Category Archives: New York City

Walking in the steps of Black History

Nicodemus, Kansas

Nicodemus, Kansas

Two years ago I contacted a particular cultural institution here in New York City about setting up a walking tour of Lower Manhattan related to African-American history, especially nineteenth century African-American history. After showing great initial excitement, the individual with whom I was corresponding lost interest; I know this because he stopped returning my messages. I found the whole thing curious, especially because it was pretty clear I would do all the work, including the tours themselves. For free. Basically, the institution would have provided its imprimatur and done a little publicity on its website. Who it was I will never say.

Over the weekend I am going to write an encyclopedia entry about Nicodemus, the all-black Kansas town founded in the 1870s by individuals from Kentucky and Tennessee. Nicodemus is now a national historic site. I have been to Kansas before, but alas never to Nicodemus. It will someday be part of the Great Driving Tour of the Midwest the Hayfoot and I take in a few years. There is no substitute for going to the places where history is made.

For Black History Month the Civil War Trust has published its top ten list of African-American places to visit. A few of them I have been to; others are on my to-do list.  One need not wait for spring. Put your parka on and go.

(image/Library of Congress)

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Filed under Heritage tourism, New York City

King on the Emancipation Proclamation

Kimg with Governor Rockefeller and Cardinal Spellman at the September 1962 dinner

Kimg with Governor Rockefeller and Cardinal Spellman at the September 1962 dinner

It is hard to believe it was almost 1 1/2 years ago that I posted about our trip to the Schomburg in Harlem to see Lincoln’s handwritten draft of the Emancipation Proclamation along with the official Preliminary EP. That and being in Gettysburg late last June have been my highlights of the sesquicentennial, so far. In that September 2012 post, I mentioned that also on display was a typewritten excerpt from a September 1962 speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. to the New York State Civil War Centennial Commission. I vividly remember seeing the many cross-outs and red ink on the King draft.

Well, incredibly, officials at the New York State Museum in Albany recently turned up an audio version of that speech that no one knew existed. Here it is, released by the museum two days ago on MLK Day:

It does not take much to understand the influence of the Civil War Centennial on the Civil Rights Movement. King was giving this speech during the desegregation crisis at Ole Miss over the enrollment of James Meredith.

In attendance at that dinner were Bruce Catton, Chairman of the Commission, and Governor Nelson Rockefeller. The New York State Commission did some good things, but unfortunately did not make it through the Centennial. The state legislature pulled the funding in 1963 and the group disbanded in March of that year. Thankfully we have now have their recording of one of their most important endeavors.

(image/New York State Archives)

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Filed under Centennial, New York City

The original Lombardi comes home

Several years ago your humble writer was walking though midtown Manhattan when, turning onto 5th Avenue, he saw something that made him pause. In the window display case of Tiffany & Co. was the World Series trophy. I had long known that Tiffany’s made the trophy for both MLB and the NFL. It is just not something one sees everyday. Even better for me, although I obviously had no way of knowing it that early fall evening, it was the World Series trophy the Red Sox themselves would win a few weeks later. As you can imagine, it is one of those random events that has stayed with me.

The first three of the Green Bay Back Super Bowl trophies. The team would add a fourth the year after this photo was taken.

The first three of the Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl trophies. The team would add a fourth the year after this photo was taken.

In a story I have been loosely following for the past few months, I read today that another Tiffany creation–the original Lombardi trophy–has returned to Newark, New Jersey after a forty-seven year hiatus. Ulysses Grant Dietz, the gr, gr. grandson of Ulysses S. Grant, is the museum curator responsible for bringing it back. The Newark Museum is one of the great places in the New York Metropolitan area. Waking there from the PATH train, the observant walker sees vestiges of the city’s heyday in the architecture and public artwork. Among the many other things the city was know for was its silversmiths and jewelry makers. The Lombardi Trophy from Super Bowl I is part of a current exhibit on Newark’s history of precious metalsmithing.

The exhibit is not entirely coincidental. This year’s Super Bowl is going to be held in New Jersey at the stadium where the Giants and Jets play. Hence, the museum’s administrators figured they would have some kind of tie-in. Shooting high, they went for–and got–the Lombardi.

On the plane from Florida the other day I had a conversation about this with the man next to me. We could not understand why they are playing in an outdoor stadium in the Northeast in February. But they are.

No, I will not be attending the Super Bowl whatever the weather. I will be making the trek across the river to see the original Lombardi trophy along with the other treasures the museum has to offer.

(image/Globe199)

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Filed under Baseball, Museums, New York City

Cleaning Tecumseh, cont’d

Manhattan's Grand Army Plaza, 7:15 am

Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza, 7:15 am

Update: I was in the city running some errand or another last week and noticed that the Sherman statue in Grand Army Plaza was still covered up. I was a little surprised, as the post I wrote about this was some months ago. Still, the stature did need work and I would rather that they do it right. Today’s New York Times has more on the project, complete with video.

