On this day, Charles A. Dana, editor of the New York Sun, was born.

In the early 1850s, photographer Mathew Brady ook a now-famous picture of seven members of the staff of the New York Tribune, then one of the country's most powerful newspapers. The men were among the most important American journalists of the 19th century. Seated in the center is Tribune founder Horace Greeley.  Standing right is Henry J. Raymond, founder of the New York Times. And standing in the middle is Charles Anderson Dana, later editor for 29 years of the New York Sun. He was born on this day on August 8th, 1819.

Mathew Brady photograph of the staff of the New York Tribune c. 1850.  Dana is standing in the middle. 

Mathew Brady photograph of the staff of the New York Tribune c. 1850.  Dana is standing in the middle. 

Like his later colleague Horace Greeley, Dana was born in New Hampshire but moved to New York to work in journalism. He worked for various newspapers before joining the Tribune in 1847. He traveled to Europe as a correspondent and met with sometimes Tribune writer Karl Marx. He also helped promote the Tribune's anti-slavery and later pro-Republican stances. (Later in his life Dana would express some racist views).  

After supporting Abraham Lincoln's presidential bid, be joined the administration as Assistant Secretary of War from 1863-65. In this  position e  came in to frequent contact with future president Ulysses Grant, and play a significant role in Grant's rise to become the Union's top general. 

The Charles A. Dana Discovery Center in Central Park. It opened in 1993 and named after Dana.

The Charles A. Dana Discovery Center in Central Park. It opened in 1993 and named after Dana.

After the war, Dana went back into journalism and eventually became the editor and part owner of the New York sun newspaper after the war, Dana went back into journalism and eventually became the editor and part-owner of the New York Sun, a position he held until the end of his life. During his editorship he switched the sun from a Republican-leaning paper to a Democratic-leaning one.  After supporting Grant as a candidate the paper became a harsh critic of his administration.  Late  in his tenure the Sun published the famous  "Yes, there is a Santa Claus!" editorial. 

The Game of the 19th Century: The Cincinnati Red Stockings versus the Brooklyn Atlantics in 1870

On June 14th 1870 two baseball teams met in Brooklyn in one of the most highly anticipated matches of the 19th century.  One team was a reigning and 8-time champion.  The other was on an 81 game winning streak.  By the end of the match, there had been 6 lead changes and plenty of controversy.   It ended with a rally in extra innings to end one of the longest streaks in baseball history.  The match took place at the Capitoline Grounds in Brooklyn between the Brooklyn Atlantics and the Cincinnati Red Stockings.  

The Brooklyn Atlantics playing the Cincinnati Red Stockings at the Capitoline Grounds in Brooklyn on June 14th, 1870

The Brooklyn Atlantics playing the Cincinnati Red Stockings at the Capitoline Grounds in Brooklyn on June 14th, 1870

In 1870 baseball clubs were mostly amateur at least officially.  Rumors had abounded for over a decade that clubs paid some players, but they claimed to be fully amateur.  The sport of baseball definitely started that way.  The first clubs such as the New York Knickerbockers or the Brooklyn Putnams started as groups of bookkeepers, firefighters, insurance salesmen, and other professionals playing in their spare time.  Over the years the game became more organized and more commercial.  Teams started to charge admission to matches.  A league was formed: The National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP).  Champions were declared.  The stakes of winning matches grew.  

Lip Pike, a 2nd baseman for the Atlantics and one of first Jewish baseball stars.

Lip Pike, a 2nd baseman for the Atlantics and one of first Jewish baseball stars.

The game of baseball as we know it started in the New York area.  While it spread to other cities, the strongest teams in early years in what is now New York.  Successful  teams before the founding of the first professional league in 1871 included the New York Mutual, the Union of Morrisania (in the Bronx)  and the Brooklyn Excelsior.  But during the 1860s the most dominant club was the Brooklyn Atantics.  They won 8 NABBP championships.  They featured stars like outfielder Jack Chapman, known as the "Death to Flying Things, catcher Bob Ferguson, the first known switch-hitter, LIp Pike, a star hitter and second baseman,  and slugger Joe Start.  Lip Pike was one of the first known Jewish baseball players.  Starting in 1862, their home ground was the Capitoline Grounds in today's Bedford-Stuyvesant.  

Pitcher Asa Brainard, the origin of the term 'ace'. 

Pitcher Asa Brainard, the origin of the term 'ace'. 

The Cincinnati Red Stockings were a much newer club.  Formed in 1866, they were soon joined by Harry Wright, a cricket and baseball player who moved from New York to join the Union Cricket Club in Cincinnati, but quickly became the player-manager of the Red Stockings.  He began bring in stars from the East, mostly New York, including his own brother George Wright at short stop and star pitcher Asa Brainard from the Brooklyn Excelsior (the term 'Ace' meaning a star pitcher is derived from Brainard).  By 1869 each player was paid a salary, making it the first openly professional team.  In 1869 the Red Stockings won all 57 of their games.  The next  year they continued their streak.  In the summer of 1870 they journeyed East to play the toughest teams. On June 13th they defeated the New York Mutuals to bring their streak to 81 games.  Their next match was with the mighty Atlantics.

An illustration of the two captains of the match in the New York Clipper sporting newspaper: Brooklyn's Robert Ferguson and Cincinnati's Harry Wright.

An illustration of the two captains of the match in the New York Clipper sporting newspaper: Brooklyn's Robert Ferguson and Cincinnati's Harry Wright.

Papers predicted Cincinnati would win.  They had beaten the Atlantics the previous year 32-10.  But this Atlantics team didn't fear the Western upstarts.  They were a squad of grizzled veterans who had won multiple championships.  In fact they had claimed the 1869 National Association title despite Cincinnati's perfect season due to the rather arcane rules of the time (teams didn't have a uniform schedule and there was no league table).  This background created intense anticipation for the match.  The crowed was estimated at about 20,000, one of the largest ever crowds for a sporting event. The New York World reported:

“Little urchins shouted, ‘score cards, names and positions of both nines,’ all the way from Fulton Ferry to Bedford, and all Brooklyn seemed awake to the event of the day. Stores were deserted, boys who could not obtain permission to leave school played hooky, and hundreds who could or would not produce the necessary fifty-cent stamp for admission looked on through cracks in the fence, or even climbed boldly to the top, while others were perched in the topmost limbs of the trees, or on the roofs of surrounding houses.”

Cincinnati as expected opened the scoring with three runs early.  But Brooklyn got back into it and took the lead 4-3 in the 6th.  Both teams added runs to bring the score to 5-5 after 9 innings.  In those days extra innings were not mandatory.  Cincinnati could have opted to preserve their unbeaten streak by accepting a tie.  But Cincinnati manager Harry Wright asked to continue.  The New York Tribune reported that while the score was small, the "excitement was unbearable".

Atlantic Joe Start's 11th inning triple set up the tying run and was one of the plays of the game.

Atlantic Joe Start's 11th inning triple set up the tying run and was one of the plays of the game.

