The Bowery Boys: New York City History

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One of America's most important books was published 225 years ago this year. You won't find it on a shelf of great American literature. It was not written by a great man of letters, but somebody who described herself simply as 'an American orphan.' In 1796 a mysterious woman named Amelia Simmons published American Cookery, the first compilation of recipes (or receipts) using such previously unknown items as corn, pumpkins and "pearl ash" (similar to baking powder). This book changed the direction of fine eating in the newly established United States of America. But Amelia herself remains an elusive creator. Who was this person who would have so much influence over the American diet? Join Greg through a tour of 70 years of early American eating, identifying the true melting pot of delicious flavors — Dutch, Native American, Spanish, Caribbean and African — that transformed early English colonial cooking into something uniquely American. FEATURING early American recipes for johnnycakes, slapjacks and gazpacho! Support the show: See for privacy information.
“If we were to offer a symbol of what Harlem has come to mean in a short span of twenty years, it would be another statue of liberty on the landward side of New York. Harlem represents the Negro’s latest thrust towards Democracy.” -- Alain Locke This is Part Two of our two-part look at the birth of Black Harlem, a look at the era BEFORE the 1920s, when the soul and spirit of this legendary neighborhood was just beginning to form.  The Harlem Renaissance is a cultural movement which describes the flowering of the arts and political thought which occurred mostly within the Black community of Harlem between 1920 and the 1940s. In particular the 1920s were described by writer Langston Hughes as “the period when the Negro was in vogue.” The moment when the white mainstream turned its attention to black culture.  But how Harlem become a mecca of Black culture and "the Capital of Black America"? This is the story of constructing a cultural movement on the streets of Upper Manhattan in the 1910s. From the stages of the Lafayette Theater to the soapboxes of Speakers Corner. From the pulpits to the salons (both hair and literary)! WITH stories of Marcus Garvey, Madam C.J. Walker, Arturo Schomburg and many more. Support the show: See for privacy information.
The Hotel Theresa is considered a genuine (if under-appreciated) Harlem gem, both for its unique architecture and its special place in history as the hub for African-American life in the 1940s and 50s. The luxurious apartment hotel was built by a German lace manufacturer to cater to a wealthy white clientele. But almost as soon as the final brick was laid, Harlem itself changed, thanks to the arrival of thousands of new black residents from the South. Harlem, renown the world over for the artists and writers of the Harlem Renaissance and its burgeoning music scene, was soon home to New York’s most thriving black community.  But many of the businesses here refused to serve black patrons, or at least certainly made them unwelcome. The Theresa changed its policy in 1940 and soon its lobby was filled with famous athletes, actresses and politicians, many choosing to live at the Hotel Theresa over other hotels in Manhattan.  The hotel’s relative small size made it an interesting concentration of America’s most renown black celebrities. In this podcast, Greg gives you a tour of this glamorous scene, from the corner bar to the penthouse, from the breakfast table of Joe Louis to the crazy parties of Dinah Washington. WITH: Martin Luther King Jr,Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Fidel Castro. And music by Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine and Duke Ellington ALSO: Who is this mysterious Theresa? What current Congressman was a former desk clerk? And what was Joe Louis’ favorite breakfast food? The first half of this show was originally released in 2013 (as Episode #158) but has been newly edited for this release. The second half of this show is ALL NEW. MUSIC FEATURED: "Sophisticated Lady" by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra and "Dedicated To You" by Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughan.  Support the show: See for privacy information.
