7. Gimbel Brothers Department Store
The skybridge at Gimbel’s Brothers department store in Herald Square
Billy continued to chase down opportunities to join the Antarctic expedition. Two weeks before the first of Byrd’s four ships were to depart, Billy met one of the confirmed expedition members at a promotional event inside the Gimbel Brothers department store at Herald Square. The rival store to Macy’s was located at 33rd Street and Sixth Avenue and the event took place inside the music department.
Shapiro writes, “a seaman named Richard ‘Ukulele Dick’ Konter played his ukulele and talked about the expedition. He was learning Mammy songs, for the Maoris in New Zealand and the unknown native people they would perhaps meet in Antarctica….In his prior experience near the North Pole, he explained, classical music did nothing for ‘simpleminded natives’ – just jazz.”
Shapiro notes that such stereotypical songs and statements would be offensive today but were popular in the era. Konter would indeed perform “Alabama Mammy” in New Zealand during the expedition, and “of course, there would never be any indigenous peoples from him to meet” in Antarctica.
Gimbel’s department store still exists, though has long been converted into the Manhattan Mall. A beautiful skybridge still exists between the main building and its annex – you can peek inside it in a previous Untapped Cities article.