Tag Archives: Urban History

CFP: Staten Island, Am. History, 21st Cent. Education


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A Call for Papers has been issued for a conference entitled Staten Island, New York in American History and 21st Century Education, to be held at the College of Staten Island (City University of New York) on March 19-20, 2011.

An understanding of the role of place and the attachment to community in America has never been more critical than in our rapidly changing global environment. This conference seeks to explore major turning points and issues in American history as experienced by the residents of Staten Island past and present. Located at the entrance to New York harbor, Staten Island is one of the five boroughs that comprise New York City.

Since 1661, Staten Island has been the home of settlers and migrants from around the globe. Staten Island’s cultural diversity and its regional and global interconnections are reflected in its institutions, cuisine, art and architecture, businesses, social movements, recreational tourism, transportation heritage, and in the service of its military veterans. The organizers’ goal is to rethink the significance of Staten Island and its important historic sites, as part of New York City, the region, the nation, and the world through the interdisciplinary lenses of history and Place-based
Education.

In celebration of Staten Island’s 350th Anniversary in 2011, the organizers invite
innovative proposals from scholars, curators, teachers and public historians related to community history and education. Proposals must be relevant to and illustrate the conference theme, including but not limited to the following topics:

*History of ethnicity and immigration
*History of race, gender, sexual orientation, and disabilities
*Staten Island in the transatlantic world, e.g. Huguenot refugees, the Loyalist Diaspora, the Free Trade Zone
*Staten Island in the history of New York City, e.g. Civil War Draft Riots, Consolidation, 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
*History of the arts, architecture, health, business, military, sports, transportation, religion, food and drink, education, childhood, or of the environment
*Geography, politics, and economics in the study of local history
*The historical interconnectedness of Staten Island to the New York/New Jersey region
*The role of the museum in public history and preservation
*Pedagogy, including Place-based Education, civic engagement and community-based research
*Memory and oral history

Proposals for complete panels and/or individual papers for this peer-reviewed conference are welcome. Proposals for panels must include the following: 1) a cover sheet with the panel title, paper titles, and the name, address, affiliation, and email addresses of the chair/commentator and of the panelists; 2) a 350-word abstract of the panel as a whole; and 3) a 350-word abstract for each paper included on the panel. Individual paper proposals for twenty-minute papers should include the following: 1) a cover sheet with the paper’s title, and the name, address, affiliation,
and email address of the participant and 2) a 350-word abstract of the paper.

All materials should be e-mailed to Dr. Phillip Papas, Associate Professor of History and co-chair of the SI 350 Academic Conference/Education Symposium at papas@ucc.edu. Proposals for panels and/or individual papers must be received no later than October 15, 2010. Successful applicants will be required to send a completed paper no later than February 7, 2011. E-mail Dr. Margaret Berci, Associate Professor of Education and co- chair of the SI 350 Academic Conference/Education Symposium at berci@mail.csi.cuny.edu with questions.

For more information and resources please refer to their website at www.si350.org.

The event is co-sponsored with Wagner College, St. John’s University and SI350, Inc, with major support from the Staten Island Foundation.

New Reference Book: Architects in Albany


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Every once in a while a book shows up that I know will have a permanent place on my desk-side bookshelf. Architects in Albany, a new book by the Historic Albany Foundation and Mount Ida Press, is a collection of profiles and images of the work of 36 designers and their firms that played a major part in forming Albany’s architectural heritage.

Edited by Diana S. Waite, the president of Mount Ida Press, this new volume was five years in the making and expands on a booklet the Historic Albany Foundation published in 1978, soon after Albany’s leading historic preservation organization was founded.

Architects in Albany if heavily indexed and includes the work of popularly known local architects like Philip Hooker, Marcus Reynolds, and also the work of builders with a national reputation that worked in Albany like Robert Gibson (Cathedral of All Saints) and Patirck C. Keely (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception). Albany is unique in that the work of architects brought in by the state is also present in large numbers, and Architects in Albany includes profiles of them as well. Men like Thomas Fuller, H. H. Richardson, and Leopold Eidlitz (State Capitol), are featured along side more recent builders like Edward Durell Stone (SUNY Albany Campus), and Wallace K. Harrison (Empire State Plaza).