The 10th inning went scoreless.  However, the Atlantics had men on base but their effort was foiled when Cincinnati shortstop George Wright let a pop fly drop and converted an easy double play (there was no infield fly rule then).  In the 11th inning the Red Stockings appeared to have won the match with two runs to make the score 7-5.  But once again the Atlantics rallied.  With a runner on, Brooklyn's Joe Start smashed a ball over right fielder Cal McVey's head for a triple, which was aided by a spectator jumping on McVey's back (just part of the home field advantage in those days).  The tying run was then driven in by Bob Ferguson.  Ferguson then scored the final and winning run when George Wright botched a double play that could have ended the inning. Brooklyn was victorious winning 8-7.

Headline in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Headline in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The New York papers lavished praise on the triumphant Atlantics and the game itself.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle claimed that the 'local nine defeated the picked nine.'  The New York Times called it the 'most exciting game on record."  The New York Sun claimed the Atlantics' fans celebrated like 'escaped lunatics."  The Times judged the partisanship of the crowd harshly, calling it "the most discreditable gathering we have seen at the Capitoline Grounds in years."  But the game was immediate recognized as one of the greatest ever played, and remains a significant milestone in the history of the game.  

The site of the Capitoline Grounds today. The Grounds were bound by Nostrand, Halsey, Marcy, and Putnam Streets.

The site of the Capitoline Grounds today. The Grounds were bound by Nostrand, Halsey, Marcy, and Putnam Streets.

Both clubs would fold in the following years.  With no tenant the Capitoline Grounds became run down and was demolished in 1880 and the land was sold for housing.  There's little evidence of the ground today.  In New York, perhaps the best places to visit related to this historic match are the city's cemeteries, where many of the players are buried.  The most significant one is Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, the resting place of three players on that day: Asa Brainard, Jack Chapman, and Charlie Smith.  Also buried at Green-Wood is Alexander Hamilton Weed,  a co-owner of the Capitoline Grounds.  Atlantics captain Robert Ferguson is buried at Cypress Hills Cemetery.  Lip Pike is buried at  Salem Fields Cemetery.  

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Grave of Asa Brainard at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn

On this day: Thomas Willett becomes the first New York Mayer in 1665

Thomas Willett: New York City's first mayor

Thomas Willett: New York City's first mayor

In 1664 British ships sailed into the harbor of New Amsterdam, the capital of the Dutch colony New Netherland.  But the city's residents, the majority of whom where not Dutch, put up little resistance.  Many hoped the British would be better rulers than the Dutch West India Company.  The city was named after James Stuart, the Duke of York.

On June 12 1665 the merchant Thomas Willett was appointed the city's first ever mayor.  He had lived in New Netherland for years and was friendly to many of the Dutch businessmen who remained in the city and still held great influence.  He served a one year term and was reappointed mayor again in 1667.  Willett remained in New York until 1673 and retired in Swansea in modern day Massachusetts.  He's buried in Little Neck Cemetery in East Providence, Rhode Island.  The headstone still survives. 

The current New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, is the 109th mayor of the city.  In 1908 the FDNY named a fireboat the Thomas Willett after the city's first mayor.  The boat was in service until 1959. 

The fireboat Thomas Willett in the foreground.

The fireboat Thomas Willett in the foreground.

Samuel Wright: Father of America's greatest ever sports family

A lithograph of Samuel Wright from an 1856 issue of the New York Clipper, captioned "Veteran Sam, the well-known cricketer.'

A lithograph of Samuel Wright from an 1856 issue of the New York Clipper, captioned "Veteran Sam, the well-known cricketer.'

Yesterday was the 205th birthday of American cricketer Samuel Wright, the father of two baseball hall-of-famers, Harry and George Wright.  Though a fairly obscure figure in American history (he didn't have a Wikipedia page until I created one last week), he became the patriarch of the Wright family which would have profound influence on the sporting scene in America--in baseball as well as golf, tennis and cricket.  The family produced two US Open tennis champions and three major league baseball stars, but the legacy runs much deeper than that. 

Samuel Wright was born on May 22 1812 in Sheffield England (thanks to blogger and historian Mark Aubrey for the info).  He married Ann Tone (niece of Irish nationalist Wolfe Tone, whose wife Matilda is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn) in 1830.  In 1832 they gave birth to their first son William Henry Wright--known as 'Harry' (There is some debate about Harry's birth date--some sources put it at 1835).  At some point in the 1830s they moved to the United States and settled in New York City.  Samuel Wright, who was an unremarkable cricketer in England, appears to have chosen to try to come to play professional cricket in the US.  He joined the St George's Cricket Club in New York, American's most feared cricket team, nicknamed the 'Dragonslayers'.  He served as a groundskeeper and a player for over two decades.  He was known as a strong batsman (as batters are referred to in cricket) and bowler.  This was before baseball had established itself as the American's most popular team sport.  Cricket was a very prominent sporting activity and matches were covered in the press.  St. George had rival clubs in Toronto, Philadelphia, and Staten Island.  

Samuel and Ann gave birth to three more sons and a daughter in New York. Three of their sons would become prominent baseball players, though they would also play cricket--at the time it was common for baseball players to play cricket as well.

An 1863 photo by Mathew Brady of Samuel Wright, left, holding a cricket bat, and Harry Wright holding a baseball. 

An 1863 photo by Mathew Brady of Samuel Wright, left, holding a cricket bat, and Harry Wright holding a baseball. 

Harry Wright played with his father at the St George's Cricket Club but he became acquainted with baseball early on at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, home to both St George and the Knickerbockers, one of the first baseball clubs. He would play baseball for the Knickerbockers and the New York Gothams,  In 1866 he moved to Cincinnati to play for the Union Cricket Club, but a year later he was playing baseball again.  He became the manager and center-fielder for the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first fully professional baseball team in America.  The team, bolstered by stars including his younger brother George Wright at shortstop, went on an 84-game winning streak.  On June 14th 1870, the streak game to an end in front of 20,000 people at Brooklyn's Capitoline Grounds when the Red Stockings lost to the Atlantics 8-7 in ten innings.  The score was tied 5-5 after 9 and by the rules of the time could have ended in a tie; but Harry Wright asked to continue.  

The Red Stockings would fold in 1871 due to the expense of maintaining baseball's first all-professional club.  However, the nickname of the Cincinnati Reds is an homage to the team Wright managed.  Wright then went to Boston, and managed the newly formed club the Boston Red Stockings until 1877.  That team was one of the founding members of the National League in 1876 and would later change to the Boston Braves, and now exist as the Atlanta Braves.  They wear red on their uniform as an reference to their origins.  It is the oldest professional baseball club in the US.  Harry Wright would later manage the Providence Grays and the Philadelphia Quakers (today the Phillies).  

Harry Wright's baseball career stretched from the sport's origins in New York to the establishment of professional baseball and the formation of the National League.  Historian Bill James said of Wright, "Harry didn’t play in the major leagues; he just invented them.”  He also organized a baseball tour of England which included an exhibition match between Boston Red Stockings and Philadelphia Athletics at Lords Cricket Ground.

Harry's brother George was a star on both his Cincinnati and Boston teams--one of the greatest shortstops of his time.  He settled in Boston and founded the Wright & Ditson Sporting Goods company.  It still exists today.  He also played cricket at the Longwood Cricket Club.  He became interested in golf and created America's second public golf course called Franklin Park in Boston.  He also donated land to the city which was turned into another golf course that bears his name today: The George Wright Golf Course.  

