Like a boomerang, I completed a 33-hour trip across New York State and back last weekend, leaving Penn Station on Friday at 1:20 pm on a Buffalo-bound train, returning by car to Staten Island at 10 p.m. Saturday night. The Hudson River Valley, Albany, Rochester, Syracuse, downtown Buffalo, Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes all sped by in an often-rainy blur–but there were plenty of highlights.
When people ask me what I like most about living in New York, my answer is always the wide variety of ethnic neighborhoods within reach. If I want Arabic food, I have dozens of options on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. If I want Greek, I head to Astoria, where I can buy a dozen varieties of feta. And so forth.
But a traveling exhibit on Governors Island of antique French carnival rides provides not only the opportunity to experience another culture, but also another time. Fête Paradiso, which will leave New York at the end of this month, brings together a collection of late 19th and early 20th century carousels, flying swings and a pipe organ.
A short, free ferry ride from Lower Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridge Park brings New Yorkers away from the city and to an island where time seems to have stood still for decades. Take a short walk to Nolan Park, and suddenly you’re traveled back more than 100 years, to 19th Century Paris. From Fête Paradiso’s website,
The extraordinary festival of artisan-crafted, vintage carousels and carnival rides – like a French film miraculously come to life – is the first of its kind to appear in the United States. Among the classic attractions, which come from the collections of Francis Staub and Regis Masclet, is a bicycle carousel from the late 19th century – one of only two in the world that were created in Paris to encourage the use of what was then the new mode of transportation – the bicycle. (The only other bicycle carousel can be seen in the feature film Midnight in Paris.) Fête Paradiso will also include an early 20th century Music-Hall Ball Guzzler, a carnival game that features life-size caricatures of Josephine Baker, Maurice Chevalier, Charlie Chaplin, the Fratellini Brothers and other celebrities of the time. …
To further enhance the nostalgic, dreamlike experience, a bumper car pavilion from 1900 has been transformed into a beer garden and special event space with food reminiscent of a French carnival prepared by New York’s legendary French bistro Le Gamin. In addition, a 1930 children’s carousel has been repurposed into a music kiosk, where performers will entertain visitors with period music and side show performances to heighten the Fellini-inspired environment.
The bicycle carousel dates to 1892, and riding it was quite an experience, physically and mentally. Those riding the carousel are expected to pedal, first forward, then backward. I left the ride out of breath, eager for a cold refreshing $4 lemonade from the concession.
As the carnival attendant, dressed in black-and-white striped shirt, warned us to mind our iPhones and other valuables, I thought back to the makers of this 121-year-old ride. As they fashioned the intricate metal bicycles and painted beautiful scenes around the top of the ride, they hardly could have imagined that more than a century later and a continent away, little children and grown adults, all carrying tiny telephones that doubled as video cameras, would be enjoying their handiwork. To those who built this ride with an eye for detail, beauty and enjoyment, I extend my appreciation. I am thankful as well to the collectors who had the foresight to preserve this collection of nostalgia and the imagination to assemble it into an attraction for New Yorkers to enjoy.
Fête Paradiso is here until Sept. 29 (when Governors Island all but closes to the public for the season), though one of the carnival workers said the rides may return here next summer after visiting warmer sites in the United States for the fall and winter. For more information on Brooklyn and Manhattan ferries to Governors Island, check out Governors Island’s website.
Below are some photos from my trip to Fête Paradiso last Sunday …
Joey “Jaws” Chestnut set a new record today, eating 69 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes at the annual Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island.
Yuck, yuck, yuck!
I didn’t make it to Coney Island today to watch, but I was there last night, when a swaying tower closed many of the amusement rides for safety concerns. The nearly 50-year-old Astrotower, which once offered commanding views Brooklyn and the Atlantic Ocean, was partially dismantled during the night in the hopes that rides, including the Cyclone, would reopen today.
The newly restored B&B Carousell (yes, the second L is intentional) was also closed late last night, though I don’t think that had anything to do with the Astrotower; I think I was just there too late. I was also looking forward to seeing the lights of the newly blinged-out parachute jump, but the 262-foot tall structure was dark.
