Category Archives: Gilded Age New York

The Boss Tweed connection to St. Sava, the cathedral destroyed by fire

New York City lost a very interesting landmark this past weekend.

Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava, at West 25th and Broadway, was destroyed in a spectacular and mysterious four-alarm fire on Sunday, its windows shattered in shafts of flame, its ceiling reduced to cinders. If you’re a podcast listener, you may know this place from the show we released just last Friday on the life of Nikola Tesla. Sitting in front of St. Sava is a bust of Tesla, placed there by the Tesla Memorial Society of New York. Or was, I suppose. The bust was either moved or did not survive this catastrophic blaze.

New York has lost an important bit of history. The cathedral was the former Trinity Chapel, an outpost of downtown’s Trinity Church which opened here in 1851 to cater to the elite moving uptown along Fifth Avenue.

The New York Times has a short roundup of some of its most notable events — notably the marriage of Edith Wharton in 1885 and, in 1943, its conversion into an Eastern Orthodox house of worship. The usual fine work of Daytonian In Manhattan highlights the details of its construction.  “It was, as The New York Times called it in 1914, “distinctly fashionable to be married there.'”

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Picture courtesy Trinity Wall Street

In fact one of the most notorious weddings in New York City history took place here.

Not because of the bride and groom — Mary Amelia Tweed and New Orleans heir Ambrose MaGinnis — but because of the lavish behavior of the bride’s father William ‘Boss’ Tweed. In another strange bit of coincidence, that fated wedding occurred 145 years ago this month, on May 31, 1871.

William_Magear_-Boss-_Tweed_(1870)

“The streets for blocks around were filled with carriages, while the church was crowded to excess,” said the New York Herald the following day. “The center aisle was reserved for the invited guests and presented a most brilliant spectacle.”

The entire clan was adorned in jewels; “the Tweed family seemed to be a Christmas tree of diamonds,” according to author Alexander B. Callow Jr. Tweed wore his famous diamond pin, while his wife sparkled in so many that she threatened to take attention away from the bride.

Almost, that is. For Tweed’s daughter wore, according to Kenneth Ackerman, a “‘white corded silk, décolleté, with demi-sleeves, and immense court train’ with orange blossoms at her waist and, on her bosom, ‘a brooch of immense diamonds, and long pendants, set with three large solitaire diamonds, sparkled in her ears.’”

It was one of the most ostentatious weddings of the post-Civil War era. The reception was held at the Tweed residence at Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street where hallways were filled with rich fineries. But it was the upstairs rooms — filled with wedding gifts — that would be the focus of future query.

From the New York Herald:

“THE WEDDING PRESENTS, which were displayed in one of the upper rooms, must have amounted to the value of over $700,000 and presented an appearance of brilliancy which can never have been equaled in munificence even in this Empire City.  They comprised all sorts of jewelry with diamonds enough to stock half a dozen stores; silver sets in profusion and almost everything that the ingenuity of the human mind could suggest in the line of presents.”

In today’s money, those gifts would have been worth over $14 million! This lavish ceremony highlighted Tweed’s extravagance at a time when many began questioning his corrupt hold over city affairs. In particular, the New York Times, Tweed’s biggest enemy, delighted in highlighting the garish cost of the ceremony. “The wedding was a most expensive affair.”

tweed

 

Tweed’s arrogance and extravagance definitely got the better of him, and the wedding at Trinity Chapel would soon become emblematic of the absolute corruption which fueled the city politic of the day.

To select but one example — a 1872 tome by minister Hollis Read called The Foot-Prints of Satan: Or, The Devil In History waxes on for a few pages about the scandalous wedding:

“Weddings are often relentless prodigal of lucre.  A recent one in our great Gotham has attracted some special attention, both on account of the profuse expenditure, and from the character and position of the parties concerned.  It was at the ‘palatial residence’ of the redoubtable ‘Boss Tweed,’ and the happy bride was his daughter.  Here we shall cease to wonder at the extravagant amounts absorbed in grounds, house, stables; and now in profuse expenditures for the wedding, when we are reminded how the ‘Boss’ got his money. For here certain unmistakable ‘footprints’ are, if possible, more apparent in the getting than in the spending.”

Tweed and his notorious Ring (including mayor A. Oakey Hall) would be exposed by the summer, and the Boss was soon thrown into jail (only to promptly be released on bail). He would go to trial for his crimes by 1873 and eventually died at the Ludlow  Street Jail on April 12, 1878.

