Collection The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906

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  • New York Harbor Police boat Patrol capturing pirates /

    This was probably filmed in the southern part of the Upper New York Bay looking towards the Narrows, with Fort Lafayette partly visible in the far background. The subject is a simulated capture by the police gunboat "Patrol" of three "pirates" in a rowboat. Puffs of smoke appear as the gunboat fires several rounds from the bow cannon, which can be clearly seen later ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903
  • Sorting refuse at incinerating plant, New York City /

    The subject is a group of about thirty men and boys who are sorting combustible refuse, mostly paper, and stuffing it into large sacks. In the background a man in a hat with an emblem on it can be seen unloading trash from a large wagon. Location may be the New York City Sanitation Department's East 17th Street facility, or possibly the incinerator at ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903
  • New York police parade, June 1st, 1899 /

    The film shows members of "New York's Finest" parading at a crowded Union Square. There are members of the Bicycle Squad [Frame: 0396], mounted horses [0612], and two regimental marching bands [2518, 3456]. At the time of filming, the New York City Police Department was still recovering from the corruption scandals of the early 1890's that had severely tarnished the reputation of the department. ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1899
  • Beginning of a skyscraper /

    The scene is an excavation site in New York City. A large group of workmen with picks and shovels are digging. Carts drawn by pairs of horses can be seen emerging from the smoke in the background. From a contemporary American Mutoscope and Biograph Company catalog: Starting a Skyscraper--New York--26 feet. Taken in the immense excavation for the foundation of the new Macy Building ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1902
  • Lower Broadway /

    The film shows a view which appears to be looking north on Broadway at the intersection of Wall Street, in front of Trinity Church. The sidewalk along Broadway is crowded with people, and the traffic in both streets is very heavy. A horse-drawn streetcar passes in front of the camera [Frame: 2814], with a sign giving its destination as the "Courtland and Fulton Street ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903
  • Sky scrapers of New York City, from the North River /

    Filmed from a moving boat, the film depicts the Hudson River (i.e., North River) shoreline and the piers of lower Manhattan beginning around Fulton Street and extending to Castle Garden and Battery Park. It begins at one of the American Line piers (Pier 14 or 15, opposite Fulton Street) where an American Line steamer, either the "New York" or "Paris," is seen docked [Frame: ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903
  • Parade of "exempt" firemen /

    The film shows a large group of people watching the approach of a color guard followed by a number of elderly marching firemen [Frame: 1734] pulling antique fire equipment [2486]. In the background is the white marble Washington Arch [0116], designed by Stanford White and completed in 1895 to commemorate the first inauguration of George Washington.

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903
  • Elevated railroad, New York /

    The film was photographed from the front platform of a train traveling over elevated tracks in New York City. Although many of the buildings alongside the tracks can be seen, it is difficult to determine the exact location of the scene.

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903
  • Emigrants [i.e. immigrants] landing at Ellis Island /

    From a contemporary Edison film company catalog: EMIGRANTS LANDING AT ELLIS ISLAND. Shows a large open barge loaded with people of every nationality, who have just arrived from Europe, disembarking at Ellis Island, N.Y. A most interesting and typical scene. Length 140 feet. Class B. $16.80. The film opens with a view of the steam ferryboat "William Myers," laden with passengers, approaching a dock ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903
  • Pennsylvania Tunnel excavation /

    This film employs a 180-degree pan shot of the excavation site of New York's Pennsylvania Station, and includes shots of the narrow-gauge train used to haul debris from the tunnels under construction. Work began in 1904, and when completed in September of 1910 the station would span from 31st to 33rd Streets, and from 7th to 8th Avenue, an area of approximately 300,000 square ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1905
  • Interior N.Y. subway, 14th St. to 42nd St. /

    The camera platform was on the front of a New York subway train following another train on the same track. Lighting is provided by a specially constructed work car on a parallel track. At the time of filming, the subway was only seven months old, having opened on October 27, 1904. The ride begins at 14th Street (Union Square) following the route of today's ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1905
  • Departure of Peary [and the] "Roosevelt" from New York /

    The camera pans to show the schooner "Roosevelt" docked at a covered pier on the Hudson River on Manhattan's west side. Then, from a camera position on board, men in straw hats and fashionably dressed ladies are seen boarding the ship. Next, the famous polar explorer Robert Peary appears on the gangway in a dark jacket, mustache and straw hat [Frame: 4552]. He tips ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1905
  • Star Theatre /

