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What is in a name? Major Deegan

Fascinating People Fascinating Places

Daniel Mainwaring

Documentary, Society & Culture:documentary, Society & Culture, History

51.1K Ratings

🗓️ 27 October 2023

⏱️ 27 minutes

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CUNY Law Professor Rebecca Bratspies found herself sitting in heavy traffic on the Major Deegan Expressway — a notoriously busy thoroughfare in NYC. She began to wonder who exactly this Major Deegan was? A war hero? Some notable military figure? Surely, there must be a story of some note attached to the man after whom this major roadway is named? Her subsequent research resulted in a book titled Naming Gotham in which she explores the figures behind the names on infrastructure projects and the methodology of naming them. Guest: Prof. Rebecca Bratspies NAMING GOTHAM Music and sound effects: Pixabay

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There's a long history in America of naming streets and infrastructure projects after the great and the good.


For example, the JFK airports.


You can hardly visit a city in America without finding a street or avenue named after


Jefferson or Washington.


Civil rights leader, Martin Luther King King is another individual who many streets have been dedicated to.


And the names of war heroes such as Patton and Eisenhower are often found adorning streets and highways, as well as more controversial, yet still


well-known figures from the Civil War, such as Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.


As time passes, some of the more obscure war heroes and political figures are all but forgotten,


and their street takes on an identity of its own, without anyone giving much of a thought to the person it was named of.


But for near contemporary figures such as Neil Armstrong or Rosa Parks, most people tend to think


of the individual when they see the name at top of a road sign.


And so you might reasonably expect a major thoroughfare in New York City, the self-proclaimed capital of the world, to be named after a immediately recognizable




But you'd be wrong, because let's face it, how many of us have ever heard of Major Degan. Degan.


It's a question that puzzled today's guest, Professor Rebecca Bratsby's, of City University of New York.


When she found herself sitting on the famous highway, like so many others, wondering


if and when, the traffic would move. The Major Degan Expressway is one of the most significant roads in New York City. It runs past Yankee Stadium and it connects the George Washington Bridge with many of the roads that either lead into Manhattan or lead to upstate New York.


So many, many people who are entering or leaving New York via automobile will take the Major Degan Expressway.


So almost everybody taking the Major Degan has no idea who the guy was.


But to the extent that people think about him at all, and one of the things about taking the Major Degan is that you will be stuck in traffic.


To interject briefly, I was quite happy to take Rebecca's word for the traffic situation on the expressway and had zero desire


to go there and explore it for myself. But things happen. So I hadn't planned on doing any recording today, but it seems kind of serendipitous that I was


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