Tag Archives: Cultural History

Before The Twerk, There Was The Tango


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04iht-retrospective-tango-art-blog480About 100 years before some New Yorkers were shocked by the sexually-provocative twerk during the 2013 MTV Music Awards show on television, other New Yorkers were shocked by the tango.

After it first appeared in Paris, London, and Berlin from its starting place in Argentina, the tango soon came to New York where it became wildly popular in 1913. The tango’s rhythm has been described as “exciting and provocative” and the dance steps as “hot, passionate and precise.” Women often wore slit skirts when they danced the tango and there was full body contact with their partners, upwards from their upper thighs and pelvis. Routinely, the dancers’ hips were thrust forward and sometimes their legs were intertwined and hooked together. Continue reading

East Side Stories:
Plays About the History of the Lower East Side


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MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe OBIE Award winning Metropolitan Playhouse will present the fifth annual East Village Theater Festival, a three-week celebration of the life and lore of New York City’s East Village.

The festival features four different evenings of new plays and solo-performances, as well as the work of local artists, and a panel discussion on the neighborhood’s changing identity. Continue reading

Volunteers Sought For Lake George Excavation


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excavatingVolunteers are being sought to help excavate at Wiawaka Holiday House at the southern end of Lake George to help document the early years of the Holiday House by looking at the materials the visitors, staff, and organizers left behind. Wiawaka Holiday House was founded in 1903 to provide affordable vacations for the working women in the factories of Troy and Cohoes, New York. The work is being directed by Megan Springate, a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland working on her dissertation looking at the intersections of class and gender in the early twentieth century.

No previous archaeological experience is necessary. Participants will learn archaeological techniques hands-on at the site. All equipment will be provided. Accommodation and meals are available at Wiawaka Holiday House for a fee.* There is no charge to volunteer. Those without previous archaeological experience are asked to volunteer for three or more days. You must be 18 years of age or older. Excavation Dates: Monday to Friday, June 16 through July 11, 2014. Continue reading

New York City 1964: A Cultural History


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NYC 1964 Cultural HistoryLawrence R. Samuel’s New York City 1964: A Cultural History (McFarland, 2014), connects the events of a single year in the city to the cultural threads of American life in the 1960s and beyond.

Five seminal events occurred in New York City in the pivotal year 1964: the “British Invasion” arrival of the Beatles in February; the murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens in March; the World’s Fair in Queens between April and October; the “race riots” in Brooklyn and Harlem in July; and the World Series in the Bronx between the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals. Continue reading

Thomas Chambers to Speak About Battlefield History


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Memories of War Visiting Battlegrounds and Bonefields in the Early American RepublicOn Sunday, April 6, at 2pm, Saratoga National Historical Park hosts Dr. Thomas Chambers as he discusses his new book, Memories of War: Visiting Battlegrounds and Bonefields in the Early American Republic.

In this free program, Dr. Chambers addresses the progression of early American battlefields from places of conflict to places of tourism and remembrance. Fields and forests, once green and serene, became witness to great privation, suffering, tragedy, and triumph. After, they gave way to relative obscurity, falling back to quiet agricultural use, and sometimes passing into aging ruins. Yet in time, as better mobility and leisure time encouraged tourism, a growing romanticizing of the past breathed new life in these sites and called forth many people to experience their own connections with these bygone battlefields. Continue reading

Lake Placid Hockey History Lectures Planned


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hockey lecture 5The Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society has announced the third program of its 2014 “Odds and Ends” Winter Lecture Series on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 in the Legacy Room at the Lake Placid Convention Center. The lecture will begin at 7 p.m.

This program in the four-part series is titled, “A History of Hockey in Lake Placid” presented by Denny Allen, Butch Martin and Steve Reed. The Historical Society, the Olympic Museum and Northwood School will showcase a display of memorabilia. Continue reading

Madame Sherri: Early 20th Century NYC Show Business


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Madame SherryResearch projects sometimes take unexpected, but fascinating, twists and turns. I had reason a few years ago to look into the case of a woman called Madame Sherri. She is mostly known for an unusual castle-like house built for her in a rural area of New Hampshire–its ruins are now popular with hikers and lovers of the odd and mysterious.

