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Ottoman New York

In 2017 I had a chance to serve as a guest host on the excellent Ottoman History Podcast alongside Sam Dolbee. While their normal focus is in the former Ottoman lands of the Near East, Sam and I explored the connections the Ottomans and their history had to New York City. In the episode I take Sam all over the city from a walk-up in the Upper East Side to Washington Square Park to the shadow of the Freedom Tower to make the case for an Ottoman New York. We discuss the last Sultan, Anthony Jansen van Sale, Civil War Zouaves, Little Syria and more. It was a chance to explore our town in an unexpected way and to see some familiar sites from unfamiliar views. My thanks to them for having me. The Ottoman History Podcast page for this episode (no. 320) has lots of photos, maps and a great bibliography. You can listen to the episode below or through iTunes or your podcast app.

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Visit New York – Eat Tiny Ancient Gods

Quick note: If you’d like to receive a monthly newsletter with my newest writing, NYC history book and podcast reviews, and current recommendations for my favorite things happening in the city you can sign up here. You will also instantly receive a pdf of my four-step guide to visiting NYC – it includes this key piece of advice below!

I’ve been writing  about how best to visit New York. How to avoid Museum Headache; why you should ride the subway, and more recently I advised that getting a drink was one of the most historically accurate things you could do in New York City. Here, I‘ve added another key step, another way to get to know the city with deeper, more ancient roots. It is to worship and praise with your attention one of the most venerable spirits of these Islands and these waters, to call forth a time that includes all of New York City, New Amsterdam, the villages of the Lenape and continues to stretch into the distant past. It is an act as significant as the old Doges of Venice who once a year cast a ring into the ocean to marry the city and sea as insolubly one, except it is one performed a million times a year in New York. It goes like this, take the small faceless god in hand, snuggled in its shell, bring it to your lips, smell the ancient ocean, tip your head back and… swallow, saying a joyful prayer to the oyster. 

As far as small gods go, the oyster has received plenty of attention of the years. One of the greatest hagiographers and most recent odes Mark Kurlansky in The Big Oyster. Oysters mark our humanity in the Hudson Valley. The oldest known midden (a pile of oyster shells deposited after feasting upon them) on the Hudson is dated to 6950 BC! That’s eight and half millennia before Henry Hudson’s arrival, and six millennia before the arrival of the Lenape. It is in fact the oldest evidence whatsoever of human habitation in the Hudson Valley. Yet these same oysters are ancient gods and remind us of our recent appearance. The oldest oyster fossils we have in the world are from somewhere in the range of 520 million years ago, but they finally migrated to the Hudson Valley about 12,000 years ago. People on Manhattan have been consuming them ever since. Thousands of middens have been discovered, piles of countless oysters consumed. The Lenape covered their dead with oysters shells and spent endless hours hunting, harvesting, opening and eating oysters. And, as Kurlansky points out, it can hardly seem “rational”. Oysters are mostly shell, and the little of it we consume is not an effective source of nutrition. But the answer is that it is not rational, nor is it meant to be. Oysters are about pleasure. They are about absorbing the ancient sea inside of us. They are about the whiff of the Cambrian, the scent of the Cretaceous and swallowing whole of hundreds of millions of years at once with a dash of lemon. 

Even the Dutch come-lately in the 17th century knew what heaven they arrived in as they set up their villages among the 350 square miles of oyster beds around Manhattan. They were so abundant that they were difficult to sell in New Amsterdam, so they enthusiastically ate them instead or used them as ritual gifts for their oyster-less relatives in New Orange (Albany), who sent apples in return. They ate them fresh out of the shell at picnics, they baked them in huge batches, they pickled them to send abroad or stuffed game birds full of them for sumptuous meals. They paved their streets with the shells (hence Pearl Street), made lime for buildings and fertilizer by burning them. Washington Irving, their great chronicler noted that when the Dutch first were shipwrecked on Manhattan, they made a feast of the oysters they found: 

Some pretend that these billows were sent by old Neptune to strand the expedition on a spot whereon was to be founded his stronghold in this western world; others, more pious, attribute everything to the guardianship of the good St. Nicholas; and after events will be found to corroborate this opinion. Oloffe Van Kortlandt was a devout trencherman. Every repast was a kind of religious rite with him; and his first thought on finding him once more on dry ground was how he should contrive to celebrate his wonderful escape from Hell-gate and all its horrors by a solemn banquet. The stores which had been provided for the voyage by the good housewives of Communipaw were nearly exhausted; but in casting his eyes about the commodore beheld that the shore abounded with oysters. A great store of these was instantly collected; a fire was made at the foot of a tree; all hands fell to roasting, and broiling, and stewing, and frying, and a sumptuous repast was soon set forth. This is thought to be the origin of those civic feasts with which, to the present day, all our public affairs are celebrated, and in which the oyster is ever sure to play an important part. – A Knickerbocker History of New York