The evening, however, was saved by fireworks, which shot off over MCU Park after the Brooklyn Cyclones beat the Staten Island Yankees 2-1. I had a good vantage point across the street from Nathan’s.
If you missed the fireworks last night, MCU Park and its concessions will open today at 4:30 p.m. The Cyclones are on the road, but the park will offer a good vantage point for tonight’s fireworks at 9 p.m.
I hope to see them from across the Raritan Bay at the end of the fishing pier in Staten Island’s Ocean Breeze.
The first signs of Spring are evident throughout the boroughs this week. While daffodils have been in bloom for a few weeks now, tulips are on the verge of opening, and many pear, cherry and plum trees seem to be at their prime.
The Spring colors have been striking. Here are some photos I have taken over the last week in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Did you know Staten Island had a turkey infestation?
Friends of mine on the other side of the country have a difficult time believing me when I tell them I have wild turkeys in my New York City neighborhood. But anyone who has ever driven down Seaview Avenue in Staten Island’s Ocean Breeze neighborhood knows that it’s true: Hundreds of wild turkeys roam the streets, sidewalks and front yards around Staten Island University Hospital.
The following are five facts about Staten Island’s turkeys that you probably didn’t know:
- They began as pets—nine of them. The Daily News reported, “Ocean Breeze’s turkey terror began in 1999 when a local resident liberated her nine pet birds at nearby South Beach Psychiatric Center.” Of course, since then, they have become a huge nuisance for residents, as Dongan Hills resident Marian Besignano of Alter Avenue told the Staten Island Advance last year:
Mrs. Besignano recalls that the first sightings of wild turkeys in Ocean Breeze occurred about 12 years ago. “When we saw one big turkey and three babies, we called the Advance, and a photographer came and took a picture,” because it was so unusual, she said.
She felt sorry for the birds, and fed them. “And the woman photographer from the Advance wanted to buy food for them,” she remembered.
“If I knew then what I know now, I never would have fed them!” she said.
- They’re a hybrid species—and this makes it all the more difficult to find them a home. The Staten Island Advance reported, “The state DEC says recent photos of the turkeys here show feathering that indicates they are hybrids, likely a blend of domesticated turkeys and special captive-bred wild turkeys.DEC has so far been unable to find any facilities willing or able to take the turkeys that would be able to keep them separate from wild turkey populations,” the report continued.
- A local resident has offered to relocate them. Greg Ruggiero of Dongan Hills told the Staten Island Advance last year that he would donate $5,000 to cover their humane transport to a safe, new home (as well as a store-bought Butterball roaster for every turkey successfully relocated). But at the time the article was written, no facility could take the birds and keep them separate from others (see No. 2, above).
- They’re as famous as drunken baboons in South Africa. The humor website cracked.com ranked our infestation on a Biblical scale, up there with flying carp, hordes of African snails and other phenomena from the far reaches of the world.
- Our residents are split on whether we should harvest the turkeys and serve them at local homeless shelters. In October 2011, the Staten Island Advance reported:
Less than a month before Thanksgiving, the state Department of Environmental Conservation released its long-simmering “Experiences and Attitudes Toward Turkeys: A Richmond County Survey,” conducted by Cornell University by mail and phone with 451 residents of Dongan Hills, South Beach and Ocean Breeze.
A DEC spokesman was unable to provide a price tag on the survey — but here’s what was learned:
Sixty-one percent of respondents reported seeing turkeys daily and 25.5 percent weekly.
But how to manage them presents a split decision: A combined 51 percent answered that harvesting some of their meat for local food banks is “very,” “moderately” or “slightly” acceptable.
But 47 percent flat-out say no way.
So for now, the turkeys remain. They survived Sandy. They survive Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving. They even survive Hylan Boulevard. A few weeks ago, near Cromwell, I almost honked at the car in front of me for not moving when the light turned green—and then I realized, we were stopped to let the turkeys cross.
These reports include sporadic stories of the turkeys being angry or aggressive. Thankfully, among the dozens of times I have run past them on Seaview Avenue, none has tried to attack me. They either ignore me or walk away slowly.
