PS General Slocum; photo via Wikimedia
On June 15, 1904, a disaster of unprecedented proportions took place in New York City, resulting in the loss of over 1,000 lives, mostly women and children. This largely forgotten event was the greatest peacetime loss of life in New York City history prior to the September 11th attacks, forever changing our city and the ethnic composition of today’s East Village.
It was on that day that the ferry General Slocum headed out from the East 3rd Street pier for an excursion on Long Island, filled with residents of what was then called Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany. This German-American enclave in today’s East Village was then the largest German-speaking community in the world outside of Berlin and Vienna.
Photo of the Decker Building via Wally Gobetz on Flickr; photo of Andy Warhol via Wikimedia
1968 was a turbulent year marked by riots, massive protests, and assassinations of notable political figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy.
But 50 years ago on June 3, 1968, an attempted assassination in New York City shook the downtown art world more deeply and personally than any of these other headline-grabbing events. Perhaps that was because it involved two quintessentially downtown figures — one a world-famous artist; the other, a struggling, mentally unbalanced aspiring writer/performer/self-proclaimed social propagandist, whose greatest claim to fame ended up being her attempt to kill the former, her one-time employer.
Find out more
An 1870 newspaper illustration of Elizabeth Blackwell giving an anatomy lecture alongside a corpse at the Woman’s Medical College of New York Infirmary. Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.
One of the most radical and influential women of the 19th century changed the course of public health history while living and working in Greenwich Village and the East Village. Elizabeth Blackwell, America’s first female doctor, established cutting-edge care facilities and practices throughout these neighborhoods, the imprint of which can still be felt to this day in surviving institutions and buildings. In fact, one recently received a historic plaque to mark this ground-breaking but often overlooked piece of our history.
Take a tour of Elizabeth Blackwell’s NYC
Washington Square Park via Wiki Commons; Jane Jacobs via Wiki Commons
Jane Jacobs’ birthday on May 4 is marked throughout the world as an occasion to celebrate one’s own city — its history, diversity, and continued vitality. “Jane’s Walks” are conducted across the country to encourage average citizens to appreciate and engage the complex and dazzling ecosystems which make up our cityscapes (Here in NYC, MAS is hosting 200+ free walks throughout the city from today through Sunday). But there’s no place better to appreciate all things Jane Jacobs than Greenwich Village, the neighborhood in which she lived and which so informed and inspired her writings and activism, in turn helping to save it from destruction.
Tour Jane Jacobs’ NYC
There’s no lack of artists deeply associated with New York. But among the many painters who’ve been inspired by our city, perhaps none has had a more enduring and deeper relationship than Edward Hopper, particularly with Greenwich Village. Hopper lived and worked in Greenwich Village during nearly his entire adult life, and drew much inspiration from his surroundings. He rarely painted scenes exactly as they were, but focused on elements that conveyed a mood or a feeling. Hopper also liked to capture scenes which were anachronistic, even in the early 20th century. Fortunately due to the Village’s enduring passion for historic preservation, many, if not all, of the places which inspired Hopper nearly a century ago can still be seen today – or at least evidence of them.
Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. via Wiki Commons
Fifty years ago, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. This ended the life of one of the 20th century’s most revered and influential figures. It also began a 15-year campaign to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday — the first-ever honoring an African American. That successful quest began with and was spearheaded by a native son of Greenwich Village, Howard Bennett. Bennett was one of the last residents of a Greenwich Village community known as “Little Africa,” a predominantly African-American section of the neighborhood which was, for much of New York’s history through the 19th century, the largest and most important African-American community in the city. That neighborhood centered around present-day Minetta, Thompson, Cornelia, and Gay Streets.
Learn more here
Washington Square Arch wrapped by artist Francis Hines, 1980 © Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation/Carole Teller
Change in New York is an expected norm, sometimes so constant it almost goes unnoticed. It’s such an ingrained part of the New Yorker’s experience, we often forget just how much our city has transformed, and what we have left behind. To help us remember, we have Carole Teller. A Brooklyn-born artist who’s lived in the East Village for over 50 years, Carole’s also a photographer with a keen eye for capturing defining elements of New York’s cityscape, especially those on the verge of change or extinction.
Fortunately for us, Carole kept the hundreds of pictures she took scouring the streets of NYC between the early 1960s and early 1990s. She recently unearthed them and shared them with the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation for inclusion in its online Historic Image Archive. What follows are just a few photos from what we call “Carole Teller’s Changing New York.”
See some of the most captivating photos
Greenwich Village is well known as the home to libertines in the 1920s and feminists in the 1960s and ’70s. But going back to at least the 19th century, the neighborhoods now known as Greenwich Village, the East Village, and Noho were home to pioneering women who defied convention and changed the course of history, from the first female candidate for President, to America’s first woman doctor, to the “mother of birth control.” This Women’s History Month, here are just a few of those trailblazing women, and the sites associated with them.
Learn all about these amazing women
Image via Wikimedia
Greenwich Village has been known throughout its existence for breaking new ground and embracing outsiders. One often-forgotten but important element of that trailblazing narrative is the extraordinary role the Village played in relation to African American history. The neighborhood was home to North America’s earliest free Black settlement in the 17th century, to some of America’s first black churches in the 19th century, and many pioneering African-American artists, civil rights leaders, and organizations in the 20th century. This Black History Month, here are just a few of the exceptional Greenwich Village sites connected to African-American history.
Learn about all 15 sites here
Google Street View of 19-25 St. Mark’s Place today
Fifty years ago this week, the Velvet Underground released their second album, “White Light/White Heat.” Their darkest record, it was also arguably the Velvet’s most influential, inspiring a generation of alternative musicians with the noisy, distorted sound with which the band came to be so closely identified.
Perhaps the place with which the Velvets have come to be most closely identified is the Electric Circus, the Andy Warhol-run East Village discotheque where they performed as the house band as part of a multi-media experience known as the “Exploding Plastic Inevitable.” Many New Yorkers would be surprised to discover that the space the club once occupied at 19-25 St. Mark’s Place has since been home to a Chipotle and a Supercuts. But the history of the building that launched the career of the godfathers of punk is full of more twists, turns, and ups and downs than one the Velvet’s extended distorted jams that once reverberated within its walls.
The whole history right here