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Big Onion Walking Tours: Highly Recommended

Next week, gnomi and I will be heading to New York City. Because I have to clean out the third floor of my Mom's house, we decided to attach a little vacation time to the front of that trip.

One of the things we like to do when we visit New York is take historical walking tours with Big Onion Walking Tours. The tour guides who work for Big Onion are all knowledgeable and friendly, and we always learn something new and fascinating from them on each tour.

We first discovered them when learning about the General Slocum disaster, as Ed O'Donnell, the author of the book Ship Ablaze was giving a tour of the neighborhood of the Little Germany community. I wanted as much historical background as possible to help me write the novella Time Ablaze.

What I didn't realize at that time was that the founders of Big Onion had all been students of James Patrick Shenton, a colorful and flamboyant history professor who taught a class on the history of New York City. Even though I wasn't a student at Columbia, in the summer of 1989 I took the course because I wanted the experience of learning about New York City history from Shenton. (The other thing I did that summer was work at the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility, now called the Neutron Science Center. From New York City to Los Alamos in one summer was a major culture shock, but I digress.)

My Mom had taken courses from Shenton as a Barnard undergraduate, my older brother Jonathan had audited one of his classes as a Columbia undergraduate, and two summers later my younger brother Joshua took Shenton's summer course on New York City as well. So Shenton got to teach all four of us, although amusingly enough the one Burstein who was actually a Columbia student didn't get credit for the course.

But again, I digress. Getting back to Big Onion, Nomi and I have already taken the following tours:

  • Little Germany (7/15/03)
  • 13th Annual Christmas Day Jewish Lower East Side (12/25/03)
  • Historic Lower Manhattan (12/31/03)
  • Times Square (1/1/04)
  • Immigrant New York (12/27/04)
  • Gangs of New York (12/30/04)

And next week we plan to add the following tours to our list:

If anyone will be free either of those times in New York and wishes to accompany us, let us know and we'll look for you.


Those sound wonderful. I'd like to try one when I'm there for Thanksgiving. Which would you recommend? I think just from the titles, I'd choose Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Heights, because that's my grandparents' neighborhood. The things I'm most interested in are Jewish-related details and literary anecdotes (I once went to find Number 19 Gramercy Park because it's in Time And Again, but the house doesn't exist and I think it never did).

Maybe I'll go to NY sometime sooner. I just learned how to make a phoenix out of folded, woven ribbons, and I was told that the only place on the East Coast to find the right kind of ribbon for this project was a particular address in NY Chinatown.
Frankly, I'd recommend all the ones we went on. I'd love it if they created a tour for Forest Hills, Queens, since I grew up there and would love to hear what they have to say.

If you're looking for Jewish history, the Christmas tour is probably your best bet.
I haven't had a chance to track down the young gentleman I know who may be in NYC -- would that still be useful?

Good luck with everything!
That would be helpful. Even just one person helping me out all week would be good, as at the moment I've still got no one...

December 2016

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