Friday, October 26, 2012

Arrrrgggghhh me mateys! Thar be a ghost!

Arrrrgggghhh me mateys! Thar be a ghost!

Nowadays, one simply cannot attend a Halloween-themed costume party and not spot at least one pirate, buccaneer, or sailing scalawag. Although Captain Jack Sparrow may have curbed the modern market, there is one other pirate that shall forever remain synonymous with Halloween, especially in New York City.

Captain William Kidd was born in Scotland around 1645, but he sailed across the pond to settle in New York in 1691. Soon after, he married Sarah Oort and eventually fathered two daughters. Some might say that the union portended tragedy from the start as Oort was notoriously fraught with bad lack. Her first two husbands had died tragically (one, ironically, at sea) and Kidd was her third marriage. Nevertheless, they settled in to a posh new home at 119 Pearl Street near the eastern gate to New York’s northern wall, the very same wall that later inspired the name Wall Street.  The Kidd family was immediately accepted into high society, and gained notoriety for their extensive silver collection, well-stocked wine cellar, and the biggest Turkish carpet in the city. He was also a parishioner at Trinity Church and he contributed his services to the building of the original Churchyard by providing the winch that lifted the stones to build the church steeple.

In 1695, Kidd sought out a commission in the British Royal Navy. He failed to gain a command but was granted a privateering license by the Crown. He was given orders to capture pirate ships and any other foreign vessels that got in England’s way. It was agreed that the booty seized was to be split with a large portion going to the government and 60% to his backers.

In 1696, Kidd set sail back to New York City at the helm of his brand new ship, the "Adventure Galley.”  In the 1960’s New York was "the pirate port of choice in the English colonies in North America,” according to historian Richard Zacks. It boasted vast opportunities and a rich harbor. Seduced by illusions of grandeur, Kidd set sail in 1697 as an official privateer and soon gained notoriety and infamy for his increasingly reckless and erratic behavior on his tour of the Red Sea. Kidd then became the stuff of legend when he famously captured and boarded the laden Indian ship, the "Quedah Merchant." He renamed the ship and the "Adventure Prize” and set his course for the Caribbean where he learned that word of his antics had reached England and he was now a wanted man.

Kidd fled back to America and hauled twenty four chests ashore on Gardiner’s Island, located off of eastern Long Island. He carefully inventoried the booty and was granted permission by the island’s feudal lord, John Gardiner, to bury the treasure in a nearby swamp. . Gardiner’s itemized receipt to Kidd, dated July 17, 1699, listed precisely 1,371.625 ounces (85.73 pounds) of gold, silver and precious stones.

After his famous deposit, Kidd was arrested for piracy and murder. Because he was made a scapegoat, Kidd was not permitted to defend himself and was hanged in London on May 23, 1701. After his execution, Kidd's body was covered with tar, bound with chains, and hung over the Thames River in London as a warning to all future pirates. It remained there for years until finally it rotted completely away.

Rumors, legends, myths and tales began to sweep both sides of the Atlantic Ocean that Kidd buried a fabulous horde of treasure before facing trial. Perhaps word also traveled to the great beyond, as a ghostly apparition bearing an uncanny resemblance to the dead Captain began showing up in Lower Manhattan. Sightings have been reported in three different Downtown locations – at Trinity Church which he directly helped to build, near his old homestead at Hanover Square, and in Battery Park. Kidd remains one angry ghost to this day. Many say he still roams the city streets in his eternal quest for revenge for the betrayal of his crew and friends in the English and colonial governments.

To learn more about Captain Kidd and other Downtown Ghosts, please check out our spooky Halloween-themed walking tour brought to you exclusively by Wall Street Walks.

Monday, October 15, 2012

American Playwright Eugene O'Neill

In a city known for it’s talented musicians, authors and artists, few have had the success that NYC-born Eugene O’Neill had. This American playwright completed over 35 plays and won four Pulitzer Prizes during his 30-year career.

Not the greatest family guy – he disowned two out of his three children: his daughter Oona for marrying Charlie Chaplin and his son Shane for his addiction to heroin – O’Neill was a brilliant writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936, “for the power, honesty and deep-felt emotions of his dramatic works, which embody an original concept of tragedy.”

Sadly, by the end of his career O’Neill developed a Parkinson’s-like tremor in his hands that kept him from writing for the last ten years of his life. Born in the Barrett Hotel in Longacre Square in Manhattan (now Times Square) on October 16, 1888, Eugene O’Neill died in Boston’s Sheraton Hotel on November 27, 1953, after uttering his last words, “I knew it. I knew it. Born in a hotel room and died in a hotel room.”

