Alternate-Side Breakfast

Dear Diary:

It’s 8 a.m. on a Monday, and I am part of the alternate-side ritual, sitting in my car for 90 minutes until the street sweeper and the ticket cops have done their jobs. My street of choice is Riverside Boulevard over in Trumpville.

Three cars ahead of me is a black Lincoln S.U.V. Directly behind me is a black Mitsubishi S.U.V. I am speed-dating the Monday crossword when I catch, out of the corner of my eye, a bicycle riding past me. It slows down as it approaches the Lincoln. From behind me I hear a car horn honk. At which point the bicycle stops, turns toward the horn, and reverses direction.

Through the window of the Mitsubishi an exchange takes place. In goes a plastic bag and, in return, money is passed out. Breakfast has been delivered.

I later learn that the Mitsubishi driver has several menus on his front seat from local coffee shops who will deliver anywhere, including to parked cars. Clearly it is important to be very specific when describing the car to be delivered to. Sort of like an apartment number.


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Preserving History, and Uncovering Secrets, at Green-Wood Cemetery

Volunteers spend one day a month trolling through the many files at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn as part of a project to preserve documents and create a searchable database.Robert Stolarik for The New York Times Volunteers spend one day a month trolling through the many files at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn as part of a project to preserve documents and create a searchable database.

Until they put on their cotton gloves, they are a tango dancer, a former labor-management specialist with the Internal Revenue Service, a retired grade-school teacher, a graduate student. Then they become history detectives, but without the cameras from a certain PBS program.

They — and 15 to 20 other volunteers — gather one Saturday a month to pan for historical gold in the massive files of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, files that contain thousands of faded, yellowing letters, telegrams, sketches and blueprints. The records go back 175 years, to Green-Wood’s founding as a rural cemetery.

The volunteers dream of discovering evidence that will unravel some of Green-Wood’s mysteries, as they did in 2010, when they came across two small handwritten cards that explained the demise of a statue atop the tomb of the 19th century composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk. The cards said the statue had been vandalized in 1959 — not that long ago in historical terms. But the incident had been forgotten, leaving Gottschalk’s fans puzzled.

After four years of sorting through the cemetery’s archives, the volunteers are accustomed to deciphering fancy handwriting and decoding orotund sentences. A note from an executor instructing the cemetery to prepare a certain plot for the burial of a widow next to her late husband can seem as involved as a paragraph from Henry James or Edith Wharton.

They are also accustomed to seeing the flourishes of old signatures, perhaps not as elaborate as John Hancock’s, but still notable. They have amassed a collection of signatures of early baseball pioneers interred at Green-Wood, including James F. Wenman, a founder of the Cotton Exchange and the shortstop of the Knickerbocker Club’s baseball team, the first in the city. Another signature they have discovered and preserved was that of DeWitt Hopper, the actor famous for reciting the poem “Casey at the Bat.”

Anthony M. Cucchiara, the amateur boxer who is Green-Wood’s archivist, said the volunteers’ main goal was to “stabilize paper material by opening and placing it in acid-free folders.” They have been instructed to remove “damaging metal clips and rubber bands,” he said.

“It’s tremendously labor intensive,” he said, adding that the volunteers had gone through about a third of the cemetery’s burial orders. Green-Wood expects to complete the first phase of its archive project later in the year with the creation of a searchable bibliographic database.

If the archive project provides a look at the day-to-day business of running a cemetery, it also provides look at a particular slice of New York history. Sara Fetherolf, a volunteer who has a minor in archival studies from Brooklyn College, said it was “ordinary-people history, not who-was-mayor history.”

“You find yourself constructing stories in your mind,” she said. “You piece together a whole story of a family. You get a little of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ from it — who died young, who lived to be 85.”

The tango dancer in the group, Jeff Blustein, is also a professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center and an expert in medical ethics. He said he volunteered for the Green-Wood project because he recognized the importance of preserving memory. “I was looking for a way to put that interest into practice,” he said.

He called the archive project “daunting.”

“The vast majority of it is of no historic interest, but it gives a picture of the time. And if we find something important, something from some important figure, we all jump up and say, “Wow, this is great.’ It doesn’t happen that often that you find something like that attached to Louis Comfort Tiffany or the Roosevelts or the Schermerhorns.”

He opened a folder. The first document inside was a telegram from 1953 ordering a family’s grave reopened for the burial of a woman whose husband had been buried there 19 years before. Their names did not ring any bells.

“I personally haven’t found anybody famous,” he said. “I still am hopeful.”

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July 4: Where the Candidates Are Today

New York Today


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Astrotower’s Swaying Above Raises Doubts on Holiday Business Below

Concerns about the stability of the AstroTower kept other Coney Island attractions closed on Wednesday. Jabin Botsford/The New York Times Concerns about the stability of the AstroTower kept other Coney Island attractions closed on Wednesday.

