Friday, January 31, 2014

Photographs of college football players in New York (1914)

Above: the Columbia University football team, 1914

Click into the images for bigger view.  The first two team photos were taken sometime in Fall 1914, on the Columbia University campus. (As in, in the middle of campus.)  The first solo portraits were taken on Oct 24, 1914, during the Cornell vs Brown match-up at the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan.  The second set of solos were also taken at the Polo Grounds, at the Washington & Jefferson vs. Rutgers game on Nov. 28, 1914.

The Columbia University football squads, 1914

Dr. Albert Sharpe (1877-1966), coach for Cornell, former football player for Yale University. Reminds me of this guy, no?

Clarence W. Bailey, right tackle for Cornell

Edward J. Gallogly, left tackle for Cornell

Murray Shelton, right end for Cornell

William Nicholas Ormsby, left end for Brown, later served in the Navy during World War I

Theodore Chandler, full back for Brown

Brown University Quarterback Leslie Russell Clark with left halfback Leonard Horcross.

Brown University team, in a huddle at Polo Grounds. (By the way, Cornell defeated Brown in this game.)

Johnny Spiegel, halfback for Washington & Jefferson College

Hugginweg -- full name and team affiliation unknown, although his uniform is similar to Spiegel's

The amazingly named Burleigh Cruikshank, from Washington & Jefferson

Gordon -- full name unknown, probably Washington & Jefferson, given the uniform

And finally, a long shot of the Polo Grounds itself in 1913 (an Army-Navy football game), one of America's great sports venues of the early 20th century.

All photos courtesy Library of Congress

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The first Sherlock Holmes film ever was made in Union Square. And the second? In Flatbush, Brooklyn

Above: While Sherlock Holmes made his film debut in 1900, he hit the stage a bit earlier.  William Gillette was the most acclaimed Sherlock of the day, touring the United States in a play he co-wrote with the detective's creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  After a tryout in Buffalo, the play made its debut at the Garrick Theatre (67 West 35th Street) in New York on November 6, 1899.

There are two varieties of Sherlock Holmes these days -- the British alternative kind (Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch) and the New York variant (Elementary, with Jonny Lee Miller).  You might naturally assume that Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes is closer in spirit to the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  But the modern-day CBS variation, which is filmed in New York City, actually brings the classic detective stories back to its original roots in the cinema.

The first attempt to bring Sherlock Holmes to the film medium was in the year 1900 with Biograph-Mutoscope's Sherlock Holmes Baffled.  Mutoscope films were not projected, but rather, displayed in a stand-alone box for a single person to view, the images moving with the help of a hand crank.  (At right: An 1899 trade advertisement for the Mutoscope).

Most early Mutoscope films were documentary in nature (often boxers or acrobats), similar to those for Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope.  The very first movie made in the city of New York was a boxing match featuring Young Griffo, made for another competing film device, the Eidoscope, and filmed atop old Madison Square Garden.

Due to the short running time of films made for these private viewing consoles, the first narrative films were crude, silly and often confusing, throwing viewers into an action scene that abruptly stops.   That is the case with Sherlock Holmes Baffled, seen here in its entirety:

Outside of the title card, the move bares no traits of Sherlock Holmes whatsoever.  It seems to merely borrow the name to present a wacky narrative involving the detective discovering a thief who then disappears and re-appears at a whim.

The movie was made at Biograph's revolving rooftop studio at 841 Broadway in Union Square.  That original building was demolished at some point to make way for the Roosevelt Building.  In an accidental tie to its movie heritage, across from the Roosevelt is the Regal Union Square Stadium multiplex, which has undoubtedly seen more sophisticated Sherlock Holmes movies (such as the Robert Downey Jr. version) since it was constructed in 1998.

The identity of the actor who played the first Sherlock Holmes is apparently unknown.

Biograph would continue using Union Square as a site for film production.  They moved to another studio in 1906 -- just up the street, at 11 14th Street -- where they produced ever more extravagent movies, including a reinactment of the San Francisco earthquake, rushed into theater just months after the disaster struck the West Coast city on April 18, 1906.

From my original article:  "What seems especially brazen about this fabrication is that it was being created in New York's Union Square, even as San Francisco's public square of the same name sat in ruins."

