illuminated ball in Times Square starting on December 31, 1907.

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Gathering in restaurants and bars became popular, as this photo, dating to 1910-1915, shows. Prohibition would soon put a damper on that.

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The down and out weren’t excluded from welcoming the New Year. Here, men dine at a Salvation Army dinner sometime before 1920.

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In 1942, some Greenwich Village boys blow horns in front of Max Moscowitz’ clothing store, on Bleecker Street and Sixth Avenue.

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In 1956, Times Square was packing in what looks to be a mostly orderly crowd—even then, they must all be from out of town!

Spending Christmas 1971 at the Continental Baths

December 23, 2013

I wonder how many people actually spent December 25, 1970 taking in the scene inside the Upper West Side’s infamous Continental Baths?

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According to this Village Voice ad from December 23, “the world’s most liberated club” was hosting a special Christmas show (ladies admitted at 11:15!), and then a New Years’ celebration as well.

AnsoniahotelOpened in 1968 in the basement of the then-faded Ansonia Hotel (right) on West 74th Street, the Continental Baths was a “sexual Xanadu”—a place where gay men in towels could dance, socialize, and be entertained by not-yet-famous Bette Midler (and her piano player, Barry Manilow), Nell Carter, and Melba Moore.

The Baths operated until the mid-1970s, when it was rebranded as swingers’ paradise Plato’s Retreat. Perhaps they too had a Christmas Day special?

This New York magazine article from 1973 offers a detailed look inside “New York’s most Weimarian nightspot.”


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