Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Lovely photos of the horrible New York garbage strike of 1911


New York street cleaners and garbage workers (sometimes referred to as 'ashcart men') went on strike on November 8, 1911, over 2,000 men walking off their jobs in protest over staffing and work conditions.

More importantly, that April, the city relegated garbage pickup to nighttime shifts only, and cleaners often worked solo. This may have been acceptable in warmer weather, but winter was approaching. At a union rally that evening, a union representative proclaimed, "A 200-pound can was a mighty big load for one man to lift into a garbage wagon ....... [Our] men are already falling ill with pneumonia and rheumatism and ... they demanded the right to work in the sunlight and the warmer weather of the daytime."



In total, almost over 2,000 workers left their jobs in retaliation, "because they didn't like to work in the dark," said the New York Sun, derisively. [source]

By Nov. 11, garbage was heaped along street corners, and coal ash swirled into the street, creating a blackened, smelly stew along the cobblestones. The city brought in temporary workers to carry off the more egregious piles of filth away, but harangues and violence by union protesters --"mobs assaulting and stoning drivers" -- required they be protected by police.



New Yorkers had lived through such a strike before, as recently as 1907, but strikers found little public support this time around. Newspapers, little sympathetic to the strikers, highlighted the growing threat of disease and the perceived selfishness of the workers. "The right to strike of public employees, who enjoy the advantage of being listed in the civil service, is more than doubtful," said the New York Times.

During bouts between strikebreakers and police, over two dozen people were injured and one man was even killed by a falling chimney. Meanwhile, Mayor William Jay Gaynor was resolute in rejecting the cleaners demands. The efforts of the workers failed, and many went back to their jobs the next week, some heavily penalized for their participation in the strike.

Here are a few images from those foul-smelling days. These photographs are far more pleasant to look at than they must have been to shoot!

Horse-drawn garbage wagons collect trash during the four-day garbage strike.

Police protection those who broke from the strikers to clean the city streets.

The city shipped in workers from out of town to sweep the streets during the strike

Crowds form in the streets watching the garbage carts go by.  I don't know whether these are strikers or just curiosity seekers!

Boys captivated by the mounted police guarding the garbage carts.  In the second photography, a couple rowdy boys are actually chasing after a garbage cart.

Violence against a garbage cart.  This vehicle is pelted with stones at the corner of East 57th Street.

Another set of strike breakers rush by this street corner in their garbage cart.

Meanwhile, a boiler company took advantage of the strike to run this grim advertisement for their garbage burners in the New York Sun.





This photo series courtesy the Library of Congress.  Portions of this story originally ran on the 100th anniversary of this event in November 2011.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

More signs of 'A Most Violent Year': New movie tie-in column


Looking over the East River at Brooklyn and Queens, 1981, where much of the film's action takes place.  (Photo courtesy GeorgeLouis at English Wikipedia)

A few weeks ago I posted the trailer to the new film by JC Chandor called A Most Violent Year, set in New York City in 1981.

As support for the film (which releases in late December), they've asked me to do a few columns each Monday about New York City history for the film's tie-in site about the year 1981.  The year is a turning point in the city's struggle with crime, deteriorating infrastructure and urban decay.  It's the year The Clash caused a riot in midtown, the year the New York Times first reported on a "rare cancer" killing gay men, the year Ed Koch ran both as a Democrat and a Republican.  Robbery and murder rates in the city would reach their highest peak.  But it would also be the year where things begin turning around in New York.

My first column is on a particular incident which occurred two minutes before midnight on December 31, 1980, and how that incident reflected upon the grim state of affairs in the city.  Check out the full story here.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Ruins of the World's Fair: The New York State Pavilion, or how Philip Johnson's futuristic architecture was almost forgotten


A little bit Jetsons, a little bit Gladiator, a little bit P.T Barnum. Photo/Marco Catini

PODCAST The ruins of the New York State Pavilion, highlight of the 1964-65 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, have become a kind of unofficial Statue of Liberty of Queens, greeting people as they head to and from LaGuardia and JFK airports.  Its abandoned saucer-like observation decks and steel arena have inspired generations of New Yorkers who have grown up with this oddity on the horizon.

The Pavilion holds a great many surprises, and its best days may be yet to come.  Designed by modernist icon Philip Johnson, the Pavilion was saved from the fate of many of the venues in the World's Fair. But it's only been used sporadically over the past 50 or so years, and the fear of further deterioration is always present.

