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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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