Tag Archives: Fifth Avenue

Listening to the Silent Parade of 1917: The Forgotten Civil Rights March

“To the beat of muffled drums 8,000 negro men, women and children marched down Fifth Avenue yesterday in a parade of ‘silent protest against acts of discrimination and oppression’ inflicted upon them in this country, and in other parts of the world. Without a shout or a cheer they made their cause known through the many banners which they carried, calling attention to Jim Crowism, segregation, disfranchisement, and riots of Waco, Memphis and East St. Louis.” — New York Times

The Silent Parade of July 28, 1917, was unlike anything ever seen in New York City. Today it is considered New York’s (and most likely America’s) first African-American civil rights march.

New York had seen its share of protest parades since the start of World War I, but none had featured so prominently the city’s African-American population, gathering in such impressive numbers along New York’s wealthiest street.

This extraordinary procession was organized by the burgeoning National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a group of concerned black and white activists and intellectuals which had formed less than a decade earlier in New York.

The march was organized in direct response to a horrible plague of violence against black Americans in the 1910s, culminating in the East St. Louis Riots*, a massacre involving white mobs storming black neighborhoods in sheer racial animus. Two sets of riots in May and July 1917 left almost 200 people dead. Rioters burned black neighborhoods, cutting off water hoses and watched as families fled the burning buildings — to be picked off by gunmen.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 3:

This massacre was but one of several violent incidents aimed at new black laborers, pointed attacks meant to strike fear in the hearts of black Americans.

The circumstances of World War I exacerbated an already volatile crisis. As W.E.B. DuBois would explain it,

The Negro, attracted by higher wages in the North and repelled by the menace of lynchinig and caste in the South moves in to fill the new labor demand [caused by the war].  The common laborer in the North is caught between the tyranny of exclusive trade unions and the underbidding of blacks. The rest is murder and riot and unrest…. White Northern laborers find killing Negroes a safe, lucrative employment which commends them to the American Federation of Labor.”

In New York, at a meeting of the NAACP in Harlem, president James Weldon Johnson (at the suggestion of New York Evening Post editor Oswald Villard) proposed an unusual but effective form of protest — an army of marchers along Fifth Avenue, drawing attention to the victims of the East St. Louis riot.

And in an unprecedented decision by the organizers, it would consist only of black marchers.

Underwood & Underwood

New York newspaper reports of the riot passively mentioned the tragic cost to the black residents of East St. Louis; a dramatic march down the city’s most prosperous street — comprised of those very people most likely to be victimized in such riots — would jar the delicate sensibilities of insulated New Yorkers.

This was a fairly radical idea for its time. Decades after the Civil War, most Americans, even in the most progressive states, still looked skeptically at organized black movements. Part of the NAACP’s early legitimacy for many was that it was formed by a mixture of black and white activists.

In 1915, the NAACP (in a crusade led by newspaper editor William Monroe Trotter) protested the release of the film Birth of a Nation, the trailblazing film that positively depicted the Ku Klux Klan while demonizing African-Americans. The protests failed to stop the film’s release but this organized resistance galvanized the NAACP and the black community for future battles.

While the East St. Louis tragedy was the focus of the mournful July 28th gathering, the march was intended as a larger protest against civil rights abuses in the United States. One of many flyers passed around during the march declared :

We march because we are thoroughly opposed to Jim Crow cars, segregation, disenfranchisement and the host of evils that are forced upon us. We march in memory of our butchered dead, the massacre of honest toilers who were removing the reproach of laziness and thriftlessness hurled at the entire race. They died to prove our worthiness to live. We live in spite of death shadowing us and ours.” 

Below: The organizers marched in front of the women and children. At far right are  W.E.B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson.

Underwood and Underwood

The thousands of people who marched that day came from virtually every African-American church in New York City and the surrounding area. A drum corps and a troupe of black Boy Scouts vibrantly led the parade, with women and children following behind, garbed in white dresses.

The men, some in United States army uniforms, marched last behind a row of flag bearers, holding representative flags from the United States, Great Britain, Liberia and Haiti.

New York Tribune

There were no chants or rallying cries. The throng remained silent during the length of the parade, a common practice for peace parades but one pregnant with meaning here. The black communities in East St. Louis and in the South had little opportunity to engage in such protests. New Yorkers, in solidarity, would echo that reverberating silence. (It may also have been prudent for large groups of African-Americans marching along the city’s whitest street to keep themselves calcified.)

