Posts filed under ‘People’

Podcast: Professor Lloyd Ultan, Bronx Borough Historian (Part 2)

Professor Lloyd Ultan in Bronx Historical Society library.

Professor Lloyd Ultan in Bronx Historical Society library.

Here, at long last, is the second part of my interview with Bronx Borough Historian Professor Lloyd Ultan.
{The first part is here.}

Or download the podcast as an mp3.

Show Notes

00:00 Intro

01:14 What makes the Bronx unique? Its size / parks / types of homes. The Bronx is large enough to be the 6th largest city in America.

02:41 Bronx population is very diverse.

04:45 “The Bronx has always welcomed the other.”

07:03 European immigrants come to the Bronx from Ireland and Germany.

10:00 Eastern European Jews arrive in the Bronx.
Baron de Hirsch Fund established workshops to teach Jewish immigrants industrial skills necessary for living in an urban environment.

11:34 African-Americans and Puerto Ricans arrive in the Bronx.

11:56 In 1980s to 1990s, the Bronx becomes still more diverse.

12:54 Bohemian Community in the Bronx near Fordham in the 1860s:
John Savage, Irish poet
Robert Barry Coffin, writing as Barry Gray, wrote “Cakes and Ale at Woodbine: from Twelfth Night to New Year’s Day”, “Out of Town: A Rural Episode”.

14:15 Edgar Allan Poe lived in Fordham in 1846.

17:08 Small bohemian community of Broadway actors and actresses lived on Wilton Street near St. Ann’s Avenue, west of St. Mary’s Park.

17:50 East and north of Crotona Park, writers gathered in Crotona Park.
These writers were Eastern European Jews who wrote in Yiddish.

18:43 Literary salon in the home of a Bronx dentist and his wife every Sunday.

19:38 Today, artists in Mott Haven
Jazz musicians live on Manida Street in Hunts Point

Additional Resources for topics discussed in this podcast:
The Bronx County Historical Society
Intersections The Grand Concourse beyond 100
New York Public Library: The Bronx on the Web

Books by Prof. Lloyd Ultan
“The Bronx In The Innocent Years, 1890 – 1925”, with Gary Hermalyn (1991 2nd ed).
“The Beautiful Bronx, 1920-1950” , (1979).
“The Bronx: It was Only Yesterday, 1935 – 1965”,  with Gary Hermalyn (1992).
“Bronx Accent: A Literary And Pictorial History of the Borough”, with Barbara Unger (2000).
“The Northern Borough: A History of the Bronx”,  to be released this year.  It is the first single volume on the history of the Bronx since 1912.

This podcast features Creative Commons music:
One for Me” by SackJo 22
Que Pena” featuring Tamy by s.c.mixer

A Special Thank You for all things IT related to:
Colin Turner, Chief urbologist, urbTek, LLC

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September 21, 2009 at 3:58 am 5 comments

KRAZY! Cosplay

These days, My Favorite 15 Year Old is all about everything Japanese: mochi and daifuku, anime, J-pop delivered by pretty guy-liner eyed boys whose clothing dips deep into cross-dressing. She totes around the yellow and black Japanese for Dummies and by my untrained ear, her accent sounds quite impressive.

Thanks to her, we recently had our first Cosplay experience as part of Japan Society‘s current anime, manga and video games exhibit. I imagine that this is what a Star Trek Convention must be like but with more satin bows. We saw wigs in every hue and height, shiny intergalactic impenetrable fabrics, red contact lenses, seven foot swords, knee socks and samurai, hoop skirts and bustles, even a cascade of LED lights with a battery pack tucked away in a skirt bustle. (Very cool, literally, the tiny lightbulbs weren’t hot at all. I made a note for my next dress up moment.)

I was struck by the number of girls dressed as male characters and by the number of scullery maid get-ups with floppy caps and lacy aprons. “Lolitas” My FF15YO said, adding they’re usually licking giant lollipops or carrying palm sized plushy critters.  “Oh.” I replied.

