Author Archives: Lindsay Turley

Visiting New York City’s Hotels

Excerpt from "Members of Hotel Association of New York City, Rates per Day,"ca 1940, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York.

Excerpt from “Members of Hotel Association of New York City, Rates per Day,”ca 1940, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York.

The holidays are prime tourist season in New York City – we’re coming up on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade next week, department stores are mounting their holiday window displays, and the ice skating rink is open at Rockefeller Center.  As we have continued to prepare the Museum’s ephemera collections for digitization as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, we’ve been able to take a closer look at some the hotels that have housed the throngs of tourists that flock to New York City, not just at the holidays but year round.  The following selections from the Collection on Dining and Hospitality are just a small sampling of what will be available in the coming months via the Museum’s online Collections Portal as part of this project.

One hotel that immediately caught our eye was the Hotel Shelburne, or rather, the yet to be realized Hotel Shelburne II.  The Hotel Shelburne is still in operation at Lexington Avenue at 37th Street, but in the early 1960s they had a much grander vision of their future.  The Shelburne II was scheduled to open on the moon by 1971.

Hotel Shelburne, ca. 1961, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York. 94.41.2.

Hotel Shelburne (recto and verso views), ca. 1961, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 94.41.2.

If you read the guarantee on the verso of the promotional card above (right side of image), you’ll see that anyone bearing this card is entitled to a free weekend stay at the hotel, since the moon outpost wasn’t completed by 1971. Anyone want to give it a try?

As is to be expected, the collection holds several pieces of ephemera for the city’s more well known hotels, such as the Waldorf-Astoria.  The Waldorf-Astoria produced an entire promotional booklet titled “Behind the Scenes at the Waldorf-Astoria,” featuring profiles of staff and a look inside the kitchens, housekeeping, the”furniture hospital,”  and the domain of the “key man.” The booklet was donated to the Museum by Victor R. Ruiz, in honor of his mother, who worked in the hotel’s beauty salon for several years.

Excerpt from "Behind the Scenes at the Waldorf-Astoria," ca. 1940, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York. F2014.18.37.

Excerpt from “Behind the Scenes at the Waldorf-Astoria,” ca. 1940, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.18.37.

Waldorf-Astoria menu, 1907, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York. 42.250.62.

Waldorf-Astoria menu, 1907, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 42.250.62.

The Colonades, Essex House, ca 1937, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York. 2003.50.2.

The Colonnades, Essex House, ca 1937, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 2003.50.2.

One of the most common objects in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality is the menu.  These vary from day-to-day dinner menus, such as the one pictured to the right for the Waldorf- Astoria, to those for special events such as the one for the Essex House, pictured below.  The Essex House opened in 1931 on 59th Street; its iconic roof sign is still visible today. I wonder if New Year’s Eve of 2015 will compare with the the festivities pictured on the cover of this menu from the 1930s.

One of the oldest pieces of hotel ephemera in the Museum’s collection is this piece of private scrip, or money, from Crook’s Hotel and Saloon, dating to 1852. The Hotel was located at 80 Chatham Street, now Park Row.

Crook's Hotel and Saloon, 1852, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York. 39.526.2.

Crook’s Hotel and Saloon, 1852, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 39.526.2.

This name of  the establishment, “Crook’s Hotel and Saloon,” immediately brings to mind an image of a “wild west” period of New York City’s early history.  Though actually named for it’s proprietor Samuel H. Crook, the hotel did in fact gain an element of notoriety when Crook committed suicide in his rooms at the hotel in 1890.

Stay tuned for more selections from this and other ephemera collections here at the Museum.  Next time we visit this collection, will take a look at where all of these people – tourists and New Yorkers alike – ate when they were in town.

neh_logo_horizontal_rgbAny views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Dorothy Dignam and Gramercy Park

This week we will have a guest post from yet another one of our fabulous summer interns, Mickey Dennis, a student at Washington State University, who is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Public History.  Mickey was with us nearly full time for two months, so he had the opportunity to really dig into some of our collections.  I turn it over to him now to share what he learned while processing the Dorothy Dignam Collection on Gramercy Park.

Dorothy Dignam started her career in the advertising business in Chicago in the 1920s. She was a prominent force throughout the advertising and copywriting fields, especially in fashion, beauty, and homemaking, during a period where men dominated the scene. Scenes from Mad Men might spring to mind. She relocated to New York City, eventually moving into No. 18 Gramercy Park and becoming an active member in the Gramercy Park community. She became the assistant editor for the Gramercy Graphic and wrote articles for local papers. Throughout the rest of her life, she collected newspapers and magazines that had articles about former and current residents, local events and buildings, and anything else that related to the quiet and exclusive community.  She also wrote segments for other publications, such as the “Special to the Villager,” pictured below.

