The Napoleon LeBrun firehouse of 1895

High-tech firefighting 1890s style!

1890s HIGH TECH!
The new group page photo is an 1895 firehouse in lower Manhattan. Architect Napoleon LeBrun created it to resemble a French chateau. The station was the first ‘modern’ firehouse in NYC, planned for efficiency in the last decade before fire trucks. .

  1. Horses were stabled behind the rear of the building.
  2. Living quarters were on the 2nd floor.
  3. Wagons carrying 100 gallons – 400 liters – of water, plus steam engines to power the pumps, were parked within. Fires inside the pump engines were kept burning by firemen all the time.
  4. Uniforms hung on walls, with boots below them.

How did all these features work together?

A series of telegraphed bells rings out, telling the firemen a fire’s location, thanks to someone on a street corner blocks away who had pushed a button on the corner callbox.
Firemen upstairs slide down a pole to their uniforms.
A fireman stokes the steam pumps so that the water will boil very soon.
Another one runs back to the stables to hitch up the horses, then lead them forward to hitch the pump wagon behind them.

Result? Men, horses and wagons are running out the door in just four minutes!

P.S. If you remember Bugs Bunny cartoons, there’s an instance of Bugs yelling with an Irish accent, “All right, alllll right, where’s the fire?” What had he been referencing? All this had been in the living memory of the Warner brothers cartoonists, 50 years later.

The 1895 firemen, running toward the citizen who had rung the bells, would shout ahead to them: “Where’s the fire? Where’s the fire?” Many NYC firemen were – and are to this day – Irish.

You’ll see this firehouse when you hire me to give you an Old-Tech Tour of lower Manhattan! The firehouse, a lithography shop, and the Brooklyn Bridge are all included.

Whatsapp me at 917-716-4521 or write

New York City July 4 fireworks prep

July 4 visitors, the following is my favorite way to view the annual Macy’s fireworks display. Just keep in mind that it only works on alternate years!

The thing about the fireworks is that they change their location every year. 3 barges are floated out, around 100 yards or meters apart, somewhere on the East River. Usually they alternate between off Gramercy Park some years, and off the Financial District (FiDi) in others.
They were off FiDi in 2019. I took a folding cane with a seat, an umbrella, a beach towel and snacks, and a charger. I went to the Brooklyn Promenade in the afternoon to secure a good spot.

Here’s what you do.
Walk using the cane until well past the police checkpoint.
Drape the towel over the fence. That gives your lower body shade.
Open the cane and sit.
Open the umbrella to shade your upper body.
Enjoy the commanding view. You’re 100 feet above the river, almost as high as the midsection of the Brooklyn Bridge. Brooklyn Bridge Park is straight below. You can see all of eastern Manhattan from north of the Empire State Building all the way down through FiDi, over the entire harbor and Miss Liberty to the port of Bayonne, New Jersey, and much of Staten Island!

Write for questions about private tours or for help planning a New York City trip itinerary!

Subscribe to my YouTube channel for weekly insights about what to see in New York City.

And hire me by the tour or by the day by visiting

Clusters of tourism sites in Manhattan

Manhattan is 13 miles or 21 km long and around 2 miles/3km across. Places are clustered, sort of.

MIDTOWN includes the Public Library main branch, Grand Central, Empire State Building, Macy’s, Bryant Park, Times Square, Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s.

CENTRAL PARK is north of Midtown.

THE FINANCIAL DISTRICT is close to the Statue Of Liberty and Staten Island ferries, National September 11 Memorial, Wall Street, South Street Seaport, the Brooklyn Bridge, and it’s fairly close to Chinatown.

My company does walking tours that may go through up to 3 districts in a tour:

SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown.

Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Heights, and DUMBO.

Brooklyn Heights, ferry boat to Wall Street, and African Burial Ground.

Grand Central, Saint Patrick’s, Rockefeller Center, and Times Square.

Brooklyn Heights, ferry to Manhattan, Murray Hill, and end at customer’s choice of Grand Central or Empire State Building.


Parade tips:

I’ve walked the parade 20 times, and have been caught in crowds in other years.

There will be tremendous, tremendous numbers of people on 5th Avenue sidewalks in Midtown, as you can see from my 2018 photo. You can bypass all that by going up to the expensive apartments and mansions of upper 5th Avenue.

The best place, in my opinion, to view the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade is on 5th Avenue North of 59th street.  That’s across 5th from Central Park. Don’t stand in the park. There’s a wall and you might not be able to see over it.The parade will march northward from 44th street up to 79th. You might get a good spot right at the railing.

This photo was taken at the corner of 51st and 5th looking South. Saint Patrick’s would have been to the rear left. The building in foreground is the British Empire Building of Rockefeller Center. If you need to get down to 48th street and don’t want to walk sideways very slowly, go west – right – on 51st to Rockefeller Plaza. Walk through it to 48th or whatever, then wade back to 5th.

It’s virtually impossible to cross 5th Avenue except at the wider, 2 way traffic streets like 72nd and 57th.