For the first part of this very special episode of the Bowery Boys, I take you through the pavilion's presence in the World's Fair, a kaleidoscopic attraction that extolled the greatness of the state of New York.  In its first year, however, a battle over controversial artwork was waged, pitting Robert Moses and Nelson Rockefeller against the hottest artist of the day -- Andy Warhol. Other controversies at the Fair threatened to derail the message behind its slogan 'Peace Through Understanding'.

In the show's second half, I head out to record at the Queens Theater -- the only part of the New York State Pavilion that's been rehabilitated -- to explore the venue's 'lonely years' with filmmaker Matthew Silva, a co-founder of People For The Pavilion, an organization that's successfully bringing attention to this weird little treasure.  Matthew gives us the scoop of the pavilion's later years, culled from some of his interviews in the film Modern Ruin: A World's Fair Pavilion.

This is crucial time in the history of this spectacular relic. With public attention at an all time high, we may now be at the right time to re-purpose the Pavilion into a new destination for New Yorkers. What do you think should be done with the New York State Pavilion?

An airplane passes over the park, its shadow captured inside the Pavilion. (Photo by George Garrigues)



To get this week's episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #173: Ruins of the World's Fair
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Here's the trailer to Matthew's film Modern Ruin: A World's Fair Pavilion:


Modern Ruin: A World's Fair Pavilion - Promo I from Matthew Silva on Vimeo.

Thank you Matthew for helping out with the show this week!  He's finishing his film.  If you would like to help out, go over to the Modern Ruin GoFundMe page and donate.  You just be helping out the film, but the Pavilion itself.  The film will probably be the first time many people ever hear of the New York State Pavilion.


And for a different (fictional) film take on the Pavilion, try out these appearances from The Wiz, Men In Black and Iron Man 2:



And thank you to commenter Signed D.C. who points out that the venue was featured in an music video by They Might Be Giants who, generally speaking, who a bit obsessed with the World's Fair. (It pops up in several of their songs, including a lyric to their song "Ana Ng.") At one point, the lead singer floats over the Texaco map.


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Looking down at the Texaco map of New York state. (Courtesy New York Daily News)


A close up of Long Island, photo taken in 1964.  (Courtesy Flickr/Susan DeMark)



An overhead shot of Philip Johnson's extraordinary rooftop, a stunning colorful ovoid that projected a rainbow of colors down upon fair-goers.(Courtesy AP)



Theaterama, part of the New York State Pavilion, is today's Queens Theater.  Johnson commissioned the work of several pop artists to hang along the walls of the pavilion. (Courtesy Bill Cotter/World's Fair Community)


A view of Theaterama showing the Roy Lichtenstein mural upon its side (Courtesy Jon Buono):


Andy Warhol's Ten Wanted Men on the side of Theaterama, with the Tent of Tomorrow in the background.  Although we can almost guarantee that it was not beloved by Robert Moses, it's believed it was taken down because of Governor Rockefeller.


Robert Moses beams from the sidewalk of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.  The mosaic is based on the work of Andy Warhol.


The Federal Pavilion -- "the square donut on stilts" -- was designed by Charles Luckman, who also designed the current Madison Square Garden.


The photographer Marco Catini has taken some recent images of the Pavilion.  You can find much more of his work here. Thanks Marco for letting me use your work here!






Here are a few of my photos taken on the afternoon of recording.  The New York State Pavilion Paint Project is responsible for keeping the place is festive shape. The candy stripes are similar to the look of the 1964 pavilion.





MY THANKS AND GRATITUDE to the Queens Theatre in The Park for allowing us to record in the cabaret room!  I know we went on and on about the observation desks and the Tent of Tomorrow, but you should really check out a show within the greatly renovated theater.  Coming in December: Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol!

Visit the People For The Pavilion website for more information on upcoming events, news and fund-raisers. And a shout-out to the organization's co-founder Salmaan Khan!

The New York Daily News just yesterday published an article about People For the Pavilion and its co-founder Christian Doran who passed away in February. There's a fund-raiser tomorrow in his honor. [More info here]

ALSO: I didn't get to plug this on the show, but historian Christian Kellberg has just released a book of photography of the New York State Pavilion, part of the Images of America series.  Most of the pictures are exclusive to this book including some extraordinary shots of the pavilion construction.

