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Archive for the 'New York City' Category

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

Forget the Turkey! Doughnuts!

Gastropolis, Thanksgiving in New York City

As many of us begin to prepare our turkeys and other fixings, we conclude our focus on Thanksgiving by turning to a surprising chapter in the holiday’s history when doughnuts made an appearance:

In his chapter, “The Food and Drink of New York from 1624 to 1898,” from Gastropolis: Food and New York City, Andrew Smith describes the role George Washington and doughnuts have played in how the holiday has been celebrated in New York City:

Although it had originated in New England, [Thanksgiving] was quickly adopted in communities throughout New York. Indeed, it was in New York City that President George Washington issued the first presiden­tial thanksgiving proclamation, which set aside Thursday, November 26, 1789, as a day of prayer and thanksgiving. New York was one of the first states outside New England to declare Thanksgiving an official holiday. In 1795, John Jay, the governor of New York, tried to establish a statewide thanksgiving day, and in 1817 it was finally recognized as a state holiday. Thanksgiving was celebrated with what is now considered the traditional meal of turkey, apple pie, mince pie, and cranberries; New Yorkers often added doughnuts and crullers to the menu. Thanksgiving holiday remained an important holiday throughout the nineteenth century. The Ladies Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church opened a mission in the gang-infested Five Points District, and on Thanksgiving Day, under the eyes of their bene­factors, the ladies paraded and fed hundreds of Sunday-school students.

Friday, November 6th, 2015

Themes from The Con Men

The Con Men

“This book came about because both Terry and I are New Yorkers who came here from other places. There are the known mechanics of this city, and then its underground economy. We came to The Con Men as a way of making sense of this untaxed and unauthorized world.” — Trevor B. Milton

This week, our featured book is The Con Men: Hustling in New York City, by Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton. In today’s post, Trevor B. Milton looks back at the genesis of the book, and explains some of the key threads that tie the book’s many stories together.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Con Men!

Themes from The Con Men
By Trevor B. Milton

This book came about because both Terry and I are New Yorkers who came here from other places. There are the known mechanics of this city, and then its underground economy. We came to The Con Men as a way of making sense of this untaxed and unauthorized world. There is something in this book for everyone who has ever resided in this city, something familiar to all who walk its streets. New York City is the unit of analysis; con artists and hustlers are the bi-product.

New York City is rugged, aggressive, and competitive, yet it is also one of the most desirable cities in the world, with broad boulevards, tree-lined avenues, yellow and lime-green cabs darting hither and yon, and frantic crowds moving along busy streets. And though New Yorkers constantly complain about trash, traffic, trains, and any number of other hassles, most of them readily acknowledge that they live in one of the greatest cities in the world. Among its many finer points, New York offers access to the best museums and cultural institutions and an intelligentsia unmatched anywhere. New York, New York: a city so nice they named it twice… (more…)

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

Cop Cons

The Con Men

“I asked Frank if he would volunteer any stories of police corruption. ‘So is there such a thing as a police con? Or a police hustle?’ Frank smiled so big that I couldn’t see his eyes. ‘Of course.’ He slouched in the bench and folded his arms, allowing some of the memories to come to him. ‘Well, the con is like, the con is the classic good guy/bad guy. That’s the con. That’s the biggest one.’” — Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton

This week, our featured book is The Con Men: Hustling in New York City, by Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton. When most people think of con games, they tend to think of the kind of three-card monte that they’ve seen in movies. However, as this excerpt from The Con Men reveals, con games can happen in a wide variety of circumstances, and con artists can be people from all walks of life.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Con Men!

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

The Con Game

The Con Men

“To be honest, I wanted to get some of the cash the man flashed. I had greed in my heart, and that’s what got me into trouble.” — Terry Williams

This week, our featured book is The Con Men: Hustling in New York City, by Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton. In today’s post, Terry Williams describes his first encounter with a con game in New York, how he was duped, and how this experience led him to study con games in his scholarly work.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Con Men!

The Con Game
By Terry Williams

I first got involved in a con game by chance: I happened to be strolling down the wrong street at the wrong time. However, stumbling into a con made it possible for me to better understand how the con game might be studied in an urban setting.

I was a young student at the time, with only five dollars in my pocket, trying to find my way around the city. On this particular day I became a modern version of Voltaire’s Candide, only instead of finding my fortune I found myself standing on an isolated city street explaining to two strangers why I could be trusted.