Five years later, a slightly more recognizable Sherlock Holmes can be seen in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, or Held For A Ransom.  In this version, Sherlock is played by vaudeville star Gilbert Anderson, best known for his appearance in The Great Train Robbery. (He was later renamed 'Bronco' Billy Anderson due to his later fame as an early cowboy film star.)  

This, too, was filmed in New York -- at Vitagraph Studios in Flatbush, Brooklyn!  Pictured below:

Top picture courtesy the Library of Congress

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger 1919-2014

 Pete Seeger with Woody Guthrie, performing at the Music Inn in Lenox, Massachusetts, 1950 (Photo courtesy NPR)

 "I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody." -- Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger with the Weavers -- Washington Square Blues


Pete Seeger had a television variety show in the 1960s called Rainbow Quest, filmed from studios in Newark, New Jersey.  Interestingly, the shows were broadcast on WNJU, better known as a Spanish-language station and today the flagship for Telemundo!

Luckily, many of these programs are available to watch on YouTube. Here's a clip of Seeger with BJ Reagon (from Sweet Honey In the Rock) and Jean Ritchie (aka 'the mother of folk):

In 1974, he recorded the first album for Sesame Street to feature new material not featured on the show. Here, he duets with Oscar the Grouch about, of course, 'Garbage':

Monday, January 27, 2014

When the Statue of Liberty left her arm in Madison Square

Above: The arm of the Statue of Liberty stood solitary in Madison Square for six years, from 1876 to 1882.

Two hundred years ago today, Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc was born in Paris.  As the godfather of historical restoration, Viollet-le-Duc would rescue countless medieval structures from decay, helping to preserve the spirit of French architecture through such buildings as Notre-Dame and Mont Sant-Michel.

But it's through his association with his student Frédéric Bartholdi that Viollet-le-Duc would make his mark in America, as the original designer of the Statue of Liberty's brick-laden skeleton.  Viollet-le-Duc would work with Bartholdi in creating both the head and the arm, parts that would then travel to the United States to raise funds for the completed structure.

In particular, the arm and torch would be displayed in the northwest corner of Madison Square Park, from 1876 to 1882.  On July 4th, 1876, a gigantic painting by Jean-Baptiste Lavastre of the completed statue was displayed on a building across the street from the arm.

Below: The arm would also make its way to the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.

Sadly, Viollet-le-Duc would never again see these portions of the statue, as he died in 1879 before the entire structure was completely built.   Bartholdi then turned to another architect to complete the work -- Gustave Eiffel.  It's Eiffel's redesigned interior that supports the statue today.

In 1889, three years after the Statue of Liberty finally made its home in New York harbor, Eiffel debuted his better known work -- the Eiffel Tower -- at the Paris World's Fair.

But the somewhat radical theories of restoration espoused by Viollet-le-Duc would inspire American architects and inform the direction of modern historical preservation.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Cat-astrophe! Hungry felines attack a Lower East Side butcher

Presented without commentary, from the front page of  the New York Sun, January 24, 1914

"Policeman James Kenny, trudging along James Street at 10 o'clock last night, heard horrendous sounds coming from the market of Brighton Beef Company at No. 72.  A hundred drunken burglars couldn't have made more noise.

Kenny, remembering that a bomb went off in front of this same market six months ago and blew the store front to pieces, blew his whistle and thumped his night stick for assistance.   Seven other patrolmen came running.

They stole up to the door with pistols pointed.  They lunged together and burst in.  Twenty-five cats fled at their approach.  The cats were of all sizes and colors.  They had been hungry, but were no longer.  They had eaten every scrap of meat in the market -- chicken and beef and everything else, and were fighting over the bones.

The eight policemen pocketed their pistols but swung their clubs.  They also said 'Scat!' and the cats ran into the street and scurried through the East Side with great news for their tribe.  There were no arrests.

The police suspected that some rival butcher had collected the cats,  starved them and thrown them through the transom of the Brighton Beef Company's store."

And excerpts from a similar story in the Evening World from the same day:

"[T]he owner has two cats of his own, trained to eat no meat, which he always leaves in the shop overnight.

The first peripatetic pussy that was pushed through the fanlight was pounced upon by the faithful feline guards of the pork chops.  They grabbed him and sought to shove him into the sausage chopper.  But other felines came through the fanlight. It began to rain cats.  The guardians of the garbage cans made short shrift of the tame tabbies of the butcher shop."

What the Sun story fails to report is that a young man was pushed through the fanlight before the cops stormed the shop.

