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If He’d Been There

May 2024
1min read

If Gene Smith could have gone back to the New York City of 1932—as he wanted to do in “I Wish I’d Been There,” December 1984—he might have included in his tour a trip by subway (for a nickel) to the South Bronx. Instead of the burned-out ruins that exist today, he would have found solid lower-middle-class apartments that would have been serviceable for another hundred years or so with proper upkeep. On his subway trip he need not have had any fears for his personal safety, either from fellow passengers or from neglected maintenance of the track and equipment.

I am curious about where Mr. Smith got the idea that the food in most restaurants was awful. As I remember, it was generally pretty good, and we know that it was prepared by a cook or chef in the kitchen—not prepackaged. In addition, I’m sure the service was better then, and that there were likely to be linen tablecloths and napkins and substantial cutlery on the tables.

It is interesting that Mr. Smith was careful to limit his wished-for stay to twenty-four hours, as though in the middle of a great plague. True, there was the Depression, and it was bad. But nevertheless, New York as a city worked better in 1932 than it does today. I think that can be said about most American cities.

In his discussion of the 1932 World Series, Robert L. Beisner wonders whether Babe Ruth really called his shot. For what it may be worth, I was listening to a broadcast of the game, and, after the second strike, the announcer did say that the Babe was pointing toward the center-field stands.

President Roosevelt’s speech of October 31, 1936, was indeed a spectacular event. I remember the broadcast well. I mention the matter to note that William Manchester was indubitably correct when he said that Louis Howe was elsewhere that evening. Mr. Howe had died in April of that year.

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