George Wright had two sons who became champion tennis players.  Beals Wright won the 1904 Singles and Double's Olympic gold medals in tennis, and in 1905 won the US Open.  His brother Irving Wright was a two-time mixed doubles champion at the US Open.  George Wright's younger brother Sam Wright Jr., Samuel Wright Sr.'s youngest son, was also a professional baseball player for 4 teams.  

With a family sporting prowess that stretched across three generations, a legacy that is still seen today in at least four major cities, and with significant impact on the sports of baseball, cricket, golf, and tennis, no family has impacted the American sports landscape like the Wrights have.  And it started with a cricketer from Sheffield who came to New York like millions of others in search of a new life.

Maslenitsa: Butter Week

Russian blini

Russian blini

Tomorrow is the last day of Maslenitsa, a holiday that roughly translates as 'butter day' or 'butter week', in Russia and other Eastern Slavic countries.  It is a widely celebrated holiday with pagan origins that roughly corresponds to Mardi Gras or Carnival, a time to eat lavishly before Lent.  Traditionally Russians eat Russian pancakes or blini, as well as blinchiki or blintzes.  Sometimes eaten with caviar wrapped inside, they can also be eaten with jam, honey, and other fillings savory and sweet.  Russian pancakes are large and thin and similar to French crepes.  They can be folded into a roll with filling inside, and this is the blinchik, known as blintzes which are found in Ukrainian and Jewish eateries in New York.

Blinchiki, or blintzes

Blinchiki, or blintzes


You can celebrate Maslenitsa at several Russian restaurants in Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach.  There is also a Russian cafe called Teremok that has two locations in Manhattan.  The company is a chain that has many locations throughout Russia that specializes in pancakes.  It has two locations in Manhattan--at 7th and 30th in Chelsea and 6th Avenue and 16th near Union Square.

Teremok, a popular Russian cafe chain that specializes in pancakes.

Teremok, a popular Russian cafe chain that specializes in pancakes.

On this day: Abraham Lincoln arrived at the Astor House Hotel in New York.

On this day in New York History, Abraham Lincoln arrived in New York at the Cortland Street ferry and made his way to the Astor House Hotel at Broadway and Vesey Streets just north of St. Paul's Chapel.  His journey from Springfield took three days.  He changed trains four times and arrived from Jersey City by ferry.

The Astor House Hotel, arguably New York's first luxury hotel when it opened in 1836.  It had gaslights and bathrooms on every floor, then the height of comfort.  Lincoln stayed here several times.

The Astor House Hotel, arguably New York's first luxury hotel when it opened in 1836.  It had gaslights and bathrooms on every floor, then the height of comfort.  Lincoln stayed here several times.

Where to celebrate Presidents' Day in and around NYC.

Until the election of the 45th President, New York City didn't immediately conjure up presidential imagery.  The most popular attractions--the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty or Central Park aren't closely connected to the presidency.  But New York has deep roots connected to the US presidency. Two presidents were born here.  Three died here.  Two were inaugurated here.  Three presidents and one vice-president studied at Columbia University in New York.  One president is interred here. Five First Ladies were born in New York, and nine from New York State.  Four vice-presidents died in New York.  And nearly every president came to New York City at some point.

Aside from Donald Trump, the US presidents that loom the largest in New York are George Washington and Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt.  There are numerous attractions related to all three in and around New York City.

The Washington Square Arch in Greenwich Village, built to commemorate Washington's inquguration in NYC 

The Washington Square Arch in Greenwich Village, built to commemorate Washington's inquguration in NYC 

Washington was from Virginia of course but he spent much time in New York.  He commanded the Continental Army in New York during the Revolutionary war and there are several buildings in New York or the surrounding area that Washington used has headquarters, including the Morris Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights.  The Old Stone House in Brooklyn is a museum that documents the Battle of Brooklyn between Washington's Continental Army and the British.  

Bust of Franklin Roosevelt at Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island

Bust of Franklin Roosevelt at Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island

From 1785-1791, New York City was the capital of the United States.  Thus, in 1789, the first presidential inauguration took place in NYC.  Washington lived in two homes during his time in NY, neither of which survive but plaques mark their spots.   There are nine full-sized statues of the 1st US president in NY, as well as the Washington Square Arch in Washington Square.  

However, the presidential family that has the deepest ties to New York, with due respect to the 45th president, is the Roosevelt family.  Descended from Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam, the Roosevelts represented old New York society.  Franklin and Theodore came from different branches of the family and were 5th cousins.  Both families were from New York, but they spent summers in two different countryside locations--Theodore's side in Oyster Bay on Long Island, and Franklin's side in Hyde Park in upstate New York.  Both lived in New York for significant periods of time. 

Aside from Washington and the Roosevelts, many other presidents have ties to New York City.  Below is a list of 10 places you can visit in New York City that have connections with one or more presidents--most are buildings that presidents visited.  Also there are three worthwhile sites outside of New York that are accessible by car or train.  Most of the sites in New York City are free to visit.

Federal Hall on Wall Street, site of Washington's 1st inauguration.  In front is a statue of Washington by John Quincy Adams Ward

Federal Hall on Wall Street, site of Washington's 1st inauguration.  In front is a statue of Washington by John Quincy Adams Ward

Federal Hall

Model of the original Federal Hall and Washington's Inauguration.

Model of the original Federal Hall and Washington's Inauguration.

Federal Hall was the first Capitol of the United States, and the site of George Washington's inauguration in 1789, as New York City was the capital of the US until 1791.  Though the actual Federal Hall was destroyed in 1812, you can visit the Federal Hall National Memorial on Wall Street at the same location.  The building was built in 1842--a beautiful Greek Revival building that originally served as the United States Customs House.  The Memorial is free to visit and contains many wonderful artifacts and exhibits including the pavestone where Washington stood for his inauguration, the Washington Bible, and a scale model of the original Federal Hall.  Outside is an 1882 statue of George Washington by sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward.

Fraunces Tavern

Fraunces Tavern at the corner of Pearl and Broad Streets

Fraunces Tavern at the corner of Pearl and Broad Streets

Fraunces Tavern, originally founded by Samuel Fraunces in 1762, is situated a short walk down Broad Street from Federal Hall.  Though most of the building is a reconstruction, it stands a a beautiful example of Colonial Revival architecture.  It still functions as a tavern and a museum on the upper floors.  The highlight of the museum is the Long Room, a recreation of the banquet hosted by George Washington on December 4th 1783 when he resigned from the Continental Army.  Other exhibits highlight New York's role in the American Revolution.  

Historically Fraunces Tavern played a significant role in the Revolution and the early American Republic.  Revolutionaries often met here.  The owner Samuel Fraunces is believed to have served as a spy for the Americans during the war.  After the Revolution Fraunces Tavern was the location of many US government offices.  And in 1804 Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton shared a civilized meal together at Fraunces Tavern a week before their famous duel.

