The Big Apple

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Tue Mar 5 19:16:59 UTC 2002

  The 1920 New Orleans stable hand could not have been referring to
Aqueduct Racetrack when he spoke of "the big apple":

1) In the 1920s, neither the NYC turf writers nor any other turf
writers for that matter ever referred to Aqueduct as "the big apple,"
which means that this soubriquet was not used for Aqueduct. So when a
1920 New Orleans stable hand in New Orleans speaks of "the big
apple," why should anyone believe it may refer to Aqueduct?

2) If Aqueduct was in fact referred to as "the big apple," there
would have been no reason for racing fans to ask Fitz Gerald about
the derivation of "his phrase." But they did ask him, triggering his
1926 response ("So many people have asked the writer about the
derivation of his phrase, "'the big apple'...")

3) One must bear in mind the context of the 1920 use of "the big
apple" by the New Orleans stable hand. "...A boy from an adjoining
barn called over, "Where you shipping after the meeting:
        "To this one of the lads replied, 'Why we ain't no bull-ring
stable; we's goin' to "the big apple".' --[G. Cohen: "bull" is a
derogatory term for a horse].
        "The reply was bright and snappy.
        'Boy, I don't know what you're goin' to that apple with those
hides for.  All you'll get is the rind.'" --[G. Cohen: "hide" is
another derogatory term for a horse.]

     So the stable-hand, responding to the derogatory remark directed
against his horses, first insists that they are fine horses ("Why we
ain't no bull-ring stable"). Then to clinch the point he adds that
his outfit is going to some very special place.("We's goin' to the
big apple"). The only conceivable way this last statement could refer
to Aqueduct is if Aqueduct represented the big time of horse racing.
But it didn't. As Barry pointed out, Belmont was more important.
     The stable hand was therefore saying that he and his outfit were
headed for the big time in horse racing. The only uncertainty is
whether he was referring specifically to the NYC racetracks or to big
time horse racing in general.
Fitz Gerald interpreted the remark as referring to the NYC racetracks.

---Gerald Cohen

P.S. Perhaps Clark Whelton might reproduce his uncle's 1918 letter
(with "The Big A") for this ads-l list. The early attestation, even
if totally isolated, deserves to be recorded.

At 6:01 AM -0800 3/5/02, James Smith wrote:
>  Gerald Cohen <gcohen at UMR.EDU> wrote:
>  >    There is no evidence that Aqueduct Racetrack was
>  > ever referred to as "The Big Apple."
>John J. Fitz Gerald's stable hand may have been
>referring to New York in general, or specifically to
>Aqueduct - how did Fitz Gerald know?  'The Big Apple'
>need not have been general lingo for Aqueduct; that
>one man - that one stable hand from whom Fitz Gerald
>got the phrase - may have been referring to Aqueduct
>specifically, to Aqueduct as representative of all the
>New York tracks, or to the race tracks as a group.
>Fitz Gerald made an assumption and simply used the
>phrase as it served him best, but there is little
>likelihood we'll ever know what the stable hand
>specifically meant.

More information about the Ads-l mailing list