The real gems here are the original research, much of it contributed by Cornelia Brooke Gilder, on the lesser known Albany architects. Ernest Hoffman’s late 19th century contributions (15 of them) are documented here. Albert W. Fuller, one of Albany’s more prolific architects, who built Albany Hospital (the original buildings of the Albany Medical Center) and the Harmanus Bleecker Library, but also banks, clubs, apartment houses, a YMCA, several schools, the Dudley Observatory, the Fourth Precinct Police Station, and a number of residences. The book is heavily illustrated.

Conference: Preservation in New York – The Next Generation


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The New York City Historic Districts Council has announced the Sixteenth Annual Preservation Conference, “Preservation in New York: The Next Generation” which will examine the future of preservation in New York City as a movement, both in terms of the types of buildings we should be preserving and the audiences we must engage in order to be successful. What will be the landmarks for the next generation and who will be fighting to preserve them?

The conference which runs March 5-7, 2010, will be preceded by an Opening Night Reception on Friday, March 5th. The Sunday following the Conference will feature a series of walking tours of historic areas throughout New York City. Participants can register online.

March 5: Opening Night Reception

This year the Opening Reception will be held in the LGBT Community Center, housed in an historic 19th-century school. As with last year’s event, in addition to refreshments and good preservation-minded conversation, this festive kick-off event will feature presentations on proposed historic districts and preservation campaigns across the city.

Friday, March 5, 6:00pm, at The LGBT Community Center, 208 West 13th Street between Seventh and Greenwich Avenues. Tickets for this event are $35/person, $30 for Friends of HDC, seniors and students. Reservations required. Please call (212) 614-9107 or visit our website.

March 6: “The Next Generation” Conference Panels

This year’s Conference Panels will bring together a distinguished group of preservationists, educators, community activists and non-profit leaders from New York City’s five boroughs to present their views in a series of panel discussions: “New Landmarks: Modern, Vernacular and Cultural Sites” and “New Audiences: Identifying and Partnering with Diverse Populations” and a keynote address delivered by Fran Leadon, architect, professor, and co-author of the forthcoming AIA Guide to New York City, Fifth Edition.

Saturday, March 6, 8:30am-4:30pm, at St. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street between Court and Clinton Streets, Brooklyn. Full day admission is $45/person, $35/person for Friends of HDC and seniors. Fee also includes continental breakfast, box lunch, and afternoon snack. Entrance fee will be waved for students with valid university ID (meals are not included). For reservations, please call (212) 614-9107 or visit our website.

March 7: Walking Tours

The final day of HDC’s Preservation Conference features six walking tours of neighborhoods throughout New York City:

The Grand Concourse: Ain’t It Grand!

A Walk Through Norwegian Brooklyn: Lapskaus Boulevard

Chelsea and Lamartine Place: A Cultural History

Modern in Midtown: Landmarks of the Recent Past

Parkchester: A City Within a City

West End Avenue: Way Out West

Space is limited, so reserve early. Meeting times and locations will be provided upon registration.

Historic Districts Council’s Morning Coffee Talks


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Each Month, the Historic Districts Council hosts a Coffee Talk – a presentation and question and answers session with folk important to local historic preservation. The first Coffee Talk of 2010, on January 11th, will feature representatives of the New York City Department of Design and Construction. The event begins at 8:30 am, in the Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street, Manhattan.

The Department of Design and Construction (DDC), is the lead agency for New York City public construction projects such as street, water and sewer reconstructions, firehouses, libraries, police precincts, courthouses and senior centers. Because the agency is responsible for such a large portfolio (valued at over $6 billion), the Historic Districts Counciil believes it is essential that communities help make sure that each project that DDC undertakes respects and responds to the specific needs of the communities where the projects are located.

Richard Zetterlund, Associate Commissioner for Infrastructure and Sergio Silveira, Assistant Commissioner for Structures will discuss their respective divisions and how neighborhood advocates can provide input on major projects. Our speakers will also showcase some of DDC’s recent successful initiatives and talk about the efforts of DDC’s Historic Preservation Office.

This event is free and open to the public. Reservations are required, as space is limited. For more information about this or other Coffee Talks, contact Frampton Tolbert at (212) 614-9107 or ftolbert@hdc.org.