The Long Room, where Washington celebrated the end of the American Revolution in 1783

The Long Room, where Washington celebrated the end of the American Revolution in 1783

The presidential pew with painting of the Great Seal of the United States above.

The presidential pew with painting of the Great Seal of the United States above.

St Paul's Chapel

St Paul's Chapel is the oldest building in Lower Manhattan and the most physical direct link in the neighborhood to the time that President and General George Washington spent in New York City.  During the two years he lived in New York as president from 1789-91, he attended services here.  His pew is preserved.  The surrounding graveyard contains the remains of several soldiers in the American Revolution including General Robert Montgomery.  5 US presidents have attended services here including Washington and George W Bush.

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site

Teddy Roosevelt's birthplace

Teddy Roosevelt's birthplace

Located at 28 East 20th Street near Madison Square is a reconstruction of the brownstone townhouse where Theodore Roosevelt was born and lived until he was 14.  Though the original 1848 rowhouse was demolished in 1916 (Theodore Roosevelt himself had no interest in preserving it.), the Women's Roosevelt Memorial Association purchased the lot after his death in 1919 and rebuilt the brownstone in its original Greek Revival style.  Today it is open as a house-museum and is filled with actual furnishings of the Roosevelt family or authentic period furnishings.  Guided tours by National Park Service rangers are free.

Roosevelt's boyhood reading chair at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace

Roosevelt's boyhood reading chair at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace

City Hall

New York City's City Hall, built in 1812, has hosted dozens of presidents visiting New York City.  One of the city's nine full-sized statues of George Washington is inside, an 1857 cast of Jean-Antoine Houden's 1792 statue of the first US president.  The highlight is the Governor's Room, which contains George Washington's desk as well as 108 portraits, one of the richest collections of personal portraits in the United States.  Among the paintings are nine John Trumbull portraits inclduing George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay.   The Trumbull Hamilton is the basis for his face on the $10 bill.  City Hall is closed to the public except for guided tours, currently on Thursdays at 10:00 a.m.  Registration is required.

Aside from visits by many US presidents, President's Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S Grant both lay in state at City Hall after their deaths.

The Great Hall of the Cooper Union

The Great Hall of the Cooper Union, where 8 presidents have spoken.

The Great Hall of the Cooper Union, where 8 presidents have spoken.

An exhibit outside the Great Hall

An exhibit outside the Great Hall

The Cooper Union was built by the philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859 to provide free higher education as well as to provide a venue for ideas to be debated.  Inside the Union's Italianate brownstone Foundation Building at Cooper Square is the Great Hall of the Cooper Union, where at least 8 presidents have spoken, most significantly (then-candidate) Abraham Lincoln in 1860.  Lincoln's Cooper Union Address was seen as vital for Lincoln gaining the Republican nomination for the 1860 US Presidential Election.  

From the outset, Peter Cooper intended the Great Hall to be open to a wide range of political ideas.  Cooper was a Democrat (though an abolitionist as well) and happily opened the doors to Republicans like Lincoln in 1860.  Other speakers here have included Ralph Nader, Hugo Chavez, Joseph Cambell, members of the women's suffrage movement, and others.  An exhibit of the Hall's history is located inside.  The Cooper Union is not open for visitors but events are held at the Great Hall which are open to the public.

Waldorf Astoria Hotel

The 1893 clock inside the Waldorf-Astoria

The 1893 clock inside the Waldorf-Astoria

The Waldorf Astoria Hotel was the home of US Presidents in New York from Herbert Hoover to Barack Obama.  The presidential suite is specifically designed to emulate the White House.  The lobby, built in an elegant Art Deco style, is open to the public and one of the city's amazing pubic spaces.  The centerpiece in the lobby is a clock that was cast in England in 1893 and was displayed at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893.  Topped by a miniature of the Statue of Liberty, the bronze column also has reliefs of 6 US presidents along with Queen Victoria and Benjamin Franklin.  

Along with several US presidents, innumerable kings, queens, diplomats, politicians, and celebrities have stayed or lived at the Waldorf Astoria.  Herbert Hoover lived here until his death in 1964.  Songwriter Cole Porter lived her for 30 years and his grand piano is in the lobby.  The Khrushchev family stayed here in 1959.  

Roosevelt House

in 1908 Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt moved into a Neo-Georgian townhouse purchased by Franklin's mother Sara Delano Roosevelt.  They lived here until the Roosevelt's moved to the White House in 1933.  It is today owned by Hunter College, which Eleanor Roosevelt had a long relationship with.  It's named the Sara Delano Roosevelt Memorial House, or the Roosevelt House.

The house is not a museum and lacks the rich collection of authentic furnishings that you see at the Theodore Roosevelt House.  However, free guided tours on Saturdays go over the Roosevelts' lives and political careers.  After he was elected, Roosevelt assembled his political team here and planned much of the New Deal at this house.  Here he appointed New Yorker Frances Perkins Secretary of Labor, the first woman to serve in the cabinet.  One of her proposals would become what we call Social Security.  The house contains many portraits of the Roosevelts and several political posters from the time.

Grants Tomb

Grants Tomb, officially dedicated in 1897

Grants Tomb, officially dedicated in 1897

Sarcophagi for Ulysses and Julia Grant 

Sarcophagi for Ulysses and Julia Grant 

Two presidents have been born in New York City, and one is interred here.  Ulysses S Grant is entombed the stunning Neoclassical General Grant National Memorial, popularly known as Grant's Tomb.  Grant was not from New York but lived his final years here.  Late in his life, after many financial difficulties in his post-presidential years, he enjoyed renewed popularity due to the publication of his memoirs.  He become a very popular citizen of the city, and when he died in 1885 unexpectedly of throat cancer, there was a public push to have him interred in New York City and build a suitable memorial.  It took 12 years to plan and build and was dedicated in 1897.  For many years it was New York's most popular attraction, outdrawing the Statue of Liberty.  In particular it was visited by Civil War veterans.

Mural of Grant and Lee at Appomattox inside Grants Tomb

Mural of Grant and Lee at Appomattox inside Grants Tomb

Even in a city with so many architectural riches, Grant's Tomb is impressive.  The design was inspired by the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in ancient Turkey (a popular inspiration at the time, found in many New York buildings) and the Roman building Tropaeum Alpium in France; while inside it bears resemblance to Napoleon's Tomb in Paris.  The interior is rather simple, containing the two giant wooden sarcophagi--one for Ulysses S Grant and one for his wife Julia Grant.  Inside are mosaics illustrating events in Grant's career and busts of five Civil War generals.  

Columbia University

The Low Memorial Library at Columbia.  It is the main building open to the general public and hosts a visitor center.  Daniel Chester French's Alma Mater statue stands in front.

The Low Memorial Library at Columbia.  It is the main building open to the general public and hosts a visitor center.  Daniel Chester French's Alma Mater statue stands in front.

Columbia University, besides Harvard, Yale and the College of William and Mary, is perhaps the university most associated with US presidents.  Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt studied here along with Barack Obama, while Dwight Eisenhower served as its president.   The Roosevelts both studied law here but did not complete their degrees; both were awarded JDs posthumously.  Barack Obama transferred to Columbia from Occidental College and finished with a B.A. in Political Science.  Daniel D Tompkins, the sixth Vice-President of the United States, also studied at Columbia.

