Do you often wonder about things, where a name came from, the origin of a phrase in common use, or why certain things happen? Well, I’m a why person. I want to know “Why” about everything. (My mother used to hate it when I asked why.) I always thought if I knew why something happened, iI would understand how to fix it. It’s the same way with nicknames, which made me curious about why they cll New York city “ The Big Apple?”
I assumed it was because of the people selling apples on the street corners during the great depression, but that was just a romantic notion. My curiosity led me to do some research at the Society for New York History, where I found a completely different explanation for the “Big Apple” title.
In the early years of the nineteenth century, many refugees were coming to New York City to escape war-torn Europe. Some of these peiple were part of the crumbling French aristocracy, forced to seek refuge from the Guillotine. They arrived in New York without friends or money which forced them to survive by their wits.
Mlle. Evelyn Claudine de Saint-Evremond, one of Marie Antoinette’s friends and the daughter of a noted courtier, arrived in New York in late 1803 or early 1804. She was a remarkably beautiful woman and very well educated, and soon became a favorite in New York society. She was about to marry the son of the late Alexander Hamilton, when the marriage was called off at the last minute, with no reason given. Soon after, with the support of several of her wealthy admirers, she established an elegantly furnished bordello that still stands at 142 Bond Street, an exclusive residential district at the time. Evelyn’s establishment soon earned a reputation for the most entertaining and discreet of the many houses of it’s kind in New York. It was a place of elegant dinners, high-stakes gambling and witty conversation, not to mention lovemaking. Many of the girls were new arrivals from Paris or London and were noted for their beauty. Quite a few of the girls married wealthy husbands from the houses clientele.
Evelyn’s name was soon shortened to Eve and she found the biblical reference amusing and started referring to her girls as “my irresistible apples.” it didn’t take long for the men-about-town to pick up the name and begin referring to her girls as delicious apples. Their amorous adventures soon became know as “having a taste of Eve’s Apples.” As they referred to the girls in these terms in their conversations, it also established them as part of the “in-crowd.” in October 1838 a reference was made to one of Eve’s girls in Philip Hones’ famous diary, as “Ida, sweet as apple cider.” The rest, as they say, is history.
By 1907 the terms “Big Apple” or The Apple had become a synonym for New York City.
This didn’t please the Apple Marketing Board, a trade group based in upstate New York. They began a campaign to return the apple to it’s proper place by using slogans such as: “A apple a day, keeps the doctor away” and
“As American as apple pie!” It did the trick, but New York is still called “The Big Apple” by man people throughout the world.
I remember a movie based on Damon Runyon’s character, Apple Annie, an old woman who sold an apple everyday to a superstitious gambler. That’s how I prefer to thing of how New York got its nickname. Not as sexy, but definitely more romantic and I am an incurable romantic.