 As New Amsterdam became New York and the population increased considerably, everyone had less time to wander into the muck to find oysters for themselves and a respectable trade began. People ate them all day and night from carts at the end of broad street, from boats, at bars and at home. The poor ate them, the rich ate them. New York honored the oyster and by 1715 enacted its measures to protect the tiny gods by banning oystering from May 1st to September 1st. This not only gave the oysters a chance to lay eggs and reproduce and grow, it’s also when they are most open to the vagaries of warm summer water and taste the worst. In September the city grew into a major party as everyone celebrated the return of their oyster together.  But by the 1800s, oyster worship and consumption had reached feverish heights. The regulations were ignored or laughed at, oyster beds were over-harvested and exhausted around New York Bay. And when the city was finally confronted with a solution to its fresh-water problem by building aqueducts to upstate reservoirs, its officials decided that the most profitable way for them to deal the its waste and run-off was to wash everything down into the harbor. That human killed off the oysters in the harbor and just about every other living thing. New Yorkers still hungered for their connection to the ancient sea, but now the oysters had to come from elsewhere, their abundance replaced by higher prices. 

They became the food of special occasions, of rare ritual and veneration. A few true devotees kept the flame of faith alive through the next century. Perhaps the greatest saint was recounted by the New Yorker Magazine reporter, Joseph Mitchell, about Mr. Hood, had very definite advice on how to eat them (he recommended this in lieu of going to a doctor):

Ask the [oyster] man for half a lemon, poke it a time or two to free the juice and squeeze it over the oysters. And the first one he knifes, pick it up and smell it, the you’d smell a rose, or a shot of brandy. That briny, seaweedy fragrance will clear your head; it’ll make your blood run faster. And don’t just eat six; take your time and eat a dozen. And the leave the man a generous tip and go buy yourself a fifty-cent cigar and put your hat on the side of your head and take a walk down to Bowling Green. Look at the sky! Isn’t it blue?” – Up in the Old Hotel

But the tiny gods were never truly lost, nor was that flame in New York. Over the last few decades more and more oysters have appeared and in greater abundance on New York tables, bars and even boats. They come from as close as Long Island and as far as the pacific. They are one of the most sustainably produced proteins, they even clean their environment as they grow. Their central temple is now located on Governors Island right in the middle of the Bay, where New York City public school children at the Harbor School help grow a new generation of oysters for the Billion Oyster Project, an ambitious plan to reseed the the whole harbor with as many oysters. They are already in the tens of millions. These small gods are cleaning up our ongoing mistake: every time it rains New York City’s harbor still floods with sewage. Those oysters help clean and filter those toxins along with a century of toxic waste runoff from our factories (so of course we cannot eat our local oysters until we confront this original sin). But every oyster you do eat helps! It promotes more oyster farms elsewhere, but it also connects back to our own sea, so close and so far. The BOP helps restaurant donate its many waste shells to make new oyster beds for New York, as its ancient gods return one by one. It is the most ancient and modern act of worship you can do in New York. Walk confidently into a bar (between September 1st and May 1st), onto a boat, into a restaurant and order a dozen oysters, at happy hour for a dollar a piece, at a premium, as part of a seafood tower, with lemon or mignonette or hot sauce or nothing but their own sweetness and salinity, tip its shell back into your mouth, close your eyes and let the darkness of the ancient sea warm you. 

It really is astonishing now how widely oysters are available again in New York City, and more so every year. Your best bet is to get them where lots of other people are getting them (whether a bar or restaurant or wherever) because that means they are using lots of them (and so they are fresher) and the staff gets more experience opening and serving them. And yes you can eat them in summer months, oyster bed health is closely monitored these days. But they really aren’t as good in the summer, so order more cautiously and from as far north as possible (where the water is colder). Here are a few places to start: 

Grand Central Oyster Bar – another temple that has kept the flame alive. Their beautiful Guastavino-tiled restaurant has a proper oyster bar, but you can order them anywhere in giant restaurant, including the lounge, the snaking lunch counter and the restaurant. You can get them fresh or cooked in classic style like Oyster Rockefeller. 

Maison Premiere – Lots and lots of oysters from all over, plus beautiful seafood towers, cocktails and decor in Williamsburg.  

Pilot and Grand Banks – Two lovingly restored, historic schooners, docked in Brooklyn and Manhattan, doing spectacular oyster service with spectacular views. 