PARADE HACK: if alone, you may be able to inveigle yourself into marching the whole way by buying a big (at least 6′ x 4′) tricolor flag on a flagpole, then walking amongst the AOH groups from 44th to 48th streets before 10 AM. Ask them, while displaying your flag, if they happen to need a flagman/woman in their group. You must commit to walking the entire route of nearly two miles. This hack worked for me 15 years in a row.

Trust me, I’m not only an O’Connor: I was related to Cardinal O’Connor.

Why I believe in Santa Claus

I worked at the Macy’s Herald Square store in 1985 for the Christmas season.  The men’s locker room looked exactly like it looked in the 1947 movie, Miracle On 34th Street. That’s because the movie was filmed in the store.

Macy’s practically reinvented Santa Claus out of Saint Nikolas, as a gift-giver who possessed these qualities that were not said of him previously:
1. There’s a Mrs. Claus
2. He’s fat
3. He wears a suit, not a robe
4. He slides down the chimney
5. He’s from the North Pole, not Turkey
6. He’s jolly
7. He arrives by sleigh drawn by eight reindeer named Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen (female fox), Comet, Cupid, Donder (thunder) and Blitzen (storms).

Macy’s first Thanksgiving Day Parade was held in 1924. The very last float has always been Santa Claus. He invites kids to ‘come visit me in Santaland,’ which takes up half a floor.

A single line of kids is separated into several (7 in 1993 when my son went) lines that end inside seven little wooden houses, each decked out for Christmas, and staffed by a Santa and an Elf.  How do I know about the seven houses? I’m tall! But the kids are too short to see over the greenery that lines the paths.

Santa was very convincing and had a real beard.  The wooden hut felt homey and cozy. I had to stoop a little when I entered and exited. It was a nice experience.

Some background on how Santa Claus got his modern name:  The first Europeans to colonize this region were the Dutch. The Dutch had a longstanding association with ‘Sinter Klaas’, their Dutchified name for Saint Nikolas.  They began the tradition of gifts for small children on the night before Saint Nicholas Day, December 6th. This carried over to the Nieuw Nederlands colonies in this region.

In the 1600s, the entire East Coast north of Florida was loaded with English people in growing, strictly religious English colonies surrounding Dutch Nieuw Nederlands.  Many English who couldn’t cope with going to church three times a day, and other such practices – such as burning blasphemers – defected from their colonies and got permission to live in the Dutch lands. By 1660, some half the population of Nieuw Nederlands was English.

The Dutch tradition of gift giving by Sinter Klaas became accepted by the new people, who slowly changed his name to Santa Claus.  The custom spread further after the takeover of Nieuw Nederlands by the British in 1664 under king Richard II. Nieuw Amsterdam became New York City.

By now I bet you can guess who was picked by New York City to be its heavenly representative? Yes, Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of New York.  We have a mile long Avenue in Manhattan named for him. Here it is.

So if you ask me if I believe in Santa Claus, of course I do. I’m a new Yorker!

The city of Santa Claus

Best hotels near Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route!

Here are some hotels that are very close to the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade route. Macy’s runs the entire block between Broadway and 7th Avenue East-West, and between 34th and 35th streets North-South.

There’s a Residence Inn at 6th Avenue and 39th street. Some rooms appear to overlook the route.

Residence Inn by Marriott New York Manhattan/Times Square
(212) 768-0007

The Martinique is on 32nd and Broadway and might, just might, have rooms overlooking Herald Square. Ask them directly. 212-736-3800.

I was going to suggest the Hotel Metro on 36th, but it seems to have closed and been replaced by the Kixby, a 4-star hotel. The beauty of staying there is that the parade route is right at the end of the block. The block should be closed to car traffic and you can walk or stand in the street. Kixby hotel
(800) 356-3870

Marriott Vacation Club Pulse is on 37th between 5th and 6th avenues. Again, 6th Avenue is the parade route so 5th Avenue to 6th Avenue will probably be closed, offering you the chance to walk in the street or to watch the parade from the street. Residence Inn by Marriott New York Manhattan/Times Square
(212) 768-0007

The Bryant Park Hotel on West 40th between 5th and 6th is an expensive boutique hotel. But again, the street should be closed to traffic and you could just walk to the end of the block to watch the parade go by.

Don’t worry about being in front of the crowd. Most floats and balloons are at least 20′ high, 6 m or so. That gives you the ability to see over everyone’s head! The last float in the parade is always Santa Claus. Here he comes, 20′ above the ground in his sleigh!

Isle Of New York Tours offers an escorted Experience. Come with us to see the balloon inflation inflation the afternoon before Thanksgiving Day!

Favorite Rooftop Bars

The Knickerbocker Hotel rooftop (actually a setback) bar has a great Times Square view. 100 years ago the bartender’s name was Martini. Not gonna tell you what he invented.

For a quieter vibe, you might try the Library Hotel at 41st and Mad. Not great views, but it’s quiet and sunny.

