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December 16th in NYC History:
Great Fire of 1835;
Churchill downs;
Dvorak debuts;
Variety Lays Its Egg;
Frick opens;
Big planes crash

Posted: Dec 16, 2012 | 5:37 PM
by Jared Goldstein

1835:  The Great Fire of 1835 lasts Dec 16th until the 18th, destroying 20 square blocks Downtown and 700 buildings.

The fire and smoke could be seen from Philadelphia 100 miles (162 k) away. 
Water shortages, wind, and freezing fire hoses stymied the firefighting.  


New York City's iconic water tanks are a result of the Great Fires of 1776 and 1835.  They are to keep water pressure up for buildings over six stories tall.  Most large buildings mask the tanks.

Ever wonder why you don't see any Dutch buildings or only one Federal Era building in the capitol of Nieuw Amsterdam and the birthplace of the Federal Style in the first Federal capitol of the United States?  See the previous paragraph. 

I go over this on my Downtown tours, my Financial District tours, and my Colonial tours.

Fortunately, no one died.



1893:  The New York Philharmonic debuts Antonin Dvorak's New World Symphony No. 9 at Carnegie Hall.   He was inspired by the music of Native Americans, Negro Spirituals, and Longfellow's poem "Hiawatha."  He composed it while living near Gramercy Park.  His old house was demolished to make way for a Beth Israel Hospital extension, but they put a statue of him nearby in Stuyvesant Park.  I showed this recently on my New York City Czech-Slovak-Hungarian History Tour.


1901:  Margaret Mead, the American anthropologist at Barnard and the Museum of Natural History, who authored 44 books and over 1000 articles, was born. She died in 1978.


1905:  Variety, the showbiz newspaper, debuts.   It brings into our lexicon 'D.J.' and 'Deejay,' as well as 'sitcom.'  Variety also pioneered 'Slanguage' headlines, using frank, humorous, short-hand, snarky, knowing language that prolix me would love to achieve. 

Here are some examples from Variety, the NY Post, and the New York Daily News, which I show on my 42nd Street tour:

STICKS NIX HICK PIX
translates to 'Rural People Object to Hollywood Movies' Portrayals of Rural Life' (based on a 1935 Variety headline).

HEADLESS BODY FOUND IN TOPLESS BAR (1983 New York Post headline).

FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD
translates to 'President Ford Objects to Using Federal Funds to Guarantee Financial Bailout for New York City to Avoid Bankruptcy' (based on a 1975 New York Daily News headline).

Here's a Jared@JaredtheNYCTourGuide.com challenge.  What is a better headline for "Variety, the showbiz newspaper, debuts."?  I was thinking: "Variety Lays Its Egg," which is based on a famous Variety headline, but it didn't make sense.  What do you think?


1917:  Frank Gotch, the first American undisputed world professional wrestling champion, died.


1931:  Churchill hit by a NYC motorist on 76th and Fifth Ave.   Churchill took responsibility for looking the wrong way (the British look right) before crossing the street.  That was his story, and he stuck with it while recovering from a concussion and bruises. 

Recent NYS Governor Al Smith brought him some good medicine, slipping Churchill a bottle of whiskey in the hospital. 

The driver, deeply apologetic, met with Churchill who is not reported to have shared his whiskey.


1935:  Frick Museum opens to the public.   Frick's collection is notable for its Rembrandts, Vermeers, a good Bronzino, and a mansionful more.  It started as Frick's mansion, but he planned for it to be converted to museum.

I love the museum because it is packed with masterpieces, but it isn't huge.  You walk on oriental carpeting among Louis XIV furniture, Ming vases, and an indoor pool with spouting frogs. 

Children not allowed (bwaaaah!).  Compared with the Metropolitan Museum of Art up Fifth Avenue, it is quiet and intimate.  Two hours and you've seen it all. 


1941:  Happy Birthday to Leslie Stahl of 60 Minutes.


1943:  Happy Birthday to Steven Bochco, the TV producer of "NYPD Blue." 
I show where a couple of the characters lived on Brooklyn Heights tours, DuMBO tours, and City Lights Tours.


1960:  Two jet planes collide in heavy fog, killing 134.  A United Airlines DC-8 crashed in Park Slope in Brooklyn (back when it was middle class, not rich), setting fire to 11 buildings and killing 9 on the ground.  The TWA plane fell onto Staten Island and into the Harbor.

The planes were heading to LaGuardia and Idlewild (now JFK)
Airports in North and South Queens, respectively.  Human error and equipment caused the collision.


Very strange:  Yesterday, December 15th 2012, as my group was returning to Manhattan from a Brooklyn Holiday Lights Tour, the driver brought up this crash as we drove by the area.



1974:  The first professional woman golfer, Helen Hicks dies.  She won the Metropolitan Open twice, and the USGA championship.


1977:  Sonny Werblin becomes President of Madison Square Garden just after creating the Garden's cross Hudson Rival, the New Jersey Meadowlands, 6 miles away.      My parents publicized both places. 


1983:  Doug Kotar, the NY Giants' running back from 1974-81 dies
of cancer at age 32.


1985:  Mob Chief Paul Castellano killed outside Sparks Steakhouse on busy 46th St.  John Gotti, who succeeds him, is later convicted for the hit.   

In the early 1990s I worked at a housing organization in northern Little Italy(now NoLita), around the corner from Gotti's modest Ravenite Social Club.  He evaded conviction once (the recordings from the social club were garbled), and the neighborhood erupted in support with fireworks to welcome Gotti back.  Gotti was popular for big tipping and giving away $100 bills.  

Taking in the spectacle, I tried to flirt with a lovely young Jewess who came to the fete.  She was having none of it.  She kept singing "That's Amore.'"   She wasn't impressed with an educated social-justice-committed Jewish guy working at a self-help affordable housing solutions organization, and a nice Jewish guy...  . 

That was an eye opener!  I sure wasn't an undergrad at liberal Columbia anymore. 

She wanted to seduce the Don. 

She wasn't successful either.


The Ravenite is now a boutique.



1991:  The U.N. General Assembly cancelled its 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism.


2000:  NYC's Colin Powell is the first African-American Secretary of State.


2010:  Larry King retired from his CNN talk show after 25 years.  I show where his studio was on my tours of the Upper West Side, Central Park Tours, and Columbus Circle Tours.

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