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Step Right into a Midcentury Map of New York, Packed With Bizarre Native Lore

Step Right into a Midcentury Map of New York, Packed With Bizarre Native Lore

2023-06-01 00:04:31

There’s an previous recreation in which somebody throws a dart at a map, after which desires of touring wherever it lands. When you occurred to search out your self in Manhattan within the early Fifties with a wide-open afternoon, you could possibly have tried the identical factor with this dense, boisterously illustrated map, after which ventured out to see the on a regular basis wonders that awaited you there.

On the chart he titled “The Wonders of New York,” New Jersey–born cartographer Nils Hansell sketched out greater than 300 diversions, from Manhattan’s southern tip as much as 96th Road. The illustration now additionally graces the quilt of the e-book Picturing America: The Golden Age of Pictorial Maps, by College of Maine geographer Stephen Hornsby. Inside, Hornsby makes the case that maps like this one—colourful, flamboyant, and never particularly helpful for navigation—had been the offspring of the promoting tradition that boomed within the mid-Twentieth century.

Nils Hansell mapped the city's wackiest facts and half-truths.
Nils Hansell mapped the town’s wackiest details and half-truths. Courtesy David Rumsey Map Collection

In that vein, Hansell’s map is actually promoting the thought of Manhattan because the place to be. It captured the borough’s buzz, Hornsby writes, within the type of the “gleaming modernist skyscrapers and the brand new United Nations constructing, trans-Atlantic liners, and newly launched jet passenger planes.” On a block-by-block stage, although, these emblems take a again seat to the smaller sights which have all the time made the town deliciously, deliriously unusual.

The map’s annotations learn like an insider’s information to Manhattan’s most rakish characters, showiest sights, and least-plausible lore. Right here be dragons (in Chinatown), and likewise prancing fleas, ships inside inexperienced glass bottles, and a nearly-nude opera singer hoisting a severed head on a platter. The flea marks the previous web site of Hubert’s Museum, a former Catholic faculty on West forty second Road the place, for nearly 40 years, guests may watch Roy Heckler’s skilled fleas pull off strange and strangely enchanting feats. (When prodded by Heckler’s tweezers, the fleas Petey and Peaches shimmied and waltzed, and a trio named Napoleon, Marcus, and Caesar hauled miniature cannons and chariots. “Not as thrilling as a horse race,” Heckler once conceded, “however they get there simply the identical.”) Hansell additionally marked a constructing the place the entire elevators had been operated by redheads—or so he claimed—and close to Metropolis Corridor, a mermaid indicators the place the place P. T. Barnum once drew crowds with one of many legendary creatures’ “skeletons.”

Hansell marked the place where P.T. Barnum once displayed a
Hansell marked the place the place P.T. Barnum as soon as displayed a “mermaid skeleton.” Courtesy David Rumsey Map Collection

A number of the spots had been solely accessible to males with fats pockets; others additionally prolonged an invite to their glittering wives. Not everybody had the earnings or inclination, for instance, to slurp the “well-known Sunday hen soup” on the Plaza, not to mention strut across the Waldorf-Astoria’s Peacock Alley promenade, which was, The New York Times put it, “open to anybody who seemed wealthy and highly effective and needed to show applicable plumage.”

Different sights had been extra democratic, and the map’s outer edges are littered little ideas to assist individuals take advantage of their time. Anybody ambling round Central Park ought to be aware {that a} lap across the Reservoir takes 20 minutes, he wrote. He additionally declared that the park’s ice rink had “the perfect skating on the town,” and {that a} stroll throughout the Brooklyn Bridge would make for the “finest Sunday stroll.”

There's a lot going on in Central Park.
There’s quite a bit occurring in Central Park. Courtesy David Rumsey Map Collection

At first learn, a pair different notes on the dense margins appear to narrate some fairly tall tales. Surprisingly, nevertheless, a few of these head-scratchers have a grain of fact in them. For example, a 1696 royal constitution actually did grant Decrease Manhattan’s Trinity Church the precise to useless whales that land alongside Manhattan’s shoreline. The document allowed church wardens and other officials to “seize upon and safe” the whales, after which “tow ashore and … cutt up the mentioned Whales and check out into Oyle and safe the Whalebone,” and funnel any income again into the church. (“Trinity has by no means claimed a drift whale,” says the church’s archivist, Joseph Lapinski. “However I suppose the precise to take action has by no means formally been rescinded.”) Different notes, just like the one marking the spot the place the pirate Captain Kidd was mentioned to have squirreled away his loot, are an entire lot more durable to fact-check with out some shovels and a swashbuckler’s disregard for the regulation.

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For decades, there was a flea circus right in Midtown.
For many years, there was a flea circus proper in Midtown. Courtesy David Rumsey Map Collection

A number of of the spots have disappeared over time, so the map now seems like a relic. The 14th Street Armory, which additionally housed the annual Poultry Show, got here down a long time in the past. The historic music row often known as Tin Pan Alley has all however vanished. Gone are many of the typewriter restore retailers, too, and whereas fishermen do nonetheless forged from piers across the metropolis, bait-and-tackle retailers are few and much between. You gained’t discover many pushcarts on Orchard Road anymore, however you will find a museum that chronicles the people who stocked them.

Nonetheless, even the busiest corners of New York City remain full of wonders, for those who look intently sufficient—and, fortunately, a few of them have gotten extra accessible within the years since Hansell drew his grid. When you’re craving a quaff, McSorley’s Previous Ale Home now serves ladies. The artist positioned the Explorers Club close to Columbus Circle, however it has since trekked to the east facet of Central Park and now additionally opens its rolls to adventurers with no regard to gender. The road grid might keep the identical, however the world on high of it’s consistently shifting. Whether or not New York has misplaced its elementary weirdness, although, continues to be up for debate.

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