The campus in Morningside Heights, between 114th and 120th Streets.  Built in the Beaux-Arts style by the architects McKim, Mead and White in the late 19th Century.  It is considered one of the USA's most beautiful college campuses.  Though today most buildings are off limits to non students, the campus is still well worth a visit for the architecture alone.  There is a visitor center at the Low Memorial Library building (open only Monday-Friday) and the university maintains a visitor information website with a self-guided tour.

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site

Sagamore Hill is Theodore Roosevelt's summer home in Oyster Bay on the north shore of Long Island (the 'Gold Coast') and his primary residence for much of his adult life.  He's buried in nearby Youngs Memorial Cemetery.  It is primarily accessible by car; it's approximately one hour from the city.  However, it is possible to take a train (to either Syosset or Oyster Bay) and then either take a taxi or a shuttle which is available in the summer only.  See the Website for details.

Hyde Park: Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site

Theodore's side of the family summered on Long Island, whole Franklin's side summered at Hyde Park in the Hudson Valley. Springwood, the house where Roosevelt was born, was built around 1800 in the Federal Style, though portions have been added on since.  It was purchased by Roosevelt's father James in 1866 and Franklin was born here in 1882.  Franklin would spend most of his life here, though he and Eleanor would also have the townhouse in the city.  Roosevelt spent much of the summer here during his presidency.  And the first Presidential Library was established on the grounds by FDR himself in 1941.  Franklin and Eleanor are buried at the estate.

Again, Hyde Park is easiest to visit by car.  It's about an hour and a half north of NYC.  You can also take a train to Poughkeepsie and either transfer by taxi or a shuttle service available in the summer.

Lincoln Depot Museum

Statue of Lincoln in front of the Lincoln Depot Museum in Peekskill

Statue of Lincoln in front of the Lincoln Depot Museum in Peekskill

This wonderful museum is a surprising find.  It was opened only in 2014.  It is located in Peekskill  NY (very near Bear Mountain State Park) 40 miles north of New York in the Hudson Valley inside a restored train station where Lincoln stopped en route to his inauguration in Washington from Springfield IL.  He stopped briefly at the station and was greeted by William Nelson, a local lawyer with whom Lincoln had served in Congress years earlier.  He spoke in front of 1,500 people who gathered to see the President-elect.

The small museum is filled with artifacts with a focus on Lincoln's connections to New York State as well as the Civil War. Though easily walkable from the Peekskill train station, visiting by car would allow you to easily combine the visit with surrounding sites.  Unfortunately the museum opens in April for the summer only but does host events on February 18th.

Babe Ruth: Born today on February 6th 1895.

Babe Ruth, perhaps baseball's greatest ever player, was born on this day in 1895 in Baltimore, Maryland.  He defined the early greatness of the Yankees and established it as baseball's greatest club. His transfer from the Boston Red Sox also helped define one of baseball's greatest rivalries. 


Babe Ruth Plaza outside Yankee Stadium  

Babe Ruth Plaza outside Yankee Stadium  

Plaque at Monument Park  

Plaque at Monument Park  

The most relevant place to experience Babe Ruth in New York of course is Yankee Stadium, even though it's not the Yankee Stadium that Babe Ruth played at. The original was torn down into in 2008.  The new Yankee Stadium contains the Yankee Stadium museum which contains player memorabilia and Monument Park, and open air museum featuring retired numbers as well as plaques honoring famous Yankees. Unfortunately Monument Park is closed in February but access it is included in tickets to Yankee games.

You can also visit the Ansonia apartment building, where he lived for a time, at 72nd and Broadway.  You can have an ale at McSoreley's on 7th Street, a bar he drank at. You can also visit his grave at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester County north of the city. It can be accessed by train from Grand Central; the stop is Mount Pleasant. A number of other baseball players are buried there. 

 

Ruth's grave at Gate of Heaven Cemetery  

Ruth's grave at Gate of Heaven Cemetery  

On this day: Mathew Brady died on January 15th 1896

Brady in 1875

Brady in 1875

On this day in 1896, pioneering photographer Mathew Brady died.  Brady was famous for his famous studio portrait of Abraham Lincoln used in the 1860 general election, as well as his photographs of the American Civil War.  He and his assistant Alexander Gardner photographed Lincoln nearly two dozen times.

Brady's 1860 photo of Lincoln

Brady's 1860 photo of Lincoln

In the 1850s, Mathew Brady was one of the most famous photographers in the world.  In 1851 he won a medal at the Great Exhibition in London.  He had studios in New York and Washington and his studio in New York was also a tourist attraction with portraits of many dignitaries from around the world.  On February 27th 1860, then presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln stepped into his studio on Broadway for a photograph just before his speech at Cooper Union.  This photograph was widely published during the general election campaign of 1860.  Brady would move to Washington and began to document the American Civil War in photographs.  Using travelling darkrooms, Brady and his assistants traveled to battlefields and took photographs of the scene.

Brady's grave at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC.  The year of his death is incorrect.

Brady's grave at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC.  The year of his death is incorrect.

Despite his fame, Brady's fortunes declined after the war.  Anticipating future sales of his Civil War photographs, Brady invested in having photo plates made, but found far fewer buyers than anticipated.  He went into debt and began to suffer from depression.  He died in poverty in 1896 at Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan.  His funeral was financed by veterans of the New York 7th Infantry, and he was buried at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC.

Some great exhibits soon closing in New York's museums

New York has over 100 museums and collectively they contain hundreds of fabulous exhibits. Often most fascinating are the temporary exhibits.  Several fantastic exhibits in New York are set to close within a month or less.  Check them out before the vanish:

Alexander Hamilton: Striver, Statesman, Scoundrel at the main branch of the New York Public Library.  A great exhibit that covers Hamilton's life and features exhibits including notes from George Washington's first Inaugural Address, which Hamilton helped Washington with.  Closes December 31st.

Dinosaurs Among Us at the American Museum of Natural History.  An exhibit that documents the evolution of some dinosaurs into birds.  Closes January 2nd.
 
E Mau Ke Ea: The Sovereign Hawaiian Nation at the National Museum of the American Indian.  Closes January 2nd.

Jerusalem 1000-1400: People under Heaven at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
A superb collection that stresses Jerusalem's cultural diversity during this period, making it a topical experience today.  Closes January 8th

Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present at the Brooklyn Museum.
A must for sports lovers--and incredible collection of sports photos.  I reviewed it on my blog last week.  Closes January 8th.  The BM charges the full $16 adult admission to see this exhibit, though it is only $10 on the first Saturday.

The Battle of Brooklyn at the New-York Historical Society.  The Exhibit documents the important Revolutionary War battle on Long Island during which George Washington is forced to abandon New York, though he preserves the Continental Army.  Filled with various artifacts from the battle and the time period, including copies of the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Paine's Common Sense.  Closes January 8th.

