The Bowery Boys: New York City HistoryAuthor: Bowery Boys Media
17 Aug 2018

The Bowery Boys: New York City History

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New York City history is America's history. It's the hometown of the world, and most people know the city's familiar landmarks, buildings and streets. Why not look a little closer and have fun while doing it?

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    #269 Harry Houdini and the Golden Age of Magic in New York

    Harry Houdini became one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century, a showman whose escape artistry added a new dimension to the tried-and-true craft of stage magic. In this show, we present not only a mini-biography on the daredevil wizard, but a survey of the environment which made him -- a city of magic, mediums and mystery.

    New York during the late 19th century was a place of real, practical magic -- electric lights, elevated trains, telephones and other wonders that would have seemed impossible just a few decades before. Those that performed stage magic in a world of such unbelievable inventions would need to up their game.

    The great names of European stage magic -- most notably Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin -- would give rise to spectacular performances on both vaudeville and legitimate stages. Performers like Howard Thurston would dazzle New York crowds with unbelievable demonstrations of levitation while Harry Kellar and his 'spirit cabinet' would seem to use sorcery from other worlds.

    Houdini got his start in New York's dime museums, evolving from simple card tricks to elaborate routines of escape. He was a truly modern performer, borrowing from the magic masters and benefiting from an eager public, looking for a virtual superhero.

    But stage magic had a surprising foe -- actual magic or, as practiced by hundreds of mediums and mystics, spiritualism. Suddenly, the craft of magical illusion seemed secondary to those who could practice those same arts via a connection with the afterlife. Houdini was drawn into the debate early in his career, and the conflict intensified with his unusual friendship with one of the greatest writers in the world -- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

  • Posted on 10 Aug 2018

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    #268 The Astonishing Saga of the Atlantic Cable

    New Yorkers threw a wild, exuberant celebration in the summer of 1858 in honor of 'the eighth wonder of the world', a technological achievement that linked North America and Europe by way of an underwater cable which sat on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.

    The transatlantic cable was set to link the telegraph systems of the United Kingdom with those in the United States and Canada, and New Yorkers were understandably excited. Peter Cooper, one of the city's wealthiest men, was attached to the ambitious project as a member of the 'Cable Cabinet', as was Samuel Morse, the brilliant inventor who helped to innovate the telegraph.

    But it was an ambitious young New Yorker -- a successful paper manufacturer named Cyrus West Field -- who devised the endeavor from the comfort of his luxurious Gramercy Park townhouse.

    New Yorkers had so much to celebrate; a link with Europe would bring the world closer together, enrich the financiers of Wall Street and raise the city's international profile. The city partied so relentlessly that New York City Hall was almost destroyed in a frenzy of fireworks.

    But had everybody started celebrating too early? Was the Atlantic Cable -- fated to change the world -- actually a terrible failure?

    PLUS: A visit to beautiful Newfoundland and the origin of the journalism slang "scoop"!

  • Posted on 27 Jul 2018

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    #267 Broadway: The Story of a Street

    Today we're joined by Fran Leadon, the author of a new history of Broadway, called “Broadway: A History of New York in 13 Miles”.

    We've discussed Broadway, the street, in just about every show we’ve done -- as so many of the city’s key events have taken place along Broadway or near it. And that’s also the point of Fran’s book -- by telling the story of a street, you’re actually telling the story of the entire city.

    On today’s show, we’ll be discussing how Broadway moved north -- literally, how did it expand, overcoming natural obstacles and merging with… or avoiding... old, pre-existing roads, and how did it take such an unusual route?

    And perhaps most surprisingly, how did Broadway survive the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 which imposed a rigid street grid on the city?

    You’re in for a couple of surprises.

  • Posted on 13 Jul 2018

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    #266 New York City during the Revolutionary War (1776-1783)

    What was life like in New York City from the summer of 1776 to the fall of 1783 -- the years of British occupation during the Revolutionary War?

    New York plays a very intriguing role in the story of American independence. The city and the surrounding area were successfully taken by the British by the end of 1776 -- George Washington and the Continental Army forced to escape for the good of the cause -- and the port city became the central base for British operations during the conflict.

    While British officers dined and enjoy a newly revitalized theater scene, Washington's spies on the streets of New York collected valuable intelligence. As thousands of soldiers and sympathizing Loyalists arrived in the city, hunger and overcrowding put the residents of the city in peril. When the sugar houses and churches became too filled with captured rebels, the British employed prison ships along the Brooklyn waterfront to hold their enemies.

    This is a very, very special episode, a newly edited combination of two older shows from our back catalog. PLUS several minutes of new material, featuring stories that we overlooked the first time.

  • Posted on 29 Jun 2018

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    #265 Absolutely Flawless: A History of Drag in New York City

    Television audiences are currently obsessed with shows like RuPaul's Drag Race and FX's Pose, presenting different angles on the profession and art of drag. New York City has been crucial to its current moment in pop culture and people have been performing and enjoy drag performers in this city for over 120 years.

    In the beginning there were two styles of drag -- vaudeville and ballroom. As female impersonators filled Broadway theaters -- one theater is even named for a famed gender illusionist -- thrill seekers were heading to the balls of Greenwich Village and Harlem.

    By the 1930s, the gay scene began retreating into the shadows, governed by mob control and harshly policed. By design, drag became political. It also became a huge counter-cultural influence in the late 1960s -- from the glamour of Andy Warhol's superstars to the jubilant schtick of Charles Busch.

    But it was the 1980s that brought the most significant influences to our current pop cultural moment. Joining Greg on this show are two experts on two late 80s/early 90s scenes -- Felix Rodriguez, a videographer of the ballroom culture (made famous by the film Paris Is Burning) and Linda Simpson, one of the great queens of East Village drag.

    FEATURING: Drag kings! Wigstock! And the famous drag queen who got struck by lightning.

  • Posted on 15 Jun 2018


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