Milk, Midwives and Medical Quackery: Records of the Commissioners of the New York City Health Department

A team of archivists has begun sorting through 60 years of Department of Health (DOH) records thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. During the next year, they will process 800 Bankers Boxes of historical records from 21 NYC Health Department Commissioners, ranging from Shirley W. Wynne in 1929 to Woodrow Myers in 1991. The final result will be a detailed guide to the collection.

The records document New York City’s long-recognized leadership role in disease prevention, vaccinations, health education, food safety, drug and alcohol addiction treatment, family planning, and health care for infants, school children, and expectant mothers....

Burning Bushwick

In 2010, The New York Times Magazine called Bushwick, Brooklyn “the coolest place on the planet,” four years later Vogue Magazine named it the “7th coolest neighborhood in the world.” Whether or not you agree, there is no denying the transformations the neighborhood has gone through since the 1600s, when the Dutch named it Boswijck, or “heavy woods.” One of the most drastic transformations the neighborhood went through was from the 1960s until the 1990s. Though these changes had been occurring for many years at this point, Bushwick was thrown into the national spotlight on July 13, 1977, the day of the New York City blackout.

This Is No Clam Bake: Mayor La Guardia and the Office of Civilian Defense

On June 2nd, 1943 the Civilian Defense Volunteer Office kicked off a ten-day recruitment drive with a parade and rally at City Hall Park. The CDVO was a new agency created under the auspices of the Office of Civilian Defense to oversee volunteer recruitment and organization in New York City. Both Mayor La Guardia, who also served as the federally appointed director of the Office of Civilian Defense, and Governor Al Smith attended and gave rousing, excoriating speeches on winning the war and defending the home front. “In a spectacular ceremony at City Hall,” the New York Times reported, “the Mayor called both ‘yellow’ and ‘lazy’ every man in the city who ‘has taken advantage of his family to avoid military service and yet refuses to serve in the protective services.’” Ticker tape fell on the parade, which was meant to remind New Yorkers of the threat of bombings. Underlying the atmosphere of celebration ran a current of fear.

Celebrate the anniversary of Women’s Suffrage by expanding access to the ballot in New York State

On November 6, 2017 New Yorkers will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the State’s women winning the right to vote. On November 7, New Yorkers will vote in municipal elections. If prior elections are any guide, the turnout will be low. In 2013, 24% of registered City voters turned out at the polls, down from the 93% of eligible voters who went to the polls in 1953. Many surmise that New Yorkers don’t vote because the cumbersome registration process disenfranchises people, just as sexism disenfranchised women, a century ago.

NEIGHBORHOOD STORIES: A community history pilot project by Sunset Park High School and the NYC Municipal Archives

In the spring of 2017, NYC Municipal Archives staff gave a community history presentation to 11th grade students at the Sunset Park High School (SPHS). Using archival photos and documents from the agency's collection, the staff engaged students about local Sunset Park history, infrastructure, and community change.

In a civic effort to document change in Sunset Park and understand how the neighborhood has evolved, the students then set out to interview a local business owner. With help from their teacher, Sarah Crichton, the students planned questions and prepared for the interviews.

Haunted Buildings of New York

When people say that New York is the city that never sleeps they typically are talking about the 24 hour subway, diners, shows and concerts. But in a city that was established in 1624 as a Dutch colony, there have been other whispered stories about why New Yorkers never close their eyes: the paranormal. New Yorkers takeghost sightings so seriously that in 1991 the New York courts ruled in the Stambovsky v. Ackley case thathomeowners who withhold information on a haunted house can nullify the sale of the home with the buyer having no repercussions. From historic homes to popular bars and restaurants, no building can presume to be free of a paranormal past but below are the most notable in New York City today. 


Welcome back to the Urban Heartland. As I was thinking about what my last official post would be, the thought that stuck was examining some of the buildings that I’ve looked at over the years. Throughout this region, there are buildings that have a sense of having history, or are examples of the striking changes communities go through. I wanted to make sure that I selected locations that were in areas I hadn’t covered in previous posts.

New York City and the Attica State Prison Riot

The Attica State Prison uprising in September, 1971 that resulted in 43 deaths had a profound effect on the Prisoner’s Rights movement. Some prisoner’s rights activists argue that Attica resulted from prison conditions and abuses routine in American prisons.  On the other hand, administrators blamed the incident on a lack of oversight and security measures. Another important factor was the rural location of a prison housing predominantly black and brown prisoners, guarded by white officers.  Regardless of the contrary views, the loss of lives at Attica and destruction of property had a profound effect on the nation, and on New York City, the home of 20 deceased inmates.

Living in the City: An Inside Look at Four Decades of Changing Housing in New York City

For the third year, the New York City Municipal Archives is participating in Photoville NYC. Photoville is a pop-up exhibit lasting 2 weeks, directly under the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn. Each participant gets a shipping container to turn into a temporary gallery and we have found it a great way to engage with the public and reach new audiences. This year's exhibit is drawn from the Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) photo collection recently processed and digitized through two New York State grants.

A Look into the Life and Death of the Opulent Loews Theaters in New York City

Modern movie theaters are so pedestrian you might not be aware of their more fantastic history. Many of the most spectacular of these “movie palaces” were built by New York City businessman Marcus Loew. From the early 1900s through the 1930s he financed and constructed several architecturally interesting and historically important movie theaters throughout the five boroughs.

Stumbled Upon in the Archives: The Great Tulip Tree

For almost three centuries “the great tulip tree” stood on a knoll on the east side of Inwood Hill and west shore of Spuyten Duyvil Creek. The park itself was purchased from private owners in 1916, but concern over the tree’s declining health led the Parks Department to intervene before then.  In 1912, Parks Commissioner Charles Stover secured private donations to have the Forestry Bureau perform surgery on the then-estimated 225 year old tree. Dead wood was cut out of the tree, cavities were filled “with cement according to modern methods of tree surgery,” and an iron fence was erected under the perimeter. These activities, as reported in the 18th Annual Report of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society (1913), were performed “in the hope that this ancient tree may stand for centuries to come.”

Dispatches from the Urban Heartland, Part 5: Vibing in the Urban Heartland with Ms. Clara & Ms. Catherine

Ms. Clara said Bed-Stuy “was not a restaurant neighborhood” throughout their lives. They occasionally went to places like Junior's or got take out at Royal Rib House, though mostly preferred to eat at home. My home is around the corner from their store, so I know the area very well. However, since I didn’t grow up here, the faint childhood stories from my family who lived here for generations aren’t equivalent to the lived experiences of a person who is 89 years old, as Ms. Clara proudly proclaims herself to be. Ms. Catherine mentioned going to Peaches, but “only for a meeting.” They are of a generation where eating home was seen as something more than a chore. Both recoiled at the idea of eating out all the time, or even often. That is completely understandable.

Childrens' Books

The New York City Municipal Archives preserves more than 225,000 cubic feet of original records, mostly paper. Some is bound into books. I thought I knew a lot about books, especially books about children’s experiences, having worked in children’s publishing for many years. Recent visits to the Archive led me to three books about children unlike anything I’ve ever seen...