A serial killer stalks Times Square in the 1970s

October 6, 2014

Timessquare1984mcnyfeiningerThe first two women were found on separate twin beds in a hotel room in flames in December 1979.

A firefighter at the scene, inside the then-seedy Travel Inn at 515 West 42nd Street, grabbed one of the women and brought her outside to a hallway. He was about to administer CPR before realizing she had no head or hands.

Neither did the other woman. Police determined that both had been killed, their bodies set on fire with lighter fluid, by a man who had arrived at the hotel using a fake name and phony New Jersey address.

TravelinnThen in May 1980, another woman’s body was found in a room at the low-rent Seville Hotel on East 29th Street after a fire had been set there.

The body was mutilated but mostly intact, and police identified her as a 25-year-old prostitute (one of the women from the Travel Inn had been as well, while the other was never officially ID’d).

CarltonhotelwikiThe similarities between the two crime scenes led law enforcement to dub the killer the “Times Square Ripper.”

The Ripper targeted vulnerable sex workers in an area so sleazy, a stretch of it was nicknamed “The Minnesota Strip” for all the teenage runaways from Middle America who ended up there.

It wasn’t long before police caught the Times Square Ripper. He was nabbed by New Jersey police later that month in a North Jersey motel, where he had tortured a teenage runaway.

After matching his fingerprints, comparing handwriting samples to his signature on the motel registry, and finding a “trophy room” in his home of items belonging to the dead women, the police had their man.

RichardcottinghamRichard Cottingham (left) was a mid-30s computer programmer who worked in Manhattan and lived in New Jersey with his family.

By all accounts a clean-cut guy, he was convicted of the murders of five women and sentenced to life in a New Jersey prison.

[Top photo: by Andreas Feininger, 1984; middle photo: the Travel Inn today; third photo: The Seville Hotel today, renamed the Carlton; fourth photo: Richard Cottingham]

Bands booked at Irving Plaza in October 1983

October 6, 2014

Irving Plaza has featured music in some form or another since the 1920s: ballroom dancing, folk hootenannies, Polish songs.

By the late 1970s, it was a rock venue. And if you were young and reasonably into up and coming bands in 1983, these are the groups you’d have been able to see.

Irvingplaza1983

The Violent Femmes! I wouldn’t mind going back in time to see them play in their heyday.

This ad appeared in the downtown alternative arts and entertainment paper the East Village Eye. Browsing their digital archive is a lot of fun.

A wintry view of the end of Christopher Street

October 4, 2014

Christopher Street in the far West Village really hasn’t changed very much since Beulah R. Bettensworth depicted it in 1934. Well, at least this corner of it.

Christopherstreet1934

This Depression-era painter lived a block away at 95 Christopher, and her stretch of the street looks like the downtown of a small village: there’s the Ninth Avenue El Station that once ran up Greenwich Street. Victorian Gothic St. Veronica’s Church peeks over the station.

The PATH station entrance has a similar awning. And there still is a yellow three-story building on that northwestern corner. Too bad the cigar store is gone!

A bold bull makes a run for it in 1913 Manhattan

October 4, 2014

On the rare occasion when an animal breaks loose on the way to the slaughterhouse in today’s city, his plucky escape ends up scoring him a forever home at a farm sanctuary.

Bullfifthavenue

A century ago, the story ended in a hail of bullets. That’s what happened to this bold bull, one of 200 brought to the city on a November day in 1913. The bulls were temporarily held at the New York Stock Company on West 60th Street and the Hudson River before they were to be sent to the abattoir.

BullcentralparkheadlinenytBut thanks to a gate left ajar, 26 of the bulls managed to break free. Eight left the stockyard. One got as far as Central Park West and 80th Street, where he collided with a delivery wagon.

The bull in the photo had another idea.

“One lumbering steer seeking to escape pursuit turned into Fifth Avenue and 59th Street and, dodging bullets which were fired at it by pursuing policemen, caused such uproar that Fifth Avenue thought that either a gangsters’ battle was in progress or a Wild West show had lost its bearings,” wrote The New York Times the next day.

After the bull detoured to Madison Avenue, a patrolman fired a shot that accidentally killed a construction-site watchman. A hotel waiter was also shot in the crossfire.

Finally the bull charged down 50th Street. Bleeding from previous shots, he died in front of the mansion that today is home to the New York Palace hotel.

[Photo: Bain Collection]

The literary past of a once-seedy Gramercy hotel

October 4, 2014

Looking at the facade of the former Kenmore Hall Hotel, at 145 East 23rd Street, you can imagine the kind of place it was when it opened in 1929.

Like so many of the new hotels built in the Jazz Age city, it was a place for the city’s young smart set, with a roof garden, skylit lobby, and swimming pool.

Kenmorehallpostcard

It was also a hotel with a hidden literary rep. Shortly after the 22-story building opened, struggling young writer Nathanael West became its night manager.

