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An Interview with Jim Mackin, author of “Notable New Yorkers of the Manhattan’s Upper West Side”

26th February 2021

This interview was originally published by Caitlin Hawke of the West 102nd & 103rd Streets Block Association

Mackin Photo Blog

You may have heard about “Notable New Yorkers of Manhattan’s Upper West Side,” neighbor Jim Mackin’s recent book in which he chronicles nearly 600 Bloomingdale and Morningside Heights residents of “note”. However 800 other individuals didn’t make it into the book, so Jim created a database which you can explore here.

For vignettes about several of the people who made the cut, see the article I wrote in today’s West Side Rag here.

Jim Mackin arrived on the Upper West Side in 1971, obtained an MBA at NYU, and worked as chief financial officer of a division of JP Morgan. It was there that Jim developed an interest in the histories of companies. Soon, inspired Peter Salwen’s Upper West Side Story, he became a diehard student of the history of New York City. 

After retiring in 2005, Jim realized he could marry his passion for fresh air, exercise and local history at the street level by giving tours which he dubbed “WeekdayWalks.” He is a licensed tour guide with distinction, meaning that he scored high on the licensing exam for which he didn’t have to study as knowledge of the city has really be a lifetime pursuit. 

Last week, in preparation for the WSR piece, I caught up with Jim to ask him more about the genesis of  project.

​Here are excerpts from that Q&A:

Caitlin: What gave you the idea for “Notable New Yorkers of Manhattan’s Upper West Side”?
Jim: Preparing for my walking tours, I started collecting addresses of famous people in the news or from books that I read. Then I put them onto a spreadsheet with some notes. Soon I had a few hundred which grew to over a thousand. A friend gave me the idea that I actually had a book. Next, I wrote up short biographies that I thought would be entertaining, and I discovered that it was fun to research and to write.

Caitlin: How did you organize all that data and what tools did you use?
Jim: I used a simple spreadsheet, which beyond the obvious details — name, profession, dates, addresses — included four designations: superstar, plaque-worthy, needs to be better appreciated, and especially interesting. These designations were invaluable in deciding which of my 1400+ notables should be included in the book so that it would be a reasonable size. Primarily, I used the internet, New York Times archives, and I also read books – a lot – usually from the New York Society Library.

Caitlin: What do you consider your greatest “finds” for this book? 
Jim: Amelia Earhart for just being in the neighborhood and the difficult Barnard situation endured by Harriet Brooks, the first U.S. female nuclear physicist, who worked with Ernest Rutherford and Marie Curie.

Caitlin: True story. Did you happen to dig out the nugget that Hunter S. Thompson lived on Morningside Drive for a short time? An air force buddy, he lived for a time in 1957-58 with my father at 110 Morningside Drive.
Jim: Didn’t know…thanks for this information. 

Caitlin: That’s one more for the database! What you did was a huge and immersive undertaking. What fills your research time now that this book is out?
Jim: The Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group, of which I am one of ten, occupies most of my attention in NYC. As president of the Friends of Taconic State Park in Copake Falls, New York, we are preserving a historic iron works and building a narrow-gauge railroad attraction. I am also working on my second book that connects the family that built the Copake Iron Works and a very important person in NYC’s history.

Caitlin: If you had to live in another neighborhood, which one would you choose?
Jim: I have a very soft spot in my heart for Greenwich Village, where my wife Janet and I lived for half a year until we were kicked out of an illegal sublet. 

: Great place to end – a typical New York story. Thank you.

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