And of course there's Joseph Tirella's terrific book Tomorrow-Land: The 1964-65 World's Fair and the Transformation of America, putting the entire fair within context of the rapidly changing America of the 1960s.

And since I mentioned it on the show, here's a link for Robert Caro's The Power Broker as well!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Robert Moses rejected this terrifying Margaret Keane painting from hanging at the 1964-65 World's Fair


The World's Fair of 1964-65 at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was a major American event forward-looking in its intent and, in many ways, backwards in its practice.  In particular, Robert Moses did not care for cheap carnival amusements, nor did he care for music or art that was particular edgy or controversial. Moses' tastes ruled supreme over the Fair as he held veto power over any works that were in "extreme bad taste or low standard."

There was no pavilion dedicated to art although several independent partners funded their own art displays.  The New York State Pavilion presented the work of brand-new pop artists; an objectionable piece by Andy Warhol entitled Thirteen Wanted Men was eventually painted over (although it was the governor Nelson Rockefeller who objected in this case).

Moses did eventually throw out one surprising piece of artwork -- Tomorrow Forever by Margaret Keane.

The Keane painting was to have been displayed in this building at the fair.**




Keane was known for her bizarre and haunting images of children and animals with large empty eyes.  During the 1960s, her husband Walter Keane claimed to be the creator of her paintings.  It was he who was announced as the painter of this macabre work, chosen in February 1964 to grace the Fair's Hall of Education.   The venue devoted to the future of schools would feature a scale model of an elementary school from the year 2000, a playground with "futuristic climbing structures," and from the entrance way, the terrifying painting you see above.

The work by Keane, representing "something which would be symbolic for the aspiration of children," was not exactly heralded as the pinnacle of artistic expression in 1964.

The New York Times' art critic John Canaday could barely conceal his disgust at this "grotesque announcement," adding, "Mr. Keane is the painter who enjoys international cele­bration for grinding out form­ula pictures of wide‐eyed children of such appalling sentimentality that his product has become synonymous among critics with the very definition of tasteless hack work."   [source]

To be fair, Canaday had only seen a photograph of the painting, which depicts an endless sea of soul-crushing zombie children, rising out of a morose and barren wasteland. "That's true," he confessed to a Life Magazine reporter. "It's normally a principle of mine never to judge just by a photograph, but in this case it didn't matter."

Moses seemed to agree with Canaday, demanding the Hall of Education cancel the planned installation before it was even mounted.  Thanks to Canaday's protest, Moses' office was inundated with letters from angry intellectuals and aesthetes. "[T]he perpetrators of this art burlesque," wrote Joseph James Akston, "expose us to veritable scandal sure to incur ridicule and laughter of the whole civilized world with possible exception of Russians." [source]

Keane, who of course didn't paint the artwork attributed to him, nonetheless seemed to revel in the critical potshots.  The following year, he issued a press releases from San Francisco and Tahiti, declaring himself "the American Gauguin."  Canaday would continue to take aim at Keane's kitschy work.  Imagine how Canaday felt when he discovered that Walter hadn't even painted the works he so deliciously despised?

Margaret eventually left her husband and sued for rightful ownership of her artwork.

Below: From a Life Magazine profile in August 1965:


NOTE: I'm being a little irreverent in calling the painting "terrifying" as the artist clearly intended the subjects to be starving, sad children.  However, the passage of time has been a little strange to Keane's legacy.  She is perhaps more beloved than ever -- there's a new Tim Burton film coming out this year -- but the flagrant sentimentality of the work has given way to their spectacular kitsch value.

** The Hall of Education picture courtesy the blog Little Owl Ski which has a few other nifty World's Fair pictures.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On this Veteran's Day, a salute to the Harlem Hellfighters!


The men of the 369th who were awarded France's Criox de Guerre for distinguished acts of heroism:  Pvt. Ed Williams, Herbert Taylor, Pvt. Leon Fraitor, Pvt. Ralph Hawkins. Back Row: Sgt. H. D. Prinas, Sgt. Dan Strorms, Pvt. Joe Williams, Pvt. Alfred Hanley, and Cpl. T. W. Taylor

New York's 369th Infantry Regiment was America's first African-American regiment engaged in World War I.  While many white American soldiers would have been happy to serve next to trained regiments of any color, intense racial prejudice in the United States forced many who signed up to fight for their country to instead be assigned to the French army.

