Of all the great cities in the world, few personify their country like New York City. As America's largest city and best known immigration gateway into the country, NYC represents the beauty, diversity and sheer strength of the United States, a global financial center that has enticed people chasing the "American Dream" for centuries.
America's prototypical metropolis was once a serene landscape in which Native American tribes farmed and fished, but when European settlers arrived its location on the Eastern seaboard sparked a rapid transformation. Given its history of rapid change, it is ironic that the city's inhabitants often complain about the city's changing and yearn for things to stay the same. The website EV Grieve, whose name plays on the idea that the East Village "grieves" for the history and character the neighborhood loses every day to market forces and gentrification, regularly features a photo of some site, usually of little interest: an abandoned store, a small bodega, a vacant lot. The caption says, simply, that this is what the site looked like on a given day. The editors of the website are determined to document everything and anything for future generations.
That is hardly a modern phenomenon. New Yorkers have always grieved over the city's continuous upheavals and ever-increasing size and complexity. By the 1820s, Wall Street had lost whatever charm it might have had; former residents complained that two-story houses had given way to intimidating five-story office buildings. The New York Commercial Advertiser noted in 1825 that "Greenwich is no longer a country village," but rather an up-and-coming neighborhood. Today, it's hard to find a history of New York City that doesn’t refer to Henry James's famous 1908 story The Jolly Corner, in which a man returns to New York after decades abroad only to be horrified by an unfamiliar hellscape of commercial growth. He finds his once-jolly childhood home nearly buried "among the dreadful multiplied numberings which seemed to him to reduce the whole place to some vast ledger-page, overgrown, fantastic, of ruled and criss-crossed lines and figures." The once-beloved city has transformed itself into "the mere gross generalisation of wealth and force and success." That childhood home—an 1830s townhouse—in fact belonged to the James family on Washington Square in Greenwich Village. It was destroyed to make way for New York University, which is today embroiled in yet another real estate saga as it plans to expand once again.
Of course, visitors flock by the millions to tour New York and see the sights that change and stay the same, from Central Park to the High Line to the city's most famous buildings and museums. But not everything in the Big Apple is as it appears, however. Some believe the city is a mysterious place haunted by spirits, and a place of strange disappearances and unexplained phenomena. There is no shortage when it comes to the strange stories New York City has to offer, and the legends and lore have compelled many to dig a little deeper and even explore it all for themselves.
©2017 Charles River Editors (P)2017 Charles River Editors