By Stephen Petrus
The following is an excerpt from the author’s book, Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival, courtesy of Oxford University Press.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Greenwich Village was a conduit of ideas, made possible by the concentration of performance spaces around Washington Square Park. If observers wondered why the folk music revival flowered in the Village, they needed only to walk down MacDougal Street from West 4th and make a left onto Bleecker. Numerous clubs lined these colorful streets. The density fostered creative interactions as well as collaboration and competition, and the Village became an engine of artistic innovation. Skilled and striving artists in close proximity challenged traditional boundaries in folk music, both in lyrics and in style. Jazz composer, multi-instrumentalist, and folk singer David Amram observed, “There was a cross-pollination of music, painting, writing—an incredible world of painters, sculptors, musicians, writers, and actors, enough so we could be each other’s fans. When I had concerts, painters would come, and I’d go play jazz at their art gallery openings, and I played piano while Beats read their poetry.”
By Karen Karbiener
Walt Whitman is the world’s first New Yorker. Declaring himself as both a “Brooklyn Boy” and a “Manhattanese” at the same time Emerson described the Big Apple as a “sucked orange,” Poe denounced its noise and too-rapid development, and Thoreau felt “sick ever since I came here,” Whitman celebrated the urban roots of Leaves of Grass in many of his greatest poems. “Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son” named the city his spiritual forefather in “Song of Myself,” and “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” is just about everyone’s pick for the greatest New York poem ever written. “Proud and passionate city! mettlesome, mad, extravagant city!” he sings in “City of Ships.” “I chant and celebrate all that is yours.”
But 165 years before this blog post on summer city getaways was scribed for Gotham readers, Walt published his own versions of such pieces in the New York Evening Post and the New York Sunday Dispatch. “Swarming and multitudinous as the population of the city still is, there are many thousands of its usual inhabitants now absent in the country,” he wrote in 1851. “Having neither the funds nor disposition to pass my little term of ruralizing at the fashionable baths, or watering places, I am staying awhile down here at Greenport, the eastern point of the Long Island Railroad.”
By Andrew L. Hargroder
The 1790s was a decade marked by conspiracy-mongering in the United States. Polarized visions over the republic’s future inspired a prevailing mood of both revolutionary optimism for humankind and abrasive paranoia. Countering these anxieties, middle- and working-class Americans formed fraternal and literary clubs designed to foster democratic comity and candor as a public discourse. Among New York’s clubs, a new class of citizen took form, which espoused a more inclusive understanding of rights and political engagement. That allowed non-elites, like Richard Bingham Davis, to contribute to the conversation over the republic’s future.
"Tontine Coffee House” (1797) by Francis Guy. Though this coffee house was a site of frequent political clashes between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans throughout the 1790s, it also provide a sense of NYC architecture and the city's lively streets at the time of Davis and the societies’ activities.
By Marjorie Heins
The art collector Peggy Guggenheim had just opened her avant-garde "Art of This Century" gallery on West 57 Street in the fall of 1942 when her friend Marcel Duchamp suggested that she mount an all-woman exhibition. Guggenheim loved the idea: the show would be radical not only because of its composition but because most of the paintings, drawings, and sculptures on view would be either abstract or Surrealist in style, as befitted Guggenheim's modernist taste.
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