A few years ago, I saw them outside my home on Delaware Street in Dongan Hills Colony. They hung a right at Dalemere, probably heading to the Chapin woods. I wonder what would happen if they had continued on and settled in the yard of a Todt Hill estate?
This 100th anniversary of Grand Central Terminal has been in the news for a few weeks here in New York City. While I missed much of WNYC’s reporting on the subject, I commemorated the anniversary by taking a 2-hour Municipal Art Society tour of the station yesterday, and by reading much of the 100-year-old New York Times special section, a PDF from the archives that the Times made available last week.
Here are five interesting facts I picked up in the last couple days:
- The Glory of Commerce sculpture above the 42nd Street entrance weighs 1,500 tons and was carried up in sections in June 1914. Designed by French sculptor Jules-Felix Coutan, the final, full-size piece was carved in Long Island City, Queens.
- The Grand Central Oyster Bar also turned 100 yesterday. Though, like the station, the restaurant fell into decline in the 1970s, it has been in almost continuous operation over the last 100 years. Having heard what the station was like in the 1970s, I couldn’t imagine a restaurant as nice as the current oyster bar being in the station. Sure enough, it wasn’t that great of a place to eat. Owner Jerome Brody describes the decline of the restaurant, before he assumed ownership in 1974:
With the decline of the long-haul passenger train system, came the decline of the restaurant. It had no position among New York restaurants, and while thousands of commuters passed by everyday, very few went inside to eat.
In 1974, when I was approached by the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority to take it over, the old restaurant had been bankrupt and empty for two years, having become in its last days not much more than a sad, old coffee shop. Reluctantly, I inspected what remained of its former grandness. The elegant marble columns you see in the restaurant today were then painted aquamarine over wallpaper. The wall covering was yellow Cello-tex™. The furniture was upholstered yellow, in unsettling contrast with the red table cloths.
- Charles Mingus proposed to his second wife, Sue Graham, in the whisper gallery just outside the Grand Central Oyster Bar. I have never tried the whisper gallery, where two people can stand across the room from each other and hear each other’s whispers carried across the vaulted ceiling–but plenty of others were trying it yesterday.
- The use of ramps in a public building was fairly new. It was seen as an efficient way to move large amounts of people from one floor to the next, without the inconvenience (and danger) of stairs. The New York Times described the ramps in its Feb. 2, 1913 edition:
The infinite pains taken in this respect is used as an illustration of the care taken in every detail. When it was decided that inclined walks should serve as the footways leading into the huge subterranean station, the idea was borrowed from the sloping roads that led the way for chariots into the old Roman camps of Julius Ceasar’s army–no pains were spared to arrive at just the proper angle of inclination.
- For 25 cents, you could store your bags, and then change your clothes in a private dressing room, with a maid or valet to assist you. Again, from the Feb. 2, 1913, New York Times:
Should the woman passenger want to primp us still more, or if she should want to return after a shopping tour to change her costume for a social function, she may have her suitcase or her trunk, for that matter, sent to a private dressing room, for the use of which, with a maid in attendance, she will pay 25 cents …
The man with two days’ business or pleasure to crowd into one can reserve a dressing room at the barber shop, leave his suitcase there all day, rush back at 6 o’clock to get into evening clothes, with the aid of a valet if he wishes, all for 25 cents. A haberdashery adjoining the barber shop is ready to replace a lost collar button or supply anything else needed. Here, at least, men are accorded equal rights with woman.
And there you have it. If you want to learn more, join the Municipal Art Society on one of its weekly Wednesday tours of Grand Central Terminal.
Do you know the answer to this one? I almost stumped a history-know-it-all-with this question.
Those who know me know that I spend most Friday nights at Lee’s tavern, a decades-old bar and pizzeria by the Dongan Hills train station in Staten Island (more on Lee’s in a later post). Among the regulars at the bar is an older eccentric fellow whom we’ll call BW.
