West Village Historical Walking Tour

West Village Historical Walking Tour Take a walk at a relaxed pace with licensed NY Tour Guide Michael Hunt as he shares the 400 year history of the culturally rich West Village.
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From the 'half-free' slaves who cleared and settled this area, to the Stonewall Uprising, and the thriving music scene of today, New York City's Greenwich Village has been America's most progressive neighborhood. Come join us on a walk through these haunts and learn of the poets and artists, labor leaders and demonstrators who helped forge our country's arts and outlook. See where the beats and the balladeers brought their vision to the new generations and view the artwork of the Ashcan School and the abstract expressionists created in the shadows of Washington Square. Four hundred years of history await you! Come walk with us.

Operating as usual

Suze Rotolo is the woman on the cover of album, The Free Wheelin' Bob Dylan and was his first real love.  "Right from th...
02/28/2017

Suze Rotolo is the woman on the cover of album, The Free Wheelin' Bob Dylan and was his first real love. "Right from the start I couldn't take my eyes off of her", Dylan wrote. " She was the most erotic thing I'd ever seen..... Cupid's arrow had whistled past my ear before, but this time it hit me in the heart and dragged me overboard."
He was only 20 and she 18, but Suze was already working for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and very active in politics and theatre in the Village. She introduced him to poets like Rimbaud and the plays of Bertolt Brecht on which she was working and their influence can be readily heard in his songs. Bob hadn't written about race or the nuclear bomb before Suze entered his life, but she opened his eyes and ears and he digested it all and wrote songs like The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, A Hard Rains Gonna Fall and Blowin' in the Wind.
Her family didn't take to Dylan and her mother took her away to Europe for an extended time. While gone, Dylan wrote songs about her like Don't Think Twice, Its Alright and Boots of Spanish Leather. She returned to him, but an abortion, his rising fame and his affair with Joan Baez doomed the relationship.
Suze went back to her life of art and social justice, married and had a child. She refused for years to discuss her relationship with Dylan, but did write a book in 2004 entitled, Free-Wheelin' Times, about the art and political scene in the Village in the '60's. "We had something to say, not to sell", she wrote. Suze died in 2011.

Murray J. Hall was a bail bondsman in the West Village for over 30 years in the late 19th century.  A native of Scotland...
02/09/2017

Murray J. Hall was a bail bondsman in the West Village for over 30 years in the late 19th century. A native of Scotland, he married twice, and helped raise the daughter of his second wife. Murray was also quite active in Tammany Hall politics and could be found most any night in the Village saloons, hustling votes, charming the women or throwing up his dukes. He was once arrested for giving a copper a black eye. Murray was a man's man.

In 1901, when Murray passed away from breast cancer, the Village, city and world learned that Murray wasn't quite the man he'd let on. In fact, Murray wasn't a man at all in the legal sense. Born Mary Anderson,
He became Murray when he dressed in his dead brother's clothes to board his ship to America. Whatever the reasons for his decision, he was able to take full advantage of the rights afforded a white male during the Gilded Age in New York and led a full and eventful life. His death spared him the public scorn and scrutiny that followed, but his mortician's decision required of him to be an imposter one last time when he was dressed as a man for his coffin.

In true Republican Parity fashion, a city politician of the same party suggested a law requiring whiskers necessary for any voting citizen.

It is a snowy, blustery Saturday afternoon in the Village and powder is piling on the stoops and storefronts and over in...
01/07/2017

It is a snowy, blustery Saturday afternoon in the Village and powder is piling on the stoops and storefronts and over in Washington Square. 100 years ago, a loose knit group of painters collectively known as the Ashcan School painted winter scenes of these very same places. Many were former newspaper illustrators and they brought their journalistic qualities to the work. Unlike the polished techniques taught at American art academies, theirs was a looser and more spontaneous approach. Their slapdash handling of paint and thick application characterized their innovative styles which ranged from the whimsical to the tragic.

Enjoy these winter scenes and share the post if you think others might like.

And Book A Tour Now!

