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The Bowery Boys: New York City History

History Podcasts

The tides of American history lead through the streets of New York City — from the huddled masses on Ellis Island to the sleazy theaters of 1970s Times Square. The elevated railroad to the Underground Railroad. Hamilton to Hammerstein! Greg and Tom explore more than 400 years of action-packed stories, featuring both classic and forgotten figures who have shaped the world.


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The tides of American history lead through the streets of New York City — from the huddled masses on Ellis Island to the sleazy theaters of 1970s Times Square. The elevated railroad to the Underground Railroad. Hamilton to Hammerstein! Greg and Tom explore more than 400 years of action-packed stories, featuring both classic and forgotten figures who have shaped the world.




#417 Walking the East Village 1976-1996

The rebirth of the East Village in the late 1970s and the flowering of a new and original New York subculture -- what Edmund White called "the Downtown Scene" -- arose from the shadow of urban devastation and was anchored by a community that reclaimed its own deteriorating neighborhood. In the last episode (Creating the East Village 1955-1975) this northern corner of New York's Lower East Side became the desired home for new cultural venues -- nightclubs, cafes, theaters, and bars -- after the city tore down the Third Avenue Elevated in 1955. By the mid-1970s, however, the high had worn off. The East Village was in crisis, one of the Manhattan neighborhoods hit hardest by the city’s fiscal difficulties and cutbacks. It had become a landscape of dark, unsafe streets and buildings demolished in flame. But the next generation of creative interlopers (following the initial stampede of Greenwich Village beatniks and hippies) built upon the legacies of East Village counter-culture to create poems, music, paintings, and stage performances heavily influenced by the apocalyptic situations around them. This was something truly distinct, a creative scene that was thoroughly and uniquely an East Village creation -- punk and hardcore, murals and graffiti, fashion and drag. In this episode Greg hits the streets of the East Village in a special live-on-the-streets event, with musician and tour guide Krikor Daglian (of True Tales of NYC), exploring the secrets of the recent past -- from the origins of skateboarding to the seeds of the American alternative rock scene. FEATURING: CBGB, Supreme, the Pyramid, Club 57, Niagara, 7B, Brownies, and many others AND special guests Bill Di Paola from the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space and Ramon 'Ray' Alvarez from Ray's Candy Store ALSO: Check out our Walking The East Village playlist, curated by Krikor and Greg -- on Spotify


#416 Creating the East Village 1955-1975

Before 1955 nobody used the phrase "East Village" to describe the historic northern portion of the Lower East Side, the New York tenement district with a rich German and Eastern European heritage. But when the Third Avenue El was torn down that year, those who were attracted to the culture of Greenwich Village -- with its coffeehouses, poets and jazz music -- began flocking to the east side, attracted to low rents. Soon the newly named East Village culturally became an extension of the Village with new bookstores, cafes, experimental theaters, and nightclubs. By the mid-1960s the hepcats were replaced by hippies, flamboyant and politically active, influenced by the events of the 1960s and a slightly different buffet of drugs. At the same time, the neighborhood's Ukrainian population grew as well after the United States provided visas to thousands of refugees from Europe displaced by World War II. By the 1960s Puerto Ricans also lived in the eastern end of the district, sometimes called Alphabet City (and eventually Loisaida). In this first of a two-part series on the history of the East Village, Greg is joined Jason Birchard from Veselka Restaurant, who shares his family's story, and by theater historian David Loewy to discuss the influence of Joe Papp and The Public Theater, a stage whose first production would capture the very counter-culture dominating the streets around it. Visit the website for images and more information Further listening: Nuyorican: The Great Puerto Rican Migration St. Mark's Place: Party Time In The East Village The Secrets of St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery


Rewind: The Rebellious History of Tompkins Square Park

This episode on the history of Tompkins Square Park ties right into an all-new two-part episode coming in September, the first part coming at you next week. Tompkins Square Park is the heart and soul of the East Village. And it's also one of New York City's oldest parks! However this was not a park designed for the service of the upper classes in the mid-19th century. It provided open air and recreational space for the many hundreds of thousands of immigrants who moved into the Lower East Side, particularly Germans who filled the park with music, food and social gatherings. But the park has also been a place for people to voice their descent. It's become a most rebellious place over the decades. This is a story of vice presidents and labor unions and drag queens and punks. Visit the website for more information This show was originally released in 2014.


