The Christmas lights in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, are as bright as Times Square without the billboards.
“I love taking people to see these lights, everybody’s happy and they become a kid again,” said Angela Christianson, Tour Guide for A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours, which charges $50 for a tour of the spectacle.
The predominantly Italian-American neighborhood has become a mainstream holiday tourist attraction with thousands treking from Manhattan to Brooklyn each year to see a handful of houses that spend thousands on Christmas decorations. Front lawns are covered in decorations from a 15-foot tall Santa, to carousels, to snowmen, angels, toy soldiers, reindeer, and hundreds of lights in green, red, and white.
“We joke around Rockefeller Center? FUHGETTABOUDIT, but when you come here to Brooklyn you’re seeing what homeowners are doing whether they are doing it themselves or getting companies to pay,” said Tony Muia owner of A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours. “Its sort of like a different feeling than being rushed on those sidewalks of Manhattan to see something Christmas related whether it’s the windows or the tree.”
Many homes participate in the neighborhood Christmas decorating tradition, but some take it over the top.
The Karounos home sits on 84th Street between 11th and 12th Avenue in the heart of the neighborhood. Their two family home is decorated with a blow up Santa, nativity scene, and the words Merry Christmas written in green and red. The family has been living in the neighborhood for seven years. They had different decorations two years ago that fell apart, so they switched it up by adding the inflatable decorations.
“It’s always been going on and my Dad and us eventually did it too,” said Elias Karounos, 13. “We love it, we help decorate, and it’s really fun. Everyone comes down the block and it’s all happy.”
Two doors down from the Karounos’ lives the woman who is believed to have started the whole tradition in the area, Lucy Spata. During the tour Christianson, told the story of Spata and how she moved to Dyker Heights in 1986 and began her Christmas tradition by putting up 40 angels in honor of her mother.
Christianson said many neighbors complained about Spata’s bright decorations and wanted her to take them down, but she would just say to them, ‘If you don’t like them well then move.”
No one moved and Spata, in spite, began putting up even more decorations, Christianson said. Eventually more neighbors started putting up decorations and created competition.
“Someone started with one Santa then somebody came out with Santa and reindeers then the other came out with Santa, reindeers, and frosty,” said Joe Igneri, 62, of Dyker Heights.
Today Spata’s home is completely covered, head to toe with Santa’s, angels, bright colored lights, toy soldiers, and snowmen. It is so bright it takes a minute for onlooker’s eyes to adjust. There is a gentleman’s agreement and the lights go off at 1 a.m. so neighbors can sleep.
“She does this for joy, she’s done this all her life,” said Joe Spatola, a friend of Spata who helps her decorate. “Even if nobody came she would still do it.”
It takes a lot of time to turn Dyker Heights into Christmas Town.
“I spent $5500 on my decorations,” said Angelo Branciforte.
Branciforte hired B&R Christmas Decorators. The company has worked on over 80 homes in the area already this season and it takes them around 30 hours to finish a large home.
Some of the homes in the area are worth millions of dollars and tourists love to gawk at the Christmas bling.
“We were reading on the Internet and saw the lights,” said Laura Romera, of Madrid, Spain. “It’s very different and it’s very nice too.”
Some neighbors like the tours.
“It brings a little satisfaction to them when they see that people come to the neighborhood,” said Tony Muia, owner of A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours.
But others find it chaotic.
“Just talking about the lights, we really like that people come, but sometimes it’s just really hectic,” said Noel Girgenti, 22. “You get the attention but then you have to deal with it, to pull out of the driveway is the hardest part.”
The Girgenti family, who have lived in the area for 50 years, do their own decorating. They have seen more and more people venture to Dyker Heights each December. But as more people come there is more traffic and parking spaces have been taken away for home owners and replaced by tour buses at night.
But not all the homeowners fill the need to join the display.
“My wife and I she feels like inside is better than outside,” said Igneri. “I’m not here to show off or anything. It’s a more personal thing than a more elaborate thing.”
Mitch Feng, left, Anita Chen in the middle, their son in the front right, and friends, cheer on Chen’s six colleagues who are running for the Dream Corps charity. By Jennifer Cohen
Bells, whistles, cheers, and music blasted the streets on First Avenue as nearly 50,000 runners made their way through the affluent neighborhood of the Upper East Side.
Anita Chen, her husband Mitch Feng, their son, and friends live just down the street from where they stood to cheer on their colleagues on 77th Street and First Avenue. The neighborhood is known for being the most affluent in the city, with celebrity residents and upper class families, but today it was filled with an array of people supporting their friends and family running in the marathon.
