Thursday, January 6, 2022

Escape from New York

Mott Avenue Station - December 12, 1903
During the original Broadway run of The Wizard of Oz in 1903, much of New York City had literally ruptured with progress. 

The new subway system chiseled streets into chasms, the new and improved water, gas, and electrical infrastructure riddled the city with trenches and holes, and all of that was topped-off with a building boom. 

The New York Sun of September 13, 1903, reported: "Miles upon miles of pavements torn up to repair gas and water mains, lay cables and install power . . . New Yorkers are getting used to the chaos in the streets. They now take it as the natural order of things. They scale peaks and mountain ranges of litter, climb around isolated upheavals of earth and building materials, leap over yawning chasms and look out over scoriated wastes in an absentminded way. . . . on July 1 there were more than twenty-five miles of trenches open."  

Getting a ticket to The Wizard of Oz, then playing at the Majestic Theater just southwest of Central Park, must have provided a delightful escape from the noisy, smelly, and dangerous mayhem.

A curious image of New York City in 1903 recently surfaced, featuring an easily missed Wizard of Oz connection. Can you spot it? Click the image below to begin your hunt.

Longacre Square (soon to be Times Square)  August, 1903 CLICK TO ENLARGE

1 Times Square (viewed from 47th Street)
The image above, dating from August 1903, taken with a wide-angle lens which created a curve of sorts, warps our view as we look north across 42nd Street into the intersection then known as Longacre Square. Seventh Avenue on the left side of the hole, angles toward center, mirroring Broadway, angling toward center on the right side of the hole. 

The gaping chasm is the former foundation of the Pabst Hotel, recently demolished, and will soon become the site of the Times Building (see image at right), a new home for The New York Times. Shortly after the Times moved into the building in January 1905, Longacre Sqaure received its new name: Times Square. 

So, did you spot the Wizard of Oz connection? At the extreme right-hand side of the image, one can just make out a large billboard-sized poster advertising The Wizard of Oz. You can see another large sign advertising Juicy Fruit Gum just beneath it.

In another well-known photograph, this same poster was slathered over the entire side of a building.

A wall of Wizard of Oz posters at Fifth Avenue and 36th Street.
The Portland Oregonian of August 2, 1903, reported that "James M. Rhodes, advertising agent of the new Majestic Theater . . . recently accomplished a unique feat of billposting by covering the immense wall fronting Fifth Avenue at Thirty-sixth street with stands of The Wizard of Oz. No less than 315 sheets of paper were posted on the wall, the stands being 31 sheets long and 15 sheets high." The article stated it was one of the largest stands ever posted in New York. In gratitude, the manager of the Majestic Theater, John S. Flaherty, presented the advertising agent with "a handsome gold-headed cane."

Alas, no copy of this wonderful poster is known to survive, quite probably because it was a multi-sheet image. I've begun a small project to restore the poster using high-res scans of the photograph, above, to be included in my book when completed. Below is one of the better images of the poster.

The Wizard of Oz tornado poster circa summer 1903 CLICK TO ENLARGE
This imagery of this poster is very intriguing, featuring Dorothy (at far left), the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman, along with the Cowardly Lion and Imogene, the frolicsome heifer, being blown about by the Tornado. Imogene is a bit hard to see, her head visible directly below the downstroke of the W in WIZARD. Pastoria's circus hat floats along under the O in OZ. 

But the most unusual thing about the poster is an additional mystery animal peering out between the I and the Z in WIZARD. It appears to be a dog, given the whiskers, canine teeth, and what looks like a dog collar with a chain stretching across the Z in WIZARD. 

There is no other evidence for a dog being in the show this early in the run. Did the poster artist know Baum's book and want to add Toto? Might there have been a "flying dog" image in the cyclone projections? Or a chained-up dog in the Kansas scene? Oddly, Imogene seems crammed into the composition. The poster would have been better had Imogene been placed where the mystery dog appears, thus leaving some empty space under the W and between the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman.

Another dog-gone mystery! 

Copyright © 2022 by David Maxine. All rights reserved.

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