#415 The Early Years of Central Park

Stroll the romantic, rambling paths of historic Central Park in this week's episode, turning back the clock to the 1860s and 70s, a time of children ice skating on The Lake, carriage rides through the Mall, and bewildering excursions through The Ramble. You’re all invited to walk along with Greg through the oldest portion of Central Park. Not only to marvel at the beautiful trees, ancient rocks, flowers, and the dizzying assortment of birds but to look at the architecture, the sculptures, and the fountains. The idea of a public park -- open to all people, from all walks of life -- was rather new in the mid-19th century. The original plan for Central Park by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux emphasized an escape to the natural world. But almost immediately, those plans were altered to include more monumental and architectural delights. In this rambling walking tour, Greg visits some of the most beloved attractions of the park including Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, Naumburg Bandshell, Bow Bridge and Belvedere Castle. And he's joined by two very special guests: -- Sara Cedar Miller, historian emerita of the Central Park Conservancy and author of Before Central Park -- Dr. Emma Guest-Consales, president of the Guides Association of New York City and tour ambassador at One World Observatory. Visit our website for more information


#414 The Brooklyn Navy Yard and Vinegar Hill

The tale of the Brooklyn Navy Yard is one of New York's true epic adventures, mirroring the course of American history via the ships manufactured here and the people employed to make them. The Navy Yard's origins within Wallabout Bay tie it to the birth of the United States itself, the spot where thousands of men and women were kept in prison ships during the Revolutionary War. Within this bay where thousands of American patriots died would rise one of this country’s largest naval yards. It was built for the service and protection of the very country those men and women died for. A complex that would then create weapons of war for other battles -- and jobs for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. In this episode, Greg is joined by the amazing Andrew Gustafson from Turnstile Tours who unfurls the surprising history of the Navy Yard -- through war and peace, through new technologies and aging infrastructure, through the lives of the men and women who built the yard's reputation. And the story extends to the tiny neighborhood of Vinegar Hill, famed for its early 19th-century architecture and the mysterious mansion known as the Commandant's House. FEATURING the origin story of Brooklyn's most sacred public monument -- at home not in Vinegar Hill (at least not anymore) but in Fort Greene. Visit our website for more information and also head to Turnstile Tours for information on their tours of the Navy Yard.


#413 The New Storytellers: Landmarks, Diners and Everyday New Yorkers

Instead of looking back to the history of New York City in this episode, we are looking forwardto the future -- to the new generation of creators who are celebrating New York and telling its story through mediums that are not podcasts or books. Today we are celebrating the historians, journalists and photographers who bring New York City to life on social media platforms like Instagram. There are a million different ways to tell a good story and the guests on today's show are doing it with photography and short films, exposing new audiences to the best of New York City – its landmarks, its people, even its diners. Featuring interviews with three of our favorite people: Nicolas Heller, aka New York Nico, the "unofficial talent scout of New York City," the filmmaker and photographer who manages to capture the magic of the city’s most interesting and colorful characters Riley Arthur, aka Diners of NYC, who explores the world of New York City diners, great and small, in hopes to bring awareness to many struggling local businesses Tommy Silk, aka Landmarks of NY, who shares illuminating photos and videos featuring the city’s most interesting and sometimes overlooked architectural gems Featuring stories of the Neptune Diner, the Green Lady, the Little Red Lighthouse, Junior's Cheesecake, Tiger Hood and City Island. And follow the Bowery Boys on Instagram and on TikTok and on Threads (@boweryboysnyc)


A Gilded Age Tour Up the Island of Manhattan

It’s one of the great narratives of American urban history — the northward trek of New York society up the island of Manhattan during the 19th century. Bringing you this special story today is writer, tour guide and historian Keith Taillon from KeithYorkCity, joining Carl Raymond from the Gilded Gentleman podcast to analyze this unique social migration. They present a fascinating virtual tour through over 100 years of New York City history, showing how the Gilded Age developed and evolved from an architectural and urban planning point of view. For more information visit the Bowery Boys website, subscribe to the Gilded Gentleman podcast and check out Keith's adventures at his website.