My investigation dragged me far from New Hampshire–to the world of cabaret reviews in New York City, the vaudeville circuit, and “soldier shows” (popular during World War I, with Irving Berlin’s “Yip Yip Yaphank” being the most well-known). And, for good measure,  toss in a scandal involving sex and blackmail. Continue reading

Margaret Fuller:
Transcendentalist, Women’s Rights Advocate


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MF PhotoThere would be no Women’s History Month celebration without the life and work of the extraordinary Margaret Fuller. This founding member of the Transcendentalist Club with her friends and colleagues Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and A. Bronson Alcott, father of Louisa May Alcott, was treated as a social equal by these exceptional writers and thinkers. Her colleague Edgar Allan Poe, the only other outstanding literary critic in 1840s America, stated that there were three types of people: Men, Women, and Margaret Fuller. Elizabeth Cady Stanton attended Margaret’s “Conversations” for Women in Boston which allowed women for the first time the opportunity to express their opinions and thoughts in a public forum.

Who was this strong-willed and determined woman who aggressively pursued her dreams of integrating her feminine and masculine aspects of her psyche in the sacred marriage and insisted that men and women everywhere needed to embrace this for their well-being and happiness?  Continue reading

George Bryjak: The Cult of True Womanhood


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Cult of True WomanhoodA Protestant revival movement, the Second Great Awakening (SGA), began in the 1790s in this country and lasted until approximately 1850. Consequences of this movement that its millions of adherents could not imagine are evident today and will continue to shape gender relations.

Most historians consider the SGA a reaction against the prevailing Enlightenment values of rationalism, skepticism, and secularism that were paramount in the aftermath of the First Great Awakening that occurred between 1731 and 1755. Continue reading

Helen Redmond: Theater Star from Port Henry (Part 2)


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NRedmond 2A NYHShow biz can be heady stuff, and some things never change. Quirky stories and celebrities’ habits have long been the subject of great attention. Helen Redmond was certainly not immune to it, and as always, the attention was a press agent’s dream. Nothing is or was ever too silly for stars to indulge in.

In 1899, the latest fad was to walk one’s pet in public, using a harness (some even included a bit). In Helen’s case, the harnesses were “made of the finest silver chains, with tiny bells jingling at every movement.” She hired a boy to care for her three famous pets.

And why would any of that seem eccentric or excessive? Because the pets were turtles. Continue reading

Helen Redmond, Theater Star from Port Henry


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NRedmond 1A NYHThe Adirondacks have a rich history of mountain lore, guide stories, Great Camps, and Olympic glory. But our mountain history tends to overshadow elements of the past that can serve as great attractions for locals and tourists alike: fame and achievements by regional natives and residents in non-mountain endeavors. Among the dozens of examples: one of the most popular songs ever written was penned by a native of the North Creek-Wevertown area; and two world-champions―one a beloved cyclist, and the other among the greatest regional athletes ever―were both based in the Glens Falls area.

The unusual talents and accomplishments of locals is virtual gold for area museums, but so many of these stories are overlooked. Take for instance, Port Henry’s Helen Redmond. Though you’ve never heard of her, Helen’s talents were once celebrated from coast to coast. Continue reading

Chester Sanders Lord of the New York Sun (Part 2)


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1913 NY Times headlineIn 1905, more than 100 present and former staff members of The Sun celebrated Chester’s 25 years as managing editor. The New York Times reported, “Sun owner William M. Laffan … started a volley of cheering and applause by saying: ‘There was never a more valuable man in the newspaper business from my point of view than Mr. Lord.’ ”

He was beloved by those who worked with and for him, in part because of the atmosphere in the workplace. At The Sun, office politics was non-existent, and every section of the newspaper was considered equally important. Not so in the offices of Pulitzer and others, where internal competition was encouraged, leading to distrust and bad feelings among employees. Continue reading

How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America


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Supreme CityThis spring Simon & Schuster will publish Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America by Donald L. Miller, the John Henry MacCracken Professor of History at Lafayette College and author of several books about World War II. Miller also wrote the bestseller City of Century about Chicago, and his book Masters of the Air is currently in production with Spielberg and Hanks at HBO.

As its subtitle proclaims, the book examines how midtown Manhattan rose to become the nation and world’s capital of commerce and culture via mass communication – radio, film, music, printing – as well as architecture, spectator sports, and organized crime during the roaring 1920s. Continue reading

TRAIN: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World


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train-zom-zoellnerTRAIN: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World-from the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief (Viking, 2014) takes a global inventory of railroads while weaving a light history of this important mode of transportation and telling an entertaining story of an around-the-world rail journey by author Tom Zoellner.

