Big Apples and Other Symbols of New York City

Huge apple in sky over NYC main

New York City is the Big Apple. It is the place to have fun, succeed in business, and get discovered on Broadway. New York is the Yankees, which you can go and see if you take the subway. Watch out for the rats! It’s skyscrapers, the Statue of Liberty, and a lot more. And, there are LOTS of people, of all religions, nationalities, and ethnicities. 

Why is New York City Called the “Big Apple”?

“A big apple” is a term for something spectacular. It would become the city’s nickname. 

The term “big apple” was often used in racing.  Horses like to eat apples. A championship horse would be a “big apple.” A sportswriter extolled the race tracks of my native city:

“The Big Apple. The dream of every lad that ever threw a leg over a thoroughbred and the goal of all horsemen. There’s only one Big Apple. That’s New York.” 

The term became particularly popular in the Jazz Age in the 1920s.  Today, when a Mets player hits a home run, a big apple rises at Citifield for all the fans to cheer.  

New York Yankees 

Parks are places to play basketball, handball, and pickleball. Cars have to watch out for children playing ball in the street. An annual marathon is a closely observed event. 

The city had three baseball teams: the Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Yankees. Now, we have the Mets and Yankees. However, New York City is still most associated with the Yankees, including the famous pinstripe uniforms without a player’s number on the back.  

The two baseball teams also provide a reminder that “New York City” is not merely Manhattan. “The City” is often used to reference Manhattan alone. New York City consists of the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Bronx in the house!  

Ellis Island 

New York City was a land of immigrants from the very beginning. The Dutch handed off control to the English in the 1660s. By then, New York City already had diverse groups of nationalities, languages, and religions.  Millions more came in the nineteenth century.

The federal government began to process immigrants in the late 19th Century. The federal government established Ellis Island in 1890 as the primary receiving area. Annie Moore, a teenager from Ireland, was the first immigrant to be processed. The last was in the 1950s.  

Many Jewish immigrants came to New York City. New York is often associated with Jews. However, it is overall a city of immigrants of all types. Only some drive our yellow taxis

Statue Of Liberty 

The Statue of Liberty symbolizes freedom, inspiration, and hope. It is also a primary symbol of New York City. The colossal copper lady dominates the New York harbor.  

The statue was a unique symbol of friendship between France and the United States. It celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and the recent abolishment of slavery in America. The statue celebrates liberty and equality for all. 


New York City has a diverse variety of wildlife and fauna. It has multiple botanical gardens and zoological parks. Trees are common occurrences in many parts of the city. 

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is an autobiographical novel by Betty Smith. The book is about a family struggling to survive in an urban city. The tree is a symbol of life and hope. It also symbolizes the main character, who is growing up. Both manage to grow up in a harsh world. 

New York is impatient, quick-paced, and never sleeping. It is noisy with cars and people. A tree is a bit of green to remind us of nature.


The humble pigeon is our unofficial official bird. My dad used to race pigeons. Pigeons, however, are usually wild and free. Birders have many options. None is more New York than the pigeon.

Horses used to be the primary means of transportation. Now, they are primarily used as carriage horses to give rides to people. You also might still see a police officer riding a horse. 

Squirrels are familiar sights in parks and neighborhood trees. 

Unpleasant Stuff 

Rats have been pests since civilization provided them with prime food supplies. Rats are symbols of garbage, poverty, and disease. New York City has lots of them. 

They remind us of the more unpleasant aspects of New York City. A lot of people also mean crime. Crime is another negative symbol of the city. 


Skyscrapers are very tall buildings. They literally “scrape the sky.” The first skyscrapers were only ten to twenty stories tall. Today, they are often taller than forty or fifty stories.

The Empire State Building (102 stories) opened in 1931 and was the tallest building until the 1970s. The World Trade Center overtook it. 

The trade center was first a symbol of the greatness of New York. Its name underlined that the city is a center of trade and commerce.

September 11, 2001, the “day that will live in infamy” for my generation, changed the World Trade Center into a symbol of loss, terrorism, and resilience. 


Every day, millions ride the New York subway. These trains run above and below ground, connecting four boroughs. Staten Island has a separate train line. 

A polyglot ridership including students, fancy dressed, working class, and tourists provides a democratic mixture. Many people take trains into the city and then jump on a subway.  

Broadway and Entertainment 

For many, New York City is where you see a play, preferably a big splashy musical or performance.  Some will spend less money “Off-Broadway” to watch the latest show. 

The prime location is 42nd Street. Among the crowds, the lights of Broadway broadcast the latest blockbusters. You might find some discount tickets. Beware of scalpers!

There is a lot more. There is Rockefeller Plaza. At Christmas time, you will see the famous tree and Christmas spectacular.  There are movie theaters (many fewer today), comedy clubs, music halls, and lots more.  And, if you want to eat? Lots of restaurants. 

One thing there is no shortage of in New York City is symbolism.