New York City - Of "Big Apples," Pocket Ice Cream, and Sewer Alligators

New York City Skyline

In our latest blog post, everything revolved around apples in every conceivable size and color. However, there was one very special apple that we intentionally left out: the Big Apple.

Come with us on an exciting tour through New York City and experience with us some of the lesser-known facets of this thrilling metropolis by the Atlantic.


Big Apple or Big Apples?

New York, New York - often sung about, remains the city that literally never sleeps, an unbroken magnet for fortune seekers and globetrotters.

The origin of the nickname "Big Apple" is unfortunately not definitively documented. Modern interpretations even extend to the idea that when viewed from space, the city supposedly bears resemblance to the shape of an apple. However, the city's landscape today is naturally much different than a few decades ago, and the luxury of satellite imagery is something we've only had recently.

In fact, there are only a handful of truly plausible explanations for the origin of the name, and all of them are only indirectly related to Americans' second-favorite fruit.

The nickname gained popularity in 1924 through the title of a column by sports reporter John J. Fitz Gerald. According to this version, the name is a parallel to "Big Money" - a slang term for New York race tracks, where big money could be made at that time. Of course, prize money only benefited the jockeys, so as a parallel, the horses were promised the prize of the "Big Apple."

Another legend about the name's origin refers to a song from the same year written by pianist Peter W. Hendriksen, which, alluding to the freedom of New York women, described certain physical aspects as "Big Apples."

Another documented mention of the term "Big Apple" comes from the 1930s jazz scene. Here, the term was used as common slang for Harlem and New York as the jazz metropolis of the world.

Even though these explanations have very little to do with apples, it is still interesting that New York historically is indeed associated with apples. As readers of our previous blog on the topic already know, edible apples are actually not native to America and only arrived in the New World with European settlers. Naturally, New York was one of the first ports of call and thus one of the first experimental areas for apple cultivation.

But the city has much more curiosity to offer than just an eccentric nickname.

Who would have thought that, according to national statistics, New York is one of the healthiest major cities in the United States – despite the typical hot dogs?

What's the reason behind this?

For instance, New Yorkers statistically consume twice as much arugula, almonds, and breakfast cereals as other Americans – all things that carry significant weight given the typically sugary American breakfast – no pun intended. However, apples don't appear to cross the counters here any more frequently than in other cities.

What doesn't fit into the health picture is that New Yorkers drink up to 7 times as much coffee as their fellow countrymen.


Money, Money, Money...

Often you hear voices complaining about the shortage of living space in New York.

However, modern New Yorkers actually have it pretty good. In fact, the bustling New York is only about one-eighth as densely populated as ancient Rome. To put it plainly: During the time of antiquity, the living space of each individual New Yorker had to be shared by 8 people.

But one main reason for the perceived lack of space is likely the exclusivity of real estate and the associated prices. For instance, a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan is considered a bargain at a monthly rent of $3,400. It's not surprising, then, that statistically speaking, every 21st New Yorker is a millionaire.

And it's not just the New Yorkers themselves who are wealthy.

Many know about Fort Knox, but the majority of American gold, and indeed the largest gold reserve in the world, lies in a vault beneath Wall Street. Here, 25% of the world's entire gold supply is stored – total value: approximately $90 trillion. Since most of us rarely deal with such dimensions, let's break it down: that's a 1 followed by 12 zeros.

Faced with this wealth, it seems a bit unfair that the early settlers purchased the area of Manhattan from the indigenous people for the equivalent of just $1,000 at the time.

While we're on the topic of the Wall Street - the area's name actually owes itself to an old wall. This wall dates back to a time before the city of New York even existed. What many don't know is that the settlement, mostly populated by the Dutch at that time, was once called New Amsterdam. The New Amsterdammers regularly dealt with pirate attacks and thus erected a large wall along the coast for defense – the namesake of today's Wall Street.

And what does one do when one feels there's not enough space but plenty of money?

New York has come up with a quirky solution for the common homelessness issue in large cities. The city actually pays for plane tickets for every homeless New Yorker who can demonstrate an alternative place of residence or some form of accommodation elsewhere.

Perhaps this is actually intended to protect the homeless.

Violence is more the norm than the exception in large cities, but in New York, even this takes on its own forms. For instance, the statistics state that every year, in fact, ten times more people are bitten by New Yorkers than by sharks.


Law & Order

Naturally, biting other people in New York is just as illegal as it is in most other places, but New York also boasts some very unique definitions of offenses.

For instance, hanging laundry on a line is only allowed after obtaining an appropriate license.

In addition to housewives and househusbands, couples should also be cautious. Public flirting can indeed result in a fine of up to $25 in New York. And for those who still want to take their date out for delicious ice cream on Sundays, they should be particularly careful not to carry it in their pocket for later consumption. Yes, that's also illegal in New York.

The fact that honking unnecessarily in traffic is just as illegal as it is for us probably doesn't come as a surprise, just like the fact that nobody adheres to it.

And even etiquette doesn't escape the quirky New York laws. For example, it's required that in an elevator, one must not speak to anyone but instead fold their hands and stare fixedly at the elevator doors.

