Follow Friday: Forgotten New York

While I’m not so crazy about its historical interpretations, I love the ending of Martin Scorsese’s epic Gangs of New York, in which two young survivors of 19th-century gang wars and riots stand in a Brooklyn cemetery overlooking lower Manhattan. The narrator muses that as New York rebuilds, he and his friends and their world will be lost in the process, “like no one even knew we was ever here.” Then a montage sweeps by with bridges arching and skyscrapers climbing skyward, as the cemetery fades into oblivion.

Kevin Walsh also feels this pain, and Forgotten New York is a welcome antidote. Walsh is a master at sleuthing out remnants of New York’s past that have miraculously escaped gentrification and modernization. Recently the site spotlighted a gorgeous bishop’s crook lamppost. Now, New York City has been installing bishop’s crook restorations since the 1980s, but this here’s the real deal: an original and functioning post that’s maybe 115 years old. “Catch this crook before the DOT does,” as Walsh says. There are other vintage remnants like bumpy cobbled streets, exposed trolley tracks — and one of my favorites, the fading but still legible ads painted on the sides of many a brick building, hawking products that vanished decades ago.

For the family historian interested in pinpointing street locations, Forgotten New York’s street necrology is well worth a visit. Using his collection of old New York City street guides and maps, Walsh documents streets that have disappeared (or in some cases, still exist as odd little dead-ends or alleyways).

It’s like a virtual walking tour of vintage New York, and if you can’t make it to NYC to catch one of Walsh’s tours in person, you can’t beat a visit to Forgotten New York.

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