The marchers were orderly and stone-faced as they walked down Fifth Avenue — from 57th Street to 24th Street, culminating at Madison Square Park.  They were not allowed to gather there; according to the New York Sun, “When the marchers reached Twenty-Fourth Street, they turned west and were dismissed.”

While there were no chants, political intentions were made known via a series of banners interspersed among the marchers:

‘Your Hands Are Full of Blood’

‘Pray for the Lady Macbeths of East St. Louis’**

‘We Are Maligned as Lazy and Murdered When We Work’

‘From  Bunker Hill to Carrizal*** We Have Done Our Duty’

One ‘controversial’ sign was thrown out of the march. According to the Times, the sign “displayed a picture of a negro woman kneeling before President Wilson and appealing to him to bring democracy to America before carrying it to Europe.” The police intervened, and the sign was removed.

No other incidents surrounding the march were reported that day. Thousands of onlookers had lined the parade route that day out of curiosity, amusement, pride, anger and joy. Some were shaken to the core.

“[T]he streets of New York have witnessed many strange sites, but I judge, never one stranger than this; among the watchers were those with tears in their eyes.” — James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson, 1937



NOTE: The number of marchers so widely varies from source to source that I can safely say that it was between 5,000 and 10,000 marchers. Not exactly precise! The New York Times estimate of 8,000 seems about right.

*East St. Louis, on the Illinois side, is about 15 miles away from Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb on the Missouri side.

**According to author Nikki Brown, the ‘Lady Macbeth’ sign references “an alleged incident wherein at least two white women pulled black women off a streetcar, tore off one woman’s clothing and ‘then took off her shoes and beat her over the face and head with their shoe heels’.”

***The Battle of Carrizal had been fought in Mexico a year before the march. Unlike the battles in Europe, African-American soldiers served with American units on the front lines of this engagement.


‘War Paint’ and ‘Indecent’: Two views of New York City history on Broadway

History has always been a critical component of theater, especially in musicals, where period sets and costumes assist in creating other worlds on stage quite unlike our normal one. But last year, with Hamilton: The Musical, the stage phenomenon which won the Tony Award for Best Musical (and a million other awards), history became a rock star.

Or rather, historical figures, even those with seemingly little contemporary vigor, had the ability to inspire a new generation, if reinterpreted by the right talents.

The musical categories for the 71st Annual Tony Awards, announced on Tuesday, are a bit more competitive this year than last, when Hamilton took home eleven awards.  The Best Musical category is an especially diverse cross-section of subjects in terms of time and place — one contemporary tale (Dear Evan Hansen), one from recent history (Come From Away, set right after September 11, 2001), a European historical fable (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, based on Tolstoy) and, of course, a musical that is literally about not having any history (Groundhog Day, based on the movie).

Joan Marcus/Polk & Co

The new musical War Paint is this year’s musical representative of New York City history, replaying the story of Fifth Avenue’s most famous retail rivalry between cosmetics icons Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein. While War Paint didn’t make the Best Musical cut, its two main stars (Christine Ebersole as Arden, Patti Lupone as Rubinstein) are competing for Best Performance By An Actress In A Musical. Just as Arden and Rubinstein themselves would have wanted!

Arden, arriving from Canada, and Rubinstein, from Poland by way of Australia, set up their companies in New York in the 1910s. But the musical, with book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie, actually starts in the 1930s with their careers firmly established on Fifth Avenue, their competing salons bustling with society women.

Why skip past their origin stories? War Paint is more of a showcase than a show, designed to do something very rare, providing an opportunity for two great female musical stars to take the stage at the same time.  (Quick: Name another musical with two female leads where they are not playing witches.)  Because, practically speaking, you want established stars in your musical, the story must start with Arden and Rubinstein already at the top of their game.

Joan Marcus/Polk and Co

The musical escorts the pair through the mid-century — past the changing roles of women in World War II, past the television revolution — as their once-chic brand names struggle to change with the times. On occasion the story pauses to infuse the grand, sweeping narrative with small biographical details.

If you heard our recent podcast on the subject, you’ll know that Arden and Rubinstein never actually met (at least, as the legend goes). This too works to the musical’s benefit, giving each star separate storylines that veer into each other just enough, never letting one upstage the other.

