Archive for the ‘Holiday traditions’ Category

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.


[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.


[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.


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.


[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.


[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.


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).


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.


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


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


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


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?


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.”

Which city park hosted the first Christmas tree?

December 9, 2013

The honor goes to Madison Square Park, where on December 21, 1912 a 60-foot tree arrived on a truck from the Adironacks.


The enormous tree, raised and supported by a block of cement, was decorated with 1,200 colored lights (donated by the Edison Company).

ChristmastreemadsqlightsA  ceremony beside the tree on Christmas Eve attracted thousands and “cheered the lonely and destitute.”

“All around the park on every path, apparently unmindful of the cold, stood a reverential audience, cheering the music and praising the idea of a public Christmas tree, but not once growing boisturous in the smallest degree,” wrote The New York Times on Christmas Day.

Having a living room or parlor Christmas tree  was an established custom in the city. But a community tree outside in a park? That was a new idea.

Christmastreemadsqlights2“It is hoped by those who have worked for it and hope to personify in it the great Christmas spirit that the placing of a great outdoor Christmas tree may become a national custom, taking the place in America of the older customs of older lands,” stated The New York Times on December 21.

New Yorkers loved it. Pretty soon, Christmas trees became the norm in parks and squares.

[Photos: Bain News Service. They are not dated, but they seem to all show the same tree in Madison Square Park]

New York City pioneered so many emblems of the modern Christmas, like the custom of a holiday tree and the red-suited, white-bearded Santa Claus.

Where Brooklyn residents bought Christmas cards

November 28, 2013

Bought your holiday cards yet? This vintage Brooklyn business card is your reminder.

Sending Christmas greeting cards was apparently enough of a tradition in Brooklyn by the turn of the last century that stationery stores put them at the top of their list of amenities on business cards.


I wonder what “fringed” cards looked like. Too bad the S.H. Palmer & Company stationery store can’t tell us, because they’ve long closed up shop. The last address at 481 Fulton was a cell phone store.

This card is part of the wonderful Fulton Street Trade Card Collection at the Brooklyn Public Library.

A downtown club’s lineup in December 1985

September 16, 2013

Richard Lloyd, The Feelies, They Might Be Giants, Del Fuegos?

Looks like a decent lineup for the end of December 1985 at the Ritz, a club that occupied Webster Hall on East 11th Street from 1980 to 1989.


I’m not so sure about their New Year’s Eve lineup though. John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band had that one hit. And Soft White Underbelly . . . Blue Oyster Cult?


You could pick up tickets from Bleecker Bob’s on West Third Street—now closed, sadly.

[Both ads come from the Village Voice December 23, 1985]

Starlight Park: the Bronx’s answer to Coney Island

July 8, 2013

A century ago, Coney Island wasn’t the only game in town for thrilling rides and carnival magic.


Queens had Rockaways Playland, which bit the dust in 1985. Canarsie had Golden City, which closed in 1939.

StarlightparkdiveAnd the central Bronx had Starlight Park (above, in 1920), a wonderfully named destination on the Bronx River.

Opened in 1918, Starlight Park had everything Coney had bathing pavillions, a shooting gallery, a 15,000-seat stadium for the circus and other events, even a roller coaster.

“It had a big swimming pool with a sort of observation veranda alongside, a sandy ‘beach’ and lockers by the day or season,” stated a letter-writer responding to a New York Times article on the park from 1995. “It had a picnic grove.”

The park even sponsored a little culture for the masses, in the form of opera and big band shows.

Starlightparkcascade1921The stadium was home to the New York Giants soccer team, and a popular venue for amateur boxing and auto races.

Starlight Park only dazzled the Bronx for 14 years.

Closed in 1932, a fire burned down the bathing pavillions in the 1940s, after which the land became a parking lot and then a dumping ground.

Recently cleaned up, it just reopened as a traditional city park—part of the revitalized Bronx River Greenway.

[Photos: George Bain Collection, Library of Congress]

Fireworks at Union Square on July 4, 1876

July 4, 2013

Flags, crowds, and lots of pyrotechnics light up the night of America’s Centennial in Union Square.


The nation’s 100th birthday was honored with a parade that headed uptown on Broadway from Broome Street to 34th Street, at which point the procession went back downtown along Fifth Avenue to Union Square.

According to this New York Times article, 1,000 lanterns would be hung around trees in the park, gas jets would be turned on, and a 15-minute fireworks display would entertain crowds as music played.

[Image from the NYPL Digital Gallery]

An anonymous valentine sent to East 121st Street

February 13, 2013

I wonder who mailed this sweet yet message-less card to Miss Elsie Mangels, who apparently resided at 447 East 121st Street in February 1910?


Her residence looks like it no longer exists; a housing development and some empty lots occupy that address today.


The card comes from the New York Public Library’s digital collection—a treasure of old ephemera, including vintage Valentine cards.

Celebrating the Chinese New Year in 1911

February 9, 2013

ChinatownnewyearsIn an attempt to chronicle the Chinese New Year of 1896, a decade or so before this photo at left was taken, The New York Times came up with this:

“Chinatown was ablaze last evening. The streets and sidewalks were practically given up to the white barbarians to see how Chinamen could illuminate and decorate their dwelling places on special occasions to honor members of their imperial family or their representatives.”

“Not on any Chinese New Year’s Day or other Chinese festival in this city has Chinatown been so profusely decorated with flags and buntings and lanterns of every description. Mott Street, Pell Street, and Doyers Street were full of lights and flags.”


“Pell and Doyers Streets generally look dull and lonely, and at night few respectable citizens feel any temptation to wander through these dismal and ill-lighted passages.”

“Last evening, however, a casual visitor would hardly have been able to recognize them, so full were they of light and life and decorations.”

[Photo above: Bain Collection, 1911, Library of Congress]


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,421 other followers