"The policemen couldn't open the door.  They shoved Tommy Laura, a young man of James Street, through the fanlight. A dozen cats scrambled over Tommy when he fell to the floor.  He turned up the lights and got a pair of pliers with which he opened the door....."

One man had to be taken to the hospital when he grabbed the tail of a cat perched upon a meat hook.

Cats and butcher shops, clearly, do not mix!

Below: Do you trust this cat with your perishables? It's a cat and two dog companions in Flatbush, circa 1900s, photographed by Daniel Berry Austin, courtesy the Brooklyn Museum

Podcast Extra! Why Daniel D. Tompkins has a New York park

"The name of Daniel Tompkins deserves to be more kindly remembered than it has been." —New York Herald-Tribune editorial, June 1932. 

In our podcast on the history of Tompkins Square Park, we tell you a little about the park's namesake -- former U.S. Vice President and New York governor Daniel D. Tompkins. He was an exceptional governor and had a couple other significant attachments to the region that made him an especially beloved leader.

 In this delated scene from the podcast, Tom tells you of his Tompkins' role during the War of 1812 and his connection to Staten Island:

And BLOOPERS! Here are a couple mis-statements that I made during the show that you might find amusing, simply because they're so ridiculous. (I will lay off the cold medicine for our next show, I promise.)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"This hypocritical, swindling world" -- One hundred years ago, a mysterious suicide in the halls of Pennsylvania Station

The halls of Pennsylvania Station, conjuring the grandeur of a Roman temple, would have created an otherworldly echo at rush hour on January 22, 1914.  Thousands of commuters hurrying across the marble floors of McKim, Mead and White's steel-latticed terminal, rushing to arriving trains pulling into the sunken boarding area from deep tunnels beneath Manhattan and the Hudson River.

It was in the cavernous waiting room of Penn Station at rush hour that a gentleman was seen nervously pacing the floor -- "a well-dressed man of 40 years, with a high forehead and black curly hair." [source]  He wore a dark grey overcoat, his pockets full.  He was taller than most around him, and his brow was furrowed in anxiety beneath a gray plaid hat.  The man had just come in from Philadelphia, judging from the newspaper clippings on his person.

The Penn Station waiting room:

Precisely at 6 pm, the curly-haired gentlemen left the waiting area and entered the men's washroom.  It was here that he reached inside his coat, pulled out a revolver and shot himself twice in the head.

Almost any sound made in old Penn Station dramatically amplifies under its high vaulted ceilings.  Two gunshots during rush hour certainly must have stopped foot traffic, if only for a moment.   The gentleman was discovered by Penn Station's chief detective and taken to the West 37th Street Police Station where officers inspected the body for signs of identification.  None were found outside of the address for a gas company in Newark, NJ. Did he work there?  Did he owe them money?

More disturbing was a hand-written suicide note, which read:

"It is time that I end this useless existence.  I've taken all the facts into consideration and have concluded that death is the only way to get out of this hypocritical and swindling world.  I hope to make a good job of it."  On the other side of this note was written a more direct meaning for this gentleman's grief -- "Out of work and funds."

Investigators also found a whisky flask, a few quotations from Shakespeare and a grand total of 47 cents.  But perhaps the oddest possession in his pocket was a magazine clipping featuring the writings of Maurice Maeterlinck, the Belgian intellectual who had won the Nobel Prize for Literature just two years previous.  It's not surprising that a person in the depths of depression would turn to Maeterlinck, a playwright known for exploring the enterprise of death.  (Later in life, Maeterlinck would also be accused of being a towering plagiarist.)

The New York Sun made note of the fact that the Maeterlinck clipping featured several underlined passages in an article headlined 'Death', including this one:  "In any case, it seems fairly certain that we spend in this world the only narrow, grudging, obscure and sorrowful moments of our destiny."

While this man's sad demise made the front sections of all the local newspapers -- after all, you can't shoot a revolver in Penn Station without some notice -- I was unable to find any further follow-up to this man's identity.  And so, on the one hundredth anniversary of this stranger's passing, he joins the many other ghosts of this legendary old building, itself nothing more than a memory.

Pictures courtesy Library of Congress

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Never Too Cold: Crazy kids conquer Central Park on sleds

During one particular winter in the early 1910s, Central Park was invaded by an army of young sledders, tearing over the snow-covered terrain without thought to temperatures or bodily injury.