Rewind: The Deadly Draft Riots of 1863

This month we are marking the 160th anniversary of one of the most dramatic moments in New York City history – the Civil War Draft Riots which stormed through the city from July 13 to July 16, 1863. Thousands of people took to the streets of Manhattan in violent protest, fueled initially by anger over conscription to the Union Army which sent New Yorkers to the front lines of the Civil War. (Or, most specifically, those who couldn’t afford to pay the $300 commutation fee were sent to war.) In many ways, our own city often seems to have forgotten these significant events. There are very few memorials or plaques in existence at all to the Draft Riots, a very odd situation given the numerous markers to other tragic and unsettling moments in New York City history. In particular, given the number of African-Americans who were murdered in the streets during these riots, and the numbers of Black families who fled New York in terror, we think this is a very significant oversight. In this episode, a remastered, re-edited edition of our 2011 show, we take you through those hellish days of deplorable violence and appalling attacks on abolitionists, Republicans, wealthy citizens, and anybody standing in the way of blind anger. Mobs filled the streets, destroying businesses (from corner stores to Brooks Brothers) and threatening to throw the city into permanent chaos. Visit the website for more information FURTHER LISTENING Fernando Wood: The Scoundrel Mayor of New York The Hoaxes and Conspiracies of New York And did you see this performance from the musical Paradise Square, set during the Draft Riots?


The Making of the Pledge of Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance feels like an American tradition that traces itself back to the Founding Fathers, but, in fact, the original version is only written in 1892. (And the version you may be familiar with from elementary school is less than 70 years old.) This is the story of the invention of the Pledge, a set of words that have come to embody the core values of American citizenship. And yet it began as part of a for-profit magazine promotion, written by a Christian socialist minister. Listen to the pledge wording evolve throughout the years and discover the shocking salute that once accompanied it. Featuring: Tom Meyers as the voice of Francis Bellamy, the inventor of the pledge. This is a reedited, remastered version of an episode of Greg's spin-off show The First, originally released in 2017 Visit the website for more information and images And after listening, please read this article by Sam Roberts on questions over the pledge's authorship


#412 The New York Parking Wars

Take a look at a historic photograph of New York from the 1930s and you'll see automats, newsies, elevated trains and men in fedoras. What you won't see -- dozens and dozens of automobiles on the curb. In a city with skyrocketing real estate values, why are most city streets still devoted to free car storage? It's a situation we're all so used to that we don't think twice about it. Whatever happened to the curb? Long-term and overnight parking used to be illegal in the early 20th century. The transition from horse-drawn carriages to gas-powered automobiles transformed neighborhoods like Times Square and reconfigured everyday life on the street. But before the 1920s, parking those glamorous new Model Ts on the street was tolerated only in short-term situations. By the 1940s, however, New Yorkers were simply too reliant on the automobile, and the city's parking lots and garages were simply not adequate. (For many New Yorkers, like Seinfeld's George Costanza, they're still not acceptable). Street parking was de facto legalized with the advent of alternate-side parking rules, and soon parking meters and 'meter maids' were attempting to keep a handle on the chaotic situation. Eventually the car took over. Will it always be this way? In this special episode, Tom and Greg are joined by Slate Magazine writer Henry Grabar, author of Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains The World, who exposes some shocking parking violations and even offers a few couple solutions for the future. Visit the website for more images


