A Hot & Sunny Day in Manhattan, 1939

On Facebook longtime friend Martha Moran has shared this timeless film of a Manhattan tour from 1939, remastered in bright, vibrant color by the excellent Romano-Archives. You can view the 3-minute film below, or via this link posted by Eric Larson at, @_ericlarson on Twitter. For this post I’ve made two screenshots of favorite images from it. One shows a theater marquee in Harlem where they were evidently screening W.C. Fields’ “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man,” my favorite movie comic. Oddly, it anticipates the compressed spellings mandated by today’s social media, as the narrow marquee reads, “U Can’t Cheat a Honest Man.” It reads like a tweet. The second screenshot is of the #5 bus, a route I still use regularly in Manhattan. I consider it my personal “scenic drive” as for part of its route it cruises along Riverside Drive, affording splendid views of the Hudson River. It must have been glorious in 1939, when it was a double-decker bus with an elegant curving stairway that conveyed passengers to the upper deck!I suggest that at the very end you notice all the big ships docked at piers on the west side of Manhattan. This reminds me of a line in one of my favorite S.J. Perelman humor sketches, where a woman tells the narrator she’s waiting to pay him a debt “until my ship comes in,” whereupon he retorts with, “I’ll be watching the shipping news,” a reference to the ubiquitous maritime tables that newspapers used to print every day. Thanks for this to Martha Moran.
Fields film# 5 bus

Some Early Spring Hudson River Views

Looking northward to the GGBFollowing many days of late winter gloom and cold winds off the Hudson River where I regularly ride my bike things brightened up a bit today. With temps edging over 50 degrees and light to moderate winds, I wasn’t forced to don the usual gear I’ve been wearing on my rides since the fall. More lightly clad than usual, I pedaled north along the river, stopping for a break about even with 140th Street. Perched atop an old picnic table I read my current book, Heretics: Adventures With the Enemies of Science by British journalist Will Storr; phoned my sister to wish her a happy Passover; and took these pics of the Hudson and the Jersey side of the river. Even with the noticeable warming, there were still a lot gray, glowering clouds hanging low in the sky, but maybe now we’re in for a spell of fair weather. Please click here to see all photos from my bike ride.

NYC Sandhog Trapped in Quicksand Rescued from Treacherous 2nd Avenue Subway Tunnel

MTA photoFirefighters and emergency workers went to extraordinary lengths to rescue the construction worker I tweeted about earlier, mired as he was in a veritable pool of quicksand 100 feet under Second Avenue and 95th Street in Manhattan. In addition to the NY Times article by reporters Matt Flegenheimer and Marc Santora, the latter also appears in a video at the Times site discussing the incident, and there’s a graphic (below) that shows the unusual configuration below ground that led to the peril for the worker. From the article:

[Joseph Barone] became trapped midway between two entrance points used by construction workers, a distance of about 150 feet.
The situation was complicated by the fact that Mr. Barone was pinned at an awkward angle beneath plywood that had sunk into the mud with him. While some stretches of tunnel south of 96th Street have been poured over with concrete, according to the authority, the area where the worker lost his footing remains muck-filled.
Above him were two heavy bars used to brace the walls of the tunnel.
“The first units who got there were concerned about him slipping down more, so they got him roped up,” Chief Hayde said.
With the ropes slung over the struts, initial attempts to simply pull Mr. Barone out of the muck failed.
“There was a tremendous amount of suction pulling him down,” Chief Hayde said. . . .
Rescue workers considered using a cofferdam—essentially a plywood box, which would be constructed around Mr. Barone—but decided that in order to do so, they would have to detach him from the ropes, which they feared could result in his sinking entirely.
So firefighters also dug by hand, trying to scoop out two handfuls of muck for each one that seeped back in.
All the while, Lieutenant Goyenechea tried to keep Mr. Barone talking. He asked about his family, his favorite sports team and how he had come to be stuck.
Mr. Barone said he had simply lost his footing, and once his leg was trapped, there was little he could do.
The Rev. Stephen Harding, a chaplain with the Fire Department, said he was summoned to the scene to provide support to the emergency workers. But after spending over three hours above ground, he said, he asked to be escorted into the tunnel.
There were scores of emergency personnel, he said, covered in grime as they struggled to free Mr. Barone in the dim light. Mr. Harding approached, carefully, and extended his hand to grasp Mr. Barone’s. He could barely make out the worker’s face, which was caked in mud, he said. But a voice emerged.
“He said, ‘I’m hanging in,’ ” Mr. Harding recalled. “And I just held his hand.”

