The scene pulls you back a hundred years or more. Horses trotting down the street. Carriage drivers, lash in hand, shouting commands to their four-legged carriers. White dust drifting up from the street.
But the men and women in early 1900s attire were actors and actresses, and the location was present-day Marcy Avenue in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.
The activity pictured here at the left, in fact, takes place on Marcy Avenue at Putnam Avenue, kitty-corner from the historic Boys High School, now shuttered, which my father attended some 70 years ago. (Click photo to see the video or click the YouTube image below.)
This will all be part of an upcoming HBO series, The Knick, offering dramatic stories about doctors, nurses and other staffers at the now-closed hospital. The formal name of the facility was The Knickerbocker.
The series is slated to air sometime next year. Directing it will be Steven Soderberg and the top star will be Clive Owen. (I've gathered this from searching around the Web. No one on the production staff would speak to me.)
Of special note is that black actor Andrew Holland will be playing a physician named Algernon, who, according to deadline.com, is "a gifted, black Harvard-trained surgeon who fights for respect in the hospital while trying to navigate his way through the racially charged turn-of-the-century NYC."
One of the actors yesterday told me Holland was on site over the past couple of days. The series will attempt to depict the racism rampant in that era in New York City. But I'm told that Algernon will gain the respect of the white doctors working along with him.
The idea of an HBO series in the heart of Bed-Stuy fills me with a host of thoughts. Releasing them in an articulate way will take more time than I have at the moment.
There is, for one thing, the sheer irony of this happening in Bedford Stuyvesant, known during my childhood as a black ghetto that whites avoided at all costs.
How different is the social landscape now. Young whites are moving into the neighborhood in droves, driving up rents, property values and taxes, which in turn is leading black residents to pick up and leave, either because they can't afford the rent hikes or because they can't refuse the offers of quick money offered from hungry realtors captalizing on the local boom.
Call it the story of the Glorious Brownstone. Call it also the story of the Disappearing Negro.
As I roamed Hancock Street (between Marcy and Tompkins) and strolled along Marcy Avenue (sitting between old Boys High and Concord Baptist Church), I used my trusty smartphone to video-record some of what I saw. I wish I'd had my camcorder. What the hell.(Here's something that puzzles me. Documents on the Web describe The Knick as an old "downtown" Manhattan hospital. But I know there was a Knickerbocker Hospital on the West Side of Manhattan -- uptown, in what became Harlem. Perhaps the discrepancy has to do with creative license.)
And so, as we hack reporters used to say when we finsihed the first part of a story -- MTK (more to come). Stay tuned. Enjoy the raw images and interviews in the video.