All hail YouTube for these terrific collections (drawn from other collections) of New York City life during the time Ragtime is set.
1.YouTube user Ten7d5 created this show from “NYC Dept of Tenement houses, from various Manhattan street scene photographs” and Jacob Riis photos. The show ends with a 1903 Edison “actuality” film titled “Move On.” (The music Ten7d5 uses is from the 2007 film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which is set in the late nineteenth-century American West.)
2. A short clip from the History Channel’s “America: The Story of Us” that offers some background on Jacob Riis, an immigrant from Demark who was first a police writer then a photographer and social reformer. Doctorow mentions Riis on pgs 16-18 of the novel Ragtime, imagining a meeting between the social reformer and the architect Stanford White.
Riis’ book, How The Other Half Lives, exposed the mostly unseen world of late nineteenth/early twentieth century tenement life. The History Channel succumbs to some cheesy reenactments, but its talking-head interviewees give a sense of how much Riis’ photography and reporting transformed both journalism and public policy at this time.
3. This short film offers another version of Riis’ story. It seems to be from a PBS style documentary; however, I cannot find much more detail about its creator or broadcast from the information given on YouTube.
4. Another one of Edison’s “actualities” in which you can see the emergence of special filmic effects (the subway wanderer’s flight through the tunnel) and the influence of vaudeville (the “wife” at the film’s end is a male actor in women’s costume who drinks a huge tankard of beer right before her “husband” falls in through the ceiling finally “home” from his subway trek). The piece is called “City Hall to Harlem via the Subway 1904.” 1904 is the year the underground portion of NYC’s subway opened for riders!
5. Terrific narration of the 1905 world series game 2 between the New York Giants (later the San Francisco Giants) and the Philadelphia Athletics (an American League Philadelphia team from 1901-1954). I include it because it references (and shows) the New York Polo Grounds, home of the Giants until they moved to California in the mid 1950s. It also discusses the Giant’s manager John J. McGraw (referenced in Chapters 29 & 30 of Doctorow’s novel).
For contrast, here’s an image from an auction site of the 1886 Harvard baseball team, the team that Father expresses nostalgia for in the “What a Game!” number.