#411 Miss Subways: Queens of the New York Commute

From 1941 and 1976, dozens of young women and high school girls were bestowed the honor of Miss Subways with her smiling photograph hanging within the cars of the New York subway system. This was not a beauty pageant, but rather an advertising campaign which promoted the subway and drew the eyes of commuters to the train car's many advertisements for cod liver oil, cigarettes and frozen foods. The program was overseen by modeling agent guru John Robert Powers whose work for retail catalogs and newspapers would help define the 'girl-next-door' image of the mid 20th century. However this blonde Midwestern template soon looked out of place promoting the subway system of one of the most diverse cities in the world. By the 1960s, winners of this fleeting title began to reflect the many types of women who commuted and used the subway. Listen in as Greg tells the story of the Miss Subways pageant then participates as a judge for a brand new Miss Subways competition, held in Coney Island in April. But what does this title mean in 2023? FEATURING A visit to the New York Transit Museum, the City Reliquary, Coney Island USA's Seashore Theater and Ellen's Stardust Diner VISIT THE WEBSITE for more information and many photographs


#410 The Roeblings: The Family Who Built The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge, which was officially opened to New Yorkers 140 years ago this year, is not only a symbol of the American Gilded Age, it’s a monument to the genius, perseverance and oversight of one family. This episode is arranged as a series of three mini biographies of three family members -- John Roebling, his son Washington Roebling and Washington's wife Emily Warren Roebling. Through their stories, we’ll watch as the Brooklyn Bridge is designed, built and opened in 1883. PLUS: One more Roebling! Greg and Tom are joined in the studio by Kriss Roebling, the great, great-grandson of Washington and Emily Roebling. He shares his own surprising family stories -- and brings in some extraordinary artifacts from his family's past! Visit our website for more pictures and information about this show FURTHER LISTENING: That Daredevil Steve Brodie! The Queensboro Bridge and the Rise of a Borough Crossing to Brooklyn: How The Williamsburg Bridge Changed New York The George Washington Bridge


Rewind: The Birth of the Broadway Musical

The Broadway musical is one of New York City's greatest inventions, over 160 years in the making! It's one of the truly American art forms, fueling one of the city's most vibrant entertainment businesses and defining its most popular tourist attraction -- Times Square. But why Broadway, exactly? Why not the Bowery or Fifth Avenue? And how did our fair city go from simple vaudeville and minstrel shows to Shuffle Along, Irene and Show Boat, surely the most influential musical of the Jazz Age? This podcast is an epic, a wild musical adventure in itself, full of musical interludes, zipping through the evolution of musical entertainment in New York City, as it races up the 'main seam' of Manhattan -- the avenue of Broadway. We are proud to present a tour up New York City's most famous street, past some of the greatest theaters and shows that have ever won acclaim here, from the wacky (and highly copied) imports of Gilbert & Sullivan to the dancing girls and singing sensations of the Ziegfeld revue tradition. CO-STARRING: Well, some of the biggest names in songwriting, composing and singing. And even a dog who talks in German! At right: Billie Burke from a latter-year Follies. (NYPL) Visit the website for more information and images. This episode was originally recorded in 2013. Since then we have recorded many shows on the Broadway theater district. Please check out these shows for more information: -- Mae West: 'Sex' On Broadway -- Rodgers and Hammerstein -- West Side Story: The Making of Lincoln Center -- The Shuberts: The Brothers Who Built Broadway -- The Cotton Club: The Aristocrat of Harlem -- Tin Pan Alley and the creation of modern American music


#409 The Great New York City Pizza Tour

The history of pizza in the United States begins in Manhattan in the late 19th century, on the streets of Little Italy (and Nolita), within immigrant-run bakeries that transformed a traditional southern Italian food into something remarkable. But new research discovered in recent years has changed New York food history, revealing an origin tale slightly older than what the old guide books may have you believe. Understanding the history of American pizza is important because it's a food that brings people together, young and old -- from pizza parties to corner slice places, from classic traditional pies to the latest upscale innovations. Pizza lovers of all kinds -- even you, Chicago deep-dish lovers -- will find much to enjoy in this show, tracing the early origins of American pizza and specifically how New York City-style pizza was born. (What even is New York style pizza? Even that answer is trickier than you think.) On this wandering episode -- through Nolita, Greenwich Village and even the Bowery -- Tom and Greg are joined by the prince of pizza himself Scott Wiener of the long-running Scott's Pizza Tours. Perhaps nobody in New York City knows more about pizza than Scott, and he takes the Bowery Boys on a culinary adventure which includes two of New York's most famous pizza restaurants -- Lombardi's Pizza and John's of Bleecker Street. And a stop at the most important restaurant-supply store in American pizza history, a place were dreams (and pizza ovens) were once made. Visit our website for pictures and other information Our deep thanks to Chicago pizza historian Peter Regas whose research was used in this show. FURTHER LISTENING: Episodes of the Bowery Boys with similar or related themes The Big History of Little Italy The History of the Bagel Chop Suey City: The History of Chinese Food in New York A Walk Through Little Caribbean in Brooklyn A Culinary Tour of the Lower East Side


