Category Archives: Uncategorized

MacDougal Street Featured in Film

Over the last several decades there have been a number of films that have featured MacDougal Street and some of the famous cafes and restaurants that occupy it.  However, these films have not captured MacDougal Street as a breeding ground for the beat movement in the fifties and sixties, nor as a sanctuary for gays and lesbians during the seventies and eighties.  Instead, it seems that many of the movies that highlight the street do so in a way that connects it with danger, and/or the mafia.  Shaft (Gordon Parks), released in 1971 featured the street as well as Café Reggio and Minetta Tavern.   It is at Café Reggio that Shaft meets a mafia contact over an espresso, before walking down the street and passing Minetta Tavern.  Additionally, Café Reggio is also mentioned in The Godfather II (Francis Ford Coppola), again connecting the street with the mafia.  Mickey Blue Eyes (Kelly Makin) is another movie that features Minetta Tavern and thus MacDougal Street.  Again this film has the element of the mob.  Hugh Grant’s character is dating the daughter of a mob boss and runs into him with some of his cohorts at Minetta Tavern (“Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations”). 

Another movie that features Minetta Tavern and MacDougal Street is called Sleepers (Barry Levinson), a 1996 film about a group of boys who are sent to a jail and “brutalized” after a prank goes terribly wrong (IMDB).  About a decade later, a chance meeting leads these men to plot their revenge against the prison guards (IMDB).  Two of the men end up killing one of the detention center guards.  They get caught and arrested.  The movie stars Kevin Bacon, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, and Brad Pitt, just to name a few (IMDB).  The scene that features both MacDougal Street and Minetta Tavern appears at the end of the film.  The men have a celebration at Minetta Tavern after Brad Pitt’s character gets his two friends acquitted from the murder that they committed against the prison guard character (Kevin Bacon) who abused them while they were at the detention center as young boys.  The scene shows MacDougal Street at night with people dressed nicely walking up and down the street.  The camera then pans to show the very bright neon colored Minetta Tavern sign as Brad Pitt’s character enters the restaurant.  As he walks in, he passes the bar on his left and walks back into the larger dining area.  The scene seems to show the tavern as it still exists today.  The whole scene really has a New York City look and feel with both the shot of the street at night, lit up and busy, and the shot of the interior of the tavern with the large bar.  The scene takes place at a table in the back of the restaurant where the men celebrate their victory and have a few drinks. 

It is important to point out that every film mentioned above depicts MacDougal Street with some connection to the mafia and/or dangerous crime organizations.  As a result, it is important to further explore this idea and the role of the mafia and crime on MacDougal Street.  One of the major reasons as to why the mafia frequented MacDougal Street during the twentieth century was a result of prohibition.  As mentioned in previous posts, MacDougal Street is home to a number of bars.  Therefore, when prohibition was enacted the mob became prominent on the street both picking up and dropping of liquor at speakeasies (Brown, p. 26).  Also, in an effort to avoid police ever coming to the street or neighborhood, the mob also worked hard to keep the area peaceful.  However, the mob’s illegal involvement with liquor during prohibition led to more illegal actions including “loan-sharking, trafficking in stolen goods, and, in the 1960s, selling heroin” (Brown, 26).  The mafia could be both a friend, and an enemy to those inhabiting the street.  It seems as though the mafia really did play a role on MacDougal Street and this portion of the village all throughout the twentieth century.  It is quite intriguing however, that the only times this street has been featured in films, it is always with this same connection to the mob and to danger, which is not often seen as its most defining historical characteristic. 

 

 

Brown, Mary Elizabeth. Italians of the South Village. New York: Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, 2007. Print.

“Shaft Film Locations.” The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations. N.p., 03 2012. Web. 19 Nov 2012. <http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/s/shaft.html&gt;.

 Sleepers. Dir. Barry Levinson. Warner Bros., 1996. Film

“Sleepers.” IMDB. N.p.. Web. 19 Nov 2012. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117665/&gt;.

