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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Postcard Thursday: 1868

In 1868 -- one hundred and fifty years ago -- the department store James McCreery and Co. opened at the corner of Broadway and 11th Street. While the city had been expanding northward since the layout of the famous grid in 1811, that growth had always been slow, and for many people, Greenwich Village remained the hub of the city. The stretch of Broadway that James McCreery picked for his new store, across the street from Grace Church, had tremendous curb appeal.

James wrote a piece for The New York Post about 1868 real estate that appeared in today's paper. Since the early 1970s, McCreery's has been an apartment building, and James looks at it and other homes in the Village -- and around the city -- that are currently on the market.

You can read the story at

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Postcard Thursday: Remember the Maine!

Today marks the anniversary of the sinking of the USS Maine, which went down in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898, and sparked the Spanish-American War. Though the war is less remembered today than perhaps it should be, it was very important to the United States territorially. By the end of the conflict, America had gained control of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam, and had established a military presence on Cuba that remains to this day.

The war is also famous in New York for ratcheting up the so-called "yellow journalism" of Joseph Pulitzer's World and William Randolph Hearst's Journal American. Together, these two newspapers whipped up the reading public's frenzy for war and against Spanish imperialism. (Though not often quoted today, the full slogan of the war was "Remember the Maine! To Hell with Spain!")

As we write in Inside the Apple:

As Cuban citizens struggled for their independence from Spain, the U.S. sent the battleship Maine to Havana to patrol and protect American commercial interests. On the night of February 15, 1898, the Maine’s forward ammunition magazines exploded and the ship sank. Two days later, Pulitzer’s World asked: “Maine Explosion Caused by Bomb or Torpedo?” Hearst’s Journal didn't bother to frame it as a question, merely stating that the “Destruction of the War Ship Maine Was the Work of an Enemy.” (A hurried investigation by a U.S. Naval board of inquiry determined that the Maine had been felled by a Spanish mine; in truth, the cause of explosion will likely never be known, but may have been caused by a spontaneous explosion in the coal boiler.) 
Two days later, Hearst upped the ante by announcing a “National Maine Monument Committee” to raise funds to commemorate the 258 men who’d died in the explosion. With the rallying cry “Remember the Maine!” on everyone’s lips, the United States officially called on Spain to leave Cuba. A month later, Spain declared war on the United States. 
The most famous example of yellow journalism is also probably apocryphal. As tensions in Cuba were mounting, Hearst sent artist Frederic Remington to create illustrations for the Journal. Bored at the lack of action, Remington is said to have telegraphed: “There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I wish to return.” Hearst allegedly blasted back: “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” Though this story was reported as early as 1901, the telegrams in question no longer exist and many scholars believe the incident was created.
Hearst's "National Maine Monument Committee" took 15 years to do its work (even though the war only lasted four months), but in 1913, the Maine monument was unveiled at the Columbus Circle entrance to Central Park.

The figural group at the front of the statue (pictured above) is called The Antebellum State of Mind: Courage Awaiting the Flight of Peace and Fortitude Supporting the Feeble (we kid you not), and represents America preparing for war. Once upon a time, the young man on the prow of the ship would have clutched a sword; it was stolen years ago.

Around the back of the monument is The Post-Bellum Idea: Justice Receiving Back the Sword Entrusted to War (though, again, the sword is missing).

Atop the monument, covered in gold, is the goddess Columbia emerging triumphant from the sea. Underneath the gold leaf, the statue is made from the munitions from the USS Maine that were dredged from the bottom of Havana harbor.

(This post is adapted from one that appeared on February 15, 2011)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Postcard Thursday: Samuel Tilden

Tomorrow marks the 204th birthday of Samuel Jones Tilden, lawyer, governor of New York, and man who won the presidency in 1876 -- only to have it stolen from him in some Electoral College shenanigans.

As we write in Inside the Apple:
In the history of American politics, there is no presidential election as contentious as the 1876 contest between New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden and Ohio Governor Rutherford B. Hayes. 
Tilden, famous for his prosecution of William “Boss” Tweed was billed as the Reform-minded outsider Democrat who could combat the corruption that had flowered in Washington under President Ulysses S. Grant. The party hoped that Tilden, despite his basically chilly demeanor, could appeal to northerners and southerners alike....
 As the votes rolled in, the press was generally reporting that Tilden had won.
However, the New York Times, sensing that the election would be close in Louisiana, South Carolina, Oregon, and Florida, prepared an editorial that ran the next day entitled “A Doubtful Election,” laying out the scenario that the election still hung in the balance. After meeting with Republican leaders, the Times managing editor, John Reid, sent telegrams to Republican governors in the disputed states: Hayes is elected if we have carried South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. Can you hold your state? Answer immediately. 
When the governors replied that they could try to “hold” their states—despite election returns tilting in Tilden’s favor—the most fractious post-election period in American history began. Not even the Gore/Bush imbroglio in 2000 can match the months that followed November 1876. In canvasses roiled by partisanship, the three southern states in dispute certified two sets of returns and sent them to Washington—one for Hayes and one for Tilden. With the votes from those states thus rendered void, neither candidate had a majority....
In the end, a commission was appointed to determine the winner. "Along completely partisan lines, the commission voted 8-7 in favor of Hayes in each disputed case, giving him the electoral votes he needed to secure the presidency."

Tilden is also known today for his house -- which is actually two side-by-side townhouses that he bought and joined together -- that are now home to The National Arts Club. James wrote a story of the club's history, including Tilden's renovation of the home, for Curbed New York which you can read at

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Postcard Thursday: In the Papers

These personal ads graced the front page, first column, of The New York Daily Herald on February 1, 1868 -- exactly 150 years ago today -- and give an insight into how New Yorkers who were not personal friends communicated in the age before Snapchat and dating apps. What makes them so tantalizing is that each advertisement had to be pithy and include only as much information as to make it relevant without revealing anyone's true identity. (Much like Twitter would be if Twitter wasn't a morass of political name-calling.)

They are all good (and just a small sampling of the ads that ran that day) but this is a favorite:
"The charming ladies (in carriage) who so kindly noticed tall gentleman, with dark mustache, and who returned salutations and and waving of handkerchiefs when opposite 37 Broad Street, may confer favors by addressing Banker, Herald Office."
This second advertisement, also from Feb 1, 1868, is from the back page of The New York Times. The notice takes up almost an entire column (see it here) and is for a proposed home for soldiers who'd been injured in the Civil War.

As Brian Johnson notes in "The Gettysburg Compiler":
In the aftermath of the Civil War, the number of men who had suffered debilitating wounds was staggering and the need to do something for them was great. Nearly 300,000 Union soldiers had survived gunshot wounds and nearly 30,000 had suffered amputation. Disease, the greatest killer of Civil War soldiers, probably disabled even more than battle wounds.
 A home for wounded and disabled veterans seemed necessary and in the 1860s, as this advertisement attests, fundraising for the project was moving forward quickly. The site, on the very spot where one of the war's most important conflicts took place, seemed fitting. What could go wrong?

The whole thing turned out to be a fraud. The New York backers "authorized an illegal lottery of shoddy diamonds, and appointed the board of managers." Then, an "inquiry exposed the Asylum as nothing more than a tax fraud scheme for the benefit of the New York investors. Pennsylvania’s tax laws...could be more easily exploited than in their home state, and the idea of a Gettysburg Asylum for Invalid Soldiers offered the perfect guise."

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