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NYC Historic Districts Council Names ‘Six to Celebrate’


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The Historic Districts Council, New York’s city-wide advocate for historic buildings and neighborhoods, has announced the 2012 Six to Celebrate, an annual listing of historic New York City neighborhoods that merit preservation attention. This is New York’s only citywide list of preservation priorities.

The six neighborhoods were chosen from applications submitted by neighborhood groups around the city on the basis of the architectural and historic merit of the area, the level of threat to the neighborhood, strength and willingness of the local advocates, and where HDC’s citywide preservation perspective and assistance could be the most meaningful. Throughout 2012, HDC will work with these neighborhood partners to set and reach preservation goals through strategic planning, advocacy, outreach, programs and publicity.

“Neighborhoods throughout New York are fighting an unseen struggle to determine their own futures. By bringing these locally-driven neighborhood preservation efforts into the spotlight, HDC hopes to focus New Yorker’s attention on the very real threats that historic communities throughout the city are facing from indiscriminate and inappropriate development.” said Simeon Bankoff, HDC’s Executive Director. “As the only list of its kind in New York City, the Six to Celebrate will help raise awareness of local efforts to save neighborhoods on a citywide level.”

Founded in 1971 as a coalition of community groups from New York City’s designated historic districts, the Historic Districts Council has grown to become one of the foremost citywide voices for historic preservation. Serving a network of over 500 neighborhood-based community groups in all five boroughs, HDC strives to protect, preserve and enhance New York City’s historic buildings and neighborhoods through ongoing programs of advocacy, community development and education.

The Six to Celebrate will be formally introduced at the Six to Celebrate Launch Party on Wednesday, January 18, 2012, 5:30-7:30pm at the Bowery Poetry Club (308 Bowery at East First Street). For more information or tickets, visit www.hdc.org.

The 2012 Six to Celebrate (in alphabetical order):

Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

Elegant rowhouses, Victorian-era mansions and pre-war apartment buildings combine with parks, vibrant commercial streets and impressive institutional buildings to make Bay Ridge a quintessential New York City neighborhood. For more than 30 years, the Bay Ridge Conservancy has been working to preserve and enhance the built environment of this architecturally and ethnically diverse area.

Far Rockaway Beachside Bungalows, Queens

Once upon a summertime, Far Rockaway was the vacation spot for working-class New Yorkers. Although recent decades have erased much of this history, just off the Boardwalk on Beach 24th, 25th, and 26th Streets rows of beach bungalows built between 1918 and 1921 still stand. The Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association is seeking to preserve and revitalize this unique collection of approximately 100 buildings.

Morningside Heights, Manhattan

Situated between Riverside Park and Morningside Park, two scenic landmarks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and developed mainly between 1900 and 1915, Morningside Heights is characterized by architecturally-unified apartment buildings and row houses juxtaposed with major institutional groupings. The Morningside Heights Historic District Committee is working towards city designation of this elegant neighborhood.

Port Morris Gantries, The Bronx

In the South Bronx neighborhood of Port Morris, a pair of ferry gantries deteriorating in an empty lot may seem an eyesore to some, but the Friends of Brook Park sees them as the centerpiece to an engaging public space. Taking inspiration from other New York City waterside parks, this new park will combine recreation, education, and preservation of New York’s history for residents and visitors alike.

Van Cortlandt Village, The Bronx

Once the site of Revolutionary War-era Fort Independence, Van Cortlandt Village developed into a residential enclave in the 20th century. Built on a winding street plan designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, responding to the hills and views of the area, the neighborhood consists of small Neo-Colonial and Tudor revival homes and apartment buildings, including the Shalom Alecheim Houses, an early cooperative housing project. The Fort Independence Park Neighborhood Association is seeking to bring awareness to the neighborhood’s historic and architectural value as well as nominate it to the National Register of Historic Places.

Victorian Flatbush, Brooklyn

Located in the heart of Brooklyn, Victorian Flatbush is known for being the largest concentration of Victorian wood-frame homes in the country. The area presently has five New York City Historic Districts, but the blocks in between them remain undesignated and unprotected despite architecture of the same vintage and style. Six local groups representing Beverly Square East, Beverly Square West, Caton Park, Ditmas Park West, South Midwood and West Midwood have joined together with the Flatbush Development Corporation to “complete the quilt” of city designation of their neighborhoods.

Manhattan Grid System Focus of Exhibit


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The first comprehensive exhibition to trace one of the most defining achievements in New York City’s history—the vision, planning, and implementation of Manhattan’s iconic grid system—will be on view at the Museum of the City of New York from December 5, 2011, through April 15, 2012.

The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan for Manhattan, 1811—2011 will document the development of the “Commissioners’ Plan,” which in 1811 specified numbered streets and avenues outlining equal rectangular blocks ranging from (today’s) Houston Street to 155th Street and from First Avenue to Twelfth Avenue.

The exhibition, which is organized on the occasion of the bicentennial of the plan, will elucidate, through maps, photographs, and other historic documents, this monumental infrastructure project—the city’s first such civic endeavor—which transformed New York throughout the 19th century and laid the foundation for its distinctive character.

Some 225 artifacts will be on view in the exhibition, which is organized chronologically and geographically, leading visitors from 17th-century, pre-grid New York through the planning process and the explicit 1811 Commissioners’ Plan, and from the massive and elaborate implementation of the plan to contemporary reflections on New York and visions for its future.

“The 1811 grid was a bold expression of optimism and ambition,” Susan Henshaw Jones, the Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum said. “City commissioners anticipated New York’s propulsive growth and projected that the city—still relatively small at the time and concentrated in what is now Lower Manhattan and Greenwich Village—would extend to the heights of Harlem. The 1811 plan has demonstrated remarkable longevity as well as the flexibility to adapt to two centuries of unforeseeable change, including modifications such as Broadway and Central Park. The real miracle of the plan was that it was enforced.”

