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Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers.

Check out our new book online at www.footprintsinnewyork.com.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Great September Gale of 1815


NOTE: This is a slight rewrite of an article we wrote last year as we awaited Hurricane Irene. With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the city, we thought it might be timely to repost.
Stay safe out there!


Prior to Hurricane Sandy, the most famous hurricane to come ashore in the New York region was undoubtedly 1938's "Long Island Express," a Category 3 storm that hit on September 31, 1938, wreaking havoc throughout New York and New England.

However, while that hurricane and its aftermath are well documented, an equally strong storm arrived on September 23, 1815, that is now largely forgotten. Known as the "Great September Gale of 1815" (the word hurricane was not yet in popular use), it very likely also a Category 3 storm. The storm originated, as many Atlantic storms do, in the warm waters of the Caribbean, striking the Bahamas before moving northward.

When the storm hit Long Island, it was probably packing 135-mph winds. Though wave heights aren't known, it seems likely that it matched the effect of the 1938 storm, which had a highest recorded wave height of 50 feet. The storm was so strong that it literally rewrote the landscape: before 1815, the Rockaways and Long Beach were connected as one, long barrier island. It was the Great September Gale that rent them asunder, permanently creating the inlet between them.

The worst of the storm's damage came in New England. An 11-foot storm surge rolled up Narragansett Bay, destroying over 500 homes, dozens of ships, and flooding Providence, Rhode Island.

Perhaps the most important after-effect of the gale was to cause Harvard mathematician John Farrar to realize that these types of gales were "moving vortexes," an essential first step toward the modern definition of a hurricane.


Stay safe everyone!



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Read much more about the history of New York in


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Friday, October 26, 2012

Last chance: The Colorama at Transit Museum's Grand Central Annex

photo by Jim Pond / courtesy of George Eastman House

As you go around the city this weekend preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy (or the "Frankenstorm" as the National Weather Service has dubbed it), consider popping into Grand Central to check out the Transit Museum annex's exhibit on Kodak's famous Colorama. The show is only open until November 1, so if you are interested, you'd better act now.

From 1950 to 1990, the east wall of Grand Central Terminal -- above the balcony where the Apple store now sits -- featured a rotating series of Ektachrome transparencies. Before the terminal's landmark restoration, there was no staircase to the east balcony (and, of course, no fancy retail establishments in the main hall), making the Colorama one of the most interesting architectural features of the station.

The prints were huge -- 18 by 60 feet -- and were created using a special process where Kodak stitched together 41 panels of film, each approximately 19 inches wide by 20 feet long. (In later years, as technology improved, Kodak was able to cut the number of panels used in half). Once the panels had been stitched together, reinforced grommets were added at six-inch intervals to allow the transparency to be held taught once it was installed. The Colorama was then shipped from Kodak's headquarters in Rochester to New York City where it was swiftly unrolled and hooked in place.

The photographs changed approximately every three-to-five weeks and often reflected seasonal scenes: a family at the beach in summer, or cross-country skiing at Christmastime. Alas, the prints in the current show are nowhere near as big as the originals, but anyone who commuted through Grand Central in the 1960s (when the bulk of the prints in the show date from) will instantly remember these bucolic scenes, which serve as a great reminder of the aspirational nature of both advertising and photography in the Don Draper era.

For a slide show of Colorama prints, visit the New York Times "Lens" blog at http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/03/kodaks-idealized-colorama-returns/.

For more on the history of the Colorama, Kodak has a feature on their website at http://www.kodak.com/US/en/corp/features/coloramas/colorama.html.

photo by Hank Mayer / courtesy of George Eastman House

The Transit Museum annex is just off the main concourse in Grand Central (in the Shuttle Passage), adjacent to the Station Masters' Office. The show is open though November 1; Monday – Friday: 8 AM to 8 PM, Saturday – Sunday: 10 AM to 6 PM.


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For more on the history and architecture of Grand Central, pick up a copy of
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.




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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Charles Keck's "Hiawatha" at the House of Morgan



Our blog is probably not the place you normally turn for recommendations on where to buy Halloween paraphernalia, but we urge you to head to Wall Street sometime in the next two weeks to the Halloween pop-up store that has opened at 23 Wall Street.*

Of course, Halloween decor isn't the reason we're sending you..... Twenty-three Wall Street is better known as the "House of Morgan." Sitting at the junction of Broad and Wall streets, it is one of the monuments to American capitalism. Once one of the grandest banks in the Financial District, the interior has been stripped of all its charm -- except in one place, over the doorway. There, Charles Keck's masterful running frieze depicts the story of Hiawatha. It is the only part of this magnificent space that is left, and since the building's interior is normally closed to the public, now is a rare chance to check it out in person.

J. Pierpont Morgan began his career in finance in the 1860s and within a decade had built his first bank at this corner. Morgan's fame and influence skyrocketed in the Gilded Age. In many ways, he was single-handedly responsible for calming the Panic of 1907. As we write in Inside the Apple:

[O]n the news of the Knickerbocker Trust Company’s insolvency after an ill-fated attempt to corner the copper market, Morgan had saved the day. In just 15 minutes, he had extracted promises of $25 million to help prop up the stock market. However, there remained the issue of a number of failing trust companies. So, Morgan gathered New York’s financiers at the library. According to historian Ron Chernow, the commercial bankers were locked in the library, “beneath signs of the zodiac and a tapestry of the seven deadly sins” and the trust company men were put in the study, “beneath the gaze of saints and Madonnas.” Morgan sat in the librarian’s office playing solitaire. At five o’clock in the morning, the incarcerated bankers finally agreed to a $25 million bailout of the weaker trusts and were allowed to go home.
In 1913, the old Morgan bank on Wall Street was torn down so that a new building could be built. As the New York Times reported at the time, observers were surprised to discover that Morgan was not planning a "high office building...with the lower floors reserved for J.P. Morgan and Co.," but instead was contemplating a building "somewhat under ten stories high." The final product was, in fact, only four stories tall, most of the space taken up by the colossal main hall with its skylighted 30-foot ceiling.

