Please see Note 1 for description of Greetings from New York City postcard.
Above: Map of the Flatiron District of New York City, courtesy of MapQuest.
The metaphorical intersection of architecture, idiomatic phraseology, and – at least to some extent – postcards, all converged on the geographic intersection of Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and 23rd Street in New York City in the very early 1900s to produce what some lexicographers consider to be the first fad phrase to sweep the entire nation: “23 skidoo” (sometimes spelled “23 skiddoo”). There are many theories as to the origin of 23 skidoo, but the following explanation is the one that seems most believable to me.
Around 1902, construction was completed on one of the tallest buildings in New York City, the 21-story Fuller Building, which would house the headquarters of the Fuller Construction Company. Chicago architect Daniel Burnham designed the structure to fit on the slice-of-pie-shaped parcel of land formed where Broadway and Fifth Avenue intersect at a sharp angle with 23rd Street. Since the triangular outline of the resulting skyscraper resembled a flat iron, the building was referred to as the flat iron building, and the name officially was changed to the Flatiron Building soon after construction.
Please see Note 2 for description of Fifth Avenue and Flat Iron Building postcard.
Both Broadway and Fifth Avenue are major thoroughfares in the city, and air currents would flow along those streets much like air is channeled through a canyon. Due to its location on 23rd Street at the convergence of these two canyon-like roads, the air currents mixed and swirled around the apex of the Flatiron Building, causing unusual wind patterns that included the occasional updraft, which would tend to lift the long skirts worn by women in the very early 1900s. As soon as it became known to the local male population that this was the case, men began to gather on Twenty-third Street at the base of the Flatiron Building to gawk. The intersection was already one of the busiest in New York City, so police would be on foot patrol in the area to shoo away these thrill-seeking loiterers who were clogging the sidewalks. My tattered old Webster’s Dictionary defines “skidoo” (actually, the entry is spelled “skiddoo”) thus: “to go away; leave: usually in the imperative.” So, the officer’s command to the loitering men, “Leave immediately!” became known as the “23 skidoo”.
Here is an example of just how windy the conditions could be:
(Please note that this video must fully load before it begins to play.) At the Foot of the Flatiron (filmed November 2, 1903). 24 seconds into the film, watch as a man enters the scene from from left to right. As he turns to look at the movie camera, the wind lifts his hat right off of his head! Also, at about 1 minute 40 seconds, a lady purchases a newspaper from a newsboy just out of the movie camera view (they enter from the right). She huddles against the base of the Flatiron building to read the newspaper, but the wind is whipping around so fiercely that the newspaper is completely unmanageable, and she exits the scene to the left, clutching the crumpled remains of what had just moments before been a pristine paper! Also, one or more local beat policemen are seen at three different times in just this short film that is less than three minutes in length.
23 skidoo might have remained an idiomatic phrase merely local to NYC, perhaps even just to Midtown Manhattan, were it not for the fact that in the second half of the first decade of the 1900s (1905, 1906, 1907, etc.), the picture postcard was becoming extremely popular as a means of sending quick, short messages. Having just been built in 1902, and being one of the tallest buildings in New York at the time (the Park Row Building, built in 1899, was the tallest), the Flatiron Building was a natural as an image to grace the front of a picture postcard. Some postcard publishers, banking on the knowledge that the unusual air patterns around the Flatiron Building were liable to cause what might today be called a “skirt malfunction”, even pictured women with skirts aflutter in front of the famous building. Here is an example of one such post card, with the caption:
Such postcards were sent across the nation, and even around the world, and so it is that the postcard may have been instrumental in the viral spread of the phrase 23 skidoo.
The term itself is the subject of this postcard:
The sender saw no need to send the recipient a long “Dear John” letter. It took only this one sentence on a suitably chosen postcard to end the relationship: “Well Jess, I thought it over and this is the ans on the other side.” Note that along the bottom of the obverse is “COPYRIGHTED 1907 D HILLSON”, indicating that the term 23 skidoo was already so well known by 1907 that it had its own postcard! The postmark on the reverse is unreadable (the card is printed on card stock that is coarsely textured on both sides), but the one cent stamp commemorating the founding of Jamestown in 1607 was issued in 1907 (for the tercentenary anniversary), so the postcard was almost certainly sent in 1907 (commemorative stamps were only available at the post office for a limited time). According to the address, the recipient lived in the area of Scio, Ohio, and so the sender must have assumed that someone in the little village of Scio (Harrison County) in southeast Ohio would have understood that “23 skidoo” meant “scram” or “skedaddle”.