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Ep 12 – A Hanging on the Lower East Side – Betrayal in the Rebel Ranks

 

In this episode we are going in search of the execution ground of one of George Washington’s personal guards—Thomas Hickey—tried, convicted and executed for mutiny and sedition just one day before the King’s Army’s flotilla arrived in New York City to put down the rebellion of the colonies once and for all in June of 1776.
Come join us through the iTunes podcast app (click here! or just search for “city between”) and at Google Play here and Stitcher

The music for the episode was composed by the talented Dylan Thurston.

Here is the street view and map of location of Hickey’s execution field, now the corner of Grand and Chyrstie Streets:

https://goo.gl/maps/t8LJKUA8Ei9JhfNp7

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Live New York History: Get a Drink

If you have been following this loose “guide” to visiting New York, you already know how to avoid Museum Headache and to Ride the Subway. Now you have earned a third piece of wisdom about traveling to New York and how to honor its four centuries of history: go get a drink.

It may not be obvious, but New York City loves its history. It’s been a city for coming-up-on four hundred years, but only occasionally has it done much to remember, preserve or promote that history. Old buildings are torn down in the thousands each year; its population is constantly renewed by newcomers with other interests; the funds that are set aside for “heritage trails” seem to disappear into the ether; and sometimes, let’s face it, that history is embarrassing and inconvenient for how the city would like to present itself to the world. And yet, in a deeply devotional way, New Yorkers enact what practically amounts to a living-history open-air museum everyday: they go and have a drink.

New York is not Boston. It is not a city founded by Puritans escaping religious persecution so as to persecute who they liked in a new land and live sullen and sober lives (And unlike the Puritans who had banned Christmas, New Yorkers invented Santa Claus!). This delightful town was founded as a Dutch trading post and called New Amsterdam. Its namesake, old Amsterdam, was a relatively tolerant place and wealthy from its far flung trade, and New Amsterdam hoped for pretty much the same. It was peopled by those wanting to make a new start—after all it was a big journey in the 1620s ’30s—but they also wanted to make some coin. This was going to be accomplished by the beaver fur trade for many, but also by the time-honored tradition of selling alcohol to one another. A brewery was set up right away by the Dutch West India Company, and other breweries and distilleries followed. In the 1650s, after the city was formally incorporated, its new city hall, the Stadthuys, was also a tavern, where they could now hear the court cases often caused by too much booze, such as that of the “Troublesome Turke”, Anthony Jansen. In fact, in that little town at the tip of Manhattan, it is estimated that one in four of its buildings were some kind of place serving alcohol: taverns, grog shops, and back room dives. These were often just a part of someone’s house, though still regulated by the town (specifying standard serving sizes, etc). People met to drink, gossip and talk politics, to trade and find pleasure, spouses or a ticket out of town (not always voluntary). New Amsterdam was “Dutch”, but one observer counted at least 18 languages among its 3,000 inhabitants, and people came to its shores and taverns from Sweden to Angola. When the British forcibly took the city in 1664 and gave it the less sparkling title of “New York”, everyone pretty much shrugged and continued on as before. The City Hall moved from the old Stadthuys next door to another tavern, called the Lovelace, and the toasts and drinking continued.

New Yorkers in the early days drank all sorts of things. They drank the rum made from Caribbean sugar, they drank beer and all varieties of wine, but they loved most of all gin. Gin was a particularly Dutch drink. In Dutch it was called Genever, after the Latin name of its primary botanical ingredient, juniper. This is where the English name comes from, shortened to “Gin”. The older Dutch-version of gin with its slightly funkier flavor remained one of the most popular drinks in New York and eventually the United States well into to the late 1800s, until London-style dry gin took over. Not everything happened in a tavern over a drink of gin, but that wasn’t the goal. Most days, a tavern was a place to pass the time with friends and strangers.

All the same, a lot did happen in New York’s bars: In the 1690s sailors in New York saloons had their tabs paid for by ships captains anxious for a quickly-assembled crew. This is how the famous pirate Captain Kidd got his final crew for his ship the Adventure and his fateful voyage that would find him hanging from the gallows soon after. Later, in 1741, the city’s largest slave revolt was planned by slaves and working-class whites at the Hughson Tavern near the Hudson waterfront. The conspirators called themselves the “Geneva Club” after Genever (Dutch gin) they were drinking (and illegally selling). In the 1770s the revolutionary group Sons of Liberty who were agitating for reform in the colony (and later full-on rebellion) in taverns like Fraunces on Pearl Street. At one point, in retaliation for stealing some weapons, a British warship fired a cannonball through its roof (injuring no one). Later George Washington threw his farewell party at the end of the war at Fraunces. Soon after that, in New York tradition, the new country’s departments for war, finance and foreign relations were all housed in the tavern. Everyone used booze to help forget that just months before during the Revolutionary War–when New York was firmly a loyalist town and headquarters for the British Army in North America–eager New Yorkers (surely deep in their cups) hurried to sign an ill-advised “Declaration of Dependence” to the crown at places like Scott’s Tavern on Wall Street (some 700 signed it in the end).