The exhibition will showcase the illustrious—most notably, John Randel, Jr., who measured the grid with obsessive care. Randel was an apprentice to Simeon DeWitt, the surveyor general of New York State from 1784 to 1834. Between 1808 and 1810 Randel measured the lines of streets and avenues at right angles to each other, and recorded distances and details about the island, its features, and its inhabitants. This resulted in a manuscript map of the grid plan, which he completed by March 1811. Randel continued surveying the island from 1811 to 1817, setting marble monuments (one of which will be on view in the exhibition; there were to have been 1,800) to mark the intersections of the coming grid. Between 1818 and 1820 Randel drafted a series of 91 large-scale maps of the island, now known as the Randel Farm Maps (ten of which will be on view). An article written in the 1850s cited Randel as “one of our most accurate engineers,” further stating that his survey of New York City was done “with such a mathematical exactness as to defy an error of half an inch in ten miles.”

The commissioners’ detailed notes about the grid will also be on view in the exhibition, explaining the plan and expressing their intent to “lay out streets, roads, and public squares, of such width, extent, and direction, as to them shall seem most conducive to public good…” (From “An Act relative to Improvements, touching the laying out of Streets and roads in the City of New-York, and for other purposes. Passed April 3, 1807.” )

Other colorful figures will be highlighted, including William M. “Boss” Tweed, who implemented high-quality improvements, advanced services, and pushed forward many amenities while at the same time benefitting his associates.

Other rare and exquisitely detailed maps dating from 1776 to the present will be on view, alongside stunning archival photographs portraying the island of Manhattan throughout various stages of excavation. An extraordinary street-by-street explanation of the plan in the words of the commissioners—Gouverneur Morris, Simeon De Witt, and John Rutherfurd—will be on view as will other historic documents, plans, prints, and more.

The merits of the grid will be debated. Historians have viewed it as the emblem of democracy, with blocks that are equal and no inherently privileged sites. Historians have also praised its utility, its neat subdivisions that support real estate development. The rectangular lots of Manhattan’s grid parallel Thomas Jefferson’s national survey, which organized land sales in square-mile townships. The grid manifests Cartesian ideals of order, with streets and avenues that are numbered rather than named for trees, people, or places. Frederick Law Olmsted bemoaned its dumb utility and lack of monuments and other features. Jane Jacobs credited city streets with creating New York’s public realm. And Rem Koolhaas called the grid “the most courageous act of prediction in Western civilization: the land it divides, unoccupied; the population it describes, conjectural; the buildings it locates, phantoms; the activities it frames, nonexistent.”

The Greatest Grid will reframe ideas about New York, revealing the plan to be much more than a layout of streets and avenues. The grid provided a framework that balanced public order with private initiative. It predetermined the placement of the city’s infrastructure, including transportation services, the delivery of electricity and water, and most other interactions. Manhattan’s grid has provided a remarkably flexible framework for growth and change.

Visitors will have the opportunity to consider New York’s preparation for the future and whether or not the grid will enable the city to face 21st-century challenges. New proposals for the city, the results of a competition, will be on view in a separate, related exhibition co-sponsored by the Architectural League. The Greatest Grid will also feature “12 x 155,” a conceptual art video by artist Neil Goldberg along with other artistic responses, such as original drawings from the graphic novel City of Glass (Picador, 2004) by Paul Auster, illustrated by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli

The Greatest Grid is co-sponsored by the Manhattan Borough President’s Office.

The exhibition is accompanied by a companion book of the same title, co-published by the Museum of the City of New York and Columbia University Press. Dr. Hilary Ballon, University Professor of Urban Studies & Architecture at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, conceived of the exhibition, is its curator, and is the editor of the companion book.

A related exhibition, on view concurrently at the Museum, will feature the results of a competition in which architects and planners were asked for submissions using the Manhattan street grid as a catalyst for thinking about the present and future of New York; this exhibition is co-sponsored by the Architectural League of New York.

New-York Historical Society to Reopen


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The New-York Historical Society will re-open its landmark building to the public at 11:00 a.m. on Veterans’ Day, Friday, November 11, 2011. A three-year, $65 million renovation of the Central Park West building has sensitively but thoroughly transformed the face of the institution — the first museum established in New York.

The Historical Society will remain open on November 11 until 11:00 p.m., offering free admission during that day to veterans and active service members and to children under 13, and free admission for all visitors after 6:00 p.m.

Entering the Historical Society, renovated by the firm of Platt Byard Dovell White Architects, visitors will encounter:

* an admissions area incorporating the ceiling from Keith Haring’s original “Pop Shop,” donated to the Historical Society by the Keith Haring Foundation

* a multi-media installation in the reconfigured Great Hall where the new Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History introduces major themes of American history through stories and figures from New York’s past; to include a selection of objects from the Historical Society’s collection

* a new facility, the DiMenna Children’s History Museum and the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, designed especially to engage young visitors as History Detectives exploring the richness and wonder of America’s past

* the first major special history exhibition in the renovated building, Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn, an exploration of the interconnections among the American, French and Haitian revolutions

* an art exhibition drawn from works in the Historical Society’s collection: Making American Taste: Narrative Art for a New Democracy offers for the first time an in-depth look at the 19th-century paintings and sculpture collected by the New Yorkers who founded and built the Historical Society

* an Italian-themed dining facility operated by the Starr Restaurants group, offering a light menu throughout the day and full restaurant service at night

“I believe 11-11-11 – November 11th, 2011 – will be marked as the most important date for our Society since its founding 207 years ago,” stated Roger Hertog, Chairman of the Board of the New-York Historical Society in a prepared statement to the press.

“The world has long known that the New-York Historical Society holds unmatched collections in its museum and library,” stated Louise Mirrer, President and CEO. “More recently, people have also begun to know us for our vibrant special exhibitions, which bring complex historical themes to life. But we have never before opened ourselves up to the public with such light and transparency, or provided the kind of immediate access to our objects and ideas that we will offer when we re-open in November. It’s as if, at entry level, we are going from being a beautiful treasure house to a great showplace of the American experience.’”