Update of 01/03/2011: Happy New Year 2011! As if to celebrate the arrival of this newly minted year, the blogsite 23 skidoo postcards today posted images of hundreds of postcards that relate to the phrase “23 skidoo” either by having 23 or skidoo or both on the front of the postcard. I am officially adding 23 skidoo postcards to my blogroll. I noticed in their “Police” and “Messengers” section the images of several postcards that were published by Barton & Spooner, so I present one as a way of officially welcoming 23 skidoo postcards to my postcardiness blogroll:
Note especially the presence of the distinct outline of the Flatiron Building in the panorama of buildings that forms the background of the illustration. Note, too, the prominent “23″ emblazoned on the brass badge across the front of the messenger’s cap. Although many postcards feature “23″ or “skidoo”, very few actually link the terms with the Flatiron Building on the same postcard. This postcard, however, provides irrefutable postcard evidence that “23″, and — by extension — “23 skidoo” were linked in the popular imagination with the Flatiron Building. So, welcome 23 skidoo postcards!
The phrase 23 skidoo is still in use today, although it is not as wildly popular as it was in the early twentieth century. 23 skidoo lives on in the name taken by the hip-hop-for-kids (and adults!) artist Secret Agent 23 Skidoo.
Here is his “I Gotta Be Me”, available on the recently released CD “Easy“:
Fun facts: The address of the Flatiron building is 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. The Flatiron Building has its own facebook page.
Being so tall and narrow, most postcard views of the Flatiron Building are composed vertically, so that the image is properly viewed when the postal card has the shorter edges at the bottom and top, and the longer edges on the left and right side. In fact, postcards of the Flatiron Building that are meant to be held in the normal, horizontal, position are only found infrequently. But just one such card that shows the skyline of the Flatiron District with the Flatiron Building in the center is featured as the seventh (and final) postcard in We are well and HAPPY, posted by Susan E. of This Old Paper. It is well worth a look, since such a view is so unusual. You can click on the image to get an enlarged view. The post chronicles the honeymoon in New York City of Emily and Joseph Schifferli in August, 1906, by way of the postcards that they sent back to relatives in Buffalo, New York. Most people think of Niagara Falls as a honeymoon destination, but for the newlywed Schifferli couple, apparently the Flatiron Building, only four years old, already was a “must see” destination while in New York City.
For your viewing pleasure, more postcard views of the Flatiron Building are provided below. Your comments about any aspect of this post are solicited!
This post is being submitted to the Festival of Postcards, coordinated by Evelyn Yvonne Theriault, since the theme of this Festival (8th Edition) is “Geo.” July 16, 2010 update: The Geo edition of the Festival has been posted!
Obverse: “Greetings from New York City”. Stylized street map with the following labels: Trinity Church, Woolworth Building, City Hall, Empire State Building, Metropollitan Opera, Times Square, Madison Square Garden, New York Coliseum, Laguardia Field, United Nations, Eastside Airlines Terminal, Grand Central Station, Chrysler Building, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Radio City, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of History, Hayden Planetarium, St. John the Divine, Museum of New York, Columbia University, Grant’s Tomb, Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium. Reverse: The numeral 142 in the upper left corner. The caption identifies the numbered items on the map, including the Statue of Liberty. The text in the vertical divider strip is printed from top to bottom: Acacia Card Company, 256 Broadway, New York 7, N. Y. The use of a station number rather than a ZIP code indicates that the card was printed before 1965, most likely in the late 1950s or early 1960s.
Obverse: In upper left corner: “Fifth Avenue and Flat Iron Building, New York City” In lower left corner: © by American Studio, N. Y. Reverse: Caption heading in upper left corner: FIFTH AVENUE AND FLAT IRON BUILDING, NEW YORK CITY, with caption: Fifth Avenue here crosses Broadway and 23rd Street, the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue forming a triangle, which is the site of the Flat Iron Building Known as the first steel frame skyscraper erected in New York. Along left side (from bottom to top): PUBLISHED BY MANHATTAN POST CARD CO., NEW YORK, N. Y. Centered in the divider strip (from top to bottom): C. T. AMERICAN ART COLORED, with a 30 in a circle at the top of the divider strip, and the Curt Teich Company, Chicago logo at the bottom. To the left of the stamp box is POST CARD in a large font, with “THIS SPACE FOR ADDRESS ONLY” in smaller font underneath. Inside the stamp box is “PLACE ONE CENT STAMP HERE”, with the number 77870 under the text.
