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Woody Was Here

Retracing the steps of an American icon

Author Justin Goldman Illustration Luci Gutiérrez

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NEW YORK CITY – “Oh no!” Anna Canoni says as she approaches the corner of 43rd Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan. “They must have just taken it down!” The “it” is a historic photo of this block that was dedicated to her grandfather, the singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie. Instead, the front window of the International Center of Photography now has on display a picture of penguins.

Still, says Canoni, Guthrie has a claim on this corner. Shortly after arriving in New York in 1940, the 27-year-old Oklahoman stayed at a boarding house right where the ICP now stands. It was here he wrote “This Land Is Your Land,” the folksy national anthem that became one of the most hallowed songs in American music history.

Guthrie spent most of the rest of his life in New York, and died here in 1967. His descendants, led by Canoni’s mother, Nora, have been working to chronicle the singer’s haunts and homes here, a project that has resulted in a literary walking tour titled My Name Is New York, a 2012 book that was recently released in audio form, featuring interviews with luminaries like the late Pete Seeger.

Today, walking around the city, Canoni points to the patches of park and pavement that Guthrie frequented. In Greenwich Village, she sits on a stoop across from the apartment building where he lived with her grandmother and watches a guy with a Mohawk jog by. “This is our turf,” she says.

As often as not, though, the tour is a testament to landmarks that no longer exist. Back uptown, at the corner of 59th and 5th, a huge, cube-shaped edifice occupies the first spot where Guthrie lived after he came to the city. “The funny thing is,” Canoni says, “the first location we talk about on the tour is now the Apple Store.”

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