I had never had a conversation with BW prior to last Friday, but I had heard from others that he has a Rain Man-like knack for remembering dates and other trivia. He also has a reputation for annoying people with odd selections on the Internet juke box, like Old McDonald Had A Farm (to be fair, I’ll add that last week he played one of my favorite Frank Sinatra songs, “That’s Life.”)
Last Friday, he was at the end of the bar, chatting with a husband and wife. The wife turned around in disbelief and said to no one in particular, “It’s Friday night and they’re talking about Martin van Buren! Martin van Buren!”
As long as they were talking about a president from our state, I seized the opportunity to challenge them with some recently acquired New York City presidential trivia. I jumped up from my table, put my hands on their shoulders and asked them, “Which two presidents were sworn in in New York City?”
Immediately BW spoke up: “Washington and …. and … Theodore Roosevelt?”
“Right on Washington, wrong on Roosevelt, but you’re on the right track.” (Both Roosevelt and the correct president, Chester Arthur, were from New York and took office in the state of New York after an assassination.)
With my hint and some more time to think, he finally guessed correctly—and for a bonus, without my prompting, he added the street where the swearing in took place: Lexington Avenue.
And there you have it. If you ever want to stump a history-know-it-all, you now have a good trivia question. And if you want to know more …
- George Washington was sworn in at Federal Hall, 26 Wall Street, on April 30, 1789. The original building was demolished in 1812. The building that stands there now, once the United States Custom House, is now Federal Hall National Memorial.
- And Chester Arthur was sworn in in the front parlor of his home, on the second floor at 123 Lexington Avenue (between 28th and 29th streets) by New York Supreme Court Judge John R Brady. The building is now home to Kalustyan’s, a specialty Indian food store.
In her fascinating account of James Garfield’s assassination, “The Destiny of the Republic,” (which I am now reading) Candice Millard describes the swearing in:
That morning, Arthur had received a telegram from Washington warning him that Garfield’s condition was perilous. Still, he had not been prepared when a messenger had knocked on his door late that night. Just a few hours later, he found himself standing in his parlor, its green blinds closed to the newsmen gathered outside, with a New York state judge standing before him, swearing him into office. By 2:15 a.m. on September 20, Arthur had become the twenty-first president of the United States.
On my first real visit to New York, some 10 years ago, a leisurely walk through Brooklyn Heights and its surrounding neighborhoods brought me to Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Carroll Gardens. Designed by Patrick Charles Keely in the late 19th Century, this Gothic revival church suffered a devastating fire in 1951. By then, the parish was largely Italian American—as evidenced by the names on the stained-glass windows.
One of the stained-glass windows, however, stopped me in my tracks.
The name inscribed in the window is Crescenzo Orlando. My mother’s maiden name is Di Crescenzo. And her paternal grandmother’s maiden name is Orlando. Both names are common in the town my grandfather was born in, Guardiagrele, in Abruzzo, not far from the Adriatic Sea.
Though family members on both the Di Crescenzo and Orlando sides of the family tell me that relatives of ours worked on sewers and aqueducts in New York City around the turn of the 20th century, I have no evidence that anyone from the family settled in New York City. The Orlandos moved to Putnam Valley, N.Y., while the Di Crescenzos settled on the south side of Chicago.
Surely, however, there has to be some family connection, or at least a connection to Guardiagrele. A local historian suggested I look at neighborhood census records around the time the church was restored after its fire. But thus far I have not undertaken that task.
Only two years ago did our side of the family learn that my great great grandparents are buried in Putnam Valley. It was good to learn that I had a family connection to the state of New York. I’d love to find out whether I also have a family connection to Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.
Though most known for its weekend tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Turnstile Tours also offers a tour of Williamsburg’s Most Holy Trinity Church in December and January. The tour benefits Trinity Service Center, a social outreach program of the parish.
This past December, I joined the Christmastime church tour, led by Turnstile founder Cindy VandenBosch and Most Holy Trinity’s Parochial Vicar, Father Tim Dore. Starting outside with an overview of the once-German neighborhood, the tour brought us inside to the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine beside the altar, down to the crypt under the church, where the parish’s founding pastors are buried, and then all the way up to the dizzying tower (with an opportunity to step outside and take in the view of the Manhattan skyline in the distance).