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Gramercy Park Paragraphs, December 1954, in the Dorothy Dignam Collection on Gramercy Park. Museum of the City of New York. PRO2014.3, folder15.

Reproduction of "Gramercy Park," George Bellows (1882-1925) from unknown publication, in the Dorothy Dignam Collection on Gramercy Park. Museum of the City of New York. PRO2014.3, folder 2.

Reproduction of “Gramercy Park,” George Bellows (1882-1925) from unknown publication, in the Dorothy Dignam Collection on Gramercy Park. Museum of the City of New York. PRO2014.3, folder 2.

As a newcomer myself to New York City – by way of growing up in Illinois, undergraduate school in Missouri, and graduate work in Washington – Gramercy Park was an unknown place to me. I’m still not even sure I pronounce it correctly 100% of the time. [That’s ok, Mickey – just remember it’s “GRAMurSEE,” not “GraMERCY ” – but you had it mastered by the end of the internship!] So when I originally sat down to process Dorothy Dignam’s Collection on Gramercy Park, I was completely unfamiliar with the park and its surrounding neighborhood.

Lands of Samuel B. Ruggles in the Twelth Ward in the City of New York, ca.1831. Museum of the City of New York, 29.100.2973.

Lands of Samuel B. Ruggles in the Twelth Ward in the City of New York, ca.1831. Museum of the City of New York, 29.100.2973.

In 1831, Samuel Ruggles purchased the “Gramercy Farm” from James Duane, son of Mayor James Duane and a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant. This included the Krom Moerasje, which is the Dutch term for “crooked little swamp” and the origins of the area’s name. Ruggles filled the swamp and began developing it. He laid out an eventual 60 plots around “Gramercy Square” and deeded rights of the square to the property owners surrounding it. Because of Ruggles’s actions, Gramercy Park is one of only two private parks in New York City; the other is located in Sunnyside Gardens, Queens.  Residents of the Gramercy Park neighborhood must pay an annual fee in order to receive a key to enter the park. Key access is largely limited to owners of the original lots and members and guests of organizations which reside on the park such as the Players Club and National Arts Club.

Gramercy Park by John Falter (1910-1982), cover of Saturday Evening Post, February 11, 1950, in the Dorothy Dignam Collection on Gramercy Park. Museum of the City of New York. PRO2014.3, folder 1.

Gramercy Park by John Falter (1910-1982), cover of Saturday Evening Post, February 11, 1950, in the Dorothy Dignam Collection on Gramercy Park. Museum of the City of New York. PRO2014.3, folder 1.

According to Dignam’s notes on the verso of the Saturday Evening Post cover below, Falter painted the image from the window from the National Arts Club. The New York Times has even written an article about the exclusivity of the park.  However, it is not just the park itself that gives this area so much lore. Celebrities, dignitaries, artists, writers, and other prominent people have called Gramercy Park home, including: O. Henry, Samuel Tilden, Washington Irving, George Bellows, Gregory Peck, John Steinbeck, John Barrymore, Thomas Edison, Jimmy Fallon, Julia Roberts, and even John F. Kennedy.

 

Gramercy Park is located near many notable New York City landmarks. The Flatiron Building and Madison Square Park are a short stroll from Gramercy Park. Delmonico’s, which held numerous dinners for prestigious clubs and people and was synonymous with fine dining during the late 1800s and early 1900s, had a location in the area, and the Columbia University Club called the neighborhood home between 1910-1915.

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Gramercy Graphic, September 1952, in the Dorothy Dignam Collection on Gramercy Park. Museum of the City of New York. PRO2014.3, folder 4.

Many residents of the Gramercy Park neighborhood  subscribed to the Gramercy Graphic. This was the neighborhood’s own monthly publication that reported on neighborhood improvement, human interest stories of former and current residents, and local events. One can really get a sense of how residents envisioned their neighborhood after reading the “From Our Office Window” section of the Gramercy Graphic each month. In most months’ editions, the editors are very concerned about the noise level of cars, construction, and people as well as the dangers of ne’er-do-wells that stand on the sidewalk in front of businesses. They wanted to create a secluded area of peace and quiet within the commotion of New York City. Although the hustle and bustle is extraordinarily interesting and exciting, after spending the summer living in the city, I can’t exactly blame them.

Click here to see more images of Gramercy Park from the Museum’s Collections, and if that reference to Mad Men piqued your interest, be sure to check out the Museum’s upcoming exhibition, Mac Conner: A New York Life, opening this Friday September 10th.