How did Harlem become Harlem, the historic center of Black culture, politics and identity in American life? This is the story of revolutionary ideas -- and radical real estate. By the 1920s, Harlem had become the capital of Black America, where so many African-American thinkers, artists, writers, musicians and entrepreneurs would live and work that it would spawn -- a Harlem Renaissance. But in an era of so much institutional racism -- the oppression of Jim Crow, an ever-present reality in New York -- how did Black Harlem come to be? The story of Harlem begins more than three and a half centuries ago with the small Dutch village of Nieuw Haarlem (New Haarlem). During the late 19th century Harlem became the home of many different immigrant groups -- white immigrant groups, Irish and German, Italian and Eastern European Jews -- staking their claim of the American dream in newly developed housing here. But then an extraorindary shift occurs beginning in the first decade of the 20th century, a very specific set of circumstances that allowed, really for the very first time, African-American New Yorkers to stake out a piece of that same American dream for themselves. This is a story of real estate -- and realtors! But not just any realtor, but the story of the man who earned the nickname the Father of Harlem. Part one of a two-part show on the origins of Harlem. Support the show: See for privacy information.
In the latest episode of the Bowery Boys Movie Club, Tom and Greg celebrate wild and fabulous Auntie Mame, the outrageous comedy masterpiece starring Rosalind Russell that’s mostly set on Beekman Place, the pocket enclave of New York wealth that transforms into a haven for oddballs and bohemian eccentrics. Auntie Mame cleverly uses historical events — the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the Great Depression — as a backdrop to Mame’s own financial woes, and her progressive-minded care of nephew Patrick introduces some rather avant garde philosophies to movie-going audiences. Listen in as the Bowery Boys set up the film’s history, then give a rollicking synopsis through the zany plot line.  To listen to future episodes of the Bowery Boys Movie Club, support the Bowery Boys podcast on Patreon! For those who support us there already, check your emails or head over to your Patreon page for a new episode -- on the 1961 classic Breakfast At Tiffany's. Support the show: See for privacy information.
The World Trade Center opened its distinctive towers during one of New York City's most difficult decades, a beacon of modernity in a city beleaguered by debt and urban decay. Welcome to the 1970s.  This year, believe it or not, marks the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Today there’s an entire generation that only knows the World Trade Center as an emblem of tragedy.  But people sometimes forget that the World Trade Center, designed by Japanese-American architect Minoru Yamasaki, was a very complicated addition to the New York skyline when it officially opened in 1973. While it might be fun to think of New York City in the 1970s through the lens of places like Studio 54 or CBGB, it was really the Twin Towers that redefined New York. The journey to build the world's tallest building and its expansive complex of office towers and underground shops began in an effort by David Rockefeller to stimulate development in Manhattan's fading Financial District.  By the time Port Authority got onboard to fund the project, the Twin Towers were bonded together with another vital project -- a commuter train from New Jersey.  The World Trade Center inspired strong opinions from critics and the public alike, but eventually many grew to admire the strange towers which marked the skyline.  And some, the Twin Towers became objects of obsession.  FEATURING: The insane, completely outlandish and ultimately successful feat of acrobatics by a very bold French tightrope walker.  PLUS: An interview with with Kate Monaghan Connolly of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum about how that institution memorializes those lost in the tragedy while still celebrating the technological marvels that once stood there. Support the show: See for privacy information.
PODCAST REWIND Stories of outrageous hoaxes perpetrated upon New Yorkers in the early 19th century. In the 1820s, the Erie Canal would completely change the fortunes of the young United States, turning the port city of New York into one of the most important in the world. But an even greater engineering challenge was necessary to prevent the entire southern part of Manhattan from sinking into the harbor! That is, if you believed a certain charlatan hanging out at the market….. One decade later, the burgeoning penny press would give birth to another tremendous fabrication and kick off an uneasy association between the media and the truth. In the summer of 1835 the New York Sun reported on startling discoveries from one of the world’s most famous astronomers. Life on the moon! Indeed, vivid moon forests populated with a menagerie of bizarre creatures and winged men with behaviors similar those of men on Earth. A version of this show was originally released on July 8, 2016. Support the show: See for privacy information.
