History


World Trade Center

For a New Yorker who was working in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, I don’t have a harrowing or even very interesting story. I was not near the Towers; I was not near death. I did not see the planes. My life was not saved by a delayed train or by bringing my child to school or by voting in the mayoral primary or by stopping for coffee or by a heroic act by a fellow New Yorker.

I was at my desk in Midtown when the planes hit. As word spread, I gathered with coworkers to watch, horrified, on the news as the Towers burned and then fell, as the Pentagon smoldered. With thousands of others, I walked to Queens over the 59th Street Bridge, and then I got a ride home from a coworker. It was a sad, even terrifying day for me, but not a particularly dangerous one.

Eight years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, I find myself still in awe of the brave passengers who crashed their plane in Pennsylvania. Still in awe of the firefighters who climbed the Towers to rescue my friends, relatives and neighbors despite the obvious dangers in doing so. Still in awe of the ordinary citizens who, simply by being employed in New York’s two tallest office buildings, became unwitting soldiers in our constant battle against hatred and destruction. Still in awe of the scores of volunteers who sifted through the rubble while I watched on TV from the safety and comfort of my home and my family.

new-yankee-stadium

The new Yankee Stadium officially opened to the public today. Much has been made of the design touches that replicate parts of the “original” Yankee Stadium. There’s just one problem with that story: the original stadium–the House that Ruth Built, that DiMaggio graced, that hosted Larsen and Berra’s great hug–was destroyed more than 30 years ago. The building that was demolished this winter was a cheap imposter.

The 1976 renovation of Yankee Stadium (which actually began in 1974) was so drastic that it turned what had truly been a baseball cathedral into Shea Stadium North, a bland mass with little personality, lots of terrible seats, and a false claim to history. The centerfield wall that stood behind DiMaggio and then Mantle was 461 feet from home plate; the one that got knocked down this winter stood at 408. During that renovation, the stadium’s upper deck was completely rebuilt; it’s famous facade was removed from the top of the stands and a phony version was tacked onto the top of the scoreboard (which was also completely redesigned).

The version of Yankee Stadium that closed at the end of the 2008 season was so different from the one that closed at the end of the 1973 season that director (and lifelong Yankees fan) Billy Crystal had to film the 2001 movie 61*–about Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris’ home run chase–in Tiger Stadium instead of Yankee Stadium. Because, as the official press release about the film explained, “the current renovated stadium bears little resemblance to the architecture of the original,” and Tiger Stadium looked more like Yankee Stadium than Yankee Stadium did.

So sure, get excited about the new digs. But don’t rave to me about how nice it is that it has a new new version of the old new version of the original facade. It’s like going to a housewarming party and having to listen to the owner brag about how he installed a replica of the orange shag carpeting that had once been in the den, and restored the electric fake fireplace left behind by the previous owner. The best parts of the new stadium are the ones that hark back to its grandfather Yankee Stadium (1923-1976), not to its overrated imposter father, Yankee Stadium Jr. (1976-2008).


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street-sign1

Like the Bronx, it’s not always obvious who the places in New York are named after. Often, though, a numbered street will get a second name in honor of a local hero, the way 29th Street in Midtown Manhattan has become Norman Vincent Peale Way in the photo above. But even then, we rarely even notice the sign, let alone know who the person is or why that particular street bears his or her name.

So next time you see one of those blue signs giving a street an extra name, give a thought to who the person is and what she did to get a street named after her. Look it up if you have to.

Norman Vincent Peale, by the way, was a 20th-century clergyman who, according to Brittanica, “tried to instill a spiritual renewal in the U.S. with his sermons, broadcasts, newspaper columns, and books.” His book “The Power of Positive Thinking” is an all-time best-seller. He led congregations all over New York state, including the Dutch Reform Marble Collegiate Church, on 5th Avenue and … 29th Street.


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the-bronx

Ever wonder why the Bronx gets a “the” before its name when none of the other boroughs do? Me too. So I looked it up. Turns out the answer is pretty simple: the Bronx is named after early settler Jonas Bronck and his family, the Broncks. I can’t tell you when or why the spelling changed, but it explains the “the.”

Interestingly, somewhere around 15 years ago a team of urban historians scouring local records discovered that the Bronck family owned a community social hall where dances were often held, thus earning the family the nickname the “Boogie Down” Broncks, and that’s exactly what everyone from the Bronx has called the borough since 1994.


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