Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

A 1930s daredevil dives off the Brooklyn Bridge

August 10, 2015

Since it opened in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge has been catnip for stuntmen and attention-seekers.

The first jumper was swimming instructor Robert Oldum in 1885, and last year, two German guys climbed to the top of the bridge tower and stuck a white flag on the top.

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In the 1930s, a slender man in a one-piece bathing suit calling himself “Dare Devil Jack” does a quasi-jackknife off the bridge, up to seven times, reported the New York Daily News.

Lucky for us, on May 24, 1930, a news crew caught Jack Latkowski diving 155 feet into the East River on film.

From the moment he emerges from a car that’s pulled over to the side of the bridge to his careful climb down to a beam to his plunge into choppy waters, the “New Steve Brodie,” as he’s called, makes it look easy.

Notice how he crosses himself before his feet leave the bridge.

An iconic TV commercial from 1980s New York

July 13, 2015

Aside from the Crazy Eddie and Milford Plaza ads that ran constantly on 1970s and 1980s, is there any more iconic New York City commercial than Phil Rizzuto shilling for The Money Store?

“Can you imagine what you could do with $5,000, $10,000, $50,000?” the Yankee shortstop turned announcer bellowed in a series of ads for this national mortgage lender based in New Jersey—ads which seemed to run constantly whether it was baseball season or not.

PhilRizzutothemoneystoreThe commercials were terrible, but Rizzuto was a character, and every New York sports fan knew his face and his voice.

He left the Yankee announcer’s booth in 1996 and died in 2007 at 89.

Luckily YouTube has preserved Rizzuto’s Money Store ads in all their low-budget, 1980s glory.

The man who dove off the Flatiron Building

June 15, 2015

Henri LaMothe was a showman by trade. Born in Chicago, he first made a living dancing the Charleston.

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“Then came the Depression, when jobs weren’t so easy to find,” LaMothe said in 1977, “and I started diving into the water for a living.”

LaMothe came up with a signature diving stunt he ended up doing thousands of times around the country: from a height of 40 feet, he’d do his “flying squirrel” dive into a pool filled with four feet of water.

HenrilemothedivemcnyIn 1952, he decided to celebrate his birthday by climbing 40 feet up the Flatiron Building and diving into a 4-foot pool on the sidewalk.

He repeated the birthday stunt for 20 years, decreasing the water in the pool every year. By 1974, at age 70, he was down to about a foot of water, states The New York Times.

How did he not crack open his skull?

“When I’m on the platform I go through yoga, stretching and limbering exercises,” he told a newspaper. “Then I wipe out all thoughts and concentrate on the circle and sense my aim, which is what zen is.”

LaMothe discontinued his yearly Flatiron birthday dive after 1974 but continued diving around the country until his death in 1987.

If a man like LaMothe tried that stunt in today’s New York, his arrest would be all over social media before he had time to dry himself off on 23rd Street!

[Top: New York Daily News; Bottom: Museum of the City of New York]

Miniature yachts set sail inside Central Park

May 11, 2015

Most New Yorkers know this body of water as a the sailboat pond, a peaceful spot near Central Park’s East 72nd Street entrance that often has toy sailing boats gliding along the surface.

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But Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the park’s brilliant designers, conceived it as the “Conservatory Water,” a pond that was originally supposed to be part of a large glass conservatory, or greenhouse.

Financial problems made building the conservatory impossible. But the water remains, a lovely place to sit and enjoy the park’s gentle beauty.

When the Yankees were on top (of 168th Street)

May 11, 2015

Hilltoppark1912Broadway and 168th Street, with its rocky terrain, isn’t exactly the best place for a baseball stadium.

Which partially explains why in 1903, New York’s newest baseball team, the appropriately named Highlanders, only played in a ball park at the site for the next 10 years.

Called American League Park and nicknamed Hilltop Park, it was hastily built in six weeks, just in time for the start of the spring season.

