Virtual Reality Project Imagines What Manhattan Sounded Like in 1609

Welikia's rendering of what Manhattan and the surrounding area might have looked like in 1609. Image Credit: Welikia via Calling Thunder
Welikia's rendering of what Manhattan and the surrounding area might have looked like in 1609. Image Credit: Welikia via Calling Thunder

What did a typical day in Manhattan sound like 400 years ago? Designer David Al-Ibrahim wants to help you imagine. Al-Ibrahim has created Calling Thunder: The Unsung History of Manhattan, a virtual reality experience that illuminates how the bustling isle of Manhattan might have felt before the Dutch arrived, back when it was a Lenape territory named Mannahatta, or “Island of Many Hills.”

As CityLab reports, Al-Ibrahim worked with Bill McQuay of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to source sounds from the lab’s Macaulay Library, an archive of wildlife audio. To get a sense of the geography and biodiversity of 17th century Manhattan, they also reached out to landscape ecologist Eric Sanderson, whose Welikia project is studying and mapping New York City as it looked in 1609.

This 360-degree video juxtaposes the Manhattan of today with the wild sights and sounds of the old Mannahatta, where you would hear black bears, crows, and trickling streams rather than delivery trucks and honking cars. To represent the area with as much historical accuracy as possible, there are no sounds from extinct animals, so you won’t hear any passenger pigeons (which went extinct in the 1910s) or other animals that the creators could not obtain original recordings of. But you can hear bullfrogs, osprey, red-tailed hawks, and other creatures.

On the project website, you can listen to binaural soundscapes (meaning you can hear different audio in each ear, so you’ll need stereo headphones) of places like Inwood Hill Park and the American Museum of Natural History. The 360-degree videos on the site, imagining the soundscapes of specific areas of Manhattan, all feature descriptions of the different animals that can be heard in that clip.

If you’re in New York City, try listening to the clips on your phone as you walk around Manhattan.

[h/t CityLab]

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

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What Are Sugar Plums?

Marten Bjork, Unsplash
Marten Bjork, Unsplash

Thanks to The Nutcracker and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," sugar plums are a symbol of the holidays. But what are sugar plums, exactly? Like figgy pudding and yuletide, the phrase has become something people say (or sing) at Christmastime without knowing the original meaning. Before it was the subject of fairy dances and storybook dreams, a sugar plum was either a fruitless candy or a not-so-sweet euphemism.

According to The Atlantic, the sugar plums English-speakers ate from the 17th to the 19th century contained mostly sugar and no plums. They were made by pouring liquid sugar over a seed (usually a cardamom or caraway seed) or almond, allowing it to harden, and repeating the process. This candy-making technique was called panning, and it created layers of hard sugar shells. The final product was roughly the size and shape of a plum, which is how it came to be associated with the real fruit.

Before the days of candy factories, these confections could take several days to make. Their labor-intensive production made them a luxury good reserved for special occasions. This may explain how sugar plums got linked to the holidays, and why they were special enough to dance through children's heads on Christmas Eve.

The indulgent treat also became a synonym for anything desirable. This second meaning had taken on darker connotations by the 17th century. A 1608 definition from the Oxford English Dictionary describes a sugar plum as “something very pleasing or agreeable, esp. when given as a sop or bribe.” Having a "mouthful of sugar plums" wasn't necessarily a good thing, either. It meant you said sweet words that may have been insincere.

As true sugar plums have fallen out of fashion, demand for Christmas candy resembling the actual fruit has risen. You can now buy fancy candied plums and plum-flavored gummy candies for the holidays, but if you want something closer to the classic sugar plum, a Jordan almond is the more authentic choice.