Thursday, May 21, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Lindbergh Air Mail Stamp


Instead of a postcard today, a stamp -- and a remarkable one at that. On May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. To honor that achievement, the U.S. Postal Service issued the above airmail (or "air mail") stamp on June 11, just three weeks after the historic landing. That was the same day Lindbergh received the Distinguished Flying Cross, but five days before he collected his $25,000 prize from Raymond Orteig for making the flight.


The competition to be first to fly across the atlantic, known as the Orteig Prize, was sponsored by hotelier Raymond Orteig who owned the Lafayette and Brevoort Hotels in Manhattan. Orteig, hoping to boost Franco-American relations, first offered the prize to complete a transatlantic flight in 1919. When no one had made an attempt in five years, Orteig extended the competition and by 1926 it had begun drawing serious competitors. However, the hazards of aviation meant that by the time Lindbergh began his historic flight, six of his fellow competitors had died.

Lindbergh's flight in the Spirit of St. Louis began on May 20 at 7:52 a.m. with his ground crew pushing the heavy plane down the muddy runway. The plane carried 450 gallons of fuel but Lindbergh had removed as much as possible from the plane, including his sextant -- meaning that Lindbergh would have to fly by the stars (if they were visible) or dead reckoning. Lindbergh dodged bad weather across the Atlantic (sometimes flying as low as twelve feet above the waves) and reached Le Bourget, France, at 10:22 p.m. on May 21st where he was mobbed by a crowd of eager well-wishers.


Upon his return (by steamship) to America, Lindbergh was feted in Washington, D.C., before heading to New York. On June 13th, the aviator was honored with a tickertape parade on Lower Broadway.

Three days later, he collected the Orteig Prize at a breakfast at the Breevort Hotel with Orville Wright in attendance. (The Breevort Hotel was demolished in 1953 to be replaced by the Brevoort apartments.)

The successful flight spurred tremendous interest in aviation and Lindbergh became America's most visible spokesman for commerical flight.

Alas, the stamp is not very valuable today. A mint condition single stamp is only $13.50.

[This post was adapted from an earlier entry.]


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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Chelsea Piers


Last week was the centennial of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, one of the events that pulled America into World War I. The ship had left on its final voyage from Cunard's Pier 54 on what was then still widely called the North River by mariners, even if the general public knew it as the Hudson. In the postcard above, Pier 54 is just off the frame of the postcard to the left. This image, ca. 1910, instead features is Pier 61, where White Star's Titanic was slated to dock; the survivors were ultimately brought to Pier 54.

When commerce left the Hudson River in the latter half of the 20th century, the piers fell into disrepair. Most of Pier 54 was demolished in the early 1990s and the northerly piers in this postcard were rebuilt as the Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Complex.

The remnants of Pier 54 today. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Anyone interested in exploring this neighborhood more should check out our Chelsea walking tour.


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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or
from independent bookstores across the country.



And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.



Friday, May 8, 2015

Postcard Thursday: The Singer Tower


Astute readers will note that today is Friday, but sometimes (as the late, great Douglas Adams once said), it can be hard to get the hang of Thursdays.

And speaking of late, great: the image above depicts the Singer Tower, Ernest Flagg's 1908 skyscraper in the Financial District. This was the second building Flagg completed for the Singer Manufacturing Corporation, America's premiere sewing machine company. The first, a 12-story manufacturing and retail space in SoHo, still stands at 561 Broadway, and is where Flagg tried out his unusual red-and-green color scheme. Before that tower was finished in 1904, he'd already received the commission to build Singer an office tower downtown -- and to make it the tallest in the world. The new skyscraper held that title for just two years (1908-1909) before being dethroned by the Metropolitan Life tower on Madison Square.

The Singer Tower, an increasingly unique structure among the uniformity of postwar design, stood until 1968, when it earned the dubious honor of being the tallest building in the world ever to be intentionally demolished. As James wrote in a piece for Curbed this past week:
Having been acquired by US Steel [in the mid-1960s], plans were underway to demolish the tower to build the company's new headquarters, today known as One Liberty Plaza. Though preservationists rallied to have the Singer Tower designated a landmark, the LPC hesitated. Having been unable to find an appropriate buyer for the Jerome mansion, the LPC was leery of designating the Singer Tower only to have to find a new buyer willing to move in and preserve it. Instead, the commission declined to save it and it fell to the wrecking ball in 1968.
Read the full story about New York's struggle to hold onto its landmarks at
http://curbed.com/archives/2015/04/29/how-some-of-nycs-first-landmarked-buildings-became-rubble.php


