Posts Tagged ‘New York in 1910’

George Bellows paints the raw New York winter

December 27, 2012

Realist painter and longtime East 19th Street resident George Bellows is best known for his bold views of amateur boxers as well as the grittiness of urban life in the early 20th century.

He painted scenes showing every season. But there’s something about his depictions of New York beneath cold gray skies, covered in snow, or surrounded by ice that captures the city’s abrasive, isolating winters.


“Pennsylvania Station Excavation,” from 1907-1908, puts the fiery equipment brought in to clear out 31st to 33rd Streets between snowy ground and an icy sky.

“The scene has an infernal quality, with the digging machinery circled by small fires and rising smoke near the center of the snowy pit, and all overshadowed by a massive building from which soot streams across the acid blue of a winter sunset,” states the website for the Brooklyn Museum.


“Snow Dumpers,” painted in 1911, shows us overcoat-clad city workers and snorting horses tasked with carrying loads of snow from Manhattan streets to be dumped into the choked-with-traffic East River.

The skies over the river and Brooklyn Bridge look gray and frigid, and the snow has streaks of blue.


“Steaming Streets,” from 1908, reveals winter as an agent of chaos. “[The painting] is dealing with a fleeting, highly charged moment during winter in New York when weather and traffic conditions have combined to create havoc in the street,” explains the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

“Immediately one feels that the vapors from the melting snow and slush are unsettling the horses and adding to the annoyance of the driver, who is forcibly braking them against the oncoming trolley and team to its left.”

The Met’s George Bellows exhibit runs until February 18, a powerful collection of paintings by an artist with a sharp eye for the moods of his adopted city.

When Fifth Avenue hosted a yearly horse parade

September 13, 2012

I’m not so sure that the thousands of horses tasked to pull wagons day after day in New York’s pre-auto era were treated very well.

But for several years in the early 1900s, they were treated to their own parade.

The Work Horse Parade, sponsored by the ASPCA, was meant to “induce the owners and drivers of work horses, and the public generally, to take more interest in their welfare,” states a New York Times article on the first-ever parade, dated May 19, 1907.

About 1,200 horses were expected to participate, and “all of the express companies, many coal companies, confectionery houses, and co. will send entries,” reported the Times.

Equines that worked for the FDNY, police force, and other city workers marched too.

So did hundreds of truck horses, who spent their days making deliveries for “wholesale grocers, breweries, butchers, milk companies, laundries, and, in fact, almost every branch of business.”

The parade started at Washington Square, with horses and drivers going up Fifth Avenue to Worth Square at 23rd Street.

There, judges awarded various prizes. This Borden’s milk truck team in the above photo won the “obstacle test” in 1908.

Looks like the parade ran for eight years; I can’t find a reference to it after 1914, when it expanded to include dogs, ponies, and even two mules.

After 1914, automobiles began eclipsing horsepower—which had served New York well for close to three centuries.

[Photos: Bain Archive, Library of Congress]

The incredible life of New York’s “strongest boy”

August 27, 2012

Born in 1910, Jack Beers’ early years echo a familiar East Side story.

His Austrian immigrant parents were desperately poor. His family shared a cold water flat on East Sixth Street, heating it with bits of coal that had fallen off trucks. Jack pitched in by hawking the Daily News on Avenue B.

But he was also entranced by bodybuilding. Blessed with incredible natural strength, he began training in Tompkins Square Park and later on Coney Island.

As a teenager, he performed as a strongman in city clubs and on vaudeville stages, earning local fame and the title “New York City’s Strongest Boy.”

His story is chronicled in the 2006 documentary Holes in My Shoes, which features Jack, then 94, talking about his life and revisiting his old East Side haunts.

After a hand injury at a pool hall ended his strongman career, he went to work at Fassler Iron Works on East 10th Street and helped build New York’s top skyscrapers. He trained dogs and later became a character actor.

As the trailer from Holes in My Shoes shows, Beers retained amazing power even as a very senior citizen—watch him rip a phone book apart with his bare hands. He died a few days short of his 99th birthday.

[Photo: Holes in My Shoes]

A city so hot, families sleep on the sidewalk

August 12, 2010

How steamy must this family’s apartment have been if they found relief dragging their pillows on the sidewalk and sleeping beside what looks like a store entryway?

The photo, taken by an unknown photographer on the Lower East Side, dates to 1910.

“A Letter for Sweetheart,” 1910

July 10, 2010

That’s the English translation of “A Brivele der Kale,” a popular Yiddish song from 1910.

The sheet music cover illustration is intriguing. An immigrant leaving his wife for the America? Or did he find a new love here?

Composer J.M. Rumshisky—who later changed his name to Rumskinsky—was a bigwig of Yiddish theater.

He wrote hundreds of operettas and songs for stars like Molly Picon during the theater’s heyday.