Through the explosion of the city’s population throughout the 1800s, drinking kept pace. Energized German immigrants began using the available fresh water springs in Brooklyn and elsewhere to start massive breweries with a new “lager” technique, where the beer had to be carefully purified and stored before being sold. Soon the beer barons of Brooklyn were supplying nearly a third the beer to the whole of the United States. They (thankfully) brought German beer gardens with them, which in New York could hold thousands, especially along its southern pleasure coast of Gravesend Bay and Coney Island. In the city’s busiest saloons bartenders were inventing cocktails at a feverish rate: Martinis, Manhattans, sours—everyone quickly lost track in the boozy blur of who invented exactly what and where. This meant everyone was free to to create a legend and claim the invention for their own. Meanwhile, in the very dingiest dives in Five Points African American and Irish drinkers combined talents to invent tap dancing. 

Various people tried to stop all the drinking. A young Teddy Roosevelt in his role as Police Commissioner betrayed his own old New York Dutch roots by trying to ban selling alcohol on Sundays in the 1890s. It didn’t last long. Federal prohibition in 1929 dealt a massive blow to the big operations like the breweries, but New Yorkers hardly slowed down. There were the speakeasies and bathtub gin of course, but since a certain amount of homemade wine was allowed for “family” consumption, little Italian restaurants found a way forward (and had something to serve loyal customers). Makers of liquors like Fernet Branca (who had a distillery in Manhattan at the time) realized they could rebrand as medicinal and sell their wares at pharmacies. Prohibition was eventually repealed and with great enthusiasm in New York.  In celebration, team of clydesdales pulled a wagon full of beer casks down Fifth Avenue. This was the first appearance of the new marketing scheme by the St. Louis brewer Budweiser. The NY governor–standing in front of the Empire State Building–was happily presented with a case. In the 1970s the last of the male-only bars opened their doors to everyone after refusal to serve a woman at McSorley’s Tavern was taken to the Supreme Court. The gay rights movement began during a night of too-much police harassment in 1969 at bar called the Stonewall Inn. Despite the resulting riot, the Stonewall opened the next night for business. More drinking and rioting ensued. 

Bars provided places for people to gather after (or before) work and late into the night. Others provided familiar smells and sounds of home. The Mohawk Steel workers met at the Doray near downtown Brooklyn; the Gotschee (a long lost German-Speaking principality) met at the Gotscheer Hall in Queens; sailors on shore leave met at Montero’s on Atlantic Avenue. Thousands of bars and taverns and saloons and dives came and went in waves. Many persisted for decades and even longer. Some of the newest ones look like the oldest ones; some are keeping close to the newest trends or trying to invent them; some are nearly forgotten except by a handful of regulars. Many are newly founded breweries and distilleries—after decades of neglect, New York remembered how to make its own beer and whiskey. Many, many are just mediocre. And everyday, a sizable portion of New York makes a stop in one of these places for a happy hour cocktail, or an after dinner drink, or a beer, to gather with friends. It’s quite possibly the most historically accurate thing you could do for this four-centuries old town and its a great way to get to know its quirks and routines, to people watch, and, of course, to have a drink. Thanks to the cocktail revolution of the last decade, most bars carry a bottle of Dutch-style gin, like Bols Genever, on their shelf: instant-time travel. Or you can sip a Fernet, or wine or rum or beer. You can argue about politics or the price of your drink or talk about love or gossip or nothing at all. Hopefully, your bartender will be grumpy (this is for historical accuracy) and the music just right. You can do it in a dive, at a roof-top bar, at beer garden or neighborhood saloon, on banquette or bar stool or standing. You can do it with oysters (which is a real double-down on old-time New York) or a pickled egg or a small plate or chips. You can raise a glass to 400 years of getting a drink, of oceans of spirits washed across the city, of lives lost and found.

Recommendations

It’s almost impossible to recommend any particular bar, there are so many. Many of the ones mentioned above are still open, like McSorley’s, Montero’s, Gotscheer, and even Fraunces. There are hundreds of new-style cocktail bars, but I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to navigate that web—but it can be fun to climb through a secret phone booth or to be served by a bartender ninja and be wowed with the latest discoveries. You can practically have a drink in New Amsterdam itself along the pedestrianized Stone Street near Hanover Square; or you can check out the new breweries in Brooklyn and Queens and relive the 1800s. Perhaps the best advice it what to avoid (just as a rule of thumb): anything serving something like “pub” food and anywhere full of 25-year olds talking about their jobs at full volume (other subjects are permitted).