Advertisements

MacDougal Street at Night

Image Image

Many activities and events take place on MacDougal Street at night, and have done so for quite awhile.  Being that the street is lined with bars, it has a lively night atmosphere with lots of drinking and dancing.  However one particular activity I would like to focus on is the live music that is played at Café Wha?.  Café Wha? has been a popular venue for live music since the 1950s.  It has been known as a “sanctuary” for some of the greatest talents in music including, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and Kool and the Gang (Café Wha?).  Today, Café Wha? is host to live music every night, seven days a week.  The establishment claims to “hold tight” to the spirit of the Beat Generation and “entertains all walks of life” (Café Wha?).  Currently, Café Wha? is home to three different bands that play each week.  The first is a Brazilian Dance band that also embodies Jazz and Samba.  The second band is rooted in R&B, Funk, and Soul music.  Lastly, the third band, which is also the house band, plays all different types of music including Motown, Reggae, R&B, and Classic/ Alternative/ Modern Rock (Café Wha?).   Of course, today, it is not uncommon for Café Wha? to have famous musicians as guests.

As mentioned in previous posts, MacDougal Street has always been an area for artists to express themselves, a place where they can hang out, drink, and have philosophical discussions, a place where they can write, read poetry, play music, and sing.  MacDougal Street has readily stayed a place for live music, especially, ever since Café Wha? was established.  Café Wha? is in fact where Bob Dylan played his first “coffeehouse gig” when he arrived in New York (Sawyers, 1).

Another popular activity that took place in the past was poetry reading at the Gaslight Café.  As mentioned it was a favorite hangout for beats like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.  In recent years, due to the desire to revive the Gaslight Café, this activity once again takes place on MacDougal Street.  Today people are invited to sing, read, etc., at 116 MacDougal.

Many of the same activities that were popular on this street in the past are still quite popular today.  The street is still home to many bars, live music, and now even comedy clubs/cellars.  Today, this live music venue opens its doors every night at 8:30pm.  The live music is accompanied by alcohol and food (Café Wha?).

Overall, many of the activities that take place presently at night on MacDougal Street are similar to the ones that occurred in the past.  Presently, MacDougal Street at night, especially on weekends, can be seen filled with people.  It is usually quite crowded and loud and composed mostly of young people in their twenties.  Similarly to the crowd in the past, the street at night is composed of young people looking to let loose, drink, listen to music or comedy, and just have a good time.

It is interesting how the nightlife is still quite similar to how it was several decades ago.  In a previous post I presented newspaper articles that featured the closing of beat cafes simply because residents were fed up with the noise.  The residents in the fifties and sixties were annoyed with the loudness and late night partying.  Although this still seems to be the current situation today, it seems that the street now has a reputation and residents are aware of the situation they are getting into when they decide to live on the street.  Perhaps it can be considered that Beats paved the way for how this street is at night currently.  People now expect the chaos and commotion of MacDougal Street; they go there to experience it.  It seems as though if one wants to have the true experience of MacDougal Street and really get a feel for the social aspects and the people that frequent the area, they should visit the street at night, for that is when it is most “alive.”  Nighttime is when one can truly experience and really get a feel for MacDougal Street.

“History.” Cafe Wha? N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov 2012. <http://www.cafewha.com/about/history&gt;.

Sawyers, June. “Bob Dylan’s New York.” Chicago Tribune [Chicago] 29 Mar 2011, n. pag. Web. 11 Nov. 2012. <http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-03-29/travel/sc-trav-0329-dylan-new-york-20110329_1_macdougal-dylan-first-direction-home&gt;.

