By Christopher Gray
The news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor
came to New York on Sunday afternoon, December 7th. The F. B.
I. immediately sent out protective guards to public works like
the Kensico and Croton dams, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where
the battleships Iowa and Missouri were under construction. Crowds
in Times Square were tense as they read news bulletins of the
attack; The New York Times reported that sailors there said "We
can whip them in no time"; but the Daily News quoted David
Coward, who had served in the Philippines and China, who said
"We have a tough job on our hands -- you can beat them into
the dust and they come out of the ashes. They're fanatical fighters."
On Monday, the recruiting office at the Post
Office at Church and Vesey Streets was swamped by men trying to
enlist - women volunteers gave out coffee. At Chambers Street
and Broadway, trial blasts of fire engine sirens as air raid signals
drew confused stares from pedestrians, even as headlines claimed
that enemy planes were reported not far offshore.
Almost six thousand people signed up to become
air raid wardens - bringing the city total to 125,006. "All
air raid wardens may, from now on, expect to be called for daily
training. We must toughen up. It has come and we are ready"
said Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. He added "I want to assure
all the people who have been sneering and jeering at the necessary
precautions of civilian defense that we will protect them now."
Anti-aircraft guns were set up in Prospect
Park, Brooklyn, at Fort Totten, in Queens, and other locations.
The Port of New York Authority canceled vacations and leaves,
and put guards at its bridges and tunnels.
About 200 of the 2500 Japanese nationals in
New York and its suburbs were taken into custody, like Yasuo Matsui,
an architect living in White Plains, who was born in Japan but
came to the United States in the early 1900's; he had designed
or co-designed major buildings like 40 Wall Street and the Starrett-Lehigh
In Manhattan, the F. B. I. took in people like
Dr. Sabro Emy from his office at 1035 Park Avenue; he had graduated
from New York University in 1922, and had not even seen Japan
since 1917. "It's a very unfortunate situation" he told
the New York Sun. Most were sent to Ellis Island.
Police had instructions to protect all Japanese
and their property but one, Teddy Hara, was beaten outside his
rooming house on West 46th Street. Air travel was canceled for
Japanese nationals; the family of Morito Morishima, who lived
at 33 East 70th Street, had made TWA reservations out of New York
a week before Pearl Harbor, but had not yet left New York.
It is not clear if any of the Japanese detained
in New York City were interned in the wartime camps established
by the United States. Dr. Emy was ultimately released, resumed
his practice and became director of anesthesiology at Misericordia
Hospital. He was particularly active in Red Cross work.
Christopher Gray is New York City's finest
architectural historian. He is the head of the Office for Metropolitan
History, which is located at 246 West 80th Street, #8, New York
City, NY 10024. He is also a regular contributor to The New York
Times. His e-mail is MetHistory@aol.com.