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Friday, November 25, 2016

Postcard Thursday: Happy Thanksgiving

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving postcards aren't much of a thing anymore, but in the early decades of the 20th century, there were a ton of slightly bizarre holiday cards to choose from, such as the Pilgrim child above (evidently that shadow behind him is Plymouth Rock), the characters from Longfellow's "Courtship of Miles Standish" (below) depicted as toddlers, or the very patriotic young man at the bottom of this post presumably carting his dinner off to slaughter.

But the Pilgrims are actually a rather late addition to our Thanksgiving holiday. James published a piece yesterday in the Guardian about Sarah Josepha Hale, the woman who spearheaded the modern holiday. You can read it at:

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On a completely different note: If you are planning to sign up for our December 11 walking tour of Lower Manhattan, you should do so ASAP. The tour is very close to selling out and reservations will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis.

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ALSO: Happy Evacuation Day!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

December 11 Walking Tour: 400 Years of NYC Downtown


Sunday, December 11, 2016 | 11am-1pm
$20 per person

Join us in early December for a walk through the heart of the Financial District. Instead of focusing on a narrow period, as we've done on some of our previous walks, this will be an architecture-heavy look at the city's history from its Dutch beginnings through to the new residential skyscrapers that are rising today. (And, yes, Alexander Hamilton will make a cameo appearance.)

From the few remaining examples of the English-colonial period to Beaux-Arts extravagance, this tour has something for everything, and the rich architectural details will be great for photographers, so bring a camera!

Only $20 per person

Please RSVP by emailing WALKNYC@GMAIL.COM with
  • your name
  • the number in your party, and
  • a cell number where you can be reached that day if there's a problem.
We'll send out details of where to meet to everyone who reserves.

Looking forward to seeing you on December 11!

Best wishes,
Michelle and James Nevius

Friday, November 11, 2016

Postcard Thursday: Happy New Year, Teddy Roosevelt

courtesy of the New York Public Library

Postcard Thursday is a little late again; let's just say it's been a long week -- and certainly a historically unprecedented one.

With Donald Trump's election to the presidency on Tuesday, he becomes only the second person born and bred in New York City to be sent to the Oval Office.

The first was Teddy Roosevelt, born on East 20th Street in a house that no longer stands, but which is commemorated by the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace Historic site.

Roosevelt was a popular figure during much of his public life, as shown in these fascinating New Year's cards. The one at the top, for 1906, says "Friede auf Erden, den Menschen ein Wohlgfallen," which means "Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men."

The three men pictured, Roosevelt, the Russian Czar, and the Japanese Emperor, had recently negotiated the end of the Russo-Japanese War, for which Roosevelt would win the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize.

But why is the message in German? If you have any thoughts, please put them in the comments.

A year later, the same company issued its 1907 card, again featuring Teddy Roosevelt, but this time with John D. Rockefeller and prizefighter James Jeffries. Roosevelt had a reputation for getting out of tight spots--even before the famous 1912 assassination attempt against him.

Today, the tradition of sending New Year's cards has waned (even Christmas cards are slowly becoming a piece of history), but perhaps it's due for a revival. What three faces would you choose for a 2017 postcard?


Read more about NYC history in

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

New York and the Presidency

While most polls seem to indicate that Donald Trump isn't going to win the election today, if he were to win, he'd be only the second president born and bred in New York City. (The first was Teddy Roosevelt.)

[UPDATE: Well, the polls and pundits were wrong. Mr. Trump did win the election, becoming the second New Yorker to hold the nation's highest office.]

However, many presidents and vice presidents have had connections to the city over the years:

Though it didn't last very long, New York was the first capital of the United States, and on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street, George Washington was sworn in as America's first president on April 30, 1789. (The building no longer stands, but a statue of Washington by J.Q.A. Ward graces the front of the building now known as Federal Hall National Memorial). After the inauguration, Washington went to St. Paul's Chapel on Broadway at Fulton Street, where his pew is still preserved. During the 15 months that New York remained the capital after the inauguration, Washington lived in a house on Cherry Street (at roughly the spot where the Brooklyn Bridge anchorage now stands) and then in a home on lower Broadway near Bowling Green. His vice president, John Adams, lived in isolated splendor in a mansion in Greenwich Village called Richmond Hill, later home to Vice President Aaron Burr.