Believe it or not, the city encouraged children to use the city parks for sledding, especially given that the alternatives were slicked-up city streets.  In fact, New York did everything possible to make parks an ideal sledding destination.

"Snow from the sidewalks around Hamilton Fish, DeWitt Clinton and East River parks has been thrown over the fences to form an embankment from which the youngsters can coast." reported the New York Tribune in 1910.  In Central Park, "never before were so many coasters in evidence."

Indeed, automobiles posed a grim and dangerous threat to children sledders. The newspapers between 1909-1919 are filled with sad stories of children killed in sledding accidents, with autos frequently involved.  Vehicles from the early days (not to mention, their novice drivers) were simply ill-equipped for icy conditions.

While some in the community lamented the mess made in public parks, most preferred keeping children safe.  These pictures kind of make you want to make a go of it, don't you think?

Of course, wealthy people could always go on a sleigh ride in the park, but the mass production of individual flyers (like the one advertised below) and homemade facsimiles soon brought middle and working class into the park for fun.  I would like to think this sled model (advertised in a Dec. 4, 1914 edition of the Evening World) was used by some of those intrepid spirits pictured above:

And you think that all looks a little dangerous, here's some adventurers from 1860, using Broadway as their personal ice sheet, with a child tied to the back!

Images courtesy Library of Congress and New York Public Library

Solomon Northup's ominous journey to New York City, 1841

An engraving featured in Solomon Northup's narrative Twelve Years A Slave, published in 1853.

The New York farmer and musician Solomon Northup was sold into slavery in 1841, tricked by two supposed members of a circus troupe, promising Northrup work in their traveling show.  Instead, Northrup awoke in bondage, eventually smuggled to New Orleans where he faced years of cruel servitude under a variety of plantation owners.   After regaining his freedom in 1853, he wrote the narrative Twelve Years A Slave, his harrowing account of his years in the South.

The book became a best-seller within Republican abolitionist circles, released a year after Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.  It was certainly in the possession of Henry Ward Beecher, Harriet's younger brother, who turned his Brooklyn pulpit at Plymouth Church into a sounding board for abolitionist ideas.  (One hundred and sixty years later, the Oscar-nominated film version of Twelve Years A Slave, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northup, played at Brooklyn Heights Cinema, located one block away from Beecher's church.)

Northup and his family lived in upstate New York, but New York City proper plays a small but ominous role in his narrative.  Lured by the promise of employment by two men named Brown and Hamilton, Northup travels from home in Saratoga, first to Albany, then to New York itself:

"They hurried forward, without again stopping to exhibit, and in due course of time, we reached New-York, taking lodgings at a house on the west side of the city, in a street running from Broadway to the river."

Below: A view of Broadway (between Howard and Grand Streets) in 1840.  To the south of this view was Canal Street and Five Points.

"I supposed my journey was at an end, and expected in a day or two at least, to return to my friends and family at Saratoga.   Brown and Hamilton, however, began to importune me to continue with them to Washington.  They alleged that immediately on their arrival, now that the summer season was approaching, the circus would set out for the north.   They promised me a situation and high wages if I would accompany them.  

Largely did they expatiate on the advantages that would result to me, and such were the flattering representations they made, that I finally concluded the offer."

Northup agrees to accompany them further north to Washington DC.  It would be there that Northup would be drugged and sold into bondage by his two nefarious companions.  But before they leave New York, they suggest that Solomon perform a certain task, curious given the subsequent events which occurred:

"The next morning they suggested that, inasmuch as we were about entering a slave State, it would be well, before leaving New-York, to procure free papers.  The idea struck me as a prudent one, though I think it would scarcely have occurred to me, had they not proposed it. 

We proceeded at once to what I understood to be the Custom House. They made oath to certain facts showing I was a free man." 

Why is there a little confusion in Northrup's statement regarding the Custom House?  Perhaps because the building he would have visited -- at 22-24 Wall Street -- was in its final days as New York's Custom House, an office which had grown far too small for the task.  The following year, New York's new Custom House would have at last been opened at the other end of the block -- the building that is today's Federal Hall.

Below: Northrup and his associates would have entered the building at the far right of this illustration (which depicts Wall Street in 1825)

"Some further formalities were gone through with before it was completed, when, paying the officer two dollars, I placed the papers in my pocket, and started with my two friends to our hotel.  I thought at the time, I must confess, that the papers were scarcely worth the cost of obtaining them – the apprehension of danger to my personal safety never having suggested itself to me in the remotest manner."