#408 The Titanic and the Fate of Pier 54

In the early morning hours of April 15, 1912. the White Star ocean liner RMS Titanic struck an iceberg en route to New York City and sank in the Atlantic Ocean. Survivors were rescued by the Cunard liner Carpathia and brought to their berth at Pier 54 on the rainy evening of April 18. On that very spot today, a fanciful waterfront development juts out into the Hudson River, a place called Little Island which opened in 2021. This recreational oasis will draw thousands of people, New Yorkers and tourists alike, this spring and summer. But on the southern side of Little Island, peering out of the water, are dozens of wooden posts – these are the remains of the former Pier 54. And it was on this pier, on April 18, 1912, that survivors of the Titanic disembarked and touched land. This is the story of the places that figured into the aftermath and the story of how New York memorialized those lost to the tragedy. And in the end we return to Little Island and to the ghost of Pier 54, the place where this disaster became reality for most people. Where survivors were greeted with joy and where many hundreds of people faced the reality that their loved ones were never coming home. Visit our website for images and more information. FURTHER READING: A short history of New York City’s various Titanic memorials The doctor, the heiress and the accidental nanny: New York women who survived the Titanic A haunting look inside the Lusitania FURTHER LISTENING: Chelsea Piers: New York City in the Age of the Ocean Liner The Complicated History of the Waldorf-Astoria How Chelsea Became A Neighborhood Support the Bowery Boys Podcast on Patreon


#407 New York by Gaslight: Illuminating the 19th Century

Enter the magical world of New York by gaslight, the city illuminated by the soft, revolutionary glow of lamps powered by gas, an innovative utility which transformed urban life in the 19th century. Before the introduction of gaslight in the 1820s, New York was a much darker and quieter place after sunset, its streets lit only by dull, foul-smelling whale-oil lamps. Gaslight was first used in London, and it made its American debut in Newport and Baltimore. The New York Gas Company received its company charter in 1823 and began to install gas pipes under the street that decade. With gas-powered lighting, New York really became the city that never slept. It meant you could work late without your eyes straining – or wander the streets with less apprehension. It meant greater ease reading a book or throwing a lavish ball. Gaslight brought the 19th century city to life in ways that are easy to overlook. In this episode we're joined by author Jane Brox, author of Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light who discusses the curious charms of this rare and enigmatic light source. FURTHER LISTENING: After you listen to the show about the history of gaslight, check out these past Bowery Boys podcasts with similar themes. -- Electric New York: With the discovery of electricity, it seemed possible to illuminate the world with a more dependable, potentially inexhaustible energy source. -- Tesla: The Inventor in Old New York -- Building Stuyvesant Town If you like our show, please consider giving the Bowery Boys podcast a five-star review on Apple Podcasts


