In April of 1931, eight slot machines were seized by Troopers in raids on a number of hotels in the Catskills town of Fallsburg, including the Elm Shade, the Ambassador, and the Flagler. The machines were destroyed “in the public square” before more than 150 onlookers and the $130 found inside them was turned over to the Town’s poor fund. [Read more…] about The Catskills Slot Machine Racket
The Saratoga Dreams B&B at 203 Union Avenue gives a modern day traveler, the opportunity to step back into the marvelous past of Saratoga Springs. Climbing the stairs starts the adventure, where you first see the statue of Seabiscuit at the National Museum of Racing next door, and across the street you may catch a glimpse of runners being “tacked-up” in the paddock at Saratoga Race Course.
The large covered porch, typical of so many of Saratoga Springs’ Queen Anne style homes, allows an elevated view of “Tex” Hughlette Wheeler’s fabulous sculpture. Charles S. Howard, Seabiscuit’s owner, commissioned cowboy sculptor Wheeler (who’s unique given name of Hughlette was the surname of the doctor who delivered him during his mother’s difficult pregnancy), to “capture the horse from life,” and had two castings made. Howard’s heirs graciously donated this casting, originally at the Howard’s Ridgewood Farm, to the National Museum of Racing. The other bronze which Howard had cast has always stood in the Santa Anita paddock. [Read more…] about Albany’s John McBain Davidson: Safes, Steamboats & Horse Racing
The 1920s witnessed a new era of Americans who were at ease committing their hard earned dollars toward the privilege of being spectators of live sport. In horse racing, John McEntee Bowman became the President of the United Hunts Racing Association, an organization of cross-country enthusiasts in 1922.
Bowman was an impressive fellow, certainly one of the best rags-to-riches stories in turf history, from immigrant groom to multi-millionaire owner and track operator, while developing a successful national business brand, the Biltmore Hotel chain. Through his flagship hotel and banquet facilities in New York City, Bowman was able to cultivate the social side of jump racing during the winter months, which increased the sport’s following immensely. [Read more…] about Horse Racing History: Westchester County’s Bowman Park
There was this gentleman named Charlie Ellison, or Charles R. Ellison to be precise, from Chicago. He was involved with the horse racing game in the late nineteenth century, and as the calendar flipped to 1900, began finding great success.
Ellison was famous for his large wagers, and turf writers seemed to revel in detailing his betting successes His countenance was fair, and as he was towheaded, these very recognizable locks earned him a unique sobriquet, the “Blonde Plunger.” The plunger in his nickname implied a reckless speculator or gambler. [Read more…] about The Horse ‘Governor Hughes’ & Gambling Suppression in NY
Throughout the nineteenth century, prostitution was rife in American cities. In 1820 there were an estimated two hundred brothels in New York, growing to more than six hundred after the Civil War. By the early 1840s the city was the nation’s whoring capital, its own Gomorrah.
Most houses of assignation before the Civil War were owned and controlled by women. Some madams made spectacular careers, nobody more so than Fanny White whose Mercer Street brothel was, from 1851 onward, a meeting place for Congressmen, dignitaries and diplomats – a Manhattan whoreocracy. [Read more…] about Manhattan ‘Flash’ Culture: Madams and Sporting Men
Spencer Trask awoke on the morning of December 31st, 1909 in the last compartment of the last sleeper car on the Montreal Express as it neared New York City on the D&H Railroad line.
Getting dressed, his thoughts may have turned to the three passions that dominated his 65 years. He did not know then that it would be the final day of his eventful life. [Read more…] about Life and Legacies of Spencer Trask
For centuries people have been mixing potions, initially in a quest for medicinal elixirs, and later to produce exotic drinks. Punch was introduced from India to England in the early seventeenth century. The term, of uncertain etymology, was first recorded in 1632. [Read more…] about Masters of Mixology: American Showmanship & French Finesse
The term “red light district” is believed to have first appeared in print in Ohio in 1894.
One folk etymology relates that red light districts referred to areas frequented by off-duty railroaders, but this is probably apocryphal. The story goes that railroaders would hang their lanterns outside so the crew-callers could find them, but red lights already had an association with prostitution, and therefore areas of vice, long before that. [Read more…] about Mame Fay: Stories From Troy’s Red Light District
Daniel Defoe’s The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (1722) is the story of the notorious life and ultimate repentance of a woman who lived much of her adult life as a prostitute and thief. Set in London, the novel reflects immigrant urban life. It’s a tale told by a woman who does not reveal her real name, but to fellow streetwalkers she is known as Moll Flanders.
She was just six months old when her mother was imprisoned for stealing three pieces of fine “Holland” (imported Dutch fabric) from a draper in Cheapside. The baby was “sold” and spent time in the company of “gypsies” before running off as a child ending up in Colchester. The story starts amid the textile industry of Colchester and Norwich, noted for its refugees from the Low Countries. [Read more…] about Moll Flanders in Manhattan (Daniel Defoe and Martin Scorcese)
Because I teach urban history, immigration history, and in particular New York history, I often have students inquire about the merits of Martin Scorsese’s 2002 film “Gangs of New York.”
Here are a few observations about the movie and about New York history. [Read more…] about Scorsese’s ‘Gangs of New York’ and New York History