 

For more information on Boss Tweed, check out our podcast on William ‘Boss Tweed and the bitter old days of Tammany Hall.

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And here’s a picture of the Tesla bust which I took this past Friday, then the scene at St. Sava as it looked on Monday afternoon.

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The Spark: Nikola Tesla in New York

PODCAST The strange and wonderful life of Nikola Tesla in New York City.

The Serbian immigrant Nikola Tesla was among the Gilded Age’s brightest minds, a visionary thinker and inventor who gave the world innovations in electricity, radio and wireless communication. So why has Tesla garnered the mantle of cult status among many?

Part of that has to do with his life in New York City, his shifting fortunes as he made his way (counting every step) along the city streets. Tesla lived in Manhattan for more than 50 years, and although he hated it when he first arrived, he quickly understood its importance to the development of his inventions.

Travel with us to the many places Tesla worked and lived in Manhattan — from the Little Italy roost where the Tesla Coil may have been invented to his doomed Greenwich Village laboratory. From his first job in the Lower East Side to his final home in one of Midtown Manhattan‘s most famous hotels.

Nikola Tesla, thank you for bringing your genius to New York City.

PLUS: The marvelous demonstration at Madison Square Garden in 1898 that proves that Tesla invented the drone!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #203: Nikola Tesla In New York

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

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A page from the 1942 comic book Real Heroes, illustrating the life of Nikola Tesla:

Courtesy Quality Comics
Courtesy Quality Comics

Young Tesla in 1885 while still in the employ of Thomas Edison.

Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution

Mark Twain and Joseph Jefferson in Tesla’s South Fifth Avenue Laboratory. That’s Tesla, blurry, in the background.

Courtesy the Tesla Society
Courtesy the Tesla Society

 

Tesla’s 1888 lecture at Columbia changed his life. His demonstration dazzled the room of distinguished scientists and professors and particularly grabbed the attention of journalists.

1888
Courtesy Pictures of Infinity

 

Diagrams of Tesla’s inventions from the 1880s and 90s have an almost otherworldly quality that wouldn’t look out of place in a gallery of modern art.

Internet Archive Book Images
Internet Archive Book Images

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The Not-so-mad Scientist: Tesla posing with perhaps his most famous prop — a large bulb which could generate light from the human body.

bulb

 

Tesla in Colorado Springs, 1899. From the caption: “A publicity photo of a participant sitting in the Colorado Springs experimental station with his “Magnifying Transmitter“. The arcs are about 22 feet (7 m) long. (Tesla’s notes identify this as a double exposure.)”

M0014782 Nikola Tesla, with his equipment Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Nikola Tesla, with his equipment for producing high-frequency alternating currents. Inscribed: 'To my illustrious friend Sir William Crookes of whom I always think and whose kind letters I never answer! Nikola Tesla June 17, 1901' Photograph 1901 Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
M0014782 Nikola Tesla, with his equipment
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
images@wellcome.ac.uk
http://wellcomeimages.org
Nikola Tesla, with his equipment for
producing high-frequency alternating currents.
Inscribed: ‘To my illustrious friend Sir William Crookes of whom I always think and whose kind letters I never answer! Nikola Tesla June 17, 1901’
Photograph
1901 Published: –

 

A view of Wardenclyffe Tower, Tesla’s grandest attempt of creating a wireless tranmission of electricity.

(From Electrical World and Engineer, 1904)

Internet Archive Book Images
Internet Archive Book Images

 

From the New York Sun, March 31, 1912: “Tesla’s wireless system for the transmission of intellegence and power involves a number of inventions, all of fundamental character.”

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1916: Tesla poses in his West 40th Street laboratory, 1916.

Courtesy Everett Collection Inc., ALAMY
Courtesy Everett Collection Inc., ALAMY

 

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

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Bryant Park, near the spot of Tesla’s former laboratory and the place where he fed the pigeons.

Courtesy Flickr/Lidija Bondarenko
Courtesy Flickr/Lidija Bondarenko

 

The Nikola Tesla bust in front of St Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral. #boweryboys

A photo posted by Gregory Young (@boweryboysnyc) on

 

 

For more information:

Visit the excellent blog by author Martin Hill Ortiz, deeply exploring the life of Tesla in New York City.

There are many societies devoted to the life and work of Nikola Tesla including the Tesla Memorial Society of New York.  The Oatmeal is behind the effort to turn Wardenclyffe into the Tesla Science Center. Go read up on Tesla at The Oatmeal first, then check out their efforts at the Tesla Science Center.