In 1800, the incumbent president, John Adams, was faced by his own vice president, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson's running mate was New Yorker Aaron Burr; however, due to a flaw in the electoral system (which made no adequate provision for distinguishing between votes cast for president versus vice president), both Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr each received 73 electoral votes and the election was thrown to the House of Representatives. The Federalists, who still controlled congress, tried to elect Burr as president, thus denying the seat to Jefferson, who many considered the nation's leading opponent of Federalism. Notably, it was only though the intervention of Burr's nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, that Jefferson was finally elected president on the 36th ballot. Burr's home in Greenwich Village, Richmond Hill, is no longer standing, but one of the property's stables is now the restaurant One if By Land, Two if By Sea.

Aaron Burr was left off the Democratic-Republican ticket in 1804 in favor of New York governor George Clinton, who also went on to be James Madison's vice president (thus making him one of only two vice presidents to serve under different presidents; the other was the well-coiffed John C. Calhoun).

In 1812, New York City fielded its first candidate for president, Mayor DeWitt Clinton. Despite mounting frustration with incumbent James Madison over the War of 1812, Clinton lost the election (had he won Pennsylvania, he would have reached the White House). Clinton went on to serve as New York's governor and presided over the building of the Erie Canal. (DeWitt Clinton is the person who is honored in the neighborhood Clinton—known to most people as Hell's Kitchen.)

The man Clinton replaced as governor, Daniel Tompkins, was vice president under James Monroe. Tompkins, who gave the land to the city that became Tompkins Square Park, is buried in the churchyard at St. Marks in the Bowery on 10th Street at Second Avenue.

In 1836, New York governor Martin Van Buren (who had been Andrew Jackson's secretary of state and vice president) was elected to the presidency. It would be the last time until George H.W. Bush that a sitting vice president would succeed to the presidency without the president dying in office. Another fun fact about Van Buren: not only was he a descendant of one of the early Dutch settlers of New York, he grew up speaking Dutch.

Generally forgotten in the lists of American presidents is Millard Fillmore, who hailed from the Finger Lakes region upstate. A congressman for over a decade in the 1830s and '40s, Fillmore returned to New York to run an unsuccessful campaign for governor. In 1848, he became the state's comptroller. In that capacity, he oversaw the start of construction on the state militia's arsenal in Central Park. Today, his name is still clearly visible in the plaque over the building's front door. In 1848, Fillmore was also tapped to be General Zachary Taylor's running mate. When Taylor died after only a year in office, Fillmore became president. However, like John Tyler before him (who had succeeded to the presidency upon the death of William Henry Harrison), Fillmore was not picked by his own party to run for a second term.

In 1868, Governor Horatio Seymour (left) was tapped by the Democrats to face war hero Ulysses S. Grant. Seymour had long been involved in New York State politics—the factionalism of this period is sometimes hard to fathom. Seymour was a "soft-shell hunker," opposed to those in the party who were "hard-shell hunkers" or "barnburners." The hirsute Seymour sported an impressive neck-beard, which was quite the fashion of the time.

Newspaper editor Horace Greeley faced Grant in the election of 1872. Greeley, a staunch Republican, had become disillusioned by the party and Grant's mediocre first term and decided to face him as a "Liberal Republican." (The Democrats backed Greeley, as well.) Grant handily won a second term and Greeley died before the Electoral College could convene, meaning that his electoral votes were split between four other Democratic candidates.

A handsome statue of Greeley (who, like Seymour, sported a neck-beard—whatever happened to those?) sits in City Hall Park near the entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Lawyer Samuel J. Tilden rose to prominence as the man who prosecuted William "Boss" Tweed. His success led to him winning the governor's race in 1874 and then being nominated for president by the Democratic Party in 1876 to face Ohio Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. The Tilden/Hayes election continues to be the most disputed in American history. It took four months from Election Day for a special commission to name the winner. Ultimately, they picked Hayes though modern research indicates that Tilden almost certainly would have won the election had there not been electoral shenanigans in Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana. Tilden lived in a wonderful double townhouse on Gramercy Park that is now home to The National Arts Club.