1 Hotel in Brooklyn near Pier A has a FANTASTIC harbor view. Very impressive.

Great harbor views from 1 Hotel Brooklyn

However, when I last went up in 2020, it had been ‘discovered’ by the DUMBO set, who seemed to require very loud music. I hope that’s changed.

Personal Favorite: 50 Bowery. Music isn’t too loud. Largely young office-worker non-Asian people, though it’s in the heart of Chinatown. I like taking my Chinatown tour customers up, post-tour.

Friday at 6

Nearly a 360° view. That means perfect views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, as well as Midtown, the Financial District and both rivers. Great views of Canal Street (which is more interesting than you’d think). You can see DUMBO, much of the Lower East Side and Little Italy.

Get the RIGHT train, not the CLOSEST train

The other day a tourist who hadn’t hired a guide asked me a question that could have taken them miles out of their way: “Where’s the nearest subway?”

Brooklyn measures around 13 miles north-south by 13 miles east-west. That’s 169 square miles. And that’s just Brooklyn! Imagine if I had told them where the NEAREST subway was, without knowing what the RIGHT subway is!

The gem by the Statue of Liberty

Around 7000 to 8000 people visit Battery Park at the South end of Manhattan every day, to visit the Statue Of Liberty. Only very few come to Bowling Green, just across Broadway. It’s our city’s oldest park, here since 1738.

Back in 1770 city officials decided to erect an iron fence, painted gold, around Bowling Green. And to commission and install a 2-ton statue of the the king of England at the time, George III. That statue lasted only 6 years.

The Declaration Of Independence, the document by which Americans date the beginning of our nation, was signed on July 4, 1776.

Here’s my photo of an earlier version that was voted down on July 2, because it guaranteed freedom to enslaved people. If only.

The July 4 version was brought here by horse courier over five days and nights. It was read aloud at City Hall up on Wall Street. Then a troop of Army men went down to Bowling Green and destroyed the king’s statue. Its takedown was for 2 reasons:

One, the Sons of Liberty hated the king.

Two, the statue was made of lead. Bullets are made of lead, too. That lead was later melted down into 40,088 musketballs for the Revolution.

The British Tour, from Isle Of New York Tours, stops at Bowling Green so that guests can have a moment to actually touch history. Look at this!

Here’s a similar iron fence of the same era as Bowling Green’s. It’s at the Palace of Versailles! I photographed it realizing that the Bowling Green fence must have looked very similar in 1770–1776. The thicker fenceposts are topped with royal crowns. All of this has been gilded, painted gold.

Bowling Green fence was also originally gilded. And it was originally topped with crowns of lead. See how the iron legs holding up the oil lamp are bowed outwards? That was to allow room for the crown that was once there.

On the night of July 9, 1776, all the lead crowns were cut down as well, to add into the musketball supply. Lead is a soft metal, so the revolutionaries were able to saw the crowns off, all 100 of them.

Why should YOU visit Bowling Green? For one thing, it has plenty of seats after you’ve spent 4 hours standing in the ferry, standing at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and standing in the boat again. You need to rest.

For another, you are TOTALLY surrounded with American history. Buildings to the west were major ocean liner companies before jetliners replaced them. The building on the east was the oil company that supplied all those ocean liners. The building to the South is the old Customs House named for Alexander Hamilton, and the National Museum of the American Indian is inside.

The fenceposts surrounding the park are available for you to actually feel marks of the saws that worked to take off those crowns back on July 9, 1776!

Isle Of New York fights overtures

Overtourism concerns me greatly because I’m a tourguide. I don’t want a backlash against tourists, just after coming off 16 months without work. We need work!

The professional tourist guides association GANYC, of which I’m a member, is concerned about hundreds of people at once — who don’t know each other exist — all converging on the Brooklyn Bridge or some restaurant that was in a movie, at exactly the same time! Residents of that Maui district are up in arms about the thousands of tourists who park in people’s yards, block traffic and buy all the food in roadside markets, leaving nothing for residents.

This can happen anywhere.

The below photo shows an estimated 20,000 people trying to get off the Brooklyn Bridge all at the same time. We tour guides understand that a group travels only as fast as its slowest member. We also are aware that a sudden loud noise may cause a stampede! One occurred in the summer of 2019 in Times Square. A motorcycle backfired. Hundreds of people ran in all directions at once.

If a motorcycle had backfired near this group, they could run only in one direction and people might get trampled. When tourists are hurt anywhere on Earth it’s bad for tourism anywhere on Earth.

So we have an overtourism committee that suggests walking customers over other less crowded bridges.

See the difference? Just 10 miles away is High Bridge in Upper Manhattan. It’s an easily walkable bridge with a flat grade, unlike the Brooklyn bridge which rises for about half a kilometer. Yet as you can see, only 3 or 4 people are walking it. Our job as guides is to get people off the Brooklyn bridge and onto High Bridge.

I feel bad for the people of that area of Maui, Hawaii. And the people of Venice and Amsterdam and Zagreb, all of which have been flooded by growing numbers of tourists. Understanding and respecting a native’s pride of place is crucial for tourists to behave like fellow human beings