Let me go back to the beginning

I saw a man standing near 125th Street. He stopped me to say that he was not from New York (he had an accent), was lost, and needed my help. He showed me a piece of paper, which upon a brief inspection listed an address close to where we were standing, but as I tried to look more closely at the paper, he took it from me and handed it to another passerby with the same question. This time, however, he took out a wad of money and made a generous offer for help finding the address on the paper. He said he had been given $10,000 of insurance money after his brother lost his leg in an accident. He just wanted to “get some pussy before I leave the city.” I didn’t see exactly how much money he had, but it was a big bundle of bills and he said he would give some to both of us if we helped him. (more…)

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

Con Artists and Hustlers

The Con Men

“The con artists and hustlers in this text possess a rare set of utilitarian values and have an unmatched knowledge of the city’s landscape and a sophisticated skill set that has taken years (or a lifetime) to acquire. We think of them as sage opportunists because they are able to match their abilities exactly to the opportunities presented by the city’s shifting economy.” — Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton

This week, our featured book is The Con Men: Hustling in New York City, by Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton. To get the feature kicked off, we have an excerpt from the book’s introduction, in which Williams and Milton explain who con artists and hustlers are and begin to describe exactly what it is they do.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Con Men!

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Book Giveaway! The Con Men: Hustling in New York City

The Con Men

“This terrific ethnography explains that cons and hustles are no longer the preserve of roguish proletarians in loud suits and painted ties. Everybody wants a bargain, and creative capitalism makes mugs of us all.” — Dick Hobbs, Times Higher Education

This week, our featured book is The Con Men: Hustling in New York City, by Terry Williams and Trevor B. Milton. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Con Men. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, November 6th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Video: Edward T. O’Donnell on Henry George

The following video is from Edward T. O’Donnell’s talk at the Brooklyn Historical Society on his new book Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

The New York Times on New York Books from Columbia University Press

Race and Real Estate

The New York Times Sunday edition includes a regular feature by Sam Roberts on books about New York City. We’ve been fortunate to have three of our own titles reviewed, each of which explores a distinct period in New York City’s nineteenth and early-twentieth-century history.

This past Sunday, Roberts wrote about Nicholas Miraculous: The Amazing Career of the Redoubtable Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, by Michael Rosentahal and now available in paperback:

In 43 years as president, Dr. Butler transformed Columbia into a first-class research university, downgrading undergraduate liberal arts programs in the process. Yet he considered himself primarily a “publicist,” whose every thought was not only spoken but also disseminated, including his compelling early opposition to Prohibition as an unenforceable government intrusion on private behavior. Few people, one observer wrote, “can leap to the front pages with the agility Dr. Butler has exhibited for so long.”

Like Butler, Henry George played an important role in the world of ideas with his surprising bestselling work of economics Progress and Poverty. George, who also became an important labor organizer and a candidate for mayor of New York City, is the subject of Edward T. O’Donnell’s new book, Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age. In drawing some contemporary parallels, Roberts writes:

In 1886, 127 years before Bill de Blasio successfully invoked his “tale of two cities” metaphor to address income inequality, Henry George almost won the mayoralty of New York by juxtaposing the economic gains of the Gilded Age with the growth of poverty.

Strikes by streetcar workers and a bribery scandal over securing franchises (akin to the railroads’ land grab in the West) galvanized workers during the era rekindled in Edward T. O’Donnell’s timely and accessible Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality.


Friday, June 19th, 2015

American Radicalism, Progressivism, and the Legacy of Henry George

Henry George

We conclude our week-long focus on Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age, by Edward T. O’Donnell, with O’Donnell’s examination discussion of George’s legacy. In particular, O’Donnell focuses on the profound impact George had on progressive thought, labor activism, and American political culture.

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Henry George Runs for Mayor of New York City

Henry George, New York City Mayor

127 years before Bill de Blasio’s run for mayor of New York City as a progressive candidate, Henry George was the choice of the United Labor Party to fight for the working class and defeat the corruption in New York City (see cartoon above). George ended up losing but his winning of more than 30% of the vote beat out Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican candidate and shocked the city and its power brokers. George’s campaign focused on the effort to revitalize citizenship and re-empower the working class. In the following passage, from Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality
Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age
, Edward T. O’Donnell describes George’s agenda which called for radical political, economic, and social change.

