Photo Essay: New York Yankees Parade 1996

featured_image_yankees

I photographed the New York Yankees parade in 1996 in lower Manhattan, New York City, and again in 1998. I got up at four a.m. to get a good spot. While living in New York I wrote a lot about the things I did and saw; this journal entry is from the 1996 parade. Sit back and enjoy this historic day.

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All photographs copyright Magnum Arts

Four AM.
October 29, 1996
Ossining, New York
 
Ossining was sound asleep in the chilled, October morning, with the sun having hours yet to make its appearance. The traffic light hanging limply at the intersection blinked yellow mutely, with no cars to heed its signal. The corners where buildings met sidewalks were cluttered with the washed up tides of dead, brittle leaves, scuttling frantically at the insistence of the bitter wind.
 
The train station at the bottom of the hill in Ossining was nearly deserted save for a woman who tried to hand me religious pamphlets. When I turned her down she returned to her car and sat in the dark, parked by the stairs that led down to the train platform, watching me.

I didn’t care.

I squatted by a bale of newspapers and undid one bale, taking a New York Times and leaving sixty cents. I waited for the 5:05 train in the harsh brightness of the train shelter, sitting on the cold cement. I was not dressed for cold weather; I was wearing my faded jeans, safari jacket and safari shirt underneath. These were my “photo shoot” clothes, much like Harriet and her spy clothes from the book Harriet the Spy. Beside me sat my camera bag that carried all my gear.
 
A sullen, orange zone  was just showing on the horizon behind the New York skyline as the Metro North train rumbled between the rundown buildings lining 125th St, then through the blackness underneath the New York city streets, until the train came to a stop at the platform at Grand Central terminal. I followed the groggy sea of bodies up the concrete platform that smelled of oil, rubber and roasted nuts, into the main concourse of Grand Central, grabbing a large coffee and headed for the subway.

It was filled with people going to work or to the parade.
 
City Hall dominated a tiny jetty of grass and several trees which was City Hall Park, and divided Broadway into a Y, with Broadway continuing north, and Park Row winding around and meeting the busy Bowery, which headed north as well. It was here where One Police Plaza was located. Park Row was jammed with television trucks and vans, tended by crews coiling cable, making connections, standing around nursing cups of coffee. The sun would not make its appearance above the tall buildings in lower Manhattan for several hours yet; it was just 6:15 and in the morning shadows, a chill remained. Blue police sawhorse barricades fenced off the park, and empty faced police officers stood around lamely, with no traffic or crowds to direct yet.
 

I cut onto Broadway, which was entirely lined with barricades. People shuffled up and down the sidewalks, and police cars were cruising back and forth importantly, red lights flashing. People were already camped out along the barricades in clumps, sitting on blankets and bundled up against the cold. At the doorways to the tall office buildings that lined Broadway were large bags of shredded paper, ready to be lugged up to the offices and tossed out the windows. Large paper recycling and paper shredding trucks were making stops, depositing more paper, jockeying for space with taxicabs and delivery trucks. Amid these preparations were people in suits and ties on their way to work.

What lower Broadway looked like at 7 am…

…and at what it looked like at 11 am

 

A tall, lanky looking kid with no shirt on and a Yankee baseball hat was shouting at people, “YEAH YANKEES! NUMBER ONE!” People strolling up and down the street wore Yankee T-shirts, hats, and some were carrying carefully rolled up banners. I passed two small tents that sat beside the barricades, where diehard fans had obviously spent the night. People gathered on blankets were reading comic books or newspapers, trying to keep warm. 

The huge iron bull by the Merrill Lynch building was cordoned off by blue barricades, frozen in mid-charge. Further up Broadway was Battery Park, at the tip of lower Manhattan. It was congested with buses and trucks covered with the Yankees logo and the title World Champions. A huge, inflatable baseball glove sat on a float. A row of press people with TV cameras and broadcast equipment are contained in one area. Police, security guards and parade officials milled around aimlessly.

I decided that the plaza at Cortland and Broadway would offer the best view, so I headed back, stopping at two tents on the sidewalk. You just don’t see tents sitting on a sidewalk. Well, maybe in New York you do, but I’m not a native New Yorker, so I wouldn’t know these things. Sitting between the tents was a middle-aged lady in a beach chair wearing gloves and a winter coat.