Photo: Brooklyn Terminal at Brooklyn Bridge c 1903.

World War II in New York City Materials Wanted


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The New-York Historical Society is soliciting donations of materials relating to the impact of World War II on New York City. They are interested in snapshots of armed forces personnel (particularly leaving and returning to the city), photographs of victory gardens, women in the work force, minority communities, and locations in the city that relate in some way to the war effort. They would also like to receive soldier’s diaries that include descriptive passages about the city or the war experience, vivid and distinctive letters to or from New Yorkers and ephemeral material such as posters, broadsides, propaganda pamphlets, menus, programs, etc. All items should be identified clearly with names, dates, and locations, when known.

Please DO NOT send materials directly to them. They can only handle a limited number of items and cannot return unwanted material to donors. Instead, submit descriptions of what might be of interest with scans or photographs, if possible to wwii@nyhistory.org.

The New-York Historical Society will not be able to accept magazines, newspapers, newspaper clippings or material that is in poor condition (i.e., dirty, moldy, unreadable) or outside the scope of our collection. Materials selected by the staff may be used in the Society’s upcoming (2012) exhibition on World War II in New York; some may be added to our permanent collections; some may appear on web presentations.

For more information contact: wwii@nyhistory.org

Photo: A crowd watching the news line on the Times building at Times Square, NYC, on D-day, June 6, 1944. Large-format nitrate negative by Howard Hollem or Edward Meyer, Office of War Information.

NYC Landmarks Commission Rejects Half of a Building


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The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 6-3 on Tuesday to designate the B. F. Goodrich Company Building (1780 Broadway) as a landmark and at the same time reject the B. F. Goodrich Company Building at 225 West 57th Street. Although the buildings face adjacent streets, they are on the same lot and were both developed in 1909 by the same architect, Howard Van Doren Shaw, for the B. F. Goodrich Company. They are Shaw’s only extant buildings in New York.

The Historic Districts Council issued the following Preservation Alert after the vote:

At today’s hearing, all nine commissioners present stated their support for the designation of 1780 Broadway, mentioning its architectural design but stressing its historic connection to Automobile Row. Six commissioners stated that 225 West 57th Street was of lesser significance because it did not have Broadway frontage and was “an accessory building” to the larger Goodrich headquarters. The other three commissioners defended the significance of the building and spoke highly of its architectural merit as well as its history of automobile-related uses.

225 West 57th Street, cureently under scaffolding and construction shroudOf particular interest was LPC Chair Robert Tierney’s statement referring to the City Council’s concerns about this designation. After the public hearing on August 11th, Council Members Daniel Garodnick, Melinda Katz, Jessica Lappin and Christine Quinn sent a joint letter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission opposing the designation of 225 West 57th Street based on “its drab appearance”, that “the company never occupied the building” and that “the designation of 225 West 57th Street could fatally compromise the footprint of the proposed development on this site”. This unprecedented message reframed deliberations about the significance-based worthiness of the buildings into “the argument for preservation against the economic development rationale… [of] allowing for new development on sites where buildings stand today”. Commissioner Tierney went on to state his belief that since there was a likelihood that the City Council would overturn the designation of 225 West 57th Street, the LPC should make a priority of designating 1780 Broadway which everyone agreed should be preserved.

The buildings’ preservation had been supported by HDC, other preservation groups and the local community boards on the basis of their significance to the development of New York City as the center for the nascent American automobile industry, as well as for the importance of the buildings’ architectural design. 225 West 57th Street specifically was a very early and unusual fusion of traditional and Modern design elements, using motifs and techniques from the Chicago and Viennese Secessionist Schools. These points were supported by research in the LPC’s files.

Representatives of the owner, Extell Development, as well as the American Institute of Architects/New York Chapter testified in favor of the designation of 1780 Broadway but opposed to 225 West 57th Street, stating that the buildings were only significant historically as they related to Automobile Row. Since West 57th Street was not on Automobile Row and the building was not occupied by the B. F. Goodrich Company, it was not worthy of being preserved. Additional owner’s representatives also stated that they might pursue a hardship application if 225 West 57th Street was designated (Extell is proposing to build a 60+-story building on the block including this site and has been assembling lots and air-rights to allow for this development for some time.)