Beating the summer heat with picnics, entertainment, and excursions

I have been enjoying this uncharacteristically cooler summer.  My window air conditioning unit is still sitting on the shelf in the closet, and with just two weeks of August left, I’m expecting it to stay there.  After over a dozen summers in this city, however, my memories of July and August heatwaves are filled with meals consisting solely of chilled food, sitting with my feet in a bathtub of ice water, and planning my leisure time with the single intent to escape – or at least momentarily distract myself from – the heat.  New Yorkers have long shared this summer sentiment, as  documented by materials in our Ephemera Collections, which will take us on a tour of how residents of this city beat the heat before air conditioning was a readily available option.

They had sandwiches for lunch and a bottle filled with punch, ca. 1915, in the Postcard Collection.  Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.556.

They had sandwiches for lunch and a bottle filled with punch, ca. 1915, in the Postcard Collection. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.556.

With all of the city’s many amazing parks, who doesn’t love a summer picnic?  Breakfast, lunch, dinner – any meal is more enjoyable eaten outdoors than in a stuffy apartment, especially when accompanied by punch, as shown in the postcard above.  Employers recognized the benefit of giving their employees a break from sweltering offices for a while, as well.  The James D. Whitmore & Company  certainly steps up the game a bit for their staff picnic with this engraved program, below.  The event was held at “New Washington Park,” between 69th and 70th Streets at the East River – a space now occupied by New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Fifth Annual Afternoon and Evening Picnic, Employees of James D. Whitmore Co., 1881, in the Collection on Social Events.  Museum of the City of New York. 95.87.46.

Fifth Annual Afternoon and Evening Picnic, Employees of James D. Whitmore Co., 1881 (exterior and interior views), in the Collection on Social Events. Museum of the City of New York. 95.87.46.

Park Concerts, Season 1899, in the Collection on Culture and Entertainment.  Museum of the City of New York. F2011.101.18.

Park Concerts, Season 1899, in the Collection on Culture and Entertainment. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.101.18.

The city also offers a wide range of outdoor entertainment options, some of which we touched upon earlier this summer in Morgen’s post “Up on the roof, entertainment in plein air.”  With organizations such as SummerStage and Celebrate Brooklyn, two of many performing arts series that bring cultural events to parks and other public spaces in the city, New Yorkers have a wide variety of options for outdoor entertainment, many of which are free.  The program to the left features the musical lineup for a concert at Prospect Park, July 29, 1899. Click here to view the interior of the program.

Some entertainments offered a way to beat the heat indoors, as depicted in this advertisement below for the grand re-opening of  the Manhattan Roller Skating Rink, featuring a “patent cooling apparatus” and ice cream.

Manhattan Roller Skating Rink, 1885, in the Collection on Culture and Entertainment. Museum of the City of New York. 39.240.939.

Manhattan Roller Skating Rink, 1885, in the Collection on Culture and Entertainment. Museum of the City of New York. 39.240.939.

Of course, one way to beat the heat is simply to get out of town.  These days, popular culture loves to characterize the New York summer by the flight of many of its residents to “the Hamptons,”  but excursions to seaside locations have long been a tradition for New Yorkers.  U. S. Congressman John H. Starin purchased Glen Island and several nearby islands in 1879 in Long Island Sound, just north of the Bronx’s Pelham Bay Park, converting them into a summer resort that is often referred to as the first theme park.  The island is now owned and operated by Westchester County, though it is also home to a privately operated entertainment facility.

Starin's Glen Island, New Rochelle Harbor, Long Island Sound, ca. 1885, in the Collection on Culture and Entertainment.  Museum of the City of New York. 40.275.86

Starin’s Glen Island, New Rochelle Harbor, Long Island Sound, ca. 1885, in the Collection on Culture and Entertainment. Museum of the City of New York. 40.275.86

Iron Steamboat Company, 1883, in the Collection on City Infrastructure.  Museum of the City of New York. 54.252.2.

Iron Steamboat Company, 1883, in the Collection on City Infrastructure. Museum of the City of New York. 54.252.2.

While ferries ran daily to resorts such as Starin’s, where one would stay for several days at a time, the city was also full of companies that ran day drips to various beaches such as Coney Island and Brighton Beach, still popular destinations today.

Some companies offered boat excursions simply for the sake of getting a fresh breeze out on the water, such as this one on the Steamer Massachusetts.

