Tag Archives: Green-Wood Cemetery

Fall Foliage Alert! Talk a lovely walk through Green-Wood Cemetery

The stunning colors of autumn are upon us, and  you can appreciate the full glory of fall within the limits of New York City, accessible by public transportation. In past years, I’ve focused on the spectacular leafy vistas at Woodlawn Cemetery, Wave Hill and the New York Botanical Garden, as well as Sailors Snug Harbor in Staten Island.

But Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery offers the colors of fall in a most mysterious, gothic setting, thanks in part to its age (opening in 1838). Its rambling ‘rural cemetery’ design presents a surprising adventure, with a variety of trees changing different hues at different intervals.

I was there this weekend working on a segment of the next episode of The First and was utterly distracted by the beauty.  Take a look at some of the pictures I took — covering only a small area of the grounds — and plan a visit in the next couple weeks before the leaves are gone. 

Grab a map at the gate and go on a hunt for the cemetery’s most famous residents — Henry Ward Beecher, Boss Tweed, Peter Cooper (his gravesite is the first picture below), Horace Greeley, James Gordon BennettJean-Michel Basquiat and many, many more.

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New York’s amusement palace Niblo’s Garden returns (sort of)

It’s the return of Niblo’s Garden, the 19th century pleasure garden and entertainment palace once on Broadway and Prince Street!  Except this time around, it’s in a cemetery.

Niblo’s is perhaps most famous as being the site of the first Broadway musical (at least, some form of it).  The venue’s impresario William Niblo is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery, and it will be here this Saturday that Niblo’s vaudevillian spirit comes alive.  In fact, his mausoleum here was meant to host entertainment!

From Green-wood’s event site:

“Imagine an outdoor pleasure dome, strung with lights, adorned with fountains and featuring the top musicians, dancers and entertainers of the time. That was the scene at Niblo’s Garden – the premier entertainment house of the 19th century.

Niblo himself had a habit of turning his Green-Wood mausoleum – built years before his death – into a pleasure garden of its own, with friends, picnics and goldfish-stocked ponds.

Join author, historian, and Niblo expert Ben Feldman to bring the glory of Niblo’s Garden to Green-Wood! Enjoy an evening picnic around the beautiful glacial pond Crescent Water, and take in an evening of showmanship in front of the grand Niblo mausoleum.

Bring a blanket, some snacks and drinks, and you’ll be dazzled by fire jugglers, singers, even famed knife thrower Throwdini! – all under paper lanterns and a starry sky.”

Saturday, July 12, 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm 
Green-Wood Cemetery
500 25th Street, Brooklyn
Cosponsored by The Victorian Society New York.
$30 for members of Green-Wood and Brooklyn Historical Society/$35 for nonmembers

Not quite familiar with the legend of Niblo’s Garden?  The pleasure garden was the subject of one my favorite solo podcasts from a few years back.  Give this a listen to

 

Photos courtesy Library of Congress

Green-Wood Cemetery, Katz’s Deli and The Cloisters: Three great New York institutions, three big anniversaries

Green-Wood Cemetery celebrates its 175th year as Brooklyn’s oldest greenspace, populated with deceased politicians, writers and actors.  It’s the final resting place for some of New York’s most famous and notorious characters — Henry Ward Beecher, Horace Greeley, DeWitt Clinton and Boss Tweed among them.

The Museum of the City of New York debuts its new exhibit “A Beautiful Way To Go: New York’s Green-wood Cemetery” this week, while the cemetery itself is planning a host of events, including trolley tours, concerts and their popular twilight tours. (The nighttime tour this weekend is sold out, but you can visit their website for future events.)

It’s a good time to chow down at Katz’s Delicatessen again on the occasion of its 125th birthday.  It was in the year 1888 that a deli officially opened at the southeast corner of Ludlow and Houston, serving the neighborhood’s immigrant community.  It was sold to the Katzs in 1910s, renamed and moved to its present location.

They’re throwing a big birthday bash on May 31 with all proceeds going to another great Lower East Side institution, the Henry Street Settlement.  But if you can’t make that, you can always go online and buy anniversary souvenirs.