Wann learn more about Tesla? There’s a few great books on his life including the latest by W. Bernard Carlson — Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age. — and  Sean Patrick’s Nikola Tesla: Imagination and the Man Who Invented the 20th Century.  Then there are Tesla’s own writings — My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla and The Inventions, Researches and Writings of Nicola Tesla

 

Chelsea’s former opera house and the murder of a New York robber baron

Our last podcast detailed the scandalous murder of Stanford White in 1906, on the rooftop of the very building be had himself designed — Madison Square Garden.  But another performance venue just a short distance away was also involved in a notorious murder of a prominent New Yorker three decades early.

You might be surprised at the location of the venue in question — the Grand Opera House. It was located at the northwest corner of 23rd Street and Eighth Avenue. There’s a movie theater close by — and a theater for the School of Visual Arts just down the block — but I’d hardly call this intersection an entertainment mecca.

In the above photo: the opera house in 1925 as seen looking east on 23rd Street.  Below: in a picture from 1895

Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

 

The opera house sprang up in 1868, the project of Samuel N. Pike, who purchased the land directly from Chelsea estate owner Clement Clarke Moore himself. In fact, the original Moore estate was located only a block away.

The Pike Opera House, as it was called in those days, was Pike’s play for legitimacy in New York. A German immigrant who arrived in the U.S. in 1837, Pike lived in New York for a few years and made his fortunes in wine imports. Aspiring to upper-crust tastes, Pike fell in love with opera music after viewing performances by PT Barnum chanteuse Jenny Lind.

The author E.T. Harvey painted an extraordinary picture of Pike in 1916:

Samuel N. Pike was an extraordinary man in many ways. In appearance he was rather above the middle height, and slender. He wore a  heavy, full mustache, after the manner of that period, and though dark complexioned, had very piercing steel-gray eyes. He had a short, abrupt way of speaking, and though good to his employees, was not familiar with any of them.  He always dressed in the height of fashion, wore a silk hat and used perfume……

He was crippled in one of his fingers, but in spite of this was accounted a fine amateur flute player.”

Pike constructed a massive opera house in his adopted home of Cincinnati in 1859 and many years later built a companion here in Manhattan at 23rd Street.  It officially opened on January 9, 1868.

He was banking on the growth of the New York theater along 23rd Street. Meanwhile the wealthy preferred the Academy of Music down on 14th Street. While some stages would come to 23rd Street, it would be the arrival of retail and Ladies Mile that would come to define this street by the 1880s.

Courtesy New York Public LIbrary
Courtesy New York Public LIbrary

The theater was spectacular — perhaps too spectacular for the location. “A striking feature seen on entering is the grand foyer, the largest in any theater in the city, open in part to the roof. A stairway of unusual width leads to the balcony….The stage, one of the largest in New York, is eighty feet wide and seventy feet deep, and the green-room is much the most extensive in the city.” [Kings Handbook]

The following year, Pike sold his lavish hall to two rather unlikely investors — Jim Fisk and Jay Gould, grade-A robber barons, pals of Boss Tweed and the orchestrators of the Black Friday Panic of 1869. Why would these two nefarious characters want an opera house?

Below: A detail from the Grand Opera House taken in the 1930s

Photo by Berenice Abbott
Photo by Berenice Abbott

The house’s upper floors doubled as the offices of their own Erie Railway venture. Fisk’s mistress Josie Mansfield was frequently installed into productions at the now-named Grand Opera House; it was even rumored her next-door apartment was connected to the opera house with an underground tunnel.

However it does seem that Fisk and Gould were legitimately aficionados of the theater, or at very least fans of the elite who would attend them, and the profits that would follow. The Grand Opera House would soon showcase a great number of theater endeavors outside of opera.

But unfortunately for Fisk (pictured below) the greatest show the Grand Opera House ever presented was his own wake.

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On January 6, 1872, Fisk was fatally shot at the Grand Central Hotel by Manfield’s new lover Edward Stiles Stokes. He died the following day. The robber baron was so associated with the Opera House that his body lay in state here, attended by thousands of mourners and perhaps tens of thousands of curiosity seekers.

“The showy coffin, liberally adorned with gold-plated ornaments, rested on two low stands, and in this, garbed in the gold-laced uniform of the colonel of the Ninth [regiment], lay Fisk, his mustache carefully waxed, white kid gloves on his hands, and his feet buried in white flowers, in various devices.” [source]

His business partner Gould would continue operating the Opera House for several years afterwards, eventually renting it out to vaudeville shows and ‘second-run’ Broadway productions, its fortunes disintegrating as theater moved uptown and the Chelsea neighborhood became more middle-class.