Jane Jacobs was a Canadian-American activist who along with her sisters moved to the West Village in the '40's.  Enamore...
11/30/2016

Jane Jacobs was a Canadian-American activist who along with her sisters moved to the West Village in the '40's. Enamored with the jumbled streets, unlike those of the rest of the city which had been laid out in a grid, she was appalled when the powerful city planner Robert Moses proposed the Lower Manhattan Expressway right through her neighborhood. It was well underway with many large sections of the Lower East Side razed when Jane began to enlist her fellow Villagers and influential protesters like Margaret Mead and Elanor Roosevelt. The New York Times was sympathetic to the powerful Moses, but the upstart Village Voice covered all the protests against the LOMEX. Part of the expressway's plan called for it to go right through the middle of Washington Square Park and when the strong-willed Villagers finally prevailed, it was here they held their celebration, having a ribbon-tying ceremony when the last car passed through.

Book a tour now for a brisk winter tour or for the first blossoms of spring. Come walk with us!

The writings of Kerouac and Ginsberg, Burroughs and Ferlinghetti entered the public consciousness in the mid-to-late '50...
11/16/2016

The writings of Kerouac and Ginsberg, Burroughs and Ferlinghetti entered the public consciousness in the mid-to-late '50's and a scene built up around them and their readings, with a newspaper columnist dubbing them 'beatniks'. The coffee shops and basement bars of the West Village became the scene for this new phenomena and suburbanites dressed as Maynard G. Krebs poured in to be part of the happening, with men in berets and goatees and women looking like Morticia Adams. Tour busses would troll MacDougall and Bleeker looking to find the beatnik in his natural element and they were rarely disappointed. But as with all bohemian movements, the artists the wanna-bes came to hang with slowly vanished when it became a scene and the beatnik gratefully faded away.

By the way, the three not dressed as beatniks are the beat writers Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Jack Kerouac.

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Whether captured on film or canvas, the West Village in the rain is a beautiful sight.  The drops dance in the street am...
10/27/2016

Whether captured on film or canvas, the West Village in the rain is a beautiful sight. The drops dance in the street amid the colors of the reflecting shop lights. The window displays and the bright rain wear of the strolling pedestrians lightens the gloom of the dark skies. There is always something bright and cheerful happening in the Village even on the darkest of days. Come walk with us!

At 59 Grove St. in the West Village sits Marie's Crisis Cafe, a small piano bar named after Marie DuMont, the original o...
09/15/2016

At 59 Grove St. in the West Village sits Marie's Crisis Cafe, a small piano bar named after Marie DuMont, the original owner. The 'Crisis' is a nod to a true revolutionary who died on the premises back in 1809, Thomas Paine.

Paine arrived in the States from England in 1774. He was immediately caught up in the colonists' rising frustrations with its parent country, England. Although he had many trades beforehand, he found his true calling when he sat down and put pen to paper to write 'Common Sense'. It gave voice to all the frustrations of the colonists when it was published in January of 1776 and sold an astonishing 100,000 copies. When independence was declared in July of that year, Thomas joined the militia and was put to work writing a series of pamphlets designed to promote fervor and support for the war. The result was 'The Crisis' (These are the times that try men's souls....).

When the war ended, Paine set off to slay more dragons. He headed back home to challenge hereditary monarchy in England. There he published 'The Rights of Man', a fiery piece in which he wrote, "All hereditary government is in its nature tyranny. To inherit a government is to inherit the people, as if they were a flocks and herds". His reward for this piece was banishment from his place of birth.

Just as well, the French Revolution was just starting up and he thought his words might be needed, but when he argued against the execution of Louis XVI (Kill the king, not the man), he was jailed. While under arrest Paine wrote 'The Age of Reason', a challenge to organized religion. "I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church....," he wrote. "My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches.....appear to me to be no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and to monopolize power and money". When he was finally released through the intervention of Benjamin Franklin he returned to the States, but his stance on the church did not sit well back in the Americas. Also, the new country was settling in and growing roots and no longer had need for any bomb-throwers. Paine slowly slid into obscurity and when he died in the back room of the house on Grove St, hardly any one paid attention. Those that did, like Alexander Hamilton's newspaper, the New York Evening Post wrote, "He lived long, did some good and much harm". Only 10 people attended his funeral. There was even a children's rhyme at the time that poured insult upon him even after death;

Poor Tom Paine, there he lies
Nobody laughs and nobody cries
Where he's gone or how he fares
Nobody knows and nobody cares

He deserved much better.