The Evolving Demographics of MacDougal Street

During the 1920s the MacDougal Street area was home to a large number of Italian immigrants.  Beginning with the 1880s and leading up into the 1920s, over 50,000 Italians settled into MacDougal Street and the surrounding neighborhood, then known as the South Village (Brown, p. 1)  In fact, MacDougal Street was home to a village Italian organization Tiro a Segno, a rifle club where members met for social and business purposes (Brown, p. 42).  In examining demographics of the area it is important to look at the crime statistics as this part of Manhattan was an area that did have relations with the mob.  However much of the relationship was in regards to prohibition and the selling of illegal liquor, and then in the 60s the selling of heroin (Brown, p. 25).  However, by the end of the twentieth century the Italian population was slowly and steadily decreasing and by this point in time, the foreign-born population was very low (Brown, p. 9). 

It seems as though it has been a neighborhood that has for quite a while remained predominantly white.  However, by the time the beat movement had emerged and young talented artists were moving in due to the low rents, many African Americans made names for themselves on this street.  As this street provided a location for artistic expression, jazz and blues are two major types of music that emerged from the area, and with them artists like Miles Davis, who frequented the San Remo Café (gvshp.org).  The importance of this type of music to the street can still be noticed today as Café Wha? and the Blue Note Jazz Club are still prominent attractions for New Yorkers to visit and enjoy some great music. 

The emergence of these jazz and blues musical venues serves to demonstrate how the neighborhood was changing by the middle of the century.  By this time the area was becoming more ethnically diverse, it was no longer home to just Italian Americans.  Although for much of America, the 50s and 60s were a turbulent time in terms of race, especially for African Americans, the liberal and free-spirited area of MacDougal street allowed the area to become more ethnically diverse and a place where white pioneers of the beat movement could listen to African Americans play their extraordinary bebop jazz (Kerouac). 

Although MacDougal Street has evolved since the 1920s, it still embodies similar characteristics.  It seems as though this street and the surrounding area have always been mostly inhabited by young people in their twenties and thirties.  Concurrently single people mainly occupy the area and few households contain children (Zillow).  It seems as though one could argue that its proximity to NYU may be a contributing factor as to why it is a location populated and frequented by young people.  However, I also think it is important to note that although during the early and mid twentieth century young artists moved in because rents were low, this is no longer the case.  Today, the village is a highly sought after neighborhood to live in in New York City and rents are no longer cheap, so the financial situation that people are in who live in the area now does not match the financial situation of people from the 1920s or 1950s. 

Additionally, today the area is mostly white with Asians composing the second largest ethnicity in the area (nyc.gov).  However, like any area in New York City, this neighborhood contains many different ethnicities including Hispanic and African American (nyc.gov).  It is apparent today that the street welcomes different ethnicities as it contains many different ethnic restaurants including those that serve Mexican cuisine, Mediterranean cuisine, Italian cuisine, American cuisine, and Vietnamese cuisine. 

It seems as though these demographics help to explain why MacDougal Street embodies the characteristics it does.  It seems as though there are two forces at work in both directions with young single people inhabiting the area and thus it is a more liberal area of nonconformity, but at the same time, this nonconformity is attracting young people.  The demographics of MacDougal Street and the surrounding area have evolved over time, but still today’s statistics share similarities to those from the early twentieth century.    

 

Brown, Mary Elizabeth. Italians of the South Village. New York: Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, 2007. Print.

“Community District Profiles.” New York City Department of City Planning. NYC Government. Web. 27 Oct 2012. <http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/lucds/mn2profile.pdf&gt;.

“Gore Vidal (1925 -2012) and Greenwich Village.” . Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, 03 2012. Web. 27 Oct 2012. <http://gvshp.org/blog/2012/08/03/gore-vidal-1925-2012-and-greenwich-village/&gt;.

“Greenwich Village Demographics.” Zillow. Demographic information comes from data in the 2000 U.S. Census. Web. 29 Oct 2012. <http://www.zillow.com/local-info/NY-New-York/Greenwich-Village-people/r_195133/&gt;.

 Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. New York: Penguin Books, 1955. Print.

