Life on the Outskirts of New York

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Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, 1998
Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, 1998Photography by William Meyers

William Meyers goes beyond Manhattan with a photo book that explores the city's less famous neighbourhoods

There’s a New York beyond the landmarks, the skyscrapers and the streets of Manhattan – it’s the New York of William Meyers’ Outer Boroughs. In 1990, Meyers started taking his camera to unexplored locations in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. For the 20 years that followed he wandered the unfamiliar streets taking pictures – the outcome of his dedication is a tribute to New York City’s less renowned neighbourhoods. Capturing the rarely documented beauty of the suburbs through street scenes, cityscapes, interiors and intimate portraits of locals going about their everyday lives, Meyers fills a gap in the city’s photographic heritage. While the book stands as a visual memento of New York City’s continuous evolution, we look back at the outer boroughs’ overlooked, vibrant history.

1. Long before Luna Parks became a staple of summertime delight, LaMarcus Thompson, of Coney Island, invented America’s first roller coaster – the year was 1884 and a ride cost a nickel. The bone-shaking quality of Thompson’s wooden creation, The Cyclone, remains unmatched to this day.

2. When Brooklyn joined the City of New York at the turn of the nineteenth century, many Brooklynites used to refer to the move as The Great Mistake of 1898.

3. Morris Michtom, a Brooklyn candy shop owner, got the idea for the Teddy Bear in 1902 while reading a satirical comic in The Washington Post poking fun at President Theodore Roosevelt for refusing to fire at a bear that was tied to a tree.

4. Brooklyn's Flatbush National Bank was the first to issue credit cards in 1946.

5. From Georgia O’Keeffe to Andy Warhol, Walker Evans, Arthur Miller and Jack Kerouac, the Brooklyn Bridge has possibly inspired more talent than any other structure in the United States.

The Bronx
1. The borough is named after Swedish sea captain Jonas Bronck who in 1639 was the first European settler to put down roots in the area.

2. A symbol of urban decay in the 1970s, South Bronx is considered the birthplace of hip hop and salsa.

3. First opened in 1899, the Bronx Zoo put an African man on display in the monkey house in 1906.

4. Edgar Allan Poe spent the last years of his life in the Bronx – from his cottage on Kingsbridge Road the American author wrote his last complete poem Annabel Lee.

5. Designers Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein also call the Bronx home.

1. Queens is the most racially diverse county in the United States.

2. Known to the world as the godfathers of punk, The Ramones began their career rehearsing in the back room of a paint shop in Forest Hills, Queens.

3. Over 55,000 people went to see the Beatles playing at Shea Stadium on August 15, 1965 at what was the largest Beatles concert up to that time.

4. The phrase “valley of ashes” coined by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby was referred to the industrial dump sites of Corona, Queens.

5. The flowers on the flag of Queens – a tulip and a rose – represent the first Dutch and English colonists.

Staten Island
1. Built in 1964 to connect Staten Island to Brooklyn, the 4,260-foot span of the Verrazano Bridge makes it the longest suspension bridge in the US.

2. Many of its waterways are still called “kills”, from the Dutch word for a riverbed.

3. With its 119-feet height and over 300 years, the tulip tree in Clove Lake Park is the largest and oldest living thing in Staten Island.

4. 1860s Island resident Thomas Adams tried in vain to use chicle as an alternative to rubber. His efforts had a whole lot sweeter outcome – he had no idea his flavored chewing gums would transform the confectionery industry forever.

5. Island celebrities include telephone inventor Antonio Meucci, folk artist Joan Baez, actor Martin Sheen and pop star Christina Aguilera; Paul Newman also lived in St. George in his pre-Hollywood days.

Outer Boroughs: New York Beyond Manhattan by William Meyer is out now, published by Damiani.