Nostalgia often comes in the form of a memory – real, faded or invented from lore.

On Coney Island, however, the past is ever-present. Whether it is the rumble of the Cyclone, the smell of Nathan’s hot dogs or the sight of Deno’s Wonder Wheel, for all that has changed, there are reminders of other storied periods there.

On Tuesday evening, one of those relics, the hulking 270-foot-high Astrotower, long dormant as a ride, managed to offer a bit of an unintended thrill as it swayed ominously above the Boardwalk.

Nearby rides were closed as building inspectors worked to see if the structure was sound.

Throughout the day on Wednesday, much of Luna Park, including where the Astrotower and the Cyclone are, remained closed, as were the Wonder Wheel and the shops along the Boardwalk from West 10th Street to West 12th Street.

Officials from the New York City Buildings Department said that area of the park would remain closed Wednesday night but they were hopeful that it and surrounding buildings and attractions could reopen in time for Fourth of July festivities. A final decision will probably not be made until Thursday morning, they said.

Still, the operators of Luna Park announced on Wednesday night that they would remove a portion of the tower to stabilize it.

The tower has been observed swaying up to 18 inches, officials said, adding that construction work to remove elevator equipment had been going on at the tower and may have contributed to the increased swaying.

“If anyone’s ever been in Coney Island, we all know that it moves,” said Robert LiMandri, the city’s buildings commissioner. “However, if you’ve been in Coney Island for a very long time, you know it’s moving more than normal.”

For hundreds of business owners, ride operators and merchants who rushed to be ready for the summer crush after suffering damage from Hurricane Sandy, there was concern that having the shops and rides closed on the holiday would be a tough blow.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg sought to reassure them that the city was doing all it could to resolve the situation.

“We want to make sure that Coney’s open to everybody, but safety is, obviously, everybody’s first priority,” he said on Wednesday at City Hall, where he was weighing in contestants for Nathan’s annual hot dog eating contest, which brings thousands of people to the Boardwalk each July 4.

Longtime Coney Island hands said spotting a little movement in the tower on windy days was not unusual, but city officials were taking no chances.

Many people went to Coney Island on Wednesday hoping to be whipped about on the Cyclone, only to be left staring up at the rusting tower that spoiled the fun.

Neil Furman, 77, and Judy Furman, 74, from Forest Hills, Queens, took their grandson, Luke Furman, 11, to the Boardwalk and were surprised to see police tape blocking the rides.

Told what was happening, they looked up at the Astrotower.

“Am I crazy or do I see it swaying?” Ms. Furman asked.

“I think it’s just the clouds moving,” Luke replied.

Coney Island has long marched to its own offbeat, sometimes freaky drummer. But this year, it is a place like so many others along the New York and New Jersey shoreline, hoping to make up for lost time and business after the fall hurricane.

Dennis Vourderis, whose family has run Deno’s Amusement Park for decades, said that they incurred $500,000 in uninsured damage from the storm.

Normally, the off-season is a time to relax, Mr. Vourderis said, but not this year. The last six months have been a sprint to get ready.

“This summer is a special one,” he said. “Everyone is enthusiastic about making money and repaying bills.”

Deno’s Wonder Wheel, which he runs, did not spin on Wednesday, but he was confident that it would be running again soon.

The shutdown came just as people were starting to feel they had turned a corner in their recovery efforts. The Vourderis family has worked along the Boardwalk since starting as food merchants in 1966. The sound of screaming – the good, excited kind – has been a part of Dennis Vourderis’s Fourth for as long as he can remember, and he expects nothing less this year.

“Coney Island has never looked better,” he said.

Dick D. Zigun, the “unofficial mayor” of Coney Island and founder of Coney Island USA, an advocacy group, said “people thinking they are going to come to Coney Island and be heartbroken by seeing destruction are mistaken.”

From the new light display on the parachute jump to the restored B&B Carousell, he said, Coney Island is larger and more vibrant than it has been in years.

“There is more old Coney Island in the new Coney Island than people realize,” Mr. Zigun said.

The golden age of Coney Island is often thought of as taking place at the turn of the last century, when three amusement parks were operating along the Boardwalk. When the last of those parks – Steeplechase – closed in the 1960s, Astroland, which opened in 1962, was left to fill the void. For years, even during the period of heightened crime and sagging family attendance, it managed to hold on.

Astroland’s Astrotower ride provided a stunning perch to take in the whole sweep of the Brooklyn shoreline.

After the tower was abandoned as an attraction five years ago, it was kept standing as a visible connection with the past.

In recent years, a plan emerged to install a light display similar to the one on the parachute jump, although the Astrotower’s stability has now cast that in doubt.

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