The bank was designed by Trowbridge and Livingston (who also built 14 Wall Street, catty-corner from Morgan's bank), and they hired sculptor Charles Keck to provide the interior sculptural detailing. Keck was a New Yorker who had apprenticed with Augustus Saint-Gaudens and was a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome; his best-known work in New York is the Father Duffy statue in Duffy Square in front of the TKTS ticket booth. According to the December 1914 edition of Architecture magazine, Keck created two scenes: on "one side, the industries of the sea, the earth, and the air are depicted through the medium of Greek mythology." On the other side -- and this is what you can easily see just above the main entrance door inside the building -- he "borrowed from the North American Indian mythology the legend of 'Hiawatha' who is supposed to have given the Indians their knowledge of agriculture and the arts."



Like most Americans, Keck's familiarity with the Hiawatha story was likely from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha, which was published in 1855 and quickly became an extremely popular American verse. Here, a white missionary -- "the Black-Robe chief" -- preaches to the natives:


And the Black-Robe chief made answer, 
Stammered In his speech a little, 
Speaking words yet unfamiliar: 
"Peace be with you, Hiawatha, 
Peace be with you and your people, 
Peace of prayer, and peace of pardon, 
Peace of Christ, and joy of Mary!"

* The Halloween City store is open daily through November 2nd.



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Read more about J.P. Morgan's bank in 





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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Reminder -- Architectural Walking Tour of SoHo, Chinatown, and Little Italy



**** UPDATE ****
There are just a few spaces left for our tour this Sunday, so if you'd like to join us, please reserve soon!

________________________

October is always a great time to walk around the city, so on Sunday, October 14at 4:00PM we will be hosting a public walking tour of The Architecture of SoHo, Little Italy, and ChinatownThis walk will focus on the architectural treasures – some well-known, others obscure – that populate the city’s immigrant neighborhoods. We will see work by Stanford White, Richard Morris Hunt, Calvert Vaux (just to name three luminaries) along with civic buildings, churches, tenements, and more.

The tour will last about 90 minutes and cost $15 per person.  To reserve, send
  • Your name
  • The number in your party
  • And a contact phone number (preferably a cell #) to walknyc@gmail.com                                               

Reservations are taken on a first-come, first-served basis, and we may sell out, so act early.
The meeting place will be emailed to you when you reserve.

Hope to see you there!

Michelle and James Nevius
 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

WWII and New York at the New-York Historical Society

State Historical Society of Missouri Art Collection. Art© T.H. and R.P. Benton Testamentary Trusts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. 
We stopped by the New-York Historical Society on Friday for the opening day of their new exhibit, WWII and New York, which runs through May 27, 2013.

The show begins with a small section examining attitudes in the city -- and America -- in the years before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. We're not sure if this is by happenstance or design, but this is also the hardest part of the show to see. Many of the objects on exhibit are hung in cases so that visitors have to stand right in front of them to get a decent view. (This is fine for the person with their nose pressed to the glass, but not so good for everyone else in the room.) The exhibit opens up in subsequent sections, which cover "The New York Home Front," "Going to War," and "Victory and Loss."

The show is best when displaying the ephemera of the era: Chic Young's It's Our War comic strip demonstrating what children needed to do to defend the country; the Maiden Form company's application for a "Declaration of Necessity" for their bras for factory workers; the miniatures from the National War Poster competition at MoMA.

The exhibit also serves as a sobering reminder of the lives lost during the war. Towards the end of the show, there are profiles of thirteen New Yorkers who served -- from Commander-in-Chief Franklin D. Roosevelt on down -- including the tales of those who died in combat. Also affecting are Thomas Hart Benton's paintings -- in particular "Embarkation—Prelude to Death (Year of Peril)" (above), which shows young American servicemen boarding a ship in New York on their way to Europe. If you have the time, step into the small theater nearby and watch WWII and Me, a film by Francis Lee, a New Yorker from East 10th Street who was a combat cameraman who documented his experiences from basic training to Omaha Beach.

Like many exhibitions (and this isn't a critique of the N-YHS as much as it is a criticism of every museum), there's too much in the show to take in all at once. From the U-Boats patrolling New York Harbor to the WAVES in the Bronx, the exhibit tries to cover every possible base. The upside to this approach is that there's something for everyone here, from children to veterans, and you'll surely discover something about wartime New York that will be new to you. You can also explore the show online at http://wwii.nyhistory.org/.

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Read more about New York in World War II in




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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sunday, October 14: Architectural Walking Tour of Soho, Little Italy, and Chinatown


October is always a great time to walk around the city, so on Sunday, October 14, at 4:00PM we will be hosting a public walking tour of The Architecture of SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown. This walk will focus on the architectural treasures – some well-known, others obscure – that populate the city’s immigrant neighborhoods. We will see work by Stanford White, Richard Morris Hunt, Calvert Vaux (just to name three luminaries) along with civic buildings, churches, tenements, and more.

The tour will last about 90 minutes and cost $15 per person.  To reserve, send
  • Your name
  • The number in your party
  • And a contact phone number (preferably a cell #) to walknyc@gmail.com                                               

Reservations are taken on a first-come, first-served basis, and we may sell out, so act early.
The meeting place will be emailed to you when you reserve.

Hope to see you there!

Michelle and James Nevius

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