A “Black Towel” Event

SteberLargeLocated in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel, the Continental Baths were the nexus of New York’s hedonistic gay scene in the early 1970s.  Its upper west side location reflected the quality and cleanliness of the bathhouse found inside.  Opened by Steve Ostrow in 1968, the Continental had all the expected accoutrements, but also featured a boutique, a hair salon, even a room for nondenominational religious services!  The Baths were enormous popular, and became even more so with the introduction of live entertainment.  It was here that a very young Bette Midler connected with the gay community, backed on piano by one Barry Manilow.   Other performers who graced the small stage included Sarah Vaughan, Cab Calloway, Peter Allen, and funk group Labelle.  But perhaps the most unexpected artist who sang at the Continental was the opera diva Eleanor Steber.  Ostrow, himself a professional opera singer earlier in his life, somehow convinced Steber, a resident of the Ansonia, to appear onstage and promised her a live recording of the event.  The sold-out audience was comprised of opera-goers in traditional black-tie garb who mingled with libidinous gay men who donned only black towels.  All of them were treated to an unforgettable evening of Mozart, Massenet, Puccini, and Charpentier.  New York City  Mayor John Lindsey even sent a telegram to Ostrow:  “I wish to extend my congratulations to the Continental Baths and Health Club on the occasion of your black tie, black towel concert.  Your sponsorship of…Eleanor Steber is a wonderful opportunity for the community to enjoy her great talent outside the Metropolitan’s halls…”  Released in 1974 on the RCA Red Seal label, “Eleanor Steber Live at the Continental Baths” is a definitely a record of a unique moment in time.

Wanna Go for a Walk?

Today marks the 100th anniversary of a little-known but fascinating tidbit of Kansas City history.  At 6:00 on the evening of July 8, 1913, Gustave Kuhn (“Gus”), his wife Irene, their 5-year-old daughter Ruth, and Morris and Myrtle Paul started a hike from Kansas City to San Francisco.  According to Mrs. Paul, who wrote the Diary of the Kansas City Hikers, “the principal object of the walk being for health and pleasure, although a pecuniary consideration was involved”.  It was 101 degrees in Kansas City the day the left, though a late afternoon rainstorm helped to cool the air somewhat.  Gathering and packing their camping and other equipment onto a horse-drawn wagon near the intersection of Independence and Park Avenues, the “official” starting place was the federal courthouse at 8th and Grand.  From there they walked to 59th and Wornall, where they broke camp for the first time.  The entire trip covered a distance of 2,384 miles, and it took 227 days.  As might be expected, along the way they had an array of adventures, met all kinds of supporters, and received an abundance of press coverage of their exploits.  They reached San Francisco at 3:30 p.m. on February 19, 1914.  Here’s the cover of the diary that was published that same year:

Hikers diary

Cover of the Hikers diary, published in 1914.

This is an image of the troupe on the day their hike was launched, taken at what we believe to be Independence and Park Avenues:


The Kansas City Hikers on July 8, 1913.