In the end, it would appear that the developers won. Thanks to their lobbying efforts the City Council leadership was apparently convinced that this landmark designation was detrimental to the City. The Council’s opposition to the designation resulted in the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s rejection of the building. This is not how it should work.

HDC is exceptionally disappointed in the LPC’s yielding to political pressure. If the City Council was going to reject the designation of a worthy building, then the Council should have been put in a position of justifying that action. By ceding the designation of 225 West 25th Street, the LPC has set a terrible example for future designations.

HDC is also extraordinarily disturbed by the Council’s actions in this instance. While it is entirely appropriate for CM Daniel Garodnick to weigh in on a designation within his district, doing so before the community board has a chance to review the project is, at best, precipitous. The joint letter from the four council members, with its not-so-veiled threat, was a direct assault on the independence of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the integrity of the Landmarks Law.

HDC has contacted these council members about our concerns over their involvement and we will be taking additional steps to make sure that the Landmarks Preservation Commission and their process remain transparent and independent. We look forward to updating you in the coming months.

Photo: 1780 Broadway, NYC

Sex and the City: The Early Years


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On Wednesday, November 18th, Bill Greer, the author of The Mevrouw Who Saved Manhattan, is giving a talk at the Brooklyn Public Library, Central Branch, at 7 p.m. The lecture, entitled “Sex and the City: The Early Years,” looks at the bawdy world of Dutch New York from 1624 to 1664. Through anecdotes of real people and events, the talk examines the libertine culture Europeans brought to the Hudson Valley and how this culture engendered an independent streak that fueled a rebellion of the common people against their rulers. This conflict, many historians argue, laid the foundation for the pluralistic, freedom-loving society that America became.

Greer is also a Trustee and Treasurer of the New Netherland Institute based in Albany.

Date: November 18, 2009
Time: 7 p.m.
Place: Brooklyn Public Library, Central Branch, Grand Army Plaza, in the Brooklyn Collection Reserve Room

Books: The Bronx’s Boulevard of Dreams


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Stretching over four miles through the center of the West Bronx, the Grand Boulevard and Concourse, known simply as the Grand Concourse, has served as a silent witness to the changing face of the Bronx, and New York City, for a century. To coincide with the Concourse’s centennial, New York Times editor Constance Rosenblum has written a book, Boulevard of Dreams: Heady Times, Heartbreak, and Hope along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx that brings to life this historic street.

Designed by a French engineer in the late nineteenth century to echo the elegance and grandeur of the Champs Elysées in Paris, the Concourse was nearly twenty years in the making (it celebrated its centennial in November). Over that century it has truly been a boulevard of dreams for various upwardly mobile immigrant and ethnic groups, yet it has also seen the darker side of the American dream.

Constance Rosenblum unearths the history of the street and its neighborhoods through a series of life stories and historical vignettes. The story of the creation and transformation of the Grand Concourse is the story of New York—and America—writ large, and Rosenblum examines the Grand Concourse from its earliest days to the blighted 1960s and 1970s right up to the current period of renewal. Illustrated with historical photographs, the vivid world of the Grand Concourse comes alive—from Yankee Stadium to the unparalleled collection of Art Deco apartments to the palatial Loew’s Paradise movie theater.

The publishers call it “An enthralling story of the creation of an iconic street, an examination of the forces that transformed it, and a moving portrait of those who called it home, Boulevard of Dreams is a must read for anyone interested in the rich history of New York and the twentieth-century American city.”

Conference: Merchant Jews in The New World: 1500-1800


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The first of three annual conferences focusing on a lesser-known role played by merchants, especially Jewish merchants, in the Caribbean and major ports of Colonial America in the establishment of the United States, will be held at the ‘Center for Jewish History’ in New York City on Sunday, October 18, 2009.

The initial one-day gathering, “Merchant Jews in The New World: 1500-1800″ is being organized by ‘The Gomez Foundation for Mill House’, an organization focused upon the pioneer experience in America. The aim of this conference is to highlight current research and foster further study in this long neglected corner of New World and Colonial American history. Represented on the panels will be noted scholars in the field, including Keynote Speaker, Dr. Jonathan Ray of Georgetown University, Washington, DC.