Hilltoppark1912entranceA New York Times piece summed up the challenge of turning a hilly nine-acre trapezoid of land into a worthy stadium:

“From Broadway looking west, the ground starts in a low swamp. It rises into a ridge of rocks perhaps twelve to fifteen feet above the level of Broadway. From the top of the ridge the land slopes off gradually to Fort Washington Road.”

“As the property is today it will be necessary to blast all along the ridge, cutting off a slice eight feet or more. … There are about 100 trees to be pulled up by the roots.”

Hilltopparkhudsonriver

With the help of Tammany insider Thomas McAvoy, construction on the park began. Five hundred men (paid $2 a day) set to work digging, blasting and carting away 12,000 cubic yards of bedrock.

“In a remarkable six weeks, the McAvoy construction crew had converted a picturesque but forbidding mesa into a serviceable, if unfinished, venue for major-league baseball,” states the Society for American Baseball Research.

HIlltopparkcolor

“Fans would be accommodated in three grandstand sections ringing the home-plate area and extending along the baselines. Single-deck bleacher areas extended from the grandstands to the outfield fences while an adequately sized scoreboard was erected near the left-field foul line.”

Over the decade, the Highlanders didn’t win many games. But they attracted big crowds to the 16,000 person venue, especially with the help of the new subway system.

DSCN5324-copyThe 1912 season was their last at Hilltop Park, which was constantly beset by flooding and other problems.

The team now known as the Yankees shared the nearby Polo Grounds with the Giants, then moved into their own stadium in the Bronx in 1923.

Nothing appears to remain of Hilltop Park, bulldozed to make way for a tabernacle and then Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in 1925, which occupies the hilltop today.

hilltopplaqueBut there are a few interesting remnants. First, the lone tenement apartment building that stood out so prominently in early photos of the park still exists on 168th Street, long surrounded by other apartment houses.

And a small base-shaped plaque in a hospital courtyard marks the site of home plate.

[Top photos: Library of Congress; fifth photo: copyright David B. Stinson; bottom photo: Uptown Collective]

When New York winters were spent on the ice

February 16, 2015

One of the few activities open to both men and women in the 19th century city, ice skating was hugely popular.

“Skating in a moral and social point, is particularly suited to our republican ideas as a people,” stated the handbook published by the Brooklyn Skating Rink Association for the 1868-1869 season.

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Above, skating at Brooklyn’s Union Pond in 1863, once in the town of Williamsburgh on Marcy Avenue.

“The millionaire and the mechanic, the lady of fashion and those of humbler rank, all meet together to enjoy this fascinating and beautiful exercise.”

Winslowhomerskatingcentralpark

How democratic ice skating was is not exactly clear. Ice was plentiful, but you needed the money to buy or rent skates.

And the fashionable attire worn by ladies on the ice, as seen in this Winslow Homer painting from 1861, was not cheap.

Currierandivescentralparkwinter

These sleighs and the handsome teams that pulled them were costly as well, afforded by only the richest New Yorkers.

This Currier & Ives lithograph shows the skaters and the sleighs, sharing a snowy Central Park in what looks like the 1860s.

Skating on the Central Park Lake under twilight

October 18, 2014

It’s almost that time of year again—just not in Central Park anymore. Painter Saul Kovner’s twilight scene on the Lake casts an enchanting glow on Depression-era skaters.

Skatingincentralpark1934kovner

Before you get any ideas, keep in mind that skating on the Lake was officially banned in 1950! Kovner painted other winter scenes in New York as well, like this one of a snow day in Tompkins Square Park.

The roller skating craze fades in 1880s Brooklyn

August 30, 2014

A roller rink once packed in young people in Brooklyn Heights?

Here’s the proof: this late 19th century trading card, which puts the Brooklyn Heights Roller Skating Rink at Fulton and Orange Streets, a corner of old Brooklyn that no longer exists.

