Thursday, September 11, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Belvedere Castle


We have a lot of wonderful Central Park shots in our collection, but this may be the best: Belvedere Castle as it looked ca. 1905.

Originally conceived as mere decoration, the castle stands on Vista Rock and was part of Frederick Law Olmsted's picturesque vision for the park. As we write in Footprints in New York, the castle is
an architectural folly built by Vaux and Mould in 1867. It was designed to do nothing more than provide the optical illusion for viewers at Bethesda Terrace that somewhere deep in the park was a giant castle. It was the pinnacle—excuse the pun—of Olmsted’s picturesque vision for the park. 
When the Central Park commissioners first saw the map of the Greensward Plan, I’m sure many of them didn’t realize how far-reaching Vaux and Olmsted’s design would be. The designers understood that in contrast to the monotony of the city...the park would embrace the natural topography. This would immediately mean that no two places in the park would be the same. On top of that, the tens of thousands of trees they would plant would provide “the broadest effects of light and shade . . . [producing] the impression of great space and freedom.” What an “exhilarating contrast” this would be, the designers wrote, from “the walled-in floor or pavements to which they are ordinarily confined by their business.” 
The greatest amounts of the park were to balance the principles of the picturesque—thick woods, painterly contrasts of light and shadow, and the occasional castle—with the pastoral: sweeping vistas, sloping greensward, open meadows, and an actual pasture.... To contrast with these open green spaces, Vaux and Olmsted and their chief gardener, Ignaz Pilat, planted wooded areas such as the Ramble and the North Woods, forty acres in the northwestern corner of the park that were landscaped to mimic an Adirondack forest, complete with ravines, rustic wooden bridges, and a “loch,” all straight out of an Asher Durand painting. 
Lastly, Olmsted and Vaux realized the importance of also including a formal centerpiece to the park. The Mall, one of the first areas of the park to open to the public, is not just a straight path, it runs exactly north- south and is lined with four rows of American elms. Pedestrians, led due north along the promenade, come to Bethesda Terrace, the artistic jewel of the park. 
The shock of this overt formality reminds viewers just how informal the rest of the park seems. Similarly, the picturesque touches—a wooden gazebo here, a fake castle there—create views that are almost too much like postcards. And so the mind says: Ah, well if these views are fake, everything else must be real.
Today, Belvedere Castle houses equipment for the national weather service. You can read more about an array of Calvert Vaux's architecture around the city in James's piece on Vaux that was published in Curbed a few weeks ago.

(And if you haven't had the chance, check out his history of St. Mark's Place from last Thursday, which takes readers on a 200-year journey down the East Village's most famous street.)

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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, September 4, 2014

No Postcard Thursday: St. Mark's Place


No postcard today -- we're on the road traveling. Instead, check out the piece that James had published today on Curbed tracing the history of St. Mark’s Place in the East Village. From its first appearance on the 1811 street grid to the swinging sixties to today, the article highlights some St. Mark’s Place’s famous and not-so-famous residents as well as looking at how the concept of an “East Village” first came about.

Check it out at
http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2014/09/04/the_strange_history_of_the_east_villages_most_famous_street.php.

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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, September 1, 2014

The Ride Home with Pat Kiernan and Rita Cosby

Happy Labor Day!

If you are in NYC or environs and near a radio at 5:00 p.m. (driving back from your holiday weekend?), James will be appearing on “The Ride Home with Pat Kiernan and Rita Cosby” on 77 WABC Radio. If you live in the five boroughs and have Time Warner Cable, then you’re probably familiar with Pat as the NY1 news anchor who reads you highlights from the newspapers every morning. His afternoon radio show covers a variety of New York City topics and I’ll be talking with him and Rita about historical sites you can visit in New York that are part of our narrative in Footprints in New York (see below).

The show is also streamed live around the world at WABC via http://player.listenlive.co/25211 or if you have iHeartRadio app on your phone or tablet, WABC is also available (search for “77 WABC”).

