Tales from New York City

Empire State Building

Empire State Building

New York was first colonised by Native Americans around 12,000 years ago. These Natives eventually formed two main tribes, the Iroquoian and the Algonquian. In 1524, the French sailed past the area and charted the coastline, the first “discovery”, however it wasn’t until 1609 that the area was first settled by the Dutch, who gave their land the name New Netherlands, also noted historically as New Amsterdam although in actuality New Amsterdam represented the administrative seat, on what is now the South tip of Manhattan Island, which the Dutch bought from Native Americans in 1626. New Netherlands covered the coastal area from the Delmarva Peninsular to the furthest south-western point of Cape Cod, and encompassed much of the Tri-State area and into New England.

Nobody is quite sure of the exact provenence, as there are several different theories, as to the origins of the word Yankee, traditionally used to describe someone from the North east of America, particularly around the same settlement areas of the Dutch. It has been noted that the term, quite possibly comes from amongst others, a rudimentary version of Jan Kees (John Cornelius in Dutch) or John Cheese, as a hint at the New Englander’s mockery of the Dutch dairy farming propensity. Its first written record is claimed for James Wolfe, in the years prior to the revolutionary war (War of independence) when he referred to his New England Soldiers. Other claims associate the origins of the term, with Native Americans however this has not been proven. The link with the Dutch seems the strongest, and New York have long been associated with the term, although in modern terms it is more likely used to refer to someone from New England. In the UK, the term is used to refer to Americans in general, although is often used to distinguish North from South. Derogatory use is isolated in foreign context, but increases within the states themselves.

By 1664, England had taken over the settlements of New Netherlands, and renamed the area New York. By the following century, New York, particularly the city was a prominent trade port, and played a key role in the events leading up and in to the Revolutionary war. Falling quite quickly into British Hands, it was used as the principle strong hold for the garrison of troops, and the harbour for the Navy. New York was used as an example by the British as conflict erupted, in an effort to bring the colonists into line, by means of harsh penalties for their reluctance to implement the Quartering Act particularly and their active leadership in the Stamp Act Congress. They were the last colony to officially agree to the war, however this may well have been as a result of the split in loyalties between the Patriots and those for the Crown. The Sons of Liberty were active in New York more than anywhere, unfortunately the Continental army made large early losses and the British were able to take control, remaining in place for most of the war. Following the decisive Battle of Saratoga, the situation changed in favour of the colonists.

In 1777 New York drew up their constitution, which was later used to form the basis of the new United States Constitution. New York was later to act as the Nation’s capital for a number of occasions between 1785 and 1790, Albany becoming the state capital in 1797. New York State was the eleventh of the thirteen states to ratify the constitution.
In the 19th Century, largely as a result of the Irish Potato Famine, first and foremost, New York once again opened the gates to large numbers of immigrants. Formerly passing through Castle Clinton in Battery Park, before a dedicated immigrant centre was officially opened at Ellis Island in 1892, although documentary evidence suggests that immigrants were entering at this point prior to this. Our administrator’s own Great Great Grandfather was to become one of those early immigrants when he left his children behind in England, following the death of his wife, and arriving on the ‘Baltic’ passed through Ellis Island in January 1889 before settling in New Jersey where there was a growing demand for silk workers.

The tallest building in the world for many years was the Empire state building, opened in 1931, at 102 stories high, it reaches 381 metres high to roof height, and took over from the previous tallest building, the Chrysler, which was opened months before, and stands within landscape distance. In late 1970, the North Tower of the World Trade Centre was completed and took the title, with the South Tower shortly behind, at 417 and 415 metres respectively. With its antennae and cap, which were originally added as a prospective mooring and landing area for dirigible transport passengers, the Empire State building actually achieves more height at 443 metres. Following their collapse after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, the Empire State Building once again took the record as the tallest building in New York, a title it kept for 11 years until the new One WTC was completed. It still retains status as the fifth tallest completed building in the United States, the fifth tallest skyscraper in the Americas, and the 29th tallest building in the world.

But it is not without other connection to the Twin Towers. In 1945 a B-25 Mitchell Bomber en route for Newark, became disorientated in fog, and after being advised of the zero visibility attempted a landing sequence nonetheless. Sadly he made a right instead of a left at the Chrysler and flew into the side of the Empire State Building at around the 78 to 79th floor, killing all three on board and eleven in the building. One of the “crew” was allegedly somewhat of a hitch-hiker, and his body, unexpected, wasn’t found until two days later, where it been catapulted through the wall of an elevator shaft on impact and came to rest at the bottom. Coincidentally, one of the elevator operators, Betty Lou Oliver was injured in the crash, and whilst it was decided to transport her to the ground floor in order to get her safely away for treatment, weakened cables were not taken into account and she plunged 75 stories, but remarkably wasn’t killed, in what is recorded to be the furthest fall down an elevator shaft to be survived.

The Empire State building was built on the ground formerly occupied by what was in its day the plushest and perhaps most controversial hotel in New York’s History, the original Waldorf-Astoria. Built towards the end of the nineteenth century, in two halves, the Waldorf Hotel, owned by the family of William Waldorf Astor (for who the Waldorf Salad is named) stood on the former grounds of their family home on one half of the block on Fifth Avenue. It is thought to have been a deliberate attempt by William to antagonise his Aunt, whose own mansion was on the plot next to the new hotel. Not to be outdone his cousin John Jacob demolished his own family home next door, on the other half of the block and built his own Hotel a few metres away. The two hotels were subsequently linked by flooring over an alleyway known as Peacock lane, combining to become the Waldorf-Astoria. John Jacob would later lose his life on board the ill-fated Titanic. During the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the Hotel was losing custom, compared to its earlier days, and it was considered to be a result of its positioning, so the land was sold and the Hotel moved to its present spot on Park Avenue. The land was taken over by the construction company for the planned Empire State Building, and the Hotel pulled down shortly afterwards.