And finally, the Cloisters Museum, the medieval branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art at Fort Tryon Park, is celebrating its 75th birthday this month.  This unusual collection of European buildings were shipped over and reassembled upon a famous Revolutionary War site by John D. Rockefeller Jr., and they house one of America’s most beautiful collections of medieval artworks, including, of course, the Unicorn Tapestries (another gift from Rockefeller).

Opening this week is ‘Search for the Unicorn: An Exhibition in Honor of The Cloisters’ 75th Anniversary‘, a perfect time to revisit these strange, fantastical pieces of art.

If the weather’s nice, why not visit all three? There just happen to be Bowery Boys podcasts on all three places! You can find them all for free on iTunes and other podcast aggregates. Or download them from these links:

Green-Wood Cemetery
Katz Delicatessen
The Cloisters and Fort Tryon Park

Green-Wood pic courtesy NYPL; Cloisters courtesy Met Museum

Soda City: NYC’s role in creating Bloomberg’s favorite drink

Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s latest crusade against sugary beverages in excessively large containers had me thinking about the origins of soft drinks. Most major brands of soda started in the South — Coca-Cola in Georgia, Pepsi in North Carolina, Dr. Pepper in Texas, Mountain Dew in Tennessee. Even the Big Gulp, an invention of the 7-11 convenience stores, originated in Texas. But those companies simply branded and perfected a kind of beverage made popular by the 19th century American soda fountain.

And for the roots of that bubbly innovation, we need to turn our attention — believe it or not — to the Manhattan neighborhood of Kips Bay.

Soda water, an English invention infusing regular drinking water with carbon dioxide, was considered a medicinal treatment during the 18th century. However bubbly water (or “charged water”) would eventually prove to have a variety of tasty uses — as a mixer for alcohol or ice cream, or even as a refreshing beverage itself, if mixed with wine, herbs or spices.

The first attempt to sell New Yorkers soda water came in 1809 when Yale professor Benjamin Silliman installed rudimentary fountains at two prominent locations — the Tontine Coffee House and the posh City Hotel (which opened in 1794). Both places attracted wealthy businessmen, and Silliman attempted to sell his carbonated mineral water, generated from a manual pump, as a wine mixer and as a healthy elixir on its own.  Technical problems bedeviled Silliman — the pumps produced irregular carbonation — and he even ran up against false reports of the deadliness of chilled beverages. “Swallowing a large ice cube was thought to cause spasms of the stomach and fatal inflammation of the bowels.” [Darcy O’Neil, source]

As a light beverage, soda water still had a way to go. But early American pharmacists were attracted to the supposed tranquil qualities of warm soda and slowly began installing fountains in their shops. Later,  even when its curative properties were largely disproven, pharmacies continued to install soda fountains as a way to attract customers.

At right: A selection of soda fountains displayed at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876

In the mid 19th century, these early soda fountains were principally manufactured by two businessmen — John Lippencott in Philadelphia and John Matthews in New York. They would design rival soda fountain machines that would define the industry.

Although Lippencott trumped Matthews by first debuting machines that directly dispensed varied flavors, his New York rival eventually made the bigger splash.

Matthews was an English immigrant and former apprentice to lock maker Joseph Bramah, the inventor of the hydraulic press and an early developer of the indoor toilet. The young apprentice moved to New York in 1832 and set up his own modified water carbonation pump in a shop at 55 Gold Street.

The key to Matthews success was sophisticated equipment and one rather unappetizing-sounding addition — the use of ground-up marble chips to produce the carbonic acid gas for his water. Matthews procured these bits of marble from architects around the city and later even scooped up several barrels of the stuff from the construction site of St. Patrick’s Cathedral!

Matthews’ most famous employee was likely Ben Austin, a Southern freed slave who operated one of Matthew’s portable pushcart fountains and was known for testing the pump pressure by holding his thumb upon the instruments. “If this thumb was forced away by the pressure the fountain was charged,” wrote the New York Times, who recounted the story of ‘Ole Ben’ as though it were a folk tale.

John Matthews was a savvy operator, hiring inventors to streamline his equipment, then purchasing the rights to those inventions outright to mass manufacture.  By the 1860s, he had moved production to a plant at 331-337 East 26th Street (at First Avenue) in old Kips Bay, employing over a hundred men to assemble the latest in soda-fountain technology.

