"Big Apple" still not in NY TIMES

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Tue Feb 3 01:57:40 UTC 2004

   This is beyond ludicrous.
   Here's a response I received today from the NEW YORK TIMES "City" section
on why there can't possibly be a story (not an error-filled summary) on "the
Big Apple," even after twelve years, even on the 80th anniversary, even during
Black History Month.  The African-American stablehands will now go
unrecognized forever.  Living witnesses will NEVER be found.  Hey, maybe there just
wasn't room after Chuck Klosterman?
   I want to thank my fellow American Dialect Society members William Safire
and Kathleen Miller for making this tragedy happen:

Subj:   big apple
Date:   2/2/2004 3:44:14 PM Eastern Standard Time
From:   mimoly at nytimes.com
To: Bapopik at aol.com
Sent from the Internet (Details)

Dear Mr. Popik;
Your recent communication with The Times about "the Big Apple'' and John J.
Fitz Gerald came to my attention and thanks for reminding us about the 1924
column. But I want to say that Mr. Fitzgerald's contribution has been mentioned
in The Times from time to time. One citation was in our very own City section,
in the FYI column of 3/17/96 (see below). I also noticed William Safire's
column of 9/17/2000. I don't think the 80th anniversary is pressing enough for our
City section to mention it again.
Mijke Molyneux, staff editor, The City

The Answer People

Q. Does the New York Public Library still have a telephone information
service, and what is most commonly asked? A. It certainly does, breathing new life
into the phrase "everything you ever wanted to know about. . . ." A staff of
nine librarians and research assistants field some 550 calls a day, Monday
through Friday, 9 A.M. to 6 P.M., with 1,800 reference books at their fingertips --
as well as Internet access. The researchers can spend no longer than five
minutes with a caller, and neither side can call back during the research
process. The service won't answer crossword puzzle or contest questions, and the
researchers claim to be adept at recognizing them. Oh, and by request of the Board
of Education, no homework questions. The board thinks students should learn
to use the library themselves.

So what do New Yorkers really want to know? A lot of them ask, "Why is New
York called the Big Apple?" Of the many opinions on this issue, the one the
library considers most authentic goes back to the 1920's and John J. FitzGerald, a
racing writer with The Morning Telegraph who overheard stable hands in New
Orleans refer to a New York racecourse as "the big apple." Mr. FitzGerald used
the term so often it entered the vernacular.

Other questions ebb and flow in popularity with the tide of events. The
service was inundated with queries for O. J. Simpson trivia during his trial -- and
Harriet Shalat, the service's supervising librarian, said her staff tackled
them all. In fact, there is little that stumps them, but if the answer men and
women can't handle your question, they'll send you to someone who can.

To reach the Telephone Reference Service of the New York Public Library, call
(212) 340-0849. The Brooklyn and Queens libraries have reference services as
well: in Brooklyn, (718) 780-7700; in Queens, (718) 990-0714.


   This doesn't even begin to address what I said to the Public Editor.
   "Big Apple Corner" was dedicated by me, alone, in the rain, as my parents
were dying, back in 1997.  "Big Apple Corner" has still _never_ been reported
in the TIMES, although "Joey Ramone Way" has.  "Big Apple Corner"
honors--badly--only NYC writer John J. Fitz Gerald.  New York CIty's story is, at best,
half told.
   The mention of "Mr. Fitzgerald's (sic) contribution" and "our City section
to mention it again" entirely misses the point and importance of the February
18, 1924 column.
   The stablehands' words  in the February 18, 1924 "Around the Big Apple"
column have never appeared in the TIMES.  The stablehands' words (repeated
again) in the December 6, 1926 "Around the Paddock" column have also never appeared
in the TIMES.  The "dusky" stablehands don't even have names.  THAT'S THE
   So nothing can be printed now--why?  Because on NYC Convention and
Visitors Bureau President Charles Gillett's death in December 1995 the TIMES wrote
that "the Big Apple" comes from Damon Runyon?  Because that was contradicted by
a brief "City" section FYI blurb in March 1996--eight years ago?
   No!  "The Big Apple" can never be printed in the TIMES because there was a
short, error-filled summary at the bottom of an exceedingly long William
Safire column in 2000!  Wonderful work, Kathleen Miller!  What a favor you did
after all these years!
   Why should the City section run the "Big Apple" story now?  Why not wait
and make sure that every possible living witness is dead?  Why not wait until
Gerald Cohen dies?  Why not wait until I die?  Then the "Big Apple" story will
   In 2000, Kathleen Miller told me that Safire was writing a "Big Apple
column."  It wasn't "a column" at all.  I said then that the February 18, 1924
column must finally be printed in full.  I would not have cooperated had I known
that everything would be reduced to a mere eight buried, misquoted, and
never-corrected words.  I would not have cooperated had I known that a misquotation
of my own words in 2000 would stand forever.
   This--after 12 years--was the final chance to honor the stablehands and
New York City's history.  The NEW YORK TIMES position, as I understand it from
its City editor and its Public Editor, is that corrections of the past can
never be made--yet those errors are now good enough to prevent the full story.
   ADS-er George Thompson had his "base ball" work printed immediately, in
full, on a page one Sunday story?  The "Big Apple" stablehands get nothing at
all, ever?

Barry Popik

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