Research 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
There 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
A 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
Show 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
The 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
In 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
This 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-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
The 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
New 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
On 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
An 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
Using 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
Scholars 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
Bells ringing from a forest of steeples, horseshoes striking cobblestones, boat whistles in the harbor, Yiddische mamas scolding children from tenement windows. These are instantly recognizable noises that evoke a historical time and place, adding up to what today’s historians sometimes call a “soundscape.”
In today’s cities when the most characteristic sound may be the giant crash of falling brick walls as old buildings are demolished, soundscapes are a precious way of experiencing history outdoors. This heritage is particularly relevant in urban settings where so many layers of the city have gone missing. Continue reading
The challenge of contact in the 17th century between the Dutch and the Iroquois was brought to life in the 21st century with a symbolic summer journey from western New York to the United Nations to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Two Row Wampum and its message.
That event was the subject of several posts on The New York History Blog. I wrote about the scholarly challenges posed by the Two Row Wampum; Naj Wikoff, an artist active in the Lake Placid region, also wrote about the the Two Row Wampum, acknowledging that there is not a written record of the treaty, nor does the physical object exist, but the oral tradition of the event is valid and its message remains relevant. Continue reading
On Saturday January 4, 2014 Crailo State Historic Site will welcome visitors for its annual Twelfth Night Celebration from 4:00 pm until 7:00 pm. Twelfth Night was one of the traditional holidays celebrated by the Dutch and English colonists of early New York. Twelfth Night was the final holiday of the season and was marked with unsurpassed feasting and revelry.
Featured during the event will be decorations, hearthside cooking demonstrations, seasonal music, seventeenth century reenactors, the Jolly Toy lady, and refreshments. In addition the Marketplace Museum Shop will be open, with a selection of unique items. Continue reading
Twenty years ago, Dana Carvey’s character, “Grumpy Old Man,” was a popular recurring feature of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update. He’d offer an assessment of current times compared to the so-called “good old days,” highlighting some barbaric practices of the past (exaggerated to great comedic effect) with the closing line, “And we liked it!”
I was reminded of that concept while perusing some shocking guidelines suggested in the early 1900s regarding the enjoyment of a safe Christmas season. Regional newspapers carried a list of suggestions for an enhanced experience … and I liked it! Continue reading
In cultural studies the cosmic center refers to the meeting point between the heavens and the earth at the center of the universe. It often is associated with a high place perhaps in nature like a mountain or human-built like a ziggurat.
For the United States of America, New York City is the cosmic center, the crossroads of the universe, ground zero. But as New York prepares to ignore the 350th anniversary of when it became New York, it’s also appropriate to remember that when New York began as New Amsterdam, no one thought of it as a city on a hill. There is a story to tell of how it turned out that way. Continue reading
Gravestones represent some of the most valuable evidence available to archaeologists currently working on the St. George’s/St. Mark’s Church site in Mount Kisco, New York. Once occupied by two Episcopal churches – St. George’s (1761–1819) and St. Mark’s (1850–1916) – the site is also the final resting place of over 400 people, all buried between the 1760s and 1940. The area where the churches once stood was excavated this fall. The artifacts and information they uncovered is now undergoing analysis, and the excavation is planned to resume in the spring.
As co-directors of the excavation, Laurie Kimsal and I have discovered just how essential gravestones are to our understanding of the site. To begin with, gravestones offer clues to the location and orientation of the 18th-century St. George’s Church. Secondly, the gravestones provide insights into the values and beliefs of the people who erected them, as well as the social, religious, and economic worlds of the 18th and 19th centuries. Continue reading