To live in New York is to know the city as a patchwork of tight-knit neighborhoods defined by local characters: the beloved bartender, the “mayor” of the block, the habitual stoop-sitter, the chatty sidewalk vendor.
When the city struggles back to a semblance of normalcy, New Yorkers will emerge from their homes and greet one another, only to find gaping holes in the human fabric that fixtures like these helped weave together.
Nathan Allman, 85
A neighborhood statesman with a musical palette
Growing up in a thriving music scene in Brooklyn, Nathan Allman became a jazz aficionado with many musician friends.
“Jazz musicians loved to talk to him,” said his wife, Ellen Krüger Allman, 69. “He spoke their language.”
As a computer operator for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in the 1960s, Mr. Allman would hang out after work at the Village Vanguard, once driving Miles Davis home from the club.
Mr. Allman — most people knew him as Nate or Nat — lived for a half-century in a family-owned brownstone in Park Slope, even as white members of the professional class replaced old-guard, working-class families of color.
Mr. Allman, who served on many civic and community groups, was concerned about the sociological implications of gentrification, his wife said.
But, she added, he “transcended all kinds of possible social, racial and gender barriers by staying open-minded and just connecting with the person in front of him.” With some neighbors, she said, jazz became a common love.
Mr. Allman died on March 22 after contracting the coronavirus at a rehabilitation facility where he was recovering after a hip-replacement procedure.
As he was dying, a friend, the jazz pianist Fred Hersch, dedicated a livestreamed performance of his song “Valentine” to Mr. Allman. Ms. Krüger Allman asked a nurse to hold a phone to her husband’s ear, allowing him to hear the music and her farewell.
After he died, Mr. Allman’s doorway was crowded with notes, flowers and gifts from neighbors.
“He was a community-minded soul,” Ms. Krüger Allman said. “He made a beautiful impact on the world.”
Caridad Santiago, 43
A subway worker on the front lines
Caridad Santiago, was a fun-loving, lifelong Bronx resident who was well known in her Belmont neighborhood for loving the card game spades and singing along to R&B tunes.
“She could make a dull room light up,” said Crystal Puertas, 26, the eldest of Ms. Santiago’s three children. “Everyone gravitated toward her energy. She was the life of the party.”
But Ms. Santiago, known as Cari, also brought a serious work ethic to her job as a subway station cleaner for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a position that gave her and her family financial stability.
“She did come from poverty, in a sense, and her getting that job made life a little better for us,” Ms. Puertas said.
She worked the overnight shift, which often required long, late-night commutes by bus and train to haul trash, mop stairways and, especially lately, sanitize turnstiles and MetroCard machines.
As the virus spread in New York, Ms. Santiago remained on the front lines. She changed her Facebook photo to one that showed her at work. “I can’t go home,” the caption said. “I’m an essential worker.”
“She was very confident,” Ms. Puertas said. “She could swim deeper and dive from higher than anyone. At amusement parks, she would be on the scariest roller coaster.”
One place she feared — and avoided, even as her symptoms worsened — was the hospital, because of news reports of patients dying in droves, Ms. Puertas said.
Her confidence never seemed to waver, even as she lay dying in bed.
“She told us, ‘You guys are going to be OK, always,’” Ms. Puertas said.
Ed Antonio Jr., 79
The original ‘take care of your essential workers’ person’
Ed Antonio Jr. made a daily habit of inviting the mail carrier into his home in the Rockaway section of Queens for a sandwich and bathroom break.
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He attended the wedding of the sanitation worker who picked up his trash.
“He was the original ‘take care of your essential workers’ person,” said his grandson Eddie Joe Antonio, 23. “Everyone he encountered became a friend.”
Mr. Antonio looked after his neighbors, too. He brought in their trash cans and walked an older neighbor’s dog every day.
His appetite for activism seemed boundless. He spent his evenings serving on school and community boards, and on neighborhood and other civic associations.
“He showed up to everything,” said his son, E.J. Antonio, 55. “He had the ability to walk up to somebody and in seconds make them feel like he knew them forever.”
He was an adopter of abandoned bicycles. He would fix them and give them to local children or add them to a fleet he kept for the friends, families, disabled veterans and strangers whom he invited over for beach days.
Mr. Antonio, a retired pharmaceutical salesman, and his wife, Paula, were married for 60 years. They had met as toddlers living on the same block in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay section. Later, they were high school sweethearts.
After Hurricane Sandy decimated the Rockaways in 2012, the couple stayed in their home despite having no electricity. They fed cleanup workers and watched over the homes of neighbors who had decamped.
Mr. Antonio died at home on April 14. He may have exposed himself to the virus by mobilizing a mask-making effort for hospital workers while many New Yorkers sheltered in place, his son said.
“He was still looking for ways to help first responders,” his son said.
Marianne ‘Peachy’ Herlihy, 79
A cheerful New Yorker who dispensed ‘Peachy’s proverbs’
Marianne “Peachy” Herlihy, far right
Growing up in the Bronx, Marianne Herlihy picked up the nickname “Peachy,” a jaunty moniker that matched her outlook on life.
Ms. Herlihy was developmentally disabled and she lived under her parents’ care into her 50s. She worked an assembly-line job, sorting makeup kits for meager pay.
Beneath her cheery, charismatic exterior, Ms. Herlihy, who died on April 6, had an intense desire to live as independently as possible.
As a child she memorized words to win spelling bees, said a sister, Eileen Powers, 82. She watched television obsessively and kept notes on shows in carefully archived notebooks. To travel the city, she memorized bus and subway routes.
And, Ms. Powers said, she came up with volumes of “Peachy’s proverbs,” practical dictums and coping expressions she lived by and preached to others, often with hilarious timing.
For example, she fiercely guarded her pocket money because, she said, “When you have Mr. Twenty, take care of him until you need him.”
She said that she rarely declined a social invitation because, “If you say no, you won’t be invited again.”
For the past 20 years, Ms. Herlihy lived at Fineson House, a group home in Manhattan.
“Everybody who knew Peachy loved her; she gave life lessons to me and my daughters,” Ms. Powers said. “She was a hero among us.”
Sam Hargress Jr., 84
Owner of ‘Harlem’s oldest and only live jazz dive’
Samuel Hargress Jr. opened Paris Blues more than a half-century ago.
And as gentrification brought corporate chains to Harlem, he considered it a badge of honor to run a thriving, black-owned establishment.
Over the years, Mr. Hargress spurned lucrative offers to sell the five-story building that housed the bar, said his son, Sam Hargress III, 43.
Dressed in a sharp suit, hat and sunglasses, the elder Mr. Hargress would plant himself at the bar’s entrance to greet customers, whether they were regulars, new residents or tourists.
“His high in life was talking to people from everywhere and having common ground with them,” his son said.
Mr. Hargress’s business cards listed not just him, but also his bar staff by name, and he would cook food himself and set it out free for customers.
A military veteran, he insisted on waking at dawn, so he would leave the bar at midnight for his apartment upstairs. He loved music and he enjoyed falling asleep listening as the band kept playing downstairs, his son said.
As the virus spread, and nonessential businesses were ordered to close in March, Mr. Hargress reluctantly shut Paris Blues.
“To close the bar, something he never had to do since 1969, was painful,” the son said, adding that he planned to keep the place open in memory of his father, who died on April 10.
“This was more than a job for him,” his son said. “This was his life.”
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