I had a opportunity to see a compilation of home movies made in the Inwood area of Manhattan, shot in the 1930s. It was at a party held by the Inwood Canoe Club. There was plenty of footage of the club’s waterways, an area known as Tubby Hook.
It was fascinating. We’ve all heard that the area was a busy, thriving waterfront, but here we saw motion pictures of a long row of boathouses, docks, and even the old ferry terminal at the end of Dyckman. For that matter, there was footage of the George Washington Bridge being built – at some points just a long cable, with the roadway not yet complete. As bucolic as the area is today, it’s hard to imagine it was once as busy as the waters further downtown.
The array of vessels is astonishing as well. Not only was there a decent-sized ferry, but there were sailing canoes, speedboats, naval warships, seaplanes taking off and landing, along with tugs and barges as there are today. The mighty Graf Zeppelin, Germany’s grandest dirigible, floated over the Palisades.
There was footage of ice that could just as easily have been taken yesterday, or last month. A couple of guys went out in a canoe in a slurry; one even climbed out on a slab of ice, and another fell in the river wearing street clothes and a wool coat. In a way it sort of puts to shame my trepidation about paddling in the ice floe, but also kinda validates everything I’ve ever taught and been taught about cold water safety.
The funniest part was the narrator, with an old-fashioned New York City accent and vocabulary (“New Joysee”, “schlub”) and blunt commentary (” I don’t know what this is, it’s boring, my father liked boring things, I dunno”).