I found the first John J. Fitz Gerald "Big Apple" explanation. An apple graphic is featured in the column head; the Woolworth Buidling--then the world's tallest, and the Municipal Building can be seen on the apple's New York skyline. This text is famous to the few who know it, but it is almost nowhere on the web. From the New York Morning Telegraph, "AROUND THE BIG APPLE" with John J. Fitz Gerald, February 18, 1924:
The Big Apple. The dream of every lad that ever threw a leg over a thoroughbred and the goal of all horsemen. There's only one Big Apple. That's New York.
Two dusky stable hands were leading a pair of thoroughbred around the "cooling rings" of adjoining stables at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and engaging in desultory conversation.
"Where y'all goin' from here?" queried one.
"From here we're headin' for The Big Apple," proudly replied the other.
"Well, you'd better fatten up them skinners or all you'll get from the apple will be the core," was the quick rejoinder.
New York City • The Big Apple • 1920s: John J. Fitz Gerald and the N.Y. Morning Telegraph • Sunday, July 11, 2004 • Permalink
This is interesting. “Two dusky stable hands” suggests that the name was originally used in the African American community surrounding race tracks in the United States. The phrase was, in 1924, as polite a term as whites used for Blacks, outside of the civil marginalized rights movement. Furthermore, the fact that there is a quip attached to this early mention, “fatten up them skinners or all you’ll get from the apple will be the core,” suggests the minstrelization (and hence show-biz commodification)of this new nick-name. Simple appropriation of African American slang without the filter of popular culture would have implied an intimacy and familiarity with Blacks the writer might have seen as a liability.
I wish I could claim that “The Big Apple” is an Afro-American coinage, but that scholarship has yet to be done.
PS. I see that the upside-down “big Apple terracotta” is from a Harlem nightclub, salvaged, if I recall correctly, by a construction (demolition) worker.