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Burying The Lede

This photo by Irving Underhill is marked as circa 1913 and titled “City Hall Park panorama [New York City]” That title is certainly true, but I’m pretty sure that 120 years ago the thing that drew everyone’s attention in this view was the airplane. Note the singular: I’m about as certain as I can be that is one plane, caught twice in the two photos that, added together, make up the panoramic shot. The photographic technology of the time didn’t allow for making a panorama by moving the camera (without the use of a movie camera, which would not have been this high resolution) but two pictures taken with wide-angle lenses did a good job. The far left is looking down Park Row to the (nominal) southwest, the far right is 180 degrees, looking up Park Row.

It might be 1913, it might be 1914 – the tower on the far right is the Municipal Building, which was completed in 1914. It may well have been complete on the outside in 1913. The Woolworth building on the left was completed in 1913. The type of plane in use is pre-World War I, so that puts us in ‘13 or ‘14. The low buildings in the foreground are, left to right, the General Post Office, City Hall, and the Tweed Courthouse. The thing on the right, over the street, that looks like a mutant porch is the elevated station at the end of the Brooklyn Bridge, with the bridge out of frame off to the right.

The big question, of course is why a plane was flying over City Hall Park. It may have simply been to show off flight, which was still very much a novelty at that time. If this was April 1913, it might have been somehow related to the opening of Woolworth, although I doubt it. Wouldn’t the plane have distracted people from the topic at hand, the tallest building in the word? 

Also, why isn’t anyone looking up? My pet theory is that the engine in that little biplane wasn’t very loud and people hadn’t yet been conditioned to look up when they heard a noise.