This crusty, cantankerous
man (1888-1981), whom I interviewed in his office on Randal's island in the East
River in, yes, 1973, had me half-scared to death -- as you can tell. He kept rocking
in his chair, making me chase him -- hacking and coughing -- with my mike. Snappish
and suspicious, he got me flustered by his detailed references to local people
and events, some going back to the 1920s, 30s, 40s, which I wasn't totally familiar
(Today, he wouldn't have
intimidated me -- I assure you, after doing hundreds, nay, thousands of interviews.)
This interview may not
be for the casual listener, but possibly of concern to those interested in the
mid 20th century politics of New York City and State and the public works of that
era, most of which survive today and still used by millions upon millions of people
who have never heard of their benefactor, Robert Moses.
In 1974, Robert Caro published
a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Moses, THE POWER BROKER. I interviewed Caro
on that occasion. Unfortunately, Caro's interview appears to have been lost. If
I had it, it would have made a great companion piece to the Moses tape and would
have put the Moses interview into perspective. Caro says Moses' slum-clearance
project on Manhattan's Upper West Side actually led to the area's decline (now
reversed), and that Moses built the overpasses on the parkways leading to Jones
Beach on Long Island so low buses couldn't pass underneath, preventing poor blacks
in Manhattan from traveling to the beach, since few minorities in the city had
Despite intimidating me,
Moses warmed up during the course of the interview (his anecdote about Adlai Stevenson's
thin skin is hilarious!). And after afterward he nicely inscribed his book PUBLIC
WORKS, A DANGEROUS TRADE, to me -- and gave me as a gift two other books he'd
written about Mayor La Guardia and Governor Al Smith.
Don Swaim (October 2003)
Listen to the Robert Moses interview with Don Swaim, February 6, 1973
(49 min. 54 sec.)
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