Renovating a Landmark

On the exterior, the renovation project creates a wider main staircase and expanded main entrance on Central Park West; better sightlines into the building from the street; a redesigned 77th Street entrance with improved accessibility for school groups and visitors with disabilities, and illumination to highlight the architectural features at night.

Inside the building, the project creates the Historical Society’s first new gallery on the ground floor, the 3,400-square-foot Great Hall; renovates and improves the adjacent Robert H. Smith Auditorium; provides for the new restaurant, renovated Museum Store and Rotunda on the 77th Street side; and establishes the DiMenna Children’s History Museum and the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, designed separately by Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership.

The building was designed and constructed in 1903-08 by York and Sawyer, a firm established by architects who had trained with McKim, Mead and White. York and Sawyer was also responsible for projects including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Bowery Savings Bank, New York Athletic Club and several of the buildings at Vassar College. In 1938, two new wings were completed at the Historical Society, designed by Walker and Gillette. The current renovation is the most ambitious construction project at the Historical Society since that 1938 expansion.

To increase the street presence gained through the renovation and heighten the building’s identity as a cultural destination, the Historical Society will install bronze statues of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass at the east and north stairways. The statues are fabricated by Studio EIS.

Creating the Great Hall Exhibition

For the first time, visitors coming into the Historical Society from Central Park West will immediately see into the heart of the building, thanks to a reconfiguration of the entrance space and the opening of a vista to the interior through a broad wall of glass. Visible at once through the glass will be the Great Hall— redesigned to house the Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History. The Gallery is the first permanent installation at the Historical Society to illustrate the themes addressed by the institution, provide an overview of the priceless collection and orient visitors to the experiences they may encounter.

The principal components of the Great Hall exhibition will be:

Liberty/Liberté

Created by the New York-based artist Fred Wilson (who represented the United States at the 2003 Venice Biennale), this sculptural installation takes objects from the Historical Society’s collection and arranges them into a complex and engaging environment, where the possible meanings of the artifacts seem to shift as the visitor walks through the space. Originally conceived for the Historical Society’s 2006 exhibition Legacies: Contemporary Artists Reflect on Slavery, the work incorporates items ranging from a section of wrought iron balustrade from the original Federal Hall, where George Washington took the oath of office as President, to slave shackles and an anonymous tobacco shop figurine of an African American man.

Through the Lens of New York

A dozen large-scale, high-definition digital screens affixed to the columns in the Great Hall will present a continuous, thematic slideshow of hundreds of treasures from the Historical Society’s collections. On the other side of the columns, touch-screen stations will allow visitors to investigate large themes that represent points of intersection between the histories of New York City and the United States: slavery, capitalism and commerce, toleration for dissent, immigration and diversity, expansion and westward movement, and the development of America’s low and high culture.

Monumental Treasures

A ten-foot-high display case beyond the columns will showcase large-scale maps, architectural drawings, documents and other works on paper, which previously could not be exhibited because of their size and light sensitivity. In its first version, this changing installation will include the 8-foot-square Popple map (1733) of British possessions in North America, flanked by the Montresor map of New York City (1776) and the Battle of Long Island Map (August 27, 1776).

Founding New Yorkers

The centerpiece of the Great Hall will be an installation about New York’s critical role in United States history during the early Federal period, from around 1776 through 1804, the year of the Historical Society’s founding. A contemporary reinterpretation of a nineteenth-century salon-style art installation, the wall will feature a dense hanging of paintings, documents, artifacts and video monitors, divided into five sections: The American Revolution in New York; Mercantile New York City, Coffee House Culture and the Expansion of Urban Space; The Inauguration of George Washington and New York City as the First Capital; The Hamilton-Burr Duel and the Political and Banking System; and The Founding of the New-York Historical Society and the Forging of an American Culture. A dynamic concept developed by the David Small Design Firm (Cambridge, MA) will allow visitors to learn about the web of relationships among the events, ideas and people depicted on the wall by using touch-screen monitors only a few feet from the objects themselves.

Here is New York

Facing Founding New Yorkers will be Here is New York, a display of approximately 1,500 photographs taken by the people of New York City on September 11, 2001, and immediately afterward. These images by 790 contributors were first collected in an almost impromptu exhibition in SoHo soon after 9/11. Accompanying the photography installation will be a large fragment of a fire truck destroyed during the 9/11 attack.

The Dying Chief Contemplating the Progress of Civilization

At the opposite end of the Great Hall from Founding New Yorkers and Here is New York will be an installation of Thomas Crawford’s sculpture The Dying Chief Contemplating the Progress of Civilization (ca. 1856). A version of this important work is installed in the sculptural pediment over the U.S. Capitol’s east front.

History Manholes and History At Your Feet: Floor Cases of Urban Archaeology

In 1918, the New-York Historical Society founded the Field Exploration Committee, headed by the amateur archaeologists William Calver and Reginald P. Bolton, to explore and document historic sites in New York City and State and to recover and catalogue their artifacts. This work made the Historical Society a pioneer in the field of urban archaeology years before it became a professional discipline. Twelve manhole-like, circular exhibition cases, installed flush to the floor, will be dispersed throughout the Great Hall, showcasing relics such as arrowheads, military buttons, a colossal oyster shell excavated at an extant nineteenth-century tavern and a clock from the World Trade Center debris. The manholes will be part of a lively history-themed, educational scavenger hunt for visitors called, “History At Your Feet.” Through these objects, visitors of all ages will be introduced to the notion that history is all around us, even underfoot, in the modern city.

Keith Haring’s “Pop Shop” Ceiling Fragment

The ceiling over the admissions desk will be adorned with a fragment from Keith Haring’s “Pop Shop,” a store in the SoHo area of lower Manhattan that sold the artist’s graffiti-inspired t-shirts and souvenirs until after his death in 1990.