Excursion, Steamer Massachusetts, ca. 1880, in the Collection on City Infrastructure.  Museum of the City of New York. 50.161.40

Excursion, Steamer Massachusetts, ca. 1880, in the Collection on City Infrastructure. Museum of the City of New York. 50.161.40

Manhattan Beach, another popular summer bathing destination, was accessible by a number of combinations of rail, trolley, and ferry.

Manhattan Beach Railway, 1878, in the Collection on City Infrastructure.  Museum of the City of New York. 43.425.47.

New York & Manhattan Beach Railway, 1878, in the Collection on City Infrastructure. Museum of the City of New York. 43.425.57.

You can see more images of New Yorkers picnicking, enjoying outdoor entertainment, and taking advantage of the city’s beaches on the Collections Portal, but don’t live vicariously through history – get out and enjoy the last bit of summer yourself!

High resolution images of these selections, and many more, will soon be available via the Museum’s online Collections Portal, thanks to the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

neh_logo_horizontal_rgbAny views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mod Women: New York Fashion of the 1960s

Donald Brooks (1928-2005).  Coat, ca. 1966-1967.  Museum of the City of New York, 98.62.1.

Donald Brooks (1928-2005). Coat, ca. 1966-1967. Museum of the City of New York, 98.62.1.

The Museum’s Costumes and Textiles Department recently completed a thorough assessment of all 1960s garments in the collection, identifying those pieces that exhibit design and craftsmanship of the highest quality, add significant insight into the interpretive stylistic trends of New York City fashion, and are the finest examples of the type of costume. These garments, worn by notable women and created by legendary designers, vividly bring to life an intriguing  era and include afternoon dresses, evening gowns, miniskirts, coats, and jackets. Women’s fashions of the 60s underwent radical transformations, in fabric, form, and fabrication, reflecting the great societal changes of the time, including the emergence of a youthful counterculture and the women’s liberation movement.

Attributed to Norman Norell (1900-1972). Sailor Dress, 1968.  Museum of the City of New York, 84.14.16AB.

Attributed to Norman Norell (1900-1972). Sailor Dress, 1968. Museum of the City of New York, 84.14.16AB.

The Museum has submitted a proposal to digitally photograph approximately 146 dresses from this decade in order to share them publicly on the Collections Portal, and is now a finalist the Heritage Trust project, a social media contest sponsored by EMC Corporation – please vote for us here! New York City has long been recognized as an international fashion capital and access to this collection will provide a window into styles and trends that proliferated throughout the nation. Phyllis Magidson, Curator of Costumes and Textiles, recently  shared accounts and observations of the dresses featured in this post, which represent just a small sampling of the highlights proposed for inclusion in this project.

Norman Norell’s designs were dualistic in personality, a fusion of wholesome American fashion metaphors and worldly sophistication. Recipient of the first American Fashion Critic’s Award (commonly remembered as the Coty) in 1943, Norell was instrumental in elevating the stature and credibility of American design during World War II.

Norman Norell (1900-1972). Evening dress, "Tissue of Diamonds," for Lauren Bacall, 1963.  Museum of the City of New York, 86.154.1

Norman Norell (1900-1972). Evening dress, “Tissue of Diamonds,” 1963. Museum of the City of New York, 86.154.1

At a time when the couture houses in Paris were shut down by the war, Norell’s basic designs were customized to the American taste, honoring its preference for clothing to wear rather than pose in. Norell resuscitated the sheathe, a 1920s fashion mainstay, as his preferred fabric-conserving solution to the government’s  restrictions on fabric yardage. The style remained popular, and two decades later he designed his one-of-a-kind “Tissue-of Diamonds” sheathe for his favorite on-stage and off client, Lauren Bacall, to glorify the wearer’s body in the manner of his signature “mermaid” dresses. Epitomizing his American clientele, Norell felt that Bacall “has that throwaway thing about clothes…she puts on a dress and forgets it. She’s not precious about fashion.” The feeling was mutual: Miss Bacall loved wearing Norells because she felt comfortable in them, and was particularly fond of “those famous spangled dresses.”

Halston (1932-1990). Evening dress and mask, 1966.  Museum of the City of New York, 67.24AB.

Halston (1932-1990), for Bergdorf-Goodman. Evening dress and mask, 1966. Museum of the City of New York, 67.24AB.

Yet another dress in the collection with celebrity provenance is this Halston evening gown worn by Candice Bergen to Truman Capote’s storied 1966 “Black and White Ball” at the Plaza Hotel. Twenty year old Candice Bergen had only recently made her film debut in “The Group” when she found herself amongst the 540 guests invited to attend author Truman Capote’s “Party of the Century.” This dress was a gift from Bergdorf-Goodman, a dress exclusive for their Boutique On the Second Floor.

