Thursday, May 11, 2017

297. New York: Names for a Big and Sinful City

For six LibraryThing prepublication reviews of Bill Hope: 

His Story by viennamax, stephvin, Cricket2014, Shoosty, 
terry19802, and graham072442, go here and scroll down.

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Pearls of wisdom from that great American thinker, Yogi Berra:

You can observe a lot by just watching.    
No one goes there nowadays, it's too crowded.
A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore.
Ninety percent of the game is half mental.
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         What’s in a name?  New York has many names, as for instance:

·      The Big Apple
·      Gotham
·      Metropolis
·      The City That Never Sleeps
·      The Empire City
·      Gomorrah
·      Sodom

·      Babylon on the Hudson

But where did these monikers come from?

         The Big Apple.  There are lots of suggestions.  Was the city once full of apple orchards?  Was there once a madam of a brothel named Eve?  (If so,  where was Adam?)  And so on.  It seems that back in the 1920s John Joseph Fitz Gerald, a racing writer for the New York Morning Telegraph, heard some stable hands in New Orleans refer to New York as “the big apple that all horsemen aspire to race at.”  He used the name in his column, and other writers adopted it.  Widespread use came in 1971 as part of an official tourist campaign, and it has been used ever since.  In my favorite little riverside park near the Hudson there is a bronze sculpture by Stephen Weiss of an apple with a hole in it that people like to crawl through – one of many renderings of the name.  (Yes, I mentioned it in the previous post.)

         Gotham.  Washington Irving used the name in an 1807 issue of his literary magazine Salmagundi, while mentioning the legends of an English village named Gotham in Nottinghamshire.  In the 1940s it appeared as the name of the city where Batman and Robin darted over rooftops in pursuit of evildoers, a sexy comics twosome if ever there was one.

File:Cows on Gotham Hill - - 1305625.jpg
Gotham, Nottinghamshire.  Not quite the Gotham we're familiar with.
Andy Jamieson

         Metropolis.  Not widely used like the others, but the name of the city where Superman did his stuff.  Comic magazines of the 1940s seemed to think New York needed superhuman help.

File:Action comics 1 cgc 9-point-0 vincent zurzolo (cropped).jpg
One way to clear the streets.
Gary Dunai

         The City That Never Sleeps.  First used in a 1912 article by the Fort Wayne News.  Popularized by the song “New York, New York” in the 1977 film of the same name.  Yes, in this city something is always happening somewhere even in the depths of night.  When I returned from a Maine vacation on an all-night Greyhound bus ride, the moment we reached Harlem and the West Side of Manhattan in the early hours of Sunday, you could see people on the streets, and stores with their lights ablaze, proof that a lot of New Yorkers are night owls.


         The Empire City.  If New York is the Empire State, why not?  And would the state have that name, if the city wasn’t a part of it?  I doubt it.  Yes, New York merits being called the Empire City.  George Washington allegedly said, “Surely this is the seat of the empire,” and the name appeared in a newspaper in 1836.

If this isn't an empire city, what is?
Bernt Untiedt

         Gomorrah.  One of several Biblical names used to designate the sinful city.  Popularized by Reverend Thomas De Witt Talmadge in 1875 at the Brooklyn Tabernacle, a nondenominational church in Brooklyn.

         Sodom.  The inevitable companion to Gomorrah, though I can’t document it.  I’m sure that it was used by ministers from the provinces in the late nineteenth century, when they came here to witness in person the sins and vices of the big city, so they could go back home and regale their pious congregations with vivid descriptions of same.  (There is, by the way, a town named Sodom in Putnam County, New York, but that’s another matter.)

File:013.Lot Flees as Sodom and Gomorrah Burn.jpg
Lot flees as Sodom and Gomorrah burn.  Many a minister has wished
the same on New York.  Gustave Doré, 1875.

         Babylon on the Hudson.  Perhaps an invention of mine, since I have used it in my historical fiction, but again, surely it was used by those visiting ministers eager to witness and chronicle the city’s dissolution.  New York could of course be likened to the Whore of Babylon in the book of Revelations.  And if you Google the name, you’ll find references to a You Tube video suggesting that New York may quite literally be the wicked Babylon that God had in mind when speaking of the end times.  And Amazon offers for sale a 1932 book entitled Babylon on Hudson by Anonymous, hardcover, for a mere $39.99, which is a sly way of saying forty bucks.

File:Henry John Stock - The Whore of Babylon.jpg
The Whore of Babylon, as rendered by
the English artist Henry John Stock, 1902.
Ah, those late Victorians.

         To which I might add:  The Locomotive Pulling the Rest of the Nation into the World of Tomorrow.  This and similar phrases were uttered by urban boosters in the late nineteenth century, when New York was leading the way in finance, fashion, lighting, transportation, and the telephone. 

         If I don’t add “Sin City” to the above, it’s because that is the name of  strip club in the Bronx where, the Internet assures me, “anything goes,” as for instance drugs, noise, and public drinking and urination.  Online reviews range from “awesome” and “warm and welcoming” to “creepy” and “going to hell,” with the warning to watch your wallet, and an assertion that the girls “smell like a can of tuna left open for days.”  Is this New York City writ small?  No, that would be grossly unfair to the city.  I’m sure that most of our strippers don’t smell like aged tuna.

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BROWDERBOOKS:  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World, my selection of posts from this blog, has received these awards: the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016.  For the Reader Views review by Sheri Hoyte, go here.  As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), the first novel in the Metropolis series,  tells the story of a young male prostitute in the late 1860s in New York who falls in love with his most difficult client   It is likewise available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Coming soon:  Maybe the Chelsea Hotel, a mecca of free spirits, junkies, and deadbeats, where you might come back and find a naked model posing for film crews in front of the door to your room.

©    2017   Clifford Browder