Below: The interior of the New York Custom House, 1853

All images courtesy New York Public Library

After its publication in 1853, Northup's account would be available for sale in certain New York bookstores for several years.  But keep in mind New York's divided loyalties to the South; it would not have been a universally popular read here in the city.

Below: the book for sale in 1854 at a bookstore at 308 Broadway, and in 1856, at a Park Row bookseller, both ads from the New York Daily Tribune

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Traffic on the George Washington Bridge (in 1949)

Traffic on the George Washington Bridge, approaching the bridge, and leaving the bridge.  Note the unpaved exit street in the last photo, and the reflections of clouds in the polished vehicles below.

Photos by Cornell Capa, 1949 (Courtesy Life Google Images)

Friday, January 10, 2014

The ragged, rebellious history of Tompkins Square Park

A condescending illustration of Tompkins Square Park from the New York journal Hearth and Home, 1873. (NYPL)  

Central Park has frequently been called 'the people's park," but we think Tompkins Square Park may have a better claim to that title.  From its inception, this East Village recreational spot -- named for Vice President Daniel D Tompkins -- has catered to those who might not have felt welcome in other New York parks.

Carved from the marshy area of Peter Stuyvesant's old farm, Tompkins Square immediately reflected the personality of German immigrants who moved here, calling it Der Weisse Garten.  With large immigrants groups came rallies and demands for improved working conditions, leading to more than a number of altercations with the police in the 19th century.

Progressives introduced playgrounds here, and Robert Moses changed the very shape of Tompkins Square.  But the most radical transformation here took place starting in the late 1950s, with the introduction of 'hippie' culture and infusion of youth and music.

By the 1980s, the park became known not only for embodying the spirit of the East Village through punk music and drag shows (above: Lady Bunny), but also as a haven for the homeless.  Clashes with police echoed the clashes that happened here one century before.  The park still maintains a curfew left over from the strife of the late 1980s.

FEATURING:  Lillian Wald, the Grateful Dead, Charlie Parker, Samuel S. Cox, Lady Bunny ... and Chevy Chase?

To get this week's episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #160 Tompkins Square Park


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It's doubtful that the image below is accurately depicted by the caption which accompanied it in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper in 1874: "The red flag in New York - riotous Communist workingmen driven from Tompkins Square by the mounted police, Tuesday, January 13th." [Courtesy LOC]

Another illustration of the 1874 protests, notably featuring a German establishment in the background. (More information on the Tenement Museum blog.)

People enjoying (most likely) German music and entertainment in Tompkins Square Park, 1891. An image from Harper's Weekly by Thure de Thulstrup. (NYPL)

Women and children enjoying themselves in Tompkins Square Park, Arbor Day, 1904, on the brand new playground for girls. (Photos courtesy Museum of the City of New York)

Thompson Sq., Play Ground.
Arbor Day, Thompson Sq.
German Play Ground.

The Tompkins Square Milk House, which provided clean, healthy milk to families in the 1910s.

The statue of Samuel Cox, funded by New York postal workers. (1900, pic courtesy Museum of the City of New York

[Samuel Sullivan Cox statue.]

Children waiting in line to use the children's reading room at the Tompkins Square branch library. (NYPL)

An advertisement from 1920, urging residents of the Lower East Side to take English courses at the Tompkins Square branch library. There are several of these posters in different languages here. (NYPL)

 Lady Bunny and friends, performing at Wigstock 1988 (Picture courtesy aquaman6 on Flickr)


The Tompkins Square Police Riot from 1988 (courtesy Quilas)

The Tompkins Square Park bandshell, which was torn down by the city in 1991.  (Photo courtesy Flickr/Mike Evans)

A compilation video of dancing and general cavorting in Tompkins Square Park at a concert event in August 1981, with appropriate musical accompaniment.  The footage originally ran on public access television.

An investigative news piece (Cult of Rage!) from 1988 about the 1988 Tompkins Square Riot.

A performance by the hardcore band Breakdown at the bandshell in 1988

Video of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada and his followrs in Tompkins Square Park by the Hare Krishna tree.

The Hare Krishna tree, photo by David Shankbone

A Ghostbusters-themed entrant in the Halloween Dog Parade in 2013 (Courtesy USA Today)