Today's postcard was sent 105 years ago on May 16, 1910. It is one of the first generation of cards where the message could finally be written on the back (Congress changed the law in 1907), but the bulk of the space is still reserved for the address. The message reads:
Hope you are all well as usual. I am just the same. Can see this bldg from where we are working. Will write some time this week. WDH

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Memorial Day Walking Tour: Alexander Hamilton's New York


ALEXANDER HAMILTON'S NEW YORK
A Memorial Day Walking Tour
Monday, May 25, 2015 at 11:00AM

$20 per person; $30 if you'd like a signed copy of Footprints in New York

Whether you had the chance to see Lin-Manuel Miranda's brilliant Hamilton at the Public Theater or have plans to see it when it makes its transfer to Broadway this summer, there's no better time to brush up on the life and death of New York's most famous Founding Father: Alexander Hamilton.

In an updated reprise of this popular walk, we will be exploring Lower Manhattan, following in the footsteps of Hamilton from his arrival in the city as a teenager to attend King's College (today's Columbia University) until his death at the hands of Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804. Along the way, we'll talk about the first rumblings of the Revolution in the 1760s, the outbreak of the war, Hamiton's derring-do during British shelling of the city, the city's role as America's first capital, and much more.

To reserve email footprintsinnewyork@gmail.com your

* name
* number of people in your party (including how many people are $20 [tour only] or $30 [tour + book])
* a cell number to contact you if there's any last-minute changes

RESERVATIONS are limited and taken on a first-come, first-served basis.

You can pay for the tour by cash or credit card when you check in. Instructions on where to meet will be email within 24 hours of when you reserve.



Thursday, April 30, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Lost Landmarks

The Leonard Jerome mansion.
The New York Merchandise Mart, which replaced the Jerome mansion
Yesterday, Curbed NY ran a story that James wrote about two New York City landmarks that were demolished in the 1960s: the Leonard Jerome mansion on Madison Square and 71 Pearl Street, a commercial building in the Financial District.

While it's not surprising that 71 Pearl was never part of a picture-postcard view (and, in fact, James was able to find only one photo of it, below), it was a little surprising that the Jerome mansion, which later housed the Union and Manhattan clubs, never warranted a postcard image.

The building in the center (slightly obscured by the El tracks) is 71 Pearl Street. Notice the arched windows on the second floor, the basis for its landmark designation.
After searching our own archives and coming up short, we looked through dozens of postcards of Madison Square hoping to find an inadvertent image of the Jerome mansion. Here's the only one we discovered:

Courtesy of the exhibition "Flatiron High and Low." (https://vanalen.org/projects/flatiron-high-and-low/)
If you look just to the right of the tower of Madison Square Garden, you can see the roof of the Jerome house peeking over the treeline.

Read James's entire story about these two demolished landmarks at http://curbed.com/archives/2015/04/29/how-some-of-nycs-first-landmarked-buildings-became-rubble.php.


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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or
from independent bookstores across the country.



And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Postcard Thursday: "Saving Place"

This idealized postcard view of Penn Station was published in 1908, two years before the station opened.
This past Sunday, April 19, marked the 50th anniversary of the passage of the New York City Landmarks law and to celebrate, the Museum of the City of New York has launched a new exhibition, “Saving Place.”

While the exhibit covers the history of preservation in the city from the 19th century onward, it’s hard to get excited about it. The layout is cramped, the photographs on display are generally very small, and equal emphasis is given to every battle, large or small. That’s not to say that there aren't some intriguing artifacts in the show, including the lone remaining piece of a cast-iron building by James Bogardus that was stolen from a storage lot in the 1970s. (James is writing about the building for an upcoming piece for Curbed, so keep an eye open for it.) But overall, the feeling is cramped -- even though the show is in the big room on the ground floor.

One major annoyance at the show is the volume of the videos, which run on a repeating loop and create a cacophony of sound that makes it hard to concentrate. After you've heard Isaac Stern talk about the saving of Carnegie Hall two dozen times--and you've only been inside the exhibit for 5 minutes--you may have the urge to run away. If you're keenly interested in the history of preservation in the city, it is still worth the price of admission (which, at MCNY, is always a suggested fee); others should probably not make the effort.

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If you haven’t signed up for James’s Civil War/Abraham Lincoln walk on Saturday, there’s still time. And, thanks to our friends at Curbed, you could even win two free tickets. Go to http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2015/04/21/tell_us_when_youd_timetravel_and_win_walking_tour_tickets.php for all the details on how to enter. Entries are due by Noon tomorrow (Friday, April 24).