Emilio Pucci (1914-1992) for Saks Fifth Avenue.  EVening costume, mid 1960s. Museum of the City of New York, 95.148.3.

Emilio Pucci (1914-1992), for Saks Fifth Avenue. Evening costume, mid 1960s. Museum of the City of New York, 95.148.3.

Laura Johnson, a significant donor to the Museum’s Costumes and Textiles Collection and wife of Saks Fifth Avenue Chairman of the Board and CEO (1969-1978) Allan Raymond Johnson, orchestrated the selection of her wardrobe to reflect the array of labels available on the store’s sales floors.

Geoffrey Beene (1927-2004).  Dress, late 1960s.  Museum of the City of New York, 88.44.3.

Geoffrey Beene (1927-2004). Dress, late 1960s. Museum of the City of New York, 88.44.3.

Although she dressed heavily from the collections of such iconic New York designers of Geoffrey Beene, James Galanos, Ben Zuckerman, Donald Brooks and Pauline Trigere, she added international intrigue by interjecting such labels as Andre Courreges and Emilio Pucci. Johnson once addressed the boggling quantity of her acquisitions by stating that in his position, Mr. Johnson did not permit her to wear a garment after she had been photographed in it. Judging by the front row perch she occupied at the city’s most notable fashion shows, it is clear that she was quite successful in commanding the photographer’s lens.

Geoffrey Beene (1924-2004).  Evening ensemble, "American Beauty Rose," 1967.  Museum of the City of New York, 67.131AB.

Geoffrey Beene (1924-2004). Evening ensemble, “American Beauty Rose,” 1967. Museum of the City of New York, 67.131AB.

Johnson’s dress above, a design of Geoffrey Beene, represents another notable designer of the period. One of the inaugural group of eight designers immortalized on Seventh Avenue’s Fashion Walk of Fame in 2000, Geoffrey Beene directed his technical skills as well as creative prowess to the production of clothing that worked for the needs of the American woman. Acclaimed for his versatile, highly functional designs, Beene sought to create a lighter, more modern breed of garment.

He is cited as “a designer’s designer…one of the most artistic and individual of fashion’s creators” on Seventh Avenue’s Fashion Walk of Fame. Geoffrey Beene’s designs blurred the distinction between comfort and luxury, naivety and sophistication. Although soft-spoken in manner, Mr. Beene’s unfaltering command of his art is clearly evidenced here by the strong design and startling palette of this ensemble.

Pierre Cardin (b. 1922). Coat and skirt ensemble, ca. 1969.

Pierre Cardin (b. 1922). Coat and skirt ensemble, ca. 1969. Museum of the City of New York, 78.26.12AB.

Despite a new found confidence in the creative prowess of New York’s 7th Avenue, Americans of the 1960s were still entranced by Paris fashions, specifically the designs of Pierre Cardin and Christian Dior. The impact of the space-age and its sci-fi aesthetic is obvious in the design and fabrication of this mini-ensemble by Pierre Cardin to the left. Not only is its geometric cut and shape consistent with the reductive aesthetic the day but the high-gloss red vinyl used for its execution is quintessentially 1960s.  Already recognized for his superb tailoring, Pierre Cardin succumbed to the experimentalism of the youth culture, responding with this cutting edge (and water repellent) vinyl tour-de-force .

Marc Bohan (b. 1926) for Christian Dior.  Evening dress, 1968.  Museum of the City of New York, 79.71.

Marc Bohan (b. 1926) for Christian Dior. Evening dress, 1968. Museum of the City of New York, 79.71.

The Dior dress to the right belonged to Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, one half of arguably the most highly publicized romance of the 20th century, in which the King of England surrendered his throne in order to marry his beloved. A fixture on International Best Dressed lists throughout the 1940s and 50s, and  periodically criticized for her extravagant shopping sprees – particularly during the Second World War – women worldwide emulated the Duchess’s polished style. As Dior’s Creative Director, Marc Bohan resisted new fashion trends of the late 1960s to create this regal timeless gown, befitting the composure of his Best-Dressed Hall of Fame client.

Marc Bohan (b. 1926) for Christian Dior.  Mini dress, 1968.  Museum of the City of New  York, 71.79.3.

Marc Bohan (b. 1926) for Christian Dior. Mini dress, 1968. Museum of the City of New York, 71.79.3.