Lupone and Ebersole are tremendous. How could they not be? Lupone playfully transitions Rubinstein from a slinking figure of sophisticated grace to an irascible curmudgeon whose body language aches with history (and several dozen pounds of jewelry). Ebersole, with superbly fading cheer, slowly transformed Arden’s legendary confidence to wistfulness and then — in a fantasy coda where the two women actually do meet — into a graceful humility.

If you want to hear more about the story of Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, listen to our podcast The Beauty Bosses of Fifth Avenue. Most of our show takes place before the events of the musical, so consider it a prequel of sorts.

There’s also a bit of New York City history in contention for the Tony Award for Best Play. Joining Oslo, Sweat and A Doll’s House, Part 2 in the category is an intriguing and unconventional transfer from the Off-Broadway stage — Indecent written by Paula Vogel.

Carol Rosegg/Indedent

This very musical play recounts the drama surrounding the 1923 Broadway production of God of Vengeance, a controversial Yiddish play that had been well received in downtown New York theaters, but scandalized audiences when it moved uptown. Its cast and crew were charged with obscenity — the show features lesbian protagonists — and its playwright Sholem Asch ostracized. (He spends his time cloistered in Staten Island.)

This artful production feels like a graphic novel brought to life, with projected text hovering over a barren stage and its players sometimes disintegrating into dust. (It’s a weird and spooky stage trick.) Despite feeling very abstract and removed from circumstances at times, Indecent makes a point to root God of Vengeance within Broadway history, vibrantly repeating a couple offending scenes from the play.

Below: A letter from the playwright which ran in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on March 11, 1923


Hopefully the point isn’t lost on its audience; the original production was shut down on a similar stage at the old Apollo Theater (at 223 West 42nd Street), just a few blocks south of the Cort Theatre, Indecent‘s present home.  The cast, brilliantly directed by Rebecca Taichman (who scored a Tony nomination for Best Director), flaunts those very moments from Vengeance that proper society once thought offensive.

If you’re in the mood to hear more about scandalous Broadway shows from the 1920s, listen to our podcast Diamond Girl: Mae West — Sex on Broadway. West and the cast of Sex was arrested just a few years after God of Vengeance on similar charges.





The Beauty Bosses of Fifth Avenue: Elizabeth Arden & Helena Rubinstein

PODCAST Fifth Avenue’s role in the ‘revolution’ of beauty, as led by Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, New York’s boldest businesswomen of the Jazz Age.

The Midtown Manhattan stretch of Fifth Avenue, once known for its ensemble of extravagant mansions owned by the Gilded Age’s wealthiest families, went through an astonishing makeover one hundred years ago. Many lavish abodes of the rich were turned into exclusive retail boutiques, catering to the very sorts of people who once lived here.

On the forefront of this transformation were two women from very different backgrounds. Elizabeth Arden was a Canadian entrepreneur, looking to establish her business in the growing city of New York. Helena Rubinstein, from Poland by way of Australia, already owned an established company and looked to Manhattan as a way to anchor her business in America.

Their products — beauty! Creams, lotions, ointments and cleansers. Then later: eye-liners, rouges, lipsticks, mascaras.

In this episode we observe the growing independence of American woman and the changing beauty standards which arose in the 1910s and 20s, bringing ‘the painted face’ into the mainstream.

And it’s in large part thanks to these two extraordinary businesswomen, crafting two parallel empires in a corporate framework usually reserved for men.

ALSO: Theda Bara, Estee Lauder, Max Factor and a whole lot of sheep and horses!

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 Google MusicStitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:


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!


FURTHER LISTENING — Check out our spin-off podcast The First: Stories of Inventions and their Consequences, in particular, the episode on the invention of the bikini — The Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Revolution

FURTHER READING AND VIEWING: If you liked this episode, you might also like:

Hope In A Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture by Kathy Peiss

Helena Rubinstein: The Woman Who Invented Beauty by Michèle Fitoussi

“The Powder and the Glory” Documentary produced, written, and directed by Ann Carol Grossman & Arnie Reisman

War Paint: Madame Helena Rubinstein and Miss Elizabeth Arden, Their Lives, Their Times, Their Rivalry by Lindy Woodhead

A few images of Fifth Avenue between 50th and 57th, in the years of transition — from residential to retail.




Museum of the City of New York


1922 — Fifth Avenue and 57th Street

The Collis Huntington mansion on 57th and Fifth Avenue. Helena Rubinstein moved her salon in here in the mid 1920s.

