On January 16th, the highly anticipated book, The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica will be released chronicling the doggedly persistent Billy Gawronski, a 17-year-old from New York City’s Lower East Side and his attempt to join Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s first expedition to the most southern continent. The book is written by Laurie Gwen Shapiro, a long time Untapped Cities writer, and published by Simon & Schuster.
The incredible true story is set in New York City, 1928 – before the stock market crash and in the last years of Prohibition. It’s a true American dream story, starring Gawronski who is a born and bred first generation New Yorker. As such, there are plenty of New York City locations, both still existing and since disappeared, to discover in this book. Continue on to see some highlighted locations.
Untapped Cities will also be hosting a book talk and party on January 19th (which is currently sold out) with Shapiro and science journalist, Corey S. Powell. If you didn’t get tickets, you can still get a copy on Amazon and email us at [email protected] if you want to be put on the waitlist for the event!
1. The Lower East Side and East Village
Left, Billy Gawronski as a kid. He refused to take off his sailing suit after a trip to Europe. Photo from The Stowaway. Right, one of Billy’s childhood apartments at 233 East 9th Street. Photo courtesy of Laurie Gwen Shapiro.
William “Billy” Gawronski was born to Polish immigrants on September 10, 1910 in New York City. His father Rudy owned an interior decorating business and had lived at various addresses in today’s Lower East Side and East Village, the whole area commonly known as the “East Side” back in the day. After he was born, Billy first lived in a one-bedroom at 165 Avenue A at 12th Street, close to the St. Stanislaus Parish on East 7th Street, “the center of the Manhattan Polish community,” Shapiro writes. Rudy was active in the Polish National Home and even served as the President. In 1918, the family moved to a two-bedroom railroad flat at 233 East 9th Street, a building that still stands today (see photo above).
Billy went to school at PS 64 on East 6th Street and spoke English and Polish fluently, as well as Yiddish which he learned from his stickball friends on the Lower East Side. Billy would master five languages in his life, Shapiro writes. Billy was fascinated with stories of the era’s explorers, finding an idol in Admiral Richard E. Byrd, who had flown over the North Pole. Byrd’s future expedition to fly over the South Pole was a media sensation, a necessity cultivated by Byrd who needed to fundraise all private funds for the adventure. Billy, unsurprisingly, followed the story closely and desperately wanted to go.