The party was sold out. Reni, a Cosplay singer, in bunny ears and coquetteish dance moves sang to us in Japanese. I asked around if anyone hailed from the Bronx. Other than us three I didn’t find anyone else.

The costumes were great. The best were the original ones. A few were sewn by the Cosplayer themselves. The mood was upbeat and full of teen (and 20s something) spirit. We had a great time.

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April 21, 2009 at 1:11 pm Leave a comment

How To Get A Street Mime To Break His Frieze or What Cheered Me Up Last Friday

Despite the gorgeous weather in New York City last Friday, I was mildly melancholy until these few things caught my eye, turning my blue skies a bit less blue.

Budding Hyacinth in our building's park. The first spring blooms spotted! Hyacinths of the season in our building’s garden.
So full of hope!
How do they know it’s time? We had warmer days a few weeks ago…

Royal haircut at Parkchester subway station. Royal haircut on the platform of the Parkchester subway station,
just three days fresh.

Copper Suit street mime at Union Square Farmer's Market. The old street-mime-will-move-for-money character posing in Union Square. I never stop for the living statues. But Friday I did. I watched the people watching him, who I dubbed, The Copper Mime. A woman reached behind him, giving his right back pocket a hearty squeeze. Then announced, “He’s a real man!” Her friend called out, “Wear a G-String next time.” The Copper Mime did not break his frieze. The young guys on the right were contorting their faces to get him to do something. Nothing. One guy did a frenetic walking on hot coals in barefeet dance. The Copper Mime shifted his stance and turned away from them, breaking his frieze. They were ecstatic, shouting “We won! We won!” They hadn’t paid him a cent.

A New Leaf, Bronx greenhouse at Union Square Farmer's Market. Always happy to see the plant offerings from New Leaf at Union Square Farmer’s Market. Their Bronx greenhouse, in the Longwood nabe, is huge. They’re always very friendly, if not so specific about some of the plant species. Last summer, I went to the greenhouse for jasmine, but I think I brought home gardenia. New Leaf is part of a community initiative to offer former homeless substance abusers an opportunity to work in a non-traditional environment. Most of the flowers in front of our coop building were bought from them.

Chemistry Lab Safety GogglesThe Bronx Trivia Challenge at FromTheBronx cheered me up. I answered correctly to their question on Day 2! Every morning until Sunday April 5th, they’re posting a trivia question about the Bronx. Here’s the question that’s put me in the running for the prize: Which Bronx school has produced more Nobel Prize-winning scientists (7) than any other secondary education institution in the world? Think you know? Check the answer here.

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March 30, 2009 at 12:45 pm Leave a comment

Four Bronx Women

In recent weeks, I have turned my lens and my ears toward a few Bronx women whose talents and community projects have impressed me.

Emily Rodriguez, Soprano and Bronx student, performs with the Bronx Arts Ensemble String Quartet.

Emily Rodriguez, Soprano and Bronx student, performs with the Bronx Arts Ensemble String Quartet.

Emily Rodriguez
Soprano / Student at Celia Cruz High School of Music

Ms. Rodriguez performed Mozart’s “Alleluia” accompanied by the Bronx Arts Ensemble String Quartet earlier this year.  We went to the Ensemble’s January concert and it was really lovely, held in a private home in Riverdale.  The Bronx Arts Ensemble often features young Bronx musicians in their concerts. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to expose My Favorite 15 Year Old to chamber music.  And it was — she enjoyed hearing and seeing someone close to her own age. Ms. Rodriguez appeared quite at ease singing to a packed room, which included her school’s principal.  Sitting next to us, a young man wearing a badge that read “Press — Celia Cruz High School” commented to his friend, “She gave me goose bumps.”

