Monthly Archives: June 2011

Who was Reginald Fairfax Harrison?

Diary of Reginald Fairfax Harrison, 1883-1884, in the Manuscript Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 71.123.

I recently came across the “Diary of Reginald Fairfax Harrison, for the Year 1883-1884,” while in the process of working with a researcher from the Central Park Conservancy who was looking into the history of children’s relationships to the Park.   Young Master Harrison, or “Fairfax,” as he was called, was fourteen years old when he began this diary, turning fifteen on March 13, 1884. The diary begins on Sunday, April 29, 1883,  during which “It rained and snowed this morning, and I was not able to go to church.” Reginald goes on to recount that after his mother led him in prayers, he finished reading both Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens, and Golden Days for Boys and Girls magazine.

Diary of Reginald Fairfax Harrison, 1883-1884, in the Manuscript Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 71.123.

This diary led me to wonder “Who was Reginald Fairfax Harrison?”  Simply from the information I read in his diary I felt fairly confident that Fairfax was a member of New York City’s upper socio-economic class.  Fairfax’s friends include “H. Havemeyer,” whom the reader assumes is a member of the wealthy sugar-refinery owning Havemeyers; and “Harry Whitney,” whom we can conclude is most likely Harry Payne Whitney, a member of the prominent and wealthy Whitney family, and future philanthropist and husband of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the Whitney Museum of Art.   In addition, many of the activities and opportunities Fairfax mentions (which will be discussed in later blog posts), are those not open to just every fourteen-year-old boy in late 19th Century New York City.

George Gardner Rockwood (1832-1908). Burton Harrison's Sons, ca. 1888. Museum of the City of New York. Photo Archive.

My curiosity led me to look further into our collection, and discovered that Ms. Baird, the woman who had donated the diary to the Museum, had also donated a photo of Fairfax and his two younger brothers, Francis Burton and Archibald Cary, as part of the same gift that included the diary. (Fairfax is seated, Francis is next, then Archibald.)  By confirming Fairfax’s brothers’ names, I now had no doubts that this was the same Reginald Fairfax Harrison born to Burton Norvell and Constance Cary Harrison.

Fairfax’s father, Burton, served as Secretary to Confederate President Jefferson Davis during the United States Civil War, following which he moved to New York and resumed his law studies.  In 1875, Burton became secretary and council to New York’s Rapid Transit Commission.  Constance was an author, and in her memoir, Recollections Grave and Gay, she states that she solicited Emma Lazarus to write her poem “The New Colossus” for collection in an album created to raise funds for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.  That poem is now inscribed on that very pedestal.

Farifax certainly came from successful parents, but what did he do with the opportunities he had been given?  Fairfax graduated from Yale in 1890, and obtained an M.A. from Columbia.  He entered the railroad business, working primarily for the Southern Railway, which he successfully steered through the Panic of 1907 as its Vice-President in charge of Finance and Accounting.  After various positions with other railroads, he returned to the Southern Railway in 1913 as its President, a position he held until his retirement in 1937.  Fairfax authored several works, primarily on topics related to Virginia genealogy and history.  He had planned to focus his attention on his writing following his retirement from the railroad, but died just three months later, on February 2, 1938.

More posts to come on Fairfax’s life in New York City!

The College of William and Mary, Special Collections research center holds the papers of Fairfax Harrison

The Library of Congress holds the family papers of Burton Norvell Harrison, including some by Fairfax Harrison.

The Tale of the Shoe Shine Boy

Stanley Kubrick’s 1947 pictorial for LOOK Magazine.

At the age of 13, Stanley Kubrick was given a Graflex camera by his father which triggered a fascination with still photography.  He sold his first photo to LOOK magazine when he was 17 years old and soon became a staff photographer.

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). Shoe Shine Boy, 1947. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10368.286

In 1947, a year after he started photographing for LOOK, Kubrick shot the story of the Shoe Shine Boy.  This pictorial contains a total of 202 images captured on 35mm film strips and medium and large format negative, most of which have never been published.

This story follows Mickey,a 12-year-old boy from Brooklyn who shines shoes for 10 cents a pop to  help support his sizable family, including nine brothers and sisters.

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). The Shoe Shine Boy, 1947. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10368.262

Kubrick follows Mickey throughout his day, photographing him boxing and playing basketball, going to the laundromat, interacting with his family, and shining shoes.

Even in the early stages of his professional career, Kubrick has the eye of a director.  The photographs seem artfully staged and speak about the human condition, something that Kubrick uses as a ongoing theme within his films.

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). The Shoe Shine Boy, 1947. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10368.230

Kubrick often spoke about his early days as a photographer and how he could not have been the filmmaker that he was without a ‘photographer’s eye’.

**Stanley Kubrick shot for LOOK magazine from 1946 to 1951.  The Museum of the City of New York has approximately 12,000 Kubrick negatives and 10,000 contact sheets. We are in the process of digitizing ALL of them!

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). The Shoe Shine Boy, 1947. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10368.281

To read more of an in-depth (and incredibly interesting) description of Kubrick’s days at LOOK Magazine, go to the 2005 Vanity Fair article.

Do you have information about Mickey or his family? We’d like to find him. Help us out and you could win an archival quality print from this series. Email collections@mcny.org with any information.

Stanley Kubrick(1928-1999). The Shoe Shine Boy, 1947. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10368.308