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The most beautiful garden park in all of Manhattan sits in the shadow of the High Gothic design of the Jefferson Market ...
09/08/2016

The most beautiful garden park in all of Manhattan sits in the shadow of the High Gothic design of the Jefferson Market Library. The library was once a courthouse and the grounds of the garden itself were formerly a women's house of detention.

The original women's prison that adjoined the courthouse was also High Gothic, but when torn down in 1932 was rebuilt in Art Deco style. The new facility was supposed to be a model for progressive treatment of prisoners with it's rehabilitation programs, well-lit interior and relatively comfortable surroundings. A student of Diego Rivera's (and intimate of his wife, Frida Kahlo) named Lucienne Bloch was brought in to paint murals on the walls of the 12-floor recreation area. She was an artist with the WPA and her murals portrayed the idealized loved ones that awaited the prisoners upon theIr release.

Whatever the intentions for the facility, it eventually became much like many other holding pens for the accused and convicted. Being situated in the middle of a bustling neighborhood, however, made it unique and an interactive part of the community. Women would cat-call to men on the streets, and family get-togethers would be held at high-volume between the family on the sidewalks below and the loved one in the holding pen above. It housed many famous prisoners over the years, including Dorothy Day, Mae West, Ethel Rosenberg and Angela Davis. Many women complained of abuse over the years, and Angela Davis spoke out vociferously about the rampant racism. When a prisoner alleged that two doctors had assaulted her in 1971, it was the straw that broke the prison's back. The facility was soon demolished with the women shipped to Rikers Island and the property becoming the serene seat it is today.

The West Village Historical Walking Tour isn't always about the past.  It is also about the possibility of running into ...
08/26/2016

The West Village Historical Walking Tour isn't always about the past. It is also about the possibility of running into any of these celebrities on the streets of the Village while on the tour. It certainly has happened on past tours as all these people live in this relatively small neighborhood. Can you name them?

Come walk with us and keep your eyes peeled!

As another heatwave sits atop the city, it's hard to fathom what life must have been like in a tenement in Greenwich Vil...
08/16/2016

As another heatwave sits atop the city, it's hard to fathom what life must have been like in a tenement in Greenwich Village or the Lower East Side during a hot spell back in 1900. In these neighborhoods were 2.3 million people living in flats without running water, toilet facilities or electricity.

It wasn't until theTenement Act of 1867 that landlords were required to furnish outhouses, and even then they were only required to provide one for every twenty people. These were situated out back in cramped quarters, and the lone water spigot for the tenement would be found out there as well. Laundry was washed and hung wherever space was available, often in close proximity to the toilets. With no running water or electricity inside, there weren't any other options.

Personal hygiene was nearly impossible to maintain and the death rates for infants was the highest in the country. It took many decades of codes and regulations to be enacted and enforced for these neighborhoods to become bearable for the never-ending wave of immigrants who came searching for a better life.

Book a tour today and see many of the remaining tenements and how they've improved with age.

CNN anchor and son of Gloria Vanderbilt, Anderson Cooper, purchased this firehouse on West 3rd St back in 2010 for $4.3 ...
08/03/2016

CNN anchor and son of Gloria Vanderbilt, Anderson Cooper, purchased this firehouse on West 3rd St back in 2010 for $4.3 million, but if he did his homework as a reporter he apparently discounted the numerous reports of the station being haunted.

In the 1920's a member of the station, Firefighter Schwartz learned of his wife's infidelity and was noted by other firefighters to be quite despondent. One day, when left to man the station while the others went out to battle a fire, he tied a rope to a steel beam high in the rafters of the 4-story building and secured a noose in which he placed his neck. Taking the step into the great void, he was later found by his returning fellow firefighters dangling over the main bay.