Subway graphic

Two NYC Mayors, Falsely Lionized/Part II

Since last October when I wrote about what I view as the false lionization of New York City mayors Bloomberg and Giuliani by much of the national media, I’ve kept an eye out for stories of their conduct in office that underscores the points I made in that post last fall, when I wrote this paragraph:

“As mayor, Rudolph Giuliani was a daily irritant in the city, continually choosing confrontation over conciliation, seldom missing a chance to stoke the embers of urban enmity–between the police and the people; black and white citizens; between Manhattanites and residents in the other boroughs. On and on it went, year after year. When Abner Louima was sodomized by members of the NYPD, a word of apology never crossed that mayor’s lips. The same was true when Amadou Diallo was shot by police. Giuliani picked fights with museums and routinely showed contempt for free speech and free expression. It was like being trapped in a room with an unremittingly argumentative neighbor.”

I go on to say that after 9/11 it was as if national reporters hadn’t ever read one of the reams of story on Rudy’s meanness and divisiveness. Please note, it was often different for many hometown NY-based reporters, who tended to cover his high drama hijinks more honestly. So I perked right up today, when I saw this tweet from NY Times reporter Michael Powell::


I’ve now read that story, co-bylined with reporter Ross Buettner, headlined “In Matters Big and Small, Crossing Giuliani Had a Price,” in which they reported on the mayor’s vindictiveness in striking back at people he considered his enemies. As stated in the tweet, one of the people against whom Giuliani unleashed one of his many vendettas was Richard Murphy, whose recent death, marked this week by a NYT obituary, probably prompted Powell to tweet about the still pertinent article, a litany of abuse of power and petty payback in which Giuliani administration officials painted Mr. Murphy–formerly a youth services advocate in the administration of Mayor Dinkins, preceding Guliani–as corrupt, though there was no basis for this insinuation. They even bad-mouthed him to a prospective employer in California, a job he then wasn’t offered. From the 2008 article:

“I was soiled merchandise—the taint just lingers,’ Mr. Murphy said in a recent interview. Not long after, a major foundation recruited Mr. Murphy to work on the West Coast. The group wanted him to replicate his much-honored concept of opening schools at night as community centers. A senior Giuliani official called the foundation—a move a former mayoral official confirmed on the condition of anonymity for fear of embarrassing the organization—and the prospective job disappeared. ‘He goes to people and makes them complicit in his revenge,’ Mr. Murphy said.”

As for Mayor Bloomberg, even while supporting some of his initiatives, such as his advocacy of stricter gun regulations and the installation of more bike lanes around the city, his anti-democratic hubris in arranging city law to permit himself a third term continues to place him under a cloud. His State of the City address last week was a model of Bloombergian megalomania, with the Brooklyn Nets cheerleaders dancing before he took to the podium, where pennants and balloons festooned the Barclays Center. The colossally nervy message of his speech, according to this Feb. 13 NYT article, was that after he leaves his office, the city may be taken over by special interests, as if we’ve been free of them the past decade he’s held office.

“In an unabashed and relentless tribute to his own municipal stewardship, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Thursday declared victory over 12 years of ‘obstructionists’ and ‘naysayers’ who sought to block his vision for New York City, and warned that an era of political independence might leave City Hall when he did. From the floor of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn—itself a monument to his ambitious and controversial development agenda—Mr. Bloomberg delivered his final State of the City address with a vow not to retreat into a state of ribbon-cutting resignation. . . . ‘The special interests and campaign donors have never had less power than they’ve had over the past 11 years,’ he said, alluding to his ability, because of his personal wealth, to refuse campaign donations. ‘And this year, we’re going to show them just how true that is . . . . ‘Given all the politics and special interests, if we don’t do it this year, it may never get done,’ he said of his proposed rezoning plan for the area around Grand Central Terminal, intended to encourage the construction of modern towers.”

