Category Archives: Those Were The Days

New York City in the Jazz Age! Presenting Our Podcast Summer Series

The Bowery Boys are heading to the speakeasy and kicking back with some bathtub gin this August — with a brand new summer series focusing on New York City in the Jazz Age.

The 1920s were a transformational decade for New York, evolving from a Gilded Age capital to the ideal of the modern international city. Art deco skyscrapers reinvented the skyline, reorienting the center of gravity from downtown to a newly invigorated Midtown Manhattan. Cultural influences, projected to the world via radio and the silent screen, helped create a new American style.

This summer we will be telling this story from the perspective of two major figures of the Roaring ’20s — one from New York’s poshest circles (who dabbled in the debauched), the other from the seediest corner of the underworld (who briefly broke through to the mainstream). Their lives share similar paths — familiar places and events. They certainly rubbed elbows. They might have had an illegal drink together.

Two devastating events in particular will disrupt the lives of these two characters and upend New York’s giddy good times. A gruesome murder will began an epic unraveling of corruption. A financial calamity will freeze the city’s progress in place.

Getty Images

Our new podcast series begins this Friday (August 4th) with a profile of one of the most fashionable characters of the Jazz Age and the backdrop of unfathomable prosperity that transformed New York City into the most powerful city in the world.

Before we begin, make sure you’ve heard these six episodes from our back catalog. The stories of the people and events described in these particular shows will reverberate into the situations presented in our next three podcasts.

You can download these shows from iTunes, stream from most any podcast listening player, or listen to them below:

The story of Mayor John Purroy Mitchel doesn’t take place in the 1920s but you may consider it a prequel to the first part of our mini-series. It’s the story of a well-meaning, likable and photogenic young mayor who was swiftly overwhelmed by the corruptible engine of government.


New York City was the international capital of publishing by the 1920s, and the writers, critics and bon vivants who gathered for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel during this period helped define the eras style and sass.


Courtesy Open Culture


As one of the most famous nightclubs of the Roaring ’20s, the Cotton Club launched careers and electrified New York’s raging nightlife although its policies of segregation tarnish its musical reputation. This show is full of music to get you in the mood for a Jazz Age summer!



Few events in New York City during the 1920s typify the decade’s feverish creation of the modern celebrity more than the death of silent screen idol Rudolph Valentino, a former dancer in Times Square nightclubs who became America’s most exotic movie star.


The movie star was one of the most vibrant — and dangerous — performers on the New York City stage in the 1920s. She would get her inspirations from the ladies of the speakeasies and the alternative cultures of Greenwich Village.

Millionaire aviator crashes into Central Park one hundred years ago!

An airplane crashing into Central Park? Believe it or not, in the early days of flight, these sorts of stories were somewhat frequent, although in this case, the pilot and passenger got out okay.

Quote from newspaper coverage. From the New York Evening World, March 6, 1916:

Alexander H. Thaw, the millionaire aviator, and John Kane, his mechanician, dropped 4,000 feet with a hydroaeroplane into a tree in Central Park this morning.  The machine was almost a total wreck but both aviators slid to the ground with hardly a scratch.  Thousands who had witnessed the flying machine drop from its dizzy height rushed into the park expecting to find the two flyers crushed to death.”

The New York Times puts the plane even higher in the sky!

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 12.23.19 PM

“While circling the heavens, hoping to get some glimpse of Governors Island, the gasoline in the biplane’s tank gave out and the engine stopped.  The youthful aviator did not lose his head, however, but started volplaning to the earth in long spirals, both he and Kane on the lookout for a safe landing place.

Soon they were about to pick out Central Park, and Thaw guided the biplane to the sheepfold, where it is likely he would have landed without mishap had not the left wing of his machine caught in a tree. The car tipped then, but neither occupant was thrown out, and the biplane came to rest on the earth, with both wings badly broken, the tipping having broken the right one against the earth.” 

The airplane crash would have startled not just Central Park’s human patrons, but the actual sheep of Sheep Meadow (pictured below in 1910, picture courtesy Museum of the City of New York)


From the Evening World:

Thaw and Kane found they had no broken bones and when they were surrounded by the crowds that had watched their fall they were ruefully gazing aloft at their broken bird.

