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kottke.org posts about Hillel Schwartz

Horn swarms and Manhattan’s noisy history

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2013

During a walk with noise historian Hillel Schwartz, Peter Andrey Smith discovers that parts of Manhattan, which many think of now as quite deafening, used to be even noisier.

“There was a constant flotilla of barges taking construction detritus away from the city, toward the Jersey shore,” he said. “All of these Irish tugboat captains probably knew the service staff, and they would be signaling to them, ‘Hi, I’m coming by!’ But they would be signaling with these huge horns! And they would be signaling late at night, also, to their complement of workers, who were now on shore, drinking heavily in a nearby tavern: ‘O.K., time to call it quits!’ The number of horns recorded over the course of an evening amounted to thousands. I hesitate to call them toots. They were horn swarms.”

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