Okay, okay, here a few more places to go get a drink:

Swift on East Fourth. Best Guinness pull in New York City? Killer jojos “Irish” curry.

Small municipal beer kiosk (“Table Green”) in Battery Park (unexpected post-Sandy spruce up bonus and amazing views).

Pilot ship in Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 for Oysters and drinks.

The Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station for plymouth Gin Martinis (and oysters, of course)

Liman in Sheepshead Bay for on-the-water Turkish Raki with mezze.

Kafana (Serbian for “tavern”) in the East Village for balkan beers, a basket of friend smelt and fruit brandies to finish (quince, anyone?).

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Episode 11 – Behind Enemy Lines – The Unguarded Jamaica Pass

In the last few episodes we have explored the Revolutionary War in New York, but from what we might think of as the “other side”, those who supported the King and Crown, the Loyalists. As war arrived, these men in women, for a wide variety of reasons, sided with their King and his army. Convinced they had the most powerful military on earth on their side, they hoped they could help put a swift end to the rebel agitation and chaos and press for reconciliation. Today’s episode tells the story of how this almost came to be, how the King’s Army with a plan from a Loyalist New Yorker, a general in its rank’s, led them into the Revolution’s first real battle and served an almost total- war-ending victory for the Crown.

Come join us through the iTunes podcast app (click here! or just search for “city between”) and at Google Play here and Stitcher here or on the player right here.

The music for the episode was composed by the talented Dylan Thurston.

Here is a map of the location of the former Jamaica Pass at today’s Evergreens Cemetery:

Here’s the “Rockaway Path” at Evegreens Cemetery that traces the path the King’s Army took in the Battle of Brooklyn and additional images of the cemetery.

IMG_6450

 

 

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Ride the Subway

Ride the subway. The New York subway system is unforgivable. This ancient warren of tunnels, bridges, and elevated rails has not aged well over the last one hundred years. As you descend to the depths of the New York subway all kinds of smells—human, animal and chemical—assault the senses. Screeching train wheels, synthesizers of subway musicians turned up to 10, incomprehensible intercom announcements, and irate passengers yelling through the thick windows to the MTA ticket sellers make it hard to hear your friends, your podcast in the headphones or even your own thoughts. It is filthy. Sticky platforms, rats running across the tracks hunting trash, disheveled fellow passengers, and pukey late night drunks compete with the usual germs of so much humanity crushed together. This is the setting where the first-time visitor—or even the New York Subway veteran—tries to figure which way to go in a maze of stairs, passages and signs. What platform, which direction? Local or express? Where to change trains, especially where it doesn’t feel like you have to walk a mile or leave the station? And on the weekend – forget it. It’s nearly impossible to keep track of all the track repairs, replacement shuttles,  and non-functioning lines. It’s poorly managed and the platforms are sweltering in the summer and it’s the favorite topic of complaint of New Yorkers, following the weather and real estate costs. 

BUT! I implore you: Ride the subway.

With the above unfavorable conditions a given, the New York subway provides several key advantages as a means of travel. With the exception of a taxi late at night, it’s almost always the fastest way to get anywhere in the city beyond a few blocks’ walk. Despite residents’ complaints, the subway trains actually come on very regular bases throughout the day. Outside of rush hour or in its opposite direction, the train cars are often not crowded. More and more frequently the tracks are equipped with electronic signs showing the arrival of the next train. These rides are cheap. A single ride famously tracks with the average cost of one slice of pizza in the city. Currently $2.75. And most importantly they are teleportation devices to other worlds to be explored.

Get on the B train at Columbus Circle at 59th Street in Manhattan and ride all the way to Brighton Beach. You rocket over the Manhattan Bridge, Brooklyn, beckoning. You plunge back into the earth only to emerge again above the far plains and suddenly: You have arrived at the Atlantic Ocean. Walk on the boardwalk, then eat caviar and drink vodka in NYC’s Little Odessa.

Or board the A train at West 4th in Greenwich Village and ride up to the Dyckman Street Station at the tip of the Island. Exit and find yourself at the Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s actually a gigantic Frankenstein’s monster of buildings- Churches, cloisters, monasteries – bought by wealthy New Yorkers in Europe and shipped to the northern end of Manhattan, and reassembled in a fairy-tale castle housing one of the most exquisite pieces of art in the city: the famed Unicorn Hunt tapestries from 15th century Belgium.