Like many old stages before it, the Grand Opera House switched to films in the 1920s. RKO tried its best to rehabilitate the space, hiring Thomas Lamb to renovate the theater with modern flourishes, reopening the space as the RKO 23rd Street Theatre (seen below in 1927):

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

Outside the opera house-turned-movie theater:

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

The site remained a movie house through the 40s and 50s, finally closing on June 15, 1960. In a further indignity, the Opera House was thoroughly gutted in a fire.

Today a three-story office and retail building sits on the spot of the opera house. Most New Yorkers are familiar with this corner due to the Dallas BBQ which graces the corner. Fisk might have been way into their Texas-sized margaritas.

Photo courtesy Mighty Sweet
Photo courtesy Mighty Sweet

 

Portions of this story originally ran in an article on this site on August 18, 2009

 

 

The Murder of Stanford White

PODCAST The tale behind the brutal murder of renown architect Stanford White on the roof garden of Madison Square Garden, the building that was one of his greatest achievements.

On the evening of June 25, 1906, during a performance of Mam’zelle Champagne on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden, the architect Stanford White was brutally murdered by Harry Kendall Thaw. The renown of White’s professional career — he was one of New York’s leading social figures — and the public nature of the assassination led newspapers to call it the Crime of the Century.  But many of the most shocking details would only be revealed in a courtroom, exposing the sexual and moral perversities of some of the city’s wealthiest citizens.

White, as a member of the prestigious firm McKim, Meade and White, was responsible for some of New York’s most iconic structures including Pennsylvania Station, the Washington Square Arch and Madison Square Garden, where he was slain. But his gracious public persona disguised a personal taste for young chorus girls, often seduced at his 24th Street studio, famed for its ‘red velvet swing’.

Evelyn Nesbit was only a teenager when she became a popular artist’s model and a cast member in Broadway’s hottest musical comedy. White wooed her with the trappings of luxury and subsequently took advantage of her. The wealthy playboy Harry Thaw also fell for Nesbit — and grew insanely jealous of White. Soon his hatred would envelop him, leading to the unfortunate events of that tragic summer night.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #188: The Murder of Stanford White

 

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

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THE UNFORTUNATE TRIO

Stanford White

White as a young man (with an enormous mustache!)

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Stanford White — date unknown but presumed to be 1906, the year he died.

 

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Evelyn Nesbit

Evelyn in 1900, photo taken by Gertrude Käsebier

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

A 1901 theatrical card (possibly for Floradora?) taken by Otto Sarony

Harvard University - Houghton Library
Harvard University – Houghton Library

 

Evelyn in 1902, photo taken by Otto Sarony

Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University
Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University

 

The following photographs of Evelyn Nesbit were taken in 1913. She would be divorced from Harry Thaw in less than two years.

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Library of Congress

 

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

 

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

From the Ogden Standard-Examiner, November 14, 1920

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Harry Kendall Thaw

Thaw in 1910

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jail

in September 1913, Thaw escaped from the institution to Canada. He was eventually captured and brought back to the states. Here he is in New Hampshire, awaiting transportation back to Matteawan.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

Thaw leaving court in July 1915 after he was declared mentally sane.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

 

SCENE OF THE CRIME

Madison Square Garden, taken in 1905 from inside the park

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

The rooftop theater at Madison Square Garden, pictured here circa 1900

Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

 

The tower at Madison Square Garden, topped with the scandalous Diana weather vane.

Courtesy George Eastman House
Courtesy George Eastman House

 

OTHER SETTINGS

The Casino Theatre, home of the show Florodora, where Evelyn Nesbit was featured, despite her young age

casino theater 1896

A scene from Florodora in 1900

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The former Hotel Lorraine, where Nesbit and Thaw were staying on the night of the murder. The address is 545 Fifth Avenue.

Courtesy Flickr/Anonymous A
Courtesy Flickr/Anonymous A

Inside the dining room of Sherry’s Restaurant (44th and 5th Avenue), where Harry Thaw got boozed up before meeting with Evelyn.

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Sherry’s in 1905 — 44th Street and 5th Avenue

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Cafe Martin in 1908, where Evelyn and Harry had dinner before the show

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

 

The Tombs — Where Harry Thaw was imprisoned during the original trial

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Ludlow Street Jail— Crowds linger outside during the last of the many Thaw trials.  For most of his jail time, he was held in the Tombs.  According to a Library of Congress commenter: “His lawyers successfully asked the court to move him from The Tombs to the Ludlow Street Jail, on the basis that he was not charged in a criminal matter, but that he was to have a jury trial only as to his present sanity.”