MisslonelyheartscoverNathanaelwestIn the 1930s, West earned fame for his novels Miss Lonelyhearts (inspired by a real Brooklyn Eagle advice column to the lovelorn) and Day of the Locust.

During his time on the Kenmore’s graveyard shift, West reportedly worked on Miss Lonelyhearts while letting writer friends like Dashiell Hammett, Edmund Wilson, and Maxwell Bodenheim crash in empty rooms.

KenmorehallhoteltodayWest died in 1940 in a California car accident with his wife, Eileen McKenney (of My Sister Eileen fame). In subsequent decades, Kenmore Hall changed hands; as East 23rd Street became seedier, so did the hotel.

By the early 1990s it was an infamous SRO hotel where the city’s downtrodden lived in squalid quarters and drugs and crime were rampant.

Since 1999 the cleaned-up Kenmore is an SRO offering affordable housing—plus a little-known literary pedigree.

[Bottom photo: Emporis]

Beautiful sailing ships at the South Ferry station

September 29, 2014

If you’ve ever taken the 1 train to its last, lovely, looping stop at the South Ferry/Whitehall Street station, you’ve probably seen them—15 beautiful terra cotta plaques depicting a sailing ship on the water.

Southferryplaque

The officials in charge of building the first New York City subway line in 1904 did a lot of things right. Not only did they hire brilliant engineers and planners, but they brought in designers to create inspiring decorative features on platforms.

Ceramic plaques like these were installed in the earliest stations. Each plaque reflects something about the station’s neighborhood or history: a sloop for South Ferry, a beaver at Astor Place, a steamboat at Fulton Street.

Southferryplaquesign

South Ferry’s ships might be the most magnificent of all, and it’s one of just a few stations that has a monogram panel with the station’s initials.

Centre Street at Park Row: five views, 150 years

September 29, 2014

You wouldn’t know it by this low-rise buildings and muddy road. But when this photo was taken in the early 1860s, the intersection at Centre Street and Park Row was the nexus of New York’s political and publishing worlds.

Centrestreetparkrow1860s

On the left out of view is City Hall. At right is Tammany Hall, until 1868 headquarters for the Democratic political party machine.

The spire of St. Andrews Roman Catholic Church rises above the Tryon Row Buildings, topped by a sign that says “printer.” North of St. Andrews at this time is Five Points, the city’s terrible and notorious slum.

Centrestreetparkrow1890

Here’s the same intersection (from a slightly different vantage point) in 1890. The Tryon Row Buildings have been replaced by the First Judicial District Civil Court, notes the caption to New York Then and Now, which published the photo.

“The horsecar of the Fourth and Madison Avenue line is on its way uptown to Harlem, having just come from Park Row,” states the caption. “Begun in 1832, it was the first streetcar railway in the world.” At right are the offices of a popular German-language newspaper called New Yorker Staats-Zeitung.

Centrestreetparkrow1920s

Fast forward to 1925, and things are very different in this Brown Brothers photograph. Gone are the telephone poles and horsecars, replaced by street lamps and street cars.

The newspaper business has long decamped uptown. The Staats-Zeitung building was bulldozed to make way for the New York Municipal Building, opened in 1909. On the left is the lovely New York City Hall of Records, constructed in 1902.

Centrestreetparkrow1974

By 1974, Edmund V. Gillon, Jr.’s image shows us a canyon of city, state, and federal buildings, contemporary street lamps and lots and lots of car traffic.

And Tryon Row, which lent its name to the buildings in the 1860s photo? It appears to have been demapped by now.

Centrestreetparkrow20132

The traffic in 2014 is mostly by foot and bicycle. On a warm early fall afternoon, Centre Street and Park Row is packed with tourists and city dwellers enjoying City Hall Park or crossing the street to take a stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge.

And look, they brought back the old-style street lamps!

The most radical woman in 1870s New York City

September 29, 2014

VictoriawoodhullToday, she’d fit right into the city’s progressive political world.

But when she arrived in New York from her home state of Ohio in 1868, 30-year-old Victoria Claflin Woodhull was a century ahead of her time: an advocate of suffrage, socialism, and sexual freedom.

First, she was a Wall Street trailblazer. In a stock market–obsessed post–Civil War city, she and her sister opened the first female-owned brokerage house. Newspapers had a field day, dubbing the two the “Bewitching Brokers.”

Victoriawoodhullbewitchingbrokers2

The sisters did have some help. Railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt gave them an assist; when they first came to New York, they worked for the doctor-distrusting Vanderbilt as his “medical clairvoyants.”

VictoriawoodhulladThey also launched a newspaper, Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, which ran the first English translation of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto.

Perhaps her most audacious move was her run for president in 1872 on the ticket of the Equal Rights Party, which she organized. Her platform sounds more 1972 than 1872.