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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or
from independent bookstores across the country.



And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Monday, April 20, 2015

REMINDER: Abraham Lincoln's NY Walking Tour This Saturday

THIS SATURDAY...

Explore Abraham Lincoln's New York on the 150th Anniversary
of the day his body lay in state at City Hall

ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S NEW YORK:
A Walking Tour with James Nevius
author of
Footprints in New York and Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City
Saturday, April 25, at 1:00 p.m.
$20 per person (or include a copy of Footprints in New York for an additional $10 per person)
On April 25, 1865, Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession wended its way through Manhattan so that the president could lay in state at City Hall. Just ten days earlier, the president had been assassinated at Ford’s Theater in Washington and his murderer, John Wilkes Booth, was still on the loose.
Using the Abraham Lincoln chapter of James and Michelle Nevius's most recent book, Footprints in New York, as a starting point, we will walk the streets that Lincoln knew in New York, visiting spots connected with his rise to the presidency and ending at City Hall Park, where tens of thousands of mourners gathered to pay their respects 150 years earlier. Stops will include the Cooper Union, Haughwout’s china store, one of Mathew Brady’s studios, and reminders of the Civil War Draft riots.
Space is limited and reservations will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Your name
  • Number in your party
  • How many reservations are for the tour only ($20 p/p) or the tour + a copy of Footprints ($30 p/p)
  • A contact phone number (preferably a cell) in case we need to contact you the day of the tour
Payment by cash or credit card at the time of the tour.
Meeting place will be sent to you when you reserve.
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If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
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from independent bookstores across the country.



And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Postcard Thursday: "Lincoln's Death Chair"

In keeping with the theme of the week, we present the slightly macabre postcard (above) of the chair Lincoln was sitting in at Ford's Theater when he was shot.

The chair now resides at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan (see our own photo of it, below), safely ensconced inside. But that wasn't always the case.

When Henry Ford started his museum (then called the Edison Institute), there were two components: an indoor space dedicated to science and progress, and an outdoor collection of historic buildings creating an idyllic, small town landscape. At the center of what Ford dubbed "Greenfield Village" was a town square, complete with a courthouse....but not just any courthouse. This was the place that Abraham Lincoln had argued cases when he rode the circuit as a young lawyer. Ford had sent his agents to Potsville, Illinois, to convince the owners of the building to sell it to him. Evidently, it was a tough negotiation, but eventually Ford's money prevailed; the courthouse was dismantled, shipped to Michigan, and reassembled in Greenfield Village. Later, a corner cabinet that Lincoln had helped build when he was a boy was added to the building. But what really drew people was the ability to sit in the chair the president had been using at the time of his murder.


According to a docent at the museum, Ford accidentally bypassed the opportunity to acquire the chair for free, and later had to pay a princely sum at auction. He had it installed in the courthouse until the curators finally insisted that it be moved to a climate-controlled, indoor space.

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There's still time to sign up for James's walking tour of Abraham Lincoln's New York on Saturday, April 25.  $20 per person or $30 if you'd like a signed copy of Footprints in New York. Follow the link for all the details.

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Explore more NYC history in

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or
from independent bookstores across the country.



And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lincoln and Seward ASSASSINATED!!


We've always found it interesting the definition of the word "assassinated" has changed so much over time. Today marks a somber anniversary -- it has been 150 years since John Wilkes Booth burst into the box at Ford's Theater in Washington, DC, and shot President Abraham Lincoln, who died the next morning. As you can see above, newspapers were reporting that both Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward had been assassinated. This wasn't a rush to report the news that later needed to be corrected; in 1865, "assassinate" meant to attempt to kill someone for political purposes. You could be assassinated and live, as was the case with Seward.

[That doesn't excuse the report, above, claiming that Seward died at 9:45 a.m. That was just misinformation.]

In all the commemorations of Abraham Lincoln's life and death, it's easy to forget that he was not the only target that night: Booth and his co-conspirators were planning to also kill Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward.

Statue of William Seward in Madison Square Park
Even though Lee had already surrendered to Grant, Booth reasoned that if they could kill the President, the Vice President, and the Secretary of State all on one night, the Union would be thrown into disarray. And, with no formal right of succession--which wouldn't be codified in the Constitution until after the Kennedy assassination--Booth might have had a point.