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

 

A 1907 nickelodeon film called The Unwritten Law about the crime.

Newsreel footage from 1915 of Thaw’s release.

 

Evelyn Nesbit performing in a nightclub in the 1930s (not sure of the club).  Start the video at around 2:15:

 

The trailer to The Girl In The Red Velvet Swing, a highly fictionalized account of the crime. Nesbit was a consultant for the film.

Odds and Ends: Washington Irving, Modern Ruin, Tourist Advice, The Slide

Irving Place is the remarkably pretty street that travels from the south side of Gramercy Park to the less charming ruckus of 14th Street.  It was named for the great writer Washington Irving during his lifetime by developer Samuel Ruggles.  The house at East 17th Street and Irving Place purports to be the former home of the great writer, but this is generally considered to be a fabrication today. However there is a terrific plaque along the side of the building today that claims otherwise. (The picture above is from June 1911, courtesy the Library of Congress.)

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The Bowery Boys are popping up all over the place! Here’s a couple things you might like to check out:

— The new podcast Look Like A Local is a new travel resources by Joel Hiscutt that offers some travel tips for American travelers. I’m interviewed on the show that focuses on New York City.  Are you a fairly new visitor to New York but want some off-the-beaten-path tips to the city?  I give you some suggestions of affordable and interesting places to visit here that will get you out of the tourist sectors.  You can listen to the show here or download it directly from iTunes.

— The official 2015 NYC Pride Guide has just been released in time for New York Pride festivities next month. And hey the Bowery Boys are in it! I look at the history of one of the most notorious bars of the late 19th century — The Slide, a haven of “inhuman and unnatural” behavior.  You can read the article here (page 54) or just pick up a free issue starting this week, pretty much in any place in lower Manhattan!

 

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Matthew Silva was my guest host a few months ago on the Bowery Boys podcast on the New York State Pavilion, a surviving relic of the 1964-65 Worlds Fair. His film about the pavilion’s remarkable life — Modern Ruin — will finally have its world premiere this Friday at the Queens Theater (which is, by the way, where we recorded the show!)  That evening is almost sold out but there will be an additional screen on Saturday, May 23.

Visit the Queens Theater site to pick up your tickets.  For those who don’t live nearby or can’t attend, there will certainly be future screenings so stay tuned!

 

 

 

Chelsea and the Chocolate Factory (or rather, Hershey and his Sixth Avenue chewing gum plant)

Hershey’s employees cut and pack chewing gum at Sixth Avenue and 21st Street.

For five glorious years in the early 1920s, Hershey’s Chocolate operated a candy plant at Sixth Avenue, in the neighborhood of Chelsea. While chocolate bars and chocolate coating for other candies were produced here, the Chelsea plant primarily focused on a new confection, one that ultimately failed — Hershey’s Chewing Gum.

But let me back up. The grand building that sits there today — one of the prominent members of Ladies Mile Historic District and the current home of Trader Joe’s — was originally built for the department store Adams Dry Goods.  Founded in the mid-1880s, Adams Dry Goods had been slowly expanding along this block, enjoying a surge of business thanks to the Sixth Avenue elevated train.

Below: The Adams Dry Goods building in 1978 (photo by Edmund V Gillon, MCNY): 

Other department stores sprouted up along the street, most notably the Siegel-Cooper department store in 1896.  (That building is home today to Bed, Bath and Beyond.)  Siegel-Cooper was a sparkling Beaux-Arts treasure, 750,000 square feet with dozens of departments for shoppers, and its ambition and size drew headlines and the curiosity of New Yorkers.

Naturally, Samuel Adams, the proprietor of Adams Dry Goods, wanted to compete with this retail behemoth, so in 1899 he hired Siegel-Cooper architects DeLemos & Cordes to design a massive new store with an opulent interior central court.  Large second floor windows offered views to elevated train passengers of the store’s most notable trade — men’s clothing.  (Much of Ladies Mile, in contrast, catered to women.)

Below:  Adams Dry Goods today. After a period in the 1990s-2000s as a Barnes and Noble bookstore, today it holds a Trader Joe’s:

But Adams’ timing was rather poor.  For just a few years later, the more successful department stores (including Lord & Taylor and B Altman) fled to Herald Square and Fifth Avenue.  Hugh O’Neill’s, the department store one block south, bought Adams Dry Goods and prepared to merge the businesses, even planning an underground tunnel under West 21st Street to link to two large structures.  This never came to fruition, and both O’Neill’s and Adams Dry Goods went out of business for good.

