"23 skiddoo,"

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed Oct 2 15:32:22 UTC 2002

This is from a delightful novel/guidebook published in 1904: The Real New York, by Rupert Hughes.

"It's a little windy to-day," said Miss Collis, who was hanging on to her skirts with one half-paralyzed hand.
"Wait till we come to the Flatiron Building!" he said.  "There is is, dead ahead of us.  Isn't it a beauty?  Some people say it is hideous, but I think it's as perfect, in its way, as the Parthenon.  ***  What's the Parthenon but a very beautiful shed, build like a wooden barn, only with marble beams and gables and with statuary instead of circus posters pasted on it?  The Flatiron is like a glorious white ship.  ***"
With malice prepense he led her round Madison Square, so that she could cross directly in front of the bows of the skyscraper. . . .  As they approached, she noticed little groups of men standing in knots at lee-corners.
"What are those men watching?"
"They're art students and connoisseurs," he said, "though some of them, I think, must be in dry-goods, waiting to learn the newest styles in hosiery."
The wind was a zesty breeze elsewhere, but it blew a gale round this building, whose owners were once actually sued for raising such a wind as kept smashing in the plate glass of nearby shops.
"Look at that hat!" cried De Peyster.  And Miss Collis saw a tiny derby soaring like a kite as high as the eighteenth or twentieth story of the building.  But Miss Collis had little time to watch these aeronautics, for she had troubles of her own.  ***  As for her skirts, though she clung to them with both hands, they snapped and swirled about her like a flag in a tempest.  She was buffeted into other women, who were trying vainly to keep down appearances; the skirts of some were actually blown over their heads.
Pp. 26-28, with a fine illustration on p. 27 by Hy. Meyer of the Flatiron building with hats and umbrellas swirling around it.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit against the owners of the Flatiron Building was reported in the NYTimes on Januray 24, 1903, p. 8.  And on February 6, 1903, p. 1 the Times had a long report on a damaging windstorm under the headline "Wind Causes Boy's Death; Blows Him Under an Automobile Near Flatiron Building; Windows Smashed Along Broadway -- The Gale Terrific Throughout the City -- A Fifth Avenue Runaway."

So there is no question that the Flatiron Building, which would have been the only tall building in the neighborhood at the time, disrupted the usual flow of air in unexpected ways, and evidently the film being transmitted by the Library of Congress these days proves that cops were assigned to the corner to keep order.  What's absent is any evidence that the cops said "23 skiddoo" when rousting the gawking corner-boys.  Somehow it doesn't seem a very likely line.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

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