The mythical New York

The mythical New York

by Christopher Anderson
article from Monday 8, April, 2013

THE HISTORY of New York City changed abruptly and savagely with the heinous atrocity that was 9/11. This famously bold and brash megalopolis was almost brought to it's knees by a cowardly cheap shot, a sucker punch delivered without any warning by a faction of our current infestation of lunatic religious extremists.

Radicals whose moronic activities only result in dragging their own great religion through the mire, simply are cold blooded murderers by any other name. People whose craving for the oxygen of publicity has only caused them to be reviled throughout the civilised world. The few dishonourable countries who give these terrorists protection and encouragement, also purport to be our allies and pay lip service to international law and order. Could foreign aid have anything to do with this, I wonder.

In retrospect, it must be galling for the plotters and planners of the appalling outrage on New York to realise, having committed mass murder, mayhem and destruction, that it was all in vain, achieved nothing, and, more than that, it was actually counter-productive to their own warped and twisted cause.

What the culprits had failed to take into account was the one factor which still makes New York a great city – the people. In the aftermath of the outrage one could not fail to admire the resilience and great leadership shown by the inspirational Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the heroism of the emergency services and not least the courage exhibited by the ordinary, or should I say extraordinary New Yorker.  I wonder, however, at what appears to be, in more normal times, a certain uncharacteristic gullibility in the make up of the seemingly hard-nosed, no-nonsense New Yorker. For example, take the apparent unquestioning and consistent acceptance of the various myths about the city.

Now, it seems to me that most of the myths and legends relating to the great cities of the world have, as their origin, some basis in historical fact. The Jack the Ripper tales of London and, closer to home, the Burke and Hare stories of body snatching in Edinburgh are obvious examples. The modern myths of New York are something else entirely, but no less intriguing.

I remember, some years ago, the actor Telly Savalas (fellow oldies will recall, of "Kojak" and "who loves ya, baby?" fame) who was over in the UK filming, relating with a straight face, during a television talk show, his version of the following tale: A young girl is given a lift by a motorist in New York City and mysteriously vanishes from the car during the journey. The baffled driver calls at the home address that the girl had given him, only to be informed by her parents that she had been killed by a hit-and-run driver, years before, at the very spot he had picked her up. The motorist then goes to see her grave in a nearby cemetery, where he finds his sweater, which he had lent to the girl during the journey, draped over her tombstone.

One of the most popular and persistent myths of modern New York concerns the complete power failure in the city, which occurred on November 9th 1965. Everyone was plunged into darkness as all the lights went out, and lo and behold, as a direct result of this, nine months later the birth rate in the city rocketed upwards, or so the story goes. In fact, nothing of the sort occured. The truth is less interesting, for the birth rate for the period in question was, if anything, slightly lower than usual,13.9 per cent as opposed to a five year average of 14 per cent. Nevertheless, the myth survives.

Many Americans still believe that beneath New York the city sewers are infested with gigantic alligators. This myth maintains that New Yorkers, who had been on vacation in Florida, brought back with them baby alligators as pets from the swamps of the Everglades. When these animals grew larger and became unmanageable and dangerous, their owners panicked and, anticipating trouble from the authorities, disposed of them by simply flushing them down the lavatory. Being the hardy animals that they are, they survived the trip to the depths of the sewers, where they flourished on a plentiful diet of rats and sewage. Thy bred prolifically there and grew to an enormous size. Because of the absence of natural light, the alligators turned white and also went blind.

The story is further embellished by the beasts becoming drug crazed, caused by supplementing their diet by eating narcotics growing in the sewers after having been flushed down the lavatories by addicts and dealers during police raids. It's an inspired touch to the myth.

Believe it or not, in February 1935, the New York Times actually carried an item about a seven foot long alligator being killed in an uptown sewer, it having attacked workmen there. Unfortunately for the possible veracity of the myth, however, growing to a length of seven feet long is more par for the course for an alligator, and can hardly be described as gigantic. The poor animal also was not white or blind and showed no obvious signs of being a junkie.

It may well be that in "The Big Apple", home of the original skyscraper, everything seems so much larger than life. Just visiting New York is a unique experience. It has a charm all of it's own which has drawn me back there several times, once shortly after 9/11. Dull it is not. As the old song tells us; " New York, New York, so good they named it twice!". 

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