In 1933, journalist Helen Worden of the World-Telegram decided to take a jaunt. With her friend Ruth Steinway in tow, she circumnavigated the waterfront of Manhattan island, and wrote it all up in a pithy little number called Round Manhattan’s Rim. This Depression-era travelogue is a wonderful curio that opens up a vintage Pandora’s-hatbox of questions, from “What is a B.E.F.?” to “Where on earth was Spanish-town,” and “When did the Seaport stop being painted in bright colors of blue and white?” For any NYC history buff, this trove of forgotten pockets of the city long since disappeared is an incredible thrill; that goes double for an NYC history buff with any special love of the water and waterfront life. And the little unassuming moments during which it becomes especially clear that this book was written in another era create a second layer of history — this is a nostalgic text written in a time already past.
“Romance and adventure lie on the waterfront of a great city.
In the middle, up-to-date buildings obliterate early landmarks. On shore-line streets, you will find the past as well as the present, see the ever-changing character of the town and meet the pioneer types of a frontier civilization…
The Battery is familiar to those who have watched it from ferry-boats and ocean liners, contacted it by occasional visits to the Aquarium, and strolled along its wall on summer days.
But it is one of the few New York water-front localities that is known. How many have seen East Marginal Street with its wind-swept spaces? Who can tell where Jeffrey’s Light is, and where would you go to fish for striped bass in Manhattan waters, or set crab traps off the rim of the most important city in the world?”
So much of Round Manhattan’s Rim is pure gold, so endlessly fascinating and arresting in its excavation of a lost world, that to really do it justice I would have to reproduce the entire book here. The next best thing is to pluck out a few of the highlights that particularly grabbed my attention, and encourage you to hunt down a copy and do some exploring with Ruth and Helen on your own. But first, a brief overview of their walks, and how they did them.