Exploring New York's Past Through Sound

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

A scene from Harlem in the 1920s A scene from Harlem in the 1920s (National Archives)

Emily Thompson, historian at Princeton University and the author of Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933, talks about her study of sound and her website featuring sounds of New York City in the 1920's.


Emily Thompson

Comments [11]

thomas from Astoria

Mary Belle Newman, who married to become Mrs Barlow, my grandmother, used to be awaken by the sound of Gitty-up! Whoa! Gitty-up! Whoa!
That was the sound of morning garbage pickup around 1908-10, when she was a little girl. Happy Birthday, Grandma!!! February 4th, 1903.

Feb. 04 2014 11:00 AM

Why isn't the subway quiet???


Because the MTA is the PARADIGM of WASTE and MISMANAGEMENT???

Feb. 04 2014 10:50 AM
Joel from Nyack

I remember the sounds of the junk man with his horse drawn wagon in Brooklyn in 1949. He would call out signaling his arrival, wanting to know if you had junk to sell. Also the produce man in his horse drawn wagon coming thru the neighborhood, also calling out.

Feb. 04 2014 10:49 AM
Bob from Woodside

Music was had a lot more melody in the 1920's, so it was conducive to whistling.

Feb. 04 2014 10:48 AM

Thank you Debbie! I'm a bit younger but definitely remember the sound of different networks when they went off the air for the night. They varied, but all had common tones or the same type of lo-fi Star Spangled Banner recordings. When these are used in modern day portrayals of earlier eras, it's a magical effect.

Feb. 04 2014 10:45 AM
Tony from Bronx

I live in the Pelham bay section of the Bronx, and when I was young I would here the sounds of Fog horns in the morning if the weather was bad. It was a very pleasant sound and would also give me a forecast.

Feb. 04 2014 10:39 AM
Ross Basch from UWS

I can still hear [in memory] the sound of coal being delivered using coal shuts. The other sound that still reverberates is the call of "I cash clothes" chanted by street peddlers is Sunnyside Queens during WWII.

Feb. 04 2014 10:37 AM

I love that Thompson emphasizes how the the media itself is a major contributor of the overall effect. When I listen to vintage clips, I try to apply "filters" in my head, as if I was cleaning up the signal-to-noise ratio, or imagining the subjects' sounds if they were recorded with a crisp analog or digital format.

Feb. 04 2014 10:37 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Kids playing in the street.
I'm not that old, but in my lifetime this has ceased.
It wasn't always pleasant. But it is missed. And you worry about the implications...

Feb. 04 2014 10:32 AM
Karen from NYC

Summer in italian-American Carroll Gardens in the 1950s: all windows open because no air conditioning. Each morning, 8 am or so, the vegetable and fruit man would come by.. He pushed a very large cart - really a big wagon - and would sing out, in Italian, his daily specials. That's how I was awakened as a child on summer mornings - wonderful!

Feb. 04 2014 10:32 AM
Peter from Kew Gardens

The sound of snow shovels scraping across the ground after a snow storm has been replaced with motorized noise of snow blowers.

Feb. 04 2014 10:28 AM

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