So, a mayor who’s been a ceaseless proponent of ever-more development and an ally of to real estate interests, claims the city may suffer once his stewardship ends. To this malarkey, I echo these comments, quoted in the story on the Barclays Center extravaganz:

“’He still doesn’t understand that the city was here before him and will be here after he leaves,’ said Bill de Blasio, the public advocate and a Democratic candidate for mayor. ‘I heard a lot of creating temples to his greatness.’”

While I believe that the media have often contributed to the false lionization of these mayors, I am grateful to reporters Powell and Buettner, and the Timesmen who wrote the story on the State of the City speech, Michael M. Grynbaum and Michael Barbaro.

A Nasty Legacy of Superstorm Sandy

Cara Buckley’s New York Times story will make you squirm, including its dreadful detail on a basement one exterminator goes to work in, where others of his professional ilk had refused the job, so overrun with vermin was it.

Windy Hudson River Bike Ride Photos

I shared a couple of these photos on Instagram earlier, but here are two others. They were all taken on a break during a very windy bike ride this past Saturday. Standing on a bluff above the Hudson River as as an intense, dramatic sunset glowed across the whole skyline, I am in upper Manhattan at about 165th Street, looking south down the river back toward the city. Though I’ve often ridden in strong wind along the Hudson, the gusts usually come from one direction. Saturday, they swirled and came from all points of the compass.

Woody Guthrie, New Yorker

Wonderful to think of Woody Guthrie playing music on NYC’s subways. H/t @grescoe on Twitter and Hajimero on tumblr for sharing this image that appeared in LIFE magazine in 1943.

Mayhem Takes a Holiday

Earlier this week, TV station NY1 reported that

“The New York City Police Department says not a single murder, shooting, stabbing or slashing was reported in the five boroughs on Monday. . . .Police officials could not say when they last saw a similar crime-free streak.”

Not to be glib about this good news, but hearing it I was reminded of the terrific 1934 film, “Death Takes a Holiday,” directed by Mitchell Leisen and with Frederic March cast as the figure of Death who pays an incognito visit to the human realm for a weekend, during which he becomes the house guest of a wealthy man and falls in love with his beautiful daughter. Over these days, it emerges in radio news bulletins that people have simply stopped dying. The usual mayhem–shipwrecks, car wrecks, personal vendettas–have unaccountably stopped leading  to the demise of even a single human being. As the weekend ebbs, the wealthy man realizes just who his strange guest is and it dawns on him that the romance with his daughter will inevitably lead to her being taken from him when Death returns to his spectral realm. As the engrossing plot unfolds, the older man pleads with Death to spare her and take him instead, and events spiral to a dramatic climax.

There is a small but sturdy sub-genre of films that personify Death. Among these are Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal,” with Max Von Sydow costumed as a black-clad knight who plays chess against Death, hoping to forestall his inevitable demise for as long as their match continues. The black & white cinematography imbues this 1957 classic with unforgettable mood and atmosphere.

Another film of this sort that I admire is A Matter of Life and Death, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (I keep a link to an archive/fan site for this titanic duo on my personal blogroll in the right rail on this website) with David Niven playing a WWII pilot whose airplane is hit by anti-aircraft fire. During his lethal descent toward earth, he talks to and falls in love with a female radio operator–played by Kim Hunter–only to somehow survive the fiery wreck. Turns out that the representative of the deathly realm who was supposed to usher Niven to the beyond has been derelict in his duty. Under pain of penalty by heavenly authorities this sad sack angel must atone for his malpractice and reclaim the pilot, who says, basically, “Nothing doing, you’ve had your chance.”

While I recognize that New York City’s holiday from mayhem was bound to be shortlived, I’m grateful for the welcome respite we experienced this week, and for the fact that it reminded me of these great movies.