Nicknamed the Harlem Hellfighters, the regiment served alongside the French during the summer and fall of 1918.  Perhaps the most famous soldier of the 369th was Private Henry Lincoln Johnson (at right) whose deadly efficiency on the battlefield earned him the grim nickname Black Death.  He became the first of dozens from the 369th to receive the prestigious Criox de Guerre, the equivalent of the American Medal of Honor.

They returned to New York in February 1919 and marched through the streets of Manhattan on February 17 -- from Greenwich Village to Harlem, in triumph.

From the New York Times the following day:

"New York's negro soldiers, bringing with them from France one of the bravest records achieved by any organization in the war, marched amidst waving flags and cheering crowds yesterday from Twenty-third Street and Fifth Avenue to 145th Street and Lenox Avenue."

"At Thirty-Fourth Street the men marched under a shower of cigarettes and candy, and such tokens were pitched at them at other points in the line, but the files did not waver for an instant."

The men of the 369th photographed as they arrive back in New York City, 1919


From original caption (courtesy US National Archies):  "[The] 369th New York City Infantry (old 15th) [African American] troops and some of the 370th Infantry, Illinois [African American] troops, one of the most decorated regiments in the United States Army return to New York City. They saw [the] longest service of any American regiment as part of a foreign army, and had less training than any before going into action. They were never in an American division or brigade always being with the French."



The 369th marching up Fifth Avenue.


The men are shown here in this assortment of newsreel footage from the war:


Pictures from the U.S. National Archives

Monday, November 10, 2014

The first appearance of the shower or "rain bath" in New York

With major improvements in plumbing and home design, private 'rain-baths' or showers began to be installed in the wealthier American homes. This is a New York Times advertisement from November 11, 1914 for a Kenney Needle Shower which inundated the body with water from multiple showerheads.



The modern form of shower was once referred to as a "rain bath", invented in Europe in the 19th century.

From a 1908 journal called "Modern Baths and Bath Houses":

"The rain bath is the most important form of cleansing bath, from a hygienic point of view, hence it is deserving of special attention.  Since the first introduction, about the year 1883, of the so-called 'rain baths' in Germany, I have followed with keen interest and close attention the gradual development and rapid spread of this new system of baths.

In the modern 'rain bath' system .... tubs are entirely abolished, simple spray or shower baths being substituted for the same, and being installed in the bath compartments as a distinct and independent form of bath.  

One feature of construction, which is novel and of much importance, is that the shower or spray in placed at an inclined angle in the rain bath, the object being to avoid a vertical stream from the shower striking the head of the bather, which to many person is quite disagreeable.  In the new form of rain bath .. the lukewarm water strikes the body only from the neck downwards, and the head is not wetted, except when the bather purposefully places the same under the descending shower of water."


The very first 'rain bath' installed in New York, according to the 1908 journal, was at the New York City Juvenile Asylum, located at 175th Street and 10th Avenue. (Pictured below.) Delinquents taken to the asylum were stripped of their street clothing and thrown into the new showers, then provided proper uniforms.  After what appeared to be a successful trial upon these poor children, rain baths were installed in public hospitals and bathhouses throughout the city.


Private application of this technology, however, took a bit longer to catch on.  Home installations, such as the ones illustrated at top, came with the advent of improved apartment living in the early 20th century.

Apparently there was some concern that the rain bath could be successfully applied to private dwellings that weren't for the wealthy.

"[T]he middle classes who, in New York City, for instance, are largely compelled to live in flats or apartment houses (the higher-sounding name for improved tenement houses), have, with rare exceptions, only a narrow, dark and generally uninviting bathroom, and the mistake is usually made by architects or buildings of locating the water-closet [toilet] almost invariably in the same room."

Imagine, putting the shower in the same room as the toilet!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers & Swells": What a party! Courtesy Vanity Fair and the toasts of the Jazz Age


Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers & Swells: The Best of Early Vanity Fair
Various authors
Edited by Graydon Carter with David Friend
Penguin Press

BOOK REVIEW  Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers & Swells: The Best of Early Vanity Fair sounds like a soirĂ©e in book form, but it's a lot more than that.  If anything, the book's title is a bit constricting.  The bohemians, the bootleggers, the flappers, the swells -- they've all brought guests along with them. Welcome!

