First and early NYC Marathon photos featured in The Gothamist on Marathon Sunday

Posted by: on November 7, 2016
 Photos: A Look Back At The First NYC Marathon In 1970

This year’s race will mark the 40th anniversary of the marathon’s expansion to all five boroughs (previously it had been run entirely in Manhattan), which gave us more-or-less the route in use today.

The New York Road Runners, which organizes the marathon, estimates that this year over one million spectators will line the 26.2 mile course, marked by billowing royal blue banners and a wide river of trampled Gatorade cups. Millions more will watch live broadcasts on New York’s local ABC affiliate and ESPN2, as well as international media partners bringing the race to countries across the globe.

For New Yorkers, it’s hard to imagine the city without the marathon, which has made the first Sunday in November one of the High Holidays of New York’s civic religion. Yet to those who ran in the first NYC Marathon, back in 1970, the race of today would be unrecognizable.

That race, organized by the Road Runner’s Club and the New York City Parks Department, was run entirely within the confines of Central Park by a small group of runners, most of whom knew each other by first name. (According several participants in the race, there were “some people from out of town” competing as well.) It was announced with little fanfare in a Parks Department press release: “The New York City Marathon has developed from the efforts and enthusiasm of New Yorkers who participated in physical fitness programs and jogging.” No billboards, no TV ads, nothing.

New York has hosted marathons (varying in route and legitimacy) since the beginning of the 20th century. Many of the early races were run on streets filled with cars and sponsored by local newspapers or manufacturers. Often, employees of the sponsoring companies were paid to participate.

In 1909, C.W. Smith, a major in the National Guard, organized the first edition of the Brooklyn-Sea Gate Marathon, which was held in February on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. The original route looked similar to a back-and-forth version of the modern Brooklyn Half Marathon, starting at the Park Slope Armory on 14th Street and Eighth Avenue, circling Prospect Park and continuing down Ocean Parkway and around to the entrance of Sea Gate, where the runners turned around.

Runners gather at the starting line of the first NYC Marathon in Central Park, 1970. (Ruth Orkin/Ruth Orkin Photo Archive)

After a number of racers in the inaugural race passed out from exhaustion, organizers of the race partnered with the Brooklyn Eagle and Italian newspaper Il Progresso to organize a “Great Brooklyn Marathon” on Washington’s birthday, instituting a requirement that participants undergo a physical examination before competing. “Untrained” runners were banned. Il Progresso offered a prize for the first Italian runner to finish. That race was only held once.Reports of the Sea-Gate marathons were grim. In 1913, the Times ran an article headlined “Exhausted Runners Fall in Brooklyn,” describing in graphic terms the misery of the race, which was run in 20 degree weather:

Along along the twenty-five-mile route, starting from the armory at Putnam Avenue and Sumner Avenue to Sea Gate via Coney Island and return, could be seen bare-legged youths caring for their cuts and bruises and being cared for at the various stages where the icy road had caused them to come to grief or the extreme cold had forced them to drop out. … No worse weather conditions have ever prevailed for a Marathon race, and the ten who finished out of the forty-five starters will probably feel the effects of their gruelling contest in more ways than one…There were stretches on the parkway that were covered with ice, and those of the pack that reached these points slipped and fell. They were generally badly cut around the shins and knees, and when they returned to the armory, where the last two miles of the race were completed, their bloody legs presented anything but an inspiring sight.

After single-digit temperatures and more grueling winter ice and slush felled 25 of the 36 runners, four of whom who had to be carried to Coney Island Hospital, race organizers decided that the race would need to be shortened.

A 20-mile version of the race was held the following year, and then again after World War I. The tradition continued annually for another decade. This modified race was the only officially organized “marathon” in the five boroughs until after World War II.

In 1948, the Queens Committee for the Commemoration of the Golden Anniversary of the City of New York held a marathon from Idlewild (now JFK) Airport to the World’s Fair Grounds in Flushing, part of festivities to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the consolidation of New York City.

The Road Runner’s Club of New York (forerunner of the NYRR) held its first marathon in 1959. In the tradition of the earlier Brooklyn-Sea Gate marathon, the race was run in February; the Road Runners called it the Cherry Tree Marathon in honor of George Washington’s birthday. The course consisted of three loops of the Harlem River Drive passing by Yankee Stadium in both directions, a path well-known for its potholes and uneven surfaces.

Over the ensuing decade, the club would meet weekly at Macombs Dam Park near Yankee Stadium. Competitions took place along the service road of the Major Deegan Expressway.

“It was a pretty desolate place,” says Gary Muhrcke, winner of the 1970 marathon and former vice president of the club. The races were informal affairs held on Sundays and runners would enter their names at the site of the race. The awards ceremonies were usually held in the men’s locker room of the park’s recreation center.

In the early years of the Road Runners, recreational distance running was still in its infancy in the United States. John O’Neil, president of the National Road Runners club—which in 1968 had 2,500 members—remarked that year, “At first you think everyone is staring at you—and they are. After a while you enjoy jogging so much that you don’t give a damn.”

Gear was simple. Shirts and shorts were made of thin cotton, and most of the runners at the time sported shoes made by Nike or Tiger (now Asics), both of which offered a “Marathon model.” These were nylon shoes with thin soles, a far cry from the heavily R&D’d creations of today.

The sport was not a popular youth activity. Hal Higdon, who placed first among Americans at the 1964 Boston Marathon, wrote in the New York Times in 1968, “Today, the majority of runners—or ‘joggers’ thank you—seem to be securely middle-aged, that great awkward crowd of us too old for LSD and too young for Medicare.”

Tiger Marathon, 1971 edition. (Scott Draper / Photo courtesy of

In New York City, distance running attracted a distinctly homogenous crowd—mostly white men. But one of the most prominent and influential figures in the sport was a black runner, Ted Corbitt, who co-founded NYRR and served as the organization’s first president. A former Olympian and winner of the 1954 Philadelphia Marathon, Corbitt was a mentor to many of the club’s members. At the 1970 New York Marathon, when he was 51, he would finish fifth. When the Road Runners decided to expand the race to five boroughs, Corbitt designed the course, which he reportedly measured out by hand over the course of a single day.

Nina Kuscsik, one of the early female club members, described some of the obstacles she faced in an era when the idea that a woman would run for sport was peculiar to most New Yorkers. People would gawk at her on training runs, particularly at night. “I would get stopped by police officers on my daily runs,” she said. “They’d ask: ‘Are you alright?’ I’d say, ‘Of course I’m alright.’ ‘Well, then who are you running from?'”

Kuscsik recalled how at the early awards ceremonies at the Macombs Dam Park rec center, “Us women would line up with our backs to the wall of the men’s locker room, listening to the ceremonies, sneaking in to grab the awards when our names were called.”

Fortunately, as the club grew, it found other, more inclusive venues for awards presentations.

Kuscsik ran the Boston Marathon in 1969, though her time wasn’t recorded since the race officially forbade female entrants. She would be the only woman to run in the 1970 New York Marathon.

The 1970 marathon was borne from the enthusiasm of the early NYRR as well as from Mayor John Lindsay and Parks Commissioner Joseph Halper, who helped found a city jogging program in the late 1960s.

Fred Lebow, an early Road Runners club leader whom co-organizers likened to a circus promoter, was also credited by many of his fellow runners as being one of the driving forces behind organizing the race. In drumming up support for a potentially ho-hum course confined to Central Park Drive, he argued that “the marathon will be more exciting than a regular course, because spectators will be able to keep track of the runners.”

(There weren’t exactly a ton of spectators. George Hirsch, chairman of the board of NYRR and one of the organizers of the 1976 race, said the early marathons went largely unacknowledged by the public. “When we used to race through Central Park, people in the park were pretty unaware of what was going on,” he said.)

With permission from the Parks Department, race day was set for September 13th, 1970. Participants would start in front of Tavern On The Green and make roughly four and a half loops around the park drive, which was closed to traffic during the race. (Once the race moved out of the park, logistics became significantly more complex: today, NYRR organizes the race in partnership with the police, fire, sanitation and parks departments; the Central Park Conservancy and City Parks Foundation; and the MTA.)

The morning of the race, runners were required to a pass a brief physical at the West Side YMCA before proceeding to the starting line and paying the dollar entry fee. At 11 a.m., the marathoners set off.

Gary Muhrcke recalled preparing for the race with daily runs between his home in Freeport on Long Island and Far Rockaway, where he worked as a firefighter with Engine Co. 328. “Commuting time was very precious to me, so I didn’t waste it,” he said. “I knew there were other guys in the club running 50 miles a week, so I had to run 60.”

The night before the race, Muhrcke’s shift was unusually busy, with numerous 911 calls coming out of ordinarily sleepy Rockaway. The firemen on duty didn’t get much rest and Muhrcke wasn’t certain he’d be running the race until the morning of.

“I called my wife from the station the next morning and said, ‘They have this race, in the city, I don’t really need to go.’ I was pretty tired,” he said. “We had three small kids, and I could sense that she wanted to get them out of the house, so we decided to drive into the city.”

As Muhrcke reminisced about the race, I had to periodically stop him, as he referred to the other runners only by their first names. “I decided to hang with this guy I knew, Pat [Bostick], who was in pretty decent shape. After the second loop, out of nowhere, he decided to quit. We must have been in sixth place at that point. I thought, ‘What? What am I going to do now?'” Muhrcke said.

Runners cross Grand Avenue in Brooklyn during the 2015 NYC Marathon. (Scott Lynch/Gothamist)

He said he wasn’t bothered by sweltering temperatures that reached neared 80 degrees, which proved to be too much for some of the runners. He recalled, “With two miles to go I caught up with Moses [Mayfield] on the hill at the north end of the park. Moses had started the race like a bat out of hell, and he was slowing down. There were a bunch of cyclists around him leading the race at that point, who look confused when I passed him. They didn’t think I was part of the race. At that point, I was just lucky to finish.”

Mayfield later remarked to the Times: “This is a nice, easy course, I don’t know why I got dizzy. I’m in very good shape. I’m going to a doctor to check it out.”

Of the 126 runners who started that first marathon, only 55 managed to finish. (Compare that completion rate of 43 percent to last year’s rate of around 99 percent.) Kuscsik dropped out after experiencing digestive problems.

Muhrcke said he received an Elgin Watch as a prize, as did the other top finishers. Everyone received a can of soda. The organizers forgot to bring an opener for the cans—this was before pull tabs—delaying the awards ceremony until they managed to scrounge one up on the Upper West Side.

The following year, Muhrcke’s wife Jane brought hand-woven laurel wreaths to adorn the heads of the winners, a nod to the marathon’s roots in Ancient Greece. (She continued this tradition for more than three decades).

For this year’s race, NYRR will pay out $803,000 in guaranteed prize money, as well as separate time bonus awards.

The organization can afford it: Entrance fees are $255 if you’re not a member and more if you’re not from the U.S. NYRR has also branded everything in the race that can be branded. The Indian IT company Tata Consultancy Services is the current title sponsor; other major sponsors include AirBnB, Asics and United Airlines. Michelob Ultra, PowerBar, Fitbit, the Hospital for Special Surgery and Hanover’s Pretzels are on board, as is Hilton, the New York State Apple Association and Scotland (the country).

Still, beyond all the logos and glitz and glam, the branded cups and helicopters and motorcycles with TV cameras and teeming crowds, traces of the very first race remain. There’s still that sense of camaraderie, even if participants no longer all know each other; they still run 26.2 miles; and there’s still the spirit that celebrates every finisher, not just the winner.

I asked Gary for his advice for a first-time marathoner. He replied: “Eat a lot of food, you’re going to get hungry.”

Simon Glenn-Gregg is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer, data visualizer and long-distance runner. He is currently interactive lead at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.

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Jane Jacobs photo by Ruth Orkin included in new book

Posted by: on October 1, 2016

jacobs5             vitallittleplans

Jane Jacobs and Ned Jacobs, NYC, 1961

Ruth Orkin’s photograph of Jane Jacobs included in new book “Vital Little Plans The Short Works of Jane Jacobs” by Samuel Zipp and Nathan Storring.

Vital Little Plans brings together for the first time a career-spanning selection of essays, articles, speeches and interviews by the great urban thinker Jane Jacobs.
The writings range from her earliest reporting on New York’s streets in the 1930s to selections from her two unfinished books in the 2000s. Some pieces shed new light on her ideas about cities, economics and ethics that make up her well-known books, like The Death and Life of Great American Cities and The Economy of CitiesOthers explore topics rarely addressed directly in her major works, from skyscrapers to feminism to universal health care to gentrification. Most importantly, Vital Little Plans reveals Jacobs as she herself wished to be understood: as a writer who tried to observe human life as closely as she could.
The book includes introductions and annotations that provide historical and biographical context, and connect the dots within Jacobs’ ecology of ideas.
To be published by Random House, October 11, 2016.



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Ruth Orkin photo included in video installation at The National Museum of African American History and Culture

Posted by: on October 1, 2016


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Marion Anderson and Leonard Bernstein, Lewisohn Stadium, NYC, 1947, Copyright Ruth Orkin

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. It was established by Act of Congress in 2003, following decades of efforts to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans. To date, the museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts. Nearly 100,000 individuals have become charter members of the museum. When the NMAAHC opens on September 24, 2016, it will be the 19th and newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution.

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New York Magazine fashion issue features Ruth Orkin photograph

Posted by: on September 30, 2016

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NEW YORK MAGAZINE issue devoted to fashion titled: “What We Wore” features Ruth Orkin photograph, “David in Penn Station, NYC, 1947” and many other photographs of fashions in New York though the years.

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Ruth Orkin to be honored by Her Justice at Annual Photography Auction and Benefit on May 10, 2016

Posted by: on May 3, 2016


2016 Annual Photography
Auction & Benefit


Marcia L. Goldstein
Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP

Photographic Honorees

Gail Albert Halaban
Ruth Orkin


Pauline Frommer
Co-President, FrommerMedia LLC
Host of the Frommer Travel Show on WABC 770

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Grand Hyatt New York, NYC

6:00 pm Cocktails and Silent Auction 

7:00 pm Dinner, Program and Live Auction

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New York Times 1/28/16- Influence of LOVERS AND LOLLIPOPS for CAROL

Posted by: on January 29, 2016


Cathy Dunn from a scene at Macy’s in “Lovers and Lollipops”

Another inspiration was “Lovers and Lollipops,” the Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin feature in which a widow, her new suitor and her daughter go on an excursion around New York City.

“That became a really amazing document for locations, because it was all shot in real places with natural light in New York close enough to when ‘Carol’ takes place,” Mr. Haynes said. A scene in “Lovers and Lollipops” set in the Macy’s toy section inspired the department-store scenes in “Carol.”

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Todd Haynes film CAROL and Ruth Orkin’s influence

Posted by: on January 6, 2016

carol3Photo by Ruth Orkin

NEW STATESMAN: Behind Carol: The photographers who influenced Todd Haynes Award-winning film 11/27/15

The book collected a selection of 1950s photojournalism that revealed a “distressed, dirty, sagging city” that jarred with their own romanticised notions of New York at the time. Aptly for a film that prioritises female perspectives, many of these photographers were women: Ruth Orkin, Helen Levitt, Esther Bubley and Vivian Maier were all major influences for the team behind Carol. Haynes added that this was where the film developed its “soiled colour palette”.


SS INSIDER: Awards Feature: Director Todd Haynes finds inspiration for CAROL in obscure docudrama “Lost Language of Feminity” 12/17/15

Instead, he found inspiration in an obscure 1956 docudrama called Lovers and Lollipops, directed by Ruth Orkin and Morris Engle. It was about a single mother, and was shot on location in New York. “Everything about the movie was useful because it was such a slice of life of the time,” says Haynes. “It wasn’t how women behave today, in a post 60s or 70s Patti Smith world. It was almost something you would see in your grandmother. It was a lost language of femininity.”


THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER – Making of CAROL: Why It Took 60 Years to Film the Lesbian Love Story 1/5/16

Preproduction began in January 2014, with Nagy overseeing minor script rewrites as the director amassed an overstuffed “look book” to inspire his production team (he was drawn to archival images by street photographers of the era like Esther Bubley, Helen Levitt and Ruth Orkin).

Ed Lachman, ASC, taps Super 16 for Todd Haynes period melodrama CAROL

Lachman reveals that Therese’s early photos were in fact shot in the 1960s by photographer Brian Blauser, and her later work was shot byCarol’s set photographer, Wilson Webb. The filmmakers wanted Therese’s photos to share the same sensitivity and gritty realism found in the work of mid-20th century female photographers like Lisette Model, Berenice Abbott, Ruth Orkin, Esther Bubley, Helen Levitt and Vivian Maier. Haynes wrote to Lachman, “Women played a much more relevant, central role in depicting and documenting those times, but it also wavered between art photography — like many of their careers did — and photojournalism. And so it was both artistic and aestheticized …. The soft, soiled look of period photography (rather than its cinema) should both soften and soil the emotional content of the story.”

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LOVERS AND LOLLIPOPS double feature with Todd Haynes new film CAROL at Lincoln Center 11/18/15

Posted by: on November 18, 2015

Carol    LoversandLollipops

Join us for a special double-feature event with screenings of Carol and Lovers and Lollipops, plus an extended conversation with Todd Haynes.

Todd Haynes, USA, 2015, DCP, 118m
Haynes’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s early novel stars Cate Blanchett as the titular Carol, a wealthy suburban wife and mother, and Rooney Mara as an aspiring photographer. They meet by chance, fall in love almost at first sight, and defy the closet of the early 1950s to be together. Working with his longtime cinematographer Ed Lachman and shooting on the Super-16 film he favors for its echoes of the movie history of 20th-century America, Haynes charts subtle shifts of power and desire in images that are alternately luminous and oppressive. Blanchett and Mara are both splendid; the erotic connection between their characters is palpable from beginning to end, as much in its repression as in eagerly claimed moments of expressive freedom. Originally published under a pseudonym, Carol is Highsmith’s most affirmative work; Haynes has more than done justice to the multilayered emotions evoked by the original. A Weinstein Company release. An NYFF53 selection.

Screening with:

Morris Engel & Ruth Orkin, USA, 1955, 35mm, 82m
Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin followed up their paradigm-shifting debut feature Little Fugitive with another film about a young child discovering and challenging the habits of adults. As was true for the directors’ earlier film, the plot of Lovers and Lollipops—a 7-year-old girl goes to escalating lengths to disrupt her widowed mother’s burgeoning romance with a sympathetic old friend—registers less than its constant stream of precisely observed, improbably sustained moments: a visit to the Museum of Modern Art; a bedtime reading that escalates into a mini-confrontation; a trip to the Bronx Zoo. An underappreciated landmark of American independent filmmaking, Lovers and Lollipops is a fleet-footed, stylish document of an older New York, and a crucial period reference for Haynes’s sumptuous new film,Carol.


Mary Engel and Todd Haynes – Photo by Julie Cunnagh


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Style of Sport features Ruth’s bicycle trip from 1939

Posted by: on November 4, 2015

In 1939, a 17-year old girl living in California decided to embark on a monumental bike trip across the country. The World’s Fair in New York City was her destination. That girl was award winning photojournalist and filmmaker Ruth Orkin (1921-1985).

Orkin grew up in Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s, and at the age of 10, received her first camera, a 39¢ Univex. She began by photographing her friends and teachers at school. Obsessed with traveling after three cross country train trips with her family, she took a job as a teenager at a travel agency in 1937. When a pamphlet for American Youth Hostels arrived in the mail one day at work, offering cheap lodging and cooking facilities for travelers journeying by foot or bicycle, the call for adventure was too great to resist.





At 16, Orkin took her first Youth Hostel trip to San Francisco, and the following year somehow convinced her parents to let her bicycle across the country. Multiple newspapers carried the story of this 17-year old on a cross country tour of U.S. Youth Hostels. While she had actually hitchhiked from LA to Chicago, and then Chicago to New York – equally adventurous and kind of crazy — Orkin later wrote in her book, A Photo Journal, published in 1981, “The bicycling was done while I was sightseeing in each city: Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Boston. I also biked the smaller distances between the four eastern cities and while hosteling through four New England states. All in all I biked a total of 2000 miles during those four months!”

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Bike Trip1.Orkin

The photographs taken on that trip are quite extraordinary and sophisticated for such a young girl, as is the scrapbook she diligently created documenting the trip. That she made this journey unscathed is equally impressive. Her intrepid spirit would bring her back to New York City in 1943 where she began working as a nightclub photographer. She later became a highly sought-after freelance photographer, traveling around the world and contributing to LifeLookLadies’ Home Journal and other magazines. Orkin’s candid photographs of actors and directors include Woody Allen, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Doris Day, Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Spencer Tracy, Orson Welles, Marlon Brando, among others, in addition to many of the greatest musicians, such as Leonard Bernstein, Isaac Stern, Aaron Copland, Jascha Heifitz, and Serge Koussevitzky.

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Family of Man – 60 years later

Posted by: on November 4, 2015

Family of Man

Ruth Orkin’s series “The Cardplayers” was the only sequence that Edward Steichen included in the The Family of Man exhibition that was held at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955.


A ‘Family of Man’ Reunion

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