‘Well it might have been worse,’ remarked the young aviator and then he set to work to have the hydroaeroplane taken out of the tree and shipped back to Garden City [to Roosevelt Field on Long Island].”

A photograph (from the Library of Congress) of the dramatic aftermath:

Library of CongressLibrary of Congress

Thaw would distinguish himself as one of America’s boldest and bravest young flyers, entering into America’s inaugural aviation service during World War I. Tragically he was killed in France on August 22, 1918, when his plane experienced engine failure. He was not as lucky then as he was on that day in Central Park.  “The engine trouble developed at an altitude of 2,000 feet and the machine when it fell struck a number of telephone wires and collapsed, upside down.” [source]

His brother William Thaw was also a pilot and became renown during World War I. He’s generally considered to be the very first American aviator to engage in battle during the conflict. Thaw survived the war and died in 1934 a decorated hero.

And if you’re wondering about that last name Thaw. Yes, indeed the murderer of Stanford WhiteHarry K. Thaw — is indeed from the same family.


Let’s look at some old-timey Valentine’s Day cards!

“In observing St. Valentine’s Day we conform to a heathen custom which obtained long before the martyr, St. Valentine, was born,” wrote the New  York Daily Tribune in February of 1908.

Like Christmas, the celebration of Valentine’s Day became explicitly commercial in the late 19th century with the mass manufacture of cards and candy.  Massachusetts businesswoman Esther Howland is considered the mother of the Valentine’s Day card, making a fortune producing them for her father’s stationary store in Worchester.  She improved upon the conservative English valentines cards with flowery verse upon various card stock, embroidered with lace and color embossing.

By the 1880s, Valentine’s Day cards were being mass produced. Today over 150 million cards are delivered, making it the second busiest holiday for card makers.

Here’s a great selection of old Valentine’s Day cards from the collection at the New York Public Library.  They certainly don’t make them like they used to!



















And finally here’s a few incredibly amazing vintage cards from Norway, just in case you want to really shake it up (and perhaps generally confuse) your valentine! Let’s just say the Norwegians seem to have more of a sense of humor back then.










Columbus Discovers Columbus Circle

There are a great many statues in New York City of the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, a rather controversial figure today who many consider to be a sadist and a bumbling idiot who destroyed indigenous cultures in the name of European glory.  He was obviously more celebrated at the end of the 19th century when colonization and violent conquest were still on the menu of empire expansion.

In many ways, Columbus’ iconography has become removed from his legacy. Some of New York’s Columbus representations — including the most prominent one in Columbus Circle — arrived in 1892, the year New Yorkers celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ ‘discovery’ of the New World with a variety of commemorative events. Given that this was the Gilded Age, this required all manner of sculptural representation laced with symbolic meaning.

Below: Columbus Circle in 1905

1905 Courtesy George Eastman House
1905 Courtesy George Eastman House


More importantly, the ceremonies marked a unique time in this country’s history with the increased prominence of new Italian immigrants. Italians were arriving in America at a rapid rate starting in the 1880s and increasing well into the new century.  Today, the idea of Columbus as a proud representation of European conquest has diminished, but his stature as a icon of Italian pride remains. In fact the Columbus statue at the heart of Columbus Circle was funded entirely by Italian Americans — or, at least, readers of the Italian American newspaper Il Progresso.

The largest was planned in the “big circle” at the southwest gate of Central Park, featuring a great column and a granite depiction of Columbus by Gaetano Russo, entirely created in his studio in Rome and shipped over in August.

1895, JS Johnston, Museum of the City of New York
1895, JS Johnston, Museum of the City of New York

The statue was in a competition of sorts with a Spanish-American tribute to Columbus, a massive fountain to be designed by Fernando Miranda. But there was no room for Miranda’s 100-foot-wide fountain by the time Columbus and his column were erected on October 12, 1892.

It’s interesting to compare the two southern corners of Central Park and how they were perceived.  The southeast side ran along Fifth Avenue — lined with mansions — and was essentially a carriage entrance for the wealthy. The southwest side was used by the residents of the Tenderloin and Hell’s Kitchen although sumptuous new apartment buildings were going up along Central Park’s west side.  Thus it might have been considered a more ‘democratic’ entrance.   Many years later, the Columbus column would be joined by the Maine monument.