William Seward, best known today for his purchase of Alaska from the Russians ("Seward's Folly"), was Governor of New York from 1838-42 and Senator from 1848 until becoming Lincoln's Secretary of State in 1861. (Seward, one of the founding members of the Republican Party, had been many people's first choice to be nominated in 1860 and he received more votes on the first ballot than Lincoln. However, he did not have enough votes to gain the nomination outright and it was his eventual shift of support to Lincoln that guaranteed his rival the top spot on the Republican ticket in 1860.)

The night that Lincoln was murdered, Seward was laid up in bed. He had been in a serious carriage accident just nine days earlier that had left him close to death. One of Booth's co-conspirators, Lewis Powell (aka Lewis Paine), talked his way into the Seward house pretending that he was delivering medicine. Stopped on the stairs by Seward's son, Frederick, Powell panicked, attacking Frederick and dashing into the Secretary of State's bedroom. He stabbed Seward multiple times, injured another of Seward's sons and his bodyguard, and retreated into the night thinking he had mortally wounded the Secretary of State. It was only after Powell was captured the next day that he discovered that Seward was still alive; Seward went on to make a full recovery, continuing to serve as Secretary of State under Andrew Johnson. (Johnson was to have been assassinated that night by George Azerodt, but the would-be killer chickened out.)

Seward died in 1872 and is memorialized in New York City in a famous park on the Lower East Side as well as in a grand statue in Madison Square Park (above).

We talk much about Booth and Lincoln in Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers, but if you'd like to explore Civil War-era New York, join James on Saturday, April 25, when he'll be leading a walking tour honoring Lincoln's life and commemorating his death. Read details about the tour at http://blog.insidetheapple.net/2015/04/walking-tour-saturday-april-25.html.

[Parts of this blog entry were adapted from an earlier post.]

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Explore more NYC history in

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes & Nobleetc.) or
from independent bookstores across the country.



And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.






Thursday, April 9, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Surrender at Appomattox Courthouse

Grant's Tomb and ferry landing, seen from the Hudson.

One hundred fifty years ago today, on April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, ending the bloody Civil War.

The day before, Lee had written to Grant:
To be frank, I do not think the emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army, but, as the restoration of peace should be the sole object of all, I desired to know whether your proposals would lead to that end....
Around 5:00 a.m. on April 9th, Grant dashed off a reply:
I have not authority to treat on the subject of peace. The meeting proposed for 10 A.M. to-day could lead to no good. I will state, however, that I am equally desirous for peace with yourself, and the whole North entertains the same feeling. The terms upon which peace can be had are well understood. By the South laying down their arms, they would hasten that most desirable event, save thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet destroyed. Seriously hoping that all our difficulties may be settled without the loss of another life....
The two men met at the home of Wilmer McLean in the town of Appomattox Courthouse (not in an actual courthouse as is too often erroneously mentioned). After hammering out the terms of the surrender, Lee departed around four o'clock in the afternoon. General Horace Potter recalled the scene:
At a little before 4 o'clock General Lee shook hands with General Grant, bowed to the other officers, and with Colonel Marshall left the room. One after another we followed, and passed out to the porch. Lee signaled to his orderly to bring up his horse, and while the animal was being bridled the general stood on the lowest step and gazed sadly in the direction of the valley beyond where his army lay - now an army of prisoners. He smote his hands together a number of times in an absent sort of way; seemed not to see the group of Union officers in the yard who rose respectfully at his approach, and appeared unconscious of everything about him. All appreciated the sadness that overwhelmed him, and he had the personal sympathy of every one who beheld him at this supreme moment of trial. The approach of his horse seemed to recall him from his reverie, and he at once mounted. General Grant now stepped down from the porch, and, moving toward him, saluted him by raising his hat. He was followed in this act of courtesy by all our officers present; Lee raised his hat respectfully, and rode off to break the sad news to the brave fellows whom he had so long commanded.
 (These and other firsthand accounts of the day can be found at eyewitnesstohistory.com.)

After the war and his two terms as president, General Grant moved to New York City. He lived on the Upper East Side (in a house that's now gone) and is entombed in the largest presidential mausoleum on Riverside Drive. As you can see from the above black-and-white postcard, the tomb was once quite the destination and--as we've pointed out before--more people used to visit it than the Statue of Liberty.

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In commemoration of the end of the Civil War, James is leading a walking tour on Saturday, April 25, at 1:00 p.m. that looks for remnants of the era still left in Manhattan and traces the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln, both when he came to the city as a candidate for president in 1860 and when he returned as a martyr on April 25, 1865.

You can read about the tour and find out how to sign up at http://blog.insidetheapple.net/2015/04/walking-tour-saturday-april-25.html.

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Explore more NYC history in

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
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And, of course, Inside the Apple is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

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