MacDougal Street: A Foundation for Jack Kerouac and his Work

Many forms of media and important media figures from the Beat Movement emanated and originated from MacDougal Street and the surrounding area.  Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Jack Kerouac all read poetry at the Gaslight Café.  Bob Dylan found musical inspiration in the poetry readings at the Gaslight.  Café Wha? Was the first place Dylan played at upon arriving in New York.  MacDougal Street provided inspiration and a space to write a lot of the music and poems, and literature that emerged from the Beat Movement.

One such writer in particular, Jack Kerouac, one of the pioneers of the Beat Movement, stands out as a media figure that emerged from MacDougal Street.  Jack Kerouac spent many years in the village and many of his works surrounding the Beat life were constructed, in part, by the time that he spent in the area.  He frequented the San Remo Café, Kettle of Fish, and Minetta Tavern where he met and conversed with many other beats.  It is this street where he spent time with many of the beats who he wrote about in his novels under aliases such as William Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, and Allen Ginsberg.  MacDougal Street was home to many of his experiences and conversations that inspired and are described in many of his works.

One of these works was the novel entitled The Subterraneans (1958), which he wrote in three days and three nights high on Benzedrine.  The novel is semi autobiographical and although took place in the village area, Kerouac sets the story in San Francisco as to not entirely give away the real story and those involved.  So not only did this media emanate from the area, but it is also about the area as well.  The title of the novel comes from a term that Allen Ginsberg coined when hanging out with Jack and many of the others at the San Remo cafe to describe “the bar’s existentialist, jazzy, drugged regulars” (Watson).  The book follows his brief romance with an African American woman.  The novel also follows a group of friends mostly composed of writers and artists and it is set in and around the beat scene (Kerouac).  It is as if the book really epitomizes Kerouac’s and his friends’ beat way of life in Greenwich Village.  In addition to Kerouac and much of his writing emanating from the MacDougal Street area, this particular book also seemed to be about the area, but under the guise of San Francisco.

Although much of his life and many of his novels seem defined, in part by New York and the Greenwich Village area, Kerouac was not a native New Yorker.  He was in fact born in Lowell Massachusetts and did not make it to New York until he graduated high school and went on to attend Columbia University on a football scholarship (beatmuseum.org).  After dropping out of Columbia he began to hang out with the aforementioned men like Cassady, Ginsberg, and Burroughs.  In fact, it was Ginsberg who helped Kerouac publish his first book entitled The Town and City, which documented his struggles between life in the city and the values of his family (beatmuseum.org).  His second novel was On The Road, which documented his travels basically between going back and fourth from New York to San Francisco.  In these books and many of his others (many of which were semi-autobiogrpahical), MacDougal Street and the surrounding area was the setting for many of his experiences with his friends whether it was reading poetry at the Gaslight Café, or hanging out at Minetta Tavern, San Remo Café, or Kettle of Fish.  It provided a space for Kerouac and the other beats to be open and live the way they wanted to, a space for them not to conform and for the beat movement to unfold and evolve.

Jack Kerouac is famous for his way of putting into words, the thoughts and experiences, and events that define the Beat Generation.  He is probably best know for his book entitled On the Road, which described his adventures with his friends across America.  This book, which enlightened readers about the beat lifestyle very early on, catapulted Kerouac to fame and definitely put him in a position to publish more novels.  The Subterraneans, The Dharma Bums, Maggie Cassidy and Big Sur are just a few more novels out of many that followed.  Overall it seems as though MacDougal Street really provided a foundation for many of the experiences that Jack Kerouac would write about.

 

http://www.beatmuseum.org/kerouac/jackkerouac.html

Kerouac, Jack. The Subterraneans. New York: Grove Press, 1958. Print.

Watson, Steven. The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, Rebels, and Hipsters 1944-1960. 1. II. Pantheon, 1995. Print.