Gomez Foundation for Mill House manages and operates one of the oldest, continuously occupied dwellings in North America, the 300-year-old ‘Gomez Mill House’ in Orange County, New York. On the National Register of Historic Places, the house was named after a Jewish merchant named Luis Moses Gomez. Other pioneers, patriots and significant owners who came after him are also honored at the house.

Gomez was born in Spain, fled with his family to Southwestern France, and came to New York by way of England and the Caribbean. His aim in building his trading post (now the house) was to help open up the Hudson River to increased trade.

The conference is open to those with both academic and non-academic backgrounds, particularly those who share an interest in the economic birth, maturity and modern expansion in the New World and early America. For further information on the conference, visit www.gomez.org.

Call For Papers: Reconsidering the City


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The History Department of SUNY Fredonia requests proposals for a conference, “Reconsidering the City,” scheduled for April 2010. The conference will explore new directions in the field of Urban History. How do Urban Historians define “the city”? How do scholars today conceptualize the field of Urban History? We welcome proposals for individual papers or panels that address these conceptual issues as well as proposals that highlight new work being done in Urban History in both western and non-western contexts. Paper proposals should be no more than 500 words; panel proposals should also include a brief (250-word) summary of the panel and its theme. Please send proposals and a one-page cv electronically to Mary Beth Sievens, Associate Chair, Department of History, SUNY Fredonia: sievens@fredonia.edu.

The deadline for proposals is March 13, 2009.

Preservation League Seeks Award Nominations


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The Preservation League of New York State is seeking nominations for its 2009 Excellence in Historic Preservation Awards, which recognize notable achievements in historic preservation throughout New York State. The postmark deadline for nominations is February 12, 2009. The awards will be presented during the Preservation League’s Annual Meeting in May in New York City. The Excellence in Historic Preservation Awards program continues a tradition that began in 1979 to acknowledge excellence in the protection and revitalization of the Empire State’s historic architectural and cultural resources.

By honoring meaningful accomplishments in the field of historic preservation, the League hopes to further encourage standards of excellence and to increase public awareness of and support for historic preservation throughout the state. Nomination forms are available to download on the League’s website at www.preservenys.org.

The 2008 Excellence Award recipients were: Webb Lofts in Buffalo, Erie County; MacNaughton House Stabilization in Newcomb, Essex County; U.S. Post Office & Courthouse, Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn, Kings County; Downtown Revitalization Program in Canajoharie, Montgomery County; Eldridge Street Synagogue on the Lower East Side, New York County; Proctors in Schenectady, Schenectady County; Hotel Kirkland in Kingston, Ulster County; and the BID Model Development Block in New Rochelle, Westchester County. Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect a City’s Landmarks by Anthony C. Wood (Routledge, 2007) received a special citation. The Hudson Valley Chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors was honored for organizational excellence; and Trude Brown Fitelson of Rochester was honored for individual excellence.

For nomination forms and other information please contact the Preservation League office at 518-462-5658 x17; or by email at awards@preservenys.org.

The Preservation League of New York State, founded in 1974, is the not-for-profit organization dedicated to the protection of New York’s diverse and rich heritage of historic buildings, districts and landscapes. From its headquarters in Albany, the League provides a unified voice for historic preservation. By leading a statewide movement and sharing information and expertise, the Preservation League of New York State promotes historic preservation as a tool to revitalize our neighborhoods and communities, honor our heritage and enrich our lives.

1965 NYC Landmarks Preservation Law Lecture


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Anthony M. Tung, author of Preserving the World’s Great Cities: The Destruction and Renewal of the Historic Metropolis and former New York City Landmarks Preservation Commissioner, will present a talk that envisions the state of urban preservation on different continents at the moment when Mayor Robert F. Wagner signed the New York City Landmarks Preservation statute in 1965. With the process of civilization unfolding at varying speeds, igniting the upheaval of urban modernization, how did the heritage of London, Beijing, Mexico City, Rome, and Warsaw fare? Mr. Tung will show accompanying photographs to complement his lecture.

The event will be held Wednesday, December 10th at 6:30 PM at Grace Church School, 84 Fourth Avenue, NYC; admission is free but reservations are required. RSVP to hdc@hdc.org or (212) 614-9107. This event is co-sponsored by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and Neighborhood Preservation Center.

