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See what NYC was like 109 years ago with these enhanced film reels

Written by
Howard Halle

NYC before the Civil War would probably appear alien to contemporary New Yorkers, but by the 1910s, the city we recognize today was beginning to emerge. The first skyscrapers had popped up, along with electric street lamps, automobiles, street cars and the subway, which had opened only a few years before. There was the hustle and bustle of crowds going about their business, walking at the express clip we New Yorkers take for granted. Gotham, in other words, was starting to resemble the modern metropolis that would soon become the center of the world.

Another difference between 19th- and early-20th century New York was the widespread availability of film by the latter. The medium could capture the pulse of the city like no other, but it was limited by a lower frame rate that created a herky-jerky sense of movement. Recently, though, a YouTuber named Denis Shiryaev took footage from a 1911 Swedish documentary of Manhattan and enhanced it to stunning 4k clarity. He also colorized the result, so that the film looks strikingly contemporary, almost like it was shot yesterday.

The camera is seen roaming all over the city, with scenes of FiDi and the Flatiron District, as well as the teeming streets of the Lower East Side. There are panning bird's eye views taken from the tops of buildings, as well as skyline vistas from the Brooklyn Bridge. Views of New York Harbor picture a waterfront jammed with ships. Short of jumping into a time machine, the film is probably as close as anyone can get to experiencing the New York of a century ago—a place that seems as familiar as it does strange.

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