Even the most cultured Manhattanite probably doesn't know everything about the part of New York City they call home. (Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin)
Credit: Caroline Linton
Times Square isn't as big as you think it is
It turns out, a spot widely known by tourists and locals alike to be in the heart of Times Square, actually isn't.
The TKTS booth, between Broadway and Seventh Avenue, is a part of Father Duffy Square, Alex Drywa, vice president of Manhattan Walking Tours, said. A statue of Duffy stands right in front of the bright red steps, designating its separation from Times Square.
Duffy was a military chaplain during World War I before becoming the pastor of 42nd Street's Holy Cross Church, Drywa said.
Credit: New York Public Library / Louis Simond
Rockefeller Center used to be a botanical garden
It's hard to picture a botanical garden where the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree stands each December. But in 1801, it was hard for David Hosack to imagine the area being anything else.
A physician and professor of botany at Columbia University, Hosack bought the land for a few thousand dollars and turned it into the nation's first botanical garden, according to Daniel Okrent, historian and author of "Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center."
His Elgin Botanical Garden shut its doors when Hosack ran into financial trouble in 1929, paving the way for John D. Rockefeller Jr. to acquire the land and construct the Rockefeller Center we know today.
Credit: Columbia Pictures
One of your favorite movies was probably filmed there
According to the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment, countless popular films have used hundreds of locations across Manhattan as a backdrop in the past 50 years. (Literally, countless. The office, which approves filming location permits in NYC, was unable to provide a solid number). Those films include:
"Taxi Driver" (pictured), filmed at Bellmore Cafeteria on Park Avenue and along Columbus Avenue.
"13 Going on 30," filmed in Times Square.
"Spider-Man," filmed in midtown Manhattan.
"The Out-of-Towners," filmed in Central Park.
Credit: New York Adventure Club / Corey William Schneider
Manhattan has its very own Hogwarts
No, it's not really the filming site of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter," but it may as well could be. The Great Hall, in City College of New York's Shepard Hall, bares similarities to the Great Hall in Hogwarts. The building, opened in 1908, is covered with more than 1,000 grotesques and gargoyles, which may remind "Potter" fans of the fictional school, Dalton Whiteside, City College archivist assistant, said.
"The hall is the campus' hidden gem. It's the Manhattan Hogwarts," Corey William Schneider, CEO of the New York Adventure Club, said. The interior even looks like it's set up for the Yule Ball or a sorting ceremony.
Unfortunately, it wasn't built to teach New Yorkers witchcraft and wizardry. According to Whiteside, the hall was initially built to serve as a grand meeting space and was converted during World War I to be used by cadets of the Student Army Training Corps. During World War II, its purpose changed again, serving as a study hall for soldiers. Today, it's used as a meeting hall and is a popular stopping point for New York City tours, including the New York Adventure Club.
Credit: Newsday / Phillip Davies
The Empire State Building has its own ZIP code
With more than 150 businesses inside the Empire State Building, it had to be given its own ZIP code, the Empire State Realty Trust said. Its personal ZIP is 10118.
Credit: Friends of the High Line
There could have been a pool on the High Line
Building a pool where the High Line now stands was submitted as an idea in an Ideas Competition in 2003 on what to do with the space, organized by Friends of the High Line.
The competition brought in 720 entries from more than 30 countries. There was no requirement that the ideas had to be realistic, and the winners definitely weren't. A 7,920-foot-long swimming pool was among the winning submissions, according to a New York Times article about the competition. Other submissions included making the rail line into a roller coaster, a farm and a "Black Market Crawler," designed as a moving structure with shops and other buildings.
Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood is actually midtown
You thought Winnie-the-Pooh was only a fictional children's book character? Turns out he is real, and he lives at the New York Public Library's Fifth Avenue branch.
The stuffed bear was given to author A. A. Milne's son Christopher Milne (aka Robin) in London in 1921. The popular book's publisher E. P. Dutton presented the library with Pooh in 1987, where he has stayed ever since, according to Christopher Winn, author of "I Never Knew That About New York." The real Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga and Tigger are there, too.
Credit: New York Adventure Club / Corey William Schneider
The tale of a murder at an 18th-century building is still a mystery
Enter Mount Vernon Hotel Museum at your own risk.
As the tale goes, a skeleton was found in the floorboards of the hotel's kitchen in the early 1900s, New York Adventure Club tours CEO Corey William Schneider said. Who was it? How did it end up there? Who was responsible for the death? None of these were ever answered, as the facts behind the tale remain a mystery.
Every month, 30 to 40 New Yorkers head down to the museum to take part in a fictional murder mystery game to reenact the story, whether the tale itself is fact or fiction.
The 23-acre estate, first a carriage house built in 1799, served as a hotel from 1826 to 1833. It was preserved as a historic landmark in 1967 after opening as a museum in 1939.
Credit: Nina Ruggiero
Bryant Park was once a graveyard
Now a go-to lunch spot or winter shopping destination, Bryant Park was once a burial ground. Yellow fever put the graveyard at Washington Square Park over capacity, resulting in a new one being built between Fifth and Sixth avenues, Dan Biederman, president of the Bryant Park Restoration Corp., said. It was decommissioned in 1840, and the bodies were moved to Wards Island.
Credit: The Knickerbocker
The martini was invented in a Manhattan hotel, as the tale goes
John D. Rockefeller, who was a frequent guest of the Knickerbocker hotel in 1912, walked into the bar with a thirst for a drink that wasn't yet on the menu, Liza Martin, the Knickerbocker's executive assistant, said. A bartender by the name of Martini di Arma di Taggia shook up a new drink for Rockefeller using gin, dry vermouth and orange bitters -- known today as a gin martini.
The tale originated from a book written by John Doxat in 1972's "The World of Drinks and Drinking." It was debunked in 1991, though. The recipe di Taggia supposedly invented appeared in Harry Johnson's "Bartenders' Manual," published in 1888, before the Knickerbocker even opened. Legend or truth, the martini has remained connected to the Times Square hotel ever since.
Credit: Bryant Park Corporation
The NYPL stores its books underground
There's still something hidden under Bryant Park. Making stellar use of New York City's limited space, the New York Public Library stores more than 40 miles of book shelves beneath the park, according to park president Dan Biederman. There's enough space down there to store up to 3.2 million books.
Credit: Getty Images / Timothy A. Clary
Central Park's great lawn used to be a reservoir
Central Park's 55-acre Great Lawn has hosted concerts by music legends from Simon and Garfunkel to Jay Z and Beyonce, along with countless picnics and Frisbee tosses. As far as lawns go, this one is world famous, but it wasn't part of the park's original design.
Until the 1930s, a body of water -- the Croton Reservoir -- occupied this space, former Central Park Conservancy employee Elizabeth Kaledin said. But it was drained and filled with rubble from Rockefeller Center and the Eighth Avenue subway, which were both being constructed at the time.