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Why Henry George Matters in This Second Gilded Age — Edward T. O’Donnell

Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality

The following post is by Edward T. O’Donnell, author of Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age:

What value does the story of Henry George, a self-taught economist from the late nineteenth century, hold for Americans living in the early 21st century? Quite a lot, if we stop to consider the ways in which contemporary American society has come to resemble America in the late-nineteenth century, a period popularly known as the Gilded Age. As in our times, that era was marked by a dramatic increase in income inequality. It also witnessed a sharp and disturbing rise in the numbers of Americans living in poverty, even as Wall Street boomed and overall productivity soared. The Gilded Age was also marked by a surge in the size and power—and political influence—of large corporations and banks. And the politics of late-nineteenth century American society were characterized by extreme partisanship and paralysis. Indeed, the parallels between then and now are so striking that many contemporary progressive reformers, activists, and commentators have taken to referring to the era in which we now live as the Second Gilded Age.

If we are indeed living in a Second Gilded Age, then we can gain important insights into potential solutions to our economic, social, and political problems by taking a close look at the first Gilded Age. In particular, it is instructive to examine the people who emerged in this period to demand reforms—many of which were enacted in the subsequent Progressive Era. Henry George was one of these figures and he gained an enormous following among a wide cross section of American society.

George was a little-known journalist living in California in the 1870s when, moved by the aforementioned troubling trends of the Gilded Age, he began to study economics and history with an eye toward writing a book. The result of this effort was a book published in 1879 titled Progress and Poverty. The book is still in print and available in many languages. As its title suggests, George focused on a vexing question: why amidst so much material and technological progress was poverty increasing? This was, George warned, “the riddle which the Sphinx of Fate puts to our civilization, and which not to answer is to be destroyed.”

The book became a best seller and launched George as one of the era’s best-known and most influential reformers. The solution George proposed—a “single-tax” on land values—appealed to some of his followers. But far more were drawn to and inspired by the broad claims he made regarding American’s republican heritage and values. And here we see where George speaks to the concerns of our age.


Monday, June 15th, 2015

Book of the Week: Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality

This week our featured book is Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age by Edward T. O’Donnell.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, June 19th at 1:00 pm.

For more on the book you can read the introduction:

Friday, March 13th, 2015

The Legacy of Eric Walrond: The Caribbean, Harlem, and Europe

Eric Walrond and Shirley Graham DuBois
(Shirley Graham Du Bois and Eric Walrond, Paris, 1930)

In the following excerpt from the postscript to Eric Walrond: A Life in the Harlem Renaissance and the Transatlantic Caribbean, James Davis explores some of the ways in which Walrond, and, specifically, his life spent moving from the Caribbean to the United States and then to Europe reflect questions of blackness and identity in today’s world:

One can see the ways in which Walrond’s world—the struggles and communities in which he participated—was a precursor to our own; it is more difficult to grasp its difference, its inscrutability, the possibilities that sprang into being but have since been foreclosed…. Even as we recognize in Eric Walrond incipient forms of familiar contemporary identities and communities, we should also consider the “historical mutilation” of the anticolonial struggles, transnational periodical formations, aesthetic movements, and political solidarities that animated Walrond’s work. We are ourselves the victims of their truncation. It may defy comprehension that a celebrated Harlem author would leave the United States, sabotaging his career at the height of the New Negro movement. It may seem unintelligible for a cosmopolitan Caribbean intellectual to spend twelve years as the only “Negro” in an English village….

Walrond forged a precarious career by crossing borders, none of which he crossed completely. From the “West Indian Circles” column of Pana­ma’s Star & Herald, to his work on Garvey’s journals in New York and London, to his Caribbean efforts at Opportunity and his Wiltshire essays about colonialism and the “colour bar,” his journalism was, like his fic­tion, an exercise in cultural translation. But borders are rarely neutral. They often presuppose or enforce privilege, and Walrond’s translations challenged the privileges attending the borders he crossed. Even within New York, the unofficial border he straddled between white and black Manhattan occasioned a Caribbean challenge to monolithic notions of Harlem’s blackness and a “Cabaret School” challenge to the prevailing discourse of respectability and “Negro” uplift. He benefited from his mobility and suffered for it, too.