    Using time-lapse photography, the film shows the demolition of the famous Star Theatre. Judging from the various exposures, the work must have gone on for a period of approximately thirty days. The theater opened in 1861 as "Wallack's Theatre," and was re-christened the "Star" in 1883. It was well known for it's excellent productions, and a number of celebrated actors and actresses worked there, ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1902
  • Opening the Williamsburg Bridge /

    The film was shot on the roadway of the newly constructed Williamsburg Bridge. The first people to come into view are press photographers carrying large wooden "box" cameras [Frame: 0690]. Next, a parade of dignitaries and military representatives, accompanied by members of the press [1310], is photographed passing the camera position led by a standard bearer whose banner reads "MAYOR" [0902]. The mayor of ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1904
  • Opening of new East River bridge, New York /

    The first view is from the roadway of the Williamsburg Bridge on the day of the opening. Close-ups of the parading dignitaries and members of the press [Frame: 0345] are seen. From another camera position, taken over the heads of the crowd, buildings around the waterfront are seen, and the dignitaries, led by a standard bearer again pass the camera. The banner reads "MAYOR." ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903
  • Panorama from the tower of Brooklyn Bridge /

    The view was taken from the tower on the Brooklyn side of the bridge. As the film begins, the camera is looking southwest, towards the southern tip of Manhattan (the Battery). The camera pans very rapidly north following Manhattan's East River shoreline, across the bridge span itself and the bridge's New York side tower, following the shoreline further north towards Corlear's Hook, where the ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903
  • A street Arab /

    A preadolescent boy, dressed like a street urchin, performs acrobatic stunts for the camera. From a contemporary Edison Company catalog: A STREET ARAB. Umreichen [code for telegraphic orders]. Shows one of New York's street gamins going through various acrobatic evolutions; he turns handsprings backward and forward, walks the crab, does cart wheels and other kindred feats. An exceptionally unique part of the performance is ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1898
  • Pilot boats in New York harbor /

    A New York harbor pilot boat passes close enough for members of the crew to be seen [Frame: 0471]. Following the sailing vessel is a steamship [Frame: 0780]. "A close view of an eighty footer, schooner-rigged, trim as a private yacht, skimming over the waters of the harbor near Robin's Reef [i.e., Robbins Reef], which picturesque little lighthouse is seen in the near background. ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1899
  • The skyscrapers of New York /

    The story involves a construction foreman who fires one of his crew for fighting, which leads the disgruntled employee to steal. He then cause the blame to be put on the foreman, who is finally exonerated when the thief is exposed. All of this conflict is woven in and around the actual construction of the building as the work is in progress. There is ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1906
  • Move on /

    Filmed in New York's Lower East Side, the scene is a street where several pushcart vendors have gathered to sell their goods. In the foreground are fruit and vegetable carts. An elevated railroad track crosses over the street in the background. As the film progresses, two policemen can be seen heading up the street toward the camera and ordering all of the vendors to ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903
  • Sleighing scene /

    A view of a snow-covered road in Central Park. A variety of horse-drawn sleighs ride by the camera from both directions. Only two pedestrians appear. From a contemporary Edison film company catalog: SLEIGHING SCENE. Unbehangen [code for telegraphic orders]. A view taken on the West Side Drive in Central Park. Shows a continuous stream of handsome rigs and turnouts passing in both directions. Pedestrians ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1898
  • Skating on lake, Central Park /

    The view is of a frozen lake in Central Park crowded with ice skaters. The film is of such poor quality that it is difficult to tell if the apparent "snow" is real or just scratches on the film.

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1902
  • N.Y. Fire Department returning /

    Shot at an unidentified location in New York City, the film shows several pieces of horse-drawn fire vehicles in motion: two hook-and-ladders [Frame: 0114, 0905]; two steam pumpers [0373, 1111]; a rescue wagon [0549]. Note the kids hanging on the back of some of the vehicles [0195, 0970].

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903
  • Delivering newspapers /

    The film shows a group of about fifty pre-adolescent boys running and crowding around a one-horse paneled newspaper van that pulls up in the foreground of the picture. On the side of the van is a sign reading "New York World." As they gather around the rear of the vehicle, a fight breaks out between two of the boys. The film ends as the ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903
  • What happened on Twenty-third Street, New York City /

    A street level view from the sidewalk, looking along the length of 23rd Street. Following actuality footage of pedestrians and street traffic, the actors, a man in summer attire and a woman in an ankle-length dress, walk toward the camera. As they cross a grate on the sidewalk they pause, and the escaping air blows the woman's dress to her knees. From a contemporary ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1901