Walking MacDougal Street Today: An Experience of Presence

When walking up and down MacDougal Street today, one can discover that small pieces of history still remain from the early 1900s.  It seems that MacDougal Street has always been a place in New York where different types of art can be practiced and expressed and where people do not feel the need to conform.  Although the street has undergone changes since the days of the Provincetown Players, and then the Beat Movement, the street still embodies a feeling of nonconformity and freedom of personal expression.  It is possible that its location in the village and proximity to NYU has allowed this area to remain a place for young people who are comfortable with expressing themselves.  The street still contains a few historical landmarks from the 19th century including Café Wha?, Minetta Tavern, and the original theater of the Provincetown Players.  

However, this theater is all that remains of the Provincetown Players location on MacDougal Street.  In fact, this building was at the center of a lot of controversy recently.  The theater was part of four 19th century townhouses located at 133-139 MacDougal Street that were recently acquired by NYU who was looking to build a new space for their law school (Pogrebin, p. 1).  NYU ended up demolishing three of the four townhouses and say they spent 4.5 million dollars restoring the original theater (Pogrebin, p. 1).  This rebuilding caused da lot of controversy and debate and while some are happy with the outcome, others are not.  Today, the theater is being run by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development who uses the venue to stage theater events (Pogrebin, p. 2).  This theater is not the only location on MacDougal Street that has been altered over time. 

The Gaslight Café, which closed in 1971 is an additional location on MacDougal Street that remains, but is altered.  The space is still there but it is now known as 116 MacDougal, a venue that is dedicated to restoring the space back to its former glory during the years when it was known as The Gaslight Café.  In other words, the space is still there but the original venue itself is not.  However, the current owners are trying to pay tribute to the famous beat café and hold poetry readings and comedy and music events (116 MacDougal Street). 

It seems that today, people are really trying to preserve the unique and historical aspects of the street that have come to make it what it is today.  Whether it is the Provincetown Playhouse or the Gaslight Café, it seems that preservation has become an important issue to the residents of MacDougal Street and the village.  It seems that it is for this reason, that walking along MacDougal Street is an experience of presence, not absence, when placing this experience in the context of last week’s readings.  One does not have to use a lot of imagination.  One reason for this may be that it seems as though much of the architecture still remains with the majority of the brick buildings not higher than six or seven stories and covered with rusty fire escapes.  The same stairs leading down into the Gaslight Café that existed decades ago are still there.  All of the remaining locations such as these and those mentioned earlier help contribute to the atmosphere of MacDougal Street to make the experience a present one—the history is still there. 

Overall, walking down the street today, one finds that it houses a lot of restaurants, cafes, comedy clubs, live music venues, and apartments.  The buildings seem to be no higher than six or seven stories, and the atmosphere is very casual.  At night the atmosphere becomes a bit more loud and rowdy as the street is lined with quite a few bars, and happens to be right next to a college campus.  It seems that its characteristics today are still similar to the factors that defined it so many years ago in the earlier twentieth century, all the way through the beat movement and after.  It is still a casual environment of nonconformity, where young people can enjoy a cappuccino at a cafe or a drink at a bar, converse, read poetry, or listen to a great musical artist.  It can be argued that this demonstrates the impact that the people and movements of the past have had on the street and neighborhood—an impact that can still be seen today.

 

 

 “History.” 116. N.p. Web. 15 Oct 2012. <http://116macdougal.com&gt;.

Robin, Pogrebin. “Rebuilt Theater Opening Amid Debate.” New York Times [New York] 10 Dec 2010, n. pag. Print. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/11/theater/11playhouse.html/?_r=0&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1350335943-BFfTCMvAT dtFtPx1kTRDw>.

A Historical Profile of MacDougal Street

MacDougal Street and the surrounding area have played a role in the lengthy history of the village, and New York City in general.  What specifically drew me to the MacDougal Street area was its position in the beat movement during the fifties.  I am interested in further exploring how this geographical location allowed for such a movement to evolve.  I am really interested as to why MacDougal Street was an area in which so many types of art flourished, and did so for decades.  I would like to answer questions such as how did MacDougal Street become such a significant place in allowing beats to create poetry, write, and explore song and dance?  Has it always served as a place for non-conformity, liberalness, and freedom?  If so, are these aspects still present in the MacDougal Street neighborhood today?  Below are a few historical elements that I plan to focus on, in addition to others.

