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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Apollo XI

On July 20, 1969, the Apollo XI capsule landed on the moon and humans walked on a celestial body for the first time.

A few days later, the Apollo astronauts--back on terra firma--were feted in New York with a major ticker tape parade.  At the time, many claimed it was the largest ticker tape parade New York had ever seen, but as we were researching Inside the Apple, we found that same claim was made for many parades and it’s almost impossible to verify. (Four million people were said to have attended the Apollo parade—an impressive number, even if it’s not the largest.)

Certainly, it was the longest parade. The city’s traditional parade route runs from Bowling Green Park at the foot of Broadway to City Hall. The Apollo astronauts, however, after receiving the key to the city, continued up Broadway to Herald Square and then on to Times Square. As the New York Times noted, the confetti in Midtown was “made up more of paper towels and pages from telephone directories than tickertape” and that it grew “so dense that the astronauts could hardly see.”

As we write in Inside the Apple:
It was also one of the fastest ticker tape parades. The astronauts started at Bowling Green at 10:17 a.m. (about half an hour ahead of schedule) and arrived on the steps of City Hall just fourteen minutes later! Many people who showed up for the parade were disappointed to discover that the astronauts had already passed them by…. By 1:15 p.m. the astronauts were back at Kennedy airport to go to Chicago. They ended the day with festivities in Los Angeles. Having just been to the moon and back, a quick one-day jaunt across North America must not have seemed like such a big deal.

The astronauts had to go through customs upon their return--follow this link to see the astronauts declaration form ("Departure from: MOON. Arrival at: Honolulu, Hawaii, USA").

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Postcard Thursday: The New York City Draft Riots

Children play in front of the Colored Orphans Asylum, which was burned down during the riots

On July 13, 1863, the deadly New York City draft riots began with an attack on the Ninth District Office.

As we write in Footprints in New York:
July 1863 was hot—so hot that the New York Times warned of the “close and uncomfortable weather.” Still, the rising temperatures did not stop a crowd of at least 150 people assembling inside the Ninth District draft office on Third Avenue and 46th Street on the morning of Saturday, July 11, 1863. Some were merely spectators, there to watch the show. Others had a personal stake in what was about to happen: the first large-scale military draft in America’s history. 
On stage, a two-foot-high wooden drum stood front and center. To ensure impartiality, the clerk charged with selecting the names was blind- folded. After the names were mixed, the clerk put in his hand and extracted the first cylinder of paper. He handed it to Provost Marshal Charles Jenkins, who read out: “William Jones, Forty-Sixth Street corner of Tenth Avenue.” 
The crowd broke out into nervous chattering and bad jokes. “Poor Jones!” someone cried. 
“Good for Jones!” said someone else. 
As the day wore on, the process turned monotonous, though observers tried to remain “jocular” (in the words of the New York Herald). By four o’clock in the afternoon, about twelve hundred names had been pulled— nearly half of the district’s quota. The office would be closed on Sunday, but the draft was set to resume on Monday morning at 9:00 a.m. 
I wonder when word finally reached William Jones that he had the dubious honor of being the first name picked. Was he with the crowd that showed up that Monday morning—their jocularity long since replaced with fury? 
As soon as the draft resumed Monday, it was chaos. First, the crowd shattered the windows; then they torched the Ninth District draft office. The insurrection that began that morning, known now as the New York City Draft Riots, lasted four days—still, a century-and-a-half later, the deadliest civil disturbance in American history. Hundreds were killed and perhaps as many as ten thousand injured. The fact that this is nothing compared to the carnage of the war itself—almost eight thousand people had been slaughtered over two days at Gettysburg just ten days earlier—does not diminish the size of these riots. If anything, it shows how bloody and awful the Civil War had become. It was a conflict, from the beginning, in which New York didn’t even want to take part.

A few years ago, we chronicled the Draft Riots day-by-day. You can read the whole series here.

New York's Seventh Regiment, recalled from the Battle of Gettysburg, helped quell the riots

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Happy (Belated) Independence Day

As long-time readers of the blog know, we are only a portion of the way through "Independence Week," so, technically, this post isn't late!

Hope you had a great holiday. Today's post features some actual turn-of-the-20th-century postcards, which were a popular way to share your Independence Day sentiments with friends and family. A number of these postcards are cautionary tales:

Many pay tribute to the Union Army (or GAR: Grand Army of the Republic), a reminder that every July 4th after 1865 became not just a celebration of the Declaration of Independence, but of the hard-fought war to keep the country intact.

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Little House on the Prairie

Do you remember these? You can visit this lunch box -- and lots of other Little House on the Prairie memorabilia from the books and TV shows -- at the various Laura Ingalls Wilder museums scattered across the Midwest. In honor of Wilder's 150th birthday, we drove the route the Ingalls family took in their travels for a story James was working on for The New York Post. You can read it here:

Thanks also to the big crowd that turned out for the Bowery walk last Sunday. Keep your eyes peeled for our next public tour in the fall.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Frank Lloyd Wright at MoMA

Model of the Price Tower in Bartelsville, OK

If you haven't yet had the chance, we highly recommend heading over to the Museum of Modern Art to see "Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive," a wonderful collection of architectural drawings, renderings, and models. The show, curated by Columbia University's Barry Bergdoll, spans Wright's career from early work in and around Oak Park, Illinois, to his final, unrealized plans for a mile-high skyscraper. Many of the works on display are for commissions that were never brought to fruition -- and some, like that skyscraper, weren't even commissions -- and it's a rare treat to see these lesser-known ideas.