Friday, October 12, 2012

Haunted New York City

As any good child of the 80’s can tell you, NYC has been long-synonymous with ghostly visitors from the Underworld and beyond. Whether you are making the pilgrimage to the Ghostbusters’ firehouse headquarters (Hook and Ladder 8 - 14 North Moore Street, Manhattan) or exploring the real-life spiritual haunt of the Morris-Jumel Mansion (65 Jumel Terrace, New York, NY), this city abounds in specter spotting potential.  

New York boasts many tranquil green spaces in which natives and visitors alike relax and de-stress. However, perhaps they would not breathe so easily if they knew these parks are also hotbeds for paranormal activity. Many of these are actually former cemeteries, complete with those originally entombed. Washington Square Park, for example, is a former place of burial for the poor, and many claim it is ghost central for New York City. Another example, Greenwood Cemetery, was designed to serve as a park for the living. It is certainly not an abnormal sight to see those of flesh and blood strolling among the gravestones.

Other potential ghost sighting venues include those places where natural (or unnatural) deaths occurred but the deceased were never properly buried. Some professional ghost hunters claim that the only way these sites can be properly ridden of disgruntled souls, is by vastly altering the scene or solving the crime in question. For instance, once McGurk’s Suicide Hall at 295 Bowery was torn down, the ghosts stopped haunting there.

Alcohol has been attributed to many, many deaths in this modern age and the same rings just as true for the past. Thus, any place where those of today or yesteryear imbibed or enjoyed, could be a potential haunt. Bars, inns, taverns, and other drinking establishments all have their fair share of ghost stories – just ask any employee of the Fraunces Tavern (54 Pearl Street, Downtown Manhattan).

Places of travel are also notorious for their ghostly apparitions. Grand Central Station certainly has its share of ghosts. Some even claim that locomotion attracts ghosts. In recent times, people have reported giving rides to passengers who have disappeared into thin air. Other such attractors allegedly include staircases and elevators.

As fall turns the air crisp and Halloween approaches, peoples’ minds are once again drawn to ghosts, goblins, ghouls, and all manner of things that go bump in the night. If you too are eager to prove you “ain’t afraid of no ghosts,” drop into one of these famous haunts to try to bust some for yourself. Or even better yet - explore New York City’s most haunted neighborhood with your very own guide to the Underworld of the Financial District, courtesy of Wall Street Walks!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Columbus Day - Downtown

While the throngs gathered uptown to watch the Columbus Day Parade, the Wall Street area was abuzz with its own hustle and bustle. In addition to those who joined us for another fabulous Wall Street Walks tour, people were up and about enjoying activities ranging from a vocal performance at Saint Paul's Chapel to a Street Fair down Broadway. Here are some of the day's highlights:

NYC-themed bags at a vendor booth - The Columbus Day Street Fair
The crowd enjoying a crisp October morning

A vocal rehearsal at Saint Paul's Chapel.

We hope that you enjoyed your long weekend as well (where ever you are) and if fate, luck, or choice brings you to NYC in the near future, we sincerely hope that you spend some time with us at Wall Street Walks as we continue to celebrate the cultural and historical richness that defines the FiDi.
We hope you book a tour with us or visit our website today!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Happy Birthday, NBC!

You’d know that notorious peacock anywhere – it’s the NBC logo and it’s served as the network’s mascot since television went color back in December 1953. A top broadcast station from the days of radio, NBC was formed by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) 86 years ago on October 9, 1926.

From kids’ programming like Howdy Doody and teen classics like Saved by the Bell, to “must-watch” shows like Seinfeld and Friends, to news programs, late night talk shows and daytime soaps – NBC has served as a constant fixture in our culture for nearly 9 decades.

Now known as NBCUniversal, the company is one of the world’s leading media and entertainment firms in a variety of industries including broadcast, cable, digital and film, as well as owning several theme parks and resorts.

According to their website, the NBC Television Network’s signal currently reaches an estimated 99% of all homes in the US with television sets.

Happy birthday, NBC. You’re making quite the impact.

Monday, October 1, 2012

In Memory of Steve Jobs

One year ago this week, our world lost one of the most brilliant and innovative minds of modern times. Steve Jobs (Feb. 24, 1955-Oct. 5, 2011) left behind a legacy of technology and marketing prowess that is unparalleled, and just might be for quite a while.

No matter if you’re a PC or a Mac, Steve Jobs’ effect has surely touched your life, whether it’s the iPhone in your pocket, the iTunes on your desktop or the DVD copy of “Toy Story” on your shelf. From his early days in a garage with Steve Wozniak to his resignation as Apple’s CEO on August 24, 2011, Jobs was a visionary whose products literally changed the world.

Not only did he help us get rid of floppy discs, Steve revolutionized computer design (remember how ugly they used to be?), and he was responsible for creating a device so universally popular that most people refer to any Mp3 player, no matter the brand, as an iPod.

Thanks, Steve. Your passion and perseverance continue to be an inspiration to us all.