It seems as though the MacDougal Street area has always served as an atmosphere for artistic expression.  One of the earlier defining examples of this artistic expression were the Provincetown Players.  These players completed six seasons at their MacDougal Street location with the premiere of their first season in 1916.  They were known for their ensemble approach, privileging the interpretative views of writers and directors, innovative set design, and serious social and political content (McFarland, 204).  MacDougal Street was home to one of the early experimental theaters that “helped establish American drama as a serious art form” (McFarland, 204).  However, theater was not the only factor contributing to the history of MacDougal’s art scene.

MacDougal Street in the 1950s really served as a place for beats to take refuge and express themselves through forms of poetry, writing, literature, and photography.  Several places, including some that still exist today, functioned as hangouts for pioneers of the Beat Movement such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs.  Some of the popular spots that these beats frequented were Minetta Tavern, Café San Remo, Café Reggio, Kettle of Fish, and the Gas Light Café.  Members of the beat generation and movement felt free, to write, read poetry, listen to music, and converse at these places.  However, by the 1960s, tenants in the neighborhood began to become fed up with the results of the liberalness and freedom that characterized this movement, and police took action.

In a 1960 New York Times article entitled “Second Beat Café Closed by Firemen” it is stated that two cafes, Bizarre and Gaslight, popular among the beat crowd, have been closed with little explanation besides unsafe in the event of fire.  The article also mentions that many sympathizers gathered on the sidewalks in reaction to these seemingly illegitimate closings (Second ‘Beat” Café Closed by Firemen, p. 79).

MacDougal street’s freedom and nonconformity in addition to its welcoming of the arts continued into the ater half of the twentieth century.  In Inside Greenwich Village, Gerald McFarland describes the village by decade, stating that it was the beat village in the 1950s, the countercultural village in the 1960s, and the gay and lesbian village in the 70s and 80s (McFarland, p.210).  The MacDougal Street area’s embodiment of non-conformity is consistently seen in historical newspaper articles.  One article from the New York Times written in 1966 states, “The city’s efforts to curb the crowds, cut the noise, and end the honky-tonk atmosphere is disappointing some Greenwich Village leaders” (Manning, p.16).  One of the major aspects of the street that seemed to bother residents was that is served as a place for the distribution and use of narcotics.  However, this same 1966 article reports that the police action in dealing with this situation had resulted in improvement for the time being (Manning, p.16-17).

In order to gain further insight into MacDougal Street and its role before, during, and after the beat movement I have begun to formulate a research plan with many different aspects.  One way I plan to further examine MacDougal Street’s impact on the art, social, and political scenes of New York City during the twentieth century is to look at primary sources such as photography, poetry, literature, and music that came out of the cultural movements of MacDougal street.  More specifically, I would like to look at the poetry and photography of Allen Ginsberg, Millay’s poem entitled “MacDougal Street,” and the writing of Jack Kerouac just to name a few examples.

Additionally, I would like to listen to the music that was popular on MacDougal Street throughout the twentieth century, focusing on jazz and blues.  I would like to look at the art itself as a source, the art that both emanated from but also discusses MacDougal Street.  I also plan to look at historical New York newspaper articles that contain information about the neighborhood similar to the ones I have referenced above.  Furthermore, I would like to use informational books that talk about the area and what emerged from it such as McFarland’s Inside Greenwich Village.  Additionally, I think watching documentaries could prove very helpful.  There are two documentaries that examine the beat movement and interview some of the pioneers of the movement.  I think interviews with men like Ginsberg and Burroughs could be very enlightening in terms of the movement and MacDougal Street.  There is also a documentary about New York in the fifties and the emergence of Bohemia in the village which could be useful.  Lastly I plan on walking the street and surrounding area myself to really get a feel for the environment and help improve my understanding of the neighborhood today and what it seems to exude after having endured everything of the twentieth century; to see if it still embodies some of the values it did decades ago.

