Long Island Groundhog Sees Shadow, Staten Island Groundhog Does Not

Insofar as me and my shadow are concerned, we’re not on speaking terms these days.

CBS New York

MALVERNE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Groundhogs in the Tri-State Area Saturday did not agree on whether there would be six more weeks of winter.

As 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria reported and WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported, groundhog Staten Island Chuck had good news Saturday for those who are weary of winter, but groundhog Malverne Mel on Long Island said the area might as well get used to more wintry weather to come.

url=”http://cbsnewyork.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/groundhog_day_2.mp3″ size=”340px”
download=”false” name=”Staten Island Groundhog Predicts Early Spring” artist=”1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria Reports”]

It was about 19 degrees on Staten Island Saturday morning, when Chuck made the prediction. He did not see his shadow, and lore has it that that means an early spring.

Jordan Hafizi, 13, thought it was great news.

“Chuck is great. He made a spring prediction. After the Superstorm Sandy, it’s great. It was fantastic,” Jordan said. “He didn’t bite (City Council Speaker)…

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Circling Over the V-N


A mother falcon circles around the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, while her chicks are nesting 693-feet atop the Brooklyn tower. Fort Hamilton in Bay Ridge is seen in the background.

Of course, this majestic madam needn’t concern herself with the MTA‘s latest toll hike: $15 (yes, fifteen bucks) to cross this span, making it (I believe) the most expensive bridge toll in the world. When the V-N opened in 1964 (I remember it well) the toll was 50 cents…and was supposed to be “temporary.”

(photo: MTA…yeah, thanks for the snapshot; without disparagement towards the falcon, it’s a reminder of your high-flying rapaciousness.)

Not Ready For My Closeup, Max


Two months after Hurricane Sandy, Google Street View is not going down so well in hard hit areas…particularly in Staten Island.  Residents there are furious over the “establishing shots” that Big G’s film crew is taking of their obviously devastated neighborhoods. While some claim that such mapping will draw attention to this extensive and lingering devastation, most disagree; in the course of its photographic cruising, the colorfully painted Street View car usually zooms in on bleak and annoyed faces amid the ruins.

Google’s Street View car was first reported by the New York Post as it made its way past a number of homes that were totaled by the storm. Some local residents told the Post they worried that the photos of the damage could decrease property values in the area, while others said the move was insensitive.

A statement from New York City’s mayoral spokesperson indicated that city officials had collaborated with Google to document the devastation as a means to fundraiser. NY Mag

A month ago, I drove over to Staten Island to satisfy my own bit of morbid curiosity. The damage I saw was truly bad.  Whereas the destruction in some neighborhoods (mainly in the South Beach and Tottenville sections…low-lying areas situated near bodies of water: the Outer Bay and the Arthur Kill respectively) is extreme, other neighborhoods were hardly damaged at all. Additionally, a common sight is often of one house being utterly demolished while a house right next to it is perfectly intact. This is the case throughout NYC wherever Hurricane Sandy did its worse.

Tattoos On The Island

Staten Island may not lay claim to many distinctions but can finally boast of one: Island Tattoo, New York City‘s first tattoo museum. This is certainly a radical move for that ignored borough (suspected of being a covert part of New Jersey), often dismissed as lacking in the finer graces of NYC’s bohemian dwellings, commuter anxieties and hipster frivolity. (The last time I was in Staten Island was when my car broke down while en route home.)

The Gothamist went so far as to allege that Staten Island was on the road to becoming “Williamsburg II,” one of Brooklyn‘s newfound realms, cleverly bustling with herbal tea liberalism. Tattoos are the latest craze sweeping a society endowed with an overabundant luxury for self-expression (no matter how strikingly self-mutilating) and it’s rather odd that Staten Island, by fact and fancy, dangly conservative in its ways should be the first to  accommodate a tattoo museum.

