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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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.

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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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.

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.]

* * * *
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,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or

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

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Walking Tour | Saturday April 25 | "Remembering Abraham Lincoln"

Remembering Abraham Lincoln

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.
Presidential funeral procession in Union Square, April 25, 1865.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Postcard Thursday: The Chrysler Building


Today is the 140th birthday of Walter Chrysler (April 2, 1875-August 18, 1940), founder of the eponymous automobile company as well as the man behind what many still regard as New York's greatest skyscraper.

As we write in Inside the Apple:
The race to make the Chrysler Building the tallest in the world was...a question of personal ego. In fact, two egos: those of Walter Chrysler, the automobile magnate and owner of the building, and his architect, William Van Allen. The building they were racing to beat, the Manhattan Company, was being designed by Van Allen’s former partner and now bitter rival, H. Craig Severance. 
The rivalry played out in the press. In March 1929, the announced height of the Chrysler Building was 809 feet, to be topped with a dome. The Manhattan Company rejoined by announcing it was to be 840 feet. By October, Chrysler’s estimated final height had risen to 905 feet and—after a few last-minute drafting sessions by Severance and partner Yasuo Matsui—the Manhattan Company was revised upward to 925 feet.

But no one knew of the “vertex,” a secret spire that Van Allen’s crew had been assembling inside the steel dome since September. On October 23, 1929, it was set in place. No newspapers carried the story the next day; no newsreel cameras were on hand to record the momentous occasion. Chrysler and Van Allen were happy to keep their secret—if you can call a 185-foot spire crowning a 1,046-foot building a secret—until the time was right.

As Van Allen succinctly put it: “We’ll lift the thing up and we won’t tell ‘em anything about it. And when it’s up we’ll just be higher, that’s all.”

Their timing couldn’t have been worse. The next day, October 24, the Wall Street crash began, culminating five days later on Black Tuesday. The race to be the tallest in the world had suddenly taken a back seat to more pressing matters. On November 12, the Manhattan Company held a media event to showcase the topping out of their 925-foot skyscraper, hailed as the world’s tallest. Van Allen only let that sit for four days before revealing the truth—his vertex had not only catapulted the Chrysler Building 121 feet taller than his rival, but it was also sixty feet taller than the Eiffel Tower—and thus [at the time] the tallest man-made structure ever built.

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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

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






Thursday, March 26, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

Fire engines race to the scene of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, March 25, 1911
Yesterday was the 104th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, one of New York's greatest tragedies. We've dug up some interesting images from the Library of Congress: above, this photo evidently shows a horse-drawn fire engine racing to the scene of the fire. Below is a crowd of union supporters marching on May 1, 1911 (which is still Labor Day in most of the world, just not the USA). On one of the Yiddish signs is the number 146 -- the number of victims of the fire.
May 1, 1911, Labor Day Parade

Below is our post about the fire from last year:

On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire went up in flames—one of the deadliest industrial fires in American history and a turning point for worker’s safety and unionization in America.

The factory was predominantly staffed with young women who lived in Little Italy and the Lower East Side, and when we are giving walking tours of those neighborhoods, our clients are sometimes surprised to discover that the factory was in Greenwich Village. So much of that neighborhood—including the Asch Building, where the fire occurred—is now dominated by NYU that it is easy to forget that the stretch of the Village on both sides of Broadway was once a vital part of New York’s garment industry. In Inside the Apple we note:



Long before the fire broke out, the factory was infamous for its poor labor practices. In 1909, New York’s largest job action, known as the “Uprising of the 20,000” began when workers walked off the job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. For months, the majority of the city’s shirtwaist factories were crippled by the strike, but the factory owners refused to budge. Though the International Ladies Garment Workers Union brokered a settlement in 1910 that stopped short of forcing the recognition of their union, the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, refused to agree to it. The factory’s workers went back to work having gained few concessions. 
On the day of the fire, a Saturday, only about half of the factory’s 500 employees had come to work. Just as the afternoon shift was ending, a fire broke out on the eighth floor. Typical of garment centers of the day, the factory floor was a virtual tinderbox, with clothes, scraps of cloth, and unswept trimmings everywhere. When the fire started, the majority of the workers on the eighth and tenth floors were able to escape,* but those on the ninth floor had been locked in. This was done, some speculated, to cut down on unauthorized breaks, though it is also likely that it kept union organizers off the factory floor. Soon the elevators stopped working, which meant that the only remaining exit was the fire escape. Tragically, the fire escape had been poorly installed and maintained, and when too many young women began to climb down, it collapsed beneath their weight, sending them plunging to their death. The rest of the women on the ninth floor were then faced with jumping out of windows or waiting to burn to death. Many chose the former, raining down on the assembled crowd from above. The fire department did arrive, but as their ladders reached no higher than the sixth floor, it did little to save the women. In the end, 146 women died, most of them at the scene—some were only thirteen years old.
* Blanck and Harris, the owners, were able to get up to the roof and escape from there.

Though the fire forced the Triangle's owners to abandon the factory, the building still stands at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street. Then known as the Asch Building, it was renovated and reopened the next year. However, a New York Times article from 1913 noted that the building's tenants hadn't learned many lessons from the fire -- "they were, in fact, heaping its floors with scraps of clothing and flimsy material... and permitting smokers to stand near these heaps--(revealing) once more the singular carelessness of humanity." The building was purchased by NYU in 1929 and renamed the Brown Building; today, it houses university classrooms.

This post in adapted from an earlier entry in 2009, and one marking the centennial of the fire in 2011.

* * * * *

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

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




Thursday, March 19, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Historic Brooklyn Heights

Grace Court Alley, photographed by Edmund V. Gillon (courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York)

James had a story published yesterday on the history of Brooklyn Heights, which was designated a landmark district 50 years ago. Read the full story at Curbed: http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2015/03/18/how_brooklyn_heights_became_the_citys_first_historic_district.php.

(And, ICYMI, James also had an article on Monday on Curbed about Irish heritage in New York.)

Above and below are some of the archival photos (though not, technically, any postcards) that didn't make it into the final story. At the top that's Grace Court Alley, which is likely built over what was originally a Native American trail.

Map showing early Native American trails in Brooklyn (courtesy of the Brooklyn Historical Society)

The Low House on Pierrepont Place, photographed by Edmund V. Gillon (courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York)

View of Brooklyn Heights, 1838, courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York
One item we didn't have time to research is the grand, colonnaded building in the illustration above. Does anyone know what it was? If so, leave a comment.

* * * * *

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

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


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Irish History in New York


Happy St. Patrick's Day. James had a piece published yesterday on Curbed that explores remnants of Irish history in all five boroughs. Follow this link to read "In Modern-Day New York. Reminders of Irish Roots Abound."

The illustration above shows the Irish 69th regiment leaving from St. Patrick's Old Cathedral at the outbreak of the Civil War. The "Fighting 69th" are memorialized in Calvary Cemetery in Queens -- just one of a dozen places mentioned in the article.

* * * * *

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

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


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