If you could call a number and say you’re sorry, and no one would know…what would you apologize for? For fifteen years, you could call a number in Manhattan and do just that. This is the story of the line, and the man at the other end who became consumed by his own creation. He was known as “Mr. Apology.” As thousands of callers flooded the line, confessing to everything from shoplifting to infidelity, drug dealing to murder, Mr. Apology realized he couldn’t just listen. He had to do something, even if it meant risking everything. From Wondery the makers of Dr. Death and The Shrink Next Door, comes a story about empathy, deception and obsession. Marissa Bridge, who knew Mr. Apology better than anyone, hosts this six episode series. Listen today at Support the show: See for privacy information.
“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.” (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby) This is the story of a borough with great potential and the curious brown-tannish cantilever bridge which helped it achieve greatness. The Queensboro Bridge connects Manhattan with Queens by lifting over the East River and Roosevelt Island, an impressive landmark that changed the fate of the borough enshrined in its curious name. In 1898, before the Consolidation of 1898, which created Greater New York and the five boroughs, much of Queens was sparsely populated -- a farm haven connected by dusty roads -- with most residents living in a few key towns, villages and one actual city -- Long Island City. With Brooklyn and Manhattan already well developed (and overcrowded in some sectors) by the early 20th century, developers and civic leader looked to Queens as a new place for expansion. But in 1900 it had no quick and convenient connections to areas off of Long Island. With the opening of the bridge in 1909, rich new opportunities for Queens awaited. Communities from Astoria to Bayside, Jackson Heights, Flushing and Jamaica all experienced an unprecedented burst of new development. Thanks in small part to the bridge so famous that it inspired a classic folk song! Support the show: See for privacy information.
To celebrate the opening of Moynihan Train Hall, a new commuters' wing at Penn Station catering to both Amtrak and Long Island Railroad train passengers, we’re going to tell the entire story of Pennsylvania Station and Pennsylvania Railroad over two episodes, using a couple older shows from our back catalog. This is PART TWO. Why did they knock down old Pennsylvania Station? The original Penn Station, constructed in 1910 and designed by New York’s greatest Gilded Age architectural firm, was more than just a building. Since its destruction in the 1960s, the station has become something mythic, a sacrificial lamb to the cause of historic preservation. As Vincent Scully once said, “Through Pennsylvania Station one entered the city like a god. Perhaps it was really too much. One scuttles in now like a rat.” In this show we rebuild the grand, original structure in our minds — the fourth largest building in the world when it was constructed — and marvel at an opulence now gone. PLUS: We show you where you can still find remnants of old Penn Station by going on a walking tour with Untapped Cities tour guide Justin Rivers. THIS SHOW WAS ORIGINALLY RELEASED AS EPISODE 254 — FEBRUARY 16, 2018 Support the show: See for privacy information.
On January 1, 2021 Moynihan Train Hallofficially opens to the public, a new commuters' wing catering to both Amtrak and Long Island Railroad train passengers at New York's underground (and mostly unloved) Penn Station. To celebrate this big moment in New York City transportation history, we’re going to tell the entire story of Pennsylvania Station and Pennsylvania Railroad over two episodes, using a couple older shows from our back catalog.  The story of Pennsylvania Station involves more than just nostalgia for the long-gone temple of transportation as designed by the great McKim, Mead and White. It's a tale of incredible tunnels, political haggling and big visions.  Pennsylvania Railroad was the largest railroad in the world by the 1880s, but thanks to Cornelius Vanderbilt's New York Central Railroad, one prize was strategically out of their grasp -- direct access to Manhattan. An ambitious plan to link New Jersey to New York via a gigantic bridge fell apart, and it looked like Pennsylvania passengers would have to forever disembark in Jersey City.  But Penn Railroad president Alexander Cassatt was not satisfied. Visiting his sister Mary Cassatt -- the exquisite Impressionist painter -- in Paris, Cassatt observed the use of electrically run trains in underground tunnels. Why couldn't Penn Railroad build something similar? One problem -- the mile-wide Hudson River (or in historical parlance, the North River).  This is the tale of an engineering miracle, the construction of miles of underground tunnels and the idea of an ambitious train station to rival the world's greatest architectural marvels. ORIGINALLY RELEASED AS EPISODE 80 -- APRIL 10, 2009   Support the show: See for privacy information.