McFarland, Gerald. Inside Greenwich Village. University of Massachusetts Press, 2001. Print.

“Producing Playwrights.” New – York Tribune (1911-1922): 1. Nov 04 1917. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: New York     Tribune (1841-1922). Web. 3 Oct. 2012 .

“Second ‘Beat’ Cafe Closed by Firemen.” New York Times (1923-Current file): 79. Jun 12 1960. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2008). Web. 3 Oct. 2012 .

The New York Times (by, Jack Manning. “City Cleanup of MacDougal St. is Called a Failure.” New York Times (1923-Current file): 16. May 30 1966. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2008); ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2008) with Index (1851-1993). Web. 3 Oct. 2012 .

Knickerbocker’s Construction of a New York Identity

Washington Irving’s well-known Knickerbocker seems to provide a history of New York that can be considered quite different from its reality.  Realizing the lack of historical record of New York, Irving fills the void with a much more pleasant historical account than what was actually occurring.  In the book, Irving paints the perfect picture of New York stating, “The busy hum of commerce was unknown in the peaceful settlement of New Amsterdam…The whole island, at least such parts of it as were inhabited, bloomed like a second Eden” (Bradley, p.30).  However, from previous readings such as Gotham, we know that this was not the case.  Things were in fact quite chaotic including a strained relationship with the natives, lack of proper housing, numerous problems with alcohol consumption, and overall just a lack of control. Knickerbocker’s garden comparison doesn’t quite seem appropriate.  The imaginary Knickerbocker even makes a point of talking highly about the street food that was available stating, “Street food could be found in the form of oysters (raw or roasted) and hot corn among other pedestrian-friendly treats” (Bradley, p.32).  Additionally he also makes sure to point out that the Dutch of the city were responsible for the intelligent engineering and layout of the streets.  Bradley suggests that “Whatever is pleasant, quaint, or charming about New York he credits to the planning of his hospitable and peculiar ancestors” and even calls New York “the fairest spot in the known world” (Bradley, p.39). 

An additional way in which Knickerbocker tries to create an impressive history for New York is by proudly naming it the innovator of the doughnut.  He claims the doughnut to be even older than New York, as it was part of the New Amsterdam settlement (Bradley, p.31).  Interestingly, in the observation of Irving and his Knickerbocker text, it has been suggested that the people of New York needed something to identify with and Knickerbocker’s story gave them that. 

“The City on Stage” essay that we read also seems to suggest the need of someone to create some sort of identity that New Yorkers could take on, almost in a way that suggests they felt a lack of any specific identity and thus needed an identity to imitate.  In his essay, Waterman discusses what the people of New York enjoyed seeing in plays, such as The Contrast, and he suggests “a desire above all to see something which concerns themselves” (Waterman, p.43).  He goes on to make it clear that the line between the stage, and real life, was in fact quite blurry (Waterman, p.45).  This essay and The Contrast both help to demonstrate that not all was running smoothly in the city as Knickerbocker had suggested.  Both allude to the struggles and conflict between the classes at that time.  While The Contrast mocks the wealthy, specific classes of people only attend specific theaters (appropriate to their class).  The example of Astor Place Riots demonstrates the ongoing class politics during that time (Waterman, p.51).   Despite the differences in Knickerbocker’s historical account and a more realistic account of New York, it seems as though it may have been Knickerbocker who sort of planted the seed for the New Yorker identity through his semi-fictional written history of New York. 

 

Bibliography

 Bradley, Elizabeth L. Knickerbocker: The Myth Behind New York. Rivergate Books, 2009. Print.

Waterman, Bryan. “The City on Stage.”42-55. Print.