I was in the city bright and early this morning running to a dentist appointment when, crossing 59th Street toward 5th Avenue, I noticed that the Sherman statue was covered for renovation. I blogged about the area back in 2011. I had not been in the neighborhood for a while and this was the first I had seen or heard of the project. My first thought when I saw the fencing and signage was, The Central Park Conservancy manages the plaza, along with its Saint-Gaudens masterwork? Then again, why should I be surprised? A quick internet search reveals this New York Times article with the full story from mid-June. The short version is that the pigeons were winning the battle of attrition versus General Sherman. Apparently previous restoration efforts did not go to well; guilding applied in 1989 was too bright, giving the artwork an unnatural hue which angered and upset many in the neighborhood. I have no fears for this current project and am sure the end result will be fine. Keeping the pigeons away permanently is another story.

I am not counting on it but I would love to see a more concerted effort to preserve Civil War New York and see it presented to the public in a more conscious way.

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Filed under Monuments and Statuary, New York City

Gotham turns out for Admiral Dewey

One of the things that strikes a person when walking the canyon-like street of Lower Manhattan are the sidewalk plaques commemorating the ticker-tape parades held over the years. Such parades stretch back well into the nineteenth century. Ticker-tape itself is a thing of the past, but such parades are still very much a part of present day New York City life. They are held, for instance, when the Yankees win the World Series. I remember being in New York City for the first time in June 1990 and witnessing the parade for Nelson Mandela. Those who know the War of the Rebellion know the importance parades played in the history and remembrance of the conflict. The Grand Review of the Armies in May 1865 put an exclamation point on the Federal victory, emphasizing that the war was over  and the Union preserved. Twenty years later, in 1885, Winfield Scott Hancock, working from Governors Island, quite consciously organized General Grant’s funeral to serve the reconciliation cause. That is why Confederate generals Simon Bolivar Buckner and Joseph Johnston served as pallbearers along with William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan.

30 September 1899

30 September 1899

Today, 30 September, marks another of the landmark New York City parades, even if no one remembers it anymore: it was one this day 114 years ago that the masses turned out to salute Admiral George Dewey after his victory at the the Battle of Manila Bay. Masses is the correct word; a full two million people lined the streets to pay their respects. It was not just New Yorkers either; as the stereograph above shows people came from across the country. John Philip Sousa’s band led the procession.

Teddy Roosevelt understood the importance of these types of gatherings. He had, after all, witnessed Lincoln’s funeral procession from his bedroom window as a young boy. Dewey’s most prominent admirer was the Rough Rider himself. Teddy had ridden the popularity he had earned on San Juan Hill the year before all the way to the governors mansion in Albany. Roosevelt had good reason to be in Manhattan for Dewey’s moment in the sun; it was his machinations as Assistant Secretary of the Navy that had put Dewey in charge of the Asiatic Squadron to begin with. Admiral Dewey, aboard the Olympia, unexpectedly arrived in New York City two days early, and was left to cool his heels on the ship, which he seems to have taken in stride. It was a Who’s Who of prominent military men, including Wesley Merritt and Nelson Miles. For whatever reason the Grand Army of the Republic did not officially send a contingent, though Oliver O. Howard did organize a few thousand old soldiers, including members of Duryea’s Zouaves, to march.

These are the types of stories I am looking forward to telling when I start at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace in October.

(image/NYPL)

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Filed under Memory, New York City, Spanish-American War, Theodore Roosevelt Jr (President)

A Beautiful Way to Go

Today, the last day of summer, I finally got a chance to see the Green-Wood Cemetery exhibit, A Beautiful Way Go, at the Museum of the City of New York. The exhibit ends in two weeks; if you are able to see it, I highly recommend.

Actress Laura Keene (1826-1873): Star of Our American Cousin, witness to Lincoln assassination, current resident of Green-Wood Cemetery

Actress Laura Keene (1826-1873): Star of Our American Cousin, witness to Lincoln assassination, current resident of Green-Wood Cemetery

This year marks Green-Wood’s 175th anniversary. The garden cemetery pre-dates Central and Prospect Parks, and was a template for the City Beautiful movement that came decades later during the Gilded Age. I have spent hundreds of hours in Green-Wood and can attest that it is one of the great historic treasures in the United States. Places like Green-Wood are interesting for many reasons, not least in what they tell us about nineteenth century travel and leisure. In the decade prior to the Civil War, 500,000 individuals visited Green-Wood every year to enjoy its bucolic scenery and take a break from the rapidly industrializing city. Three of the most visited places in New York State from 1850-1900 were Green-Wood, Niagara Falls, and, later, Grant’s Tomb.

