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Friday, May 19, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Buddy Holly's Last Concert


We've been driving through the Midwest in search of various sites associated with Laura Ingalls Wilder and Frank Lloyd Wright (who both turn 150 years old this year), but along the way, we stumbled upon the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, where Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens played their last concert. After the show, they boarded a plane in Mason City, which crashed nearby on February 3, 1959.

Holly, originally from Texas, ended his life as a New Yorker. A few years ago we posted about his home in the Brevoort apartment building, excerpted below:

Holly was one of the earliest stars to take what was then still being called “race music” and cross over to white audiences. His early hits with the Crickets—including That’ll Be The DayPeggy SueOh Boy!, and Not Fade Away—had a profound influence on later acts (including the Beatles and Bob Dylan, who were huge fans) and are still some of the greatest rock songs ever written.

Before his untimely death at age 22, Holly had split with the Crickets and moved to New York City to be closer to the New York music scene. He and his new bride, Maria Elena, moved into the Brevoort apartments at 11 Fifth Avenue. What was then a brand-new apartment building had recently replaced the famous Brevoort Hotel, which had at one time been among the city’s finest hostelries. (Among other famous events, the Brevoort Hotel was the place where Charles Lindbergh received the $25,000 Orteig Prize for his solo flight across the Atlantic; Orteig was the hotel’s owner.)

The Hollys lived in Apartment 4H, where Buddy set up a home tape recorder and in December 1958 made his final recordings, among them Crying, Waiting, Hoping and Peggy Sue Got Married. Posthumously released with overdubs and studio trickery, the original tapes have circulated for decades among collectors. They were included on the definitive Holly rarities set, Down the Line.


When Holly moved in to the Brevoort in 1958, he paid $1,000 a month rent for a corner unit with a wraparound terrace. 
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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Secret Gardens


The iconic photo above, from Woody Allen's Manhattan, was taken at the edge of East 58th Street, in a tiny park that abuts a private enclave known as Sutton Square.

James explored Sutton Square -- where 5 townhouses happen to be on the market at the moment -- for a story in today's New York Post.

You can read the piece at: http://nypost.com/2017/05/11/what-its-like-to-live-on-one-of-nycs-secret-gardens/

For the next couple of weeks, we are on the road exploring sites associated with pioneer author Laura Ingalls Wilder (of Little House on the Prairie fame) and renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. If those topics interest you, be sure to follow James on social media to see photos from along our route.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/james_nevius/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JamesNeviusAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JamesNevius

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Postcard Thursday: The 200th Anniversary of the Bicycle


Earlier this week, James wrote a travel story for The New York Post based on our recent research in Germany. This year marks the 200th birthday of the bicycle, invented in Mannheim, Germany, by Karl Drais.

You can read the story at http://nypost.com/2017/05/02/where-to-celebrate-the-bicycles-200th-birthday/, which also gives suggestions for biking in France, the UK, Ireland, and Canada.

Enjoy!

A replica of Drais's original "running machine"



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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Booth's Death


Yesterday, April 26, marked the 152nd anniversary of the death of actor and presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth. Eleven days earlier, Booth had shot President Lincoln in his box at Ford's Theatre. The above print shows Booth in the act of leaping down to the stage (he broke his leg) before his escape.

