Place in History

The Bowery Hall of Fame

Years: 2001-2002
Project: A modular mini-museum set up on the Bowery.
Summary: The Bowery Hall of Fame is a museum in miniature, assembled from the remains of a Palace Hotel lodging house cubicle, pilfered cultural artifacts, local propaganda, and bits of historical documentation. Inside this tiny dwelling you will discover strange and wonderful facts about the Bowery, its inhabitants, its structures, its apocryphal history and its unknowable future. From the nineteenth century slumming expeditions of George Washington Chuck Connors, the Mayor of Chinatown, to the modern-day exploits of urban professionals, this museum offers the visitor an explicit view of the world's most famous down-and-out boulevard. Built at a moment of profound physical, social and economic change along the Bowery, the Hall of Fame represents a portal into twenty-first century New York, a place defined by its past yet persistently unfettered by it.

  Page 6: Steve Brodie, The Big Jump and the Living Museum  

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STEVE BRODIE, THE BIG JUMP AND THE LIVING MUSEUM

On July 23, 1886, local Bowery boy Steve Brodie was on the front page of every city newspaper, instantly famous for jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. No one, however, is really sure that Brodie actually jumped. Rumor has it Brodie was hiding in the East River, and got another man to drop a dummy into the river.

Nonetheless, the feat made him a celebrity. For a while, he was an exhibit at Alexander’s museum at 347 Bowery, bragging about his exploits. His “permanent exhibit” began in 1890, when he opened a saloon at 114 Bowery.  His bar was a living museum, complete with a mural of the jump and the clothing he claimed to have worn. Tour buses stopped at the door, and guides exclaimed, “Ladies and gentlemen, to the left you see one of the great historical scenes of this great city.  That, ladies and gentleman, is Steve Brodie’s famous saloon. You have all heard of Steve Brodie, the man who made that terrible leap for life from the Brooklyn Bridge….”

In 1894, Brodie was asked to star in a play called “On the Bowery.”  It was not unusual for local Bowery celebrities to show up in the theater; the original lead of this play was a local boxer.  Brodie’s jump was incorporated into the play (he saved his heroine by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge) but the rest of the plot consisted mainly of show tunes. As an encore, Brodie sang Charlie Hoyt’s song, “The Bowery.”  An excerpt follows:

On the night I struck New York
I went out for a little walk.
Folks who are onto the city say,
Better for I took Broadway.
But I was out to enjoy the sights:
There was the Bowery, a blaze with lights.
I had one of the Devil’s own nights, I’ll never go there anymore.
CHORUS:
The Bowery, the Bowery!
They such things, they do strange things.
Oh the Bowery, the Bowery!
I’ll never go there any more.

Years later, local merchants complained that the ditty destroyed the street. At the time, however, the song merely added to Brodie’s fame.  He eventually returned to his saloon and, in true Bowery fashion, died before 40 of diabetes.

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