Friday, July 18, 2008

Births and Deaths

I guess I have fallen behind the pace of news in my postings; many apologies . Anyway, there’s been lots in the news, the continuing fallout of the mortgage crisis (if I were an investor, I'd put my money on socialism futures), and of course the New Yorker cover (oh, I don’t quite know what the fuss is about; I suppose you can’t satirize something basically beyond satire, like the bottomless capacity of the American people for self-deception and and gullibility. )

But let me comment on the article and editorial in the Times a few days ago on the date of the founding of New York City on the city seal, the one with the beaver and the Indian. It currently says 1625. Some woulld rather place the date in 1624, when the first Dutch settlement in what is New York City was founded on Nutten (now Governor’s ) Island. The next year the Nutten Islanders moved their cows to the greener pastures of Lower Manhattan. In 1626 came the famous deal between Peter Minuit and the local Indians, which really had very little bearing on the history of the Dutch settlement on Manhattan one way or the other. Some historians are crying for 1624, others for 1626; 1625 seems to have few backers. Others opt for 1653, the year the Dutch West India Company awarded the equivalent of a city charter to New Amsterdam, and If you ask me, this is probably the best date, the year the settlement on Manhattan Island first attained a recognizable political form which is essentially continuous to today, but the whole question depends on what you mean by “New York” and what you mean by “City.”

And if you ask me, the whole question is terrifically uninteresting. The determination of historical nativities is generally one of the more trivial aspects of the historian’s craft, and since places and things, unlike persons, have a nasty habit of complex and long drawn out births, almost answer is more or less arbitrary, as it is this case. Manhattan Island obviously was inhabited long before the Dutch ever arrived, by many millennia, but since we don’t when precisely this was, it is of no help in playing this game. And the Dutch had been stopping at Manhattan since 1609, and claimed it as part of New Netherland in 1614. And of course there wasn’t any place named “New York City” until 1664. The only element of interest in this is that, in 1974 when the City Council decided to throw off the shackles of 1664 date—City Council President Paul O’Dwyer’s lifelong animus against British imperialism was key here-- they did not choose, as choosers in this situation invariably do, the earliest plausible date, 1624, no doubt because they didn’t want to miss the opportunity to celebrate a 350th anniversary in 1975, which tuned out to be probably the worst year in the city’s history between Kieft’s War in the 1640s and September 11th 2001.

Historical deaths are a little easier than historical births—there often is more self-consciousness about endings, though many things get reincarnated in different forms after they die, especially corporate entities. In terms of historical reincarnation, and it has been fascinating, from a distance, to watch the long-term ritual disembowelment of Yankee Stadium currently going on in the Bronx, which reached a peak this week in the all-star game, which included a laying on of hands, from the hall of famers who had contributed to making Yankee Stadium what it is to the newest crop of all-stars. I am lifelong Yankee fan, but I refuse to get sentimental about the decision of the Yankees to destroy the most historic stadium in baseball. I’ve cried over enough senseless acts of self-destruction this year, and I haven’t a tear to spare for the impending doom of the House that Ruth built. There will be a new Yankee Stadium next year, and they will call it the new Yankee Stadium for a while until it becomes just the Yankee Stadium again. This is a bit of a stretch, but let me paraphrase the Book of Ruth—whither thou goest, I will go, and wherever the hell you decide to play baseball, you damn Yankees, I suppose I will turn on the YES network, grumble, and watch you play baseball.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I met a man who says that he was born (prematurely) inside Yankee Stadium when his parents went to a game before his scheduled delivery date. He is now about 87 years old.

Is there a website that lists any births inside Yankee Stadium?
Does anyone know of any births inside Yankee Stadium.