It's the happiest of hours! The tales of four fabulous cocktails invented or made famous in New York City's saloons, cocktail lounges, restaurants and hotels. Cocktails are more than alcoholic beverages; over the decades, they’ve been status signifiers, indulgences that show off exotic ingredients or elixirs displaying a bit of showmanship behind the bar.  In this podcast, we recount the beginning days of four iconic alcoholic drinks:  -- The Manhattan: How an elite Gilded Age social club may have invented the cocktail for a new governor of New York; -- The Bloody Mary: A Parisian delight, enjoyed by the leading lights of the Jazz Age, makes it way to one of New York's most famous hotels; -- The Martini: A drink of mysterious origin and potency becomes New York City's most popular drink -- and a curious lunchtime companion; -- The Cosmopolitan: Tracing the history of a new cocktail classic from Provincetown to San Francisco -- and into two of New York's most famous 1980s hangouts Support the show: See for privacy information.
We released the following show on the history of vaccines back in early April 2020 when the idea of a COVID 19 vaccine seemed little more than distant fantasy. Just this past Monday, on December 14, Sandra Lindsay, the director of critical care at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens became the first American to receive the Pfizer COVID 19 vaccine in a non-trial setting. And so this week we’re re-releasing this show — in a much more hopeful context this time around. This is the story of the polio vaccines developed by Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin -- and then a look at the origin of the vaccine itself, first developed to combat smallpox almost 225 years ago, thanks to Edward Jenner and a cow named Blossom. ---- In 1916 New York City became the epicenter of one of America’s very first polio epidemics. The scourge of infantile paralysis infected thousands of Americans that year, most under the age of five. But in New York City it was especially bad. The Department of Health took drastic measures, barring children from going out in public and even labeling home with polio sufferers, urging others to stay away. That same year, up in the Bronx, a young couple named Daniel and Dora Salk — the children of Eastern European immigrants — were themselves raising their young son named Jonas. As an adult, Jonas Salk would spend his life combating the poliovirus in the laboratory, creating a vaccine that would change the world. In 1921 a young lawyer and politician named Franklin Delano Roosevelt would contract what was believed at the time to be polio. He would use his connections and power — first as governor of New York, then as president of the United States — to guide the nation’s response to the virus. ---- AND THEN: The second half of the show is devoted to the question — who came up the first vaccine anyway?  Once upon a time there was a country doctor with a love of birds, a milkmaid with translucent skin, an eight-year-old boy with no idea what he's in for and a wonderful cow that holds the secret to human immunity. This is the story of the first vaccine, perhaps one of the greatest inventions in modern human history. Come listen to this remarkable story of risk and bravery which led to the eradication of one of the deadliest diseases in human history. And hear the words of Dr. Edward Jenner himself, written in the first weeks of his experiments! Support the show: See for privacy information.
It's HOT in the city even during the coldest winter months, thanks to the most elemental of resources -- steam heat. This is the story of the innovative heating plan first introduced on a grand scale here in New York City in the 1880s, a plan which today heats many of Manhattan's most famous -- and tallest -- landmarks. While most buildings in Manhattan derive heat from a private source (most often furnaces, boilers and radiators), some of the largest structures actually get heat from the city.  If you've worked in a large Midtown office building, visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art or had your clothes dry cleaned in Manhattan, you've experienced steam distributed through ConEd's steam service through a system known as district heating.  Because of steam, the city's skyline isn't filled with thousands of chimneys, belching black smoke into the sky.  FEATURING An interview with Frank Cuomo, the director of steam operations at ConEd, who will help explain to us how the city produces steam today and how customers use it. PLUS We answer some pressing questions about city heat. Why is there no steam service in the other four boroughs? Why does your radiator clang loudly at night? And what's the function of those orange and white chimneys in the streets? Support the show: See for privacy information.