Last month, I attended the discussion, “Civil Rights in the Bronx: Past and Present”, as part of The Bronx is Building lecture series presented by the Bronx African-American History Project at Fordham University. The panel happened to be an all women line up, with two women from local chapters of the NAACP (which celebrates its 100th Anniversary this year) and South Bronx community activist Majora Carter.  I was especially excited to hear Ms. Carter as I’ve followed her story shortly after she was awarded the “genius” prize — a MacArthur fellowship in 2005, for her work in her Hunts Point community.

Beverly Roberts, Shirley Fearon and Majora Carter, panelists at the lecture "Civil Rights Activism in the Bronx: Past and Present."

Beverly Roberts, Shirley Fearon and Majora Carter, panelists at the lecture "Civil Rights Activism in the Bronx: Past and Present."

Beverly Roberts
President / NAACP, Parkchester Branch

From the time it was built in 1938 until the early 1970s, the Parkchester housing complex had no residents of color.  Ms. Roberts noted that it was the National Urban League who sued the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Parkchester’s owner, for their “whites only” policy.  The NAACP Parkchester branch, established in 1974, provided support to families with integration of schools in the area.  Ms. Roberts said further, “All people of color, newly arrived in the United States, have benefited from the NAACP.”

Shirley Fearon
President / NAACP, Williamsbridge Branch

Ms. Fearon recalled her first act of defending civil rights as a young girl in her Williamsbridge neighborhood. She joined her father and other blacks in the community in picketing the five and dime store on 216th Street.  It was 1959 and no black women were working there. The moderator Professor Mark Naison, noted this with particular interest commenting that demonstrations and picketing by black Bronxites is not readily known.  Today the Williamsbridge chapter brings programs into local schools that teach students about Black History.

Majora Carter
President and CEO / Marjora Carter Group

Ms. Carter started off by commenting on the name of the lecture series, “The Bronx is Building”.  She said, “As someone who lived in the South Bronx when it was burning, I am so happy to see the word ‘building’ in reference to the Bronx.” Ms. Carter has built bold strategies to improve the quality of life in her Hunts Point, South Bronx community, where residents are saddled with high asthma rates and live side by side with the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center which brings semi trucks into the area on a daily basis. In the late 1990’s, Ms. Carter placed herself front and center in opposition of the city’s plan to bring a waste treatment plant into her community’s back yard.  Her efforts have brought “green” jobs into the South Bronx and she secured a $1.25M federal grant to design a South Bronx Greenway along the Bronx River for parks and recreational use.  Ms. Carter, said during the lecture that “Environmental justice is the civil rights of the 20th century.”

If you have not seen it already, Ms. Carter’s talk at the TED conference (Technology , Entertainment, Design) is brilliant.  She is passionate, she is bold and she is honest. And she puts a challenge directly to Vice President Gore that is so daring but necessary.

Onward and Upward!

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March 24, 2009 at 4:54 am Leave a comment

Podcast: Professor Lloyd Ultan, Bronx Borough Historian (Part 1)

Early last summer, two high school seniors told me that Professor Lloyd Ultan made them cry. These were not wimpy looking guys, but they clearly wore their feelings closer to the surface than I would have guessed. They had interviewed Professor Ultan for their film project about the Bronx River. One of guys said, “It’s the way he tells a story.  He makes tears come to your eyes. I was holding the camera and wiping my eyes…He’s the man!”  They both nodded their heads in agreement.

A couple of months later, I literally bumped into Prof. Ultan in the hallway of the Bronx Historical Society and we started talking.  I asked him if he could help me fill in some gaps in my understanding of Bronx history in an interview for my blog. He graciously agreed. I realized the moment he started talking that a written interview would not capture him best. It is certainly true that he is a gifted story teller.  His knowledge of Bronx history seems endless and his eagerness to share what knows is equally tireless. Plus he’s entirely engaging. I would have enjoyed history in school if I’d had him as my history teacher.

I am happy to share with you Part 1 of my interview with Professor Lloyd Ultan, Bronx Borough Historian. I’ve divided the interview into segments. This is the first half hour segment. I will post the remaining interview in half hour segments over the next month.


