Oldest footage of New York

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New York’s Herald Square on May 11, 1896. (Library of Congress/Yestervid)

This fascinating video, “Oldest footage of New York City ever,” filmed between 1896 and 1905, has been seen on this blog before. I post it again because, first, it is so amazing, and second, it has a new feature my first post of this lacked: a strip with maps of where the scene being shown was shot and in what direction the camera was pointing.

The scenes are spliced so as to lead the viewer backward in time. What the producers think most people will be most interested in seeing comes last. I would have flipped the sequencing so that some sense of moving forward in time is retained. But there is so much going on in the streets and sidewalks that the order doesn’t really matter. There is a host of personal incidents that take place which many will want to view again and again. For those familiar with the city today, you can pause and use the maps and arrows to orient in your mind the view back then as it looks today.

Look for these highlights: a copper in one of those bulbous helmets twirling his nightstick as he walks his Lower East Side beat; a man strolling by the Flatiron Building whose hat flies off in the wind; a boat sailing by, in 1903, the approximate site of the WTC, with the Twin Towers etched in (this is where I figured the video would end); horse-drawn carriages driving down Broadway in 1902, already lined with tall buildings; a woman walking along West 23rd near Fifth Avenue with her beau when a whoosh of air from a subway grate lifts her dress – her smile, priceless – the cameraman obviously set up to catch this, half a century before Monroe; a time-lapse demo of the Star Theater; Buffalo Bill on parade down Fifth Avenue; a skating pratfall in Central Park; in 1899, a fist- fight in Madison Square, perhaps between newsboys; the oldest footage of a busy Herald Square intersection; and of course so many old buildings, some identified on the clips, that survive 112 to 121 years after being filmed.

(The video was produced by Yestervid in 2014 with Library of Congress clips.)

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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3 Responses to Oldest footage of New York

  1. barry says:

    As an ex-New Yorker I found this most interesting, but, spent a lot of extra time looking at related you-Tube suggestions, most notably “New York then and now” contrasting the many before-and-after locations about 100 years apart. Some not so different now, some will make us regret that which has been lost, but few will make us think its more beautiful now


    • That video was riveting, even though it was matched pairs of still photos rather than matched pairs of film/video. I may run it as my post tomorrow. Thanks for heads-upping me on it, Barry.


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