GET UPDATES IN YOUR INBOX! Subscribe to our SPAM-free updates here:

GET UPDATES IN YOUR INBOX! Subscribe to our SPAM-free email here:

Delivered by FeedBurner

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.

* * * *
Read more about NYC history in

 







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.


* * * *
Read more about NYC history in

 

Search This Blog

Blog Archive