PODCAST This month marks the 185th anniversary of one of the most devastating disasters in New York City history -- The Great Fire of 1835. This massive fire, among the worst in American history, devastated the city during one freezing December evening, destroying hundreds of buildings and changing the face of Manhattan forever. It underscored the city's need for a functioning water system and permanent fire department. So why were there so many people drinking champagne in the street? And how did the son of Alexander Hamilton save the day? FEATURING Such Old New York sites as the Tontine Coffee House, Stone Street,Hanover Square and Delmonico's. PLUS: A newly recorded segment about a sequel of sorts to the 1835 fire. The Great Fire of 1845 (or really The Great Explosion of 1845) would once again imperil the lives of New Yorkers. But this time, they were prepared. This show was originally released on March 13, 2009 Support the show: See for privacy information.
How Beatlemania both energized and paralyzed New York City in the mid 1960s as told by the women who screamed their hearts out and helped build a phenomenon. Before BTS, before One Direction, before the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, before Menudo and the Jackson 5 -- you had Paul, John, George and Ringo. The Beatles were already an international phenomenon by February 9, 1964. when they first arrived at JFK Airport. During their visits to the city between 1964 and 1966, the Fab Four were seen by thousands of screaming fans and millions of television audiences in some of New York’s greatest landmarks. And each time they came through here, the city — and America itself — was a little bit different.  In this show, we present a little re-introduction to the Beatles and how New York City became a key component in the Beatlemania phenomenon, a part of their mythology — from the classic concert venues (Shea Stadium, Carnegie Hall) to the luxury hotels (The Plaza, The Warwick). We’ll also be focusing on the post-Beatles career of John Lennon who truly fell in love with New York City in the 1970s. And we'll visit that tragic moment in American history which united the world 40 years ago — on December 8, 1980 But we are not telling this story alone. Helping us tell this story are recollections from listeners, the women who were once the young fans of the Beatles here in New York, the women who helped built Beatlemania.   Support the show: See for privacy information.
An account of a mysterious typhoid fever outbreak from the early 20th century and the woman — Mary Mallon, the so-called Typhoid Mary — at the center of the strange epidemic. The tale of Typhoid Mary is a harrowing detective story and a chilling tale of disease and death. Why are whole healthy families suddenly getting sick with typhoid fever — from the languid mansions of Long Island’s Gold Coast to the gracious homes of Park Avenue? Can an intrepid researcher and investigator named George Soper locate a mysterious woman who may be unwittingly spreading this dire illness? This show was originally broadcast on September 18, 2015     Support the show: See for privacy information.
Once upon a time, the streets of the Lower East Side were lined with pushcarts and salespeople haggling with customers over the price of fruits, fish and pickles. Whatever became of them? New York's earliest marketplaces were large and surprisingly well regulated hubs for commerce that kept the city fed. When the city was small, they served the hungry population well. But by the mid-19th century, massive waves of immigration and the necessary expansion of the city meant a lack of affordable food options for the city's poorest residents in overcrowded tenement districts. Then along came the peddler, pushcart vendors who brought bargains of all types -- edible and non-edible -- to neighborhood streets throughout the city. In particular, on the Lower East Side, the pushcarts created bustling makeshift marketplaces.  Many shoppers loved the set-up! But not a certain mayor -- Fiorello LaGuardia, who promised to sweep away these old-fashioned pushcarts that packed the streets -- and instead house some of those vendors in new municipal market buildings. For those immigrant peddlers, the Essex Street Market -- in sight of the Williamsburg Bridge -- would provide a diverse shopping experience representing a swirl of various cultures: Eastern European, Puerto Rican, Italian and more.  But could these markets survive competition from supermarkets? Or the many economic changes of life in New York City? Support the show: See for privacy information.