If you can’t tune in at 5pm on Monday, there will be a podcast available sometime later in the week. We’ll post it to our Facebook page and Twitter account—so there’s no time like the present to follow us on social media.

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If you’ve read Footprints, you know that we explore a number of sites that are off-the-beaten track in all five boroughs. We’ve recently added a “Resources” page to our website (http://www.footprintsinnewyork.com/resources.html) to help you visit some of these spots—from the Wyckoff House Museum in Brooklyn to Poe Cottage in the Bronx. The Resources Page is a work in progress, so if there’s something you’d like to see added, please let us know!


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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, August 28, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Elizabeth Ann Seton


Though you can't see it on this classic linen postcard view of St. Patrick's Cathedral, the church features magnificent front doors:


... and one of the figures on those doors is Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, whose was born on August 28, 1774, which makes her America's first-born saint (not the first American to be sainted).



As we write in Inside the Apple:
Born Elizabeth Ann Bayley, Seton was the daughter of Columbia College’s renowned professor of anatomy, Richard Bayley, and a member of the de rigeur Episcopal parish, Trinity. In 1794, the Episcopal Bishop of New York officiated at her marriage to merchant William Seton and in 1801, the Setons moved into a waterfront house on State Street near the Battery. However, William Seton’s health was failing and just two years later the family moved out, embarking on what they hoped would be a restorative trip to Italy. 
Sadly, William died in Pisa shortly after their arrival. Rather than turn right around (for what was an exceptionally long sea voyage), Elizabeth stayed in Italy for a few months grieving—and discovering the Catholic Church. After returning to New York the next year, she began seriously considering conversion and in 1805 she was received into the Catholic faith—much to the chagrin and embarrassment of her friends and relatives.
Had Elizabeth contented herself to be privately Catholic, it perhaps wouldn’t have mattered so much, but soon her sister-in-law came to her with an interest in conversion. When that happened, Elizabeth’s family began threatening to have powerful allies in the state legislature kick her out of New York for proselytizing. (Or so the story goes—they never followed through.) Elizabeth didn’t give them the satisfaction; instead, she moved to Baltimore in 1808 to open a school and then founded America’s first convent, the Sisters of Charity, the next year. She died at the convent in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1821. In 1963, she was beatified by Pope John XXIII, and in 1975, she was elevated to sainthood for her posthumous miracles, making her the first American-born saint.
Though there is a shrine to Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton on the site of her State Street home, her house is no longer standing. The house next door (which is part of the shrine) dates from 1790s and is one of the oldest left in Manhattan.

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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, August 21, 2014

Postcard Thursday: The Third Avenue El


James is finishing up a piece right now on the history of St. Mark's Place in the East Village (we'll let you know when it's published), and as part of that research he's been reading about how the Second Avenue and Third Avenue Elevated trains were an integral part of the neighborhood for years.

This postcard, showing the Third Avenue El running along the Bowery, is ubiquitous in postcard shops (often the sort of card that can be picked up for under a dollar), which means they must have printed thousands of them at the turn of the twentieth century as a typical New York City view.

The Third Avenue El first opened in 1878, running from South Ferry to Grand Central. Two years later, a Second Avenue El began operating from a split at Chatham Square. The Third Avenue line eventually ran all the way into the Bronx (parts of its infrastructure are still used today by the 2 and the 5 trains), and was the last of the lines to come down in Manhattan, ceasing operation in 1955.

Do you have recollections of riding the Third Avenue El? If so, please let us know in the comments.

A crowd on St. Mark's Place watches the demolition of the Third Avenue El.
Photo by Calvin S. Hathaway, Dec. 16, 1955 (courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Updated Blog Layout

You may have noticed that we changed the layout of the blog a few weeks ago.... and today we've changed it again. Most people who reach the blog do so through a Google search for a specific person or event, and we want to make the site as useful to them as possible.

(If you've read Footprints in New York, you may remember that "Anne Hutchinson" was the search term that brought more people to our blog than anything else. That's no longer true. Recently, she's been edged out by "Robert Fulton," but we'll see how long he hangs onto the top spot.)