Click the link below to download the podcast as an mp3.:
Bronx Bohemian Podcast Interview 1, Part 1

Show Notes

00:00 = Bronx Bohemian walking along Bainbridge Ave en route to interview

Professor Lloyd Ultan in the Bronx Historical Society Library.01:59 = Professor Lloyd Ultan at the Bronx Historical Society

02:26 = 209th Street has disappeared

03:06 = Prof. Ultan on how he became the borough historian and what his duties are

04:43 = Prof. Ultan is a Bronxite to his core!

05:56 = The Grand Concourse, inspired by the grand boulevard the Champs-Élysées in Paris, designed by Louis Risse

08:18 = The Grand Concourse was a symbol of success

10:37 = Thomas Jefferson Descendants are Neighbors on the Grand Concourse. NY Times Article: An American Family

11:20 = What is “The Bronx”? A county? What is a borough exactly?

12:03 = Role of the Borough President

13:05 = How the Bronx got its name

17:07 = The court case about the “The” in the Bronx

18:53 = Jonas Bronck: Who was he and why did he come here?

29:51 = Outro

30:25 = End of Part 1


Music: “Que Pena / Tanto Faz featuring Tamy (scmixer regrooved mix)” by s.c.mixer

Tech: Colin Turner, Chief urbologist, urbTek, LLC

Professor Lloyd Ultan with book.  (President Carter's trip to the South Bronx).Books by Professor Lloyd Ultan

“The Bronx In The Innocent Years, 1890 – 1925”, with Gary Hermalyn (1991 2nd ed).
“The Beautiful Bronx, 1920-1950” , (1979).
“The Bronx: It was Only Yesterday, 1935 – 1965”,  with Gary Hermalyn (1992).
“Bronx Accent: A Literary And Pictorial History of the Borough”, with Barbara Unger (2000).
“The Northern Borough: A History of the Bronx”,  to be released this year.  It is the first single volume on the history of the Bronx since 1912.

Additional Resources for topics discussed in this podcast:

Intersections The Grand Concourse beyond 100

New York Public Library: The Bronx on the Web

The Grand Concourse and Boulevard at 100 Walking Tours led by Lloyd Ultan
Part 1 – The Lower Concourse — Saturday, May 9th at 1:00pm
Meeting Place: 161st Street on the steps of The Bronx County Courthouse Building

Part 2 – The Upper Concourse — Saturday, May 30th at 1:00pm
Meeting Place: Loew’s Paradise Theater, 188th Street and the Grand Concourse

Reservations must be made with the Bronx County Historical Society 718.881-8900
$15 for non-members of the historical society, $10 for members

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March 17, 2009 at 11:58 pm 3 comments

Happy 52 Ghana!

Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana.

Fifty two years ago today, The Republic of Ghana, gained its independence from Great Britain, becoming the very first black African nation to do so.

In January, Ghana too held a spirited inauguration celebration for its new leader, President John Atta Mills who squeaked by the ruling party’s candidate with less than 0.5% of the vote. (Who could forget Mr. Atta Mills’ presidential campaign banners bearing the slogan “A Change We Need” and a photo of Mr. Mills paired with Barack Obama.)

The Bronx is home to most of New York City’s Ghanaians. Churches and a thriving business community meet the needs of Ghanaians far from their homeland.

Bronx Beat recently ran an article on the soaring costs of food imports affecting local Ghanaian and West Indian markets and eateries. Costs per plate at some restaurants are increasing as much as 50%.  A wholesale food supplier and a diner at Sankofa Restaurant on Webster Avenue express their concerns in an accompanying slideshow to the article.

As for all out celebrations, The National Council of Ghanaian Associations is hosting Ghana’s 52nd Independence Dance at Armenia Hall in Manhattan on Saturday, March 7. Last year’s anniversary gala was held at the New York Sheraton. Here are photos from the 51st Anniversary celebration.

