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

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  • Panorama of Riker's Island, N.Y. /

    The film was photographed from a boat going around Riker's Island. Located on the East River north of Hell Gate between the Bronx and Queens, Riker's Island was the site of a massive New York City landfill operation at the time of the filming (originally eighty-seven acres, by 1939 the size of the island had increased to four hundred acres). The film includes scenes ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Bargain day, 14th Street, New York /

    The film shows hundreds of tightly packed people crowding into the front door of the Rothschild Co. 5 and 10 cent store. They are so closely packed it is difficult to tell one from another. The view is from across the street, looking down from the 2nd floor.

    • 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
  • Panorama of Blackwell's Island, N.Y. /

    This film was photographed from a boat heading south along the eastern shore of Blackwell's Island (known today as Roosevelt Island). The island lies in the East River, between Manhattan (which can be seen in the background) and Long Island City, Queens. It is approximately one and three-quarters of a mile long, extending from 51st Street to 88th, and at the time of the ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903
  • Fireboat "New Yorker" in action /

    A demonstration by the famous fireboat "New Yorker." The picture shows the fireboat with all its nozzles spurting water as it goes back and forth in front of the camera. Put in service on February 1, 1891 as Engine Company 57, the "New Yorker" was stationed at the Battery near Castle Garden, where her crew lived aboard. She was 125 feet long, 25 feet ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903
  • Excavating for a New York foundation /

    The scene is an excavation pit at an unidentified New York City construction site. A crew of six men can be seen shoveling dirt into a four-wheeled wooden cart. Then a full cart is slowly lifted out of the pit to street level by a steam-powered crane. These carts are similar in design to those shown dumping rubble at the end of the film ...

    • 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
  • Panorama water front and Brooklyn Bridge from East River /

    This film depicts the East River shoreline and the piers of lower Manhattan starting at about Pier 5 (the New York Central Pier) opposite Broad Street, and extending to the Mallory Line steamship piers just south of Fulton Street and the Brooklyn Bridge. The film begins with shots of canal boats or barges (from the Erie Canal via the Hudson River) docked at and ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • A perilous proceeding /

    The film follows a group of approximately ten men who are suspended on the cable of a large crane atop a building under construction. As the men are lifted over the site and gradually lowered, they wave to the camera.

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1902
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Panorama of Flatiron Building /

    This shows a view looking south from Madison Square, across the intersection of Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and Twenty-third Street, to the famous Fuller (or "Flatiron") Building. The cameraman elevates his camera, going from street level to the roof. Designed by D.H. Burnham and Company, the Fuller Building is an important early skyscraper and a New York City landmark. Known as the first great steel-framed ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903
  • At the foot of the Flatiron /

    This street level view is of the Broadway side of the Flatiron, or Fuller Building, near the narrow north corner. Filmed on a very windy day, pedestrians of various descriptions are seen passing by the camera, clutching hats and skirts against the wind. According to some New York City historians, this corner was known as the windiest corner of the city, and in the ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1903