Below:  How the area looked around the circle when Columbus was first installed in 1892


Christopher Columbus’ journey — his statue’s journey, that is — was closely followed by the press.  “A ship belonging to the Italian Navy is now on the Atlantic Ocean headed for this port with a beautiful and nobel gift for this city,” according the New York Tribune on August 21, 1892.

The Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, had only been dedicated in 1886, and some saw parallel in the two foreign presents.  “From the time the movement was first started to the present time it has been forwarded enthusiastically by Italians of all conditions and circumstances, not only in this city, but also in Italy.”

Some prominent guests arrived from the official unveiling on October 12, 1892, including the Vice President of the United States Levi P. Morton, the Archbishop of New York Michael Corrigan, and the mayors of both New York and Brooklyn.

Whatever happened to Miranda’s Columbus fountain? Other homes were sought for the creation but none were found, so the project wasn’t installed in any public plaza. Fountains would eventually join the Columbus Circle column but not for several decades. In 2005 a dramatic new fountain was installed at the column’s base, recalling the water features of Rome.

Meanwhile a statue to Columbus was also planned for Central Park. Originally slated to stand next to William Shakespeare’s statue, park commissioners soon thought otherwise, objecting “to having too many memorials of Columbus in and about Central Park,” according to the Times. They changed their minds, and Jeronimo Sunol’s statue of Columbus was finally placed here on May 12, 1894.

You can spend the day looking for Columbus all over New York City! Here’s a list of places you can find Columbus in at least four of the five boroughs.


THIS is New York Fashion Week — as it might have been in 1915

 New York Fashion Week, the city’s twice-yearly celebration of couture and runway, traces its roots to a 1943 press week event at the Plaza Hotel, organized by publicist Eleanor Lambert.  But there had been a variety of one-off ‘fashion weeks’ or American fashion events in the  years between the wars.  In 1934, the Mayfair Mannequin Academy, a local modeling school, even petitioned Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to declare an official New York Fashion Week as a way to encourage American designers who worked in an industry dominated by Paris.

But well before any of those events, New York’s most famous runway show took place on the street — the Sunday promenades along Fifth Avenue.  It was especially robust during Easter with wealthy women trying to outdo each other in latest styles from Europe.  Newspapers covered Easter Sunday with the same fervor as a modern fashion show, noting colors, hem lines, and even the plumage flagrantly bursting from hats.

While there was no dedicated ‘fashion week’ one hundred years ago, there was heightened and excited attention to of-the-moment fashion trends.  So here’s a little thought experiment — what would an actual Fashion Week in 1915 look like?

There would in fact be fashion-related events at Madison Square Garden (in its original location off of Madison Square) so let’s put this imaginary Fashion Week there:

from September 4, 1903, New York Evening World
from September 4, 1903, New York Evening World


An End to Bondage

Women’s fashion would be affected by the war in Europe in many ways.  Travel restrictions put an end to the constant flow of fashion queues from Paris. New ideas that were strictly American could begin influencing the way women dressed here.

The growing independence of women also allowed for a looser, more comfortable style.  Gone from the streets were the dreaded hobble skirts, limiting the ability of women to take long strides. (Anything for fashion!) What audiences might have seen in 1915 were skirt styles that opened up at the bottom, allowing for freer movement.

Ladies' Costume (6505) ; Blouse (6362) ; Ladies' Four-Piece Skirt (6517) ; Blouse (6450) ; Ladies' Two-Piece Draped Skirt (6526) ; Ladies' Semiprincess Costume (6473) ; Motifs (12193) ; Blouse (6331) ; Skirt (6503) ; Scallop (11661). Courtesy New York Public Library
Ladies’ Costume (6505) ; Blouse (6362) ; Ladies’ Four-Piece Skirt (6517) ; Blouse (6450) ; Ladies’ Two-Piece Draped Skirt (6526) ; Ladies’ Semiprincess Costume (6473) ; Motifs (12193) ; Blouse (6331) ; Skirt (6503) ; Scallop (11661). Courtesy New York Public Library

These would come to be called ‘war crinoline’, essentially a precursor to a modern conservative skirt and described as bell-shaped, a “very full calf-length skirt” requiring extra fabric to attain its flowy, romantic look.