Let us know if you have any feedback about how you think the Inside the Apple blog could be more useful to you.

Thanks,
James & Michelle Nevius

PS: James now has a separate website and blog of his own. Visit him at www.jamesnevius.com for more info.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Thomas Edison's Phonograph

Postcard of Thomas Edison with an early phonograph, ca. 1888.
Where would we be without Thomas Edison? As James noted over on his personal blog the other day (which you can read at http://jamesnevius.blogspot.com), Edison is responsible for so many inventions that define modern life: the light bulb, movie projector, and phonograph among them.

Today marks the anniversary of Edison's introduction of the wax cylinder phonograph in London in 1888. At a press conference there, Edison played a recording of Sir Arthur Sullivan's "The Lost Chord," presumably on a machine very much like the one Edison is seen with in the postcard above (if not, in fact, that very machine).

A few months later, Sullivan -- infatuated with the possibilities of the new device -- made an "audio postcard" to send back to Edison in the United States. Luckily, both the original recording of Sullivan's piece (perhaps the oldest extant musical audio recording) and his message to Edison survive:

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lv7i-gkSWn0]

And if you want to hear a version of "The Lost Chord" in higher fidelity, here it is:

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRx8-rgQyRs]

Lastly, notice that in the postcard version of Edison and the phonograph, the background has disappeared. This is the original image:


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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, August 7, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Calvert Vaux

Bike path on Ocean Parkway courtesy of the Museum of the CIty of New York
Today's postcard, dated 7/19/1908, shows the "cycle path" on Ocean Parkway -- the very first bike path in New York City.

This illustration is just one of many in James's article published earlier today on Curbed about the architecture of Calvert Vaux, one of the unsung heroes of mid-19th century New York City design. People who know his name associate it with his parks, including Central Park and Prospect Park, but he built a number of fantastic Victorian Gothic edifices all around the city.

Read the full article at:
http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2014/08/07/mapping_central_park_architect_calvert_vauxs_other_nyc_work.php



* * * *

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, July 31, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Henry Clay Frick


If you haven't already seen it, James had a piece earlier this week on Curbed about the building of Henry Clay Frick's mansion, which today houses the Frick Collection. (The article is here: http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2014/07/29/the_controversial_origins_of_new_york_citys_frick_collection.php)

Due to space considerations, some illustrations did not make the final article, including this great postcard (above) which shows the ongoing rivalry between Frick and his sometime partner, Andrew Carnegie. Around the time Frick was moving to New York, he had his company's headquarters built in downtown Pittsburgh next to--and taller than--Carnegie's, so that Frick's building would also bathe Carnegie's in shadow.

There are a few other illustrations that didn't make the cut--including an 1884 Life magazine cartoon about the Lenox Library--that can be found on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.296697000509609.1073741833.209874915858485&type=1. If you haven't had a chance, why not follow us on Facebook? Not only do we post these blog entries there, but also links to all sorts of other New York City history.

* * * *

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, July 24, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Grant's Tomb (again)


Fans of the Postcard Thursday feature will realize that this is the second time we've featured Grant's Tomb. But as pointed out in our first article, Grant's Tomb was one of the most popular tourist attractions in late 19th-century New York, so it's not surprising that it featured in a number of different postcard views.

We're highlighting the memorial again because yesterday was the 129th anniversary of President Grant's death on July 23, 1885. The tomb you see in this postcard is not, actually, the original. After some wrangling about whether New York was going to be the the general's final resting place, he was buried in a small, temporary enclosure, which was constructed ten days after his death.

The temporary tomb; courtesy of the General Grant National Memorial
After a design contest was held, John Duncan's grand edifice (modeled on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus) was selected as the permanent tomb and the temporary one demolished.

The other building you see in this postcard atop the bluff is the Claremont Inn, a country home that dated back to 1788. It had been acquired by the city after the Civil War and was run as a restaurant until its demolition in 1950.

Also, notice the ferry landings on the Hudson River below the tomb; in its earliest years, reaching the memorial via the river from downtown was the easiest way to go.

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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.


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