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.

A Week of New York Disasters


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This past week marks the anniversaries of quite a series of transportation disasters in New York History. Three of them have reached the media: the 1893 sinking of the Rachel in Lake George; the 1945 crash of a B-25 Mitchell bomber into the Empire State Building; and the crash of American Airlines Flight 1 into New York City’s Jamaica Bay in 1962.

The Schenectady Gazette has the story of the Rachel, which sank on Lake George killing ten (coincidently, the week also marks the anniversary of another Lake George sinking, that of the John Jay on July 30, 1856). On the night of August 3, 1893 the steamer Rachel was chartered by twenty nine guests of the Fourteen Mile Island Hotel to take them to a dance at the Hundred Island House.

The usual captain fell ill and went home early leaving the boat in the hands of a less experienced pilot. Under little or no moon light as the pilot steered unknowingly out of the channel and struck an old dock south of the hotel tearing a large hole in the side of the boat below the water line. Some of the passengers were caught on the shade deck and died quickly as the boat listed and almost immediately sank in 18 feet of water. “The shrieking, struggling passengers battled for life in the darkness,” one newspaper reported. With only her smokestack left above water, a number of men from shore had rowed boats from the two nearby hotels to the scene to rescue the survivors. A young man named Benedict, an excellent swimmer, dove for his sister Bertha but couldn’t find her. Nineteen-year-old Frank C. Mitchell, of Burlington, drowned while trying to save his mother who also drowned. Eight other women also drowned.

The 1962 American Airlines Flight 1 into Jamaica Bay was featured on last night episode of “Mad Men.” The series follows the lives of early 1960s Madison Avenue ad executives. If you haven’t seen it, you should, it’s an interesting portrayal of 1950s / 1960s consumerism – a time when people still smoked on TV. The storyline involves the ad guys dropping the small New York based regional airline Mohawk Airlines in an attempt to lure American Airlines in the aftermath of the crash. Mohawk had it’s own aviation disaster in 1969 when its Flight 411, a twin prop-jet commuter plane (a Fairchild-Hiller 227, a.k.a. Fokker F-27) flying from La Guardia Airport to Glens Falls in Warren County crashes at Lake George killing all 14 onboard.

The New York Times “City Room” has blogged the Flight 1 story extensively:

The real-life crash, which took place only five years after Pan Am became the first carrier to fly the 707, claimed the largest number of lives of any commercial aviation accident in the United States at that time [95]. (In the worst-ever plane crash on American soil, an American Airlines DC-10 crashed shortly after takeoff at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on May 25, 1979, killing 273.)

The third New York disaster in the media this week comes from National Public Radio (NPR) which reported last week on the crash of a B-25 Mitchell bomber into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building (it swerved to just miss the Chrysler Building). The plane had been trying to make LaGuardia Airport in a very heavy fog. According to the blog History’s Mysteries:

Upon impact, the plane’s jet fuel exploded, filling the interior of the building with flames all the way down to the 75th floor and sending flames out of the hole the plane had ripped open in the building’s side. One engine from the plane went straight through the building and landed in a penthouse apartment across the street. Other plane parts ended up embedded in and on top of nearby buildings. The other engine snapped an elevator cable while at least one woman was riding in the elevator car. The emergency auto brake saved the woman from crashing to the bottom, but the engine fell down the shaft and landed on top of it. Quick-thinking rescuers pulled the woman from the elevator, saving her life.

NPR’s report (they also featured the Empire State building in their “Present at The Creation” series) includes audio of the actual crash and interviews with some of the survivors.

What a week – I’ve blogged before about disasters in the Adirondacks here.

New Book On The Woolworth Building


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The New York Times is reporting on a new book by Gail Fenske, a professor of architecture at Roger Williams University: The Skyscraper and the City: The Woolworth Building and the Making of Modern New York.

On the evening of April 24, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson pressed a tiny button inside the White House, lighting up the Woolworth Building in Manhattan. It was “the tallest structure in the world, with the one exception of the Eiffel Tower in Paris,” The New York Times reported, and it was a marvel of architecture and engineering.

Of course, the Woolworth Building has been surpassed in height — by the Chrysler Building in 1930 and by the Empire State Building in 1931 — and it has at times seemed to recede into the fabric of Lower Manhattan. The building’s owners at one point considered converting the building into luxury apartments, but now the structure is being refurbished as top-end offices.