Bohan designed this dress to the left for Sunny von Bulow, another half of an infamous couple.  Nicknamed for her childhood disposition, heiress and socialite Sunny was tragically associated with one of the most notorious trials of the 1980s—that of her husband, Claus von Bulow, who was convicted but later acquitted of her attempted murder. The story of adultery, wealth, and  murder in high society dominated the headlines, and the case was the first criminal trial to be televised in the United States. This dress harkens back to brighter moments following Sunny’s 1966 marriage, when she and von Bulow were considered amongst this country’s most socially glamorous couples. Dior’s Marc Bohan selected a confectionery palette appropriate to Mrs. Von Bulow’s pale coloring for this billowy-sleeved mini dress.

These garments represent just a handful of items that will be digitized a result of a successful Heritage Trust award.  If you like the designs you see here, please help the Museum move forward with this project by voting here.  The photography generated by this project will be of the same detail and quality as that produced for the online exhibition – Worth/ Mainbocher: Demystifying the Haute Couture.  Stay tuned to our Facebook page, for more highlights from this collection.

Happy Birthday to Berenice Abbott

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Manhattan Bridge, Looking Up, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 49.282.115.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Manhattan Bridge, Looking Up, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 49.282.115.

Thursday, July 17th, is the 116th anniversary of Berenice Abbott’s birth (1898-1991).  The Museum of the City of New York holds over 2500 works in the collection by Abbott, who grew up in Ohio and lived briefly in New York’s Greenwich Village before moving to Europe in the 1920s, where she developed her photography skills.  Abbott returned to New York City in 1929, and after several attempts to obtain funding, was eventually hired by the Federal Arts Project (FAP) to execute what came to be known as “Changing New York,” a photo-documentary series of 305 images of the changing urban landscape of New York City.  You can read more about this project in an earlier post – Berenice Abbott and Elizabeth McCausland’s “Changing New York.”

In the three years since the Museum has launched this blog, numerous posts have drawn on Abbott’s work to narrate the city’s history.

Abbott’s scope was wide, and she traveled to all five boroughs, capturing locations such as Astoria, Queens; Bath Beach, Brooklyn; Shore Acres, Staten Island; Westchester Square, the Bronx; and multiple locations in Manhattan.  Take a a quick moment to peek around on Google Maps, and you’ll see that none of these structures below exist anymore.

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Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) for the Federal Arts Project. 27th Avenue, no. 805, Astoria, 1937. Museum of the City of New York, 43.131.1.430.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Belvedere Restaurant, 1936.  Museum of the City of New York, 49.282.43.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Belvedere Restaurant, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 49.282.43.

The house in Astoria and the Belvedere Restaurant (located at Bay 16th and Cropsey Avenue, Brooklyn) were replaced with apartment buildings that appear to have been built within a decade of the photographs.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991).  Hope Avenue, no. 139, 1937.  Museum of the City of New York, 89.2.1.252

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Hope Avenue, no. 139, 1937. Museum of the City of New York, 89.2.1.252

The existing house on Hope Avenue in Staten Island may still have the same rock wall around the property, but it’s difficult to say for sure.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Gasoline Station, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 89.2.2.30

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Gasoline Station, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 89.2.2.30

As for the Gas Station in the Bronx – Dock Street and East Tremont Avenue don’t even intersect up anymore – Herman H. Lehman High School now sits on the site, though the station may have been demolished as early as the 1930s or 1940s to make way for construction of the nearby Hutchinson River Parkway.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) for the Federal Art Project. Rockefeller Center with Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 43.131.1.311.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) for the
Federal Art Project. Rockefeller Center with Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 43.131.1.311.

We could fill this post with an endless stream of images Abbott took of businesses, buildings, and landmarks that no longer exist; or some, such as Rockefeller Center, to the left, that were just in the early stages of construction, and remain as icons today.   As we honor the birth week of the photographer who had the foresight to capture the city as such a pivotal point in its history, take a look at her other images online, and see what lost fragments of the city’s urban landscape you can identify.

 

Illuminating New York City Through Material Culture

American Newspaper Publishers Association Dinner Program, 1903, in the Collection on Special Dinner Events. Museum of the City of New York, 42.250.77A.

The Museum of the City of New York’s ephemera collections have held a special place in my heart since I took on their custodianship, along with manuscripts, maps, and rare books, over three and a half years ago.  During my first weeks with the Museum, I began to do what any archivist would do when faced with shelves of boxes filled with unknown contents – I opened the lids and looked inside.   The Museum’s Collection on Formal Dining Events was among the first of the collections I explored, and I was transported immediately to the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria, to Delmonico’s for a seven course dinner.  I’d finally come to terms with the fact I could not actually live in 19th century New York City – but this was the next best thing.  I went on to investigate many more of the thematically arranged ephemera collections, finding material related to civic events, cultural institutions, medicine, lectures, musical performances, balls, and schools, among many other topics, dating from the 18th century up to the present time.

