Category Archives: History

The True Philadelphia

For many, the name “Philadelphia” brings to mind gooey cheesesteaks, devout sports fans, and a sweaty Sylvester Stallone running up a flight of steps. But the truth is, the city’s name should have endless associations. It has all the features and offerings of any great city, not to mention a potential argument that it should be as synonymous with America as Washington D.C itself.

Having served as the former U.S. Capital from 1790-1800, the city is rich with American history. In past centuries, “Philly” institutions saw some of the earliest American trials and Congressional meetings. A city of innovators, it was also home to the nation’s first bank, zoo, and public library.  Inhabitants often greatly impacted the rest of the country, including the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross. Mr. Franklin was an innovator in every field he entered, and Ms. Ross is credited with creating the first American Flag, versions of which are still flown all over the country today.

In present day, centuries-old buildings still stand. Philadelphia City Hall, once the tallest building in the world, has existed since 1901. Independence Hall, completed in 1753, is still visited by thousands. Philadelphia is also boasts one of the most recognizable icons of American history. The legend of the Liberty Bell tells of its fateful cracking the first time it rang back in 1751, and two million people flock to see it each year. Situated on the Delaware river, the Philadelphia skyline is also full of more modern, eye-catching architectural achievements. One Liberty Place with its tall spire and the glossy Comcast Center are two of the most prominent skyscrapers.

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Like other East Coast cities, Philadelphia is a culturally diverse one, and this diversity extends into its museums and attractions. The African American Museum in Philadelphia can be found here, along with the National Museum of American Jewish History and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Major art museums include the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Rodin Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, site of the most famous steps in film since the Battleship Potemkin. For the sciences, the interactive Franklin Institute is one of the most fun, family-friendly places in the city. Guests are able to enter and explore a giant replica of the human heart, or be turned upside down during a flight simulation ride.

Fans of the city’s athletics possess a voracious loyalty towards their franchises. Each Big Four sport is represented by the Phillies of the MLB, the Eagles of the NFL, the 76ers of the NBA, and the Flyers of the NHL, whose brash style garnered them the nickname “the Broad Street Bullies.” Despite any reputations, though, the most popular nickname to date is the “City of Brotherly Love.” And being full of history, culture, and the arts, Philadelphia’s significance and appeal make it well worthy of a visit.

-Amy Eiferman


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The Magic of Broadway

By Jack Stanley
Tour Guide at Uncle Sam’s New York Tours

Did you ever wonder how it all got there?  How Broadway became Broadway? So often we hear all kinds of tales of this and that about Broadway, but what about the Broadway of the past? There are many stories and we will just touch of a few of them here.

You have to remember that where Broadway was years ago was in pretty close range to what was called the Tenderloin District. If you have never heard of it, it is long gone. But this was where you went in 1890 to do what polite society cared not to know. It was an area of drugs, prostitution, gambling, liquor and white slavery. It was the area were vice was the major component.

All of this changed as time when on, and by the end of the 19th century it was starting to move to another location.  In the late 1890’s Oscar Hammerstein the first invested in the area called Long acre Square. He built a few theaters, and later an opera house.

By 1914 the place was home to nearly 30 theaters, opera houses, and of course the New York Times. In fact by 1905 the area would be called Times Square in honor of that company.

This was the place people like George M Cohan, Enrico Caruso, David Balasco, Al Jolson, Maude Adams, The Barrymores, and the first lady of theater Helen Hayes called home.

Today Broadway is alive with not only new and exciting shows, but rings true to it’s historic past. Everywhere you can find it, but it is often not too easy to see. That is why guided tours are so useful.

Guided tours are like a road map for history. It tells you where to look and what to know. So you don’t get lost in it all.

How do you find out information about these wonderful days of the past? There is a place you can count on. One that is taking the city by storm. Uncle Sam’s New York is such a company. The walking tours this company provides are often given by people who not only know the history, but have done theater as well.

That is called having the best of both worlds.

Perhaps one of the greatest entertainers on Broadway was Al Jolson. His comment was when ever he would come on stage  “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”  Look at Uncles Sam’s New York and take a walk on the great white way, and you will see all you have been missing.