Chen’s six colleagues ran today to raise money for the Dream Corps charity, which helps fund underprivileged children in rural areas of China with books and education. Almost $3,000 will was raised from the marathon to help provide the resources needed to educate the children in rural China.
“Rural China children, we are emphasizing, don’t have as much resources as the Metropolitan area that’s why they need help and we help them,” said Chen, an NYU Stern Alumni.
Chen has been running marathons for the last seven years. In 2013 she ran the TCS New York City Marathon and will again run it next year. This year for the 46th annual TCS NYC Marathon, Chen decided to be on the sidelines to cheer on her colleagues who helped raise money for the charity. She is very excited to come back next year as it makes her feel so humble compared to other cities she has ran in before.
“This marathon is a party for New York City and it definitely is one of the biggest events,” with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in second and the Yankee’s Parade in third, if they win, said Chen.
One of Anita’s colleagues, Yun Chen, took a break from her run to stop and took a picture with the sign that was made for her. With only 9 more miles to go, she smiled for the photo and headed back on the road to finish strong.
Chen and her family have walked from their home the last couple of years to watch the marathon. Although his wife is a big runner, Feng is not. He said it would be nice, but it is a lot of hard work to be able to run that long.
“Twenty-six point two miles oh my god, it takes such a long time to even pronounce that,” said Feng.
They may not run together, but the whole family takes the time to cheer on colleagues and watch everyone run up First Avenue. If people didn’t hold signs with their friend or family members name on it then they rang cowbells and screamed their names. It’s hard not get into the spirit of the marathon.
“You walk around there’s so much energy all over the place, it’s very exciting to everybody,” said Feng.
2014 Olympic Snowboard Halfpipe Gold Medalist Kaitlyn Farrington attended the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Foundation New York Gold Medal Gala Thursday night, to raise money for the upcoming winter season. Photo by Jennifer Cohen
About 30 United States ski and snowboard olympians gathered at Cipriaini Wall Street for the 50th anniversary of the New York Gold Medal Gala yesterday. The fundraising event raised over $1 million, out of the $36 million budget needed, for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team athletes that are part of the United States Ski and Snowboard Association. Although the athletes came together to raise funds to keep the sports alive, the sport of snowboarding has hit a plateau. Conditions on the mountains are declining and the sport is becoming more expensive with the price of lift tickets high and equipment even higher, athletes said.
“With conditions being pretty poor nobody wants to put all that money into the sport purchasing equipment and travel,” said Olympian, Faye Gulini, 24, of Salt Lake City, Utah at Friday’s event.
The past two or three seasons have been the hardest on snowboarding. The training facilities and resorts need to rely on making handmade snow because there are less snowfalls .
“One year I think we had 50 percent of our competitions cancelled because we didn’t have enough snow to build the actual venue and build the courses,” said Gulini.
It’s hard for Olympic gold medalist, Kaitlyn Farrington, 26, to believe that snowboarding is dying, but with less snow prices at the ski resorts are going up.
“Just to go on to a resort it’s over $100 for a day ticket,” said Farrington, of Sun Valley, Idaho.
But Farrington and all the U.S. Team athletes have support from the United States Ski and Snowboard Association that helps pay for their travel and competitions. Farrington said she has strong sponsors that support her life outside of snowboarding so she doesn’t need to work on top of all of her training and competing.
Ross Powers, 37, was the 2002 snowboard half-pipe gold medalist and now coaches at Stratton Mountain School in Vermont. He said the higher prices of equipment, lift tickets, and travel affects his students. With only 16 kids in his program this year, the number has fallen significantly.
“Snowboarding has kind of been on a standstill, definitely people are still getting into, but it doesn’t seem like it’s growing as big as it was back in the day,” he said.
Powers does have scholarships set up with the Level Field Fund that can help kids interested in pursuing a career in snowboarding, but the sport is still at a plateau. He said younger kids are getting into freestyle skiing because they can do the tricks and jumps as snowboarding without having to transition to a snowboard.
Tom Kelly, the USSA’s vice president of communications said, his organization works with the International Olympic Committee to bring new events to attract young athletes .
But without the support of the U.S. Team it is hard to get the funds to start snowboarding and to keep up with training, athletes said.
Fundraisers help with the money going towards coaches, event costs, salaries, camps, travel of staff and athletes, Kelley said.
“Each of our programs, be it alpine, freestyle, snowboarding, etc. is evaluated based on needs for that particular program to be competitive internationally,” said Kelly, who has been with the association for 30 years.