Agnes Martin at the Guggenheim Museum.  Closes January 11th

Odessa / Оде́сса: Babel, Ladyzhensky and the Soul of a City at the Yeshiva University Museum at 15 West 16th Street.  This exhibit is at the top of my to-do list.  Looks like a good one for Jewish interest or Slavophiles.  Closes January 15th

Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter at the Museum of Modern Art.  I haven't seen this yet but it looks like a powerful take on an important social issue.  Closes January 22th.

Word and Image: Martin Luther's Reformation at the Morgan Library and Museum.  90 objects including one of six original copies of Luther's 95 Theses.  Closes January 22nd. 

America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far at the Children's Museum of Manhattan.  A fantastic exhibit that helps connect Muslim culture to New York and New Yorkers.  Closes January 31st. 

Who Shot Sports: a photography exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum

Photographers have long been drawn to sporting events, looking to capture moments of triumph, exhilaration, struggle, passion, and also despair and defeat.  The Brooklyn Museum is running an exhibit now which shows the breadth of possibilities for sports photography.  The exhibition is called Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to Present.  It's at the Brooklyn Museum until the 8th of January.  

One of my favorite photos in the exhibit.  It's a photo by Gerry Cranhan of a 1979 soccer match at the City Ground between Nottingham Forest and Bolton Wanderers.  

One of my favorite photos in the exhibit.  It's a photo by Gerry Cranhan of a 1979 soccer match at the City Ground between Nottingham Forest and Bolton Wanderers.  

The images I've attached are photos of the exhibit taken by me, many which have my reflection or other blemishes.  Photographs are allowed, though a few photos have a no-photography label just for that photo.

Team Canada huddling on the ice during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Team Canada huddling on the ice during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The exhibition contains over 200 photos in several rooms.  They depict a wide range of sporting topics and many different sports including baseball, cricket, soccer, American football, basketball, etc.   Most photos are enlarged enough to view comfortably.  The photos are grouped thematically, not by sport (though there is an Olympics section) but by the photo's relationship with the fan, the photographer or athlete.  

NFL star Joe Namath on vacation in Florida.

NFL star Joe Namath on vacation in Florida.

English cricketer Ian Botham

English cricketer Ian Botham

The exhibition has sections of photos of fans, photos of the field of play, photos of athletes in training, athletes off the field, and other themes.  Some pictures show famous athletes like Muhammad Ali, Diego Maradona,, Carl Lewis, the cricketer Ian Botham, etc, but some feature nameless athletes such as impoverished children playing soccer barefoot.  Some photos are iconic shots that you probably have seen like Ali standing over Sonny Liston or Babe Ruth facing the crowd but there are many more.  Some photos are experimental, such as a photo of Muhammad Ali boxing underwater. Some photos feature unusual angles such as overhead shots. 

The Knuckleball, a 1913 photo of a baseball held by pitcher Eddie Cicotte

The Knuckleball, a 1913 photo of a baseball held by pitcher Eddie Cicotte

The exhibition takes at least an hour to appreciate fully.  You are required to pay the full suggested admission of $16 for an adult; children 19 or under are free and there are discounts for students and seniors. A ticket to see the museum's permanent exhibits only is pay as you wish.  Other exhibits include a world-class Ancient Egypt collection, a reconstruction of the 17th-century Jans Schenk house, and European and American art collections with pieces by Rodin and Monet.  The museum's normal hours are 11-5, Wednesday-Sunday.  On the first Saturday of each moth it's open until 11 pm and the special exhibition is only $10.  Before visiting, study the details more fully on the museum's website.

The Twickenham Streaker.

The Twickenham Streaker.

On this day: The Gettysburg Address

Seven score and 13 years ago today on November 19th 1863, Abraham Lincoln gave one of the most important speeches in modern history--the Gettysburg Address.  In July that year, Union and Rebel forces had met at the battlefield in the bloodiest battle of the war.  Four and a half months later, Abraham Lincoln and several members of his cabinet (including Secretary of State William Seward) gathered to consecrate the battlefield.  

Article in the New York Tribune covering the day's events.  Lincoln's 'dedicatory remarks' were preceded by a 2-hour oration by former Massachusetts governor Edward Everett.

Article in the New York Tribune covering the day's events.  Lincoln's 'dedicatory remarks' were preceded by a 2-hour oration by former Massachusetts governor Edward Everett.

Lincoln's speech was part of a full-day program of events, including a two-hour oration by former Massachusetts Governor and Secretary of State Edward Everett, who was considered by some to be the finest American orator at that time.  Also a band played and a benediction was read.  Lincoln was scheduled to deliver 'dedicatory remarks'.

Text of the speech in the New York Times.

Text of the speech in the New York Times.

Lincoln's speech was reported in newspapers nationwide as well as across the Atlantic.  Reactions at the time varied.  The New York Times (a Republican-leaning paper then) reported that the speech was interrupted by applause five times and followed by 'long and uninterrupted applause.  The full speech was printed in the major New York newspapers including the Times and the New York Tribune.

There are five known copies of the speech written by Lincoln himself.  One of them, the Bancroft copy, is kept at Cornell University in upstate New York.  It was written for the historian George Bancroft in 1864.

The Bancroft copy of the Gettysburg Address kept in the Carl A. Kroch Library at Cornell University.

The Bancroft copy of the Gettysburg Address kept in the Carl A. Kroch Library at Cornell University.

We were all New Yorkers then

I was living abroad in Moscow, Russia when September 11th happened.  I was teaching English lessons and heard bits of news from clients during the afternoon (it happened after 4 pm there). At first I was sure it was a terrible accident.  Someone told me about a second plane but I assumed he had heard the same story twice or something.  Then walking home my wife called me, clearly shaken, and told me that both of the Towers were completely destroyed.  We had both been to WTC multiple times.

My photo of the Twin Towers in September 1998.

My photo of the Twin Towers in September 1998.

I immediately went home and glued myself to the news for hours and days, listening to NPR and the BBC via the internet.  Back then I was on dial-up so I mostly depended on audio and text reports so I wasn't exposed to the constant repeat showings of the video that many people saw.  

Flowers outside the US Embassy in Moscow

Flowers outside the US Embassy in Moscow

Via the Internet and satellite TV, September 11th was a global news event of unprecedented proportion.  I can't think of an event in my lifetime that captured the whole world like that, except perhaps the finals of World Cups.   I was born after the Moon landing and JFK's assassination.  Perhaps Lennon's death was comparable.  The entire world focused on Lower Manhattan.  Everyone saw the images of the aftermath so familiar now:  the video of the towers falling, the debris, the mayor leading the response, the firefighters working tirelessly, etc.  The French newspaper Le Monde said, "We are all Americans."  But we were all New Yorkers.

My wife and I visited NY later that year (we moved to NY permanently in 2012) and of course we saw what we could of the World Trade Center site, called Ground Zero.  We saw the temporary memorial at the fence of St. Paul's Chapel, a moving collection of flowers and photos of the victims.  We saw already the ways the city had changed as a result, with so much more security.  We heard stories from people who witnessed the event, including a friend who was in a neighboring building that morning and saw the second plane hit.

The makeshift memorial on the fence around St. Paul's Chapel next to the World Trade Center.

The makeshift memorial on the fence around St. Paul's Chapel next to the World Trade Center.