The abandoned building was briefly used by the US Army for storage before being acquired by a most unusual new tenant — Hershey’s Chocolate.


Candy man Milton S. Hershey had been successfully manufacturing treats in his hometown of Derry Church, Pennsylvania (which now took the mogul’s name — Hershey) and was looking for a another hit after the success of the Hershey’s Kiss.  He thought chewing gum was the logical next step.

In New York he bought some gum-making equipment and had it shipped to his Pennsylvania plant where production began on Hershey’s Chewing Gum. “Six sticks for a nickel” went the slogan.

In January 1918, Hershey leased Adams’ former department store on Sixth Avenue and eventually moved elements of his candy production there, including his entire chewing gum business.

I haven’t been to locate the exact reason why.  Early in his career, Hershey operated a candy shop on Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street, and his wife had been a clerk at B Altman’s a few blocks down.  With his chief competitor Wrigley’s located in Chicago, perhaps his return to New York was his official stab at planting roots in an urban market.

Soon the Sixth Avenue shop was whirring with the sound of boilers, mixers, candy presses and wrapping machines, sending out five thousand boxes of chewing gum a day, and a lesser amount of other candy items.  Wheat was carried in from the Pennsylvania plant and added to the gum to make it more chewy.

As you can see here, the implements of candy-making fit oddly into the cavernous Sixth Avenue department store:

Sadly, future residents of Chelsea would be robbed of the delightful aromas of chicle and chocolate, as Hershey’s chewy offering did not take off.  With raw ingredients being hard to obtain in the early 1920s, the product was discontinued, and Hershey eventually closed the plant in 1924.

However I’m sure you can buy gum at Trader Joe’s that currently occupies the building.

Hershey’s plant photographs courtesy the Museum of the City of New York (see originals here)

Consolidation! The tale of five boroughs and one big city

PODCAST Our 150th episode! Here’s the story of how two very big cities and a whole bunch of small towns and villages — completely different in nature, from farmland to skyscraper — became the greatest city in the world.

 This is the tale of Greater New York, the forming of the five boroughs into one metropolis, a consolidation of massive civic interests which became official on January 1, 1898. But this is not a story of interested parties, united in a common goal.

In fact, Manhattan (comprising, with some areas north of the Harlem River, the city of New York) was in a bit of a battle with anti-consolidation forces, mostly in Brooklyn, who saw the merging of two biggest cities in America as the end of the noble autonomy for that former Dutch city on the western shore of Long Island. You’ll be stunned to hear how easily it could have all fallen apart!

 In this podcast is the story of Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island (or Richmond, if you will) and their journey to become one. And how, rather recently in fact, one of those boroughs would grow uncomfortable with the arrangement.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to straight from here:
The Bowery Boys: Consolidation 1898: Five Boroughs, One Great City

The hero of our story — Andrew Haswell Green

Below the prize-winning anti-Consolidation song mentioned in the podcast (courtesy NYPL):

A map of Richmond from 1874

“The First Dandelion” and Walt Whitman’s very bad timing

In 1888, the New York Herald ran this poem by the great Walt Whitman:

                                         The First Dandelion

                                         Simple and fresh and fair from winter’s close 
                                                    emerging, 
                                        As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, 
                                                   had ever been, 
                                       Forth from its sunny nook of shelter’d grass— 
                                                  innocent, golden, calm as the dawn, 
                                      The spring’s first dandelion shows its trustful 
                                                  face 

Whitman was a living legend by this point.  The infirm 78-year old writer lived in Camden, New Jersey, and rarely left his home.  His most notable appearance in New York the previous year had been as a lecturer at the Madison Square Theater, discussing the legacy of Abraham Lincoln to an audience which included Mark Twain and Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

A poem by Whitman would have been reason alone to buy an edition of the New York Herald. And indeed, as the Herald’s ‘poet laureate’, several of his most notable works had debuted there.  “Mannahatta,” for instance, debuted in the Herald on February 27 that year.

At right: Walt Whitman in 1887, taken in New York by George C. Cox

Unfortunately, “The First Dandelion,” a little ode to the coming spring, ran on March 12, 1888, the worst day of the Blizzard of 1888, a day when several feet of show and deathly winds were making the American northeast a very unpleasant place to be. The poem “made its appearance at a most unfortunate time,” said the journal Illustrated American in 1892.