“Did you spend a whole night  out here?” I asked.

“No, but my son did.” she answered. “He went to try to get an autograph from one of the players, I’m holding his spot for him.”
 
“I’m surprised the police let him pitch a tent here all night.”
 
“Well, he knows the right people, I guess.”
 
“Did you stay out here also?”
 
“Oh, no, I slept in the car. I parked it in a parking lot not too far from here, where they have a security guard.”
 
I laughed. “I’ve never spent the night in a car before. Did you get a lot of sleep?”
 
She shrugged. “I got about three hours of sleep.”
 
“You must be diehard fans,” 
 
“My son is. He’s thirty-two years old, and he loves the Yankees.”
 

At just after 7 AM, the streets were not crowded yet, although tour buses were as abundant as police vehicles. The cold was making my teeth chatter.

I decided to stake out my chosen photo spot from the McDonald’s across the street, where I could keep my eye on it. Inside, a mother was sitting at one table at the front window while her son was excitedly coming and going. Two elegant black women sat at another table watching the activity before heading to work. I set my gear down on the window ledge and began nursing my coffee. Sitting nearby was a fussy looking woman named Susan Sokol. She had very short, grayish silver hair that clung tightly to her head, and a gaunt face that spoke of a life of constant disapproval. She was thin and had on a long, business trenchcoat. Her thin, small hands busily worked at the croissant and coffee before her.

“It’s an imposition,” she was saying. “They should have done this on the weekend when people didn’t have to go to work. I like baseball, but it’s not fair for those of us who have to work to put up with all this. I had to park over four blocks away, and it took me over two hours to get to work this morning.”
 
I asked her where she worked, and she told me the World Trade Center, mentioning that she had been there the day of the explosion [the first World Trade Center attack]. I asked her what it was like. She shook her head. “It’s undescribable. It was like a war zone, with all these trucks, the media and fire trucks. I’ll never forget it as long as I live.” [Susan Sokol was not among the listed victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks]
 
A thin black woman outside came by and held up a counterfeit Yankee T-shirt. The mother sitting inside asked in a loud voice how much. The vendor opened  her hand twice; ten dollars. “How many do you have?” The woman asked loudly. The vendor flashed her open palm several times, and after a moment’s consideration, the mother signed that she would buy two for eight. The vendor nodded and the mother got up to go get them. The hand signals reminded me of the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, where traders communicated by hand signals.
 
“Well I’m not a native New Yorker or anything,” I said to Susan Sokol, “but the Yankees are such an integral part of New York City’s identity that when they win the World Series the city wants to celebrate.”
 
“Some of us still have to get to work.” she insisted. “Businesses don’t stop just because the Yankees win the World Series. I have a job to get to; I shouldn’t have to deal with this.” She finished her breakfast and we exchanged goodbyes.

Outside, the street was becoming more crowded. It was almost eight; the parade would not begin until eleven-thirty.

People were handing out free copies of the Daily News and selling team posters for fifty cents. A vendor with a knapsack came by hawking baseball bat pens for five bucks a pop. At the corner of Cortland, an Eyewitness News 7  TV truck was parked, with two guys setting up railing on the roof. A sixty foot high antenna assembly was topped by a TV camera and radar dish-type component. A police stake-body cargo truck cruised by carrying police golf carts. A small three wheeled police scooter patrolled the barricades, stopping to tell people at the curb not to stick their feet out because of the traffic. 

The marble platform in front of a tall office building would put me about sixteen feet above the street, giving me a perfect spot to photograph the parade. Building security guards stood atop of it, preventing anyone from climbing on top. By the time the parade began, however, there would be so many people, they would not be able to tell anyone what to do. So for now I let my camera bag occupy the spot for me.

Brooklyn Fan aAs I stood watching the proceedings, a middle-aged man wearing a Yankees jacket stood beside me. He was shorter than me, with square rimmed glasses, and deep lines of age spreading from his nose. His cheeks had begun to sag, and he had a barely noticeable trace of hair on his upper lip. He had the welcoming, avuncular look of a favorite uncle or grandfather.
 
“I tried to convince my son to let his daughter come with me today,” he said in a raspy, understated voice. He shook his head. “He wouldn’t let her. This kind of thing doesn’t happen every year, I told him, but he wouldn’t listen. ‘She’s got school’, he says. Oh well. What c’n you do, ya know?”

