With its shouting street vendors, roaring subway trains, and blaring radios, New York City in the 1920s was famously cacophonous. But while many of us have seen photos of the Big Apple in the early decades of the 20th century, or have read about it in history books, few of us know what the city sounded like. In order to re-create the sonic history of New York City, historian Emily Thompson has created an interactive website called The Roaring Twenties that explores the historical soundscape of New York City in the 1920s.
The website uses archival materials like newspaper articles, sound complaints, and newsreel footage to give visitors a sense of New York City’s aural history. Visitors can scroll through Thompson’s list of sounds, hearing the city's symphony of street traffic or reading complaints of noisy parties and barking dogs. The website is also broken down by space and time, allowing visitors to visualize the geography of sound (Coney Island, for instance, is full of music and performers while midtown Manhattan is marked by fire engines and honking horns) and experience its evolution over the course of the decade.
“The sonic content at the heart of this journey consists of 54 unique excerpts of sound newsreel footage, Fox Movietone newsreels from 1926 through 1930,” explains Thompson. “It offers a sonic time machine; an interactive multimedia environment whereby site visitors can not just hear, but mindfully listen to, the noises of New York City in the late 1920s, a place and time defined by its din.”