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"My Name Is New York: Ramblin' Around Woody Guthrie's Town"

A new book maps the years Woody Guthrie spent living New York City, to commemorate his 100th birthday.

By Andrew Frisicano
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To New York City transplants, Woody Guthrie’s introduction to the five boroughs might sound like a familiar tune. In 1940, the newly arrived, 27-year-old self-described “Dust Bowl Refugee” camped out on the couch of a friend’s upscale apartment (Fifth Ave at 59th St). Guthrie didn’t stay in any one place for long, residing at nearly two dozen addresses across three boroughs until his death in 1967 from Huntington’s disease.

July 14 marks the 100th anniversary of the legend’s birth, and to commemorate the centennial, his daughter Nora Guthrie, director of the Woody Guthrie Archives, has compiled the walking guide "My Name Is New York: Ramblin’ Around Woody Guthrie’s Town" (powerHouse, $12.95), which maps the singer’s haunts in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. Nora will sign the book at the Coney Island Museum’s screening of the 1999 doc Man in the Sand (1208 Surf Ave at 12th St, Coney Island, Brooklyn; coneyisland.com; July 14 at 4pm; free), about the collaborative Billy Bragg and Wilco project that used unpublished Guthrie lyrics. (Bragg will speak following the film.) That same night at 8:30pm, Bound for Glory, the 1976 Guthrie biopic starring David Carradine, plays outside on the Coney Island beach.

Guthrie’s lefty politics had just gotten him sacked from his job as a radio DJ in Los Angeles, when he decided to hitchhike to “the New York island.” “The first week he was here, he went down to the Bowery to sing in the saloons and bars around there [as well as] along Ninth and Tenth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen,” says Nora. “After he scraped up some cash playing for tip money, he managed to save up enough to move into the Hanover House, a flophouse on 43rd Street and Sixth Avenue.” In his first three years, Guthrie knocked around Manhattan playing regular shows with folk supergroup the Almanac Singers, which included Pete Seeger. He also penned well-known songs such as “Tom Joad” at a friend’s apartment (57 E 4th St), in addition to his autobiography "Bound for Glory" at a girlfriend’s home (148 W 14th St).

Those hoping to retrace Guthrie’s steps, as Bob Dylan famously did in his song “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie,” will find that some locations are long gone. The Bank of America headquarters now stands in place of the Hanover House, where he wrote “This Land Is Your Land” (“I think someone ought to put a little plaque there,” says Nora). But other spots remain intact, like the townhouse where the songwriter lived with Seeger, Lead Belly, Rebel Without a Cause director Nicholas Ray and others (130 W 10th St). “They had a hootenanny every weekend in the basement, and that morphed into the Sunday hootenanny in Washington Square Park in the ’50s and ’60s,” says Nora. “It was one of the very early communal homes, with a bunch of different artists living together, sharing food, sharing the rent.”

Guthrie eventually made his way to Coney Island, where he lived from 1943 to 1950 on Mermaid Avenue. The house itself is not there, but the strip still has a few identical bungalows. “My mom always joked that he liked being out there because it reminded him of the Dust Bowl,” says Nora. “He went out on the boardwalk literally every day—rain, sun, summer, winter. That’s why his ashes are there. I think that’s where he was happiest.”

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