John Hodgman's fake facts about New York City

Untruthy NYC trivia. By John Hodgman; Photographs by Matt Hoyle

  • John Hodgman

John Hodgman

One of the things you likely know about New York is that it is home to a magazine entitled Time Out New York. (I am confident you know this, because you are holding a copy, or using a computer with one taped to it.) But were you aware that I used to write for this actual magazine? It is so. Indeed, TONY was the first magazine to pay me for my writing, and the first thing I pitched to them was a recurring column of fake trivia about New York. If I remember correctly, my first column proposed to explain the origin of the old phrase 23 skiddoo, which of course was a gondolier’s call as he approached the 23rd Street landing skid just outside the Flatiron Building, back when Broadway was still a grand canal. But my column was not to be. This was 1996, after all, when we all wanted our facts to be factual and Broadway had been filled in and paved over for almost a decade. So instead they asked me to write a 100-word review of the video game Hellbender, featuring the voice of Gillian Anderson, and I did, and it was a masterpiece. [Editor’s note: To hear Mr. Hodgman’s dramatic reading of that review, click here.]

But now we are living in a true fake-fact boom (which is not entirely true, unless you are me), and so I am thrilled to return to the pages that first launched my literary gondola to reveal:

1 If you drop a penny off the Empire State Building, it will not fall so fast as to pierce the skull of your fellow New Yorker below. The updraft is too powerful, and indeed, a penny dropped will simply stop falling at about the 40th floor and just float there. The pennies are then collected with a net, and the funds are donated to a foundation dedicated to helping New Yorkers be less murderous.

2 Speaking of the Empire State Building, it is true that the original plans for this building included a zeppelin docking station at the top. But the giant ape wrecked it, and so the zeppelins now park at the Marine Air Terminal at La Guardia.

3 However, the zeppelin waiting parlor is still there, empty, dust collecting on its marble floors, wrought-iron benches, and the still-starched tablecloths at its celebrated restaurant, Blimpie.

4 The reason Gramercy Park is locked is that there is a bigfoot in there. The “Yeti of Irving Place” was first discovered in 1971, living behind the statue of Edwin Booth. While he has become quite accustomed to the nearby residents who use the park, he tends to go into a rage whenever he is around people who are not incredibly wealthy. For this reason, it is expected that he shall be able to roam freely through Manhattan by 2018.

5 Before he left office, former mayor Rudolph Giuliani installed a “Giuliani Signal” atop City Hall: a giant floodlight that casts a silhouette of Rudolph Giuliani upon the clouds.In his final speech in office, he explained that the signal was to be lit anytime thecity wised up and wanted him to be mayor again (“Probably next week. Heh heh”). It has never actually been used, though Bernard Kerik was caught trying to light the signal several times, and that is why he is in jail now.

6 Despite what you may have read, the term 23 skiddoo was not a gondolier’s call from the time when Broadway was still a canal (and Canal Street was still a street on which cars actually, occasionally moved). That is a myth. In truth, 23 skiddoo was 1920s speakeasy slang for “leave immediately, or face being arrested, because alcohol is prohibited in this country and police are coming.”

7 The above term was coined at Chumley’s, the famous unmarked tavern on Bedford Street. While Chumley’s is, sadly, so secret now that it is closed, there are dozens of neospeakeasies in Manhattan these days: Milk & Honey, Please Don’t Tell, Stay Away, You Are Not Wanted and many more. They are hidden behind unmarked doors, behind false bookcases, beneath manholes in the middle of busy avenues, all harkening back to a time when drinking was an illicit, intimate affair, best enjoyed in cramped spaces with no fire exits. If you have ever noticed people sneaking under your bed while you sleep, that is because there is a neospeakeasy under there, and I am the host, and though I adore you, you are not invited.

8 The Chelsea Hotel and the Dakota used to be the same building before they got divorced. Speaking of the Chelsea, Dan Brown wrote The Da Vinci Codewhile living at the famous literary haunt, supposedly completing the novel in one single white-wine bender lasting almost two hours.

9 Before they built the tram, the residents of Roosevelt Island could only reach their homes via zip line.

Watch John Hodgman read these facts

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