Early Spring in New York City
March 22, 2010
Richard J. Garfunkel
We had great fun staying at the Manhattan Club at 200 West 56th Street. It’s a large time-sharing edifice and our room had a wonderful king-sized bed, two bathrooms, a living room and a kitchenette. It was just perfect for our needs
I drove into the City in the late afternoon. I did a few errands and met Linda at her office on 55th Street. I parked the car a few blocks over, we checked in, brought our gear upstairs, and made our way out to Columbus Circle late that afternoon. We bought part of our dinner, some shrimp with dill, mushrooms, clam chowder, salad, olives, and cold tortellini at Whole Foods, in the Time-Warner Building on Columbus Circle. Columbus Circle features the statue of Christopher Columbus standing at the apex of a large imposing obelisk, and for all of you out-of-towners, it sits at the south western corner of Central Park. So after standing on an incredible line, which electronically steered us to a myriad of cash registers, we settled our bill, sauntered out into the warm early evening air and made our way back to our suite. Along with some food I brought from Tarrytown and Linda carried over from her office, we ate heartily.
The next morning, after a very sound sleep, we were out and about the West Side of NY. We headed again to Columbus Circle, walked north on Broadway, and headed east to Central Park West to the New York Historical Society, where they were hosting a year-long Abraham Lincoln exhibit, which has been on view in since the bicentennial of his birth (1809) and the 150th anniversary of his election in 1860. In front of the Historical Society were a group of men dressed as Confederate soldiers, and I told him of my visit to Richmond’s White House of the Confederacy back in 1957.
After touring the incredibly detailed exhibit and going up to the top floor, where they had a small display of FDR’s 1933 early economic advisors (The Brain Trust), we headed west to Zabar’s, a most unique NYC institution. Zabar’s, for all that do not know, is a fabulous delicatessen that features terrific cheeses, smoked fish (lox, Nova Scotia salmon, white fish, etc.), cured meats (salamis, hams, corned beef, pastrami, and much, much more), spectacular breads and other wonderful delicacies. We loaded our basket, paid our bill, and headed back to the Manhattan Club for lunch.
After lunch we headed back out to the beautiful and unprecedented weather. We headed south on 7th Avenue bearing east towards Rockefeller Center to see if the skating rink at 50th and 5th was still functional. Even with the 80 F sun beating down on the watery ice, there were skaters doing their loops, pirouettes and glides. The rink had thousands of spectators, and after a slight respite we then headed over to Times Square where more multitudes were people-watching, buying discount theater tickets and awaiting the start of their matinees. Times Square has two great statues of NY legends, George M. Cohan, the theatrical impresario of the first 3rd of the 20th Century and Father Francis Duffy, one of the heroes of NY’s 69th Regiment (The All-American Rainbow Division).
George Michael Cohan was an individual who became the stuff theatrical legends are made of, and he himself made up some of the legends himself! George M. Cohan was not the oldest of the five that I have selected, but he probably made the earliest impact.
Cohan's baptismal certificate — which is his only written birth record — verifies that he was born in Providence, Rhode Island on July 3rd, 1878 (died 1942). However, Cohan's family unfailingly insisted that George and his country shared birthdays on the 4th. Although noted for their honesty and knowledge of the calendar, the Cohans were traveling actors and had to make connections all of the time, but certainly found it hard to resist the publicity value of a performer (their son) being born on the Fourth of July.
Cohan changed the definition of a Broadway leading man. He danced with a style and grace that defied Newton’s Laws, while maintaining that leading man look! In a way he created a unique look that had never been seen before or since. Cohan's dance routines covered the whole stage, even sending him climbing up the side of a wall into a back flip.
There was no other performer, songwriter or playwright like Cohan at that time. Before the emergence of Al Jolson, one could have easily called him the “world’s greatest entertainer. Most veterans of the theater and critics were not sure how to react to his overwhelmingly sincere combination of flag-waving and sentiment bordering on mawkishness and showmanship.
