One of the things I like most about the moral orientation of David Freeland‘s new book Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville is its simultaneous focus on the lost and the found of living in the contemporary city. Most of the vanished forms of leisure he writes about require the archival efforts of a historian, to be sure, but they more often than not have left traces on the city — architectural details or styles, fading signage, place names — that even an observant amateur could spot and become curious about. Above all, it’s the impulse toward curious observation that Freeland hopes to model and foster. (You’ll see what I mean if you make it to the final session of our Lost New York conference next month, when Freeland will engage in conversation with another inveterate observer and urban theorist, Marshall Berman.)
To the end of fostering curiosity about traces of the lost city, Freeland has launched an interactive history installation he’s calling “You Are Here.” As he describes it on his blog, Gotham Lost and Found:
Throughout Manhattan I’ve put up 9 (with a bonus 10th to follow)
dinner-plate sized signs, each on the surface of a building that once
played a key role in the evolution of our entertainment culture. When
you find a “You Are Here” sign, simply text in the specified code to
the number given on the sign – you’ll receive an instant message back,
telling you some interesting fact about where you are and why this
building is important. Think of it as my historian’s fantasy – I’m
putting up plaques on buildings that should have them, but don’t.
These impromptu plaques might simply catch the eye of the curious and result in some spontaneous educating, but for those willing to play his game, he’s devised a bit of a scavenger hunt, complete with rhyming clues:
#1 is south of Canal, along Elizabeth: you’ll know the plot is getting thick, when you reach a site of russet brick.
#2 sits on twisting Doyers, above hidden foyers.
#3 lies east of Cooper Square; great Yiddish names once gathered there.
#4 captured New York scenes, in a building along Broadway in the lower teens.
#5 is on Second Avenue, in the East Village: where stars once ate, sushi takes the plate.
#6: They say old 28th sounded like a Tin Pan; see it now, while you still can.
#7: in the 130s east of 7th, the stars of swing would sing.
#8: On 135th, ‘neath a 60s-styled wall, sat a great Harlem theater, accepting to all.
#9: Near the spot where Duffy stands, the food was served with invisible hands.
I’ll provide a bonus clue for our readers. That’s not the first time the name Duffy has appeared on this site.
Freeland writes about each of these locations in his book in great detail. Sure, you could pick up the book and use it as a guide on your quest to find his plaques. But he’s also holding out, as a carrot to get you to hunt, the prize of a signed copy, plus a pass to the Museum of the City of New York, for the first five people to send in all the answers. Onward toward the production of cultural memory!