Tenants have only one working bathroom in
each tenement on the lower East Side. "Greens-workers"
from the Parks Department sometimes live in Central
Those are among the whoppers, tall tales and blasts
from the past told to tourists from around the globe
when they spend good money on guided sightseeing tours.
To experience New York the way visitors do, the Daily
News took 11 two- to three-hour double-decker bus tours
over a 10-day period, hopping on and off the buses
frequently to hear presentations from 25 guides.
Anyone can repeat the experiment. A bus ticket valid
for 48 hours, with unlimited hop-on, hop-off privileges,
costs $49. And here is our look at the top urban myths
that our tour guides helped perpetuate:
"You see that white building with the blue windows?
That's where Malcolm X was killed," said Lisa Gordon, a
guide with Gray Line New York Sightseeing, as she
pointed at a church on W. 116th St. at St. Nicholas Ave.
Wrong. The 1965 assassination — a watershed moment in
African-American history — took place nearly 3 miles
away, on the other side of Harlem, in the Audubon
Ballroom at Broadway and W. 165th St.
Four Gray Line guides and three from CitySights NY,
its smaller rival, repeatedly referred to Rudy Giuliani
as if he were still mayor. None of the seven mentioned
Five guides pointed out the place where Harrison Ford
calls home. The only problem: he doesn't live in the
Dakota, the SoHo Grand, the Pierre Hotel or Time Warner
Center. Only the guide who placed him in Trump World
Tower had it right.
"New York is famous for its Gothic architecture, and
that, in fact, is how it got its nickname — 'Gotham
City,'" said a CitySights guide who identified herself
only as Sara.
"Not true," said Mike Wallace, who has taught urban
history at the City University of New York for 34 years
and is the co-author of "Gotham: A History of New York
City to 1898."
The original Gotham — the name means "Goat Town" in
old Anglo-Saxon — was a village near Sherwood Forest in
England that was the "proverbial village of idiots,"
"But the countertradition was that they were wise
fools only pretending to be idiots — like the canny
traders who got the Indians to cough up Manhattan."
Washington Irving first used the word Gotham to
describe New York in 1807 in his satiric "Salmagundi"
essays, and it was widely popularized in the 1940s in
Batman comic books.
"You don't hear too many people honking their horns
in New York City because they're afraid of the $350
fine," said Gray Line's Roger Berdahl.
Huh? The fine is on the books on lower Fifth Ave. and
other parts of Manhattan, but rarely enforced.
Pointing out the Parsons School of Design, Berdahl
said, "It's affectionately known as the Fashion
Institute of Technology." Parsons, which is part of the
New School, and FIT, which is in the state university
system, are separate institutions.
He also said Bloomingdale's is on Central Park and
that the towering statue in Foley Square near the
African Burial Ground is a "Dutch farmer's antelope
Actually, Bloomingdale's is still on Third Ave. and
the statue, "Triumph of the Human Spirit," features an
antelope headdress worn by Bamana tribesmen in Mali in
A one-time Broadway actor who appeared in "The Best
Little Whorehouse in Texas," Berdahl colorfully imitated
the beatniks who he and at least six other guides claim
still linger in the Village. "Hey, man," he said. "Dig
"It's good to explain how Greenwich Village was a
center of Bohemian life and thought and action," said
Kenneth Jackson, editor of "The Encyclopedia of New York
City" and former president of the New-York Historical
"But it's also important to convey an accurate
portrait of the city — or else people from Dubuque will
wonder how a beatnik can afford $4,000 a month in rent."
"Yuck!" said Pamela Barnette, a Gray Line guide, as
she pointed to a tenement on Allen St. near Delancey St.
"Most people who live in these buildings don't have a
bathroom in their apartment or on their floor, just in
the tenement itself."
That would have been true from the 1880s to the
1930s. But in 1935, a tough new building code mandated a
bathroom in each apartment and sanitary conditions
improved over the next three decades. Yuck? Rents on the
lower East Side are skyrocketing.
SAD-EYED BEATNIKS still mope around the streets of
Greenwich Village. Hippies chant "flower power" from
their Volkswagen Beetles in the East Village.
One guide claimed adults aren't allowed into the
Central Park Zoo unless accompanied by a child.
And one said Lincoln Center was built so the street
gangs featured in "West Side Story" would have nowhere
to rumble. ***
One guide said screaming, hysterical flappers went
wild when Frank Sinatra played the Paramount in Times
Square in the 1890s.
The truth: Some 25,000 swooning bobbysoxers desperate
to see a young Ol' Blue Eyes did riot on Broadway, but
the date was 1944.
The bottom line: Sure, there are 8 million stories in
the Naked City, but the ones told atop New York's
distinctive red tourist wagons are often misleading, out
of date or just plain wrong.
Further to that, there are long lines at each
of the "hop" stops and the wait for the "next bus can be a
leg killer....not to mention the diesel fumes.
With Daily News Library
on September 24, 2005