The magic of indoor ice skating on the East Side

In the 1860s, New Yorkers were crazy about ice skating, and there were plenty of daytime and moonlit places to hit the ice, including Central Park and Union and Washington Ponds in Brooklyn.

But to experience the enchantment of (temperature controlled) indoor ice skating, city residents laced up their skates and donned skating costumes at the Empire City Skating Rink, which spanned 62nd and 63rd Streets between Third and Second Avenues.

It must have been quite an experience gliding around this football stadium-size rink. “Skaters exclaim, ‘how do they do it? Is not this splendid music and illumination?'” stated ads for the rink, which invited visitors to come see “the splendid sheet of ice like a mirror with thousands skating on it.”

Before winter 2018 ends, consider what New Yorkers did for amusement in 1868 and see the Museum of the City of New York’s “New York on Ice” exhibit, which runs through April 15.

[Top image: MCNY 29.100.1544; second image: New York Herald 1870]

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8 Responses to “The magic of indoor ice skating on the East Side”

  1. Tom B Says:

    That is amazing! Thank you Ephemeral.

  2. Zoé Says:

    Wow. My grandfather used to skate pairs w/ girls/young women when he was a boy/young man in Frankfurt (Germany) in the 1910s. (Accident w/ a girl’s drawstring underclothes falling down; but as I have already been reprimanded here by a commenter for telling auto-biographical tales I will let you use your imagination as to how terribly that went). Apparently that’s what hopeful romantic partners did then – skate. 🌨☃️⛄️☕️☕️

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Ice skating was one of the few socially sanctioned coed activities men and women could enjoy together without crossing gender-specific boundaries. Imagine the thrill it must have been!

    • Zoé Says:

      It looks so sweet the way they held hands crossing their arms in front of each other. (Sorry – not explaining it well but I think you know what I mean).

      Did I make a mistake about the Wharton novel? I know it was mainly sledding & not skating. And in the early part a dance. Perhaps there was no skating in it.

      I read that in Holland around this time (& earlier) people skated to get around. I guess due to frozen canals. Correct me if I’m wrong. I’m wondering now if that how it began. Including outside of Holland – where there were no canals – on rivers. Out of necessity.

      I read that there is a connection w/ the German word for pigs feet (which people eat & thankfully my mother never forced me to try) called literally ice-leg (‘Isbein’ I think it is spelled) w/ early skates which were made from bone. (True?). So skating is very old then. Prior to Iron Age (?).

    • Zoé Says:

      “Imagine the thrill it must have been!”

      Lol – we may have killed some romance w/ familiarity. My grandfather & his mates in 1910s Frankfurt used to wait for the girls to step onto the streetcars – because that’s when the girls picked up their floor length skirts a bit & the boys could see their ankles.🎩🚃💌

      • Zoé Says:

        *At that time girls began wearing floor length hems at age 14. And could no longer wear their hair down.

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