This would seem to be antithetical to wartime thinking — when lifestyles were often pared back — but these larger gowns were touted as practical fashion and thus ‘patriotic’ in their intent.  The role of women in wartime, many thought, was to simply look their best. At least, this was the line many fashion designers took during the era.

1915 Delineator Spring dresses
1915 Delineator Spring dresses
New York Sun, August 1915
New York Sun, August 1915

Revolutionary Undergarments

While some women would continue to subject themselves to the corset, the practicalities of life soon led to its unpopularity.  In 1914, Carisse Crosby, a well-connected society heiress from New Rochelle, received the patent for a revolutionary new form of support  — the modern bra.  Called the backless brassiere, the invention further facilitated a departure from stiff and uncomfortable silhouettes.

Crosby (really named Mary Phelps Jacobs) was a well connected society woman and would have been milling about the crowd at Madison Square Garden.  In 1915 she married the Boston Brahmin playboy Richard Peabody and eventually moved to Manhattan when she became pregnant with his child.

Lingerie And Negligees, 1915. Courtesy New York Public LIbrary
Lingerie And Negligees, 1915. Courtesy New York Public LIbrary


from the New York Evening World, October 21, 1915
from the New York Evening World, October 21, 1915

The Gradual Straight Line

Perhaps the boldest fashion transition in the 1910s was the subtle shift from curvaceous, hour-glass forms to a straight, shapeless silhouette.  While the war crinoline still required a narrow waist for some of its dramatics, competing styles leaned towards sleekness.   This was an evolution from the Empire waist which had gained a resurgence earlier in the decade.



Rise of the Dangerous

The predominant form of women’s fashion in the 1920s — the boyish flapper with sleek dresses and short hair — would rise from the edgier look of the ‘vamp’, best embodied in the late 1910s by film and stage actress Theda Bara.  This took the reformed instincts of woman’s fashion to its extreme. Sexuality became more overt and stylized, from bold makeup to exposed flesh.  This was certainly not the look of your average lady on the street, but soon slight shades of the vamp style would eventually seep into everyday fashion.

Theda Bara in the 1915 film Sin
Theda Bara in the 1915 film Sin


The Popularity of Make-Up

It was unseemly of women to paint their faces with too many cosmetics during the late 19th century. But by the mid 1910s, women were influenced by actresses and dancers, and taboos against wearing cosmetics were relaxed.  The natural pale complexion so desired a decade earlier gave way to a kind of democratization that only makeup could provide.  Women were allowed to heighten the drama in their faces and mask the imperfections.

In 1915, two major forces in women’s beauty opened salons on Fifth Avenue — Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein. Both heavily influenced by the Parisian fashion aesthetic, elite New York women flocked to their shops.   Within a decade, these two entrepreneurs would be the anchors of a burgeoning and highly lucrative beauty industry.

from a 1915 Gimbels fashion magazine, courtesy  the blog Historically Romantic
from a 1915 Gimbels fashion magazine, courtesy the blog Historically Romantic


Hints of the ‘Little Black Dress’?

Black was not worn by women of gaiety and glamour.  It was strictly the hue of mourning during the Gilded Age and rarely made an appearance in actual evening wear.  However in an imagined fashion show in 1915, you may have seen a slight hint of it here or there, although not very practical and only as part of bold ‘vamp’ styling of its time.  It might have seemed edgy and even a bit bizarre, something only a worldly woman might have worn.

It would take another decade — and the influence of Coco Chanel — to bring the black dress into fashionable prominence. It would eventually becoming one of the defining looks of the New York woman.

from a 1915 Pictoral Review
from a 1915 Pictoral Review
A brief skating fashion fad inspired this spread in the New York Tribune, November 14 1915
A brief skating fashion fad inspired this spread in the New York Tribune, November 14 1915

Driving Attire

The continued popularity of the automobile required specific sorts of fashion to protect the clothes from dust.  These items found their way into regular wear.  This article from an August 1, 1915, issue of the New York Sun proclaims the return of the smock. “The smock is worn in the garden and on the golf links.”


