Unmarked History in New York City
By Chris Epting

A West Coast writer known for uncovering hidden historic sites takes on New York City, where every block seems to have a secret past.

NYC travel

At the Delmonico Hotel at 502 Park Avenue in 1963, Beatles manager Brian Epstein visited Ed Sullivan (who lived in the hotel) to square away details for the Beatles first U.S. TV appearance on Sullivan's show in a few months. The next year, on August 28th, Bob Dylan paid a visit to the group's hotel room while they were in the middle of their first U.S. tour and introduced them to pot, thus getting them high for the very first time.


You can still visit the hotel, but nobody seems to know which rooms hosted those key turning points.

More and more, traveling through cities, it seems like historic marker programs are truly beginning to thrive. With the number of actual historic buildings we seem to lose over the years, at least it's good to know precisely where things took place.

But when walking through a world as vast, exotic, and diverse as New York City, you can only put up so many markers in so much time. I'm sure one day there will be hundreds of them adorning the sides of buildings and embedded in sidewalks. But for now, there are still plenty of places that thousands of New Yorkers and tourists walk by every day without knowing what kind of history once brushed up against those sites.

On a recent stroll one chilly winter day I walked past many places that I had written about before. Though I resisted the urge to stop people on the street and let them know what they were walking past, it was nice to know that there are still a few secrets left when it comes to historic sites in the Big Apple.

You can go way way back at 1131 Third Avenue. It is a Nike Store today. But it's also the spot where revolutionary war-hero Nathan Hale was hanged by the British. (It is believed that Hale was hanged from a tree near what is now the intersection of Third Avenue and East 66th Street in Manhattan—defined in colonial times as the five-mile stone on the Post Road, where there was a tavern called The Dove.)

Before his hanging, Hale was allowed to give a speech from the gallows, part of which, according to tradition, included the words "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." No official records of any sort having been kept of Hale's speech, it is impossible to verify that he actually delivered this memorable line; however rumor of it subsequently spread throughout the colonies, making a martyr of Hale and boosting morale for the revolutionaries.

The Intersection of Walt and Mickey

At 1681 Broadway, the world first met Mickey Mouse. It was during a cross-county train ride in 1928 that 26-year-old cartoonist Walt Disney dreamed up a character named Mickey Mouse. Eventually, there would be two silent films featuring Mickey, but then Disney decided to create one with synchronized sound. He came back to New York to record the sound track to the film, Steamboat Willie, and it premiered right here at the then Colony Theater at Broadway and 53rd Street in Manhattan on November 18, 1928. Because of this event, this is the date considered to be the famous mouse's birthday.

Mickey Mouse

The public response was so overwhelmingly positive that two weeks later, Steamboat Willie was re-released at the world's largest theater, New York's Roxy. In 1932, Walt Disney was given a special Academy Award for creating Mickey Mouse, who today remains one of the world's most popular animated characters. The old theater is gone, replaced by a newer one, the Broadway Theater.

The Grand Radio Hoax

The War of the Worlds┬áradio production still stands out as one of the greatest in history. It happened at 485 Madison Avenue on October 30, 1938 as CBS Radio was broadcasting the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra live from the Meridian Room at the Park Plaza in New York City. Then, there was an interruption—a reporter came on to deliver an important announcement: astronomers had just detected enormous blue flames shooting up from the surface of Mars! The broadcast momentarily returned to music, but was soon interrupted again. A meteor had landed on a farm near Grovers Mill, New Jersey. A reporter supposedly was on the scene, describing the events.

War of the Worlds

The broadcast then changed over to full coverage of this ominous event. Listeners would learn that the meteor was actually a spaceship from which a creature with tentacles had emerged and zapped the witnesses with a deadly laser beam. By the time the night was over, however, most of the audience had learned that the news broadcast was entirely fictitious. It was simply the regular radio show featuring Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre, and that week, in honor of Halloween, they had decided to stage a highly dramatized and updated version of H.G. Wells' story, War of the Worlds. The broadcast reached a huge audience, demonstrating the enormous reach of radio at that time. Approximately six million people heard it, and out of this number it was long thought that almost one million people panicked.

More recent research, however, suggests that the number of people who panicked was probably far lower. In fact, though the popular version holds that the nation was in dire panic from this episode, the idea that the broadcast touched off a huge national scare is that's probably more of a hoax than the broadcast itself, which was never intended to fool anyone. At four separate points during the broadcast, including the beginning, it was clearly stated that what people were hearing was a play. The radio studio is gone today but the original building remains.

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