The Walk

I didn't originally plan on walking all those streets. But I've always liked to explore, and sightseeing is sort of an everyday activity, not limited to famous sites. I moved to New York in the summer of 2000, and everything seemed so glamorous. Even the most mundane things were cool, like, I don't know, busses and post offices ("this is a New York City post office," I would think). I still get starry-eyed- I think a lot of people do. The biggest celebrity in New York City is New York itself.
I began visiting as many neighborhoods as I could. One day in April 2002, I turned down 29th street from Fifth Avenue, and found a nice surprise, the Church of the Transfiguration, or the "Little Church Around the Corner". It's a beautiful old building, set back from the street, off the grid. I had heard of it, many years ago it was sort of a tourist attraction. It occurred to me then that the real secrets of Manhattan lie in the smaller east-west streets. Most people get to know the heavily-travelled Avenues, but you might not see the Streets unless you live or work there. I decided to explore them systematically.
In May, 2002, I bought a Hagstrom map of Manhattan, which I laminated. As I walked, I marked off the streets with a black marker. I took notes and a lot of photos along the way. After about a year, I had made much more progress than I expected, and it seemed natural to extend the walk to the entire island. Eventually I walked over 700 miles.
I walked mostly on weekends, but in the summer I would get off of work at 5:00, and I'd have almost four hours of daylight to walk. It goes quicker than you might think. Because I hadn't spent much time way uptown, most of the discoveries I made were above 96th street. There are so many vibrant tourist-free neighborhoods to visit, it's worth the trip.

I always assumed that other people had completed the same task, there's a certain logic to it if you're into this sort of thing. Manhattan is perfect because it's a manageable size with obvious borders. Of course it's densely packed with great neighborhoods, history and architecture. In the summer of 2004, I read an article about a guy named Thomas Keane, who walked every Manhattan street, and finished on Sunday, December 19th, 1954 (he made the front page of the New York Times). I decided to finish my walk on the 50th anniversary of the day he finished his. I've since found out about a few other people who have made the trek over the years. As TimeOut New York said about us, we have "ascended to a bizarre Olympus".

On Sunday, December 19th, 2004, a group of my friends shivered in the cold rain at the finish line, on the corner of Broadway and 33rd St.

My friends waiting at the finish line.
Marking the last street off the map.
I chose to finish at Thirty Third Street because it runs along the south side of the Empire State Building. From almost anywhere on the island, if you look up at the observation deck, you see little pops of light from the flash bulbs of tourists taking pictures. Those twinkling lights kind of became a beacon for me over the years as I was walking. After several toasts in a nearby KoreaTown bar, I took the elevator to the top, and sent my own camera flashes down to Manhattan.
  Me on top of the Empire State, Dec. 19, 2004  

I'm head over heels for this city, now more than ever. Right now I'm working on a walking tour guide to Manhattan. I'm still walking the streets, exploring, seeing what I missed the first time around.

I add to this site on a semi regular basis, with an emphasis on off-the-beaten-path Manhattan sites. Please keep checking back, and thanks for visiting.

Caleb Smith


Click below to read a few articles that were written about the Walk, also two radio interviews.
NYC and walk-related links

I've heard from many people who have done, or are doing, comprehensive walks of other places: San Francisco, Minneapolis, Christchurch NZ, and Amsterdam. My favorite is a woman named Suzanne who is walking every road in Catron County, in my home state of New Mexico. Check out her wonderful site:



Thanks to Mike Epstien and some random people I met on the Empire State Building for the photos.

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