New York Stories, about 1900

What happened on Twenty-third Street, New York City
R: George S. Fleming, Edwin S. Porter. D: A.C. Abadie, Florence Georgie. P: Edison Manufacturing Company. USA 1901
Print: Library of Congress

“In What Happened on Twenty-Third Street, New York City (Edison, 1901), a woman in a light ankle-length dress passes over a subway grate during a stroll down the city sidewalk; predictably, a burst of air blows her skirt up around her knees. This little film is unusual because it starts out as a bit of actuality footage: it’s shot on location, where passing pedestrians glance occasionally at the camera. Oddly, when her bit is finished, the young woman — an actress — also casts an ambiguous look at the camera. According to the Edison catalogue, the spectacle of her predicament occurs ‘greatly to her horror and much to the amusement of the newsboys, bootblacks, and passersby,’ but her glance at the camera not only imposes a certain distance between the actress and her character but suggests some level of collusion between her and the audience.”
Cinematheque Froncaise

“This 1901 short, short from the Thomas Edison company is quite literally titled. It was filmed on 23rd street and 6th avenue (There’s a Best Buy on that corner today) and shows a simple street scene, but with one bit of staged action acting as a sort of punchline to the film.
Apart from the man and the woman who walk toward the camera and across the grate, it’s obvious that everyone else are just ordinary pedestrians. You can see many of them openly staring at the camera as they pass and some of them change direction so suddenly that you have to wonder if they were told to move out of the way by the director.
The finale of the film, when the actress’s skirt is blown up (almost to her knees!), seems silly and mild today, but was quite risque for the time. Only a year after this movie was filmed and the Flatiron building was completed (also on 23rd street), legend has it that men and boys would loiter around the base of the building (where due to its unique shape, strong winds were generated) in the hopes of catching a glimpse of a young woman’s shapely ankle. Police officers of the time would tell the men to, ‘Skiddoo’, thus creating the popular phrase of the time, ’23 Skiddoo’.”
Scott Nash
Three Movie Buffs

“Skidoo is a virtual ghost town located in Death Valley National Park. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. (…) The name Skidoo comes from the expression 23 skidoo, a slang expression of the time, for which various origins have been suggested.”

A Street Arab
P: Thomas A. Edison, Inc. USA 1898
Location: New York, N.Y.
Print: Library of Congress (Paper Print Collection)

Arab (n.)
late 14c. (Arabes, a plural form), from Old French Arabi, from Latin Arabs (accusative Arabem), from Greek Araps (genitive Arabos), from Arabic ‘arab, indigenous name of the people, perhaps literally “inhabitant of the desert” and related to Hebrew arabha “desert.” Meaning “homeless little wanderer, child of the street” is from 1848 (originally Arab of the city), in reference to nomadic ways. Arab League formed in Cairo, March 22, 1945.”

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