Sunday, February 14, 2010

NYC Trivia - Past and Present

During my recent visit to the Transit Museum, I learned some wonderful historical trivia about NYC that I want to share. Also, I have a couple of other interesting present-day tidbits for you to enjoy.

Where did the Dodgers get their name? Before they were the LA Dodgers, this great baseball team was born and bred in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Dodgers were born in 1845 and went through a variety of names until 1911 when they were given the name the Trolley Dodgers. Because of the plethora of trolleys in Brooklyn, Manhattanites had derisively called Brooklynites "trolley dodgers" so Brooklyn decided to co-op the name and give it to their hometown team. In 1913, the name was shortened to Dodgers and the rest is baseball history -- namely, that the Dodgers went West in 1957, never to return.

Who was Elizabeth Jennings? Just imagine what NYC and America was like in 1854. Slavery was still legal in much of the country and segregation was everywhere, even here in NYC. On July 16 of that year, a young black schoolteacher named Elizabeth Jennings wanted to go to church. She was the organist and was running late so she tried to do something that no black person would ever dare do -- ride a streetcar. When she tried to get on, the conductor demanded she leave. The conductor and driver attacked her, called a cop, and she was forcibly ejected.

A proud woman from a proud family, she decided to sue the Third Avenue Railroad
company. The incident gained some publicity and Jennings got an ambitious young lawyer to take her case.

She won. The court ruled that:
"Colored persons if sober, well behaved and free from disease, had the same rights as others and could neither be excluded by any rules of the Company, nor by force or violence." From then on, the streetcars -- and later the subways and buses and all public transportation in NYC -- were desegregated. And even though America had a long way to go after that (ending slavery, ending Jim Crow laws, passing civil rights, electing the first black president), this was a small light in a dark era, and a proud moment in our city's history.

By the way, the name of the lawyer that represented her was a 24-year old named Chester Allen Arthur who later became president of the United States in 1881.

Moving on to the present day ...

What's this building? If you've ever been on 10th street and 6th avenue, you've probab
ly seen this striking building and wondered about it. Well, here's a little history. Today it is called the Jefferson Market Library but it used to be the Jefferson Market Courthouse. Built between 1874-1877, one of the architects of this building was Calvert Vaux who helped design Central Park with Frederick Law Olmstead. After the building was abandoned as a courthouse in 1945, it lay empty and was targeted for demolition. However, a community activist named Margot Gayle led an effort to save it -- and was assisted by the great writer Lewis Mumford and the poet e.e. cummings. Who would have thunk it? And thank god they did. This wonderful building is now a National Historic Landmark, protected for history and our children.

The NYC of "24": I have never seen -- nor plan to -- the TV show "24." Somehow a show that openly endorses the use of torture and has a neanderthal mentality isn't my cup o'tea. That said, this season, from what I understand, the show is set in NYC and is "redrawing" the map of Manhattan. In fairness to "24", this is not the first show or movie to tinker with the geography of the city. The New York Times provides a short write-up and a map about how Hollywood has re-mapped our fair city.

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