In any event, Island Tattoo is the source and repository for total tattoo creativity. Located at 203 Old Town Road in Grasmere on Staten’s Island’s East Shore, Island Tattoo, as reported last summer in the Staten Island Advance, has drawn Staten Islanders attention to “the world’s most intimate canvass” and has lofty goals to broaden its popularity and appeal.

“The owner, known only as Dozer, has plans to create three tableaux in the 500-square foot space, with automated mannequins depicting tribal, ancient Japanese and World War II-era tattooing methods. Video and sound elements will add explanation and atmosphere to each scene.”

According to my somewhat dependable spies in the field, all has gone as planned for Island Tattoo.

Beyond A Century Of NY Minutes

NYC’s oldest living resident has witnessed much history that has come and gone and faded off into infinity. She is 111 years old and has experienced more than a century’s worth of New York minutes and hours, days and nights, highs and lows, etc.

Jane “Jenny” E. Gilsenan was born on Amsterdam Avenue and 98th Street in Manhattan on May 8, 1898; the very year that the City of New York was established with the consolidation of its five boroughs.

The solemn, ill-fated William McKinley was then President of the United States, no one ever expecting that the supercharged Theodore Roosevelt was destined to succeed him. A New Age in America was, in fact, quickly approaching and Gilsenan would see the 20th century’s entire spectrum of hope and despair, dreams and nightmares, progress and destruction, unfold.

She was the second eldest of six siblings of an Irish-immigrant family; they lived in a two-bedroom Upper West Side apartment rented for $16 a month. While Jane’s father worked for Macy’s, her mother worked as a cook for the New York Herald Tribune (she once cooked a meal for Mark Twain).

Her memories date back to when she was 10.

“I remember learning to skate by holding the railing at St. Michael’s Church [in Manhattan] and skipping rope,” she said.

She’s similarly sharp with details on the following 10 decades. She can recall the belt-tightening during the Great Depression and her brothers serving in World War II.

Gilsenan never married (she claims that she “didn’t meet the right guy”) and remained a lifelong “working woman” well into her 80s as a legal secretary.  Her oldest sister lived to be 102, another died at 98, and her mother lived until she was 99.

Her age-defying genes may have been aided by a few habits. She has a soft spot for cream sherry and has swallowed a pharmacy’s worth of vitamins A and D over the course of her life. She also kept her mind sharp reading murder mysteries by authors Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark.

Now living in a convent on Staten Island, Gilsenan was recently asked about her longevity. She replied, “I can’t say I regret it, but I wouldn’t want to do this again.”

NY Post

(originally published: 02/09/10)

UPDATE: Jane Gilsenan died on March 8, 2010. Rest in Peace, Jane; you’ve earned it.

Beware! NYC Summertime Air

Summertime and the breathing is sleazy.  A new Department of Health report (see PDF) has determined that NYC’s summer air is breathtakingly laced with those finer things in life…such as intoxicating particles of elemental carbon, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide and other airborne goodies. And no matter how the facts, figures, maps and charts are delineated, oriented, calculated, colored, scaled or projected, the results are the same: the air quality in this town undoubtedly sucks from June to September.

“The take-home message here is that the air quality just isn’t great anywhere in New York City. What’s surprising is just how variable the air quality is across the city,” Deputy Health Commissioner Daniel Kass said.

While dangerous levels of particulate matter (dust, pollen, and other materials) were found in the more building-/ people-congested areas of the city like Lower-, Midtown Manhattan and the Bronx, areas in the outer-boroughs (Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island) that flank major highways have even higher levels of such pollution.

Even neighborhoods regarded as “safe havens” amidst the city’s hustling-bustling reality are severely blighted with contaminated air. Ground-level ozone (formed via a reaction of oxygen and pollutants with sunlight) is more pronounced in “downwind” areas of the city like the Rockaways and southern Staten Island.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, in a prepared statement, said the study emphasizes the need to switch to more fuel-efficient cars, reduce overall vehicle traffic and rely more on mass transit. [In other words, the situation is apparently hopeless.]