Another amusing quirk of the New York legal system is that a married couple can't get a divorce due to irreconcilable differences unless both parties agree. Perhaps that's also the reason for the relatively low divorce rate in New York City, where only 2.8 out of 1,000 residents are divorced. In comparison, the national average in the US is almost 15 divorces per 1,000 citizens. According to statistics, every third marriage in Germany breaks down sooner or later.



Another New York law probably catches the attention of conspiracy theorists in particular. Unlike most other states, it's illegal in New York to buy, sell, or possess alligators without the appropriate license. This quickly brings to mind the old legend of alligators in New York sewer systems.

In fact, even this legend has a grain of truth. Small alligators are still caught in the city's waterways to this day. However, it's highly unlikely that these are animals making their homes in the dark, foul-smelling tunnels beneath the city. The environment with its prevailing cold water temperatures and lack of suitably sized prey is unsuitable for the survival of a large lizard.

Nevertheless, the legendary origin of sewer reptiles as unwanted pets cannot be entirely dismissed. Before legislative intervention, baby alligators were indeed popular pets and were imported from Florida or simply brought back from vacation there. When the animals grew too large, it wasn't uncommon for these now-unwanted pets to be abandoned or, according to legend, flushed down the drain. However, in most cases, these animals likely met an untimely demise, whether due to hypothermia, lack of food, or even drowning.

If the animals managed to survive, it was probably mostly if they were fortunate enough to be released into rivers, and over the years, several alligators have been caught in New York waters, even up to today. Because although lawmakers largely banished alligators from the city, this rule hasn't managed to break the fascination of terrarium enthusiasts. The shipping of "small, harmless cold-blooded animals" isn't prohibited in the US, so local post offices sporadically encounter baby alligators on their way to their new illicit owners.

In most cases, the animals end up, just like the specimens sporadically pulled from waterways, at The Bronx Zoo, the largest zoo in the USA with over 4,000 animals from over 750 different species.


The Melting Pot

As diverse as the animal world in the Bronx, so diverse are the New Yorkers themselves.

So-called Euro-Americans, i.e., Americans with European roots, actually make up less than half of the city's population. Leading the way are the Italians with 8.2% of the total population, followed by Irish at 5.3%, Germans at 3.6%, and Russians and Poles at just under 3% each. English roots are currently held by actually less than 2% of the city's population.

Given such an Italian background, it's not very surprising that the very first pizzeria in the United States opened in New York City in 1895.

The majority of New Yorkers belong to other ethnic groups. About 25% are African Americans, 12% are Asian, and just under 30% are Hispanic.

It's hardly surprising that in about half of all New York households, a language other than English is spoken.

And this diversity isn't a new phenomenon, as New York has always been a haven for displaced and fortune-seeking people from all over the world. From 1886 to 1924, over 14 million immigrants came to the USA through the ports of New York. And even though many didn't stay in the city, today, around 40% of all Americans can trace their ancestry back to immigrants who first arrived in the country via the immigrant processing station at Ellis Island.

The high number of Irish might surprise many, especially considering that Ireland, with just about 5 million inhabitants, only ranks 122nd among the most populous countries worldwide, having fewer inhabitants than places like Hong Kong, Singapore, or Palestine.

The reason for this lies in the massive emigration wave in the 19th century, when many Irish fled the country due to the Potato Famine and the resulting severe famine. In fact, due to this event, New York has had more residents with Irish roots than Dublin since 1850, and this still holds true today.


Everything Has an End...

Finally, let's take a quick look at probably the most famous fast food of New York: the hot dog.

The sausage in a bun in its current form was invented in 1867 on Coney Island by German immigrant Charles Feltman. The sausage itself was likely based on a recipe from Frankfurt, which had been developed there nearly a decade before Charles Feltman's emigration. Hence the snack's name at that time: instead of hot dogs, New Yorkers were buying "franks" back then.

The origin of the name "hot dog" is unfortunately just as dubious as that of the "Big Apple." The most common explanation is simply that the elongated shape of the sausage reminded people of dachshunds and thus colloquially they became known as dogs. Since the sausages are eaten warm, this allegedly gave rise to the current name.

Actually, this is probably just another legend, stemming from a cartoon by cartoonist Thomas Aloysius "Tad" Dorgan depicting a dachshund in a hot dog bun. In truth, however, the name likely originates from an article called "The Night Lunch Wagon Was Hold Up" in 1895, where Yale University students were reported to be "contentedly eating hot dogs."

In the first year alone, Feltman is said to have sold over 4,000 hot dogs from his cart. A remarkable number, perhaps also owed to the not insignificant German population group of the time.

For those who have now become hungry at the end of our tour, we warmly recommend our delicious relishes as a tasty addition to your own hot dogs:

We hope you enjoyed our little tour through the lesser-known sides of New York City. If so, how about a little souvenir to remember it by?

We've put together a whole range of great fan items for you to easily bring the flair of New York City into your own four walls, such as:

You can find these and many other great fan items directly in our shop.

Have fun browsing!