In Marble Hill, one of the simplest of conversation starters exposes a conflict celebrating its 75th anniversary. Is this Manhattan or the Bronx? Sample answers:
"I don't know anyone else that considers this Manhattan. We all consider this the Bronx."
"Consider it Manhattan much more than the Bronx."
"Manhattan definitely. It's confusing."
"I've been living here 23 years and it's always been the Bronx to me."
A canal dug nearly a 120 ago did this to these people, forcing them to cross a bridge to reach the rest of the island of Manhattan.
"That bridge right there's what separates us," a local said.
And in 1939, seizing upon this weakness, the Bronx made its move. Borough President James Lyons, standard in hand, invaded and posed for a picture taken by the New York Times. Lyons planted his borough's flag and claimed Marble Hill and all its residents for the Bronx. If the word "invasion" seems ridiculous in this instance, know that Lyons called Marble Hill the Bronx's "Sudetenland," a joking reference to Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia that likely wouldn't fly once the United States entered the war two years later or ever again.
"These days we might think more in terms of Vladimir Putin," said Michael Miscione, the official Manhattan borough historian. He calls this subject one of his favorites.
Lyons' attempted annexation failed not only officially but also in the realm of popular opinion.
"He was met with indifference and derision," Miscione said.
Today, that attitude's largely reversed itself.
"The ties with the Bronx are a lot stronger: the utilities, the fire service, the school districts are all Bronx-related," Miscione said.
That local resident added: "When you go to school, it's the Bronx. When you go to court, you go to Bronx court, so I don't really understand what the separation is."
A state law passed in the late-1980s made the separation official. And today, that law isolates marble hill from the borough to which it is physically attached while a canal physically isolates the neighborhood from the borough to which it is legally attached, perhaps leaving this community vulnerable to invasion once more.