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

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  • 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
  • Statue of Liberty /

    A three-quarter front view of the Statue of Liberty. The statue was erected twelve years earlier, in 1886.

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1898
  • 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
  • Arrival of emigrants [i.e. immigrants], Ellis Island /

    Depicts scenes at the Immigration Depot and a nearby dock on Ellis Island. Appears to show, first, a group of immigrants lined up to board a vessel leaving the island, then another group arriving at the island and being directed off of the dock and into the Depot by a uniformed official.

    • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • New York City "ghetto" fish market /

    The view, photographed from an elevated camera position, looks down on a very crowded New York City street market. Rows of pushcarts and street vendors' vehicles can be seen. The precise location is difficult to ascertain, but it is certainly on the Lower East Side, probably on or near Hester Street, which at the turn of the century was the center of commerce for ...

    • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Panorama from Times Building, New York /

    The view is from the top of the then newly-erected Times Building, at a height of approximately twenty stories. The film opens with a vertical pan, going from the street below up to the sky. The photographer then makes a pan to the north over the tops of the buildings from Bryant Park, south of 42nd Street (behind the New York Public Library) [Frame: ...

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1905
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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 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
  • 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
  • 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