In a rather bizarre twist, alongside the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, one other notable New York landmark was also a contender for the tallest building title, being outfoxed, by a cunning move on the part of the Chrysler designers at the last minute, and that was the building at 40 Wall Street, now known as the Trump Building for its owner, Donald Trump. Originally the Bank of Manhattan Building, it was built the year before the Empire State Building, and concurrently with the Chrysler, both sets of engineers and architects altering the structure several times in an attempt to gain that title. The Bank building completed first, and the Chrysler added a crafty extra four levels, making the distinctive “dome” effect at the top, giving it an extra 38 metres over the Bank, making it the tallest, although the bank of Manhattan did dispute the title on the grounds that the “spire” of the Chrysler couldn’t be counted as the floors were ornamental and therefore of no useable quality, and their own observation deck, a useable floor, stood 30 metres higher than the point at which the spire on the Chrysler started, making it technically higher. The Empire State Building was completed some months later and shut the both of them up.
The building at 40 Wall Street, in 1946, the year following the tragic aircraft crash at the Empire State Building, suffered its own nightmare when a C-45F Expediter, again headed for Newark, again in heavy fog, crashed into the side of the building at the 58th Floor. All five crew on board were killed, however nobody within the building was injured, and despite fairly substantial building damage, and resulting masonry falling, no casualties were reported on the ground either. It is said that a gap remains in the wall of the building in stonework, to show where the plane hit.

Another famous landmark for which New York is known is Central Park. Opened in 1857 in response to the population quadrupling in size over the previous few years, due to immigration, the only available quiet space the people of New York had was cemeteries as increased building took place in the Manhattan area. The Park was originally the home of many freed black slaves, who had settled and built small farms and houses, raising livestock and crops in the land they had. Several cemeteries were also formed in the area. The land was purchased and the people moved, and the original 778 acre park was laid. A competition to submit further extensions and related landscaping took place the following year and a further 65 acres were added over the following 25 years.

The park contains amongst other features a number of play areas, lakes, 36 bridges, two restaurants, monuments and 18 gates. Under the Mariners gate entrance, on West 85th, once stood the All Angels’ Church. Many of its permanent “residents” still sleep eternally under the gate and its surrounding flower beds. Occasionally disturbed by routine maintenance, the bodies from the cemetery number quite substantially. But don’t worry, beneath several other parks and associated places under the floorboards of New York many similar past residents lay, occasionally being shaken to the surface, by accident mainly as a result of building work. Such spots include the James J Walker Park on Hudson Street at the Clarkson Street gate, its estimated that 10,000 bodies rest under the Baseball diamond, Madison Square Park at East 23rd on Broadway, where your Shake Shack stands, are the bodies of around 1300 former residents of nearby Bellevue Hospital and neighbouring poorhouses dating to the end of the 18th century. Oh and William Jenkins Worth, who occupies the spot under his statue on Worth Square.

At 290 Broadway, under the Internal Revenue office lays an African American burial ground dating to the turn of the 17th Century, as well as the bodies of 20,000 American Prisoners of War captured by those naughty British during the Revolutionary War. The nice tax people have put up a memorial though. And under the quiet splendour of Washington Square Park on Fifth Avenue and Waverley, lay the remains of a Yellow Plague outbreak, and many prisoners from the nearby Newgate Prison who were executed by hanging from the enclosed trees, around 10,000 people in all occupy this land. Other hidden treasures await in places including amongst others, Union Square, Bryant Park and…. Yes that old chestnut, the present Waldorf-Astoria Hotel!

I’m going to end, where I began…. With settlement. The Statue of Liberty. I won’t go into the girl too much, as Adela has that one in the bag. I will refresh with a few bits of trivia, however. Designed by Bartholdi, the statue ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’ was built by Gustave Eiffel (yes HIM!) and dedicated on October 28th 1886 as a gift from the people of France to the United States. However, their gift did not allow for the construction of the base that would be needed to rest her on, that was left to the people of America to fund. Before Liberty could take her place on the Island, 120,000 of the ordinary men of New York raised a staggering $102,000 comprising for the most part (80%) donations under $1. The statue is of the Roman Goddess Liberta, who holds aloft a Torch, and clutches a tablet envoking the Law (tabula ensata) upon which is described the date of the Declaration of Independence, July 4th 1776. By her feet lay broken chains, signifying freedom. The statue herself stands at 46 metres, although adding in her base, raises her to a lofty 93 metres making her the tallest statue in the United States.

She stands on Liberty Island, originally named Bedloe’s Island, and has been open and closed several times during the 20th century and into the present for a number of reasons, including renovation, inclement weather and security issues. The Torch and large amounts of the internal structure were replaced during two years of reconstruction between 1984 and 1986 at which point the statue was closed to visitors. The torch was replaced due to significant damage caused by the Black Tom explosion of 1916

The new torch remains closed to visitors due to the continued health and safety risk posed. Liberty is the statue which represents all states, as the ground on which she stands was originally owned by the New York State Legislature who ceded it to the United States Government in 1800, thereby making it a “non-state” piece of land. The statue, museum (in the base) and the nearby Ellis Island, now an immigration museum are in the hands of the National Park Service, under the heading of Statue of Liberty National Monument. She is on the UNESCO World Heritage site.

So yeah…. Welcome to New York. If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.

Phoebe.