A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from August 10, 2004
Big Apple Fest (2004)
The Big Apple Fest was organized for the summer and fall of 2004. Like the Cow Parade before it, huge sculptures are painted and auctioned off for charity. This time, they're Big Apples.

I e-mailed the people responsible for the Big Apple Fest and told them about this web site. I told them very clearly that under no circumstances are they to tell anyone that "the Big Apple" comes from whores. I told them that this is a good opportunity to educate people about New York's heritage and to honor, at last, the African American stablehands.

None of what I said registered with them. The whore hoax is right there on the Big Apple Fest site.

It doesn't matter that "Ida, sweet as apple cider" is a Tin Pan Alley song from 1903, that "Saint-Evremond" is Peter Salwen's borrowing from Charles Dickens, that the house that "still stands at 142 Bond Street" is not there, that the Gentleman's Directory of New York City (1870) is mis-titled and contains no relevant citation to apples, and so on. It doesn't matter that Peter Salwen and another person in his "Society for New York City History" have admitted to the hoax or "spoof."

The African-American stablehands have not been identified or honored, and no one has helped me in twelve years. Now, this?

New York City should be ashamed.


(2005 Note: It appears that the below has been removed entirely from the Big Apple Fest website. The Big Apple Fest now gives no explanation for "the Big Apple" at all. This "improvement" still does not honor the African-American stablehands.)


History of the Big Apple

According to the New York Encyclopedia...

"Big Apple. Nickname for New York City, first popularized in the 1920's by John J. Fitz Gerald, a reporter for the Morning Telegraph, who used the term to refer to the city's racetracks; he had heard it used by black stablehands in New Orleans in 1921. Black jazz musicians in the 1930's used the name to refer to the city (and especially Harlem) as the jazz capital of the world. The nickname was largely unknown by the 1950's. It was revived in 1971 as part of a publicity campaign by Charles Gillett, President of the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau."

Gerald Leonard Cohen

Origin of New York City's Nickname "The Big Apple"

According to The Society for New York City History...

"In the early years of the 19th century, refugees from war-torn Europe began arriving in New York in great numbers. One of these, arriving in late 1803 or early 1804, was Mlle. Evelyn Claudine de Saint-Evremond. Daughter of a noted courtier, wit, and litterateur, and herself a favorite of Marie Antoinette, Evelyn was by all accounts remarkably attractive, vivacious and well-educated, and she was soon a society favorite. For reasons never disclosed, however, a planned marriage to John Hamilton, son of the late Alexander Hamilton, was called off at the last minute. Soon after, with support from several highly placed admirers, she established a salon - in fact, it appears to have been an elegantly furnished bordello in a substantial house that still stands at 142 Bond Street, then one of the city's most exclusive residential districts. Evelyn's establishment quickly won, and for several decades maintained, a formidable reputation as the most entertaining and discreet of the city's many "temples of love", a place not only for lovemaking, but also for elegant dinners, high-stakes gambling, and witty conversation.

When New Yorker's insisted on anglicizing her name to "Eve", Evelyn apparently found the biblical reference highly amusing, and for her part would refer to the temptresses in her employ as "my irresistable apples". The young men-about-town soon got into the habit of referring to their amorous adventures as "having a taste of Eve's Apples". The enigmatic reference in Philip Hone's famous diary to "Ida, sweet as apple cider" (October 4, 1838) has been described as an oblique reference to a visit to what had by then become a notorious but cherished civic institution."

The rest, as they say, is etymological history. The sexual connotation of the word "apple" was well known in New York and throughout the country until around World War I. The Gentleman's Directory of New York City, a privately published (1870) guide to the town's "houses if assignation", confidently asserted that "in freshness, sweetness, beauty, and firmness to the touch, New York's apples are superior to any in the New World or indeed the Old. Meanwhile, various "apple" catchphrases -- "the Apple Tree," "the Real Apple," etc. - were used as synonyms for New York City itself, which boasted more houses of ill repute per capita than any other major U.S. municipality.

William Jennings Bryan, though hardly the first to denounce New York as a sink of iniquity, appears to have been the first to use the "apple" epithet in public discourse, branding the city, in a widely reprinted 1892 campaign speech, as "the foulest Rotten Apple on the Tree of decadent Federalism. The double-entendre -- i.e., as a reference to both political and sexual corruption - would have been well understood by the voters of the time."

Society for New York City History, Education Committee

Posted by Barry Popik
1980s-present: Big Apple work by Gerald Cohen, Barry Popik • (0) Comments • Tuesday, August 10, 2004 • Permalink