Victoriawoodhullvoting

“She campaigned on a platform of women’s suffrage, regulation of monopolies, nationalization of railroads, an eight-hour workday, direct taxation, abolition of the death penalty and welfare for the poor, among other things,” explains the History Channel.

Henrywardbeecher2Woodhull’s presidential aspirations obviously didn’t pan out (above, attempting to vote, Election Day 1872). Her support for free love was just too much.

“Yes, I am a free lover,” she addressed her critics at a Boston campaign stop.

“I have an inalienable, constitutional, and natural right to love whom I may, to love for as long or as short a period as I can; to exchange that love every day if I please…. and with that right neither you nor any law you can frame has any right to interfere….”

She also ran into trouble when she outed popular Brooklyn preacher and national abolitionist leader Henry Ward Beecher (above) as an adulterer. Beecher was one of her fiercest critics, and arguably a hypocrite. But her move backfired.

American Feminist Reformer Victoria Claflin Woodhull“Instead of being shocked by the revelations, the press rushed to Beecher’s defense while U.S. Marshalls arrested Woodhull for transmitting pornographic materials through the mail (one of the articles used the word “virginity”), states one source.

“As America voted in 1872, its first female candidate sat confined in the Ludlow Street Jail.” Well, American men, anyway.

By 1877, Woodhull and her sister moved to England. There she married for a third time and continued to support suffrage and women’s equality. She died in 1927, seven years after American women went to the presidential polls for the first time.

The lost dinosaurs buried under Central Park

September 22, 2014

Mastodon bones and other fossilized creatures have turned up occasionally in New York City. But dinosaurs? Here’s the story.

In 1854, British artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins built giant models of dinosaurs, which were displayed at the Crystal Palace.

Hawkinsstudiocentralpark

Hawkins didn’t exactly know what dinosaurs looked like, but he based his models on the limited fossils available at the time.

CrystalpalacehadrosaurusHis models must have been impressive, as his show was a great success, thrilling audiences in England.

So in 1868, Andrew Green, one of the city planners in charge of Central Park, invited Hawkins to build dinosaur models in New York.

The models were to be housed in a Paleozoic museum planned for the new Central Park. Hawkins took Green up on the offer and began constructing his dinosaurs out of brick, iron, and concrete in a studio (above).

“In a studio in Central Park, crowded with his gigantic skeletal and full-bodied models, Hawkins worked on a 39-foot hadrosaur; his sketches show ferocious giant lizards: a large and scaly iguana head here, certain dragon features there,” states a 2005 New York Times article.

1869 Central Park Dinosaurs Hawkins full

Unfortunately, Hawkins’ work and the entire idea of a Paeozoic museum came to a halt thanks to William “Boss” Tweed, the corrupt Tammany Hall political chief who took control of the park in 1870 and had no interest in building anything devoted to science or education.

Hawkins“The next year, a few months after Hawkins spoke out publicly against both the decision to forgo the museum and Tammany Hall itself, the Tweed Ring sent vandals to his studio to smash his models and dump them into a pit in the park,” the Times wrote.

Hawkins, understandably, left New York and went back to England. In the ensuing years, Hawkins’ (below) dinosaurs were mostly forgotten.

Despite periodic searches, his sabotaged dinosaur models have never been found.

“They still rest somewhere under the sod of Central Park, probably not far from Umpire Rock and the Heckscher ballfields,” states this CUNY site.

“Could one of the pitchers’ mounds really be a small embankment covering the severed head of Megalosaurus? Who knows, maybe so.”

One painter’s dreamy scenes of New York at play

September 22, 2014

Though he spent much of his life in his beloved Paris, Alfred Henry Maurer was a New Yorker from beginning to end.

Maurerrockawaybeach1901

Born in the city in 1868, he was the son of a German immigrant who worked as a talented lithographer for Currier and Ives.

After studying with William Merritt Chase, Maurer took off for Paris, the center of the art world at the time, where he worked in a mostly realist style, depicting beautiful women and cafe life in the city of light.

Maurercarrousel19011902

Briefly, Maurer returned to New York at the turn of the century. He won acclaim and awards, and in 1901 and 1902 he painted these enchanting scenes of New York’s Gilded Age leisure class at play.

Two paintings depict Rockaway Beach, the popular amusement playground developed in the early 1900s.

Maurerrockawaybeachwithpier1901

Another painting shows us a carousel in Brooklyn, with mothers and children watching the painted wooden horses under darkening skies.

MaurerselfportraitMaurer (in a self-portrait, right) didn’t stay in New York long—nor did he stick to his usual realist style.

Back in Paris again, he abandoned realism in favor of Matisse-influenced Modernism, doing abstract portraits, still lifes, and landscapes. Examples of his later works can be seen here.

World War I forced him back to his family apartment in New York City, where he continued to paint and take part in exhibitions, but garnered little of the critical acclaim he’d had as a younger man.

He died in Manhattan in 1932, committing suicide by hanging in his father’s West 43rd Street home.


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