The exhibition runs through October 1, 2017. As preparation, you might want to check out some of James's recent work on Wright:

Frank Lloyd Wright. March Balloons. 1955. Drawing based on a c. 1926 design for Liberty magazine. Colored pencil on paper, 28 1/4 x 24 1/2" (71.8 x 62.2 cm). The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Last Chance for the Bowery

Reservations are going fast..... While the "early bird" deadline for signing up for our Sunday, June 25, tour of the Bowery is technically June 21, there are only a few spots left, so if you are planning to attend, do reserve at your earliest convenience. Full details below.

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Sunday, June 25 | 11am - 1pm

Join award-winning journalist, author, and guide James Nevius for a walk up New York City's oldest street.

From country road to immigrant entertainment district to Skid Row (and beyond), the Bowery has witnessed New York's rich history. Together, we will explore 400+ years of New York's story along this famous thoroughfare.

The tour is $20 per person for those who reserve before Tuesday, June 21 (when the price goes up to $25 per person).

To reserve, email with
  • Your name
  • The number in your party
  • And a cell phone where we can contact you the morning of the tour if there's any problems
Exact details of where to meet will be emailed to you within 24 hours of receiving your reservation.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Frank Lloyd Wright at 150

The blueprints for Fallingwater, often called Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece
Today, June 8, marks the 150th birthday of Frank Lloyd Wright, who is considered by many to be America's most significant architect.

In his honor, Curbed has devoted a series of articles to Wright's work and legacy, and James wrote the one that looks at his early work in and around Chicago. Titled "Becoming Frank Lloyd Wright," the piece argues that even before the advent of the Prairie Style, Wright was incorporating architectural elements that he would revisit throughout his career.

You can read the story here:

And check out the rest of Curbed's #FLW150 celebration at

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In other news.... reservations are now open!

On Sunday, June 25, at 11:00 am, we will be conducting a walking tour of The History of the Bowery.

From country road to immigrant entertainment district to Skid Row (and beyond), the Bowery has witnessed New York's rich history. Together, we will explore 400+ years of New York's story along this famous thoroughfare.

The tour is $20 per person for those who reserve before Tuesday, June 21 (when the price goes up to $25 per person).

To reserve, send an email to with

  • Your name
  • The number in your party
  • And a cell phone where we can contact you the morning of the tour if there's any problems

    Details of where to meet will be emailed to you within 24 hours of receiving your reservation.

This walk may sell out, and reservations are being taken on a first-come, first-served basis, so RSVP soon!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Fifty Years Ago Today, Sgt. Pepper Taught the Band to Play.... (more or less)

On June 1, 1967, the Beatles released what is widely considered to be their crowning achievement, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Except, it turns out, June 1 isn't the day it came out.

In the UK, the album had actually dropped on May 26, rushed into stores perhaps because illegal copies were already circulating. Meanwhile, the album didn't officially come out in the United States until June 2 -- though some stores may have put in on their shelves early here, too.

Though Rolling Stone magazine ranks Sgt. Pepper as its #1 album of all-time, it's instructive to remember that it wasn't fully appreciated at the time of its release. The venerable New York Times called it an "album of special effects, dazzling but ultimately fraudulent." If you have a Times subscription, the whole review is worth reading, but other highlights include:
Like an over-attended child, "Sergeant Pepper" [spelled out, of course, this being the Times] is spoiled. It reeks of horns and harps, harmonica quartets, assorted animal noises and a 41-piece orchestra.
"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is an engaging curio, but nothing more. 
In substituting the studio conservatory for an audience, they have ceased being folk artists, and the change is what makes their new album a monologue.
Other contemporary reviews were more positive, but it's also interesting to note that most came out in columns labelled "Teen Scene" or something similar, an indication that no one over the age of 20 really needed to pay attention to popular music. In those columns, while the album is praised, there a sense of resignation that there's nothing with a good beat for dancing.

However, two aspects of the album were seemingly universally praised: the innovation of removing a space between each song so that the whole album played like a suite; and the inclusion of printed lyrics on the album sleeve. Commonplace today, this was a first for pop music.

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Decoration Day

Before there were baseball trading cards, there were cards that came packed in cigarette packs and tins of tobacco. And before there was Memorial Day, we instead had a holiday called Decoration Day, which originated at the end of the Civil War. Originally, both veterans and civilians would go to the graves of fallen soldiers as well as to the statues of military heroes and decorate them with garlands of flowers.

Below, the statue of Abraham Lincoln in Union Square is honored on Decoration Day in 1876. 
Once the holiday transformed to Memorial Day, the practice of decorating statues fell into disuse, though the graves of fallen military personnel are generally spruced up this weekend.

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SAVE THE DATE: we'll be hosting a public tour on Sunday, June 25, so save the date. Details coming soon!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Postcard Thursday: The Ratzer Map

250 years ago, Lieutenant Bernard Ratzer set off across Manhattan and Brooklyn to make the first -- and still, in many ways, best -- comprehensive map of New York City.

A few months ago, James walked in Ratzer's footsteps, looking for traces of the city as it would have been two and half centuries ago. You can read the results in this piece he wrote for Curbed this week, "A Walking Tour of 1767 New York" (

Speaking of walking tours, we'll be hosting a public tour on Sunday, June 25, so save the date. Details coming soon!

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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:

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.




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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, which also gives suggestions for biking in France, the UK, Ireland, and Canada.


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

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