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Thursday, February 14, 2019

James K. Polk and Early Presidential Portraits

On February 14, 1849 -- 170 years ago today -- President James K. Polk sat down in the photography studio of Mathew Brady in New York City to have his portrait taken. This photo is the earliest surviving photograph of a president taken while he was in office. Though there's a rumor that a daguerreotype of William Henry Harrison was shot during his one month in office in 1841, that photo has never been found.

Brady's studio at the time was at the corner of Broadway and Fulton streets in the Financial District and is now gone, as is Brady's famous uptown studio, where he took the photo of Abraham Lincoln (below). The only Brady studio building still standing is in Tribeca at 359 Broadway.

While Polk may have been the first president to be photographed while in office, he was not the first to sit for his portrait. That honor goes to John Quincy Adams, a daguerreotype of whom was shot in March 1843. At the time, Adams was serving in Congress; he was actually a representative from Massachusetts for nearly seventeen years after he left the presidency, overlapping briefly with Lincoln during that future president's one term in Congress.

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Read more about Mathew Brady and Abraham Lincoln in New York
Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers


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Thursday, February 7, 2019


On February 7, 1964 -- fifty-five years ago today -- four lads from Liverpool landed at JFK airport and took America by storm.

Coming just ten weeks after President Kennedy's assassination (and two months after Idlewild Airport's renaming in honor of the slain president), the Beatles arrival that day served for many as a tonic to the ills of the world.

The group's first British albums, Please Please Me and With the Beatles had been released in rapid succession in 1963, keeping the group at the top of the British charts for a remarkable 51 straight weeks. In America, it had taken a few months for Beatlemania to catch fire, but once it did in early 1964, the group became an unstoppable force. When they landed at JFK on February 7, 1964, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" had just reached the top of the Billboard charts and a crowd of 3,000 screaming fans greeted them. (The fact that 3,000 was considered a crowd seems almost quaint.)

Two days later, on February 9, the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. Like Elvis's appearance before them, it was a crucial moment in introducing the band to a larger audience and a record 73 million people tuned in to watch them perform "All My Loving," "Till There Was You," "She Loves You," "I Saw Her Standing There," and "I Want to Hold Your Hand."

73 million people equaled about 40% of the TV audience that night. What were the others watching instead? Up against Ed Sullivan that night were The Wonderful World of Disney, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters (starring a 12-year-old Kurt Russell), Imogene Coca in Grindl, and Arrest and Trial, the forerunner to Law and Order.

Three Beatles -- George Harrison was nursing a sore throat -- commandeer a carriage in Central Park for a publicity shoot

On February 11, the band played its first U.S. concert at the Coliseum in Washington, D.C., then returned to New York for two shows at Carnegie Hall. (The shows ran a mere 35 minutes each!) The group appeared for a second time on Ed Sullivan on February 16, playing live via satellite from a hotel in Miami where they had retreated for a vacation Though they were only in the States for less three weeks, the trip had a lasting impact, unleashing the "British Invasion" and forever changing the face of pop music.


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