By Laurie Lewis
In this year like no other, many institutions around the globe have been unable to celebrate important anniversaries. Other organizations have been forced to scale back on festivities or to mark the occasion only virtually. In this newsletter, we recognize some New York institutions that had milestone anniversaries (arbitrarily defined as those divisible by 25) that could not be recognized as planned or that slipped by unnoticed.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art shut its doors because of COVID-19 a month shy of its 150th birthday on April 13. For several months, art lovers had to be content with viewing the Met’s collections online. When visitors were able to return to the building starting in late August, they could enjoy the long-planned centerpiece of the Met’s anniversary celebration, a 250-item exhibition called Making the Met, 1870–2020. One thing that remained throughout the closure and reopening: a banner over the entrance proclaiming The Met 150.
Two New York institutions of higher learning also turned 150 years old this year: Hunter College in Manhattan and St. John’s University in Queens. Hunter began as a normal school, that is, one dedicated to training teachers, and it welcomed only female students until well into the twentieth century. In 1961, Hunter became part of the City University of New York (CUNY). St. John’s, a private Catholic school, originally was in Brooklyn. Like many educational facilities at all levels, both Hunter and St. John’s have been operating virtually since spring. For St. John’s, this includes its ongoing 150th anniversary celebration. The school asked for digital birthday greetings and received so many that from mid-September to mid-June next year, it is posting a different video message every week.
“Fore!” first rang out on the Van Cortlandt Golf Course in the Bronx on July 6, 1895. At that time, golf was a popular pastime among the upper classes, who created and maintained golf courses through private clubs. Members of the Mosholu Golf Club of Riverdale wanted to make a new, rather wild course, and they found the perfect site in a section of Van Cortlandt Park. The city owned the land, however, and the only way it could become a golf course was to open it to the public. The Mosholu club created a 9-hole golf course, which was theirs exclusively two afternoons a week; the rest of the time, anyone could play for free. The Van Cortlandt Golf Course, which expanded to 18 holes within a few years, was the first municipal golf course in the United States. Golf courses were among the initial recreational venues to reopen with the easing of coronavirus restrictions in New York, and players were on the green this July 6. Were any of them aware that it was the course’s 125th birthday?
In another borough, Brooklyn, the Wonder Wheel has been a Coney Island attraction for 100 years. The Vourderis family, which has operated the Wonder Wheel since 1983, had planned a three-day birthday celebration in May. The pandemic shutdown changed those plans. Go to the website www.denoswonderwheel.com to see a video of Vourderis family members wishing the wheel a happy 100th and to download a free coloring book. Not the same as a ride on the giant wheel, but nothing this year is as it used to be.
The Circle Line began offering sightseeing cruises in 1945. Since then, more than 80 million tourists and locals have enjoyed seeing the city from an unusual perspective: its surrounding rivers. Temporarily halted during the pandemic, Circle Line cruises are back in business. Day-sailors will see a 75-years banner when they book on line.
Two outdoor events with 50-year anniversaries in 2020 had to be cancelled because they attract huge crowds: the Gay Pride March at the end of June and the New York City Marathon in early November. All Pride events occurred virtually, culminating on June 28 with a special two-hour television broadcast. In addition to celebrating the LGBTQ community, the Pride event saluted front-line workers who have been the heroes of the coronavirus pandemic.
Runners around the world can participate in the virtual New York City Marathon in its 50th anniversary year. For two weeks starting October 17, marathoners may complete a 26.2-mile run wherever they happen to be. The New York Road Runners, organizers of the city’s marathon, are veterans at sponsoring virtual marathons. This is the third annual virtual New York City Marathon, which the Road Runners introduced in 2018 to guarantee runners a live spot in the next marathon; participation in the live event is capped for crowd control. One big difference: unlike in 2018 and 2019, when more than 50,000 runners set foot in all five boroughs, all runners will be participating virtually this year.
Finally, 2020 is the 50th anniversary of the Editorial Freelancers Association. Unless you are a freelance editor, writer, or proofreader or have needed the services of a freelancer, you probably have never heard of the organization. I have been a member for more than 35 years and have seen it grow from a group of New York freelancers to a New York-based association with members from all over the United States and abroad. I include it in this rundown of New York institutions celebrating milestone anniversaries to encourage readers to think of organizations, businesses, and other groups that are important to them and, as appropriate, to extend a happy birthday wish.
More New York Anniversaries
Do you want to learn more about New York between issues of this newsletter? Follow me on Twitter at @LLewisNYCfirsts. Many of my tweets celebrate the anniversaries of events that happened in New York City before they occurred elsewhere in the United States. For example, do you know what New York resident Philip Embury did on October 12, 1766?
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