Elizabeth Arden, circa 1915, near the start of her career.

Helena Rubenstein, photo date 1924

An example of Helena’s Valaze cream, made from lanolin


A selection of Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein vintage ads, courtesy Vintage Ad Browser


A variety of facial treatments from a Helena Rubinstein salon, circa 1941

Nina Leen/Photography


Helena employed many of her family members.  Mala Rubinstein, Helena Rubinstein’s niece, shows the ladies how beauty is done at the 715 Fifth Avenue salon

Courtesy NYT Photograph by Bradford Robotham

The commercial featured on this week’s show!

A very affected presentation, but this video does show Rubinstein in action!

The “beauty process” was in vogue by the 1930s as evidenced by this short film starring Hollywood film actress Constance Bennett.

Helena Rubinstein latched onto Hollywood celebrities both as a way to inspire beauty regiment — and, of course, to sell more products.

For Theda Bara, Helena even sold a line of ‘vamp’ make-up, tying into her scandalous reputation. (Read more about Theda Bara here.)


Even Marilyn Monroe was an Elizabeth Arden fan, frequently popping into the New York salon.


The Notorious Madame Restell: The Abortionist of Fifth Avenue

The story of New York’s most prominent abortionist of the 19th century and the unique environment of morality and secrecy which accommodated her rise on the fringes of society.

Ann Lohman aka Madame Restell was one of the most vilified women of the 19th century, an abortion practitioner that dodged the law to become one of the wealthiest self-made women in the Gilded Age. But is her wicked reputation justified?

Thoughts on abortion and birth control were quite different in the 1830s, the era in which Madame Restell got her start. It was societal decorum and marital morality — not science and religion — that played a substantial role in New Yorkers’ views on the termination of pregnancy.  Restell and countless imitators offers a wide range of potions, pills and powders to customers, provided for in veiled wording in newspaper advertisements.

By the 1860s Restell was insulated from serious interrogation and flaunted her unique position in society by planting her Fifth Avenue mansion in a very controversial place. But she soon became a target of New York’s most dogged reformer, a man who considered her pure evil and the source of society’s most illicit sins.

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: 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!


Ann Lohman aka Madame Restell, featured in the National Police Gazette for the crime that would get her sent to Blackwell’s Island, March 13, 1847


A drawing of Madame Restell made in 1888, long after her death.


The New York Illustrated News, 1878, heralding the arrest of Madame Restell by Anthony Comstock (and, later in the issue, Restell in the Tombs):


Thanks to Victorian Gothic for this image!
Thanks to Victorian Gothic for this image!


A few choice pages from an 1896 scandal novelization about the life of Madame Restell by Rev. Bishop Huntington:

Courtesy Hathi Trust
Courtesy Hathi Trust





A sampling of ‘abortion pill’ advertisements from the late 1830s and early 1840s, from Madame Restell and her impersonators. NOTE: It’s hard to discern if these so-called medicines were for abortions or for other “female issues” given the vagueness of language:

Even before Madame Restell, there was the ‘Widow Welch’s Female Pills’. Both these ads ran in the New York Morning Herald on November 8, 1837:

Library of Congress
Library of Congress


An early Madame Restell advertisement, New York Morning Herald, December 9, 1839:


A successful rival of Madame Restell was Madame Costello who worked off of Lispenard Street. Her ad from the Herald, October 10, 1842:


A series of advertisements for an assortment of female ‘solutions’, New York Herald, August 4, 1867:


From the New York Medical and Surgical Reporter, 1846

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 12.13.32 PM

Madame Restell’s Fifth Avenue mansion (at 52nd Street), an area so newly developed in 1857 that there was nothing else around — except for the construction site of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.


The mansion in later years after Restell’s death. The apartment building next to the mansion was also commissioned by Restell because nobody else would buy the property!

Courtesy NYPL

An illustration of the death of Madame Restell as imagined in Recollections of a New York Chief of Police by George P. Walling.



A big thanks to our special guest — author Nicholas Syrett, Associate Professor of History at the University of Northern Colorado!

His newest book American Child Bride: A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States comes out in October. And we forgot to mention his fantastic first book on the history of fraternities — The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities.

He’s in the process of researching his upcoming book on the life and legacy of Madame Restell.

A city of bridges: One century ago, Scientific American predicted a future of elevated sidewalks


Imagine a city where the High Line isn’t just a novel park, but the primary form of urban conveyance.