Rollerrinkbrooklynheights

The card is part of the fascinating collection of Victorian-era trading cards digitized by the Brooklyn Public Library.

Ads for the rink appear in the archives of the Brooklyn Eagle. But there’s not a whole lot on the rink itself—though plenty of articles chronicle the roller skating trend of the 1880s city.

RollerrinkfadbrooklyneagleThis October 1886 Eagle article announces the craze as over.

“‘The roller skating craze has passed away, as regards popular favor,’ said a former proprietor of a Brooklyn roller rink to an Eagle reporter.”

“‘Roller skating is like love—once dead, it can never be revived. The first established rinks realized immense profits. At this time last year, no less than 20 rinks were open in this city.

“Many did a good business, but others lost money. The best year for roller skating was the Winter and Spring of 1883 and 1884.'”

Going for a swim at Madison Square Garden

August 9, 2014

Imagine if every summer, the interior of the current Madison Square Garden was transformed into an enormous swimming pool, with diving platforms, seats for spectators, and a 25-foot waterfall.

Madison Square Garden as a Swimming Pool

Pretty cool, right? A pool like this actually did exist during the summer of 1921—host to swim competitions and diving shows, and open to the general public too.

The pool was the idea of boxing promoter Tex Rickard, who leased the Garden, then on Madison Avenue and 26th Street, for a series of Friday night fights.

MSGpool1921popularmechanics

“In addition to a full slate of boxing matches, Rickard’s plan for the Garden included remodeling the structure, adding seating capacity (bringing it to 13,000 seats), and turning the giant amphitheater into the world’s largest indoor swimming pool during the summer months,” states Tex Rickard: Boxing’s Greatest Promoter.

MadisonsquaregardenIIUnfortunately the pool didn’t last much longer. Rickard gave up his promoter’s license after being accused of improper behavior with a couple of teenage girls.

That didn’t end his career though. He helped finance the creation of a new Madison Square Garden on 50th Street and Eighth Avenue, which opened in 1925.

The circa-1890 arena, designed by Stanford White, with the new pool (above) was demolished.

The bicycle “scorchers” menacing the 1890s city

August 9, 2014

Cyclists racing down city streets at top speed, darting around pedestrians on sidewalks and roadways? It’s not just a contemporary New York thing.

ScorchersongbookThe Gilded Age city dealt with reckless bike riders first.

Called “scorchers” for their speed, they gave the very trendy new sport of cycling a bad name and were much-discussed in newspaper articles of the day.

“A new menace appeared in the streets: the ‘scorcher’ or bicycle speed fiend, ‘that idiot with head sunk between bent handle bars,’ body thrown forward and pedaling at top speed,” wrote Peter Salwen, author of Upper West Side Story.

The Upper West Side was especially popular with riders. From Columbus Circle to 72nd to Riverside Drive and Grant’s Tomb, the broad avenues were packed with riders—and some terrified residents.

“The Boulevard, in the vicinity of 72nd Street, is becoming a place very difficult to cross, and at times dangerous to limb and possibly to life,” one New York Times letter writer complained in November 1895.

Scorchersquad

“The number of ‘hoodlums’ scorching along there with heads down, with no regard to the safety of persons crossing, is rapidly increasing; and the matter certainly needs regulating by the officers of the law.”

One month later, police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt approved the formation of a “scorcher squad,” four men who were tasked with catching and ticketing these speeding cyclists.

Cyclistsfifthave124thst1897

Considered a success, the scorcher squad eventually expanded to include 100 officers (middle photo).

But as the cycling fad eased and the automobile took over city streets, the squad’s days were numbered. Considering that we’re in a new bicycle era and not all riders follow traffic rules, maybe it’s time for a second incarnation of the scorcher squad?

[Top image: via tubulocity.com; third photo, cyclists rounding the corner at Fifth Avenue and 124th Street in 1897 : MCNY]


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