Bringing History to Life for Children

Located in a 4,000-square-foot vaulted space on the building’s lower level is the new DiMenna Children’s History Museum and the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, both designed to engage families.

The DiMenna Children’s History Museum, designed by Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership, invites children to become History Detectives, learning about the past through the use of historical artifacts and replicas, illustrations and interactive elements. The core of the experience is a series of three-dimensional pavilions, where children can identify with figures whose enterprise and creativity changed the course of our history. These biographical pavilions will introduce children to:

o Cornelia van Varick (ca. 1692-1733), daughter of Margrieta Van Varick, textile merchant in 17th century New York

o Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), the orphaned immigrant from the West Indies who became a Founder of the United States

o James McCune Smith (1813-65), the son of an enslaved woman who became the country’s first university-trained African American physician;

o Esteban Bellán (1850-1932), a Cuban youngster who became the first Latino to play professional baseball in the United States

o an Orphan Train girl (ca. 1890), one of the many New York City children transported by the Children’s Aid Society to new homes in the Midwest; and

o a New York “newsie” (ca. 1890), one of the children who eked out a living selling newspapers on the street

In other interactive experiences, young visitors will be able to go to the polls at the Cast Your Vote pavilion; deliver a presidential address at the First President kiosk, featuring a representation of Federal Hall; use the Historical Viewfinder display to see how selected sites in New York City have changed over time; and add their voices to the Children’s History Museum at the installation You Are An American Dreamer, Too.

At the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, young visitors and their families will find an area to sit and read children’s books, and to use interactive displays to explore rare books, manuscripts and maps from the Historical Society’s collection. Surrounding these interactive elements will be artifacts related to the volumes on display.

The development of Children’s History Museum and Library educational materials is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Tracing the Course of Revolution

The New-York Historical Society was born in 1804 in the aftermath of revolutions—in America, France and Haiti—that reverberated like rolling thunder back and forth across the Atlantic, with consequences that are still felt today. To mark its re-opening in 2011, the Historical Society will present Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn, the first exhibition to relate the American, French and Haitian struggles as a single global narrative.

Spanning decades of enormous political and cultural changes, from the triumph of British imperial power in 1763 to the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, Revolution! traces how an ideal of popular sovereignty, introduced through the American fight for independence, soon sparked more radical calls for a recognition of universal human rights, and set off attacks on both sides of the Atlantic against hereditary privilege and slavery. Among the astonishing, unforeseen outcomes was an insurrection on the French possession of Saint-Domingue, leading to the world’s only successful slave revolt and the establishment in 1804 of the first nation founded on the principles of full freedom and equality for all, regardless of color.

Richard Rabinowitz, founder and president of American History Workshop, serves as chief exhibition curator. Thomas Bender of New York University and Laurent Dubois of Duke University have served as the co-chief historians for Revolution!, drawing on the scholarship of an advisory committee of distinguished historians and specialists.

Following its presentation at the New-York Historical Society (November 11, 2011 – April 15, 2012), Revolution! will travel to venues in the U.K., France, and elsewhere in the United States. Educational materials and programs will be distributed internationally, including in Haiti.

John Jay’s Manhattan Historic Walking Tour


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John Jay’s Manhattan, an historic walking tour sponsored by John Jay Homestead State Historic Site, will take place Saturday, October 15. Participants will meet in lower Manhattan, and step off promptly at 10:00 a.m., rain or shine. The cost of participation is $20.00 per person; members of the Friends of John Jay Homestead can participate for $15.00.

Founding Father John Jay, America’s first Chief Justice, was born and educated in New York City, and spent much of his life there. The walking tour will trace his haunts, visiting the locations of the places where he lived and worked as one of New York’s leading lawyers and politicians, as well as U.S. Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Chief Justice of the United States, and Governor of New York. The tour will recall the time when New York was the capitol city of a young republic, and present a reminder of how the geography and architecture of Manhattan Island have changed since the arrival of the first European settlers in the 17th century.

The walk will cover approximately 1¾ miles and take about two hours, proceeding at a leisurely pace over mostly level terrain. Comfortable footwear is highly recommended. The tour will both begin and end in lower Manhattan, convenient to several subway lines. Attendance is limited, and advance registration is required; payment is due in advance, and is non-refundable. To reserve your place and learn the tour’s initial gathering place, call John Jay Homestead at (914) 232-5651, extension 100.

John Jay Homestead State Historic Site is located at 400 Route 22, Katonah, N.Y. It is regularly open for guided tours Sunday through Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and at other times by appointment.

John Jay’s Manhattan Historic Walking Tour


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John Jay’s Manhattan, an historic walking tour sponsored by John Jay Homestead State Historic Site, will take place Saturday, May 21. Participants will meet in lower Manhattan, and step off promptly at 10:00 a.m., rain or shine. The cost of participation is $20.00 per person; members of the Friends of John Jay Homestead can participate for $15.00.

Founding Father John Jay, America’s first Chief Justice, was born and educated in New York City, and spent much of his life there. The walking tour will trace his haunts, visiting the locations of the places where he lived and worked as one of New York’s leading lawyers and politicians, as well as U.S. Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Chief Justice of the United States, and Governor of New York. The tour will recall the time when New York was the capitol city of a young republic, and present a reminder of how the geography and architecture of Manhattan Island have changed since the arrival of the first European settlers in the 17th century.

The walk will cover approximately 1¾ miles and take about two hours, proceeding at a leisurely pace over mostly level terrain. Comfortable footwear is highly recommended. The tour will both begin and end in lower Manhattan, convenient to several subway lines. Attendance is limited, and advance registration is required; payment is due in advance, and is non-refundable. To reserve your place and learn the tour’s initial gathering place, call John Jay Homestead at (914) 232-5651, extension 100.

John Jay Homestead State Historic Site is located at 400 Route 22, Katonah, N.Y. It is regularly open for guided tours Sunday through Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and at other times by appointment.

Illustration: Portrait of John Jay painted by Gilbert Stuart.