The book places the Woolworth Building in the context of its time and place: the booming commercial culture of early 20th century New York; the often unsettling experience of modernization; advances in technology and communications; and a new phenomenon of “urban spectatorship” that made skyscrapers sources of public wonder and admiration.

Many innovations set the Woolworth Building apart. It contained a shopping arcade, health club, barber shop, restaurant, social club and even an observatory. Its use of technology — including an innovative water supply system, a electrical generating plan, high-speed electric elevators providing both local and express service and what Professor Fenske calls “the first prominent use of architectural floodlighting in the world” — also set it apart. So did the construction process, run by the builder Louis Horowitz of the Thompson-Starrett Company, who managed to avoid labor conflict, rationalize the building process and set a record for speed — paving the way for the famously rapid completion of the Empire State Building nearly 20 years later.

The building has survived the Woolworth Corporation itself. The company announced in 1997 that it would close its remaining discount stores. The company was renamed the Venator Group, began focusing on athletic wear, and since 2001 has done business under the Foot Locker name. Although there are no longer Woolworth’s stores in the United States, the Woolworths Group, a former subsidiary of the American company, continues to operate hundreds of retail stores in Britain.

NY Oysters: Urban History and The Environment


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I just finished reading Mark Kurlansky’s The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. It’s basically a short history of New York City told through the city’s natural environment and one of its most significant natural resources (possibly second only to its natural harbor) – the oyster.

I’ve also read, and can highly recommend, three of Kurlansky’s previous books.

Cod: A Biography of The Fish The Changed the World

The Basque History of the World

Salt A World History

All have implications for New York History – according to esteemed Iroquoisian Dean Snow, the word Iroquois is derived from a Basque word, a demonstration of their subtle impact in our region during their search for Cod off the Grand Banks, Cod they then salted to preserve. Throughout all three books Kurlansky includes historic recipes and other culinary history.

The Big Oyster is a must read for those interested in natural history, marine history, the Atlantic World, and food history as well as those with a taste for urban history and the New York City underworld of oyster cellars, cartmen, and seedy public spaces of all kinds.

Erik Baard of the blog Nature Calendar:Your Urban Wilderness Community posted an interesting interview with Kurlansky last week, and also points us to the upcoming Spring/Summer 2008 Oyster Gardening Event:

This program, in collaboration with NY/NJ Baykeeper and the New York Harbor School, seeks to increase stewardship among residents of the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary by working with volunteers from schools and community organizations in New York City to help prepare an oyster reef off the Tribeca waterfront. The project builds on the results of NY/NJ Baykeeper oyster reef restoration in New Jersey and research conducted by The River Project at its Pier 26 field station in New York.

A taste of the interview with Kurlansky:

Erik Baard: The Dutch and British settlers used that shell lime to construct stone homes. And I’m kind of curious about the many ways oysters were used. It’s a very versatile product, the meat, the shell being used for construction of buildings… How else were they used?

Mark Kurlansky: They were used in roads, you know, paving roads and in landfill. They were use to fertilize soil, to increase the lime content of the soil, which used to be called “sweetening the soil.” You could just plow oysters under. In fact, Europeans who visited were surprised to see that. The European way was always to grind it up and create this lime powder that you use as fertilizer, but New York farmers used to just take whole shells and put them in the earth.

Erik Baard: And this would lower the acidity?

Mark Kurlansky: Right. Okay.

Erik Baard: Now also, Pearl Street, you clarified some mythologies on that.

Mark Kurlansky: Yes, for some reason there’s a lot of mythologies about Pearl Street. I was just on Pearl Street last Saturday, I was thinking about this. Pearl Street was the waterfront in Dutch times, in the original Manhattan. It continues now several blocks further because of landfill. And there’s lots of stories about why it was called Pearl Street. But the real reason seems to be that on the waters edge there, the Indians had left large piles of shells.

Erik Baard: It wasn’t paved with the oyster shells?

Mark Kurlansky: No you often hear that but, one of the first things I noticed when I was researching this book was that the street got its name before it was paved

Disappearing NYC Inspired Blogs


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Disappearing New York City landmarks have inspired two blogs worthy of note.