Below: The house that soda built — Matthews mansion on 90th Street and Riverside Drive (Picture spells his name wrong)

With improved technology came better flavors, more consistent carbonation and safer operation. (Early soda-water pumps tended to explode.)  And of course greater distribution; fountains were installed not only in pharmacies, but in “hotels, saloons, restaurants” and even street corners. To offer energy and refreshment, some flavored soda waters were infused with exotic ‘healthy’ ingredients, including caffeine or cocaine.

By the time of his death in 1870, Matthews had become the face of soda fountains in the United States, the ‘soda fountain king’ and ‘the Neptune of his trade’, owning hundreds of soda fountains throughout the country. So associated was he with his product that he was interred in a fanciful and commanding tomb in Green-Wood Cemetery, abstractly resembling an old soda fountain and complete with gargoyles that — during rainstorms — dispense a steady flow of water.

His family stayed in the soda game, selling more than 20,000 fountains from this First Avenue factory the following decade. By the end of the century, descendants of the former rivals Lippencott and Matthews would merge with two other companies — like so many industries of this period — to form a virtual monopoly on the soda fountain business.

However, the future of soda would depend on its portability. The drink was still associated with medicinal qualities and people wanted to bring it home with them. Entrepreneurs elsewhere would refine soda for the purposes of bottling and selling for home consumption. While the soda fountain would thrive well into the mid-20th century, its destiny lay in glass bottles. Or, in Bloomberg’s case, large, 16-ounce containers.

Pictures courtesy NYPL, except for the Philadelphia photo, courtesy the Library of Congress

New York landmarks: No stranger to lightning

The city received a right, proper Transylvania-style thunderstorm this weekend, with more than a few bolts streaking overhead early Sunday morning. You might find this shocking: According to the National Weather Service, the Empire State Building is struck by lightning an average of 23 times a year, or slightly more than one might be comfortable with while standing in its observation deck. [source: NYC.gov]

Ten years ago, the brunt of New York’s lightning strikes not surprisingly hit the World Trade Center, the tallest building in the city. In fact, after the towers fell, scientists worried about an uptick of lightning fatalities in the city.

Lightning has thrilled and frightened New Yorkers even before the days of skyscrapers. A letter in a May 1853 issue of the New York Times mentions a large loss of life in the city due to lightning strikes and urges property owner to equip themselves with Benjamin Franklin’s century-old invention of the lightning rod. No rods were evident a couple months later in Green-Wood Cemetery, when a series of bolts destroyed part of its new picket fence.

Meanwhile, lightning might have presented itself a most dangerous hazard (after drowning, heatstroke and overdrinking) along Brooklyn’s southern beaches back in its glory days. A few cursory searches on news articles from the 1890s-1910s brings up a few horrifying articles. From 1893: “ONE KILLED, THREE INJURED; LIGHTNING STRIKES A BATHING PAVILION AT CONEY ISLAND.” While in 1905, a series of lightning strikes killed five and injured eight, including a death at Ulmer Park.

According to a 1884 journal on the wonders of electricity, an errant bolt even struck the Brooklyn Bridge while it was under construction, snapping a mast and sending currents through the wires.

Above: An Arent cigarette card, from the Age of Wonder and Power series. Yes, collectible cards in a cigarette box! (Courtesy NYPL)

Podcast Rewind: Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery

A special illustrated version of our podcast on Green-Wood Cemetery (Episode #64) is now available on our NYC History Archive feed. Just hit play and images of our topic will appear on any compatible media player.

If you’re looking for a beautiful landscape of shaded hills and meandering paths, filled with classical architecture and populated with some of the greatest names in New York City history, look no further than Green-Wood Cemetery, once the most popular tourist destination in Brooklyn during the 19th century.

Green-Wood is one of New York’s oldest gravesites, but its development reaches back all the way to the beginning of Brooklyn itself — in fact, to Hezekiah Pierrepont, the founder of Brooklyn Heights. Find out why it took an inventive city planner with a funny name, a dead New York governor, and a few errant parakeets to make this place a beautiful, richly historical place to visit today.

Download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, or you can listen to the cleaned up audio version (without visuals) right here: Green-Wood Cemetery

Original version released Oct. 3, 2008. Pictures above courtesy the Library of Congress