In 1913, with the proliferation of the automobile, it seemed humans were being crowded out at ground level.  People were beginning to think of themselves as removed from the street.  Daredevils were experimenting with flight, and small, single-man crafts began appearing over the skies of Manhattan.  The world’s tallest building, the Woolworth Building, had been completed a few months before.  Perhaps the streets themselves could elevate, granting pedestrians a space of their own?

Scientific American suggested the possibilities of a city of elevated layers in its July 26, 1913 issue. “The Elevated Sidewalk: How It Will Solve City Transportation Problems,” written by engineer and science writer Henry Harrison Suplee, posits that humans and automobiles are simply incompatible and opposing engines upon ground level, and that one will have to give way to the other.

“One of the greatest impediments to city transport today is the continuance of the obsolete method of attempting to conduct foot and vehicular traffic upon the same highways.”

Below: Cars and people seem to co-exist peacefully on Fifth Avenue (pictured here in 1913). But, darn it, automobiles are meant to go fast! 

Courtesy Shorpy
Courtesy Shorpy

After all, cars are meant to go fast.  “In nearly every large city today there appears a tendency to enforce traffic regulations intended to permit the most conflicting elements to be operated together and the result is naturally the impeding of the very traffic which it is desired to help.”

By keeping people and automobiles on the same plane, one risks lives, sure, but more importantly, it slows progress by keeping the potential of auto motion on a short leash.

Suplee’s solution: “Take the foot passengers off the surface of the street entirely, and leave the highways solely for vehicles!”

Below: Evidence of the incompatibility of foot and automobile was being amply displayed all over New York City, most notably on “Death Avenue,” the trecherous tangle of roads on Manhattan’s West Side. Eventually the elevated freight railroad today known as the High Line was built to relieve this issue.



New York had many precedents for this.  The great passages over the East River (the Brooklyn, the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges) had all been completed with elevated pathways for pedestrians, situated over or alongside those paths for vehicular traffic.  Trains were either elevated overhead along the avenues, or buried underneath the ground.

Suplee doesn’t imagine a world were pedestrians become smarter, or any type of place with sophisticated traffic lights or crosswalks.  Instead, elevated sidewalks would hover over the major thoroughfares; “[S]uch sidewalks might be built on Broadway from the Battery to Union Square, there sloping down to the surface level until further extensions were required,” he writes.

In a city of skyscrapers, bridges could be constructed several stories above the street.  Store fronts would appear on the second or third floors, while the ground floor would be exclusively used for delivery and store.  Life would essentially reside many feet above the ground.

Bicycles figure nowhere in his model, but he does carve out one exception to his pedestrian only level.  “The power vehicles should be kept absolutely to the surface, and there given unrestricted facilities for speed, weight, and numbers; and the foot levels maintained for absolute freedom for pedestrians, with the possible exception of carriages for small children.”

As commenter Boris mentions below, while New York City never adhered to this suggestion, other cities certain did — to a certain extent.

You can read Mr. Suplee’s article here.

(A shorter version of this blog post originally ran June 2013)

The Women’s Peace Parade, a moody anti-war protest in 1914

Give Peace A Chance: Women take to the streets in a stunning parade of mourning

Below are some pictures of what’s possibly New York City’s first anti-war protest organized by women, on August 29, 1914.

War had erupted that summer in Europe, sparked by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in late June and unfurling into a continent-wide catastrophe, as countries entered the fray on either side of the conflict.  Within weeks of the conflict, New Yorkers with strong ties to individual nations were raising money and even boarding ships to fight alongside their distant countrymen.

In other cities with sizable European populations — such as Montreal — people were already marching, calling for an end to the conflict.  And leading this call were women already involved in social organizations, in particular, suffragists with networks that reached into high society.

Protesting war has been a touchy issue in New York City. [See the Civil War Draft Riots for such a protest gone wrong.]  The mayor had expressly forbade parades in support of individual nations on New York streets lest a microscopic version of the European conflict erupt here.  Anti-war was often associated with socialist organizations and indeed, that August, several did march in Union Square.  But these were comprised largely of men.

Which makes the Women’s Peace Parade so unusual.  Prominent women met at the Hotel McAlpin in mid-August to plan what was essentially a mourning parade, with its participants — from all walks of life — dressed in black as though in a funeral procession. (As you can see in the pictures, many women also chose to wear white in a symbol of peacetime, garnished with black accessories.)