Admission Ticket to Viewing Platform for Statue of Liberty Dedication Ceremonies, 1886, in the Collection on Civic Events.  Museum of the City of New York, 48.176.41

Admission Ticket to Viewing Platform for Statue of Liberty Dedication Ceremonies, 1886, in the Collection on Civic Events. Museum of the City of New York, 48.176.41

Over the past few years, we have used ephemera to illustrate multiple posts on this blog and the Museum continues to utilize it in programs, exhibitions, and publications, as it has for decades.  Yet, the bulk of the collection remains hidden.  Now, thanks to the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Museum has just embarked on the project Illuminating New York City History through Material Culture: A Proposal to Process, Catalog, Digitize, and Rehouse the Ephemera Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.  Over the course of the next two years, the Museum will increase access to over 6,500 objects of material culture by sharing the objects on the Collections Portal, as well as processing the collections and posting the finding aids online via our Catablog for Archival Collections.

We will share our discoveries from the ephemera collections as we prepare the materials for digitization and process them.  In the meantime, here are a few examples that illustrate how these collections document a vast array of events from New York City’s history, including openings and dedication ceremonies for monuments and landmarks, an invitation to stand on the viewing platform at the dedication of the Statue of Liberty (above), or the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge (below):

Invitation to the Opening Ceremonies of the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, 1883, in the Collection on Civic Events.  Museum of the City of New York, 38.116.2.

Invitation to the Opening Ceremonies of the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, 1883, in the Collection on Civic Events. Museum of the City of New York, 38.116.2.

Social events, such as dance cards and invitations to balls and dances:

Dance card for Arion Masquerade Ball, 1904, in the Collection on Social Events.  Museum of the City of New York, 40.279.7.

Dance card for Arion Masquerade Ball, 1904, in the Collection on Social Events. Museum of the City of New York, 40.279.7.

Irving Club Calico Hop, 1871, in the Collection on Social Events.  Museum of the City of New York, 39.552.14.

Irving Club Calico Hop, 1871, in the Collection on Social Events. Museum of the City of New York, 39.552.14.

Civic celebrations, such as the Hudson Fulton Celebration, marking the 300th Anniversary of of Henry Hudson’s discovery of the Hudson River and the 100th anniversary of Robert Fulton’s first successful commercial application of the paddle steamer:

Program for the Hudson Fulton Celebration, 1909, in the Collection on Civic Events.  Museum of the City of New York, 34.505.22.

Program for the Hudson Fulton Celebration, 1909, in the Collection on Civic Events. Museum of the City of New York, 34.505.22.

Ceremonies marking events of national importance, such as the deaths of Presidents Grant and Lincoln:

Program for the Dedication of Grant's Tomb, 1897, in the Collection on Civic Events.  Museum of the City of New York.

Program for the Dedication of Grant’s Tomb, 1897, in the Collection on Civic Events. Museum of the City of New York.

Announcement  from the St. Andrew’s Society for a Special Meeting to Mourn the President Abraham Lincoln's Death,1865, in the Collection on Clubs and Societies.  Museum fo the City of New York, 50.99.15.

Announcement from the St. Andrew’s Society for a Special Meeting to Mourn the President Abraham Lincoln’s Death,1865, in the Collection on Clubs and Societies. Museum fo the City of New York, 50.99.15.

And materials from political, social, and professional organizations:

Constitution and Bylaws of the Cadets of Temperance, 1871, in the Collection on Clubs and Societies.  Museum of the City of New York, 48.356.1

Constitution and Bylaws of the Cadets of Temperance, 1871, in the Collection on Clubs and Societies. Museum of the City of New York, 48.356.1

Annual Celebration of the Society of Tammany, 1928, in the Collection on Politics.  Museum of the City of New York.

Annual Celebration of the Society of Tammany, 1928, in the Collection on Politics. Museum of the City of New York.

We look forward to bringing you more highlights from the ephemera collection in the coming months.

neh_logo_horizontal_rgbAny views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

 

 

 

The Swedish Nightingale’s “Birds of America”

Jenny Lind postcard, ca 1860.  William J. Hildebrand Collection on Jenny Lind.  Museum of the City of New York. 40.280.768

Jenny Lind postcard, ca 1860. William J. Hildebrand Collection on Jenny Lind. Museum of the City of New York. 40.280.768

Jenny Lind, the acclaimed soprano from Sweden often referred to as the “Swedish Nightingale,” arrived in New York City in September of 1850.  Her first two American concerts were delivered in New York City at Castle Garden, today more commonly known as Castle Clinton, on September 11th and 13th.  Arranged by the well known entertainer P. T. Barnum, the concerts were intended to raise money for charity.  Among the recipients of the proceeds from Ms. Lind’s concerts was the Fire Department Charitable Fund, which was founded in the late 18th century by the members of the volunteer fire departments to provide aid to indigent or disabled firemen and their families, and widows and children of firemen killed in the line of duty.