Still A World of Hats

One taste that didn’t wander far was the love of hats. While flamboyant hats still topped many society ladies head, styles eventually became a little serious with nautical and even military influences.



Even the school girls got into the act of fashion!  Here’s a pair from the first day of school in 1915….


Lovely photos of the horrible New York garbage strike of 1911

New York street cleaners and garbage workers (sometimes referred to as ‘ashcart men’) went on strike on November 8, 1911, over 2,000 men walking off their jobs in protest over staffing and work conditions.

More importantly, that April, the city relegated garbage pickup to nighttime shifts only, and cleaners often worked solo. This may have been acceptable in warmer weather, but winter was approaching. At a union rally that evening, a union representative proclaimed, “A 200-pound can was a mighty big load for one man to lift into a garbage wagon ……. [Our] men are already falling ill with pneumonia and rheumatism and … they demanded the right to work in the sunlight and the warmer weather of the daytime.”

In total, almost over 2,000 workers left their jobs in retaliation, “because they didn’t like to work in the dark,” said the New York Sun, derisively. [source]

By Nov. 11, garbage was heaped along street corners, and coal ash swirled into the street, creating a blackened, smelly stew along the cobblestones. The city brought in temporary workers to carry off the more egregious piles of filth away, but harangues and violence by union protesters –“mobs assaulting and stoning drivers” — required they be protected by police.

New Yorkers had lived through such a strike before, as recently as 1907, but strikers found little public support this time around. Newspapers, little sympathetic to the strikers, highlighted the growing threat of disease and the perceived selfishness of the workers. “The right to strike of public employees, who enjoy the advantage of being listed in the civil service, is more than doubtful,” said the New York Times.

During bouts between strikebreakers and police, over two dozen people were injured and one man was even killed by a falling chimney. Meanwhile, Mayor William Jay Gaynor was resolute in rejecting the cleaners demands. The efforts of the workers failed, and many went back to their jobs the next week, some heavily penalized for their participation in the strike.

Here are a few images from those foul-smelling days. These photographs are far more pleasant to look at than they must have been to shoot!

Horse-drawn garbage wagons collect trash during the four-day garbage strike.

Police protection those who broke from the strikers to clean the city streets.

The city shipped in workers from out of town to sweep the streets during the strike

Crowds form in the streets watching the garbage carts go by.  I don’t know whether these are strikers or just curiosity seekers!
Boys captivated by the mounted police guarding the garbage carts.  In the second photography, a couple rowdy boys are actually chasing after a garbage cart.
Violence against a garbage cart.  This vehicle is pelted with stones at the corner of East 57th Street.
Another set of strike breakers rush by this street corner in their garbage cart.
Meanwhile, a boiler company took advantage of the strike to run this grim advertisement for their garbage burners in the New York Sun.
This photo series courtesy the Library of Congress.  Portions of this story originally ran on the 100th anniversary of this event in November 2011.

Twelve great reasons why women do not deserve the right to vote — according to a prominent 1914 anti-suffragist

Suffragists are just women who can’t get a man, according to this postcard. (Courtesy June Purvis/History Extra)

Just as support for women’s suffrage was on the rise by the 1910s, there were equally as vehement opponents to those expanded rights.  The anti-suffragist movement based its objections on several points that adhered strongly to the stability of civilization and the traditional roles of women.

On March 22, 1914, the anti-suffragist Grace Duffield Goodwin laid out several commandments for rejecting the right to vote in a column in the New York Tribune — and in listicle form, no less.  These points are derived from a 141-page treatise she penned entitled Anti-Suffrage: Ten Good Reasons which you can read at the Internet Archives. (One example from the book — Chapter One: The Ballot Is Not A Right)

On this Election Day 2014, I present to you her reasons against the right to vote.  You can read the entire column here.  I’ve interspersed her column with some of anti-suffragist cartoons and handbills of the day, both from America and England:

(Library of Congress)

1) “Because the basis of government is force – its stability rests upon its physical power to enforce its laws; therefore it is inexpedient to give the vote to woman. Immunity from service in executing the law would make most women irresponsible voters.” 