Books: 19th Century Murder Mystery


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Story ideas are the stuff of legend, and the idea for Ellen Horan’s debut novel 31 Bond Street came from a long forgotten mid-19th century Manhattan murder mystery.

31 Bond Street transports readers back to New York City in 1857, to a gripping murder case known as the ‘Bond Street Murder.’ Horan discovered a yellowed newspaper page in a print shop and her research soon uncovered one of the most sensational trials of the century, occupying front pages as the nation grappled with the perils of the impending Civil War.

The story begins during on a blustery January morning when a wealthy dentist, Dr. Harvey Burdell, is found brutally murdered in his sumptuous townhouse at 31 Bond Street in Manhattan. An attractive widow, Emma Cunningham, becomes the prime suspect. Emma Cunningham’s fate is placed in the hands of two lawyers: the idealistic defense attorney, Henry Clinton, and the District Attorney, Abraham Oakey Hall, who aspires to be mayor.

With Cunningham’s life on the line, Clinton applies the new science of forensic analysis in an attempt to spare her from the gallows. The murder case uncovers tensions and rifts in the upstairs-downstairs world of 31 Bond Street, as well the city at large. As a woman seeking security for herself and her daughters through marriage, Emma Cunningham made the fatal mistake of placing her trust in the unscrupulous Dr. Burdell, whose world included financiers who plot for land and power, corrupt politicians, a conspiracy of slavers and a courageous black carriage driver who has witnessed too much.

Incorporating historical material from trial testimony and newspaper accounts, Horan expertly researched 31 Bond Street and filled it with authentic details of life in New York City, great and small: the hoops and whalebone stays under a velvet gown, the lacing of cherry trees lining Washington Square, walnut catsup at Astor House, Lenape Indians in Hudson River Park.

The new paperback’s PS section includes an interview with author, the story behind the book, and more.

Ellen Horan has worked as a studio artist and as a photo editor for magazines and books in New York City. She lives in downtown Manhattan, the setting of her first novel. Her website is http://www.31bondstreet.com/.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Historic Districts Council’s NYC Preservation Priorities


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The Historic Districts Council, New York’s city-wide advocate for historic buildings and neighborhoods, has announced it’s first Six to Celebrate, a list of historic New York City neighborhoods that merit preservation attention. This is New York’s only citywide list of preservation priorities.

The Six were chosen from applications submitted by neighborhood groups around the city on the basis of the architectural and historic merit of the area; the level of threat to the neighborhood; strength and willingness of the local advocates, and where HDC’s citywide preservation perspective and assistance could be the most meaningful. Throughout 2011, HDC will work with these neighborhood partners to set and reach preservation goals through strategic planning, advocacy, outreach, programs and publicity.

“Neighborhoods throughout New York are fighting an unseen struggle to determine their own futures. By bringing these locally-driven neighborhood preservation efforts into the spotlight, HDC hopes to focus New Yorker’s attention on the very real threats that historic communities throughout the city are facing from indiscriminate and inappropriate development.” said Simeon Bankoff, HDC’s Executive Director. “As the first list of its kind in New York, the Six to Celebrate will help raise awareness of local efforts to save neighborhoods on a citywide level.”

Founded in 1971 as a coalition of community groups from New York City’s designated historic districts, the Historic Districts Council has grown to become one of the foremost citywide voices for historic preservation. Serving a network of over 500 neighborhood-based community groups in all five boroughs, HDC strives to protect, preserve and enhance New York City’s historic buildings and neighborhoods through ongoing programs of advocacy, community development and education.

The 2011 Six to Celebrate (in alphabetical order):

Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
The Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood contains an astonishing number of architecturally, historically and culturally significant structures, including rowhouses, mansions, religious buildings, and schools dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although there are currently two designated historic districts in the area, the vast majority of Bedford Stuyvesant’s architectural splendor is unprotected. The recently-formed Bedford Stuyvesant Society for Historic Preservation, a coalition of concerned neighborhood block associations, and the landmarks committee of Brooklyn Community Board 3 are working to correct that.

The Bowery, Manhattan
One of Manhattan’s oldest thoroughfares, the Bowery, stretching from Cooper Square to Canal Street, has a fascinatingly rich history which has left an equally rich built environment. From a fashionable shopping and residential neighborhood at the end of the 18th century, to bustling center of drygoods, hardware and other specialty stores, to an entertainment mecca and later the notorious “skid row” in the 20th century, the Bowery was always a part of the city’s culture, for better or for worse. In recent years,, the mix of historic structures along the street has been extremely threatened by high-rise hotel development. The Bowery Alliance of Neighbors was formed to help save the remaining historic buildings on the Bowery and to celebrate the avenue’s interesting and important history.

Gowanus, Brooklyn
The Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus nominated the neighborhood surrounding the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. This unique area retains its largely industrial character, with some of the businesses dating back more than 75 years. In recent years, plans for the canal have conflicted with the existing character of the neighborhood and some significant industrial structures have been demolished for out-of-scale, speculative development. However, with the canal’s recent designation as a federal Superfund site, there is now an opportunity to successfully advocate for the preservation of the industrial character of the area and retention of significant structures associated with this history.

Inwood, Manhattan
Inwood, at the very northern tip of Manhattan, combines striking geography of hills and views with notable architecture that includes art-deco apartment building, Tudor Revival houses, and unique elements such as the 215th Street Steps, the Seaman-Drake Arch and the historic Isham Park. Despite this, very little of the neighborhood’s historic buildings are protected or even official acknowledged. The Volunteers for Isham Park is working to identify and protect the neighborhood’s landmarks.

Jackson Heights, Queens
Jackson Heights is New York City’s first planned neighborhood of “garden apartments” and “garden homes”. These airy, light-filled residences, combined with commercial, institutional and recreational buildings, provided an attractive environment for middle-class families to live when it was developed in the early 20th century, and it still does today. The Jackson Heights Beautification Group, established in 1988, is seeking to extend the boundaries of the existing Jackson Heights Historic District, landmarked in 1993, to better reflect and protect the actual historic neighborhood.