Obverse: “NEW YORK.” in upper left. “FLATIRON BUILDING. BROADWAY & 23 RD STREET.” in upper right. Reverse: Undivided back, printed with brown ink.. Three dotted lines for the name and address, with the number 128 under the bottom line, to the right. “Post Card” printed in a Gothic font in upper center, with “This side is for the address.” printed in the lower left. “Place the Stamp Here One Cent for United States, and Island Possessions, Cuba, Canada and Mexico. Two Cents For Foreign.” is inside of the stampbox formed of small dots. General comments: This view is taken at street level, and must have been based on a photograph of the Fuller Building taken soon after construction was completed (circa 1902), since the extension to the ground-floor apex of the building — sometimes called the cowcatcher — had not yet been constructed. Another indication that this is one of the earliest views of the completed Flatiron builing is the presence of placards placed across the apex windows on the second, third, fourth and sixth floors. The text on the placards is illegible, but most likely indicated the name of the construction company, the architect, and perhaps some of the occupants. This view also shows one of the best views of the standalone sidewalk clock, located adjacent to 200 Fifth Avenue, on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street. There are just a few sidewalk clocks left in Manhattan. The Museum of the City of New York claims that only four remain. Some websites state that the sidewalk clock at Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street (across from the Flatiron Building) was erected in 1909, at the time that a new, sixteen story building was constructed on the site adjacent to the clock, formerly occupied by the Fifth Avenue Hotel. However, this cannot be true, Since the sidewalk clock exists in this undivided back postcard, it must have been installed by March 1, 1907 (the date that the divided back era began in the USA). The Flatiron District is rich in large timepieces. The clock tower of the Metropolitan Life Building — AKA the Met LIfe Tower — was constructed in 1909 (construction proposed in 1905) as an addition to a preexisting building which had been built in 1893. The Met Life Building is located at 5 Madison Avenue, one block from the Flatiron Builiding, with Madison Square Park occupying the intervening space. The four clocks on the Met Life Tower — each twenty six and a half feet in diameter, one on each side of the clock tower, would afford the tenants of all but the lowest floors of the east side of the Flatiron Building an unobstructed view of the clock tower. So, with the standalone sidewlk clock at street level, and the Met Life Tower clocks high in the sky, an occupant of the Flatiron Building would have little need to refernce a wrist watch or pocket watch.
Note also (in the lower left corner of the image) the scaffolding in the middle of Broadway, where a freestanding streetlight fixture is under construction to better illuminate this busy, six-way intersection at night. The completed street light can be seen in postcard six, below. This unused, undivided-back postcard was printed pre-March 1, 1907.
*+*+*+*+* END POSTCARD ONE *+*+*+*+*
Obverse: Borderless image with a 3/8 inch white area (for a written message) at the bottom. Caption is printed in red ink, positioned just under the image, left-justified. Text is all caps regular (not bold) sans-serif font, printed in red ink. “C. V. 123 – FLAT IRON BUILDING. NEW YORK. Reverse: Undivided back. Printed using black ink. “Post Card” in a fairly fancy serif typeface, decorated with straight as well as curved lines, and with seven stars at the lower left of the decoration. “THIS SIDE FOR THE ADDRESS.” is in the lower left area of the back, printed in a bold, serif font. In a small font, centered along the left edge is “MADE IN GERMANY.”, printed in a regular, sans serif font. There are two solid lines, indicating the places where the name and address of the recipient is to be written. The bottom line is positioned directly beneath the top line. The stampbox design resembles a double-sided picture frame, with circular embellishments at each corner and at the center of each side. “PLACE STAMP HERE DOMESTIC ONE CENT FOREIGN TWO CENTS” is centered in the stampbox. General comments: I have been unable to find any information on “C. V.”, which are likely the initials of the postcard publisher or printer, although it is possible that it could stand simply for City View. Please comment if you have any information! Note that this is the undivided back version of the divided back postcard illustrated next.
*+*+*+*+* END POSTCARD FOUR *+*+*+*+*
*+*+*+*+* BEGIN POSTCARD FIVE *+*+*+*+*
Obverse: “Flat Iron Buillding, New York.” in upper right corner, printed case-sensitive in red ink using a small, serif font. The view is taken at ground level, looking directly at the apex of the subject building.
Reverse: Printed using green ink. The lettering of “Post Card” is in a pseudo-case-sensitive, curvy serif font. “THIS SPACE MAY BE USED FOR WRITING” is to the left of the undecorated vertical divider linle, and “THIS SIDE FOR THE ADDRESS ONLY” is to the right side. Beginning just to the right of the divider line, along the bottom right edge of the card, is printed “Success Postal Card Co., Publ., New York. No. 1006″. The stampbox consists of at least a solid rectangle, but the interior of the stampbox is covered by the affixed one cent U. S. Postage Stamp. The postmark is dated June 15, 1911 at 10:30 PM, from New York, N.Y. Station G. The card is addressed to Dr. A. E. Sherman, 106 Main Street, Aurora, Illinois, with the following undated pencilled message: “Hello Doc! I am going to bring you this building. W”.