Women were not allowed to serve in juries or in the Armed Forces in 1914, and very few sought out roles in traditional law enforcement.  Goodwin’s thinking is that if women can’t actually enforce the laws, they should not be able to determine the laws.

2) “Because the suffrage is not a question of right or of justice, but of policy and expediency; and if there is no question of right or of justice, there is no case of woman suffrage.”

Goodwin echoes the feelings of many Americans back then that the right to vote and to elect leaders was not a fundamental right of Americans.  Keep in mind that just 125 years before her, many believed that only land-holding white educated men should have the right to vote.

3) “Because it is the demand of a minority of women, and the majority of women protest against it.”

And really, Goodwin argues, women don’t really want the vote anyway.  Goodwin thankfully avoids mentioning many of the offensive characteristics suffragists supposedly possessed.

4) “Because it means simply doubling the vote, and especially the undesirable and corrupt vote, of our large cities.”

Voting procedures in America were already so distorted by corrupt political machines, adding voices to this mix would only make it worse.  Keep in mind that political machines were still greatly in control in most places in the United States, locally and nationally.  Swelling the numbers of voters would only give machines like Tammany Hall further opportunities to corrode the process. (As for the “undesirable” vote, I believe Mrs. Goodwin’s classism is shining through here.)

5) “Because the great advance of women in the last century — moral, intellectual and economic — has been made without the vote; which goes to prove that is it not needed for their further advancement along the same lines.”

Women can simply piggyback upon the decisions made by men on their ascent through professional circles.  Many are already benefiting greatly from this adjacency. So why change anything?

6) “Because women now stand outside politics, and therefore are free to appeal to any party in matters of education, charity and reform.”

Mrs. Goodwin dances around a salient point here — the idea that being outside of politics allows somebody to get things done that would be impossible within the constraints of government. Of course, this isn’t a justification for simply women; today many choose the sidelines as a place to affect change.

7) “Because the ballot has not proved a cure-all for existing evils with men, and we find no reason to assume that it would be more effectual with women.”

She’s being accidentally radical here with the notion that because it’s so broken, why even bother participating in it?  We all think a version of this every year we go to the polls.  It’s the universal notion of my vote doesn’t matter.  Mrs Goodwin uses it here as a justification of avoiding the process entirely.

New York anti-suffragists on a day trip up the Hudson River, May 30, 1913 [source]

8) “Because the women’s suffrage movement is a backward step in the progress of civilization, in that it seeks to efface natural differentiation of function, and to produce identity, not division, of labor.”

This gets to the fundamental argument of both anti-suffragists and anti-feminists — was it even appropriate for women to be given such a role, when nature has given them other responsibilities such as motherhood and nurturing?  A similar refrain echoes through many modern issues today including gay marriage.  Creating laws which obviously go against what is so clearly and naturally delineated by the universe is simply dysfunctional and even dangerous.

9) “Because in Colorado [who had already gave women the right to vote in state elections] after a test of seventeen years the results show no gain in public or political morals over male suffrage states, and the necessary increase in the cost of election, which is already a huge burden upon the taxpayer is unjustified.”

This is another statement which echoes into our current state-vs federal debate of controversial laws.  I suspect many will express similar statements in a couple years over another revolutionary Colorado ruling — the legalization of marijuana.

Socialists win! Courtesy Virginia Department of Historic Resources

10)  “Because our present duties fill up the whole measure of our time and ability and are such as none but ourselves can perform.  Our appreciation of their importance requires us to protest against all efforts to infringe upon our rights by imposing upon us those obligations which cannot be separated from suffrage, but which, as we think, cannot be performed by us without the sacrifices of the highest interests of our family and our society.”

“Our present duties” would include both the traditional basis of womanhood  (including giving birth, raising children and creating a home) but also advanced societal roles in church and charity.  Mrs Goodwin believes these will be detrimentally obstructed if woman had to participate in the political sphere.  And once these roles are compromised, then the fabric of society suffers.

