Striking Photos Show The Ghosts Of New York City’s Seedy Underbelly

New York City today is rapidly gentrifying, with crime becoming more and more rare. A new project mashes up the old, dangerous New York with today’s sanitized version.

The New York Daily News has documented life in New York City for nearly a century. Its photo archives are a rich look at the city’s history, particularly the seedy underbelly of murders, accidents, disasters, and crime that the tabloid specializes in covering.


Crime may be at record lows across the five boroughs today, but a recent photo project aims to bring together the relatively peaceful apartment blocks and streets of the contemporary city with its bloodier past. “New York City: Then and Now,” by Daily News photographer and editor Marc A. Hermann, overlays classic photographs of mid-century New York atop images of contemporary locations.

The collection contains an amalgam of images: new-ish skyscrapers peaking out from behind a 1960s fire at the South Street Seaport, a Hyundai SUV parked next to a vintage cop car in a mashup between Prospect Park in 2013 and 1950, and so on.

“I have always been a fan of the work of our predecessors in the New York City photojournalism community,” Hermann told Co.Create. “And it didn’t take long for me to think that something similar could be done with the lesser-known ‘war zones’ of our streets during the days of Murder, Inc.”

The project is reminiscent of a similarly inspired (and titled) project from Detroit, called “Detroit Now and Then,” which we also covered on Co.Exist. That series focuses on the decline of the Motor City, showing the excitement that once existed in iconic places like Cass Tech High School during the city’s heyday next to the wreckage you’re likely to find there today.

Taken together, the projects speak to how quickly fortunes can change for American cities. Once a prosperous, bustling city, Detroit now faces bankruptcy, while New York City’s history of high crime has given way to the era of the luxury city. Both cities have their ghosts, and this pair of series reminds us how they still populate the architectural spaces we inhabit.

About the author

Zak Stone is a Los Angeles-based writer and a contributing editor of Playboy Digital. His writing has appeared in,, Los Angeles, The Utne Reader, GOOD, and elsewhere.