The next tour won’t be until the end of the year. But in the meantime, check out the parish’s website. It is full of historic information about the parish and the surrounding neighborhood (including stories about tunnels, ghosts and an 1897 murder inside the church!).
Finally, though not part of the tour, Turnstile’s website tells us that this church is mentioned as a “miniature cathedral” in the 1943 novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:
“Francie thought it was the most beautiful church in Brooklyn. It was made of old gray stone and had twin spires that rose cleanly into the sky, high above the tallest tenements. Inside, the high vaulted ceilings, narrow deep-set stained-glass windows and elaborately carved altars made it a miniature cathedral.”
– Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, published in 1943
Dedicated in 1939 and renovated in the late 1990s, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Boardwalk in Staten Island’s South Beach neighborhood has been one of my favorite places to run for the last several years. But since Hurricane Sandy, which damaged many boardwalks in New York and New Jersey, the boardwalk has been closed.
As far as I can tell, the boardwalk itself is in good shape, but the storm pulled many of the ramps away from the boardwalk, twisted the guardrails that run under the boardwalk, and pushed a lot of sand inland.
The area has an interesting history that precedes the building of the current boardwalk. From the city’s website:
On June 30, 1906 the Happyland Amusement Park opened its boardwalk doors. Taking full advantage of the summer closings of most Broadway theaters, Happyland’s amusements, stage productions, and vaudeville shows attracted thirty-thousand visitors on opening day. The amusement park continued to draw summer crowds for many years with attractions like the Japanese Tea Gardens, the Carnival of Venice, and the shooting gallery. Though the boardwalk resort thrived throughout the 1910s and 20s, fires, water pollution, and The Great Depression (1929-1939) took their toll on the beachfront resort area and the crowds eventually disappeared.
In 1935 the beachfront property was vested to the City and underwent renovations as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (1882-1945) Works Progress Administration (WPA). Providing jobs for Depression era workers, the WPA also revived the community of Midland Beach. By removing the deteriorating music halls, carousels, and shooting galleries, the project made way for the present two and a half-mile long boardwalk. In 1939 it was dedicated to the former New York governor and president and has since continued to undergo periodic renovations and neighborhood improvements.
I asked some parks department workers today when the boardwalk might reopen, and they said Memorial Day. That’s a long way away, and I know many of us runners will miss the boardwalk between now and then, especially as the weather warms up in May and June. And it’s not just runners who will miss the boardwalk, but also walkers, cyclists and the fishermen who fish off the end of the pier in Ocean Breeze.
I could spend every weekend walking a new neighborhood of New York and still not know the city inside and out. Knowing that there is always another block or hundred to explore is what I love most about living here.
Recently I’ve taken advantage of some walking tours offered by the Municipal Art Society. Led by knowledgeable guides, many of them architectural historians, the tours have taught me a lot about Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Bushwick.
But last week I enjoyed a tour of a different kind—a boat tour of Newark Harbor. Hidden Harbors, working with Circle Line, offers boat tours of unconventional places that highlight the past and current working waterfront. Newtown Creek, Newark Bay, the Brooklyn waterfront, even a circumnavigation of Staten Island are among the tours offered every summer.
And last week’s tour was unconventional. Yes, we did a quick loop under the Brooklyn Bridge at the start of the tour, and on our way back to South Street Seaport, we were given a closeup view of Lady Liberty—but we were also treated to views of Red Hook, a tugboat repair shop on the North Shore of Staten Island, barges in the Kill Van Kull, the container port in Newark Bay and a “teardrop” Sept. 11 memorial hidden off the coast of Bayonne.
The entire tour was narrated by two guides who shared a wealth of information about the past, present and future of New York’s port. And the boat, Circle Line’s Zephyr, offered indoor and outdoor seating, as well as a full snack and drink bar.
Hidden Harbor’s tours wrap up next month for the year. I look forward to taking another tour with them next year.