Courtesy Oregon Blue Book

11) “Because it is our fathers, brothers, husbands and sons who represent us at the ballot box.  Our fathers and our brothers love us; our husbands are our choice, and one with us; our sons are what WE MAKE THEM.  We are content that they represent us, in the cornfield, on the battlefield and at the ballot box, and we THEM in the schoolroom, at the fireside, and at the cradle, believing our representation even at the ballot box to be thus more full and impartial than it would be were the views of the few who wish suffrage adopted, contrary to the judgement of the many.

In essence, women are represented in government by those who raised them.  They vote when they choose their husbands and instill their values into their children.   To give a woman the right to vote would be redundant and only subjects their vote to corrupt forces.

12) “We believe that political equality will deprive us of special privileges hitherto accorded by law.”

The power that women possess in 1914 America is so unique and instrumental to the current operation of the country that to tinker with this mechanism will only take rights away from women in other spheres.

To equalize women with men in a voting booth will mean equalizing them in places where women have the upper hand.  And we certainly don’t want to upset the apple cart or, in this case, the hen house:

History in the Making 10/29: Gilded Age Gothic Edition

Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire, the morbidly elegant new show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, looks at 19th century customs of grief through public fashion.  These garments, from 1815-1915, exhibit an undeniable grace and serenity, but they also signal more concrete associations to the recently passed. Some gowns were specifically for ‘half-mourning’, or light mourning, as though they were illustrative of the person’s inner feelings.  Not everything’s a Goth’s perfect closet; later dresses in shimmering beads or purple infer wearers with more complicated relationships to society and the deceased.

The show runs through February 1. 2015. Downton Abbey fans should consider this a pilgrimage. [Metropolitan Museum of Art]

You can look a little deeper at this curious subject over at Brooklyn’s Morbid Anatomy Museum which is also looking at the objects of grief in its new show The Art of Mourning. [Morbid Anatomy Museum]

New York’s Year-Round  Haunted House:  I was recently interviewed by the New York Post for their Halloween round-up of famous urban legends. My this be the first of many interviews about alligators in the sewer for me! I also chat about Captain Kidd’s alleged treasure on Liberty Island. Read the article here: [New York Post]

Welcome to New York:  Meanwhile, over at the Daily News, Jeremiah Moss (from Vanishing New York) welcomes Taylor Swift to New York in his own unique way. It’s surprisingly welcoming!  [New York Daily News]

Hello Cruel World:  Long-time friend of the podcast Joe Angio has directed the new documentary Revenge of the Mekons about the strange and ragged journey of the British rock band the Mekons.  This isn’t really New York based, but if you’re a fan of good rock docs, please check this one out. The New York Times loved it! [New York Times]

Beautiful Beulah:  The History Chicks have a terrific show this month on the biography of stage and film star Hattie McDaniel.  She’s more than just an actress from Gone With The Wind!  You’ll find her early years with Ziegfield particularly interesting. [The History Chicks]

Last Call: Smith’s Bar in Midtown, with its beautiful neon sign, is closing its doors after 60 years.  This calls for some serious mourning attire. [Gothamist]

Below: From Harper’s Bazaar, 1891: Crêpe hat ; Mourning bonnet ; Mourning wrap ; Mourning cap for elderly lady ; Coat-basque for costume, back and front. [NYPL]

Housewives demand open markets! One century ago, New York radically changed how people bought groceries

[Manhattan open market.]

Setting up a market under the Manhattan Bridge. (Courtesy MCNY. Note: This photo may be of an earlier market here, but this gives you an idea of where the 1914-15 markets would have been located.)

Groceries are becoming more expensive as retailers mark up prices due to food shortages (or simple price gouging at perceived shortages). So people are turning to rather unconventional methods of getting fresh meat and produce.  Is this 2014 or 1914?

At the start of World War I, there was an immediate shortage of certain food items at New York grocers. Local distributors greatly took advantage of this special circumstance, marking up a variety of essential items.  “Sugar and flour, which have been increasing in price so rapidly, gave indications of continuing their upward march,” an article from August 19, 1914 proclaimed.

