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5 Historical Facts You Didn't Know About New York City

Hurricane Sandy
A darkened Flatiron Building rises over an empty street in a section of Manhattan still in a blackout following Hurricane Sandy on October 30, 2012. (credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Settled in 1624 and incorporated in 1898, New York City is the most populous city in the United States. As the center of the world, New York has a rich and diverse history, spanning from the earliest Dutch settlers and the Revolutionary War to the Statue of Liberty and the Sept. 11 terror attacks. But there are many intriguing, odd, and historical facts that some have forgotten or simply aren't aware of. Did you know some of the most popular parks once served as cemeteries for the indigent citizens of New York, and the turn of the century term "23 skidoo" originated thanks to the Flatiron building? These and more comprise a tiny portion of the unique history that is the Big Apple.

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Four Popular NYC Parks Were Once Potter's Fields

Four popular New York parks were once the final resting place for the city's poor or those who died from infectious disease. More than 100 years before Madison Square Park was opened to the public in 1847, the area named for the fourth president of the United States was originally a swampy hunting ground, turned potter's field. From 1797-1825 the section now known as Washington Square Park was used as a cemetery to bury those who died from yellow fever in the early 1800s. Union Place eventually became Union Square. However the intersection of Bowery, Broadway and University Place at 14th Street, initially called the Forks, was a potter's field for the indigent, and later a park for wealthy New Yorkers. Bryant Park also served as a cemetery from 1822– 1840, a few decades after George Washington's troops fled across the area during the Battle of Long Island in Revolutionary War.

General Tso's Chicken Is Not The Ruler's Favorite Meal

Most of the populous is aware that the Waldorf Salad was created at the famous hotel of the same name. However, few know General Tso's Chicken began in New York City.  American Chinese food was actually created in the 1970s in the Big Apple. A rumor surfaced which suggested the popular sour and spicy chicken dish originated from Hunan during the Qing Dynasty and was a favorite of General Tso. There is no true documentation that proves this theory true or false; therefore, Chinese food fans will just have to let their taste buds be their guide.

23 Skidoo Flatiron Building

The term 23 skidoo was popular around the turn of the century -- not this one. The phrase combines two terms, meaning scram. New Yorkers insist 23 skidoo originated from police shooing frolickers from the Flatiron building in the early 1900s. The unique design of the building is said to have created specific wind-related issues. Gusts were known to blow women's skirts up, and the boys would stand around waiting for the spectacle, thus forcing the police to shout, "skedaddle," which turned into 23 skidoo.

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The City of New Amsterdam Was A Birthday Gift To The Duke Of York

Most New Yorkers know the Duke of York nursery rhyme, or at least some of the historical significance attached to the naming of the greatest city in the world. Many, however, might be unaware that the city of New Amsterdam was actually a birthday gift to the Duke for his 18th birthday, received from his father in 1664. The recipient later renamed it "New York." Originally purchased for a mere $1 in today's currency, that is one generous present by modern standards.

Don't Pass Wind In Church, You Could Get Arrested

Who knew that a loud and/or malodorous case of flatulence during services in a house of worship could get you thrown in jail? Since 1886, the passing of gas in church, religious services, funerals, burials or memorial services has been illegal. The offender is guilty of disruption, with a possibility of a misdemeanor charge, even if within 100 feet of the assemblage. Best to break wind outside and away from the crowds.

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Deirdre is a freelance writer from New York, fascinated with topics within her field of study such as beauty, hair and fashion, as well as guilty pleasures like reality TV, relationships, entertainment and dining.

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