General comments: Although a divided-back postcard, postmarked in 1911, the view appears to be adapted from a photograph shot very soon after construction was completed on the Flat Iron Building, circa 1902, since the “cowcatcher” extension of the first floor apex has not yet been constructed. In fact, it was probably taken just shortly after the photo that was the basis of POSTCARD ONE (above). Note that all of the placards visible in postcard one have been removed in this image, except the placard on the sixth floor. Also, the multi-globed light fixture located in the middle of the intersection that was under construction in postcard one is now completed in this view. The stand-alone sidewalk clock — although somewhat obscured by a horse-drawn carriage — is visible in this image, located in front of the Fifth Avenue Hotel at 200 Fifth Avenue. The Fifth Avenie Hotel would be razed just few years later, to allow construction of a new office buildling completed in 1909. This postcard also provides a fairly good view of the red-brick building at 935 Broadway, adjacent to the Broadway side (left side) of the Flatiron Building, which was the headquarters of Pach Brothers Photography for many years. If you look closely at the sign on the roof of the building, you can make out “PACH BR” on the top with “PHOTOGRAPH” on the line beneath. The right-hand side of the signage is blocked by the Flatiron Builidng. The history of the Pach Brothers Photography studio is fascinating: A synopsis can be found at the Guide to the Pach Brothers Portrait Photograph Collection, maintained by The New York Historical Society.
*+*+*+*+* END POSTCARD SIX *+*+*+*+*
The postcard is addressed to Geo. H. Olmsted, 134 Owasco, Auburn, N. Y., and the message, dated July 14, is as follows: Dear Papa, This afternoon we’re going to the Met. museum of arts. Last night we had a fine ride the whole length of Broadway and saw it all lighted. I am sending Mrs. Eisenhower a letter card now and grandma too. Its funny she didn’t get my other one but perhaps I didn’t address it right. We saw a piece about that girl drowning in paper. Tomorrow we go to Utica. Love, Mary”. All written in a small, legible handwriting using a fountain pen. When studying postcards for genealogical purposes, sometimes hints are hiding in plain sight: We would not know Mary’s relationship to George Olmsted, except that she took the time to write the salutation “Dear Papa”, a formality often lacking on postcards. So we now know Mary’s surname, at least pre-marriage: Mary Olmsted.
General comments: Areas of excessive age-discoloration at the bottom front. This postcard shows the ground-floor extension of the apex of the Flatiron building, sometimes called the cowcatcher, so the original image from which this card was designed must have been taken after the construction of the extension. I could not find a date of construction of the extension, but United Cigar Stores, a first-floor tenant of the Flatiron building in 1917, turned the cowcatcher extension into a mock fort and U. S. Army recruiting station for the Wake Up America parade that was held on April 19, 1917. A good close-up is available here. The Flatiron Building was not built primarily to house retail stores, but the first floor would have lent itself well to one or more retail establishments. Garden City Estates, a real estate company, occupied the third floor in 1910, as we learn from an ad placed in the February 24, 1910 issue of the New York Tribune newspaper. The ad reads, “FOR RENT – THE ENTIRE THIRD FLOOR OF THE FLATIRON BUILDING 23d St. and Fifth Av., containing about 6,000 sq. feet now occupied by the GARDEN CITY ESTATES. HANDSOMELY FINISHED. Sign priveleges. Apply to C. B. Paul, 120 B’way. Telephone 151 Cortlandt.” The ad also was published in the February 25, 1910 issue of the same newspaper. The sign priveleges were exercised by the Garden City Estates, who had a sign with the company name attached to the building facade outside the third floor, Each letter of the company name was inset with electric light bulbs, so as to be able to be illuminated at night. The history of the electronic outdoor sign is a fascinating one, and, from most accounts, begins in 1892 at the very site now occupied by the Flatiron Building! More to come on this topic soon, perhaps in an upcoming post.
*+*+*+*+* END POSTCARD SEVEN *+*+*+*+*
Obverse: Photochrome era depiction of the upper stories of the Flatiron Building. The architectural detail of the terra cotta face of the building is most evident in this image. Although there are no statues on top of the flatiron building, perched at the highest point of the apex of the structure are two figures – either terra cotta or carved marble – that flank a wreath that surrounds a shield. Under the shallow ledge located under the top two floors are placed figural elements – the head of a lion alternates with a circular design reminiscent of the sun or of a daisy flower. There are ten lion heads and nine sun discs per side.
Reverse: All printed in black ink. Upper left top line: REINHART WOLF Upper left second line: Flatiron Building, New York 1980 Bottom left top line: Serie 69 Reinhart Wolf, New York Bottom left bottom line: Karte 5 von 10 Bestell-Nr. 69/5 Dividing line consists of text in all capital letters, reading from left to right when card is rotated counter-clockwise: GEBR. KÖNIG POSTKARTENVERLAG BREITE STR. 93 D-5000 KÖLN 1 PRINTED IN GERMANY
There are three thin, solid, horizontal lines of the same length to use as a guide in addressing the postcard, and there is no stampbox.
As always, your questions or comments are most appreciated.