The infinite city, cont’d: New York in 1905

I can’t get enough of these silent videos: like touching New York’s ghostly past. Here’s a school field trip to Coney Island in 1905:

Love the blooming of parasols at 1:00, the mix of horse-drawn and motorized carriages, the women all leaping down to the sidewalk (what happened to the stepladder?), the camel (!), and the amazing — and amazingly unsafe — rides. Needless to say, Coney Island is utterly different today.

(Update: Thomas Edison’s name at the beginning should have clued me in, but this short was produced for his film studio — the Edison Manufacturing Company — and shot by Edwin S. Porter, who directed the 1903 milestone The Great Train Robbery. Neat!)

Here’s another — a panoramic view of Midtown Manhattan in 1905, from above (the recently renamed) Times Square:

At 0:39 you can see Bryant Park and the rising structure of the still-unfinished main branch of the New York Public Library, on the site of the old Croton Reservoir. At 1:04 is the legendary Hippodrome Theatre, which just opened that year but is now long-gone; during its heyday it was the site of various astonishments, including the disappearing-elephant act of Harry Houdini.

Scratch the surface of the city and you get these phantoms: the cobblestones under the concrete, the flickering images of residents past, the old buildings still whispering their stories. The metropolis endlessly transforms itself not just in space but in time, and I find it fascinating to unearth these older versions of New York, the substrata of history that’s still there for anyone who wants to see.

More videos here and here.


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