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

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  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Buffalo Bill's Wild West parade /

    The film shows a parade down Fifth Avenue, New York. In the foreground many children, both black and white, can be seen following alongside the parade. The participants in the parade include cowboys, Indians, and soldiers in the uniform of the United States Cavalry on horseback and riding horse-drawn coaches. Buffalo Bill can be seen on horseback, lifting his hat to the crowd.

    • Original Format: Film, Video
    • Date: 1902
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • New York City dumping wharf /

    The film shows a wharf where a barge is being loaded with trash from two-wheeled, horse-drawn wagons. The trash is dumped off the edge of the pier onto the barge, where men with shovels are spreading the piles of debris. The camera pans left to the next barge, where four-wheeled carts are shown dumping excavation rubble. Probably filmed on the East River, this is ...

    • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • White Wings on review /

    Filmed on an unidentified street in New York City, probably Fifth Avenue. Rows of men wearing the white uniforms of New York City street sweepers (known as White Wings) march by the camera. Each row has a police escort. The parade of uniformed men continues until several hundred pass. Immediately following the marching men come approximately a hundred horse-drawn two-wheel carts of the kind ...

    • 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