Monthly Archives: March 2012

Love in the Time of Weegee

As we continue to inventory and image the Museum’s holdings from the LOOK Magazine archives , we’ve discovered troves of images taken by famous photographers on assignment for the magazine.  Weegee is one of them.

The Museum has a handful of non-LOOK photographs depicting subjects that Weegee is mainly known for: sensational images of crime scenes.  The image below shows the bloodied corpse of Carlo Tresca, a socialist-turned-anarchist and the editor of an anti-Fascist newspaper.   Although Tresca managed to avoid multiple assassination attempts, his life came to an end while crossing Fifth Avenue and 13th Street.  A black Ford containing a squat gunman pulled up beside him and fired, shooting Tresca in the head.

Arthur (Weegee) Fellig (1899-1968). Man shining light on body of Carlo Tresca, New York.1943. Museum of the City of New York. 84.195.1

Weegee also captured police officers aiding an inebriated man.

Arthur (Weegee) Fellig (1899-1968). The Cocktail Hour. 1950. Museum of the City of New York. 84.195.4

Arthur (Weegee) Fellig (1899-1968). Policeman with wrapping paper-covered body of Lewis Sandano, New York. 1940. Museum of the City of New York. 84.195.10

The grim scene above shows the prone body of Lewis Sandano, shot and killed by policemen as he fled with a stolen overcoat.

Weegee shows a softer side in a 1948 series of photographs for LOOK showing soldiers returning from World War II and reuniting with their loved ones.

Arthur (Weegee) Fellig (1899-1968). Penn Station, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.4.10720.1

Arthur (Weegee) Fellig (1899-1968). Penn Station, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.4.10720.14

Arthur (Weegee) Fellig (1899-1968). Penn Station, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.4.10720.16

Arthur (Weegee) Fellig (1899-1968). Penn Station, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.4.10720.13

Arthur (Weegee) Fellig (1899-1968). Penn Station, 1948. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.4.10720.24

His Penn Station images are hopeful and sentimental, and the viewer’s desire to look at them is compelled by something other than the grit of humanity.  In either case, however, Weegee’s photos portray an immense love for the city and care for his subjects whether deceased or living.

“Weegee: Murder Is My Business” is on view through September 2, 2012 at the International Center of Photography. All Weegee photographs used with permission from ICP.

It’s Toasted: Mad Men and New York City

The digital team is eagerly awaiting the return of Mad Men to television on Sunday, March 25, after a 17-month hiatus. In anticipation of this, we have  pulled together an assortment of Mad Men-related images to share with you.

While imaging the Anthony F. Dumas theater drawings, our photographer Mia Moffett noticed the Lucky Strike advertisement bearing the famous “It’s Toasted” slogan on the theater’s signboard. In Mad Men’s pilot episode, Don Draper of Sterling Cooper successfully saves the firm’s Lucky Strike account by envisioning a new campaign for the beleaguered tobacco company: “Everyone else’s tobacco is poisonous, but Lucky Strike’s is toasted.”

Anthony F. Dumas. Rialto Theatre. Museum of the City of New York. 75.200.52

Near the end of the first season, Sterling Cooper employees have an all-night, booze-fueled party to watch the presidential election of 1960 live on television. Here is a photo of John F. Kennedy with Jackie on October 19, 1960, less than a month away from his election to the office of President.

Burton Berinsky. John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy in a ticker-tape parade. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.10964

Angelo Lomeo. After Nixon Lost Election, 1960. Museum of the City of New York. 97.99.3

In season 3, representatives of Madison Square Garden hire Sterling Cooper for a public relations campaign, hoping to diminish negative publicity surrounding the proposed demolition of Pennsylvania Station. The station was designed by renowned Beaux-Arts architecture firm McKim, Mead & White. The New York Times glowingly reported on the opening of Penn Station in an article from August 29, 1910: “This Seventh Avenue facade was conceived especially to symbolize in most imposing fashion a monumental gateway. It may be compared, with due allowance for its more massive proportions, to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, through which passes so much of the traffic of that city.”