Nobody wanted to read about a gentle dandelion that day.  And in proceeding issues of the Herald, the poem was roundly mocked with parody verse.  Two days later, ran a verse below, signed simply “After Walt Whitman.”

                                     The First Blizzard

                                     Simple and fresh and fierce, from Winter’s close 
                                          emerging, 
                                    As if no artifice of summer, business, politics 
                                         had ever been, 
                                   Forth from its snowy nook of shivering glaciers– 
                                        innocent, silver, pale as the dawn, 
                                  The Spring’s first blizzard shows its wryful 
                                         face. 

Not quite finished, the Herald ran another mocking poem the following day:

                                  Served Him Right

                                  The poet began an ode to Spring–
                                 “Hail, lusty March! Thy airs inspire
                                 My muse of flowers and love to sing–“
                                 And then the blizzard struck the lyre

Neither the Herald nor its readership held it against Whitman personally. Four days later, the paper published “The Wallabout Martyrs,” his tribute to those held capture aboard prison ships during the Revolutionary War.

And the reputation of “The First Dandelion” was saved when it appeared in the ‘deathbed’ edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, where its beauty was better appreciated.

Frozen in time: The Blizzard of 1888 knocks New York City off its feet, creating the deadliest commute in history

In the blizzard of 1888, the streets disappeared and the snow came down almost horizontally. Imagine being trapped at work, several miles from your home. This was the plight experienced by thousands of New Yorkers (and others throughout the northeast) that Monday. (Library of Congress)

PODCAST This year is the 125th anniversary of one of the worst storms to ever wreak havoc upon New York City, the now-legendary mix of wind and snow called the Great Blizzard of 1888.

Its memory was again conjured up a few months ago as people struggled to compare Hurricane Sandy with some devastating event in New York’s past.  And indeed, the Blizzard and Sandy have several disturbing similarities.  But the battering snow-hurricane of 1888, with freezing temperatures and drifts three stories high, was made worse by the condition of New York’s transportation and communication systems, all completely unprepared for 36 hours of continual snow.

The storm struck in the early hours of Monday, and many thousands attempted to make their way to work, not knowing how severe the storm would be.  It would be the worst commute in New York City history!  Fallen telephone and telegraph poles became a hidden threat under the quickly accumulating drifts.

Elevated trains were frozen in place, their passengers unable to get out for hours.  Many died simply trying to make their way back home on foot, including Roscoe Conkling (at right), a power broker of New York’s Republican Party.

But there were moments of amusement too. Saloons thrived, and actors trudged through to the snow in time for their performances,  And for P.T. Barnum, the show must always go on!

STARRING: Hugh Grant (although maybe not the one you’re thinking)

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to straight from here:
The Bowery Boys: The Great Blizzard of 1888

NOTE:  And, yes, we can’t believe the timing of this one, releasing on the same date of an ACTUAL blizzard.  We really had this one planned for awhile, delayed it a bit because it seemed too eerie to do it so close after Hurricane Sandy.

So if you’re in New York or the northeast United States, stay inside, stay safe and let this podcast be the only dangerous snow drifts you experience this week!

———————————————————————

Why did the 1888 blizzard become such a hazard for New Yorkers? Let this picture be your first clue. The city was a cobweb of elevated telegraph, telephone and electric wires.  This picture is from 1887. (LOC)

One example of a terrible (although minor) snow drift that might have kept this family in their home all day.  Because of the unpredictable changes in wind, some houses might have been drift-free, while others close by completely locked in with snow. (LOC)

George Washington at the Sub-Treasury Building (today Federal Hall). I ran this photo a few weeks ago, but it’s so bizarre that I think it needs a second posting.

The Brooklyn Bridge, not even five years old, weathered the winds quite well, but became a hazard due to ice. In this picture, people are crossing over as there was no other way to get between Manhattan and Brooklyn.  It’s not clear if any of the trains are operating in this picture.

The biggest danger for those venturing outside were the hundreds of downed telegraph, telephone and electrical poles, no match for the intense gusts.  The poles would quickly fall then get covered with snow, creating deadly hazards for people walking past.  The snow would just as quickly cover over an unconscious individual; many New Yorkers froze to death when they fell and were instantly shrouded.

Henry Bergh, founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He did not survive the blizzard. (NYHS)

Transportation in and out of the city was at a complete standstill for half the week.  Here workers frantically try to clear the way for trains going into Grand Central Depot.