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From Limelight and Tunnel to Marquee and M2: The Ever-Changing Landscape of NYC Clubs

Pictured: The “Club Kids” crowd outside of the original Limelight.

by Sam Nicholson

Today’s New York City mega-clubs such as M2, Marquee, and Pacha usually leave a good impressions on their guests. Out-of-towners, the “bridge-and-tunnel” crowd, and tourists might not be used to the huge crowd and vibrant atmosphere. However, after some time of partying in the city, a person is bound to run into someone nostalgic for the old nightclub scene of the city. These people usually look at the new nightclubs with disappointment and long for the old days of clubs such as Limelight and Tunnel.

From an outsider’s perspective, the clubs of today and the clubs of twenty years ago aren’t so different. Bottle service originated at Tunnel Nightclub ,a large club with several floors once located in Chelsea between 27th and 28th street. The dance floor was noted for having several dancing cages throughout the floor. Tunnel also had a notoriously loud soundsystem, much like M2 nightclub today. Tunnel also had many stars of the hiphop community host parties—much like M2 does on a nearly weekly basis. Tunnel fell to its inevitable demise in 2001; it had been cited for underage drinking, had often dangerous overcrowding, and was a frequent target of police raids. As of May 2010, M2 has been closed due to smoking violations. It is said that history repeats itself, and this is certainly true in the case of NYC nightclubs.

Former clubbers have been especially distraught lately, as the space of the once-popular nightclub Limelight has been turned into a retail space. The mall pays tribute to the club with its name, “The Limelight Marketplace”. It is needless to say that former Limelight lovers were not exactly thrilled with this news. Many questioned if there would ever be any clubs like it in Manhattan ever again. These people aren’t willing to admit that the mega clubs of today and two decades aren’t that different. There are the same loud soundsystems, police raids, and wild fashion.

While the clubbers of yesteryear mourn the diversity of the old clubs, they don’t realize that NYC still has one of the most eccentric nightlife scenes in the world. There are few other American cities where drag queens, star athletes, models, and Wall Street types mix freely. All New Yorkers should for grateful for our diversity and strive to keep the scene alive.

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The Battery: Where Manhattan Begins!

By Jared “the tour guide” Goldstein, exclusively for Uncle Sam’s New York

New York City started on Manhattan Island in today’s Downtown, Lower Manhattan Financial District below Wall Street. It began at the Battery on the bottom of the island.

The “Battery” refers to the fort, Castle Clinton, which protected New York City from the mighty British Navy with its battery of cannons. In the 19th Century, Castle Clinton served as P.T. Barnum’s Castle Clinton Gardens, where Jenny Lind, ‘the Swedish Nightingale,’ entertained thousands for her American debut. It also served as an immigration point of entry for eight million immigrants before Ellis Island opened for immigration in 1892. It later became the New York Aquarium, the largest in the world. After World War II the Aquarium moved to Coney Island and the Fort was restored and reopened as a National Monument.

Alexander Hamilton came to Boston as a 16 year-old immigrant from the Caribbean, but came to this area shortly after.

Experience the Battery on the Alexander Hamilton Financial District Tour.

Click here to reserve your tour now!

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Greenwich Village Through the Centuries

16th Century: The site of Greenwich Village was inhabited by Native Americans during this time. The Village was merely a marshland named Sapokanican, used for camping and fishing.

17th and 18th Century: By the early 1600’s, Dutch settlers had cleared pastures and planted crops in this area, which they called Noortwyck. After the English conquest of New Amsterdam in 1664, the settlement became a country hamlet, first referred to Grin’wich in 1713 Common Council records. Greenwich Village survived the American Revolution as a pastoral suburb and in the 1780s the city bought a parcel of eight acres for use as a potter’s field and public gallows, at what is now Washington Square Park.

19th Century: Outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera caused flocks of people to flee north which contributed to a time of seclusion of the area. From 1820 a more affluent residential development emerged to the east near Broadway and Washington Square Park, at the foot of Fifth Avenue.

Religious denominations commissioned buildings with elaborate decorative schemes, New York University grew on the east side of Washington Square beginning in 1836, and the neighborhood soon became the site of art clubs, , literary salons, fine hotels, and theaters. The character of the neighborhood changed markedly at the close of the century when German, Irish, and Italian immigrants found work in industries in the area.