Construction of Pennsylvania Station. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archive.X2010.11.5087

Irving Underhill. Penn R. R. Depot, 7th Avenue & 33rd St. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.28.720

Berenice Abbott. Federal Art Project. Pennsylvania Station. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.2.100

In 1961, owners of Madison Square Garden announced that the entertainment arena would be moving from its  location on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets to the site of Penn Station.  The relocation would require the demolition of the Penn Station structure, billed by Garden officials as necessary for modernization and progress. But the decision to demolish Penn Station was a controversial one. A New York Times article from October 29, 1963 bemoaned the change: “A building that sometimes made a ceremony out of a journey, the station reached the end of the line, architecturally, at 9 A.M. Electric jackhammers tore at the granite slabs of the side of the terminal near the 33rd Street entrance, crushing the hopes of a band of architects who had rallied to save what the Municipal Art Society called ‘one of the great monuments of classical America.'”  Partly in response to Penn Station’s demolition, NYC’s Landmarks Preservation Commission was established in 1965.

Aaron Rose. The demolition of Pennsylvania Station, 1964-1965. Museum of the City of New York. 01.30.43

Aaron Rose. The demolition of Pennsylvania Station, 1964-1965. Museum of the City of New York. 01.30.78

Aaron Rose. The demolition of Pennsylvania Station, 1964-1965. Museum of the City of New York. 01.30.33

The specter of the Vietnam War appears in season 4, with a character preparing to be shipped off to Vietnam.

Line in an Army reception station. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archive. X2010.11.13987

Benedict J. Fernandez. Burning of Draftcards. 1963. Museum of the City of New York. 99.150.17

As these photos illustrate, attitudes about the war were divergent and often politically divisive. Below is Martin Luther King, Jr., marching with pediatrician Dr. Spock and labor activist Monsignor Rice in the Spring Mobilization for Peace in 1967.

Benedict J. Fernandez. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Benjamin Spock and Monsignor Rice. Museum of the City of New York. 99.150.9

Benedict J. Fernandez. Pro-Vietnam War Demonstration, New York, 1970. Museum of the City of New York. 99.150.15

We look forward to seeing more of New York City’s history replayed in season 5 of Mad Men.

South Street Seaport’s Library and Archive

Greetings from the South Street Seaport Museum’s library and archive!  In October of last year the Museum of the City of New York assumed the operation of the South Street Seaport Museum.  Organizing and cataloging items in the Seaport Museum’s library and archive is one of many projects undertaken in the new administration.  I left my position on the digital team and moved downtown where I’m now working with Carol, the project archivist at the Seaport Museum. She and I are hard at work tackling various projects.

So far, we’ve begun work cataloging and re-housing the photography collection, which contains thousands of negatives, slides, and prints of ships at port, docked at the South Street Seaport, and at sail in New York Harbor, as well as more general marine topics.

Sailing ship, ca. 1900. South Street Seaport Museum. Photography Collection.

Fisherman, ca. 1915. South Street Seaport Museum. Joe Cantalupo Fishing Schooner Collection.

Carol created and arranged the Passenger Liner collection, one of the larger collections in the archives. Programs, photographs, passenger lists, schedules, and promotional brochures are among the many items found in this collection.

Luggage Tags, ca. 1955. South Street Seaport Museum. Passenger Liner Collection.

Matchbooks, ca. 1930-1950. South Street Seaport Museum. Passenger Liner Collection.

We’ve also started to inventory and survey a very large collection of ship plans.  There are over 30,000 drawings and while we’ve just begun to see what’s here, we’ve already found great objects, including an almost complete set of plans for J. P. Morgan’s yacht, Corsair.  In the center of the plan you can see a white square, which is an alteration to the design made a day after the original was drafted, perhaps to conform to Morgan’s taste.

Position of Fire Place for the Yacht Corsair (detail), 1920. South Street Seaport Museum. W & A Fletcher Collection.

