Saturday, January 17, 2009

Surreal Sights

Seeing a plane floating in the Hudson river seems completely surreal, nevermind the helicopters flying above my apartment until the 11:00 news ends, making me feel like Henry Hill.

It also reminds me that I forgot to finish my post about this photography competition. The picture of the grounded ferry boat in Lancashire, England reminds me of a New York story that most people today don't know about. The SS Normandie was an opulent French ocean liner which US authorities seized in New York harbor and renamed USS Lafayette, with hopes of converting it for use in World War II. However, a welder's torch started a huge fire, causing the ship to turn on its side where it stayed for over a year. Can you imagine a huge ship just sitting sideways right off the West Side Highway for a year? Unreal. has great video of the Normandie, before, during, and after the fire.

However, on a recent walking tour of the East Village, our tour guide told a slightly different story of how the Normandie ended up on it's side. He said that notorious mobster Meyer Lansky had tried to negotiate with the government to get his pal Lucky Luciano released from prison. He offered to have the mob protect the harbor during the war in exchange for Lucky's freedom. When the government refused, the Normandie suddenly and mysteriously had a giant fire, scaring the government into accepting Lansky's offer. A quick internet search yielded some information to connect the two events, but apparently the government still disputes working with the mob. Either way, I think the mob story is much more fun than an errant spark starting it all.

And I highly recommend taking the East Village History Project's walking tours. The tours are free, but they recommend tipping your tour guide, which you will definitely want to do. We took the "Gangsters, Murderers & Weirdos" tour, one of their most popular. It's a cheap, entertaining way to learn more about New York and the history that is sitting right under your nose.

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