The Readers Respond

More on 'The Big Apple'

The answer to "Why is New York called 'The Big Apple'?" [March 4] is horribly wrong. Prof. Gerald Cohen (University of Missouri-Rolla) and I solved "The Big Apple." There is now a "Big Apple Corner" street sign at Broadway and West 54th Street, an explanatory plaque on the building there, and our work can be found in The Encyclopedia of New York City. It was a past president of the NYCVB [New York Convention and Visitors Bureau] who popularized "The Big Apple" in 1970. "The Big Apple" name was picked up by Harlem jazz musicians in the mid-1930s. [Contrary to your report], Prof. Alain Locke has nothing to do with "The Big Apple" - I've looked at all of his work, and he did not father the phrase nor popularize it. New York Morning Telegraph track writer John J. Fitz Gerald had columns called "Around the Big Apple" and "On the Big Apple" in the 1920s. I've searched every single one of his columns for over a decade, and he admitted twice that "the Big Apple" was his, and that he heard it used by African-American stable hands in New Orleans. It referred to "a big treat" or "a big reward" for successful horses and riders from down South in winter racing - "the big money" and "the big time." John J. Fitz Gerald was born in Saratoga, N.Y., and he died in New York during a newspaper strike about 30 years ago. I and his son, David Fitz Gerald, have been trying to get a "Big Apple" obituary finally published in The New York Times, but we don't get an answer.

Barry Popik

New York City

Red Barns

Your answer to this question ["Why are barns red?" April 8] is not really an answer. You tell all about making milk- based paint, and that's fine, but the answer is, "Because it was cheaper." Red ochre was easily available as was milk (often buttermilk was used). Color was expensive and most white paint had a lead and therefore expensive base. Early barns weren't painted at all. Then red barns came into being, and the custom has held on until today. The Old West Church in Calais, Vt., is painted white on the three sides visible from the road. The fourth side toward the cemetery is painted red (and still is). Why waste expensive paint on the side of the church visible only from the graveyard?

Weston Cate Jr.

retired director

Vermont State Historical Society

Titanic Response

Re: Charles Lightoller, Titanic survivor, April 8.

The producers of "Titanic" may have chosen to portray Lightoller somewhat negatively because, in hearings after the disaster, he refused to concede any fault in the way the ship was run. Lightoller dismissed as insignificant the lack of binoculars for the lookouts and the inability of the crew to test the temperature of the seawater every minute with a rope and bucket (the rope was too short). And he professed unawareness of ice warnings that passengers heard delivered to Captain Smith. The producers also ascribed to Lightoller and Murdock the actions of Fifth Officer Harold Lowe. Lowe admitted firing a revolver to keep passengers on other decks from jumping into his lifeboat (and possibly causing it to jack-knife) as it was lowered toward the water. Lowe insisted he hit no one; others testified that he fired straight into the crowd. And it was Lowe, not Lightoller, who went back in search of survivors in the water. However, fearful of being swamped, Lowe delayed an hour and a half for "the yells and shrieks" to subside. He retrieved only three people alive. What would Lightoller, stranded on the overturned lifeboat, have done in Lowe's place? Wyn Craig Wade, author of "The Titanic: End of a Dream" and a Lightoller critic, recounts: "During World War II, Commander Lightoller distinguished himself by taking, with his son, the family's sixty-foot yacht to Dunkirk and rescuing 130 men. The yacht was incredibly crowded and completely unarmed. Bombed and machine-gunned all the way back to Ramsgate, it arrived safely in England only by virtue of Lightoller's superior skill and seamanship." Whatever one concludes about Lightoller's candor, his courage and control have never been questioned. Nonetheless, Lowe was afterward regarded as a hero. Not so Lightoller, according to Wade. "Having defended the former chairman of the line [Bruce Ismay, also a Titanic survivor], Lightoller suffered by association with Ismay, and the directors of White Star never gave him his own command."

Scott Pendleton

Tulsa, Okla.

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