The discovery of radio changed the world, and New York City was often front and center for its creation and development as America’s prime entertainment source during the 1930s and 40s. In this show, we take you on a 50-year journey, from Marconi’s news making tests aboard a yacht in New York Harbor to remarkable experiments atop the Empire State Building. Two of the medium’s great innovators grew up on the streets of New York, one a fearless inventor born in the neighborhood of Chelsea, the other an immigrant’s son from the Lower East Side who grew up to run America’s first radio broadcasting company (RCA). Another pioneer with a more complicated history made the first broadcasts that featured the human voice, the ‘angelic’ tones of a Swedish soprano heard by a wireless operator at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. What indispensable station got its start as a department-store radio channel? What borough was touted in the very first radio advertisement? What former Ziegfeld Follies star strapped on a bonnet to become Baby Snooks?  Featuring tales of the Titanic, the rogue adventures of amateur operators, and a truly scary invasion from outer space! MINOR CORRECTION: The radio show of yore was obviously called Everready Hour, not Everready House!   Support the show: See for privacy information.
To wrap up this month's series of spooky-themed shows, we're releasing this 2018 episode of our "Bowery Boys Movie Club", in which we conjure up New York City in the early 1980s in Ivan Reitman's box-office smash Ghostbusters. How does this zany horror comedy use the plight of New York City as a backdrop for its grab bag of goofy ghosts? How do the histories of the New York Public Library, Columbia University, Central Park and the Upper West Side become entangled in its strange and hilarious plot? And why is the Tribeca location of Ghostbusters headquarters -- in an abandoned firehouse -- so important to the story? Enjoy the show -- and be sure to join us on to support the show and hear all episodes of the Movie Club!   Support the show: See for privacy information.
In the 14th annual Bowery Boys Halloween podcast, we celebrate some classic strange and supernatural terrors written by the most famous horror writers in New York City history. Since 2020 is already a year full of absurd twists and frights, we thought we'd celebrate the season in a slightly different way. Don't worry! Tom and Greg are delivering a new batch of frightening stories. But this time the selected stories have been made famous by great writers who have lived and worked in New York City. Included in this year's terrors: -- A celebration of the 200th anniversary of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," featuring the Headless Horseman and the backstory of this classic story's creation; -- The unsettling days of H.P. Lovecraft in Brooklyn where his xenophobia, racism and anxiety manifest into a pair of dark, claustrophobic tales, plucked from the waterfront and the West Village; -- A bizarre and allegedly true story (or is it an urban legend?) of an unconventional jewel thief, made famous by that 20th century purveyor of all things unbelievable -- Robert Ripley; -- And a look at the life of Patricia Highsmith -- celebrating the 100th anniversary of her birth a bit early -- whose nasty little tales of mad murderers have inspired Hollywood and unsettled a new generation of suspense lovers. Support the show: See for privacy information.
Prepare to hear a few spirited stories in a whole new way. For the past couple years hosts Tom Meyers and Greg Young have also done a LIVE cabaret version of their annual ghost story show at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater. For reasons related to the fact that it’s the hellish year of 2020, we cannot bring you a live performance this year. But we miss the wonderful Joe’s Pub so much – and we miss being with our listeners in a cabaret setting with cocktails – that we’re presenting to you a live recording of our last show at the storied venue, recorded on Halloween night 2019, featuring pianist and composer Andrew Austin and vocalist Bessie D Smith. Prepare to hear new versions of your favorite ghost stories including: -- A Brooklyn house haunting that may be related to the spectres from a colonial-era prison ship; -- A famous murder trial from the year 1800 and a mysterious well that still stands in the neighborhood of SoHo; -- The ghosts (or other supernatural entities) which guard the treasure of the famous Captain Kidd; and -- The mournful secrets of a famed Broadway theater and the inner demons of a Hollywood icon. With an all new ghostly tale -- WHO HAUNTS THE FORMER ASTOR LIBRARY?       Support the show: See for privacy information.