While all is abuzz in this city with “going green” here, there and everywhere, the more it’s going to pot with this apparently unrelenting smog issue. Perhaps the only thing truly green is the profit margin on pork barrel projects, disguised as “environmentally-friendly,” in this newfangled Gilded Age of ours…that alone would account for the smog as well as for the stink.

New York Post

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Foghorn Leghorning Come Morning

Sleepy Hollow Road hasn’t been very conducive to sleep over the past few months. That restful-sounding street in the New Springville section of Staten Island has experienced a rude awakening ever since a family of a dozen chickens and two roosters moved in. Every morning at about 4 a.m. these new kids on the block like to greet the day with a feathery polyphony of “cockadoodles” and “cockadees” and various other a cappella favorites.

Naturally, the then sound asleep-now suddenly awake residents of Sleepy Hollow Road are extremely incensed when these early morning performances are unleashed on them.  And while some find the birds delightful or at least tolerate them, others are growing quite angry.

One neighbor became so enraged that he chased one of the roosters down the road with a broom in an attempt to squelch the bird’s flourishing singing career once and for all. Officers from the ASPCA responded, examined the rooster, and found him to be unharmed…bringing various sighs of relief and/or disappointment. Nevertheless, I’m certain that one or two sleep-deprived residents are assuming a “lock and load” state of mind.

The birds apparently don’t belong to anyone and it’s uncertain how they arrived there. Some theorize that they might have been originally unwanted chicks (perhaps Easter gifts) that were abandoned at the nearby Native Plant Center in the Greenbelt. From there they escaped and wandered over to the shrubbery along Sleepy Hollow Road and made it their home.

(originally posted: 08/08/10)

{read more} Staten Island Advance

UPDATE (06/10/12)

It’s been nearly two years and there’s no word on what became of these fowl-wandering intruders. Whether they found their way to a safe sanctuary or into someone’s oven at medium heat is anyone’s guess. However, I suspect that they gradually became part of the neighborhood; the residents on Sleepy Hollow Road, as in other NYC neighborhoods, simply if grudgingly resigning themselves to a new flock of next door neighbors.

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Thomas Downing: The Remarkable Oysterman

The Downing Oyster House, which stood at 5 Broad Street in Lower Manhattan, was famous for its oyster dishes in a time when New York City was renowned for its oyster industry. It was observed that about $6 million worth were being sold annually to the city’s numerous restaurants, fish stores and street vendors, shipped from Staten Island and from additional points along the eastern seaboard. In fact, oysters in nineteenth century NYC were as popular as pizza and hot dogs were to be in its twentieth century.

Downing’s was by no means NYC’s only oyster house but it was the city’s most outstanding, for two reasons: it was distinctly luxurious where most other oyster houses were generally mundane or purely sleazy; and, more importantly, for its remarkable proprietor: Thomas Downing, a free black man.

He was born in Virginia in January 1791 to free parents; a revivalist preacher convincing their owner, Captain John Downing, that slavery was antithetical to their mutually held Methodist beliefs. Hence, Captain Downing freed them and erected the Downing Meeting House, appointing Thomas’ parents caretakers. They worked hard, acquired land, and built a “humbled and unpretended” home regularly visited by the county’s fashionable families: “the Wharton family, the West family, the Taylor family, the Custis family, of George Washington connection, the Wise family, and other like notables.”

During the War of 1812, when Downing was about 21, he left home, married and settled down in Philadelphia for 7 years, eventually moving to New York City in 1819. His only marketable skill was acquired through work on his parents’ land in Chincoteague, an island village south of the Maryland-Virginia border, where he procured and prepared varieties of crustaceans…especially oysters, which he personally loved to consume. By 1823 he was listed in the city directory as an “oysterman” and, in 1825, moved his already fledgling oyster business to 5 Broad Street: a “refectory” in its basement where he was “offering the public not only oysters on the half shell, but also ‘big fat oysters, natives,’ roasted ‘on a large gridiron over oak shavings.'”