In the early 1960s, a statue of George M. Cohan was erected in the center of Times Square, at the intersection of Broadway and 47th Street. Crowds pass the base of that statue every day, and most pay little if any attention to it. But the visage of the man who once “owned Broadway” still gazes down the street to which he dedicated his life. In a neighborhood caught in an ongoing vortex of upheaval, Cohan's monument provides a much-needed visible link with the past. George M. Cohan became and remained the consummate Irish-American entertainer of his day. He was patriotic and was the embodiment of assimilation from the old world to the new.
Father Duffy, as he was known to almost all New Yorkers in the first quarter of the 20th Century and George M. Cohan also share the distinction of having their statues in Broadway’s theater district. Interestingly, James Cagney had a leading role in both film treatments about Duffy and Cohan.
Already famous in theological circles, Duffy gained wider fame for his involvement as a military chaplain during World War I when the 69th New York (The Fighting 69th) was federalized again and re-designated the 165th U.S. Infantry Regiment. When the unit moved up to the front in France, Duffy accompanied the litter bearers in recovering the wounded and was always seen in the thick of battle.
Duffy went far beyond the actions of a normal cleric. The regiment was composed primarily of New York Irish immigrants and the sons of Irish immigrants, and many wrote later of Duffy's inspirational leadership. Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur, the commander of his division, admitted later that Duffy was very briefly considered for the post of regimental commander. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal, the Conspicuous Service Cross (New York State), the Légion d'honneur (France), and the Croix de guerre. Father Duffy is the most highly decorated cleric in the history of the U.S. Army.
From Times Square we headed to Bryant Park and the New York Public Library. Bryant Park, once a horrible place, a former hangout for drug addicts and once nicknamed “Needle Park,” is now a wonderful place to sit down, relax, have a bite to eat, and enjoy nature in one of the busiest parts of NYC.
After walking across the park, we stopped at its Carousel, watching children enjoying their $2 rides, and then walked around to the front of the library and headed north up 5th Avenue. We first stopped at my great friend Alan Rosenberg’s office on the corner of 45th and 5th Avenue. Its tax season, so I assumed correctly that Alan would be there working on his client’s books. He was. After a short and always pleasant visit we head up the avenue to Linda’s office on 55th Street off Madison Avenue. We got a drink up there, washed our hands, and on the way back to 5th Avenue we met a Charlesbank associate who was down from Boston, visiting in New York with his wife and young baby. That was a nice coincidence.
On our way back to the Manhattan Club, we passed the famous Carnegie Hall. (The famous NYC question and answer, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!” So it was back to our rooms, we relaxed a bit, put up out tired feet that had walked miles, and watched some March Madness on our flat screen television sets.
We were expecting our friends, Norman and Sandy Liss, who arrived at eight o’clock. After our welcomes, we had a bottle of wine and some great cheeses from Zabar’s. At eight-thirty we were off to Patsy’s, which is on 56th Street, only a block away. Patsy’s has wonderful Italian food, and after appetizers of fried calamari and baked stuff clams arregandata, Norman and I enjoyed a terrific tortellini with Bolognese sauce. Sandy had calves livers cacciatora, and Linda had grilled chicken breast tre colore.
It was a great meal, we had a wonderful time, and by eleven o’clock we had been all talked out. So, after a day of eating, hiking all around the city, enjoying the exceptional weather, we collapsed. Sunday morning came very quickly and we went to an invitation only, time-sharing sales meeting. It is hard to turn down a $50 gift certificate for lunch and a $100 Visa card, so we endured the unendurable. In actuality it was a learning experience. We learned that for $50,000 and a yearly maintenance of $2200, one could own a week at the Manhattan Club. It wasn’t too hard to turn that offer down. But, as PT Barnum once sagely said, “There is a sucker born every minute.”
Since there was a half-marathon being run in New York and another parade getting off somewhere else, traffic was too heavy to drive around aimlessly. We headed back to Zabar’s for some more bread on our way uptown. After securing a loaf of seeded rye bread, we turned right onto 79th Street, merged into the West Side Highway, and were home in 35 minutes. Another great trip was sealed away in my travel journal