Mount Morris Park, Manhattan
The residential area adjacent surrounding Mount Morris Park in Harlem includes elegant rowhouses and larger apartment buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Romanesque Revival, neo-Grec and Queen Anne styles. The longtime civic group, the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association, is seeking to expand the boundaries of the current city-landmarked Historic District, which does not adequately represent the elegant architect of this Harlem neighborhood.

A Livingston Family Secret: Arsenic and Clam Chowder


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Arsenic and Clam Chowder recounts the sensational 1896 murder trial of Mary Alice Livingston, a member of one of the most prestigious families in New York, who was accused of murdering her own mother, Evelina Bliss.

The bizarre instrument of death, an arsenic-laced pail of clam chowder, had been delivered to the victim by her ten-year-old granddaughter, and Livingston was arrested in her mourning clothes immediately after attending her mother’s funeral.

In addition to being the mother of four out-of-wedlock children, the last born in prison while she was awaiting trial, Livingston faced the possibility of being the first woman to be executed in New York’s new-fangled electric chair, and all these lurid details made her arrest and trial the central focus of an all-out circulation war then underway between Joseph Pulitzer’s World and William Randolph Hearst’s Journal.

The story is set against the electric backdrop of Gilded Age Manhattan. The arrival of skyscrapers, automobiles, motion pictures, and other modern marvels in the 1890s was transforming urban life with breathtaking speed, just as the battles of reformers against vice, police corruption, and Tammany Hall were transforming the city’s political life.

The aspiring politician Teddy Roosevelt, the prolific inventor Thomas Edison, bon vivant Diamond Jim Brady, and his companion Lillian Russell were among Gotham’s larger-than-life personalities, and they all played cameo roles in the dramatic story of Mary Alice Livingston and her arsenic-laced clam chowder.

In addition to telling a ripping good story, the book addresses a number of social and legal issues, among them capital punishment, equal rights for women, societal sexual standards, inheritance laws in regard to murder, gender bias of juries, and the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

NY Historical Society SeeksTimes Square Photos


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The New-York Historical Society is soliciting digital photographs of contemporary Times Square from West 42nd to 47th Streets at Broadway or Seventh Avenue. Photographers are encouraged to share their perspective on historic Times Square in New York City by submitting photos taken between November 21, 2010 to March 31, 2011

Photographers should look to capture exterior architecture, outdoor portraits, group snapshots, billboards and advertisements and interior images of notable area buildings. Everyone, from serious amateur photographers to tourists are invited to submit photographs.

Photograph submissions should be sent to photos@nyhistory.org in either GIF, JPG, or PNG format, and be at least 1,200 x 1,500 pixels *or 8” by 10”. Include the photographer’s name so work can be attributed. Complete submission guidelines are online.

Photo: Times Square, 1922.

New Guide: Chronicles of Old New York


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It’s been said that the history of New York City is written in its streets. A new Museyon Guide, Chronicles of Old New York: Exploring Manhattan’s Landmark Neighborhoods by third generation New Yorker James Roman (who can be found on re-runs of HBO’s Six Feet Under), provides an opportunity to really discover the 400 years of the city’s history. Illuminating those streets through the true stories of the visionaries, risk-takers, dreamers, and schemers who built Manhattan is the strength of this unusual guide.

With eight historical walking tours, illustrated with Chronicles of Old New York is enjoyable for history buffs, city residents, occasional visitors, or tourists. The guide includes detailed maps and full-color photographs, 25 meticulously researched articles on dramatic stories from New York history including episodes from the lives of John Jacob Astor, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Stanford White, Gertrude Whitney, Donald Trump, and more. Sidebars on taverns, townhouses, architecture, and neighborhoods, a detailed timeline of historical events, and walking tours of nine historic New York neighborhoods tat include include detailed maps and subway directions make this guide handy.

Chronicles of Old New York includes nearly 60 historical maps, over 100 photographs and illustrations from the collections of the New York Public Library, the New-York Historic Society, New York University Archive, the Smithsonian Institute Portrait Collection, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and the Museum of the City of New York.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Great Crash of 1929 Anniversary Walking Tour


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The Great Crash of 1929 will be the subject of the Museum of American Finance‘s 22nd annual guided walking tour of Lower Manhattan on October 30, 2010, 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM. This unique walking tour, which is the only regularly scheduled event that commemorates the Great Crash of 1929, the Panic of 1907 and the 1987 stock market collapse, delves into the political, financial, real estate and architectural history of Wall Street and New York City.

The tour shows that despite such adversities as the Great Fires of 1776 and 1835, financial panics of the 19th century, the 1920 Wall Street explosion, the Crash of 1929, the stock market collapse of 1987, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack and the financial crisis of 2008, New York and Wall Street have always recovered their position as the world’s financial capital.

Tour meets at the Museum of American Finance and costs $15 per person. For information and reservations please contact Lindsay Seeger at 212-908-4110 or lseeger@moaf.org.

Exhibition: The Ground Beneath Our Feet


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On the occasion of The Grinnell’s 100th birthday, members of the Grinnell Centennial Planning Team have mounted an exhibition of more than 50 photos, prints, maps, and documents that tell the story of the half-acre triangle of land numbered 800 Riverside Drive, from the Native American Lenape people who inhabited northern Manhattan when Dutch settlers arrived in the early 17th Century through The Grinnell’s co-oping in the late 20th Century. The exhibition explores the individuals who have owned this unique half-acre during the last three centuries, and examines the political and economic events that inserted a triangle in the midst of the rectangular grid pattern that dominates New York’s street plan.

A slide presentation accompanying the exhibition highlights newsmakers who have lived at The Grinnell during its hundred year history, including operetta prima donna Christie MacDonald (a favorite of Victor Herbert who wrote “Sweethearts” for her); actress, playwright, and novelist Alice Childress; architect Max Bond; artist Ademola Olugebefola; Lucy McDannel, the first woman to graduate Yale Law School; and Catherine Phelan, a housekeeper who earned The Grinnell unwanted national publicity in 1934 when she murdered her employer Douglas Sheridan in his Grinnell apartment.