Rewind: When The Irish Came To New York

We just reedited and reworked our 2017 show on Irish immigration in time for St. Patrick’s Day and a celebration of all things Irish! So much has changed in our world since 2017 and this history feels more relevant and impactful than ever before. You don’t have a New York City without the Irish. In fact, you don’t have a United States of America as we know it today. This diverse and misunderstood immigrant group began coming over from Ireland in significant numbers starting in the Colonial era, mostly as indentured servants. In the early 19th century, these Irish arrivals, both Protestants and Catholics, were already consolidating — via organizations like the Ancient Order of the Hibernians and in places like St. Patrick’s Cathedral. But starting in the 1830s, with a terrible blight wiping out Ireland’s potato crops, a mass wave of Irish immigration would dwarf all that came before, hundreds of thousands of weary, sometimes desperate newcomers who entered New York to live in its most squalid neighborhoods. The Irish were among the laborers who built the Croton Aqueduct, the New York grid plan and Central Park. Irish women comprised most of the hired domestic help by the mid 19th century. The arrival of the Irish and their assimilation into American life is a story repeated in many cities. Here in New York City, it is essential in our understanding of the importance of modern immigrant communities to the life of the Big Apple. PLUS: The origins of New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade! Other shows you may enjoy: The Civil War Draft Riots Jacob Riis: 'The Other Half' of the Gilded Age Battery Park and Castle Clinton The Story of Five Points Bowery Boys Movie Club: Gangs of New York


#406 How Wall Street Got Its Name

Wall Street, today a canyon of tall buildings in New York's historic Financial District, is not only one of the most famous streets in the United States, it's also a stand-in for the entire American financial system. One of the first facts you learn as a student of New York City history is that Wall Street is named for an actual wall that once stretched along this very spot during the days of the Dutch when New York was known as New Amsterdam. The particulars of the story, however, are far more intriguing. Because the Dutch called the street alongside the wall something very different. During the colonial era, the wall was torn down and turned into the center of New York life, complete with Trinity Church, City Hall and a shoreline market with a disturbing connection to one New York's financial livelihoods -- slavery. So how did this street become so associated with American finance? The story involves Alexander Hamilton, a busy coffee house and a very important tree. Visit the website for more images and information about this subject More Bowery Boys episodes related to this one: George Washington's New York Inauguration Life In New Amsterdam Land of the Lenape Tearing Down King George: The Revolutionary Summer of 1776 Trinity Church: Anchor of Wall Street


#405 Mona Lisa at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci's stoic portrait and one of the most valuable paintings on earth, came to America during the winter of 1963, a single-picture loan that was both a special favor to Jackie Kennedy and a symbolic tool during tense conversations between the United States and France about nuclear arms. Its first stop was the National Gallery in Washington DC, where over a half million people spent hours in line to gaze at the famous smile. Then, on February 7, 1963, she made her debut to the public at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hosted in the medieval sculpture hall for a month-long exhibition that would become one of the museum's most attended shows. On that first day, thousands lined up outside in the freezing cold to catch a glimpse of the iconic painting. By week's end, a quarter of a million people had visited the museum to see the Italian masterpiece. PLUS: What's it like guarding precious and iconic works of art like the Mona Lisa? Patrick Bringley, a former guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, joins Greg and Tom in the studio to discuss his new book All The Beauty In The World: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Me, recounting a decade of purpose, sorrow and epiphany while working in America's largest museum. Visit our website for images and more details After listening to this show, you may also like to listen to these other past episodes: -- Our history of the Metropolitan Museum on its 150th anniversary -- Why is the Mona Lisa so famous? Find out why in the Gilded Gentleman's show The Theft of the Mona Lisa -- Exactly one year to the day after the Mona Lisa came to town, so did these guys.


The First Woman Ever Photographed

Dorothy Catherine Draper is a truly forgotten figure in American history. She was the first woman to ever sit for a photograph — a daguerrotype, in the year 1840, upon the rooftop of the school which would become New York University. Catherine was the older sister of professor John William Draper, later the founder of the university’s school of medicine. The Drapers worked alongside Samuel Morse in the period following his invention of the telegraph. The experiments of Draper and Morse, with Catherine as assistant, would set the stage for the entire history of American photography. The legendary portrait was taken when Miss Draper was a young woman but a renewed interest in the image in the 1890s brought the now elderly matron a bit of late-in-life recognition. To see the photograph of Draper and other early photography, visit our website. This episode originally appeared on Greg’s podcast called The First which had a respectable run a few years ago. The feed for that show will be going away soon so we wanted to present some of that show’s greatest hits over the next few months, in between regular episodes of the Bowery Boys as bonus stories about American history. Enjoy!