Booth's connection to New York was tenuous, but he did come to the city from time to time, in part because his brother Edwin was one of the city's most noted actors. As we write in Footprints in New York:
On the evening of November 25, 1864—less than three weeks after Abraham Linclon’s re-election—John Wilkes Booth stepped out on stage of the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway near Houston Street. He was in New York City for a one-night-only performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar co-starring his two older brothers, Edwin and Junius. It was the first and only time the three men would perform together. 
John Wilkes Booth is now so infamous that it’s easy to forget that before he shot Lincoln, he was merely famous. Edwin was the bigger star in the family, considered by some to be the greatest tragedian of his age (his statue, showing him dressed as Hamlet, stands in the center of Gramercy Park). But John Wilkes was well known in his own right; when he jumped down from the president’s box at Ford’s Theatre and called out “Sic semper tyrannis!” most people in the audience would have recognized him. 
The Booths were from Maryland and embodied the divide in that state at the time. John Wilkes considered himself a Southerner; Maryland may not have seceded, but he certainly owed no allegiance to the Union. Edwin, meanwhile, had already established himself in New York and was sympathetic to the Union cause. This political disagreement, however, did not stop them from joining their eldest brother, Junius, for this benefit performance to raise money for a new statue of Shakespeare by JQA Ward to be erected on the Mall in Central Park. 
When the curtain rose on the second act, theatergoers could tell something was wrong. As John Wilkes took the stage, people began to smell smoke. Edwin came out to halt the production and calm the audience. The back doors of the theater flew open and the fire company burst in, trailing their hoses behind them. 
It turned out the Winter Garden was not on fire; it was the LaFarge Hotel next door. A small blaze had been set in a stairwell and was easily contained. After the excitement had worn off, the Booth brothers returned to the stage and finished the show, earning a handsome $3,500 toward the Shakespeare statue fund. 
People awoke the next morning to find that the LaFarge fire wasn’t an isolated incident. Nineteen hotels...two theaters, and P. T. Barnum’s American Museum had all been attacked by arsonists the night before. As the details emerged, it became clear that there had been a Confederate plan to burn New York. Luckily for New Yorkers, the plan was ill conceived and poorly carried out—many of the fires were set in rooms with little oxygen, so they didn’t spread. 
John Wilkes Booth, Confederate sympathizer, left the city under no suspicion—and, indeed, there was no link between Booth and this plot, which was carried out with the tacit approval of the Confederate government. 
A month later, Booth was back in New York, and this time he had a rogue plan of his own to help the Confederate cause: kidnapping the president. He visited his friend Sam Chester at his boardinghouse on Grove Street in the West Village to tell him about a “speculation.” They walked down to Houston Street, where they dined at a pub called the House of Lords, then walked up Broadway. At Bleecker Street, Booth decided that it was too crowded to tell Chester anything in confidence; they continued up to West Fourth Street. 
Finally Booth told Chester his plan: kidnap Lincoln and other top officials at Ford’s Theatre—which Lincoln was known to frequent—and spirit them away to the Confederate capital at Richmond. They’d ransom them back in exchange for the cessation of hostilities. Chester, who had worked with Booth at the theater in the past, was offered the job of holding open the back door so that Booth could make his getaway. Chester turned Booth down. 
Booth went away, disappointed but not dissuaded. By April the kidnapping plan had changed to assassination. (Some argue that the kidnapping story had always been a ruse to get Sam Chester involved.)
You can read more about Sam Chester's Greenwich Village home--and other locations in that neighborhood with dubious ties to historical events, in a story James wrote for the New York Post a couple of weeks ago: "Everything You Know About the Village is Wrong."


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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Jackson Heights


This week, James had a story published by Curbed on the history and development of Jackson Heights, Queens. The neighborhood is modeled on the "Garden City" ideal first put forward by English thinker Ebenezer Howard.

Read the story at http://ny.curbed.com/2017/4/19/15328342/jackson-heights-queens-history.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Seward's Folly


If you follow James on Instagram (which you can do at http://www.instagram.com/james_nevius), you know that we recently traveled to Sitka, Alaska, where we took part in some of the kick-off events for the sesquicentennial of America's purchase of Alaska from the Russians. Many people called the purchase "Seward's Folly" or "Seward's Icebox," and questioned the wisdom of spending $7.2 million dollars for what was then considered useless, frozen land.

The purchase probably would never have happened without the guidance of Secretary of State William Seward, who was very nearly killed two years prior on April 14, 1865, as part of John Wilkes Booth's plan to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.

One of our most popular blog posts of all time is about the attempt on Seward's life (which we liberally crib from below).


While Lincoln's death at the hands of John Wilkes Booth will likely always be remembered as one of America's most heinous crimes, it should be recalled that Booth and his conspirators had two other targets that night, as well: Secretary of State William H. Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson. Even though General Robert E. Lee had already surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant--thus ending the Civil War--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; see last week's post), Booth might have had a point.