I nodded. The school chancellor had the unenviable job of insisting that the schools stay open during the parade. Still, one in three pupils would be absent today, as it would later turn out.


The man’s name was Joseph Rocco (above); I took his picture and he insisted on giving me five bucks to send him enlargement. We chatted as we waited, and on the other side of me was a calm looking guy in his mid-30s, with a grayish beard who had turned out to catch the parade. He was talking to people on his cell phone. In the windows above, people were beginning to appear, some hanging out homemade banners. Joseph handed me his binoculars, pointing out the good looking women. There were plenty to look at.

There was a festive atmosphere. Even taxicabs were stopping between the intersections to let pedestrians cross, something unheard of in New York City. 

We still had over two and a half hours before the parade began. Slowly the sidewalks began to get more crowded. From one person deep at the barricades, it became two and three people deep. The space between where I stood and the crowds at the barricades shrank until people were squeezing by between us. People were beginning to get jostled.

 

“We’re New Yorkers,” the man with the beard said. “We don’t care. We don’t say excuse me.”
I grinned. “Right. It’s more like ‘get the fuck out of the way’.” 
 
He nodded mildly. “That’s it. That’s what New Yorkers are like. We don’t care.”
Crowds 1a
 
People were tossing rolls of toilet paper up into the air, across the street, and booing when it didn’t leave a floating trailer white gauze. Confetti and shredded paper were already beginning to float down from the windows above like a hesitant blizzard. The sidewalk was a mess of newspaper and stationery. Toilet paper had collected at the street signs and lamp posts and fluttered peacefully in the breeze. As the tour buses and delivery trucks drove through, the crowd cheered and roared boisterously. The security guards for the building who stood on the marble platforms to keep people off had given up, and now it was covered with people, myself included. I helped Joseph climb up beside me so he could get a good view.

 

Below me, a black man was escorting his son through the crowds, saying, “Don’t look at me. It’s not my fault if you and your mother fell asleep when they won.”

People in the offices were leaning out of the windows and sitting on the ledges, some having made their own banners. One was apparently not spelled correctly, because a portion of the crowd began chanting, “You can’t spell!” thrusting accusatory fingers into the air.

“What’s going on?” Joseph asked me.

 

I shrugged. “One of those signs has a typo, I guess.” I watched as the woman on the ledge beside the sign leaned forward, inspecting the sign, and after a few minutes she pulled it into the building, eliciting a raucous cheer from the crowd.

Yankees Parade 049aThe energy and noise continued building. The crowd alternated between singing Take Me Out To the Ball Game, to cheering Way To Go Yankees. Looking up at the narrow river of sky between the tall buildings, I felt like I was in a snow globe. Bits of paper and streams of gauzy toilet paper floated and swirled, in no hurry to reach the ground. 

People covered every horizontal surface, including the huge girder lining the base of the building behind me, over ten feet above the steps that led to the entrances underneath. Their legs dangled over the edge like the old pictures of the construction workers eating lunch on a girder high above the city. A police officer on a horse trotted up the street, producing more cheers from the masses. The New York Times would write the following day, “… Lower Manhattan groaned under the weight of a crowd that Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani put at 3.5 million, an estimate probably born more out of enthusiasm than precise methodology”.

Finally the parade became visible, inching down Broadway beginning with a police car with its lights blinking.
Yankees Parade 051a

“Is that it?” The grey bearded man asked me. He stood on the sidewalk below me; I was on the marble platform sixteen feet above the ground. Greybeard handed at me his camcorder and I panned the street and buildings, getting some good footage for him. 

I had both cameras around my neck and my disposable panoramic camera in the cargo pocket of my safari jacket. I was shooting both color and black-and-white. Down the street came the huge glove and baseball, moving slowly through the river of bodies. A near blizzard of paper, stationery and toilet paper filled the air. The roar of the people was near deafening, a surging, physical force. People on the marble Island around me jockeyed for space, while below, parents guided their kids through the throngs, fruitlessly looking for good views. 

Yankees Parade 1996 - 5a

Yankees Parade 1996 - 2a
The next float contained the Rockettes, the famous chorus girls dressed in green Christmas elf outfits, eliciting some wolf whistles that made it above the roar. As the baseball players themselves
came through on their floats, with their names on the side, they seemed overwhelmed by the turnout and the energy. One spectator had a huge python, and hoisted it about his head as the floats passed. The players and wives gaped and pointed at the snake, mouthing, “Oh my God”. 