Friday, January 30th, 2015

The Fate of Black and Latino Politicians in New York City — Frederick Douglass Opie

Frederick Douglass Opie, Upsetting the Apple Cart: Black-Latino Coalitions in New York City from Protest to Public Office

As suggested by the subtitle, in Upsetting the Apple Cart: Black-Latino Coalitions in New York City From Protest to Public Office, Frederick Douglass’s book tracks the rise of Black and Latino politicians, which in some ways reached its apex with the 1989 election of David Dinkins as the first African American mayor of the city. He was also the last New York City mayor of color.

In the conclusion to the book, Opie considers why gaining citywide or statewide offices has proven so difficult for Black and Latino politicians and what can be done:

There were a number of Black-Latino Progressive coalitions that waged bat­tles before the creation of Latinos for Dinkins. David Dinkins’s campaign victory and his administration’s support for the political reapportionment and increase in the number of seats in the City Council from thirty-five to fifty-one have ensured that blacks and Latinos are today well represented among New York City elected officials. But representation in higher citywide or statewide offices still remains elusive, largely because of racial fragmenta­tion within the Democratic Party.

A number of problems remain among black and Latino elected officials in Albany. They need to clearly articulate issues relevant to the communities they represent, but, most of all, their efforts and reputations have been seri­ously hampered by the rampant corruption in Albany. Officials have to do a better job investigating allegations of improprieties among elected officials. For example, just as the 2013 New York mayoral election began to rev up, corruption scandals and the arrest of black and Latino legislators from New York City rocked Albany. “You have a better chance” of being led out of the Assembly or the Senate in Albany in “handcuffs than you do being voted out of office,” says Ken Lovett, Albany bureau chief for the Daily News.

In order to regain the strength that had helped Dinkins into office, black and Latino elected officials need to mobilize around issues important to Progressives in the same way that labor leaders did in hospitals in the 1950s and 1960s, as student activists did on college campuses in the late 1960s, as activists did on the streets and in tenements in the 1960s through the 1980s, and as various groups did in 2012 (under the aegis of Occupy movements that first began in New York City).

The demands of black and Latino Progressive coalitions from 1959 to 1989 were consistent and remain important concerns today: a living wage in which to provide better housing, health care, food, and educational opportunities for them and their families; the end of police brutality; and greater black and Latino representation among elected officials. On the question of ending police brutality, Progressive coalitions have been engaged in a campaign for almost two decades to end the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk crime-prevention pro­gram. It is viewed as a civil rights violation, which police officers most often carry out against male youth in black and Latino communities across the city. In fact, stop-and-frisk remained a constant part of the debate among candi­dates vying for the Democratic nomination for mayor of New York.

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

The Role of Black and Latino Students in the 1968 Takeover of Columbia University — Frederick Douglass Opie

Student activism and revolt in the 1960s were crucial in developing Black-Latino coalitions during the decade. On campuses such as CCNY and Columbia, student organizations successfully lobbied for new curricula that would include Black and Latino studies and worked with local communities to stop the expansion of their institutions.

In the following excerpt from Upsetting the Apple Cart: Black-Latino Coalitions in New York City from Protest to Public Office and in the video below, Frederick Douglass Opie discusses the role of Black and Latino students and student organizations during the takeover at Columbia in 1968:

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Interview with Frederick Douglass Opie, author of “Upsetting the Apple Cart”

Upsetting the Apple Cart, Frederick Douglass Opie

Upsetting the Apple Cart reveals how when the NYPD talks about the death of Eric Garner, they view it as an incident or a moment; Black and Brown folks who support the Black Lives Matter movement talk about it as history.”—Frederick Douglass Opie

The following is an interview with Frederick Douglass Opie, author of Upsetting the Apple Cart: Black-Latino Coalitions in New York City from Protest to Public Office

Question: How did you get interested in the project?

Frederick Douglass Opie: While working on my first book Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America, I came across a set of Works Progress Administration records in the New York City Municipal Archives that described blacks and Latinos in Harlem in the 1930s eating in the same restaurants, frequenting the same nightclubs and theaters, and intermarrying. This was during the summer of 2005, and I was struck by these descriptions given the degree of separation I observed between contemporary blacks and Latinos (Ecuadorians, Dominicans, and some Puerto Ricans and Cubans) in Westchester County, just north of New York City, where I was living at the time. The contrast inspired me to explore the dynamics of African American-Latino coalitions.

