Hanukkah celebration by the Young Men’s Hebrew Association at the Academy of Music in New York City, 1880, via Wikimedia Commons
Hanukkah is engrained into New York’s holiday season, but roughly 100 years ago the Festival of Lights was big news to many New Yorkers. Look at the newspaper coverage back in the day regarding the holiday, and most “took an arms-length approach,” as Bowery Boys puts it. “More than one old Tribune or World carried a variant of the headline “Jews Celebrate Chanukah,” as though there might have been some doubt. A 1905 headline even informed readers that, “Chanukah, Commemorating Syrian Defeat, Lasts Eight Days.”
Such headlines weren’t just the result of ignorance–New York’s Jewish population was low through the 1800s, and even within the religion, Hanukkah has traditionally been a minor festival. But a boom in Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe and a reassertion of religious traditions in a new country completely changed the fabric of New York. Eventually, the eight-day festival of light–which commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks over 2,000 years ago–emerged as an important tradition of the city.
Here’s what happened
Photo via the Library of Congress
Before Thanksgiving became a holiday known for stuffing down food with the people you love, it looked a whole lot like Halloween. That is thanks to the Thanksgiving “ragamuffins,” children who dressed up in costume and wandered the streets in search of swag, asking passerby and shop owners, “Anything for Thanksgiving?” The practice could be found everywhere from Missouri to Los Angeles, but it was a particularly strong tradition in New York City.
“Thanksgiving masquerading has never been more universal,” said a New York Times report from 1899. “Fantastically garbed youngsters and their elders were on every corner of the city. Not a few of the maskers and mummers wore disguises that were recognized as typifying a well-known character or myth. There were Fausts, Uncle Sams, Harlequins, bandits, sailors. All had a great time. The good-humored crowd abroad was generous with pennies and nickels, and the candy stores did a land-office business.”
Read more about the ragamuffins
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “City Hall Subway Station, New York” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1906.
The Interborough Rapid Transit Subway, or IRT, was the first subway company ever in New York City. The company formed as a response to elevated train lines springing up around the city–it was time to go underground and build a rapid transit railroad to help combat street congestion and assist development in new areas of New York, according to NYCsubway.org. And so 117 years ago, on October 27, 1904, the first IRT subway line opened with the City Hall station as its showpiece. It’s no overstatement to say that after this date, the city would never be the same. And the day was one to remember, with pure excitement over the impressive feat of moving the city’s transit system underground.
Here’s what you need to know
An illustration of the first Labor Day parade, via Wiki Commons
Though Labor Day has been embraced as a national holiday–albeit one many Americans don’t know the history of–it originated right here in New York City as a result of the city’s labor unions fighting for worker’s rights throughout the 1800s. The event was first observed, unofficially, on Tuesday, September 5th, 1882, with thousands marching from City Hall up to Union Square. At the time, the New York Times considered the event to be unremarkable. But 138 years later, we celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday of every September as a tribute to all American workers. It’s also a good opportunity to recognize the hard-won accomplishments of New York unions to secure a better workplace for us today.
Keep reading for the full history
Photo by Ling Tang on Unsplash
On May 24, 1883, throngs of New Yorkers came to the Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfronts to celebrate the opening of what was then known as the New York and Brooklyn Bridge. It was reported that 1,800 vehicles and 150,300 people total crossed what was then the only land passage between Brooklyn and Manhattan. The bridge–later dubbed the Brooklyn Bridge, a name that stuck–went on to become one of the most iconic landmarks in New York. There’s been plenty of history, and secrets, along the way. Lesser-known facts about the bridge include everything from hidden wine cellars to a parade of 21 elephants crossing in 1884. To celebrate the anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge, 6sqft rounded up its top 10 most intriguing secrets.
All the secrets right this way
“A Mondy washing.” Image from the Library of Congress, Detroit Photographic Co., via Wikimedia Commons
The image of New York’s old tenements is hardly complete without lines of laundry hanging between each building. Like today, doing laundry was a public endeavor for most New Yorkers. But unlike today, they depended on their building’s laundry lines to dry everything out. Ephemeral New York notes that Monday was typically the chosen day to get it done. As the photo caption says above, full lines of laundry were evident of “A Monday’s Washing.” Monday was known as a “hard wash-day” that required incredible effort from the women of the tenements.
See historic photos of laundry day
It goes without saying that 2020 has been an unpredictable, challenging year. This March, COVID-19 brought New York City to a standstill, from the city’s bustling street life to the plethora of construction projects that defined the prior year. The pandemic quickly changed the way we live and build, but ultimately didn’t stop New Yorkers from doing either.
The city is still a place with bold new construction projects, glittering towers and mega-developments, unique and creative amenities — especially to respond to a year sticking close to home. 2020 brought the introduction of a new public park inside an Upper West Side mega-development, multi-million dollar condo sales along Billionaire’s Row, the restoration of a classic NYC landmark, and impressive new architecture that promises to shape our ever-changing skyline.
Our picks are down to 12 of the most notable residential structures this year. The only question is: Which do you think deserves 6sqft’s title of 2020 Building of the Year? To have your say, polls for our sixth annual competition will be open up until midnight on Sunday, December 13 and we will announce the winner on Monday, December 14.
Cast your vote!
, Fri, September 25, 2020
Image © Emily Nonko for 6sqft
The iconic Grand Central Terminal is a building with more than a few secrets. Constructed in 1913 with the wealth of the Vanderbilt family, there was a lavish private office (now known as The Campbell Apartment), glass catwalks, a hidden spiral staircase, and even artists’ studios on an upper floor. One of the most infamous secrets of the terminal, however, was a secret track used specifically for a president to access one of the most famous hotels in the world. Known as Track 61, it leads to a special platform that was never used or intended to be used in regular passenger service—it just happened to be in the right place.
Keep reading about Grand Central’s secret track
, Fri, September 11, 2020
1885 map showing 13th Avenue, via the New York Public Library
You may be scratching your head at the mention of the 13th Avenue in Manhattan, but it does exist–and it’s the shortest avenue in the whole city with a fascinating history behind it. The minuscule stretch covers prime Meatpacking District real estate, just west of 11th Avenue and between Little West 12th Street and Gansevoort Street. The single block across the West Side Highway is unmarked, but officially known as Gansevoort Peninsula. The avenue was created by the city in 1837, and in no way was intended to be so short. In fact, by the mid-1800s 13th Avenue encompassed nearly 15 blocks and was planned to stretch all the way up to 135th Street. But the block never left Chelsea and was mostly destroyed by the city at the turn of the century.
Read all about the life and death of the Avenue
Leave it up to Riverdale to supply some of the most jaw-dropping, “is it really in New York City?” properties. This Greek Revival mansion at 5501 Palisade Avenue looks like it belongs upstate, but it’s located right here in the Bronx, in a neighborhood known for impressive properties with views. The 1.7-acre property is situated on the top of the hill, so it has prime views of the Hudson River and the Palisades. The interior, which boasts five bedrooms, isn’t too shabby, either.
See inside the mansion