New York City Blues

Tuesday, July 16, 2019 by Morgen Stevens-Garmon

The color blue is everywhere in the summer. There is the bright, hopeful blue of a clear sky, the shimmering grayish blue of the East River, and the sticky bottom layer of a firecracker popsicle, blue sugar water dripping everywhere. Blues are definitely on the brain at the Museum thanks to our latest installation, Blue Man Group: Ready…Go!. That trio of bald and blue humans that have been appearing at the Astor Place Theatre since 1991 has got me looking for blues all over the city.

I don’t have to look very far. The official flag of New York City consists of vertical stripes of blue, white and orange, with the seal of the city printed in blue on the central white stripe. The flag was first made official in 1915. Below is an invitation to the ceremony commemorating the occasion.

Printed in script lettering with image of blue, white and orange flag in upper left corner and image of New York City seal in upper right corner. Invitation reads: The Mayor of the City of New York requests the honor of your presence… on the occasion of the adoption of the new official City Flag and the celebration of the two hundred fiftieth anniversary of the installation…of the first mayor and Board of Alderman of the City of New York.
Invitation to the adoption of new city flag, June 24, 1915. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.18.352A

The blue in the flag also been used to link sports teams—almost all professional New York City teams include the color in logos and branding.

Blue lettering printed on pink paper reads: The Metropolitan Baseball Club Inc. Invites R. Helbing, Daily Pass B 714, Admit one.
Pass for the Metropolitan Baseball Club, Inc. ca. 1966. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.18.698.

Blue is the color of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Whether you take the A/C/E lines or not, blue is part of a New Yorker's daily commute. On all cards used as a payment method to enter the subway or bus, the word “MetroCard” is spelled out in blue across a field of yellow.  

Circular cloth patch bearing a capital letter “M” in two shades of blue on a field of white, trimmed in blue.
Patch for the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Ca. 1989. Museum of the City of New York. X2014.12.393.

The New York City Police Department has long been associated with the color. The navy blue uniform was first introduced in 1853, and the popular 1990s television drama “NYPD Blue” cemented the Department’s connection in popular culture.  

Blue front cover of pamphlet entitled “Police and Warden Duties in Wartime"
Pamphlet. “Police and Warden Duties in Wartime.” 1942. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.18.743.

These official blues are part of the structure of the city, but when some think of New York, it’s that light robin egg blue of Tiffany and Company that comes to mind. The boxes stacked in the Fifth Avenue flagship windows of the famous jewelry store have come to evoke an expectation, a promise wrapped in blue.

Small sterling silver spoon with wide mouth and looped handle with original flannel bag and box in signature color of Tiffany and Company.
Elsa Peretti for Tiffany and Company. Baby spoon. 1997. Museum of the City of New York. 99.68.1A-C.

If you’re feeling in the New York City blues, come check out the new installation and play with the instruments on display. You can always pop by during the Museum’s summer series, Uptown Bounce, and dance those blues away!

By Morgen Stevens-Garmon, Associate Curator, Theater Collection

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