Many people didn’t quite understand what a peace protest even meant, seeing it as a wasted effort. One letter writer to the New York Times asked. “Will any of the women who intend to parade in protest of the war explain what they mean to accomplish by such a demonstration?”

While the parade drew from prominent individuals in the suffrage movement, others were simply not convinced.  Carrie Chapman Catt, one of America’s most famous suffragists, remarked, “If anybody thinks that a thousand, or a million, women marching through New York or talking about peace in the abstract will have any effect on the situation in Europe, it is because they don’t know the situation in Europe.”

But, in fact, there was a motivation.  One of New York’s leading activists Harriet Stanton Blanch — daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton — was very succinct about their motivation. “This is a movement for actual work. We intend to do something definite. We wish to have a meeting at The Hague Peace Conference called.”

The parade began in the afternoon, marching down Fifth Avenue from 58th Street down to Union Square. Women who either lived or shopped along the avenue now marched in formal procession down it, accompanied by the “ominous beat of muffled drums.”  There was occasional applause but otherwise “the general silence of the great gathering was considered the best evidence of understanding.” [source]

Among the marchers were Lillian Wald and the nurses of Henry Street Settlement.
The skies were appropriately gray.  Some participants hoped for rain actually.  “Every woman in the slow-moving line wore some badge of mourning, either a band of black around her sleeve or a bit of crepe fluttering at her breast, as a token of the black death which is hovering over the European battlefields.” [source]

The parade marshal was the young Portia Willis, a magnetic lecturer on the suffragist circuit. .

While the organizers announced there was to be only one flag on display in the parade — the flag for peace — one other crept into the proceedings.  “The smallest Boy Scout was Alfred Greenwald, 4 years old, who … attracted much attention.  Little Alfred unknowingly broke the most stringent rule of the parade by carrying a flag.  He carried a United States flag but it was furled.” [source]

Unfortunately I was not able to locate any pictures of the second half of the parade — with 250 African-American women in solidarity, followed by “a number of Indian and Chinese women” and carloads of elderly women and babies.

Those who witnessed the parade would not soon forget it, especially in the following months as the conflict that would become known as World War I grew to eventually encompass the United States.

That rascal Daniel Sickles, the beloved politician and veteran who killed the son of Francis Scott Key

We don’t have large, parade-like funeral processions marching up the avenues as they once did during the Gilded Age and in the early years of the 20th century.

These events were times of public mourning and a bit of festivity.  Most often they involved the passing of a well-connected political leader or a popular entertainers.  They were somber and reverent affairs; afterwards the saloons along the side streets benefited graciously, tributes and toasts into all hours of the night.


One hundred years ago today, on May 8, 1914, New Yorkers filled the streets — from Fifth Avenue up to St. Patrick’s Cathedral — to mourn the passing of Daniel E. Sickles, one of the city’s most heralded war veterans.

Having marshaled up volunteers in New York in the early days of the Civil War, Sickles distinguished himself as a bold and commanding general, gathering military promotions through sheer ambition. (He was one of the few commanders in Abraham Lincoln’s army without a West Point education.)

During the Battle of Gettysburg, Sickles was severely injured and had his right leg amputated. (At right: Sickles posing for Matthew Brady, clearly before the events of Gettysburg.)

He spent his years after the war polishing his war credentials and maneuvering from one political appointment to another.  Sickles belatedly received the Medal of Honor and, situated from his home at 23 Fifth Avenue, was acclaimed in later life in one of New York’s greatest living veterans.

Sickles’ military career, however, was built as an exercise in reputation rehabilitation.  When the war with the South arrived, he saw an opportunity to change the conversation about himself.  His bravery in service to the Union, never questioned, served a dual purpose for Sickles.  Today we might call this “re-branding.”

For in the years preceding the Civil War, the young politician was also known as a cold-blooded murderer who held a unique distinction in the history of legal proceedings.

In April of 1859, New York Congressman Daniel Sickles became the first person in history to ever be acquitted of a crime due to temporary insanity.

The crime in this case was the February murder of Philip Barton Key II, the son of Francis Scott Key, author of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the national anthem of the United States.

Their lives almost resemble an episode of House of Cards.  Key had been having a very open affair with Sickles’ wife Teresa. (Pictured at right)

Daniel, however, was something of an epic rake himself.  With no thought to his own or his wife’s reputation, Sickles was once passionately obsessed with the New York prostitute Fanny White, going so far as to take her into the Albany assembly chamber for a tour.  There were even rumors that some of Sickles’ campaign election costs were covered by White.