Check out Jeremiah Moss’s “ongoing obituary for my dying city” Vanishing New York, subtitled “The Book of Lamentations: A Bitterly Nostalgic Look at a City in The Process of Going Extinct.”

A second blog, Brooks of Sheffield’s Lost City, declares itself “A running Jeremiad on the vestiges of Old New York as they are steamrolled under or threatened by the currently ruthless real estate market and the City Fathers’ disregard for Gotham’s historical and cultural fabric.”

Both are worth a read, and can be found at our blogroll at right.

If you have tips for the New York History Blog about relevant blogs, sites, events, or news, drop us a note via our e-mail address at right.

1840s New York Smut Revisited


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Last Tuesday’s Village Voice included a great review (by Tom Robbins) of The Flash Press: Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York by Patricia Cline Cohen, Timothy J. Gilfoyle, and Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz. Robbins writes:

Like [Al] Goldstein’s Screw, the publishers [of long-forgotten sex rags from the early 1840s] chose titles that got right to the point: The Whip, The Rake, The Libertine, The Flash, and others with even shorter publishing lives. One of these, The New York Sporting Whip, offered a kind of mission statement: “Man is endowed by nature with passions that must be gratified,” the newspaper asserted, “and no blame can be attached to him, who for that purpose occasionally seeks the woman of pleasure.”

The so-called “father of the smutty papers” was William J. Snelling, a hard-drinking Bostoner who dropped out of West Point, hunted with the Dakota Indians, and helped found anti-slavery organizations. Inspired by a sex scandal involving a wealthy theater producer, Snelling launched The Sunday Flash in 1841 together with an eccentric minstrel singer named George Washington Dixon. They didn’t mince words: The theater producer in question, they wrote, was “a hoary leper,” a “Scoundrel whom even Texas vomited from her afflicted bowels.”

The papers were an immediate hit. Newsboys hawked them for six cents apiece at ferry landings and oyster bars. Paid circulation averaged 10,000 to 12,000 per issue. Among the surefire circulation-building devices were in-depth reviews of the city’s hundreds of brothels. “Princess Julia’s Palace of Love,” a story in the June 6, 1841, edition of a weekly called Dixon’s Polyanthos, depicted a popular brothel run by a fashionable madam named Julia Brown: “On ascending the second story, up the splendid steps, you fall in, with apartment No. 1. This room is occupied by Lady Ellen, and a glorious lady she is, with the dark flashing orbs, and full of feeling—so full of intellect that one might stand and gaze, and gaze . . .”

The full review is here.

P.T. Barnum’s American Museum On The Web


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The New York City History blog The Bowery Boys has a great post on Barnum’s American Museum that includes a podcast, lots of images and a link to The City University of New York website devoted to Barnum’s, The Lost Museum. Both sites are worth checking out.

Barnum’s American Museum was located at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street in New York City from 1841 to it was destroyed by fire in 1865 [pdf of NY Times Article]. P.T. Barnum’s partner was John Scudder the original owner of the museum (then known as Scudder’s American Museum). Scudder recently found new fame as character inspiration for the HBO series Carnivale – a must see for those interested in carnies, the ballies, flying jennys, sugar shacks, the midway, and oh, the Great Depression.

According to wikipedia:

Barnum opened his museum on January 1, 1842 to create a place where families could go for wholesome, affordable entertainment but his success drew from the fact that he knew how to entice an audience. Its attractions made it a combination zoo, museum, lecture hall, wax museum, theater and freak show,that was, at the same time, a central site in the development of American popular culture. At its peak, the museum was open fifteen hours a day and had as much as 15,000 visitors a day.

On July 13th, 1865, the American Museum burned to the ground in one of the most spectacular fires New York has ever seen. Animals at the museum were seen jumping from the burning building, only to be shot by police officers. Barnum tried to open another museum soon after that, but that also burned down in a mysterious fire in 1868. It was after this time that Barnum moved onto politics and the circus industry.

While we’re talking Phineas Taylor Barnum, we should point readers to Robin Freeds’ “In Business for Myself: P.T. Barnum and the Management of Spectacle.”

Also, the Disability History Museum has the full text of Barnum’s 1860 catalog online.