10 years later the 9/11 Memorial opened at the site.  It continues to draw people from all over the world--four million during its first year.  In 2015 the observatory at One World Trade Center opened.  Nearly everyone who visits New York now visits the site.  It's a place they saw on the news, and know a great deal about.  They appreciate the magnitude of such a loss of life.

For New Yorkers who lived here at the time, the relationship with the World Trade Center is much more personal and evokes powerful emotions.  The site is a mass graveyard, often for friends or loved ones.  New Yorkers witnessed the events with their own eyes, not on the news.  They were intimately familiar with the buildings, and some went there every day.  I know many people who experience powerful feelings whenever they return to Ground Zero, and some who cannot bring themselves to return.

For many New Yorkers the contrast between their visit to the 9/11 Memorial and that of the thousands of visitors there can be jarring.  People are there who had little connection to the events, taking pictures, eating, posing for selfies, and otherwise acting as common tourists.  Furthermore, there's a sense that the Memorial is not for New Yorkers.  To an extent that's true perhaps.  The area is designed to accommodate mass tourism.  Brochures are available in over 10 languages.  The area is filled with tour groups.  And right next the Memorial is the One World Observatory which is an attraction with a very Disneylike feel.  Moreover, the recent opening of the (rather upmarket) Westfield shopping mall adjacent to the Memorial seems rather crass to many.

One of the pools at the 9/11 Memorial

One of the pools at the 9/11 Memorial

For people visiting New York who haven't experienced the 9/11 Memorial, a respectful visit to the site is certainly high on the list of things to see.  There are few complaints from locals or visitors about the memorial itself.  The giant pools and waterfalls drown out surrounding noise to allow reflection.  The sight of the names is very moving.  And the site creates a huge sense of scale which communicates the magnitude of the events here.  The design of the memorial accommodates crowd flows well.  And it's also very near other important historic sites and attractions including the observatory atop 1WTC, St Paul's Chapel with George Washington's pew inside, Trinity Church where Alexander Hamilton was buried, Wall Street, etc.

Postcards, a memorial dedicated to 274 Staten Islanders who died.  The memorial is oriented towards the exact spot where the Twin Towers stood.

Postcards, a memorial dedicated to 274 Staten Islanders who died.  The memorial is oriented towards the exact spot where the Twin Towers stood.

A cross made from debris of the Twin Towers at the Church of the Good Shepard in Inwood, Manhattan

A cross made from debris of the Twin Towers at the Church of the Good Shepard in Inwood, Manhattan

To appreciate the events of September 11th off the beaten track, I recommend visiting one of the many other memorials dedicated to the event throughout the city and the metropolitan area.  There are 9/11 Memorials throughout the five boroughs and many towns within commuting distance have memorials dedicated to the members of the community who were victims.  A ferry ride away from Lower Manhattan is the 'Postcards' memorial dedicated to all Staten Islanders who died.  At nearby Hanover Square is the Queen Elizabeth II Garden, a memorial to the 67 British victims of September 11th. In Coney Island there's the Brooklyn wall of Remembrance.  And there are countless others.  Just off of Times Square is the Pride of Midtown firehouse which lost 15 firefighters on 9/11 and there's a plaque honoring them outside.

 

Memorial to 43 victims in Huntington, Long Island

Memorial to 43 victims in Huntington, Long Island

New Yorkers at the Olympics

The US Olympic team in Rio currently has 11 New Yorkers.  So far medals have been won by fencers Miles Chamley-Watson (Bronze--team event) and Daryl Homer (Silver, individual) as well as by swimmer Lia Neal (silver, 4X100 relay).  Given it's relative size, and the sporting prowess of its teams and clubs (Columbia University's record college football losing streak notwithstanding), New York City perhaps has not produced the number of Olympic champions you might expect.  That said, there are many legends from the past with roots in the 5 boroughs.  I'll run through my list of the most significant Olympians from New York City,--not including team sport participants or other sports like boxing and tennis where the athlete's fame is not primarily won at the Olympics.  (A good list of top basketball players from the 5 boroughs can be found here; only one from that list, Chris Mullin, even played in the Olympics. Lenny Wilkins won golds as a coach. That doesn't include players with the New York Knicks who played at the Olympics).   I'm including players with some roots in New York City, including NYC universities like Fordham and Columbia.

If I've missed any athletes, please feel free to tell me in the comments!!

1. Bob Beamon, from South Jamaica, Queens and Jamaica High School.  

There can be no debate about the greatest Olympic moment by a New Yorker.  Bob Beamon, from Jamaica High School in Queens, shattered the world record in the men's long jump in 1968 by an amount unforeseen by the sport's organizers.  His jump was beyond the measuring equipment--one foot 9 inches or 55 cm beyond teammate Ralph Boston's then world record.  An excellent video summary of the event can be viewed here.  Beamon's jump was measured at 8 meters 90 centimeters; although Beamon wasn't familiar with the metric system and had to be told it was 29 ft. 2½ in.

Bob Beamon's jump in Mexico City

Bob Beamon's jump in Mexico City

Beamon's rise to athletic fame is remarkable given his childhood.  His mother died while he was an infant.  He was expelled from school once.  But at Jamaica High School, he was discovered and mentored by the legendary track coach Ralph Ellis.  He started to break records and won a scholarship at Western College of the University of Texas (now University of Texas at El-Paso.  He didn't graduate because he refused to compete against Brigham Young University over its racist policies.  Coached unofficially by Olympian Ralph Boston, he qualified for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City as the favorite for the long jump. 

Beamon's yearbook photo from JHS

Beamon's yearbook photo from JHS

Jamaica High School in Queens

Jamaica High School in Queens

Beamon's record lasted for 23 years, broken in Tokyo in 1991 by American Mike Powell by 5 centimeters.  Carl Lewis once jumped, remarkably at the same event as Powell, one centimeter past Beamon's record in a wind-aided jump, but that effort is not eligible for the record books.  To put Beamon's record in a different perspective--only one person has made a legal jump further than Beamon in history in official competition--48 years afterwards.  In Rio, the winning jump in the men's event was 8.38 meters, more than half a meter short of Beamon's jump.

I would rank Beamon's leap as the greatest athletic achievement by a New Yorkers, including baseball records by players such as Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio.  Their records are not tested by global competition.  Also, most baseball records are arbitrary numbers only loosely connected with ultimate success in the sport.  Beamon's jump literally defined the physical limit of the human body..  Beamon's jump is routinely cited around the world as one of the greatest athletic achievements ever and was ranked by the UK's Guardian as the 2nd greatest ever Summer Olympic moment.

2. Al Oerter.  From Astoria, Queens.

If Beamon's jump was the greatest ever Olympic moment for a New Yorker, Al Oerter's 4 straight gold medals from 1956-1968  in the discus throw is surely the greatest Olympic career by a New Yorker.  He's one of three Olympians to win an Olympic event 4 straight times--the others are Carl Lewis and Michael Phelps.

Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park, Long Island where Oerter started his track career.

Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park, Long Island where Oerter started his track career.