Or ride the 5 train to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and eat delicious Italian food made by Albanians. Or Take the the Q Train to Prospect Park and go fishing in its lake. Or take the L Train all the way to Broadway Junction to walk in the Evergreens Cemetery, and follow the secret path the British took in 1776 to surprise and defeat George Washington’s army in the Battle of Brooklyn. Or just take 6 train to your dinner reservation. Slowly master the map, it’s one of the great joys of being in NYC. Your map app on your smart phone most likely will be happy to give you directions using public transport. You’ll make a wrong turn. No problem. Correct course and you are on your way. Or don’t and see where the unexpected takes you.

Ride the subway train because it’s beautiful. Not all the time, granted. But riding the train and shooting out over the Manhattan Bridge, sun streaming in, the Upper Bay and the statue of Liberty in the distance, these are special moments, provided every few minutes by the Q, N, B and D trains. Or perhaps you’ll be in a train car where several of your fellow passengers will burst into dance, a beat driving them to the ceiling in breathtaking flight. Or a quartet will break into old soul songs. Or put in your earphones and watch the greatest human drama unfold: new loves, breakups, friends laughing, strangers arguing. Or take out your earphones and overhear the greatest human drama at top volume as the city’s anonymity provide cover for loud private confessions. Observe the mosaic of humanity so like you and so unlike you. Speaking hundreds of languages in every skin tone, sipping coffee, on the way to work, on the way home, riding the train. Like you.

Ride the subway, because it is civilization. True, there is almost nothing that makes a New Yorker feel more animal than riding the subway. Squeezed into a rush-hour car, crammed up against perfect strangers as the train takes a long pause in the middle of the tunnel, killer feelings arise. Yet this is precisely why the subway is civilization. There are nearly 2 million rides a day (and nearly a billion a year!) and only the smallest handful of “incidents” each day. People manage in the crowded, claustrophobic, uncomfortable conditions to resolve their tensions, strategically ignore minor offenses, let people know about the unspoken rules, and remain crammed against dozens of strangers and keep their absolute cool. You’ll notice that master look of cool on the faces of many of your fellow riders, even in an almost empty car. A beautiful stare in the middle-distance, respectful of the great mass humanity who is stranger to us, but acknowledging that we are on a journey together. Our world is only growing more crowded and the NYC subway is a model of conflict-minimum interaction, facilitated through a couple million small interactions and negotiations each day.

Ride the subway. Give your seat to those who need it more. Hold tight. Your stop is next.

© 2019 Bruce Burnside

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Ep 10 – Rise up and Fight Washington! – A Vision on Water Street

In this episode of the City Between we continue our exploration of New York in war time, as the city’s residents endured seven long years of war against Rebel forces from 1776-1783. We are going in search of a disembodied voice, that called out to a soldier in barrack on Water Street in 1781, giving a vision of Americans rising up to fight George Washington and his rebel armies… for their freedom.

Come join us through the iTunes podcast app (click here! or just search for “city between”) and at Google Play here and Stitcher here or on the player right here.

The music for the episode was composed by the talented Dylan Thurston.

Here is a map of the location at Water Street and Wall Street of the plaque marking the former Slave Market site:

Here is the Plaque itself, just a block from the British soldiers barrack discussed in the episode:

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-4-59-46-pm

 

For a great overview on Loyalist Americans and Sergeant Stiele’s vision discussed in this episode check out the great Liberty’s Exiles by Maya Jasanoff.

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Ep 9 -To Kidnap a Prince – Hanover Square

In this episode of the City Between we travel to the heart of the Anti-Revolutionary War – New York City in 1781. This city teeming with Loyalists and the headquarters of the British in their campaign against the Rebels received a visit from the Royal Family, a 16-year old prince looking for a good time in war time. We follow his adventures in Manhattan and George Washington’s plan to kidnap him.

Come join us through the iTunes podcast app (click here! or just search for “city between”) and at Google Play here and Stitcher here or on the player right here.

The music for the episode was composed by the talented Dylan Thurston.

Here is map of Hanover Square:

 

Here are some additional Resources for the curious.

The History of the Life and Reign of William the Fourth was Robert Huish, published in 1837, was the biography of the recently deceased king (and former Prince in NYC).

 

 

And another very helpful overview of the subject:

WASHINGTON AUTHORIZES PLAN TO KIDNAP FUTURE KING by Christian M. McBurney

 

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Museum Headache – CURED!

For a long time, I have been working on the diagnosis of an affliction I and many others I know have experienced: Museum Headache. But I also have been hard at work on a cure, which I am pleased to finally share with you, at no cost. Enjoy!

New York City is full to the brim of world-class museums—we all know that. By some counts there are over 80 or perhaps even over a 100 museums in the five boroughs. If you are visiting the city or you live here, you may have a long list of museums you want to see and probably even a list of specific objects to visi

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t in some of those museums. As a visitor you may be tempted to cram seeing all of them into a few days, because who knows when you might return? But even just one single museum visit exposes you to the danger of museum headache.