The reading for my summer “City Life in Fact and Fiction” class at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies included a short story and short novel by Joseph Mitchell. Both “Up in the Old Hotel” and “Old Mr. Flood” are set in the Fulton Fish Market, which closed shortly after I moved to New York City. I am sorry I never made it to the market in 2005, just to see what it looked like (though I understand the market had seen its height long before my parents were even born).
The Hartford Hotel setting reminds me of an evening I never experienced at the end of my first ride on the Coast Starlight, Amtrak’s Los Angeles-to-Seattle route. I was travelling alone on a North American Rail Pass in December of 2000. Vancouver, Jasper, Winnipeg, Toronto and Chicago were on my itinerary, after a short stay in Seattle. My plan was to stay at a hostel in downtown Seattle, but a heavy, middle-aged Montana man I met on the train almost convinced me to go with him to Ballard, a neighborhood of Seattle on the Puget Sound’s Shilshole Bay. He invited me to hang out at a bar that would likely be filled with old fishermen.
Looking back, I imagine the bar probably looked like Montero’s in Brooklyn Heights must have looked 40 years ago. I was almost sold, but decided against going to this strange neighborhood with a strange person. I stuck to my downtown Seattle plan.
But back to “Old Mr. Flood.” The title character believes fish is an elixir that will enable him to live to 115. His description of food reads like something that could have been written in the 21st Century. My favorite passage:
“Fish,” he says, “is the only grub left that the scientists haven’t been able to get their hands on and improve. The flounder you eat today hasn’t got any more damned vitamins in it than the flounder your great-great-grandaddy ate, and it tastes the same. Everything else has been improved and improved and improved to such an extent that it ain’t fit to eat. Consider the egg. When I was a boy on Staten Island, hens ate grit and grasshoppers and scraps from the table and whatever they could scratch out of the ground, and a platter of scrambled eggs was a delight. Then the scientists developed a special egg-laying mash made of old corncobs and sterilized buttermilk, and nowadays you order scrambled eggs and you get a platter of yellow glue.
Now ever since starting these stories, I have been eating fish nonstop. In one evening at the Jersey Shore, I ate 9 oysters, 6 clams, 6 shrimp and a 1.25-pound lobster. Today, my lunch was a fried haddock sandwich from Marino’s Fine Foods in Springfield, N.J. Yesterday’s lunch was canned cayenne-spiked sardines on a roll (healthy and sustainable!). Two Saturdays ago, I bought sea trout from the fishmonger at the farmers’ market in Staten Island (I told him about Joseph Mitchell and paraphrased the passage quoted above).
If only New York City still had fish restaurants like those Joseph Mitchell writes about. Sloppy Louie’s, Sweet’s and Libby’s, Gage & Tollners and Lundy’s are all, sadly, closed. Thankfully, we have plenty of fish markets around, as well as some great seafood spots in Astoria.
The sea trout below was from the farmer’s market was excellent, broiled simply with olive oil, sea salt and some diced olives and tomatoes.
I have indulged my interest in New York City history by taking some classes at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. As I begin this post, I am sitting in French Roast at Sixth Avenue and 12th Street, killing time before my evening class, City Life in Fact and Fiction. I want to share here a short passage from one of my readings for class. The English-born travel writer Stephen Graham wrote a book about traveling around Manhattan at nighttime. From the chapter of New York Nights titled Exterior Street:
It is five a.m. Something of the burden of the city has been lifted. The air is light. The heart seems freed. I am happy to be walking. I love the space and the quietness. I have got rid of the idea of going to bed, got rid of the routine of daily life. New York and its millions, its wealth, its mysteries are mine. There is a sense of conquest. The bustle has died down and I am still walking. The majority of people are asleep–but I am not the least sleepy. … Whoever would know the poetry of New York must walk in it after-midnight hours, see the red light come out on the Metropolitan tower preliminary to the striking of the hour … enter the Central station at four a.m. and see it anew, deserted, silent, beautiful as on the morning of Opening Day; see the City Hall at dawn hanging down from on high like the sky’s apron.
Though the city has changed drastically in the 85 years since that passage was written, it SO makes me want to walk all night through Manhattan. I have witnessed sunrises here, but only when rising early for a winter race in Central Park—never after staying up all night. One of these days …