Q: What are some of the distinct moments recounted in Upsetting the Apple Cart?

FDO: It tells the story about the first time that Malcolm X, at the height of his popularity in 1962, supported a labor union and the first time as Elijah Muhammad’s principal spokesman for the Nation of Islam that he joined a multiethnic coalition. The book traces the history of when large numbers of Dominicans who migrated to New York began to turn their attention away from the Dominican Republic becoming political mobilized behind African American candidate David Dinkins in 1989. It’s seasoned with recipes because throughout this history people used food to help activists do the necessary work at strategy meetings and protests to advance a cause.

Q: What role did unions play in forging alliance between Blacks and Latinos?

FDO: Labor unions helped Blacks and Latinos develop strong bonds as workers who shared a common political goal, employer, or class status. For example, Black and Latino members of Local DC 37 mobilized against President Ronald Reagan’s plan to cut spending to programs for the urban poor in order to increase spending on weapons systems and military interventions abroad. DC 37 supported the electoral campaigns of Mario Cuomo and others whose platforms addressed Reagan cuts. In addition, DC 37 participated in protest including acts of civil disobedience in their objection to the Reagan administration’s tacit support for the apartheid regime in South Africa and explicit support for authoritarian dictatorships in Central America. For many young workers this served as their foray into public protesting.


Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

Food, Unions, and Black-Latino Coalitions in New York City — Frederick Douglass Opie

Upsetting the Apple Cart, Frederick Douglass Opie

One of the earliest coalitions among Blacks and Latinos in New York City was among hospital workers at Montefiore hospital in the Bronx. In the following excerpt from Upsetting the Apple Cart: Black-Latino Coalitions in New York City from Protest to Public Office, Fred Opie explores the importance of food in organizing workers and also includes a recipe for a dish that sustained union members:

Organizing Workers, 1957-1959

The first real break in the organizing drive came when the hospital administration decided to end a long-standing meal plan. Historically, Montefiore had allowed workers to eat in the cafeteria and then deducted the cost of these “free meals” from workers’ pay checks. When the hospital hired Jacques Bloch to lead its new food service department in 1954, he reorganized the department, opened a new cafeteria, and ended the free food policy within three years. Fink and Greenberg argue that the decision “increased the amount of take-home pay for workers but still triggered resentments.” That may be true, but the real issue seems to have been that the quality and quantity of food provided by the hospital was greater than what workers could procure independently with their slightly increased take-home pay. In addition, the hospital cafeteria served as a de facto restaurant for many workers who could not afford to eat out, giving it great cultural and social significance. Ken Downs, who worked on the lunch line, was the first to recognize that this change could be the thing to galvanize workers. He told Godoff to start an aggressive organizing movement.

Food played an important role in these first efforts to reach out to workers. “We had a party [at my apartment],” says Downs, “and I cooked chicken and rice and peas.” As mentioned, the migration of large numbers of blacks from the southern United States and the Caribbean during World War I and II contributed to the introduction of Caribbean and Southern foods and dishes in New York City. Over many years immigrants from these two regions have made an indelible mark on New York culture, particularly in Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Bronx where jazz, reggae, and later hip hop became popular forms of musical expression, and fried chicken and fried plantains, meat patties, jerked and curried meats and poultry, and rice and beans dishes became part of the local cuisine. Historically every region of the U. S. South and the Caribbean has had a different take on rice and bean dishes like Downs’s Barbadian rice and peas.

Barbadian Rice and Peas

8 oz. dried pigeon peas 1 cup rice
3-4 dried bay leaves
¼ -½ lb. smoked turkey, salt beef, or salt pork
Or use 1 cup of vegetable broth for meatless rice
Small onion, peeled, and 3 whole cloves
2 celery stalks
Bajan spice mix: Bajan seasoning is a blend of fresh herbs such as thyme, marjoram, spring onions, onions, garlic, parsley, basil, and scotch bonnet pepper with spices such as clove, black pepper, paprika, and salt.
4-5 whole peppercorns

Cover peas with water, add seasoning, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for approximately 45 minutes. Add rice, onion, and oil, stirring well. Cover and simmer until the water is absorbed or grains are soft and fluffy—approximately 20 minutes. Serve hot.