20th Century: By the start of World War I it was widely known as a bohemian enclave with secluded side streets, low rents, and a tolerance for radicalism and nonconformity. Artists and writers received more attention for their innovative work and decrepit row houses were remodeled into “artistic flats.” The Village had become a center for the “beat movement” by the 1950s, with galleries, coffee houses, and street front theaters. During the 1960s a homosexual community formed around Christopher Street and was the site of the Stonewall Rebellion, regarded as the beginning of the movement for gay and lesbian rights. In the 1940s, urban renewal efforts on Washington Square South had altered the physical character of the neighborhood by demolishing many 19th century structures, but local resentment inspired a preservation movement.

Recent Years: The extension of the Greenwich Village Historic District and the creation of the Weehawken Street Historic District in 2006 were the results of the goal to preserve the waterfront. These recent landmarking victories were successful because of the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation. The Society continues to work in close connection with the community to uphold the goals and protect the undesignated neighborhoods. Tourists and locals flock to the Village to live the history of the neighborhood and enjoy the artsy feel. Coffee shops, restaurants, and bars are always packed in this area mostly by a younger, hip crowd.

For more information, check out The Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation.

Now YOU can experience what Greenwich Village is all about by taking the Edgar Allen Poe Greenwich Village Tour.

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The Hotel Knickerbocker on Broadway and 42nd Street.

By Jack Stanley

The Knickerbocker Hotel was built by the legendary millionaire John Jacob Astor the forth (1864-1912) in 1904. It was one of his many hotels in New York City. He built many and would have kept building, but he was on the Titanic and was not one of the survivors.
This was built in the heart of the theater district and home to many great singers and performers. This place was home to the great George M. Cohan (1878-1942) of Broadway fame.
It was also the home to the immortal operatic tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921). Another of the greats who lived there was the theatrical producer Charles Frohman (1860-1915). Sadly he would be lost in the Lusitania.
It was a hangout for many in theater. The bar downstairs was famous for not only coming up with the martini cocktail, but for having some of the finest foods ever.

The great operatic Contralto Ernestine Schumann Heink (1861-1936) She was 350 pounds of contralto and often ate her meals in the Knickerbocker. There is a great story about Caruso walking into the restaurant of the Knickerbocker and seeing Heink with a massive steak before her. He yelled “Madamme Heink are you going to eat that steak all alone?” She responded in her German-English, “No, mit potatos!”

Caruso ate most of his meals at the Knickerbocker till he and Cohan were moved out when the building was sold. It was made into an office building and all of its hotel items were moved elsewhere. One of the most famous pieces was moved to another hotel in NYC. But that will be another story.
Caruso sang from his suite in the Knickerbocker to everyone on Broadway to celebrate the end of WWI. I got to meet two people who saw that event. Helen Hayes who was there said it was the highlight of her life. It must have been something!

Today the Knickerbocker building is condos and stores. It has recently been sold, so perhaps by 2020 there will be another hotel Knickerbocker. Just like a century ago.

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Neighborhood Focus: Madison Square Park

Madison Square Park has been recognized as a public park since 1847, but has existed as a public space since 1686. The park is named after the fourth President of the United States, James Madison and has hosted historic events and seen plenty changes over the years. Baseball, America’s pastime, is said to have began in this park after Alexander Cartwright formed the first baseball club in 1845. The park has also hosted the first two Madison Square Gardens, the arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty, as well as temporary arches commemorating George Washington’s first integration all at the end of the 19th Century. This was a time where Madison Square was the focal point one of Manhattan’s most elite neighborhoods.

The park was the site of the tallest building in the world in 1909, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Building pictured on the left, and also featured America’s first community Christmas tree in 1912. Despite its huge impact in history, the park was in disrepair in the 1990’s with lack of maintenance and increase in crime. The City Parks Foundation would not let this historic park just deteriorate however, and raised 6 million dollars during a capital restoration project completed in 2001. Now the park is popular as ever with a recently added playground, kept lawns and gardens, and even cultural programs.

To read a more in depth history about Madison Square Park be sure to check out the park’s official site here.

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