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Friday, October 20, 2017

Postcard Thursday: Seward's Folly


This past Wednesday was Alaska Day, the holiday when the denizens of our 49th state commemorate the finalization of the purchase of Alaska from the Russians. This took place on October 18, 1867 -- 150 years ago -- in Sitka, Alaska, then known as New Archangel, which was the capital city of Russian America.

We visited Sitka in March for the kickoff of the town's 150th events and James wrote a piece for The New York Post which was published this week. Read all about it here:
http://nypost.com/2017/10/16/the-fascinating-place-where-the-us-bought-alaska-from-russia/

William Seward, the Secretary of State who oversaw the transfer (dubbed by some "Seward's Folly"), was governor of New York and very nearly the 1860 Republican candidate for president. As Lincoln's Secretary of State,Seward was attacked on the same night that the president was killed as part of John Wilkes Booth's attempt to throw the Union into chaos. Today, a handsome statue of Seward sits in Madison Square Park.




Friday, October 13, 2017

Androboros at Fraunces Tavern


Three hundred years after it was written, America's first published play, Androboros: Villain of the State, has just had its world premiere at Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan.

The play was written by Governor Robert Hunter as a commentary on the fractious political climate of New York in the early 1700s. Following the English takeover of New Amsterdam in 1664, a succession of governors were appointed by the crown, each of whom had his own conflicts with the local populace. At the heart of Androboros lies the fact that three factions were constantly vying for power in the colony: the appointed governor (always an outsider), the colonial assembly (made up of locals, but fractured from within by its own disagreements), and the church. The rector of Trinity Church, William Vesey, had a particular dislike for Hunter. When someone befouled the vestments in the church sacristy in 1714, Vesey blamed Hunter, while Hunter -- as evidenced in this only lightly veiled satire -- clearly thought it was an inside job designed to make Hunter look bad.

If you are a student of early American drama or fascinated by the real-life drama that was New York in the English colonial era, then this play is for you. An able cast under the direction of the Peculiar Works Project's co-artistic director Ralph Lewis inhabits these roles with glee. In keeping with the commedia dell'arte origins of the play, the characters are all given ridiculous names (Vesey is Fizzle, Hunter is the Keeper, and the pompous man meant to save them all is Androboros ("man eater")), and the actors live up to their monikers, particularly Matt Roper as Androboros and Caiti Lattimer as Aesop, who is always quick with a story -- whether anyone wants to hear it or not.

The company also does a good job keeping the 80-minute play moving at the brisk clip that farce necessitates. While Fraunces Tavern is mostly a 1907 recreation of a colonial building, it is nice to see the work staged in a building that at least has its origins in Hunter's era.

The play runs on weekends through the end of October; tickets are $20 each and are available at www.frauncestavernmuseum.org.




Monday, October 9, 2017

The History of the Bowery; The Fall of a Slumlord


In case you missed it, James had a wonderful story in Curbed this week tracing the history of New York's oldest street, The Bowery. Originally a deer path, the trail was used by subsequent generations of Native Americans and then widened by the Dutch settlers into a road to their farms, or bouwerij. The English corrupted the name to "Bowery" and the street became -- and remains -- a crucial thoroughfare in New York.

Read the entire story at https://ny.curbed.com/2017/10/4/16413696/bowery-nyc-history-lower-east-side.

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Last week, notorious slumlord Steve Croman was sentenced to a year in jail for his shady dealings. James highlighted Croman in his exploration of Hans Haacke's conceptual artwork in a piece he wrote for Curbed back in 2015. You can read that interesting walk through the Lower East Side at https://www.curbed.com/2015/9/2/9924926/hans-haacke-photography-slumlord.



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