“The Ground Beneath Our Feet” is open to the public free of charge. There are three dates left:

Sunday, October 10th: 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Tuesday, October 12th: 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Sunday, October 17th: 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Photo: The Grinnell in 1950 when it appeared on the cover of Grace Magazine. At the time, the evangelist Sweet Daddy Grace owned 800 Riverside Drive.

John James Audubon’s 225th Birthday Event


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John James Audubon’s 225th Birthday will be commemorated on Saturday, April 24th 2010 at 4PM in the Riverside Oval (156th Street at Riverside Drive, NYC), a few steps from the site of the naturalist’s final home in northern Manhattan.

In May 1842, Audubon moved his family to a fourteen-acre farm in northern Manhattan, a large triangular plot resting on present-day 155th Street, stretching from Amsterdam Avenue to the Hudson River, and including the land surrounding the Riverside Oval, the site of one of the Audubon barns. 765 Riverside Drive, adjacent to the Oval marks the site of Audubon’s house (pictured here).

Audubon called his farm Minnie’s Land, but after his death, his sons and wife renamed it Audubon Park, selling large portions of their land to wealthy New Yorkers who inhabited villas under the forest trees, laying out their gardens and drives where Audubon once had enclosures for both wild and domesticated animals. Audubon Park was a name familiar to New Yorkers from the mid 1850s until about 1910 when developers, capitalizing on the newly-opened subway with a stop at 157th Street, purchased large portions of the land and erected the magnificent Beaux Arts apartment houses that exist in the area today. In 2009, Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the blocks between 156th and 158th Streets west of Broadway the Audubon Park Historic District.

The event is being sponsored by the Riverside Oval Association, a not-for-profit neighborhood organization, plants and maintains green spaces in the Audubon Park Historic District, presents musical events, and sponsors oral history evenings at neighborhood buildings. Audubon’s 225th Birthday Celebration will kick off the 2010 gardening season and give residents in the neighborhood an opportunity to meet Oval Association members and become involved in the Association’s activities.

In the event of rain, the celebration will take place in the community room at the Grinnell, 800 Riverside Drive.

Books: Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville


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Cultural historian and journalist David Freeland has published his latest book,Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville: Excavating Manhattan’s Lost Places of Leisure, a rediscovery of the historic remnants of New York City’s leisure culture, including bier gartens in the Bowery, music publishers on Tin Pan Alley, jazz clubs in Harlem, and other locations throughout the city that remain partially intact, but obscured by the city’s development.

From the lights that never go out on Broadway to its 24-hour subway system, New York City isn’t called “the city that never sleeps” for nothing. Both native New Yorkers and tourists have played hard in Gotham for centuries, lindy hopping in 1930s Harlem, voguing in 1980s Chelsea, and refueling at all-night diners and bars. The island is packed with places of leisure and entertainment, but Manhattan’s infamously fast pace of change means that many of these beautifully constructed and incredibly ornate buildings have disappeared, and with them a rich and ribald history.

David Freeland serves as a guide to uncover the skeletons of New York’s lost monuments to its nightlife. With an eye for architectural detail, Freeland opens doors, climbs onto rooftops, and gazes down alleyways to reveal several of the remaining hidden gems of Manhattan’s nineteenth- and twentieth-century entertainment industry.

From the lights that never go out on Broadway to its 24-hour subway system, New York City isn’t called “the city that never sleeps” for nothing. Both native New Yorkers and tourists have played hard in Gotham for centuries, lindy hopping in 1930s Harlem, voguing in 1980s Chelsea, and refueling at all-night diners and bars. The slim island at the mouth of the Hudson River is packed with places of leisure and entertainment, but Manhattan’s infamously fast pace of change means that many of these beautifully constructed and incredibly ornate buildings have disappeared, and with them a rich and ribald history.

Yet with David Freeland as a guide, it’s possible to uncover skeletons of New York’s lost monuments to its nightlife. With a keen eye for architectural detail, Freeland opens doors, climbs onto rooftops, and gazes down alleyways to reveal several of the remaining hidden gems of Manhattan’s nineteenth- and twentieth-century entertainment industry.

From the Atlantic Garden German beer hall in present-day Chinatown to the city’s first motion picture studio—Union Square’s American Mutoscope and Biograph Company—to the Lincoln Theater in Harlem, Freeland situates each building within its historical and social context, bringing to life an old New York that took its diversions seriously.

Freeland reminds us that the buildings that serve as architectural guideposts to yesteryear’s recreations cannot be re-created—once destroyed they are gone forever. With condominiums and big box stores spreading over city blocks like wildfires, more and more of the Big Apple’s legendary houses of mirth are being lost.

The New Amsterdam Trail, Free Downloadable Audio Tour


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The Dutch and the indelible role they played in the formation of the ideas and ideals that shaped New York City and America is being celebrated by National Parks Service, the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy, and the Henry Hudson 400 Foundation with The New Amsterdam Trail. This free downloadable audio walking tour is the first of three in a series featuring the iconic National Park Service Rangers and an expert cast of historians, scientists, and other great storytellers.

Using a backdrop of period music and special sound effects, the audio with map can be downloaded from the Harbor Conservancy’s website or on the Henry Hudson 400 website. Visitors travel through the streets of downtown Manhattan to 10 historically significant locations, cueing commentary from their mobile phone, mp3 player or ipod. As they stand at the tip of the Battery, they can visualize Manhattan in the hours before Henry Hudson arrived and when he first navigated our waters and then listen to the stories of the life and times of New Amsterdam’s most famous and infamous settlers.

The New Amsterdam Trail features Steve Laise, Chief of Cultural Resources for Manhattan’s National Parks; Eric Sanderson, author of Mannahatta, Natural History of New York City; Andrew Smith, editor of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, and Russell Shorto, author of Island at the Center of the World.