But Key was hardly a wallflower; the famous son was a charming widower who bewitched the women of Washington DC with his intelligence, elegance and wealth.  He and Teresa met in 1857 and began their affair soon after, meeting often once a day and openly flirting with each other at a society balls.

When Sickles did finally discover the affair, he was distraught and sickened, before turning violently angry.  On February 27, 1859, Sickles approached Key in DC’s Lafayette Squarea short distance from the White House — and shot him in the groin.

“You villain, you have dishonored my house, and you must die!” Sickles reportedly said.

He shot Key again in the chest and would have shot him directly in the head had the gun not misfired.

Said the New York Times the following day, “The vulgar monotony of partisan passions and political squabbles has been terribly broken in upon to-day by an outburst of personal revenge, which has filled the city with horror and consternation.”

Above: An illustration of the Sickles trial, courtesy Library of Congress

The condition of Sickles’ mental state during and following the murder would be closely dissected in court. A colorful swath of testimony described Sickle as everything from disturbingly serene to a raging lunatic.

According to authors Michael Lief and H. Mitchell Caldwell, “These conflicting stories may be exaggerations on the part of creative witnesses, or they may be evidence that Sickles was driven to the edge, past the breaking point, entirely out of his mind.”

One of the lawyers who helped craft the insanity defense was Edward M. Stanton, later to be Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War.  Their defense of temporary insanity — never successfully tried in a U.S. court — was sprung upon the jury, nested within an extravagant bed of prose, classical quotations and moral quandary.

“It is folly to punish a man for what he cannot help doing?” asked associate defense attorney John Graham.  Apparently so, it seems, for in April, a jury acquitted Sickles, taken with the plight of a man wronged by his unfaithful and deceitful wife. (His attorneys did a spectacular job of burying Sickle’s own unfaithfulness and deceit.)

At left: 23 Fifth Avenue, the home of Daniel Sickles and the location of his death on May 5th, 1914

Fifty-five years later, Sickles’ many legitimate accomplishments (and, let’s be honest, his relentless self-promotion) assured that this unusual crime was rendered a footnote when he died on May 5.

His New York Times obituary is an extraordinary bit of word play:  “Philip Barton Key … paid attention to Mrs. Sickles, and Sickles shot and killed Key on the street in Washington D.C. on February 27, 1859.”

The focus then turns on Sickles’ “gracious” forgiveness of his wife: “I am not aware of any statute or code of morals,” said Sickles to his critics, “which makes it infamous to forgive a woman….I shall strive to prove to all that an erring wife and mother may be forgiven and redeemed.”

In reality, the two never reconciled.  Teresa died in 1867 at age 31, her reputation destroyed.  A few years later, Sickles became the ambassador to Spain, returned to his legendary womanizing and eventually married a well-connected daughter of a Spanish official.

He spent his final years at his Fifth Avenue home nearly bankrupt, his only means of support coming from his children and his now-estranged second wife.  “[S]everal attempts were made to seize the art treasures  in his Fifth Avenue home because of debt,” noted the Times.

Below: Daniel Sickles at a 1913 Gettysburg reunion, accompanied by his live-in secretary Eleanora Wilmerdirg

Lord & Taylor’s splashy move to Fifth Avenue in 1914, to the “very centre of the sphere of fashionable activity”

Lord & Taylor’s at Fifth Avenue and 38th Street, in the 1920s, photo by the Wurts Brothers (courtesy NYPL)

Loehmann’s, the once-great Brooklyn-based department store, closes all their locations for good tomorrow, another causality of the changing economy and people’s changing tastes in shopping.

But let’s not dwell on the decline of the department store. Let’s revisit the heyday, shall we?

Lord and Taylor Department Store opened the doors to their tony Fifth Avenue address one hundred years ago yesterday, on February 24, 1914.

“Half way between Madison Square and Central Park on the west side of Fifth Avenue, is the new Lord & Taylor store in the very centre of the sphere of fashionable activity of the city and is convenient to all the transportation lines, to the hotels and restaurants and to the theatres.”