But funding only comes when you are at the top of your sport, said Olympic gold medalist Jamie Anderson, 26, of South Lake Tahoe, California. Anderson grew up with eight siblings and didn’t have that much money to support her snowboarding career.
“I was selling golf balls at the golf course and saving money for nationals,” said Anderson. “I could have really used the support of the U.S. Team when I was 12, 14, 16 years old.”
Anderson relied a lot on her sponsorships to make it to the Olympics. When she was younger it was tough to find the money to sustain her snowboarding.
With the prices rising on equipment and lift tickets it will be hard for skiing and snowboarding to rise back up again as these sports only attract a certain demographic of people, said athletes.
But Anderson believes the sport won’t die.
“People are going to want to ride the mountains forever,” said Anderson.
The Hoboken Terminal is a large transportation hub for commuters into Manhattan. During rush hour this morning a commuter train crashed into the terminal, killing one and injuring over 100. Photo by Jennifer Cohen
A NJ Transit train crashed into the Hoboken, NJ Terminal killing one and injuring over 100 as it came speeding through the terminal during rush hour this morning, officials said.
During rush hour around 8:30 AM, a commuter NJ Transit train traveling from Spring Valley, NY to Hoboken, NJ entered the Hoboken Terminal at a high speed smashing through the barriers meant to slow it down and into the waiting area wall where it finally stopped. Gov Chris Christie of New Jersey and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, flew into Pier A Park in Hoboken on their helicopters at 2 PM to brief the public on the situation as they work together to find out exactly what happened and to prevent an accident like this again.
“We don’t know what happened or why it happened,” said Gov. Cuomo. “The train obviously came in at too high of a speed.”
They are looking at the engineer of the train to see if he is at fault. He is in the hospital with serious injuries, but is cooperating with officials during the investigation, said Gov. Christie.
Hoboken resident Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, 34, was killed, the State Medical Examiner’s office said. She had been struck by debris.
The Hoboken Terminal is a major transportation hub for commuters into Manhattan. The historic terminal was built in 1907 and serves nine NJ Transit rail lines, various NJ Transit Bus lines, the PATH train into Manhattan, and the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail.
“Anytime there is a disruption to the Hoboken terminal it’s a major event here,” said Juan Melli, the Communications Manager for the city of Hoboken. “Fifty-six percent of our residents take public transportation to work every day. Unfortunately, the one victim that passed away is a Hoboken resident.”
Abby Rivers, a Hoboken resident and local business owner, was on her way to the gym at 8:45 AM, on Sinatra Drive, just a few blocks from the terminal, when a friend in Connecticut texted her to see if she was ok. She had no idea what her friend was talking about and wanted to find out more, so she kept walking to the gym.
“I get to the gym here and a lot of the management was out front and they said that there was possibly a shooting or a bombing,” said Rivers. “There was already police activity her and they weren’t letting people in the gym unless they had their membership out. Then a woman comes over and said that it was a train that derailed. She said she was on the platform when it happened and she was really shaken up and said there was a lot of blood.”
Rivers said she also reached out to a friend who commutes through the station from Fairlawn, NJ to see if she was ok. Her friend just missed the crash by 15 minutes as she transferred to the PATH train.
Ben Rose, 18, of Short Hills, NJ, was walking out of the station when the train crashed.
“I was probably a few 100 feet away,” said Rose. “I just heard this huge crash, it sounded like a bomb blew up in the train station, then I looked back and there was this huge flash of light and I heard screaming and everyone was telling me to run, so we all ran pretty far.”
Officials said all NJ Transit trains will be affected as there is structural damage to the station. But the PATH train from Manhattan is open as there is no damage to that station.
“People that live in Hoboken will be able to get home, people that live away from Hoboken, good luck, the best to ya,” said Eddy Santrangrillo, of Howell, NJ, a maintenance worker for the PATH train.
Al Vecchione, 70, of Howard Beach, has been visiting the San Gennaro Feast for over 50 years. By Jennifer Cohen
Al Vecchione, 70, stood in front of the Most Precious Blood Church on Mulberry Street in front of the statue of San Gennaro yesterday, with a red, white, and green hat on his head the colors of the Italian flag. The sweet smell of sausages and peppers filled the air, tourists munched on cannoli’s and zeppoli’s, and vendors squawked at you to try their menu. Vecchione was at his beloved Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy. He soaked it all in and he remembered his roots. The festival means the world to him, he said.