Next came a string of classic convertibles occupied by city officials, including State Senator Al D’Amato, Joe DiMaggio, and the governor. One of the convertibles was a city owned 1952 Chrysler phaeton, which had been discovered in the corner of a sanitation department garage covered in soot, and now used for official functions. Worth more than $350,000, only five were built and only three now exist. 
 
My fingers were beginning to tingle as the feeling in them began making an exit, but I concentrated on shooting the floats as they moved through the river of bodies. In between the floats were press photographers and TV camera crews who occasionally panned their cameras at the crowds, which screamed and jumped and flailed their arms in spasms of enthusiasm. The TV news van at the corner had the anchorman standing on the roof in front of the camera, broadcasting the parade live. A double-decker sightseeing bus and antique fire truck slowly rolled by, signaling the end of the parade. At this point the crowd began to break up and disperse, eddying in different directions. Some followed the parade to City Hall, others lingered to scoop up the piles of paper that lay everywhere, throwing them into the air. 

 

Joseph climbed down from the marble pedestal. “You coming down?”
 
“No, I’m going to stay up here a bit longer, and shoot some more pictures.”
 
“Hey, it was nice to meetchya.” Joseph said, extending a vein covered hand. I squatted and shook it firmly.
 
“It was nice to meet you too Joseph.” I answered. I meant it; I had enjoyed watching the parade with him. “When I get the pictures processed I’ll send you a nice one. You’ve got my word on that.” Joseph wandered away, merging with the bodies, and after a few more minutes of pictures I jumped down as well, slinging my camera bag over my shoulder and merging with the sea of bodies.

Papered Street 1aThe street was awash in paper; the asphalt was completely covered. People were running around throwing paper at each other. Others were posing in the drifts for pictures taken by their companions.

The air was filled with post-parade glee. People were chasing each other, dancing and engaging guerrilla paper fights. With ticker tape being obsolete and nonexistent now, everything from express delivery envelopes to entire boxes of unshredded, confidential records had been hurled out the windows. In fact, The New York Times would report that checks issued by the city Housing Authority and records of unemployment checks from the Department of Social Services had been tossed out the windows. 

The police immediately closed down Broadway starting at Cortland, and crowds of people massed at the barricades like a blood clot. I found myself jostled as I tried to exit Broadway. Since the police were trying to minimize the number of people making it to City Hall, I squeezed through the crowds, ducking down the darkened canyon of Cortland toward Nassau Street.

 

The tall buildings rose high on all sides, keeping out the sun, plunging the street into perpetual shadows. Paper was everywhere; I shuffled through it like autumn leaves, ending up at the South Street Seaport which was touristy as hell, but at least I would be able to grab some chow while I waited for the crowds to diminish.

 

By now, a small number of police officers were returning to their cruisers to find them smashed up, having served as a platform for parade spectators who decided that when the Yankees win the World Series, anything goes. Jack Acree, a 33-year-old food consultant, parked at Tribeca towers, at what he had assumed was a safe distance from the parade route. When he returned to his car, he found it had been crushed and the windshield shattered. Not by vandals, but by the weight of spectators we climbed on top of it to watch the festivities. His Honda Accord  was totaled. Amazingly enough, he was not even angry at the people who would smashed his car. “This is New York City, ” he explained to the New York Times 

 

After the morning’s cutting chill, the sun was soothing and warm as I listened to the ceremony for the Yankees taking place at City Hall Park on the TV above the bar. The police commissioner was presenting Wade Boggs with a certificate making him an honorary policeman, and also a police helmet. Boggs had ridden around Yankee Stadium on a police horse after the final out that had decided the game. People had run out onto the field, and the Yankees themselves had formed a huge pig pile, with one player jumping on top and rolling off the other side.“I’m so proud to be a Yankee.” Boggs said, stepping up to the microphone, holding the certificate. “But most of all, I’m also so proud of you fans. You talk about the greatest spectacle in the history of sports. This ticker tape parade was the greatest sports spectacle in history.” 

 

I didn’t stick around to watch the rest of the ceremony. I had more pictures to take.
 
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