Batman Samini, hip hop artist from Ghana.

Batman Samini, hip hop artist from Ghana.

Bronx based, Boogie Down Nima Productions will host the Ghana @52 Independence Concert on Saturday, March 14th at HSA Ballroom in Manhattan, featuring the “King of African” dancehall, Batman Samini. With a line up of other West African acts as well.

The BDN Productions site has a lot of info about their work. Turns out their sister org in Ghana, is a non for profit in Ghana creating educational opportunities for young people in the Nima community in Accra using hip hop as a tool. Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi, co-founder of the Boogie Down Nima Productions, is a filmmaker.  His film HomeGrown Life is all about the growing hip hop movement in Ghana.

Ghana @52 Concert flyer, hosted by BDN Productions.

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March 6, 2009 at 5:30 pm Leave a comment

In Case of an Emergency

BxM6 Express Bus on Metropolitan Avenue.

BxM6 Express Bus on Metropolitan Ave.

My Favorite 15 Year Old stepped off the BxM6 Express Bus last Friday afternoon with a garment bag draped over one arm holding a party dress and an ivory trench coat.  Saturday night she was going to a Hollywood glam Sweet 16 party of an old grade school chum she hadn’t seen since “for years”.  I held the umbrella over her head, so that her party hair would keep.

But it wasn’t until a half an hour later, with me standing in the kitchen over a pot of water waiting for it to boil, {of course it was not} that she came to me saying, “Uhh…I think I forgot my wallet on the bus.”

— Anything of value in it? I asked her.
— No, just my student metro card, another regular metro card and twenty bucks.
— No ID? I asked.
— No ID.
She was carrying her school ID separately.

I’ll just narrate over the montage: in the next hour we would make two round trip trips, on foot in the rain, to Hugh Grant Circle up Metropolitan Avenue to the Oval and then back home with the hopes of catching the bus driver making his return trip to Parkchester.
No such luck.
One Manhattan bound driver gave me an apologetic look and the bus schedule, instructing me to call the number on the back for the MTA lost and found.

On the way home we walked in silence, our minds fixed in thought, mine on something warm and drinkable.
My cell phone rang.
Here was my F15YO’s grandmother, reporting that she’d just received a call from a driver of the BxM6 Express Bus and that a wallet had been found with her name to call in case of an emergency. And could we make arrangements with the driver to get the wallet back as he really didn’t want to leave it with the MTA lost and found?

I asked my F15YO what was this emergency card?
She was already laughing and told me how it got in her wallet:
When we went to the Obama Inauguration, we each carried a card with an emergency contact person and the name of the nearest DC Metro subway stop where we’d meet in case we got separated, pulled apart or left behind while taking too many photos (that would almost be me).
Absolutely nothing grave happened to us that day.
It was a glorious day and our Inauguration Emergency Cards were never tried out.
Until now, over a month later, back home in the Bronx.

In the next hour, the Big Guy drove out to Coop City where the MTA driver proffered the wallet before taking the bus back to the depot for the night.

Happy Ending!

Yesterday, I was buying Happy Birthday balloons at the corner 99 cents store.
As the guy tied the ends, I noticed on the the countertop, a heap of keys with several store discount badges on its ring.
— Someone forgot their keys?, I asked.
— Yes! For three days they’ve been there.  I don’t know who to call, there’s no information, no number there.

Ah ha, no emergency contact card, but plenty of opportunities to get a dollar off a half gallon of Häagen-Dazs or 79 cents off the 32 oz Spic N Span.

So I’m sending a Big Bronx Thank You! to the BxM6 passenger who found our F15YO’s wallet and turned it over to the driver, to the MTA driver of the BxM6 with the foresight to not turn over the wallet to the MTA’s Lost and {Never to be} Found, but for making the effort to contact us directly.
And to the guy at the 99 cents store, for his expressed intent to get the keys back to their owner, if only he knew who to contact.

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March 3, 2009 at 10:06 pm 2 comments

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