Downing’s Oyster House stood apart from the rest in that it was “the very model of comfort and prosperity, with its mirrored arcades, damask curtains, fine carpet, and chandelier” and catered to the “aristocracy as well as ladies in the company of their husbands or chaperons.” Businessmen, politicians, and other such men of means and ambitions, made it their favorite “headquarters” where they could meet to discuss their affairs. Many visitors to the city were sure to dine at Downing’s. Charles Dickens, during his first tour of America, was “introduced to 2,500 of New York’s upper crust” at a special “Boz Ball” which Downing catered. Downing even exported his oysters to special customers: Queen Victoria once received a shipment of choice oysters for which she reciprocated by sending Downing a gold chronometer watch.

Current view of where Downing’s Oyster House stood. Downing’s Oyster House was located at 5 Broad Street, but his basements, where fresh oysters were stored and escaping slaves were hidden, included numbers 3, 5, and 7 Broad Street.

“Downing did not limit his offerings, as the Canal Street and Bowery men did, to raw, fried or stewed oysters. His menu was far more elaborate, listing such dishes as scalloped oysters, oyster pie, fish with oyster sauce, and poached turkey stuffed with oysters.” He personally took charge of every facet of his establishment, from the most minute table settings to going out on fishing boats to purchase the very best oyster catches, that his clientele would time and again be satisfied.

It’s little wonder that a man so conscientious towards the affairs of his business would be similarly conscientious towards the inequality that plagued society during the 19th century. Thomas Downing was, after all, a black man and despite the legal basis of his “free” status , would’ve been fully aware of the fact that his freedom was restricted. New York City oyster houses themselves were predominantly run by African-Americans and Downing could either serve a white or black clientele, but not both; his decision to appeal to middle- and upper-class whites ironically bringing him prosperity in the face of segregation.  However, the less fortunate were never out of his thoughts and he always remained concerned for their welfare.

Downing “was liberal with his money. As his son George stated, he gave generously to his church; he “contributed freely to the needy; his beneficence was not restricted by race, nationality or color; he was a member of a number of benevolent institutions….He belonged both to the Odd Fellows, another black fraternal group, and to the New York African Society for Mutual Relief, which had been organized in 1810 to help those ‘incapable of attending to their usual vocation of employment’ because of illness or infirmity and ‘the widows and orphans of deceased members.’ And, like other entrepreneurs who owned high-class catering services and restaurants, he had created many jobs for African-American cooks and waiters”

He was a member of the abolitionist movement and helped to establish the all-black United Anti-Slavery Society of the City of New York. He also began devoting himself to improving education available to black children, serving as a trustee of the New York Society for the Promotion of Education Among Colored Children. Because New York City didn’t have a single high school open to black children, Downing and the other trustees established their own.

Next on Downing’s agenda was election reform. Even though black men formerly voted on the same basis as white men, in 1821 an amendment was placed on the state constitution restricting voting rights. But whereas whites required only a one year’s residence and $40 worth of real property to vote, blacks were required to live in the state for three years, own a $250 “freehold” and have paid taxes as well. Despite numerous petitions presented to the state legislature, reform wouldn’t come until 1870 when  the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ended property qualifications for voting.

When Downing died on April 10, 1866, the Chamber of Commerce closed for the day out of respect for one of New York City’s most beloved and splendid citizens.  “That Thomas Downing, by his long-standing and strict integrity has proved himself worthy of, and receives, the highest respect of every man, colored or white, in this city and throughout the country, whose good fortune it is to know him, is most true,” the Weekly Anglo-African proclaimed in 1859. I agree: this city was fortunate to have had him as one of its citizens.

Acknowledgment: This post is derived/ quoted from an adaption of John H. Hewitt’s Mr. Downing and His Oyster House: The Life and Good Works of an African-American Entrepreneur (New York History, July 1993). It’s a marvelous work and I highly recommend it.