Archive for the ‘Queens’ Category

A plane collides with a Macy’s Thanksgiving float

November 9, 2015

Ever since Macy’s added balloon floats to their iconic Thanksgiving Day parade in 1927, mishaps and fails have become regular occurrences.


Felix the Cat (above) got tangled in telephone wires that year. Popeye dumped cold rainwater that had collected on his cap onto the crowd in 1957. And poor Kermit the Frog; his head sadly deflated in 1991.

ParadefloatairplaneheadlineBut at least it’s been 83 years since a float was hit by an airplane.

This midair collision happened in 1932 over a heavily populated area of Jamaica, Queens—long after the parade had ended and the helium-filled balloons were released into the sky (the custom in the early 1930s).

Annette Gipson, 22, happened to be at the controls of a biplane with her instructor, flying at 5,000 feet.

TomcatannettegipsonAll of a sudden, the brazen “girl flyer,” as newspapers dubbed Gipson, noticed the 60-foot Tom-Cat balloon coming her way.

“She shouted, ‘I think I’ll have a piece of the neck’ to [her instructor], as she took dead aim at the cat,” reports the book Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“Upon impact, the balloon wrapped itself around the left wing. The plane went into a deep tailspin and sped toward the ground out of control.”

Afraid that the plane would catch fire when it hit the ground, Gipson turned off the ignition. “Witnesses in the surrounding neighborhoods, straining their necks to look skyward, gasped as they heard the engine die and saw the plane plummeting to earth.”

Before it did, her instructor managed to take over. As the craft came within 80 feet of rooftops, he got control and was able to land at Roosevelt Field, as planned.


Considering that she almost crash-landed in the middle of Queens, Gipson was nonplussed.

Tomcatheadline2“It was a sensation that I never felt before—the whirling housetops, rushing up to meet me—and the thoughts of a whole lifetime flashed through my mind,” she told reporters who had rushed out to Roosevelt Field to speak to her after they’d been tipped off about her collision.

Gipson went on to become a prominent “aviatrix,” as the newspapers called her, touring the country and hosting headline-grabbing women-only air races at Floyd Bennett Field.

The magic of the Queensboro Bridge at night

June 15, 2015

The Queensboro bridge was only one year old when Impressionist painter Julian Alden Weir depicted it and the surrounding cityscape in muted blue, green, and gold tones in “The Bridge: Nocturne.”


It’s not clear what street is lit so bright here, but it hardly matters.

The bridge is like a mountain poking out of the fog, looking down on the rest of the city, which appears miniaturized. Few pedestrians go about their way on the rain-slicked pavement, and random lights from store signs and office windows glow in the nighttime sky.

Getting out of the water at Rockaway Beach

June 8, 2015

Coney Island may be New York’s favorite seaside playground, but at the turn of the century (and for many decades afterward), Rockaway Beach rivaled Coney as the city’s premier beach destination.


This 1907 postcard, from the Museum of the City of New York’s digital collection, shows us unspoiled sand, tents and hotels for guests, and a young girl in bathing attire that looks extremely uncomfortable by today’s standards.

Rockaway has been rediscovered again, supposedly by hipsters and surfers—but it’s doubtful that anyone will venture into the water in black tights.

Looking at the new bridge at Blackwell’s Island

November 17, 2014

Does any painter capture the raw, gritty energy of turn-of-the-century New York City like George Bellows?

This painting, “The Bridge, Blackwell’s Island,” was completed in 1909, not long after the Queensboro Bridge opened, solidifying the modern metropolis.


“The artist depicted the bridge from an unusually low angle to convey its overwhelming scale: the bridge’s stone piers dominate the canvas as they rest solidly on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island),” states the Toledo Museum, where the painting hangs.

“Bellows’ signature bold, swift brushstrokes recreate a steamboat’s struggle against the river’s natural force, while the gritty cityscape dissolves into a haze of mud-colored paint.”

“In the shadowed foreground stands a group of engrossed onlookers, peering through the railing at a rapidly changing modern American city.”

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.


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.


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.


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.

The jet-age Airlines Terminal on 42nd Street

May 31, 2014

In the 1930s, the future of passenger air travel looked bright—if still out of reach for the average New Yorker (a NYC to Europe flight cost $375, or more than five grand in today’s cash!)


To make flying more convenient, the city constructed the Airlines Terminal Building, an appropriately futuristic, Art Deco-inspired structure on 42nd Street in Midtown.

Here, passengers didn’t actually catch their flights but could pick up tickets for any airline serving New York.

Airlinesterminalbldg19501The idea was that “you could buy your ticket in town and ride in comfort on a dedicated bus to LaGuardia or Newark airports,” explains

Of course, LaGuardia Airport wasn’t LaGuardia yet—in 1939, it opened as New York City Municipal Airport, where Pan Am, American, United, Eastern, and an outfit known as Transcontinental & Western Air, aka TWA, flew out of.

Located across the street from Grand Central, it was a wild building, with kind of a space age crown flanked by two eagles on top.


