New York: The Unknown City

Quirky, irreverent and just plain nutty ...

This is the cover of my current book -- New York: The Unknown City. It is a guidebook to the city that I co-wrote with a friend of mine for Arsenal Pulp Press, a small-but-wiry publisher out of Vancouver, B.C.

It has most of the usual stuff you would expect from a guidebook -- restaurants and stores and sites to see, etc. -- but what really makes it stand out is that it is full of weird history and stories-behind-the-stories. A few samples:

  • New York is the only city in North America to have executed an elephant for murder -- by electrocution.

  • The sculptor of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor originally wanted her to stand by a different waterway -- the Suez Canal. The Egyptians turned him down.

  • The U.N., the world's talking shop for global peace, is built on the site of a complex of slaughterhouses once known as Blood Alley.

  • Cartier paid for its flagship store on Fifth Avenue with a $1 million string of pearls.

  • There have been four Madison Square Gardens -- and only two of them were on Madison Square.

  • The headstones may be gone, but the skeletons aren't: Washington Square Park is a mass grave for thousands of victims of yellow fever.

  • President Franklin Roosevelt used a secret underground tunnel to get from Grand Central to the Waldorf-Astoria hotel.

  • Who is the real Ray behind Famous Ray's Pizza (and its legion of impostors)? He was a big-time mobster in the Lucchese crime family who went to prison for trafficking heroin in the basement of his SoHo pizzeria.

    It's as useful and interesting for locals as it is for tourists (which, you'll notice, doesn't actually mean that it's either useful or interesting, merely that it's the same for both).

    Everyone who has looked at it so far has liked it -- thanks Dad! -- and Library Journal called it "a fun book to bring along with your Frommer's for a quirky, irreverent, and just plain nutty look at a great city," while the Georgia Straight (Vancouver's answer to the Village Voice) called it "fresh, funny, and truly off-the-grid."

    (Thanks, guys! Your checks will be in the mail soon!)

    For a little taste of the book, check out the The New York Low Points Timeline. It's just a taste, mind you -- the book has a lot more in it, including great restaurant, theater and shopping tips, plus a huge assortment of weird, weird stories.