Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Amusing Headline, A Family Legend

Ed. Note: Okay, so this story is a little off geographically, but it's my blog and I wanted to share.

My father came for a visit recently and recounted a family story I had never heard before.  As it was told to him, his grandfather owned a tailor shop on the Lower East Side that made police uniforms.  The family, living above the shop, had a parrot to warn them if someone tried to break in.  One night, the parrot began to squawk, "Gotta gun, gotta gun, call the police, gotta gun," someone called the police, and a burglar was captured.

Well a story like that, I thought, might have made the papers.  Jumping on the computer, I quickly found the link and printed it for my father, who began to giggle.  His amazement and amusement at having this nearly 100-year-old bizarre family legend confirmed in the black-and-white of the New York Times continued for hours.

So here's the real story, from page 5 of the New York Times, February 2, 1920:

Download the PDF here.

The girl in the headline, 16 year old Cecilia Sherman, is my grandfather's sister, or as I knew her, "crazy" Aunt Ceil.  (If you read the article, you can see she really may have been nuts.)  I remember visiting her when I was as a kid at her apartment on the Upper West Side.

Interested in knowing more about this bit of family history, I also focused on this portion of the story:
...started off for the Oak Street station, half a block away...At Pearl Street and the Bowery she caught up with the New Chambers Street she again caught up with him...  
Bromley map c. 1911 that includes all of the mentioned streets.
NYPL Digital Gallery

I'm assuming that the story uses the shorthand "Bowery" for the street that was mapped as "New Bowery".

Bromley map c. 1911 detail showing location of the Oak Street Station at no. 9.
NYPL Digital Gallery

While trying to find some contemporary photos of the neighborhood, I found that many of the referenced streets simply no longer exist, nor do any of the surrounding neighborhoods.  The neighborhoods were razed and some of the streets demapped from the 1940's through the 1960's for a variety of projects, including ramps connecting the FDR Drive to the Brooklyn Bridge, the construction of One Police Plaza, and the opening of the massive Alfred E. Smith Houses in 1953.

  • Oak Street was demapped around 1947
  • New Chambers was demapped between 1947 and 1966
  • New Bowery is the present St. James Place (as of 1947)
  • Pearl Street remains mostly unchanged
Source: Old Streets

A comparison from Google Maps and the c. 1911 Bromley map.

I'm confused by the reference to 5 Chrystie Street as the home of Cecilia Sherman.  My grandfather (Ceil's brother) always said he was born and grew up on Pearl Street.  5 Chrystie Street is nowhere near the other places in the story, so something seems amiss with that address.

This is one I'll continue to research...


EV Grieve said...

Wow... love this family anecdote..

And, technically, wouldn't you say there is a New Bowery today?

Anonymous said...

Great story and fantastic amount of research! Kudos to you! Maybe for Christmas you could print each map and article on nice quality paper and get it bound like a little book and distribute it to members of your family. Oops, did I just blow a gift idea? :-D

pinhead said...

@Anonymous 7:39
Thanks for the comments and the ideas! I actually already sent my father a full-page reprint of the Times article!