Part of this process includes cleaning.  Some plans date as far back as the 1870’s,  and occasionally they are in need of basic treatment to remove dirt.  Soiled objects are cleaned with an archival paper cleaner, which is rubbed against the object’s surface, much like one would use an eraser (visible in the first image).  Below is a particularly dramatic illustration of a drawing “before and after.”

Beam Strap for Engine No. 92, 1879. South Street Seaport Museum. W & A Fletcher Collection.

Beam Strap for Engine No. 92, 1879. South Street Seaport Museum. W & A Fletcher Collection.

Beam Strap for Engine No. 92, 1879. South Street Seaport Museum. W & A Fletcher Collection.

Stay tuned for more updates and stories of our finds in the South Street Seaport Museum’s archives!

A Practical Joke of Great Proportions

Daniel Huntington (1816-1906). Reverend Morgan Dix, 1889. Museum of the City of New York. 54.292.

I recently finished reading The Rector and the Rogue, W. A. Swanberg’s riveting true account of a peculiar situation targeting the Reverend Morgan Dix of Trinity Church over 130 years ago. This led me to wonder what sort of objects we might have in the collection related to this tale and its participants. I’ll try not to give away too much about the tale, in case you intend to read The Rector and Rogue yourself.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). West 25th Street. Rectory of Trinity Protestant Episcopal Chapel, ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.1266

The hoax began simply enough, on the morning of February 18, 1880, when Reverend Dix received a letter from the Acme Safe Company, thanking him for his inquiry into their products, enclosing a price list, and promising to follow-up.  While there was nothing threatening in the contents of such a letter, Reverend Dix had not made any such inquiry.  The Revered asked his secretary to write to the business, letting them know there had been a misunderstanding, and no further action was necessary.   The Acme Safe Company letter was followed shortly thereafter by additional letters from other businesses, and individuals as well began calling on the Reverend at his home (pictured above) throughout the day, each stating they were simply responding to inquiries they claimed to have received from him. The Reverend asked for proof of these inquiries and the vendors produced postcards inquiring into their goods and services and bearing the forged signature of Reverend Dix. (On an aside note – the Museum only has a few postcards from the 1880s in its  Postcard Collection, as the Post Office held the monopoly on printing postcards until the late 1890s, thus there were far fewer in circulation.  Early postcards functioned as a way to communicate quickly rather than as a souvenir from a visit or vacation.)

Byron Company. Portrait, Tom Burns 1890, Superintendent of Police N.Y.C, 1890. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20247.

After several days of nuisance, Reverend Dix approached Postmaster Thomas L. James, who then involved New York City Chief of Detectives Captain Thomas Byrnes (pictured to the right). This variety of harassment continued, with some pauses and variations, for the next month.   The Police Department and the Postal Service began investigating all present connections to Reverend Dix, as well as figures from his past, to try to find someone who might hold a personal grudge against him.  Even the parishioners and staff of Trinity Church (pictured below) were unable to escape the scrutiny of the

Photographer unknown. Broadway, north from Exchange Place, ca 1884. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.11.495.

investigation; in fact, the two prime suspects were connected to the Reverend through his church. Unfortunately, the Post Office and the New York City Police had trouble coordinating their investigations, and though they eventually arrived at the same suspect, the Postmaster was able to track him down first.  The identity of the the joker was a surprise to many: he traveled within the upper tiers of society, lived the sort of life of leisure led by the independently wealthy, and was generally regarded as a collegial sort of fellow.  While I won’t ruin the surprise and provide the culprit’s name,  I will note an interesting coincidence: he claimed to be a member of the Fairfaxes of Virginia.  You guessed it, the prankster may have been a distant relation of Reginald Fairfax Harrison, a young man whose diary is held in the Museum’s collection, and has been featured on this blog in the past.  To the end, the culprit pledged that he did not hold any sort of personal grudge against the Reverend; alas, it was just a practical joke that got slightly out of hand.