The store traces its lineage to a three-story women’s clothing store on 47 Catherine Street, which was opened in 1826 by Samuel Lord and George Washington Taylor.  Nearby, men could find equally fine fashions at the clothier of H & D.H.. Brooks (today Brooks Brothers) at Catherine and Cherry Streets.  Catherine Street is hardly a place where you would look for high-end brands today, located between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.

Lord & Taylor had subsequent locations in Manhattan at Broadway and Grand Street and, later, at Broadway and 20th Street on Ladies Mile.

Flash forward to 1914 — the new store was an automated wonder, according to the New York Sun, equipped with a system of conveyor belts.  “[T]he human equation has been eliminated wherever possible and machinery performs its part quietly and out of sight.”

Shoppers could also escape to the tenth floor for “a dainty luncheon” or some afternoon tea:

The building is in the go-to architectural style for department stores — Italian Renaissance Revival — and, apparently, the go-to architectural firm for such places, Starrett and Van Vleck, also known for Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue.

The new store made a unique appeal to the male shopper with its tailored men’s department, “a realm of complete masculinity”.  There was a men’s-only entrance on the 38th Street side where gentlemen could access the Manicuring Parlor.  “[M]ake your purchases, be shaved and manicured, change your clothing, if you like, and leave without passing through any of the departments where women’s goods are sold.”  In addition, the entire fourth floor was “devoted to men’s apparel and accessories for motoring.”

The store also had featured an Equestrienne Section, including “a mechanical horse, duplicating the actual motion of walking, trotting, or cantering.”

In 2007, the Lord & Taylor building was made an official New York landmark.

Easter fashion parade 1913: Images of the annual stroll, now with automobiles, celebrities and ‘ladies in vermilion’

In the picture above: People in Sunday finery stroll past the New York Public Library building. The library had not even been open two years by the time this picture was taken in March 23, 1913.

New York City’s time-honored Easter custom — the Sunday morning Fifth Avenue Easter bonnet stroll — once turned the wealthiest residents of Fifth Avenue into primping peacocks, their Sunday best on display.   The makeshift parade, which some believe traces back to New York’s Dutch days, blossomed into a full-assault of expensive headwear once the upper crust made Fifth Avenue their home.

Thousands lined the street, either brandishing their most expensive apparel or else to gawk at those wearing it.  It was the closest New York got to a high-end fashion show, with dressmakers parked on the corner, taking notes.  “All the women were slim who could be,” remarked the New York Tribune’s fashion writer, “and a few were who couldn’t.”

But the 1910s brought a new accessory to the Easter parade — automobiles.

A decade before, there were probably no more than 1,000 automobiles in all of New York City. By 1913, there were enough to create what must have been Fifth Avenue’s very first automobile traffic jam.

All the photographs featured here are from Easter Sunday, 1913.

The magnificent Enrico Caruso even participated in the Easter stroll. He looks fanciful in his top hat and a bit like Batman villain the Penguin.

Apparently it was an unseasonably cold day that Easter in 1913 and most society women, braving the chill, wrapped up their fine gowns in heavy wraps and coats of various animal skin.  “Furs and pink noses” was the fashion assessment, according to the Tribune.

Still, in the sea of coats and curious hats, one woman managed to make an impression. “LADY IN VERMILION AN EASTER CUBIST‘ cried the newspaper the following day — on its front page, no less.  “…[W]ho was the young lady in bright vermilion, with lips of a vivid purple, who talked excitedly to hide her shivering as she passed St. Patrick’s Cathedral?”

The New York Tribune ran this banner photograph the following day. (Note the dog in the corner.) Sadly I don’t believe any of these ladies was the aforementioned ‘vermilion lady’:

Of course, there’s still an annual Easter bonnet parade; it’s smaller but far more flamboyant.

Pictures courtesy Library of Congress

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, when it was smaller

I’m working on a very art-themed podcast which should be ready for release this Friday.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art will be a supporting player in this week’s show, so please enjoy  these early photos of the original building, opened in 1880 and designed by Calvert Vaux (to better accentuate his park) and Jacob Wray Mould, of Belvedere Castle fame.

The building was considered out-of-fashion almost as soon as it was finished, and within a couple decades Richard Morris Hunt had created the museum’s more expansive Beaux-Arts facade and wings. What you see here is the old building, next to the new facade, before it was fully consumed by additions.


The postcard and the photo below it gives you a good idea of where the new additions sat in relation to the old building. And this is before the wings were added.


The top four images are courtesy New York Public Library. The last is courtesy Library of Congress.