Shopping at a typical New York grocer, 1903 (MCNY): 

266 Seventh Avenue c. 1903.

Fifty years before, New Yorkers could interact with farmers and butchers directly at open-air markets.  But by the 1910s, most transactions were governed by local distributors. Old Washington Market was by this time a thriving indoor wholesale market. Local grocers had limited space with limited selection. The era of the modern supermarket — with greater selections and better values — was still a decade or two in the future. (The first supermarket is often considered to be Piggly Wiggly, which opened in Tennessee in 1916.)

To fend off rising food rates, the city of New York did something rather extraordinary:  it opened its own direct markets (or “open markets”) which cut out the middle-man entirely.

Manhattan Borough President Marcus M. Marks authorized the opening of four such markets in the following open areas — under the Manhattan sides of the Manhattan and Queensboro Bridges, the intersection of 3rd Avenue and 129th Street (today’s Harlem River Park), and the Fort Lee Ferry Terminal (West 139th Street and the Hudson River, near today’s Riverbank State Park).  A similar program was also set up in Tompkinsville, Staten Island.

Below: Interior of the Queensboro Bridge Market, 1915 (MCNY)

[Interior of market under the Queensboro Bridge.]

The markets opened in September 1914 with dozens of Long Island and New Jersey farmers bringing their wares to New York. Pushcart vendors, already spread throughout the city, also set up shop here.  What makes this such a controversial move is that it was a clear attempt to undercut all established grocers, to force distributors to quit gouging price.

They were an immediate hit despite being located in areas quite distant from certain populated areas. The markets appealed to women of many classes, because who doesn’t love a bargain? “At this market were many housewives who came in automobiles to buy from the farmers,” said a report from September 20, 1914. “Baskets filled with fresh vegetables and fruits were on seats, and the legs of more than one chicken projected from paper parcels under the chauffeur’s elbows.”  By 1915, the markets were considered by some “a social affair.”

Below: from an April 1915 profile from the Sun:

 The open markets were so successful that stock was usually emptied out by mid-morning.  Late-arriving women “actually wept when the market was bought out.” [source]

Naturally, retail grocers were angered by the city’s bold move and soon went on the offensive. “There is nothing but politics in this open market game, gentleman, from start to finish,” declared one speaker at a grocers union rally that October.

The city counteracted the grocer’s propaganda by providing ‘bargain days’ for extra values, reeling in the participation of farmers, butchers, poultry brokers and even honey producers.  “A butcher, who will open a new stand, says that he will give a head of cabbage in lieu of trading stamps to every purchaser of a piece of corned beef.” [October 15, source]

The markets lasted only a few months and, strangely enough, it was the city itself that killed them. Obviously bending to pressure from local businessmen, the city began charging high rents for a spot at the markets, and smaller farmers soon fled.  The Evening World noticed rents that would equal up to “$900 a year”. That’s $20,000 in 2014 currency.

In essence, this was one end of New York government attempting to dampen the authority of the other (namely, the borough president’s office).  Vendors had to raise prices to keep their place, and so the usefulness of the markets swiftly faded.

Ladies, eliminate your “New Yorkese”: Prim and proper advice from a 1940s elocution teacher

Seventy-five years ago today (September 23 1939), this advertisement ran in the New Yorker:  

Well, that simply won’t do!  So I decided to look into Miss Margaret McCoy and found an illuminating article from a 1942 column in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle — “Beauty and You” by Patricia Lindsay.  In this piece, McCoy provides advice for young woman wishing to find more confidence in their personal presentation. Some of her sage observations:

— “Women don’t realize that through misuse of their voice they reveal a nervous, erratic and unstable temperament.”

—  “The swallowed tones heard so frequently today among the younger generation disclose affectations of superiority and insincerity.

— “Good speech is speech that does not attract attention to itself. It is not affected, pedantic or theatrical.”

—  “If, while you speak, your listeners are attracted to how you sound rather than what you say, your message is not being delivered.  Muffled, indistinct speech, due to careless sloppy habits, or speech which has a foreign or provincial flavor is incapable of conveying an idea.”

Margaret’s school was still offering advice in the 1940s but I can’t find reference to it after that. She may be the very same Margaret McCoy who broadcast pleasantries on WNYC in 1935.

The McCoy School of Speech was located near Grand Central Terminal for better access to nervous, erratic or unstable individuals.