“My ancestors, my grandmother and grandfather, when they came from Italy this is where they settled,” said Vecchione of Howard Beach, Queens. He has attended the feast for 50 years. “They came to Ellis Island and they settled here for a couple years until they moved to other areas.”
For 11 days the Feast of San Gennaro takes over the small Little Italy neighborhood that borders Soho, Tribeca, The Lower East Side and Chinatown. For 90 years Italian Americans have used the feast to celebrate their culture and food, but Little Italy is not the same haven for Italians as it used to be. In fact, Little Italy has shrunk to just three blocks of mostly restaurants.
“Little Italy used to run from Worth Street to Houston Street,” said Dominic Conata, 35 of the South Street Seaport area. “My family is originally from Little Italy, but eventually they raised the rents over here. Old Italians sold their buildings and new landlords took over and jacked up the price. It all became about the money, it’s a shame.”
Conata, was, working at the Café Napoli booth for the feast on the corner of Hester and Mulberry Street selling meatballs, pasta, and risotto balls.
Some Little Italy stores have Chinese vendors selling ‘I Love New York’ shirts, and there is even an Asian Italian restaurant around the corner, Conata said. And Little Italy is not the only place to get good Italian food.
“Chinatown is expanding and Little Italy is shrinking, it’s just a fact,” said Conata as he scooped three meatballs into a to-go container.
But some Italians cling to the Italian flavor of the tiny neighborhood.
“It’s not 100% Italian, but it still has the Italian feeling and Italian flavor,” said Dr. Joseph Sheltzer, President and Founder of the Italian American Museum.
Like many of the city’s Italian Americans, Sheltzer has ties to Little Italy as his grandparents lived in the area and then moved. Sheltzer believes that the Italians living in the area didn’t just move because rents got too high, but because they got successful.
“They moved to better living conditions, better opportunities, and better schooling,” said Sheltzer, of Westchester County. “Very few Italians live in the area from the few families that migrated here in the 1880’s.”
But for the Italian feast goer’s this celebration is the only thing keeping tradition alive in the shrinking area.
The area “it’s shrinking a lot, I’m sad,” said Dawn Tampo, of Long Island. “This feast was very very different even 10 years ago, it was much bigger and more crowded and people really embraced it more.”
The name of firefighter, Peter Bielfeld who was killed during the 9/11 attacks. His whose family was at the memorial. Photo by Jennifer Cohen
On the morning of the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks the mourners and tourists made their way to ground zero to remember the nearly 3,000 lives lost.
Many wore shirts to commemorate their loved ones that were killed. Dominic Branda and his family, of Ringwood, New Jersey, wore matching navy blue shirts with the FDNY seal on the front right pocket. On the back of the shirts was a red fire truck and the name Peter Bielfeld, and FDNY Ladder 42 in white.
“My wife’s brother was killed as a fireman in the South Tower,” Branda said referring to the name on his shirt.
Peter Bielfeld, 44, was part of Ladder 42 in the Bronx. At the time the first tower was hit, Bielfeld was at a follow-up doctor’s visit taking care of injuries he sustained in a fire. But no injury was going to hold him back from going to the World Trade Center to help.
“He was in Metro Tech Brooklyn, he was injured and he jumped in a captain’s car and came over the Brooklyn Bridge. Fate put him in Brooklyn at that time,” Branda said of his brother in-law.
And that was the last time anyone saw him.
John Hudnall, from Austin, Texas, came to visit the memorial with a friend. They can remember exactly where and what they were doing 15 years ago. They wanted to visit the memorial to pay tribute to the victims. Although our country has made strides against terrorism, Hudnall still believes another attack is imminent.
“I travel weekly for work, and I fly, and it terrifies my wife everyday, every time I’m on a plane or waiting to get on a plane”, said Hudnall.
He said he has the same fears as his wife.
David Sears, from upstate New York, was standing near the corner of Broadway and Vesey waving a small American flag. He wore an American flag on his t-shirt and a bright red hat with the letters USA written across the front. He watched as the friends and family of the victims of 9/11 entered the memorial at 8:30am. He came to the memorial first thing in the morning because as a patriotic man and a New Yorker, he felt it was his duty.
He remembered he prayed on 9/11.
“I got with my family and prayed that we would get through the day ok and all of our fellow Americans would get through the day ok.”
Sears believes today is completely different from what it was like in 2001.
Anybody who has the slightest thought of being a terrorist is thrown in jail,” he said. “Back then everything was just so free and open.”
Sears worries about the possibility of an attack happening again.
“Unfortunately, history dictates that we do get complacent after a while you know but, hopefully in my lifetime we will never see anything like this again,” said Sears.