Museum headaches can come on quick. You will have entered a temple to culture or history or the Ramones and at first you are hurrying along with enjoyment, even after (perhaps a very) long wait in line to get in and after paying more expected for your entrance fee. But after an hour—or even after fifteen minutes or less!—something happens in your brain. It’s all too much. Too many people, too many objects, too many enticing corners to peek around, beckoning you to more objects, more culture, more of the unknown waiting to be discovered! Even in a supposed sanctuary, we are afflicted with our century’s malaise of overwhelm. And then suddenly, the museum headache is there.Throbbing. Its symptoms include a dry mouth, sore legs, irritation, and of course a throbbing head. Total apathy sets in. All the beauty in the world collapses flat in front of your squinting eyes. None of it matters. Your whole being aches. But there is a cure! Life and appreciation of beauty and culture and history can be restored to you. Read on to find out how!

THE CURE:

Full disclaimer: The only sure way to avoid museum headache is to avoid museums all together. Yet I urge you to not immediately take such drastic measures. Museums are often worthy of a visit. They do often contain beautiful or interesting objects, or are even remarkable artifacts in themselves. I want to reassure you that it is possible to visit them with a clear ache-free head, but you must read closely and follow these steps:

  1. First, don’t dare visit more than one museum a day. This was your first mistake, you think want want them all. But no reasonable person can absorb, appreciate and enjoy more than one museum a day. Already, you can erase the extraneous visits off your schedule. Now, all of a sudden, your busy day has a some lovely space in it. Use that time to go for a random walk where you get lost, or go sit and have a cup of coffee, or go people-watching in the park. Feeling better already?
  2. Pick one museum to visit. Big or small, it doesn’t matter (as we’ll see below). If no museum seems intriguing – congratulations! You are headache free, because you should never visit a museum if you don’t want to—Now you have the whole day free! You can eat sandwiches on a bench for hours while you read E. M. Forster and nod off – this is perfectly great way to visit any city, including New York. If your traveling companions did decide to go to a museum anyway, don’t make the mistake of “tagging along” — big rookie mistake! Say: “Have fun! Text me when you’re done!” and go an enjoy the only true modern luxury: time.
  3. If you did decide you really do want to visit a (single) museum, spend some time beforehand selecting one single item of interest (a painting, sculpture, object, etc) that is most exciting, interesting, fascinating to you. It must get your heart fluttering a little just thinking about it. It is to this item that you are going to devote the great part of your purpose and time visiting the museum. Perhaps you are already familiar with the item through some exciting book you read or intriguing documentary you watched or from a story an excited friend told you. Before your visit is the time is to delve a little deeper. Try and get a sense of the object, its biography, the origins of its creation through its journey to the museum. This object is your grand goal. (If you are not willing to pay the museum admission to see only this object, you should probably forget your visit—congratulations! You have the whole day free!) When you arrive at the museum and pay your admission, this object is your FIRST destination (possibly after a visit to the rest rooms, if necessary). Ask directions from the ticket-seller, get them to point it out on the map and head straight there. But don’t rush. Don’t hurry. Savor it. Feel the excitement of discovery, of revelation build as you approach your object. When you arrive in its vicinity, pause at a distance. Without judgement, take in what you see. Then slowly, ever so slowly, begin closing the distance. Perhaps move sideways to vary the angle of your approach. Allow the object to wash over you.
  4. Next, at a comfortable distance stand and observe begin the “Five Senses Check In”. Ask yourself, what does my object look like? Smell like? Taste like? Feel like? Sound like? Obviously, you will be compelled to use your potent imagination to answer most of these questions. After your quiet contemplation, take the time to share the object with someone. Perhaps you dragged an obliging but confused friend or family member direct to this object. Explain its magic to them. Or wrangle a curious nearby stranger and let them into your illuminated world. Or confide in journal or even a social media post if you must.
  5. Eventually find a restful space such as a nearby bench to continue spending time with your object. Become friends, comfortable spending time together.
  6. When it is time to leave you’ll know it by the faint tingle at the back of your neck. Don’t hesitate, stand and stretch your legs, thank the object (silently if necessary), say goodbye and be on your way. However long your time was, 10, 15 minutes, an hour, whatever, it was worth it. You did it and you may happily leave the museum with no feelings of guilt. Go get a coffee or a drink and contemplate the new world that was opened to you through the object, ponder your new reality—with no Museum Headache
  7. Don’t forget to text your companions who insisted on remaining that you’ll meet again later. You will have absorbed so much more than the thousands of visitors who saw hundreds of objects and remember nothing but the throbbing museum headache that followed them around for hours of aimless wandering. Later at the bar or back home when someone asks what you saw at the Met or whichever museum, rather than some uncertain affirmation that you were there, you will launch into a passionate and insightful recounting of the most wonderful, fascinating, intriguing, mysterious, beautiful object — and the ache-free head that saw it all. You’re welcome.