The family-friendly walking tour takes about 90-minutes– however, you can walk the trail at your own pace during lunchtime and pause the recorded commentary at any point. For more details and to download the free tour, visit www.nyharborparks.org or www.henryhudson400.com.

The Harbor Conservancy is the official partner of the National Parks of New York Harbor and together they champion the 22 National Park sites that call New York Harbor home by helping to preserve the environment, promote economic development and create the finest urban waterfront recreation and educational park system in the world.

Henry Hudson 400 New York is a foundation created to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s legendary voyage for the Dutch to the Hudson River and New York. The unique character of New York City, originally New Amsterdam, has been shaped by the legacy of the multiethnic and tolerant culture of 17th century Amsterdam. Henry Hudson 400 is producing a series of special events in 2009 to celebrate the spirit of freedom, enterprise, and diversity shared by Amsterdam and New York.

The Mannahatta Project Uncovers NYC in 1609


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A new web site (now in Beta) sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society shows viewers what New York City looked like before it was a city. After nearly a decade of research the The Mannahatta Project uncovers online the original ecology of Manhattan circa 1609. According to the site:

“That’s right, the center of one of the world’s largest and most built-up cities was once a natural landscape of hills, valleys, forests, fields, freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, beaches, springs, ponds and streams, supporting a rich and abundant community of wildlife and sustaining people for perhaps 5000 years before Europeans arrived on the scene in 1609. It turns out that the concrete jungle of New York City was once a vast deciduous forest, home to bears, wolves, songbirds, and salamanders, with clear, clean waters jumping with fish. In fact, with over 55 different ecological communities, Mannahatta’s biodiversity per acre rivaled that of national parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Great Smoky Mountains!”

The goal of the Mannahatta Project is no less than “to re-start the natural history of New York City.” The site includes a virtual Mannahatta map that allows you to see Mannahatta from any location, block-by-block species information, lessons on the science and technology used to create the site, hundreds of layers of digital data, place-based lesson plans for elementary and high school students that meet New York State standards, an online discussion page, and event listing.

Recent updates to Mannahatta include the ability click on a city block to find out what type of plants and animals called it home, whether the Lenape people lived or worked there, and what kind of landscape features appeared on that block. You can also use the slider bar to fade from Mannahatta to modern day to see how the island has changed in the last 400 years.

Last week a related multimedia exhibit “Mannahatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York City” also opened at the Museum of the City of New York.

Edgar Allan Poe in New York City


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The blog Ephemeral New York is taking note of the Edgar Allan Poe house museum in The Bronx, which is closing in the spring for year long renovations:

“In 1846, Edgar Allan Poe, his wife (and cousin) Virginia, and his mother-in-law moved from Manhattan to a little wooden house built in 1812 in The Bronx’s rural Fordham neighborhood. The isolated, modest home, which rented for just $100 a year, must have suited Poe well; he wrote “Annabel Lee” and “The Bells” there.

But his time in the house would be short. Virginia succumbed to tuberculosis in 1847. Poe died in 1849 in Baltimore.”

According to the blog, in 1905, the New York State Legislature set aside preservation funs, and in 1910 the house was moved to Kingsbridge Road and the Grand Concourse. New York City is a perfect location for a memorial to Edgar Allan Poe – he loved the city, any city.

The Boston of Edgar Allan Poe’s birth in 1809 was one of the world’s wealthiest international trading ports and one of the largest manufacturing centers in the nation. It was also a city of squalor and vice, with a grim and ghastly underworld. It was a fitting start for Poe, whose mother and father (both actors) died when he was young. He came to be a master of the macabre weaving elaborate short stories into a shroud of mystery and death and launching a number of new American pop culture phenomenons.

Poe was a man of the new American city, having lived in the five largest cities in America during his lifetime. His first published work – Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827) – was credited only to “a Bostonian,” but as a young boy he was taken from his native city to Richmond, Virginia, and in his short life he also lived in Charleston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City and the world’s largest city – London.

Poe was a sport, a libertine, as familiar with gambling, hard drinking, and womanizing, as he was with his many literary pursuits. Known to frequent Oyster cellars, brothels, casinos, and other dens of inequity, his literary work reflects the characters he met in his own life, the scoundrels, the bawdy women, and those on the margins of society – he delighted in showing local police unsympathetically in his writing.

Poe was also the first well-known writer in America to try and earn a living through writing alone. As a result, he suffered financially throughout his career until the day he was found on the streets of Baltimore, delirious and “in great distress… in need of immediate assistance” according to the man who found him. At the time of his death, newspapers reported Poe died of “congestion of the brain” or “cerebral inflammation”, common euphemisms for death from a disreputable cause like alcoholism. Thanks to a disparaging, and now long forgotten literary rival, Poe’s death at 40 remains a mystery – in the end he was the personification of a genre he is credited with inventing.

Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) is the first true detective story. The Dupin character established a number of literary devices that inspired the likes of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot – the brilliant detective, his personal friend serving as narrator, and the final revelation offered before the reasoning is explained. But beyond inventing the detective mystery, Poe is best known as a master of the physiological horror story. The Cask of Amontillado, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Masque of the Red Death, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Raven are disturbing and unsettling works that have found their way into popular culture in literature, music, films, and television. Poe’s writing influenced the creation of science fiction (he often mentioned emerging technologies, such as those in The Balloon-Hoax), and the areas of esoteric cosmology and cryptography. He continues to influence Goth pop culture.

Poe’s most recurring themes deal with death, its physical signs, the effects of decomposition, premature burial, reanimation of the dead, and mourning. But outside horror, Poe also wrote burlesque, satires, humor tales, and hoaxes often in an attempt to liberate the reader from cultural conformity – he wrote for the emerging mass market by including popular cultural phenomena like phrenology and physiognomy. He was also a literary critic, and a newspaper and magazine editor.