Clean-up was truly chaotic, a feeble effort by the city paired with private contractors with horses, shovels and carts. The piles of snow were taken to water’s edge and dumped, or, in a few less preferred cases, people just started bonfires and melted it away. (For a great picture of a snow dump in the river, see this photo at Shorpy of a blizzard from 1899.) Top pic courtesy LOC, at bottom Maggie Blanck.

The cover of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, usually one of the more sensational pieces of journalism people might have found at their newsstand.

Before Al Roker and Sam Champion, there was Farmer Dunn, New York’s weather guru of the late 19th century

How did New Yorkers know to panic over the weather in the 19th century? How could they know to run through the streets in terror at the upcoming snowpocylpse/blizzardtastrophe if there was no brightly colored Accuweather radar or a friendly weather person with perfectly coiffed hair?

In the 1880s, New Yorkers turned to one man — the Brooklyn-born Sergeant Elias B. Dunn (at right, with his dashing moustache, 1902).  He was so trusted for his weather predictions — more accurate than an almanac! — that he was given the almost devout nickname of Farmer Dunn.

Nationwide weather forecasts had been steadily compiled by the federal government since 1814, but such  prognostications — or “probabilities” as there was sometimes called — were never taken very seriously until the late 19th century.

With the invention of the telegraph, a national signal office was established in 1870 and placed under the auspice of the Secretary of War as it was believed that “military discipline would probably secure the greatest promptness, regularity and accuracy in the required observations.”  Members of the military were enlisted throughout the United States to telegraph current weather conditions to the Washington D.C. signal office, where meteorologists could piece together the information and make more accurate predictions.  In 1890, this responsibility was moved to the Department of Agriculture.  (This is where Dunn got his unique nickname.)

New York’s weather conditions were assigned to Dunn, a decorated sergeant, and a four-man team, set up in a telegraph office located in the 1880s at the old Equitable Building at 120 Broadway. (In 1894, they moved to the taller Manhattan Life Building at 64-66 Broadway.)  The team would telegraph present conditions by using barometric instruments located on the roof.  They would then report statements from the D.C. signal office to the press.

Below: the original Equitable Building, headquarters for Farmer Dunn and his telegraph crew. The ornate structure famous burnt down in 1912 during a frightfully chilly evening. (courtesy NYPL)

Dunn “is one of the very best known men in the city.” according to an 1894 New York Times article.  “His popularity, except with his legion of friends, is of a varying quality.”  Farmer Dunn would embody the weather for many New Yorkers;  his name would be cursed when it rained and praised on sunny days.

When his predictions failed, he was jovially mocked in the press. “ELIAS IS NOT A PROPHET,” declared the Times in 1895 after a sudden rain dampened spirits on Independence Day.

He was a man of science, eschewing folk traditions of predicting weather. “We made a list of all the farmers’ beliefs and the sailors’ beliefs, and we submitted them to investigation,” Dunn told the New York Sun.  “The result that we found was that they just don’t work out.  The study of weather is an exact science which cannot be left to squirrels and nuts.”

Dunn was on hand during one of the worst weather events in New York City history — the Blizzard of 1888, which struck the city just after midnight on Monday, March 12.  He and his team frantically sent telegraphs to DC and received no response, as most of the telegraph poles further south had been dismantled by the storm’s brutal winds.  In fact, it was only when he received a message from London — via the Atlantic Cable, buried under the ocean — that he realized the full impact of the blizzard.

Later in life, Farmer Dunn became a published author, spilling his meteorological secrets in books such as “The Weather and Practical Methods of Forecasting It.”  He must  have inspired an entire generation of buddy weather enthusiasts, describing technical terms in a plain manner and even recommending equipment.  For instance, if you were looking for a polymeter (it “gives the relative and absolute humidity”), Dunn recommends purchasing one from “Gall & Lemlike, 21 Union Square.”

At right: An illustration from Dunn’s book, 1902

He also became a popular newspaper columnist, distributing such wisdoms in 1900 as “the popular idea that the spots on the sun produce excessive heat on the Earth is erroneous.” (source)

It seems he also got into the “moving picture” business, although I can find no other information on this other than the fact that he sued Thomas Edison in 1900!

Later in life, Farmer Dunn ran as a Republican for a seat in the U.S. Congress. He was touted for his six-word platform: “Americanism; local option; no entangling alliances.”  He lost, which he did not predict.  The weather guru died in 1943, enjoying many years of retirement in Miami.