William Seward was Governor of New York from 1838-42 and Senator from 1848 until becoming Lincoln's Secretary of State in 1861. One of the founding members of the Republican Party, Seward 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, who was to have been assassinated that night by George Azerodt, but the would-be killer chickened out. It was in Johnson's cabinet that Seward championed the purchase of Alaska.

Note that in the newspaper below it points out that Seward and Lincoln were both assassinated. That's not a typo or "fake news." In the 19th century, the word "assassination" was often used to refer to both the successful and the unsuccessful murder of a political figure. That is, you could be assassinated and live, like Seward.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Postcard Thursday: John and Julia Tyler


On April 6, 1841, John Tyler became the first vice president to ever assume the presidency; his boss, William Henry Harrison, had died two days earlier just a month into office. (It has long been assumed that Harrison caught pneumonia while giving a lengthy inaugural address in the rain, though that theory has come under fire in recent years.)

The Constitution has no right of succession built in -- and would not have one until the ratification of the 25th Amendment in 1967 -- so Tyler's assumption of the presidency was not a foregone conclusion. Many thought of him as illegitimate throughout his four-year term and he was kicked out of his party, the Whigs, for not stepping aside.

But what does this have to do with New York City? Meet Tyler's second wife, Julia Gardiner, who he married while in office:


As we write in Inside the Apple:
Julia Gardiner was considered one of the most eligible young women in New York. A descendant of Lion Gardiner, one of the earliest English settlers on Long Island, she was both beautiful and astonishingly rich. Today, Gardiners Island off the east coast of Long Island is still the largest privately owned island in America. 
Julia was also clearly a rebellious and bored young woman. In 1840, she appeared in a handbill advertisement for Bogert & Mecamley, a dry goods store. Julia stands clutching a handbag that is actually a sign:

I’ll purchase at Bogert & Mecamley’s, number 86 Ninth Avenue. Their goods are beautiful and astonishingly cheap.

Julia’s family was horrified. Not only was she shilling for a middle-class department store while wearing a gaudy frock, she was doing it on the arm of a man who was not a male relative. Of all the social faux pas in Victorian New York, the unchaperoned female was high on the list. 
Julia was immediately sent to Europe to learn her social graces. Soon upon her return, she met President Tyler—who was less than five months a widower—and the two began an oblique romance. Within a few weeks, he had proposed to her. Julia demurred, but Tyler was not easily dissuaded. In February 1844, Tyler invited Julia and her father, David, to see the first demonstration of the U.S. Navy’s new twelve-inch gun, the “Peacemaker.” The gun exploded in the breech, killing four people—including David Gardiner—and further marking Tyler’s presidency for ignominy. 
Four months later, Julia and the President were married at a secret ceremony at the Church of the Ascension [on Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village], near the Gardiners’ New York City residence on Lafayette Place. Tyler was loath to tell his children about the wedding. His eldest daughter, Mary, was five years older than Julia, who was 24—and the President was himself only nine years older than Julia’s mother.
The new Mrs. Tyler would only be first lady for a few months, but would be a potent force in the Washington DC social scene during her time there.


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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Greetings from Heidelberg





Postcard Thursday is on a trip to Germany this week; we've been exploring Baden-W├╝rttemberg, the southern German state. Here's a couple of photos of Heidelberg, the famed university town with its mighty schloss (castle). Stay tuned next week for even more far-flung adventures.



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Monday, March 20, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Frank Lloyd Wright



We've had some glitched before with Postcard Thursday. Astute readers know that is sometimes appears as Postcard Friday, and there might have even been a Postcard Saturday once upon a time.

But Postcard Monday?

Mea culpa.

Today brings you a snowy scene of Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece, Fallingwater, which James wrote about this week in The New York Post. Read all about how to construct your own Wright road trip at http://nypost.com/2017/03/13/roadtripping-frank-lloyd-wrights-greatest-archi-hits/


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Friday, March 10, 2017

Postcard Thursday: The Great Theater Massacre of 1982


Yesterday, James had a piece in CurbedNY about the history of the Broadway theater district. The story focuses on five Broadway houses that were demolished in 1982 to make way for the Marriott Marquis Hotel, and wonders if that act of destruction was also part of what revitalized Times Square.

Read the story at http://ny.curbed.com/2017/3/9/14833004/broadway-theaters-closed-times-square-history.


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