From the birth of the locomotive in Cornwall, England, to traveling along the frozen trans-Siberian railroad with a past as dark as the arctic sky, and crisscrossing the antiquated yet magnificent Indian Railways, the world’s eighth largest employer, TRAIN examines the mechanics of these grandiose machines, and the impact on the societies through which they run. Continue reading

Peter Feinman: How Historians Can End The Civil War


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The Monument at Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park was dedicated October 23, 1912The Sesquicentennial for the Civil War honors a war which still rages on in America. An example of the ongoing nature of the war was seen in the dispute over a memorial to northern troops at Olustee, Florida, the site of the largest and bloodiest battlefield in the state.

The issue of a memorial to the northern troops who died there has been compared to the reopening of a 150-year-old wound. According to a report on the front page of the New York Times, John W. Adams, commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Florida division, said “Old grudges die hard. And feelings run deep.” Another person with ancestors who fought on both sides said, “There are some, apparently, who consider this to be a lengthy truce and believe the war is still going on.” Continue reading

Celebrate Black History Month in New York State


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museum_03_lgNew York State offers a special window into African American history and American culture. It was a center for 19th century anti-slavery organizations, and home to Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and many other Abolitionist and Underground Railroad leaders.

Nevertheless, anti-black discrimination remained an issue well into the 20th century, and the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) actually has its roots in the Niagara Movement, whose first meeting in 1905 took place on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls because members were turned away from hotels on the U.S. side. Continue reading

The Angola Horror:
The Train Wreck That Shocked the Nation


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Angola HorrorOn December 18, 1867, the Buffalo and Erie Railroad’s eastbound New York Express derailed as it approached the high truss bridge over Big Sister Creek, just east of the small settlement of Angola, New York, on the shores of Lake Erie.

In a dramatic historical narrative, Charity Vogel tells the gripping, true-to-life story of the wreck and the characters involved in the tragic accident in The Angola Horror: The 1867 Train Wreck That Shocked the Nation and Transformed American Railroads (Cornell University Press, 2013). Continue reading

Should We Still Teach Cursive Handwriting?


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01679vAn ad like the one in the January 21, 1869 issue of the Malone Palladium which announced the opening of a new writing school in Malone, NY, was not uncommon during the post-Civil War era.

According to the ad, Professor T.M. Tobin, a former teacher at the Vermont Business College in Burlington, was offering to teach “ladies and gentlemen the Spencerian system of penmanship.”

Students were expected to provide their own foolscap paper, “good” ink, and pens. Tobin’s ad stated that specimens of his penmanship could be seen at the post office and that he would award a gold pen to the student who showed the most improvement. His fee for twelve lessons in today’s money was about $35.00, payable in advance. Continue reading

Smugglers, Bootleggers and Scofflaws:
Prohibition and New York City


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Smugglers BootleggersUsing previously unstudied Coast Guard records from 1920 to 1933 for New York City and environs, Ellen NicKenzie Lawson’s Smugglers, Bootleggers, and Scofflaws: Prohibition and New York City (SUNY Press, 2013) examines the development of Rum Row and smuggling via the coasts of Long Island, the Long Island Sound, the Jersey shore, and along the Hudson and East Rivers.

With the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, “drying up” New York City promised to be the greatest triumph of the proponents of Prohibition. Instead, the city remained the nation’s greatest liquor market. Continue reading

New York History and the Birth of the Nation


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A portion of the 1768 Fort Stanwix Treaty line showing the boundary in New YorkScholars divide time into periods in an effort to make history comprehensible, but when to draw the diving line can be problematical and historians often disagree where one period ends and another begins.

For the birth of the nation, I am using the end of the colonial period, roughly from the French and Indian War to the end of the War of 1812. The colonial era for me was the time of the settlement of the 13 colonies which would become the United States. That process began in Jamestown and ended approximately 130 years later in Georgia. Up until then individual colonies, notably New York, Massachusetts / New England, and Virginia, dominate the curriculum, scholarship, and tourism, with only passing references to the Quakers in Pennsylvania and the Dutch in New York. Continue reading