Hiding away on Flatbush Avenue, one of Brooklyn’s oldest and busiest streets, is an old billboard. It had been covered up by an advertisement for many years, until it was recently rediscovered when the ad was torn down. Painted on the brick wall is an old campaign painting dating from 1965, urging Brooklynites passing down Flatbush Avenue to vote for Lindsay for Mayor!
Recently returned to the light of day, the billboard is a fascinating time capsule back to 1965, and some dark days in New York history. John Lindsay was elected mayor of New York that year, running on the Republican ticket. With his youthful, debonair looks, Lindsay sought to bring Kennedy-esque excitement to the city. Unfortunately, for his celebrity aspirations, Lindsay took over a city fast approaching the doldrums and bankruptcy.
On his first day in office, the entire MTA went on strike, causing one commuter, upon finding the subway abandoned, to quip, “Wagner left and took the trains with him.” Unperturbed, Lindsay walked the four miles from his hotel room down to City Hall claiming, “I still think it is a fun city!” The transport strike would bring the city to a virtual standstill for 12 days.
Lindsay remained mayor until 1973, and whilst in office had to deal with the great blizzard of 1969, the Frank Serpico claims of corruption in the NYPD, and the so-called ‘Hard Hat Riots’, which saw construction workers, long shore men and students violently clashing on Wall Street and Broad Street over the Vietnam War and Kent State shootings. Combined with increasing racial tensions, Lindsay summed up the mood of the city as being “taut.”
A strong supporter of civil rights, Lindsay became known for his “ghetto walks” in the late 1960s, and is credited with helping New York avoid the rioting that happened in over 100 cities in the U.S. that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. While cities such as Detroit, Los Angeles and Newark burned, Lindsay walked at night throughout Harlem.
The New York of Lindsay’s time in office was a far cry from today; in 1968 the Department of Sanitation went on strike for nine days, which resulted in mountains of garbage piled up in the streets, the mountains of uncollected filth often catching fire. 1968 also saw a city wide teachers strike, protracted for seven months over the hot summer. In 1971 workers on the cities drawbridges went on strike, leading to the incredible situation in Harlem where the drawbridge remained in the raised position, barring cars driving into the city for two days.
The ghost sign, and a reminder of the dark days of New York City that had been covered up for decades, can be found at Flatbush and Bedford in Brooklyn.