Today in 1862 Nathaniel Gordon, captain of the ship Erie, is convicted of slave trafficking and hanged at the Tombs prison in Manhattan; he is the only person ever executed by the federal government for this crime.
This Day in History
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Colonial Governor William Cosby judged the Weekly Journal seditious and jailed the editor, John Peter Zenger. This first true opposition newspaper in the North American colonies reflected the views of two gifted lawyers, James Alexander and William Smith. Disbarred by Governor Cosby, Alexander and Smith nonetheless arranted for Zenger's ultimate acquittal by the bold argument of Philadelphia attorney Andrew Hamilton.
The New York Times reported that in 1851 a Catskills woodsman named Mark Carr, recognizing the demand for hoilday greenery, rented a corner at Greenwich and Vesey Streets from which to sell his "mountain novelties." He returned every December, and by 1880 the rent on his lot had risen to $100. Today some trees fetch that much.
Early in the ninteenth-century, New Year's Eve was rowdy. To bring in 1828, for example, marauders harassed revelers emerging from fancy-dress balls. From 1879 authorities had gained control of New Year's Eve celebrations, now held in churches, theaters and gymnasiums, away from drunken crowds. In 1904 the New York Times' Adolph Ochs threw the first Times Square bash—an effort to find a spacious place for the multitudes to safely congregate.
The Holland Tunnel was built (1920-1924) by pneumatically pushing cylindrical shields through the river bottom. The shields not only dug through mud but also served as the shell beneath which the actual tunnel walls (built of iron rings filled with concrete) were constructed. Two shields were used—one began on the New York shore and the other on the New Jersey shore. They met in October 1924.
Kings County was once divided into six towns: Bushwick, Flatbush, Flatlands, New Utrecht, Gravesend and Brooklyn. The Town of Brooklyn included a similarly named village; its southern end was called "South Brooklyn." The Village of Brooklyn became a city and eventually annexed the county towns, pushing its southern border to Coney Island and leaving South Brooklyn far to the north.
When Topsy, an elephant that had served as an attraction for visitors to Coney Island in the 1890s, killed several keepers (including an abusive trainer who tried to feed her a lighted cigarette), a decision was made to put her to death. Hoping to recapture their investment in this disappearing asset, her owner, the Forepaugh Circus, determined to perform the execution in public. Thomas Edison stepped in with a proposal to use the occasion to demonstrate the dangers of alternating current (AC), an electric-distribution technology favored by his rivals George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla, then being considered by New York City. Edison advocated the adoption of direct current (DC). Using techniques perfected during the course of his secret work on an execution tool for humans—the electric chair—he arranged to have Topsy fed carrots laced with sixteen ounces of potassium cyanide and then shod with wooden sandals lined with copper and draped with wires. After the switch was pulled, the elephant died in less than a minute.