An historic New Years Day editorial from 150 years ago, as the Emancipation Proclamation takes effect

In black churches throughout America 150 years ago, gatherers celebrated ‘Watch Night’ on December 21, 1862, counting down to the moment when Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would take effect. The carte-de-visite above celebrates a watch night that took place in Boston. [LOC] The following text is taken from the New York Tribune on January 1, […]

Tammany Hall hosts the city’s first Democratic Convention: Susan B. Anthony, the KKK, and a reluctant nominee

Many of you may remember New York’s sole Republican National Convention, held in 2004 at Madison Square Garden, celebrating the re-election bid of George W. Bush. Some may recall any one of New York’s three recent Democratic National Conventions — two (1976, 1980) for Jimmy Carter, and a rather memorable one in 1992 that placed […]

The Civil War Draft Riots, presented in miniature

The BBC America series ‘Copper‘, set in the famed Five Points neighborhood, begins this Sunday at 10pm EST. I’ll be Tweeting along during the show and hope to have a reaction post to it on the blog the next day. The video above gives me hope for a program that takes its historical depiction and […]

A startling arrival off Canal Street — 150 years ago today

New York was hundreds of miles from the Union battle lines during the Civil War, but not a single citizen could walk the streets in 1862 without a constant reminder, from banners and fund-raisers to the sight of a man with missing limbs. And a most dramatic example docked at the Canal Street pier 150 […]

Amusements and Thrills

Commodore Nutt: Barnum’s dwarf star, NYC police officer

The attentions of most New Yorkers 150 years ago today were understandably occupied by the events of the Civil War. The general mood in April 1862 had turned cynical and grim. It had been one year since the first battle at Fort Sumter. The bloodiest skirmish yet, the Battle of Shiloh in northwestern Tennessee, left […]

Gangs of New York

Execution in Five Points: Piracy, slave trade and the Tombs

Sometimes you can look back at history and think that nothing ever changes. And sometimes you find something that makes New York seem extraordinary unrecognizable, a city besieged by near barbaric crises. The image above depicts a scene from February 21, 1862, in the courtyard of the famous Tombs prison in the Five Points neighborhood. […]

Gilded Age New York

The Fifth Avenue Hotel: Opulence atop a potter’s field, and accommodations for heated Republican power brokering

By the date of this photo (1890), the Fifth Avenue Hotel, facing Madison Square Park, had already seen its share of American political drama.The double-breasted, cigar-chewing gentlemen who gathered in the sumptuous rooms of the Fifth Avenue Hotel were occasional connoisseurs of New York City history, and in particular, these amateur historians spoke of the very […]

Welcome to 1864! A 24-karat gold hoax, New York’s first theme restaurant, and a Confederate plot to torch the city

Barnum’s American Museum at left (the building with the flag) and the Astor House at right, from the vantage of City Hall Park, circa 1850. Both buildings were victims of the Confederate plot of 1864 to burn the city. PODCAST We’re officially subtitling this ‘Strange Tales of 1864’, presenting you with a series of odd, fascinating […]

Fort Wadsworth and the ghosts of the Civil War

Battery Weed pictured above, a peaceful ruin with almost two hundred years of history In 1864, there were few places in New York harbor more intense than the three fortesses alongside the Narrows. On the Brooklyn side, Fort Hamilton served as a training site, while Fort Lafayette partially functioned as a Confederate prison, notably holding […]

Violence across time: the riots of London and New York

Above: The 1863 Draft Riots and the aftermath of violence in London In a couple weeks, Tom and I will finish off our three-part Civil War series with a strange tale taking place during the war’s final years. But it seems I can’t quite get our last subject — the 1863 Draft Riots — out of my […]

Notes from the Podcast (#127) The Civil War Draft Riots

The New York draft riots of 1863 were both a distraction to the actual battles of the Civil War and the purest embodiment of underlying Northern viewpoints, violently displayed. Producing this show was not a lighthearted task, and we clearly needed to check our usual conversational demeanor at the door. Hopefully we presented the riots in […]

The Civil War Draft Riots: New York’s worst week ever

The burning of the Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue: In a day of vile crimes that Monday, July 13th, this certainly stands out as one of the worst. PODCAST The Civil War Draft Riots made the days of July 13-17, 1863, a most dangerous week to be a New Yorker. The announcement of conscription to replenish […]

The other Draft Riots: Brooklyn infernos, Queens bonfires

You probably know something about the Civil War draft riots that kept New York paralyzed during the week of July 13, 1863. But New York only meant Manhattan back then. What about the rest of the future boroughs? The conscription act initiated draft lotteries throughout the area as, by 1863, the Union struggled to fill […]

Purging ‘Evil’: New York vs. the Concert Saloon!

A torrid night at Harry Hill’s concert saloon on Houston Street. Naturally, such fun must be stopped! (Pic courtesy NYPL) Yes, yes, the Civil War began 150 years ago this year. I hope you have not grown tired of hearing that fact, as I’ve got an entire summer of posts and podcasts relating to it! […]

Notes from the Podcast (#126) Fernando Wood

Somebody should make a movie about Fernando Wood, and the role should be played by Johnny Depp. Wood is endlessly fascinating, not only as a shady character of political theater, but as a example of bald tenacity. He was written off as finished at many occasions — and saddled with mounting corruption charges — only to […]