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You Tube Gold: 1911 New York City

A gorgeous and touching film

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On Brooklyn Bridge
1985: Walking across Brooklyn Bridge in New York which spans the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Its total length is 2065 metres and it was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was opened in 1883.
Photo by Peter Keegan/Keystone/Getty Images

New York lives in the American imagination like no other city. You have the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the Village. Really you could go on for a long time before you even got to the tens of thousands of notable people and you can take it right back to the beginning because, as Russell Shorto proved in his brilliant and seminal book, The Island At The Center Of The World, New York was New York even before it was New York.

The Dutch cast the character of this singular city before the British realized the immense strategic value of Manhattan and made New York a dream, an icon, a beacon for people from everywhere. From the very beginning in 1614, this city drew in people from all parts of the world.

In this video, 297 years after the Dutch struck a deal with the natives who lived on Manhattan (as Shorto explains, they had a very different understanding of the “sale”), the city is much more built up, but the trajectory is clear. The streets are full of people from all parts of the world, the city hums with energy and a hint of danger and the buildings are starting to rise to the sky.

People tend to stare at the camera - remember this is 1911 and moving pictures are still new and the cameras were enormous.

It’s a fascinating look back.

By the way, as Shorto points out, beaver, a key item of trade between the natives of the interior and the Dutch (the pelt was incredibly lucrative in Europe), are still on the seal of New York City and the colors that the New York Knickerbockers wear are the same that the Dutch claimed as their own.

This is an amazingly clear video and many of you would enjoy Shorto’s brilliant work as well.