The Airlines Terminal Building outlived its usefulness. It was bulldozed to make room for the headquarters for Phillip Morris, which has occupied the address since the early 1980s.

[Middle photo: MCNY collections; bottom:]

The controversial royal Queens is named for

May 26, 2014

CatherineofBraganzayoungIn 1683, not long after England permanently took over New Netherlands from the Dutch, a round of renaming was in order.

The entire colony was rechristened New York, after the Duke of York.

And because the Duke of York was given control of the area by his brother, King Charles II, the Duke named Kings County for him.

Queens County reportedly was named for Charles’ wife, Catherine of Braganza.

Who was Catherine? A Portuguese-born royal who came with a huge dowry (crucial to cash-strapped England at the time) and trade rights to Portuguese-controlled colonies around the world, she was not widely loved in the UK.

QueensubwaysignOne one hand, she’s credited with introducing the fork, tea, and orange marmalade to her subjects.

But she was unable to produce an heir, and she was Catholic in a Protestant-ruled nation.

After her husband died, sick of being hassled by the new regime, Catherine soon returned to her home country and spent the rest of her life there.

NPG 597,Catherine of Braganza,studio of Jacob HuysmansShe stayed under the radar for more than three hundred years.

But her name popped back up in the 1980s when it was announced that a Portugal-backed, 35-foot bronze statue of her was to go up along the Queens waterfront at Hunters Point.

Politicians were on board; a sculptor brought in and casts made. By the 1990s, however, community groups rallied hard against the statue—because Catherine’s family had benefited from the 17th century slave trade.

Also, some historians questioned whether Catherine really was the woman who lent her title to the borough’s name.

CatherinestatuegolisbonBecause of the controversy, the sculpture project was nixed.

Catherine became such a lightning rod, even her portrait was removed from Queens Borough Hall.

Eventually, a smaller-scale model of Catherine, made from the original mold, was created. It now sits on the waterfront in Lisbon (right; via

A souvenir from the other New York World’s Fair

April 21, 2014

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World’s Fair. There, New Yorkers were introduced to the touch tone phone, caught their first sight of the Unisphere to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, and were able to view Michelangelo’s Pieta.


Amid all the nostalgia for that fair, it’s worth remembering the century’s other New York World’s Fair. The 1939 version, also in Flushing Meadows, captured the imagination of the Depression-era city.


This Art Deco souvenir matchbook features the fair’s logo: an image of the Trylon obelisk and 18-story Perisphere, the iconic, futuristic buildings that helped make the fair seem so magical.

Both symbolized the promise of the Machine Age. Yet after the end of the fair, they were scrapped and used for armaments in World War II.

Wow, look at that pill box. No childproof safety features!

The Mets fan who parachuted into Shea Stadium

April 12, 2014

MichaelsergiostudiousmetsimusIt happened during the first inning of Game 6 of the World Series, in October 1986.

The Mets had taken the field; pitcher Bob Ojeda had just thrown the ball to catcher Gary Carter. The crowd of 55,000 at Shea was pumped and excited.

All of a sudden, something, or someone, came out of the sky. A man in a white jumpsuit with a parachute on his back glided into the infield.

He touched down carrying a homemade “Go Mets” banner. After scoring a high-five from Ron Darling and enthusiastic cheers from the crowd, he was escorted off the field by cops. Who was this rabid and fearless fan?

AP86102501051.jpgMichael Sergio was an actor in his 30s living in Midtown, who made the jump from a plane into the Queens nighttime sky to show his support, he told a New York Mets sports blog in 2011.

That night, he watched the Mets win the game at the police station. The next day, a judge released him on his own recognizance.

He later pleaded guilty to criminal trespassing and paid a $500 fine for his spectacular descent into Shea, which is preserved forever on YouTube.


Can you imagine if this happened today? Sergio would be tackled by stadium security and federal agents and be thrown in federal prison!

“Shea under the lights was the most beautiful sight imaginable, like a crystal-green pool,” Sergio told Sports Illustrated in a 1989 article about his famous jump, which foreshadowed an incredible game and series.

RIP Shea Stadium.

[Top photo: Studious Metsimus; middle: New York Post; bottom: New York Daily News]

1970s city store signs that burst with color

March 24, 2014

Treat yourself to a Monday morning explosion of old-school color—courtesy of these New York store signs that give off a very 1970s vibe.


Ace Pump got its start in 1936, and still deals in engineering supplies on superluxe 21st Street in Chelsea.


I’ve always loved the 20th Century Garage sign, as well as its name, which must have sounded very modern at one time. It’s near Tudor City on East 48th Street. It looks like it was made before the 1970s, no?


Jerome Florist, on 96th Street and Madison Avenue, has been selling arrangements to Upper East Siders (and the area’s abundance of hospitals) since 1929.


Once known as Capital Audio & Electronics, this Duane Street shop took the electronics out of its name, perhaps to sound less 1970s-ish.


Pharmacy signs like this one in Queens—no-frills, no brand names, with a neighborhood vibe—have mostly disappeared from city streets.


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