Since the 1999 establishment of Friends of the High Line made the park an international cause célèbre, the story of the “West Side Cowboy” has become embedded in the High Line’s narrative.
Photographs of the cowboy show him in various states of attire, from a formal uniform at the turn of the century to jeans and felt hat by the early 1940s. Video, however, is exceedingly rare. I discovered some footage while researching my book, and organized it into a short narrative with musical accompaniment by pianist Rafael Cortés.
The footage was taken in the 1930s and shows a New York Central locomotive steaming down Tenth Avenue, past the High Line — then a working railroad — preceded by the now-famous man on horseback. The video is scrappy, but you can see many wonderful details, including (at the beginning) a glimpse of a large luxury liner in the harbor. This video shows, in a way that still photographs simply can’t, what it was like when freight trains ran at grade down the streets of Manhattan’s West Side. Click here to watch a video of the original urban cowboy.