At first I was underwhelmed because the exhibit space seemed rather small, just one room and not a big one at that. I quickly realized that, though compact, the show contains a great deal, especially for the patient museum goer willing to put in the work. There is a lot to take in. With so much to choose from–there are over half a million people buried in Green-Wood–the curators selected a representative cross-section of artists, industrialists, inventors, politicians, and military figures. I have seen a number of the Civil War generals buried in Green-Wood (Henry Halleck, Fitz John Porter, and Abram Duryée, to name a few), but I did not know until today that there are more CW generals buried at Green-Wood than anywhere else except Arlington and West Point.

I had read very little of this show and so did not know what to expect. One of the things that makes it work is that it combines the resources of both Green-Wood Cemetery and the Museum of the City of New York, which itself dates to 1923. Thus, one not only learns that Louis Comfort Tiffany is buried at Green-Wood, one sees Tiffany items from the MCNY collection on display in the same exhibit case. Exhibiting keys from some of the  mausoleums–and, yes, they were the old-fashioned skeleton ones–was a nice touch. There were some expected names, such as Boss Tweed and Horace Greeley. The funnest, though, were the lesser figures such as pencil manufacturer Eberhard Faber and economist Henry George, all but forgotten today but famous enough for 100,000 people to show up for his 1897 funeral. It is one of those shows that makes you see things and make connections that you otherwise might not have made.

Go now and you will even see the leaves changing in Central Park across the street.

(image by Brady studio/Library of Congress)

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Filed under Museums, New York City

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

One of the most intriguing things about Lower Manhattan, at least to me, is its juxtaposition of the old, often very old, and the new. Judging by the photograph in the previous post, one could be forgiven for not grasping this. In the midst of all those skyscrapers, however, right there on tip in fact, is the St. Elizabeth Seton Shrine. From afar one cannot see it amidst the much taller buildings, but it is there. Here it is close up, as I took it last week. The skyscrapers are clearly visible behind it. All of this is right across the street from the Staten Island ferry.

Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton, 7 State Street

Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton, State Street, New York City

Saint Elizabeth was beatified by Pope John XXIII in 1963 and canonized in 1975. In fact, she was the first native born American so designated. Seton was born Elizabeth Ann Bailey in New York CIty in 1774 just prior to the American Revolution. Her family bounced around a great deal during and after the war, living in Pelham, Staten Island, and in different spots in Lower Manhattan. At one time they lived next to Alexander Hamilton at 27 Wall Street. (Hamilton is buried in nearby Trinity Church, in an unmarked grave. ) She and her husband even fêted George Washington, on his sixty-fifth birthday no less.

Legend has it that the structure above may have been a stop on the Underground Railroad, though evidence proving so has not surfaced. It was used for the Union War effort during the Civil War. Here is the plaque  on the exterior wall.

Watson House plaque

Many of these buildings were torn down in the mid-twentieth century to make way for office space. That is New York City for you.

Here are a few more details.

Seton hanging plaque

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

The story is more detailed than I am writing here, but Elizabeth ended up converting to Catholicism, moving to Maryland, and founding the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s in Emmistburg in 1809 . She died there in 1824.

Those who know their Gettysburg Campaign may know where I am going with this. The First and Eleventh Corps both passed through Emmitsburg hurrying on their way to the battle. The Sisters of Charity, with other locals, gave assistance to the Army of the Potomac in the form of food, rest, and information about the surrounding area. Here is the view of the terrain.

View from St. Joseph's College and Mother Seton Shrine, Emmitsburg, MD

View from St. Joseph’s College and Mother Seton Shrine, Emmitsburg

One of the most touching vignettes about the Battle of Gettysburg is the death of General John Reynolds. Reynolds of course died on July 1st, killed instantly by a bullet to the head. Unbeknownst to his family until just after his death, Reynolds was secretly engaged to a woman named Kate Hewitt. He was even wearing something like an engagement ring, engraved “Dear Kate”, when he died. After his death, Kate Hewitt joined the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg but disappeared mysteriously three years after the war.

The Hayfoot and I had wanted to stop here for several years and finally did this past June during the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Campaign. Gettysburg itself is about 6-8 miles up the road. It is an incredible story on so many levels.

Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton's final resting place, St. Joseph’s Cemetery

Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton’s final resting place, St. Joseph’s Cemetery

(St. Joseph’s College image/Mike Rakoski, NPS)

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Filed under Gettysburg, New York City

Aboard the Yankee

Earlier in the week I received an email from reader and fellow blogger Billie Elias. Billie blogs at All in Your Family, which I encourage you to check out. She wrote to tell me that she had recently toured the Yankee, the Ellis Island ferry recently repurposed as a cultural institution, and was wondering if she could comment on my recent post. Because comments had closed, I suggested something better: how about writing a guest spot at the Strawfoot. Graciously, she accepted. Here is her report:

The first time I saw a MacKenzie-Childs piece of pottery was at my mother-in-law’s house. She had several pieces arranged in a group…one was a large pitcher that had stripes, checkerboard and flowers…a melange of varied patterns, all obviously hand-painted. How rustic, I thought…not really my taste.