Over the last 90 years he has been reported to have returned on many an occasion, often heard pushing a metal cart high above the resting fireman but also has been known to show up in a full double-breasted uniform while just staring at the occupants of the firehouse. His presence once so scared the lone fireman guarding the house that he ran outside and waited for the rest of the crew to return before he would re-enter the station.

This isn't the lone haunted property in the West Village, but with the proper tour ( West Village Historical Walking Tour! ) you can skirt the danger of the ghosts yet hold out hope for a sighting of an apparition .

See ya on the tour!

Like much of the rest of the nation, the West Village is now in the midst of a heat wave with no break expected soon.  A...
07/21/2016

Like much of the rest of the nation, the West Village is now in the midst of a heat wave with no break expected soon. Although air-conditioning has come to many over the years, a great deal of the city still suffers without indoor cooling. As such, the neighborhood fire hydrant still serves as an alternative coolant just as it did over 100 years ago. To conserve on overflows to the sewer systems, the city has designated captains in certain neighborhoods and provides them with tools that still allow streams of water but with a lessened flow. It almost makes you want to be a kid again!

Chess Corner in the SW corner of Washington Square  has been a fixture of the park since the '40's.  The area was so mad...
07/11/2016

Chess Corner in the SW corner of Washington Square has been a fixture of the park since the '40's. The area was so mad for chess that at one time it supported 3 chess stores immediately off the Square. People like Stanley Kubrick, Heath Ledger and a young Bobby Fischer could often be found at the tables. When that area of the park closed for renovations in the early 2000's, many of the regulars gravitated 10 blocks north to the tables of Union Square. Since another renovation in 2012 brought new tables and benches, the players have been coming back, but not nearly in the numbers of its heyday. The two young ladies pictured here were tag-teaming against a more seasoned player when the West Village Historical Walking Tour passed through today.

As ever, if you've enjoyed this post please share.

Happy 4th from WVHWT!
07/04/2016

Happy 4th from WVHWT!

Once upon a time there was a Village where the summers were very hot and there were no machines to cool the air.  The ch...
06/24/2016

Once upon a time there was a Village where the summers were very hot and there were no machines to cool the air. The children of this Village were often put outside at daybreak, left alone to explore on the roofs, streets and fire escapes of the Village. Even without adult supervision many of these children lived till adulthood, but of course this was a magical Village.

As ever, please share this post if you think others might enjoy.

In 1911, a vice-president of New York Life Insurance Company, Rufus Weeks published the first issue of The Masses, a sil...
06/20/2016

In 1911, a vice-president of New York Life Insurance Company, Rufus Weeks published the first issue of The Masses, a silk-stockinged socialist rag that gently promoted workers' cooperatives. After a year Weeks announced its closing, but two artists and illustrators for the publication, John Sloan and Art Young decided to continue the magazine as a collective. They notified Max Eastman peremptorily that he would be the unpaid editor and set about lining up writers, illustrators and artists from around the West Village who were decidedly more left-leaning than the previous crew. In its mission statement of the first new version of The Masses it said as much;

A magazine with a sense of humor and no respect for the

respectable: Frank, arrogant, impertinent, searching for the

true causes: A magazine dedicated against rigidity and dogma

wherever it is found: printing what is too naked or true for a

moneymaking press: a magazine whose final policy is to do as

it pleases and conciliate nobody, not even its readers.

The publication was not received warmly in many areas. It was banned from New York subways and refused by distributors in Philadelphia and Boston. It was outlawed in Canada. From the very start it had enemies, but it also had a dedicated following across the country and was mailed to subscribers in every state.
With the advent of WW1, an extremely harsh Sedition Act was passed where it was a crime to even criticize the government. When Max Eastman was arrested under the Espionage Act, the government revoked the 2nd-class mailing privileges of the magazine which effectively closed the magazine. It shut down shortly thereafter.
Over the years, the Village publication's contributors included the likes of Dorothy Day, John Reed, Sherwood Anderson, Carl Sandberg, Upton Sinclair and many others. The political cartoons and lllustrations were done by many of the local Ashcan School artists like Sloan, George Bellows, Stuart Davies and George Luks. Enjoy the artwork and share the story if you think others might like.

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