Al Oerter at the 1960 Rome games

Al Oerter at the 1960 Rome games

Al Oerter was born in 1937 in Astoria, Queens but grew up just over the Nassau County border in New Hyde Park, and attended Sewanhaka High School where he competed in track.  He started as a runner.  The story of how he became a discus thrower is like a fairy tale.  One day a discus landed at his feet in practice, and he picked it up and threw it so far he was made a discus thrower by the coach.  His success earned him a scholarship at the University of Kansas, where he was a classmate of Wilt Chamberlain.  He won two NCAA titles.

He first made the US Olympic team in 1956 in the Melbourne games and won his first gold with a throw of 184 feet and 11 inches, or 56.36 meters.  In addition to his four consecutive golds, he set the world record 6 times, though his Olympic throws were never world records.

What's remarkable about his 4 Olympic golds is he suffered significant injuries.  In 1957 he was nearly killed in a car crash but recovered for the 1960 games.  In 1964 before the Tokyo Olympics he slipped and suffered significant reb injuries on his throwing side.  He was told not to compete but did anyway.  He won his third straight gold playing through significant pain.

The Al Oerter Recreation Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens.

The Al Oerter Recreation Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens.

In 2009, two years after he died, the Al Oerter Recreation Center was opened in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, a tribute to one of the borough's greatest sons.  

3.  Gertrude Ederle, from Manhattan.

I have to admit that by the criteria I established for this post, Gertrude Ederle is an exception.  Her medal haul--1 relay gold and two individual bronzes in Paris 1924 are notable but not what made Ederle famous.  She was the greatest swimmer of her time, known as the "Queen of the Waves" and the first woman to swim the English Channel. 

She was born in 1905 in Hell's Kitchen to German immigrant parents.  Her father ran a butcher shop on Amsterdam Avenue, and owned a cottage in Highlands, New Jersey where she learned to swim.  She joined the Woman's Swimming Association in Manhattan, where she came under the tutelage of the WSA's founder and pioneer of women's swimming Charlotte Epstein and former Olympic swimmer and developer of the 'American crawl' style Louis Handley.

The US 4x100 relay team in Paris.  Ederle is on the far right.--Getty Images

The US 4x100 relay team in Paris.  Ederle is on the far right.--Getty Images

In 1922 in Brighton Beach she set seven world records and established herself as a world-famous swimmer.  She traveled to the Olympics in Paris as the favorite for 3 gold medals.  She got one with the 4x100 relay team which set a world record.  However, during the games Ederle suffered fatigue and injury and may have not been in top form.  Had she swum in a later era, almost certainly would have won more medals.  In 1924 there were only 5 medal events available to female swimmers.  Also, by turning professional to attract sponsors, Ederle became ineligible for future Olympics.

Ticker tape parade in the Financial District.  It was the first ever for a female athlete.

Ticker tape parade in the Financial District.  It was the first ever for a female athlete.

It was after her amateur career that she really struck fame. She swam from Manhattan's Battery Park to Sandy Hook in New Jersey in seven hours in a widely publicized race, and then turned her eyes on the English Channel, which no woman had ever swum across.  She succeeded on her second attempt, crossing the Channel in 14 hours and 34 minutes, two hours faster than any man had done it.  This feat catapulted her to immense fame.  She was greeted by two million cheering fans at her ticker-tape parade in New York, and became one of the symbols of the Roaring Twenties.  She stared in a movie, Swim, Girl, Swim, and had an unsuccessful vaudeville career.  

Ederle's name on the Canyon of Heroes on Broadway in the Financial District

Ederle's name on the Canyon of Heroes on Broadway in the Financial District

She suffered a back injury in 1933 that kept her in bed for 4 years,  After that she lived modestly, for much of her remaining life in Flushing, Queens.  She taught at the Lexington School for the Deaf for many years--Ederle herself had hearing problems most of her life.  She's buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.  In 2013 the 59th Street Recreation Center, part of the NYC Parks Department, was renamed the Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center after a renovation.  It is located several blocks from where she grew up.

Ederle's grave in Woodlawn Cemetary

Ederle's grave in Woodlawn Cemetary

4.  John Flanagan, from Manhattan., born in Ireland

John Flanagan in the 1908 Games in London

John Flanagan in the 1908 Games in London

It's hard to imagine now but there was a time when the Hammer Throw was an American-dominated event, or more specifically, and Irish-American event.  A number of Irishmen medaled in this event in its early years (before it was dominated by the USSR)..  Much of this dominance was due to the prowess of the Irish American Athletic Club (IAAC), based in Queens in today's Sunnyside neighborhood.  Though the club folded during WWI, it had a huge impact on early years of American track and field Olympic success, and produced a three-time Hammer Throw Olympic champion John Flanagan.

Flanagan was born in Country Limerick Ireland in 1873 and made the crossing to the US where be became a police officer in New York City as well as a member of the IAAC and the New York Athletic Club.  He was the only non-college man to win a medal for the US in the 1900 games in Paris, where he won the first of his three consecutive gold medals in the hammer throw.  In 1904 in St Louis he also won a silver in the now defunct weight throw.

The "Irish Whales" at the 1904 Games in St. Louis.  Flanagan (left), Martin Sheridan of the Irish American Athletic Club, with fellow Irishman James Mitchell of the New York Athletic Club.  Flanagan and Sheridan are wearing the 'Winged Fist' symbol of the IAAC.  Mitchell wears the Winged Sandal of the New York Athletic Club.

The "Irish Whales" at the 1904 Games in St. Louis.  Flanagan (left), Martin Sheridan of the Irish American Athletic Club, with fellow Irishman James Mitchell of the New York Athletic Club.  Flanagan and Sheridan are wearing the 'Winged Fist' symbol of the IAAC.  Mitchell wears the Winged Sandal of the New York Athletic Club.

He frequently competed in competitions in the New York area, often at the IAAC's Celtic Park facility in Queens, where the Celtic Park apartments now stand.  He later returned to Ireland and coached a gold medal winning hammer thrower from Ireland, Pat O'Callaghan, who was the first non-American to win the event.

5.  Ethelda Bleibtrey, from Waterford NY, grew up in Brooklyn

Bleibtrey in Antwerp in 1920

Bleibtrey in Antwerp in 1920

Three gold medals seems like a small number for a swimmer.  Well before Michael Phelps won his astronomical haul, Mark Spitz won 7 golds in 1976.  But in 1920 at the Antwerp Olympics, Brooklynite Ethelda Bleibtrey won all three gold medals available to female swimmers at the time.

She was born Upstate but grew up in Brooklyn and attended Erasmus Hall High School where she took up swimming in part to heal from a back injury, and it remained a lifelong passion.  She joined the Woman's Swimming Association in Manhattan and became a favorite for medals at the 1920 Olympic Games, where she won gold at the 100 meter freestyle, the 300 meter freestyle, and the 4x100 relay.  The backstroke, her strongest event, was not available for women in 1920.

Bleibtrey (far left) with the other finalists of the 100 meter freestyle

Bleibtrey (far left) with the other finalists of the 100 meter freestyle

She would remain an advocate for women's swimming for the rest of her life.  In a stunt to promote the value of swimming for health, she once was arrested for swimming in the Central Park Reservoir (now Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir).

Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn

Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

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