Ceramic pot

Then one day while strolling up Madison Avenue, I noticed a most unusual shoppe. It had an old-world feel to the outside, with striped awnings that reminded me of jesters costumes. Upon entering, you knew you were in a most unusual space. Everything was cramped and cozy, and there was a large chicken wire cage with live birds inside. Nooks and crannies were everywhere.  A narrow staircase carried you up to another level of retail, and yet another even more quaint stair took you to the teensie top, where there was a wall covered with rooms of a doll house, a la Windsor Castle. There was a tea room up there, too. Every square inch was covered by a tile or a tassel or a cushion or plates or some other creation of a magical couple named Victoria and Richard MacKenzie-Childs.

mackenziechilds2

It’s a style that can really grow on you, especially as the style evolved over the years to include lots of black and white stripes. (Black and White are my personal signature colors, especially as my hair has gone from jet black to salt and pepper).

What a surprise I had when a friend from Amsterdam told me she was going to interview the owner of a bed and breakfast situated on an old ferry boat docked on the Hudson River (since relocated to Red Hook in Brooklyn). I pride myself on being a New Yorker who has her finger on the pulse of cool stuff like this, so I was stunned that I didn’t know such a thing existed. My Google search netted the fact that MacKenzie-Childs were the brain-”childs” behind this. I begged to go along for the ride and she relented. That is how I came to meet the colorful and unusual Victoria.

Billie (right) aboard the Yankee

Billie (right) aboard the Yankee

Being welcomed into the parlor, we were regaled by stories of how the Yankee had ferried immigrants from their ships to Ellis Island and later served in WWI and WWII. Today she is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The couple is deeply committed to her preservation (not only of the ship, but of everything they touch…talk about reducing one’s footprint!). There’s a chicken coop with live chickens whose eggs are eaten by visitors and residents of the vessel, mounds of old steamer trunks and luggage repurposed for storage, and MacKenzie-Childs accoutrements and eye-candy everywhere the eye can see.

(images/Billie Elias)

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Filed under Ellis Island, Guest Posts, New York City

Cleaning Tecumseh

Manhattan's Grand Army Plaza, 7:15 am

Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza, 7:15 am

I was in the city bright and early this morning running to a dentist appointment when, crossing 59th Street toward 5th Avenue, I noticed that the Sherman statue was covered for renovation. I blogged about the area back in 2011. I had not been in the neighborhood for a while and this was the first I had seen or heard of the project. My first thought when I saw the fencing and signage was, The Central Park Conservancy manages the plaza, along with its Saint-Gaudens masterwork? Then again, why should I be surprised? A quick internet search reveals this New York Times article with the full story from mid-June. The short version is that the pigeons were winning the battle of attrition versus General Sherman. Apparently previous restoration efforts did not go to well; guilding applied in 1989 was too bright, giving the artwork an unnatural hue which angered and upset many in the neighborhood. I have no fears for this current project and am sure the end result will be fine. Keeping the pigeons away permanently is another story.

I am not counting on it but I would love to see a more concerted effort to preserve Civil War New York and see it presented to the public in a more conscious way.

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Filed under Monuments and Statuary, New York City

LaGuardia’s New York, in technicolor

I just got back from the Mets-Cardinals game at Citi Field. Not surprisingly the Mets lost, 8-2.

Earlier today I received an email from my good friend Susan in Oklahoma with a link to some recently found video of New York City life in 1939. This was an important year in the city’s history. For starters, the World’s Fair began that April. I always think about that when going to Citi Field/Shea Stadium because the fair took place in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, located at the same subway station for what is now the ballpark. (The 1964 World’s Fair was held there as well.) April 1939 was the same month Lou Gehrig retired from the Yankees; three months later he made his “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech on the Fourth of July. That September Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland, increasing tension in the city, though as you will see life as always has a way of going on. My favorite part of the video is the footage of the elevated subway lines (now gone in Manhattan) and the line of passenger cruise ships along the Hudson (gone as well) seen from atop Rockefeller Center. Still, much remains as it did seventy-four years ago. Alas I could not embed the video so check it out here. It is all of three minutes.

And Susan, we have not forgotten about visiting Oklahoma, and when we do we expect to be given the grand tour of the CIvil War sites. So start brushing up.

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Filed under Film, Sound, & Photography, New York City