Though a native of Vermont (or, as his opponents tried to prove in 1880, of Canada), Chester A. Arthur moved to New York in 1854 to practice law. He was appointed collector of the Port of New York in 1871 and was nominated to run as James A. Garfield's vice president in 1880. Garfield was shot in July 1881, only a few months after taking office. He lingered for eighty days before succumbing to his wounds. At the time of the president's death, Arthur was at his home on Lexington Avenue (which still stands) and was sworn in as president there by a justice of the New York Supreme Court. He ran in 1885 to become president in his own right, but lost to New York Governor Grover Cleveland.

New York Governor Grover Cleveland was elected president in 1888 and again in 1892, the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. (And the first Democrat to be nominated for president three consecutive times.) Cleveland's vice president during his second term was Adlai Stevenson, grandfather of the 20th-century presidential candidate who ran twice against Dwight D. Eisenhower.

New York City has only produced one born-and-raised president, Teddy Roosevelt, who grew up in a house on East 20th Street near Gramercy Park. (Today, the National Park Service runs the Theodore Roosevelt birthplace in a replica house on the site.) Teddy became president in 1901 after President William

McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo while attending the Pan-American Exposition. Roosevelt ran for election in his own right in 1904 and won, becoming the first vice president who had been elevated to the presidency who went on to win the office in his own right.

Teddy ran again in 1912 on the Progressive or "Bull Moose" ticket, siphoning enough votes away from incumbent Republican William Howard Taft to give the election to Woodrow Wilson.

Lower East Sider Al Smith ("the Happy Warrior") rose to prominence in the state legislature in the early years of the 20th century. He was elected governor in 1918; though he lost the 1920 election, he was governor from 1922 to 1928 when he secured the Democratic nomination for president. The plainspoken Smith lost the election that year to Herbert Hoover, done in by a combination of prejudice (no Roman Catholic had ever sought the nation's highest office) and opposition to his "wet" candidacy during the height of Prohibition. Smith went on to be the head of the Empire State Corporation that erected the Empire State Building. His boyhood home, on Oliver Street, still stands and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

FDR served longer than any other president, from 1937 to his death in 1945, thus ushering in the era of presidential term limits. (He faced New Yorker Wendell Willkie in the 1940 election and New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey in 1944.)

Born in Hyde Park, New York, in 1882, Roosevelt was the descendant of two of the oldest New York families. His Delano ancestor, Philippe de La Noye, arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on the Fortune, the second ship to bring the Pilgrims to the New World. His Roosevelt ancestors had been in New York since the city had been New Amsterdam. Though he was only a distant cousin of Teddy Roosevelt, his wife, Eleanor, was Teddy's niece.

Thomas Dewey was known as the "Gangbuster" for his crusades against bootlegging and organized crime as a New York City prosecutor and District Attorney. In 1942, he became governor and was nominated by the Republicans to face FDR in 1944 and then to face Harry Truman in 1948. Almost all pundits and pollsters considered Dewey's election a lock—so much so that the Chicago Daily Tribune went to bed on election night with "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN" running across the page. In the end, though Truman only squeaked out a narrow popular victory, the margin in the Electoral College was overwhelming.

The current president transferred to Columbia College in 1981 and graduated as a member of the class of 1983. You can read reminiscences of his college roommate at

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Postcard Thursday: The Chicago Cubs

Baseball cards from the 1908-09 Chicago Cubs, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 
In honor of the historic win by the Chicago Cubs last night -- breaking a 108-year drought -- here are some baseball cards that date back to the last time the Cubs were national champions.

Mordecai Peter Centennial "Three-Finger" Brown was the Cubs' star pitcher. Born in 1876 (hence his second middle name), he had lost two fingers in a farming accident and as a result, pitched an incredible and rarely hittable curveball.

At the end of the 1908 season, it was Brown on the mound when the Cubs beat the New York Giants to win the pennant and thus advance to the World Series, where they beat the Detroit Tigers in five games. It was their second World Series win in a row, and little did the Cubs or their fans know how long it would take for them to be basking in the limelight again after another championship season.

This cards are part of a huge collection of vintage baseball cards held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There are almost always some of the cards on view in the American wing. You have less than two weeks to enjoy the current exhibition, "The Old Ball Game: New York Baseball 1887-1977."

Congratulations, Cubs!

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