One hundred years ago, Vanity Fair was a men's fashion and style magazine that gradually became known for some of the best published writing in the world. It was a veritable sounding board for the wits of the Algonquin Round Table whose entire membership either wrote for it or were written about within it.

After the Great Depression, its publisher Conde Nast (the man) folded its contents into his more successful women's magazine Vogue.

Its spirit was revived in 1983 by publisher Conde Nast (the corporation) and re-energized in the early 90s with the introduction of editor Graydon Carter, best known for the dearly lamented Spy Magazine, which is the closest anyone ever got in the '90s to the droll swagger of the Algonquin crew.

For its one hundred anniversary, Carter has put together a collection of stories from the magazine's first incarnation, from P.G. Wodehouse's take on the fitness craze of 1914 to Allene Talmey's survey of New York nighclubs in 1936.  The entirety of the Jazz age in contained between them -- the fashion, the reverie, the amusement, the agony.

But most of all -- the modernity.  If anything defines most of these spectacular entries, it's the coy observations of change, how America left the Gilded Age to became something awkward but none the less brilliant. In one essay, Aldous Huxley tries to literally define the word: "Let us not abuse a very useful and significant word [modern] by applying it indiscriminately to everything that happens to be contemporary."

Here are the world's greatest authors of the early 20th century, attempting to define their era from the vantage of a barstool or a kitchen table.  D.H. Lawrence takes on the modern female, implying she's merely an update on the ancient woman.  Music critic Samuel Chotzinoff zeroes in on the origin of jazz music in 1923, still in its infancy. Tremors in sports, world affairs, women's fashion and the stage are all tackled by a rich embarrassment of talents.

We see here the birth of legends at the dawn of their careers, through a variety of writing samples, light fiction to poetry.  My favorite (no surprise) are the early poems by Dorothy Rothschild (Parker) who beautifully bemoans whole categories of miserable co-workers, in-laws and other species. "I hate actresses/They get on my nerves."  Stroll past the entries from T. S Eliot and Gertrude Stein to find an introduction to readers from Carl Van Vechten of the young poet Langston Hughes.  "Hughes has crowded more adventure into his life than most of us will experience."

Modern Vanity Fair is known for personality profiles, and there are many on display here.  Most of the subjects themselves are scarcely quoted themselves; instead their images are preened and paraded by imminent writers and colleagues.

Actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr writes about his wife Joan Crawford (at left) in a 1930 essay. "She is intolerant of people's weakness.  If someone does her a wrong she is slow in forgetting it but when she does there is no doubt of her attitude. (Fairbanks and Crawford divorced three years later.)  Alexander Woollcott waxes poetically about the unpoetic Harpo Marx.  Paul Gallico turns Babe Ruth into a proto-Superman. "He rose from Rags to Riches. Sink or Swim. Do or Die."

Moments of great foresight rise throughout the essays. Walter Lippman predicts the entire Internet age in his essay on publicity:  "It may even be that when men have lived for a few more generations ... the race will no longer have any prejudices in favor of privacy.  They may enjoy living in glass houses." David Cort's post-mortem on the stock market crash of 1929 reads like cynical analysis from 2008.  "Those who recanted, who sold out and are bankrupt, have already been forgotten.  Wall Street wants fresh money, fresh optimists."

Also included here is Anne O'Hagan's defiant laundry-list of woman in 1915 who make more than $50,000.  "Consider the growing horde of decorators," she says in one refrain.

Virtually every major name of the arts and letters makes a brief appearance in Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers & Swells.  The collection's tremendous breadth in subject matter makes it sometimes difficult as a straight-through read, but I would encourage you try it anyway.  In total, this is as much a story about America between the Great Wars as any actual historical tome.

And a quick note about my two favorite stories.  If you only know E.E. Cummings (at right) from his poetry, then you have a treat in store here in a short humorous narrative from 1925 which begins with the sentence, "Calvin Coolidge laughed."

And then there's "An Afghan In America," written in 1916 by Syyed Shaykh Achmed Abdullah, a brief and beautiful tale about old traditions as they play out in a New York ballroom.  "He danced with her for the rest of the evening.  He did several new steps.  He also drank forbidden spirits. Many of them."

Vanity Fair covers courtesy Conde Nast Publications

Previous recommendations from the Bowery Boys Bookshelf: