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New York on Ice – Anna Harsanyi



Ice skating first started 5,000 years ago, with blades made of animal bones. This sport with long history becomes a big part of NYC starting off as a pastime.

Slide 2

-1858 Central Park- the frozen newly dug lake at 72nd street brings in tens of thousands of skaters. This begins “skating mania”

– Everybody came, first as curiosity then growing into an official activity for people of all ages and genders

Slide 3

  • People thought it was an “innocent” exercise. But that was not true: men and women could mingle through skating, talking and even falling into each other’s arms. Women could show off their ankles during ice skating
  • Later on, a women only skate rink was made, but wasn’t popular at all. The purpose of the rink was to mingle

Slide 4

  • Soon the rinks stayed open until late at night, even midnight during the weekends. They were lit brightly by gas lamps and the moonlight helped
  • Artwork based on these scenes: John O’Brien Inman’s Moonlight Skating

Slide 5

  • 1880s indoor rinks became a thing. The New York Times noted disapprovingly that the artificialness of the rink made it lose the attractiveness
  • But, there were still a lot of younger population who came to skate

Slide 6

  • In the 1930/40s NY has a golden age for skating. Professional performances in hotels and clubs are held and they become a romantic activity
  • Icetravaganza is born in 1940 at Rockefeller Center

Slide 7

  • 1940 IT HAPPENS ON ICE at Rockafeller was basically a theater stage on ice.
  • It wasn’t the first stage of this type since the first stage like this was held in 1915, called Hip Hip Hooray!
  • They represented the first time a traditional theatre in New York was adapted to host a show performed entirely on ice.

Slide 8

  • Sonja Henie was the biggest producer (Norwegian skater retired).
  • Arthur Wirtz (Chicago Stadium owner) = produced their shows and tours
  • Norman Bel Geddes (stage designer)
  • Catharine Littlefield (Ballerina, choreographer)

Slide 9

    • Variety of skilled skaters performed, from international levels to people casted by producers. The most famous:  The Bruises, a trio
      • casted when they were seen goofing around on ice before practice.
    • Fritz Dietl 24-inch skates = injuries were common but the popularity was so big people were still willing to do the job.

Slide 10

  • 1950s, popularity waned and the low ticket sales closed the show. Last show was called Howdy Mr. Ice – but by then 9 million had seen
  • Everyone in NYC and half million more had seen. They had become a touchstone to the culture.

Slide 11

  • A part of the reason of this exhibition was to celebrate the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang
  • The 1936 Winter Sports Show and International Ski Meet (which are similar to our current day winter olympics) were held at Madison Sq Garden
  • 80,000 people came in the 5 days

Slide 12

  • There were ski jumping, slalom and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, “fancy” ice skating, and dog sledding.
  • Clowns, Ski instructors, and even a band member joined in the show in the 1938 show

Slide 13

  • In order to keep the performance going, they had to turn the thermostat down to 26, and had snow machines create a ton of ice and snow. Also, a 285 feet ski jump and two small rinks were built, all when the weather during this was 45

Slide 14

  • The Winter Sports Show ran 3 consecutive winters until 1938, and many ice skating shows and carnivals were held between
  • The carnivals were hosted by the Skating Club of NY

Slide 15

“No, I’m from Tennessee. We’re visiting for the holidays, and it’s my wife’s birthday. She wanted to go ice skating at Rockefeller Center, so here we are.”

-Quote shows how this woman came all the way down to NY and went to skate – shows how important skating is to NYC now. People come from all over the world to see and skate at the Rockefeller Center – part of a big culture

”A rink is like a big dance floor, ‘but you didn’t have to be paired with anyone and you didn’t have to touch anyone. You could show off in the middle, so it was a communal activity, but you could do your own thing. It seems really New York, even then.”

-Reflects how ice skating is a communal activity, comparing it to NY. The rinks are reflective of their embedded history and culture in NYC.

Slide 16

  • Progress of skating: (Quite popular -> Peaked it’s population as it became entertainment for higher class -> created jobs for people in entertainment and sports -> sudden drop in popularity -> Popular again both for entertainment and watching competitive ways)
  • In its 400 years as a city pastime, ice skating has gone from just a pastime to a competitive sport.

Slide 17

  • “In curating this exhibition, I’ve discovered that ice-skating provides a fascinating window onto a lot of different aspects of city life, including the history of popular culture and nightlife, the development of public parks and the rise of midtown Manhattan as an entertainment district,” 
  • Beneath the glamor of ice rinks, as Rosenfeld put it, is “a very New York story about how amenities get built — something we don’t talk about enough.”

Slide 18

  • Ice-skating became this unbelievable social, cultural phenomenon,” Frances Rosenfeld, a curator at the Museum of the City of New York told Hyperallergic. “Now in this new incarnation in Central Park, skating was modern, urban, exciting, and novel.”
  • “What was interesting about this craze is it was seen as a very democratic form of leisure and recreation,” Rosenfeld said. “It was not only the fashionable, wealthy, upper class people — although it easier for them — but it really was a more democratic pastime than anyone had seen before.” Ice skating, she emphasized, was all-inclusive to female skaters from its start.

Slide 19

  • I learned the deep history of ice skating in NYC
  • Before, I simply thought it was just something that people could easily do and take pictures as a part of tourism, but it’s so much more
  • It has given people joy and freedom for many decades

Slide 20

  • This exhibition is related to my research on cobblestones. It’s a big part of New York City, has quite a deep history behind it, people aren’t very aware of it and doesn’t give much thought. However, they have an important role.
  • They served a purpose and now they are going into the light again as people become aware of how important they are.


Barron, James. “Where Skating Warmed the Soul.” New York Times, 22 Dec. 2017, p. C21(L). Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com.libproxy.newschool.edu/apps/doc/ A519864922/AONE?u=nysl_me_newsch&sid=AONE&xid=8b69c227. Accessed 5 Mar. 2018.

  • This is an article based on the whole New York on Ice exhibition. It gave insight on parts of the exhibition that I was not able to spot and understand alone. It also shows more of the curator’s thought and reason of the exhibition.

Berlinger, Max. “Glide, Glide Away, and Swirl in Style.” New York Times, 5 Jan. 2017, p. D8(L). Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com.libproxy.newschool.edu/apps/doc/ A476480840/AONE?u=nysl_me_newsch&sid=AONE&xid=8d53c1cc. Accessed 5 Mar. 2018.

– This source shows the interview of several people that were ice skating. There are a variety of people, and they were interviewed for fashionable styles at the rink. This information shows why, how and from where the people came to the rink. It reflects how much Rockefeller Center’s ice rink is renowned and loved.

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