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Upsetting the Apple Cart: Black-Latino Coalitions in New York City from Protest to Public Office

This week our featured book is Upsetting the Apple Cart: Black-Latino Coalitions in New York City from Protest to Public Office, by Frederick Douglass Opie

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Upsetting the Apple Cart to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, January 30 at 1:00 pm.

“A valuable contribution to the study of the mid- to late-twentieth-century history of New York City….[P]rovides the reader with a detailed, almost blow-by-blow account of the various attempts by African Americans and Latinos to find a common political cause and build lasting coalitions.”—Xavier F. Totti, Lehman College

Read the introduction to “It’s the Pictures That Got Small”

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Coney Island in Winter — Louis Parascandola

Coney Island in Winter

The following post is by Louis Parascandola, the co-editor of A Coney Island Reader: Through Dizzy Gates of Illusion.

The Acknowledgments to A Coney Island Reader: Through Dizzy Gates of Illusion point out that the book that I edited with my brother John was created out of a great sorrow in our lives. We had lost both of our parents in the few years preceding the book, and both of our sisters were enduring life-threatening illnesses. While we were writing the book, one sister, Maryann, died of lung cancer. Now, just as the book has been published, we have lost our other sister, Judy, to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Thus the book, which was meant to serve as a celebration of our family, now serves more as a memorial. Life, much like Coney Island, seldom conforms to what we expect, let alone want, it to be. Still, Coney is able to provide comfort even at dark moments in life and even during its off season.

Most people do not imagine visiting Coney during the winter months, something I have had the opportunity to do several times. There is a somber chill in the air. One wonders, as in Sara Teasdale’s poem “Coney Island,” why we are here, out where “The winter winds blow” with “no shelter near.” However, there is comfort here. As one walks along the boardwalk, one can see activity going on. There are people walking; there are joggers; there are the dog walkers; there may even be a few intrepid bathers. There are also people working all year round fixing the rides and preparing for the spring. Along Surf Avenue, there is also activity. Though many of the stores are closed, a few remain open for the die-hards. It is still possible to get a hot dog at Nathan’s, pizza at Grimaldi’s, and candy from a couple of vendors. One realizes that though Coney may slow down, it never completely closes. Life here never really ends.

The appeal of the off-season is apparent in several of the works in our anthology, including the above-mentioned poem by Teasdale as well as Stephen Crane’s story “Coney Island’s Failing Days,” Federico Garcia Lorca’s poem “Landscape of a Vomiting Multitude (Dusk at Coney Island”), and Bernard Malamud’s story “My Son the Murderer.” Perhaps the piece that best captures the feeling, however, is by Pulitzer Prize winner, Josephine W. Johnson, “Coney Island in November.” In this poignant story, a woman recalls her somewhat distant relationship with her now deceased father as she walks along the desolate beach at Coney. At this time of year, Coney returns to what it once was and will always remain, a seaside, natural resort. Its endless beach and eternal tide allow for contemplation that one cannot achieve on a crowded summer day. It is while walking along this beach that the woman is able to come to terms with her sorrow and gain a sense of closure with her father. This sense of serenity is an aspect not always connected with Coney, with its hurly burly. Coney is forever linked with summer fun, but the pleasure and knowledge that can be gained in its off-season is not something to be overlooked.

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Coney Island in Song

A Coney Island Reader: Through Dizzy Gates of Illusion edited by Louis and John Parascandola includes some of the best work of fiction and poetry on Coney Island from Walt Whitman and Federico García Lorca to Djuna Barnes and Colson Whitehead.

Of course, Coney Island has also been the subject of many songs. A Coney Island Reader includes a very helpful appendix of Coney Island-related songs by artists and song writers, including John Philip Sousa, Cole Porter, and Woody Guthrie.

Here are some other more recent songs that mention Coney Island or are about the neighborhood:

“Coney Island Baby,” Lou Reed (1975)

“Oh Oh I Lover Her So,” The Ramones (1977). Punk-rock love at Coney Island.

“I Remember Coney Island,” The Lounge Lizards (1981)

“Coney Island,” Death Cab for Cutie (2001)

“Coney Island Baby,” Tom Waits (2002)

“Coney Island Winter,” Garland Jeffreys (2011)