Week of January 24, 2021

Factoids Never Sleep, Either


Everyone knows that Batman fights the baddies of Gotham City, but Gotham is both a real English town and an old nickname for New York City. Gotham just means “goat’s town” and in an old folk tale called “The Wise Men of Gotham,” the citizens of Gotham hear that the king will travel through their town, a visit which they fear will disrupt their quiet village life. Since madness was believed infectious at the time, they carry out “crazy” stunts and shenanigans until news of the town spreads to the king and he bypasses it. Apparently, author Washington Irving referenced this tale in 1807 when writing about New York City, gently poking fun at its residents, and the name stuck. Indeed, one modern NYC magazine is even called “The Gothamist.”


Modern New York City was previously the capital of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, so was called “New Amsterdam” before it was surrendered to the English in 1664. Nonetheless, plenty of pre-English reminders remain. “Manhattan” was the name of the Native American tribe from whom the Dutch bought / fought for the island, and Peter Stuyvesant, its last Dutch governor, has his name on a modern New York City neighborhood, housing complex, street and high school.


Like many large cities, New York annexed the towns around it as it grew, and until 1898, its most populous borough of Brooklyn was a separate city. If this was still the case, Brooklyn, with over 2.5 million people, would be the fourth most populous city in the US after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.


New York is named after the English city of York, but indirectly. New York was named for James Stuart, the Duke of York, but he, of course, got his title from the town in England.


Modern Wall Street is on a site where, in 1652, Manhattan’s Dutch settlers built a cannon-fortified wooden wall 9 feet tall and 2,324 feet long to defend against the British. The earthen parts of the wall were pre-existing fortifications against slaves and Native Americans. Sadly, slaves were also sold on Wall Street for about 100 years of its history as a trading center.


Broadway, the Manhattan street famous for theater productions and the city’s oldest thoroughfare, was named that by the British after they encountered this unusually wide road. The Dutch had done the widening and called it “Gentleman’s Way,” but hadn’t done the original building; both European nations were building on Wickquasgeck Road, originally cut by Native Americans.


NYC’s nickname of “The Big Apple” has the unlikely origin of horse stable workers in New Orleans, who were likely referring to the big prizes “apples” that went to racing winners in New York. In 1920, a visiting New York reporter covering horse racing heard the term used for his city in about and started using it in his own columns. After disappearing for a while, the moniker was revived to promote tourism to New York in the 1970s and has stuck since.