Since you asked, here are six (in no particular order) single objects I have loved to visit under the strict terms outlined above and have enjoyed totally museum headache-free:

  1. The Unicorn in Captivity Tapestry at the Cloisters
  2. The Damascus Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  3. Thomas Cole’s “Pic-nic Party” painting at the Brooklyn Museum
  4. Gustav Klimt’s “Adele Bloch-Bauer” at the Neue Galerie
  5. Wapiti (Elk) Diorama at the American Natural History Museum
  6. Diedrich Knickerbocker Wooden Figurine at the New-York Historical Society

© 2019 Bruce Burnside

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Ep 8 – Conspiracy Afoot – A Walk in the Village

In this episode of the City Between podcast we go on a walk in Greenwich Village in the cold winter of 1864 with two men – one who was contemplating the worst treachery – as they took a walk around the neighborhood, stopping to drink for the courage to lay bare the plan.

LISTEN:

Listen to the episode right now, just here to open player. Come join us through the iTunes podcast app (click here! or just search for “city between”) and at Google Play here (you’ll need to sign in to your gmail account) and Stitcher here.

LOOK:

Here’s a Google Maps view of 45 Grove Street:

Here is Handsome John:
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Ep 7 – The Lost Moorish Tower of Coney Island – A Mirage

In this episode of the City Between podcast we go in search of a lost medieval Moorish tower on Coney Island. The Beacon Tower was once the center piece of the Dreamland amusement park (opened 1904) and it was based on a millennium-old tower in Seville Spain.

Come join us through the iTunes podcast app (click here! or just search for “city between”) and at Google Play here and Stitcher here or on the player right here.

There is no better resource for more information about Dreamland than Jeffery Stanton’s site which you can find here.  This beautiful image of the Beacon Tower can be found there as well:

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Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra can still be found everywhere (including in the Alhambra gift shop!) and is available for a free ebook download here.

Check out the trailer for the Sean Connery film “The Wind and the Lion” based on the Moroccan “Robin Hood” Raisuli. For purposes of moviemaking the elderly Greek-American man who was kidnapped in real life was transformed into a pretty young woman.

This is what the former Dreamland site (beside today’s NY Aquarium) looks like in 2018:

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There is two small mentions of the former Dreamland park in this recent mural on the boardwalk:

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Here are closeups of the two mentions:

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Ep 6 – A Pirate Farm in Brooklyn – The Turk’s Plantation

In this episode of City Between – the podcast of New York History’s forgotten and mysterious corners – we go on a slightly Quixotic hunt in Brooklyn for a remanent of the farm of Anthony Jansen van Sale, New York’s first documented Muslim. This farm dates from 1639 and to make our journey 400 years into the past we follow old Indian and Colonial roads whose ghosts can be traced in the modern city. We begin in New Utrecht – once a Dutch Village – and head south in search of the farm.

LISTEN:

Come join us through the iTunes podcast app (click here! or just search for “city between”) and at Google Play here and Stitcher here.

MAPS:

There is a lot of information out there about Anthony Jansen van Sale, but the most thorough is a history put together by one of his descendants named Brian Smith in 2013. It was indispensable for my account in this episode.

Damian and I begin our journey in New Utrecht. Here is an old map of the area under discussion from 1852, showing New Utrecht and Gravesend :

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We traveled south along the main road (now 18th Ave) from New Utrecht, then along the Bath and Coney Island Road (now Cropsey then Harway Ave) to this area around Jansen’s farm:

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Remembering that this map was made nearly 200 years after Jansen’s time, we can still see an area marked “12 Morgens” – this had been part of that farm. We can also see on this section of the map the Harway Basin that we discuss and the Mill Road running below it. One of the best accounts of the modern Mill Road is from the indomitable Forgotten New York.  They also have some great photos there.

Next using a map made closer to the 1879 discovery of the Jansen’s ruins (mentioned in Bergen’s history) we can see Mayor Gunther’s property with the mentioned buildings just below the “Bath & Coney” text. We can also see the Mill Road here which runs just below the tidal basin (the Harway) coming from the right of the map:

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Here it is on a modern map:

And here is the 1879 map with the suspected site of the farm and the surviving modern day section of Mill Rd circled in red in three sets of overlays from old to new (oriented North):

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