Celebrating the history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 150th year since its founding -- and certainly one of the strangest years in its extraordinary existence.  The Met is really the king of New York attractions, with visitors heading up to Central Park and streaming through the doors by the millions to gasp at the latest blockbuster exhibitions and priceless works of art and history.  And who doesn’t love getting lost at the Met for a rainy afternoon — wandering from the Greek and Roman galleries to the imposing artifacts within the Arms and Armor collection and the treasures of the Asian Art rooms? But this museum has some surprising secrets in its history -- and more than a few skeletons (or are those mummies?) in its closet. WITH Ancient temples, fabulous fashions, classical relics, Dutch masters, controversial exhibitions and the decorative trappings of the Gilded Age. AND Find out how the museum building has evolved over the years, employing some of the greatest architects in American history.  PLUS An interview with the Met's Andrea Bayer, Deputy Director for Collections and Administration, on the museum's celebratory exhibition Making the Met 1870-2020. How do you launch an anniversary celebration during a pandemic and lockdown? Support the show: See for privacy information.
Cleopatra’s Needle is the name given to the ancient Egyptian obelisk that sits in Central Park, right behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This is the bizarre tale of how it arrived in New York and the unusual forces that went behind its transportation from Alexandra to a hill called Greywacke Knoll. FEATURING The secrets of the Freemasons, a mysterious and controversial fraternity who have been involved in several critical moments in American history (including the inauguration of fellow Mason George Washington.) PLUS A newly recorded tale about another ancient landmark that has made its way to New York City -- a column from the ancient city of Jerash, brought here because of ... Robert Moses? This is a re-presentation of a show originally released on June 26, 2014 with new 2020 bonus material recorded for this episode.  Support the show: See for privacy information.
Charles Stratton, who would become world famous as “Tom Thumb” in the mid-19th century, was born in Bridgeport, CT on January 4, 1838 to parents of average height, and he grew normally during the first six months of his life -- to about 25 inches or so. And then, surprisingly, he just stopped growing.  When P.T. Barnum, the master showman, would meet Charles and his parents, Charlie was 4, and he’d be signed on the spot to play the part of “General Tom Thumb” at Barnum’s American Museum. He’d be given a fancy new wardrobe, a new nationality (British), and a new age -- 11 years old. Charles would perform for the rest of his life as “Tom Thumb”. He’d enchant European royalty and American presidents, and sell out crowds around the world. And in 1863, during the darkest days of the Civil War, he’d be married in New York’s Grace Church to Lavinia Warren, another Barnum employee and another performer of short stature. Their wedding would be a sensation, and would actually knock news from the battlefields off the front page of the New York Times for three days. We're joined in today’s show by four guests: Dr. Michael Mark Chemers is a Professor of Dramatic Literature and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Theatre Arts at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He’s the author of Staging Stigma: A Critical Examination of the American Freak Show published by Palgrave MacMillan in 2008, in which he looks into the career and reception of Charles Stratton.  Eric Lehman is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Bridgeport and the author of 18 books, including Becoming Tom Thumb, published in 2013 by Wesleyan University Press. Kathy Maher is the Executive Director of the Barnum Museum and is celebrating her 22nd year with the Museum. Located an hour out of New York City, P.T. Barnum's last museum continues to stand on Main Street in the heart of downtown Bridgeport, CT, his adopted home.  Although the Barnum Museum is currently closed due to covid-19 regulations, the Museum remains active with social media, virtual programming and a major historic restoration and re-envisioning Robert Wilson has been the editor of The American Scholar magazine since 2004. Before that, he edited Preservation magazine and was the book editor and columnist for USA Today. His previous books include The Explorer King (2006), about the 19th-century scientist, explorer, and writer Clarence King, and Mathew Brady: Portraits of a Nation (2013), about the Civil War photographer. His most recent book, Barnum: An American Life (from 2019), has just been published in paperback.  Support the show: See for privacy information.
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Podcast Details

Created by
Tom Meyers
Podcast Status
Sep 19th, 2008
Latest Episode
Mar 5th, 2021
Release Period
2 per month
Avg. Episode Length
About 1 hour

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