The Fire Department acknowledged her charitable donation in the testimonial below:

Fire Department Charitable Fund Testimonial to Jenny Lind, 1850, in the Fire Department Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 52.24.3

Fire Department Charitable Fund Testimonial to Jenny Lind, 1850, in the Fire Department Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 52.24.3

Birds of America, by John James Audubon, 1844. Volume I. Museum of the City of New York. 52.24.2A.

Birds of America, by John James Audubon, 1844. Volume I. Museum of the City of New York. 52.24.2A.

The firemen further expressed their gratitude to Lind by presenting her with a seven volume set of John James Audubon’s Birds of America,  by J. J. Audubon, New York, and J. B. Chevalier, Philadelphia; published by lithographer J. T. Bowen, 1840-1844.  The set was contained within a rosewood bookcase cabinet by Thomas Brooks.  Both the seven volume set and the bookcase were donated to the Museum’s collection by antiques dealer Arthur S. Vernay in 1952.

In the 1820’s Audubon declared his intention to paint every single species of bird in America.  Lacking financial support, Audubon raised interest and funds for his project by traveling and lecturing throughout the United Kingdom and in Paris.  This first edition – sometimes called the Havell Edition after its printer, noted London animal engraver Robert Havel; or the Double Elephant Folio, for its size – was completed over thirteen years and issued in 87 sets of five plates every month or so.   Scottish ornithologist William MacGillivray and Audubon  later co-authored an accompanying five volume text in the 1830’s.

Common Osprey Fish Hawk from Birds of America, by John James Audubon, 1844. Volume I. Museum of the City of New York. 52.24.2A.

Common Osprey Fish Hawk from Birds of America, by John James Audubon, 1844. Volume I. Museum of the City of New York. 52.24.2A.

All together, the plates and text cost consumers of the time approximately $1,000–the equivalent of $28,000 today.  Recognizing the need to provide a more affordable option, Audubon contracted Philadelphia lithographer J. T. Bowen to publish the “Royal Octavo” edition, incorporating the MacGillivray/ Audubon text directly into the books alongside the illustrations themselves.  Like the Havell or Double Elephant edition, the Royal Octavo was issued in sections.  Between the years of 1840 and 1844, 100 sections of five plates and accompanying text were issued, with the intention they be bound in seven volumes by the purchaser.    Five more octavo editions were published, with the last printed in 1871.  As the second octavo edition did not go into print until 1856, and the Museum’s set was presented to Lind in 1850, the Museum holds a First Octavo Edition.

The volumes were custom bound by the book binder Matthews and Rider of New York in leather with gilding and red, green, and blue inlays, with a center cover design of ladders, grapnels, lanterns, and a fireman’s helmet.  The Museum does not have any specific information about how these volumes came to be in possession of the Fire Department Charitable fund, but one may assume the Fire Department purchased the set of Birds of America in tribute to Ms. Lind’s nickname “the Swedish Nightingale,” and then chose this binding to represent their profession.

Cover inset, Birds of America, by John James Audubon, 1844. Volume I. Museum of the City of New York. 52.24.2A.

Cover inset, Birds of America, by John James Audubon, 1844. Volume I. Museum of the City of New York. 52.24.2A.

Each volume also has inset a leaf before the title page dedicating the books to Jenny Lind.

Dedication page from Birds of America, by John James Audubon, 1844. Volume I. Museum of the City of New York. 52.24.2A.

Dedication page from Birds of America, by John James Audubon, 1844. Volume I. Museum of the City of New York. 52.24.2A.

While no one knows exactly how many complete sets of the First Octavo Edition of Birds of America exist today, it is estimated that only about 1,000-1,200 were ever issued.  In light of the rarity of the publication, and the unique significance these volumes bear to Jenny Lind and the role of the Fire Department in New York City, the Museum recently hired book conservator Erin Albritton to construct custom clamshell boxes for each of the seven volumes of Birds of America.  Each volume was measured individually so the boxes would fit exactly and provide protection for the set for decades to come.

Custom clamshell housing for Birds of America, by John James Audubon, 1844. Volume I. Museum of the City of New York. 52.24.2A.

Custom clamshell housing for Birds of America, by John James Audubon, 1844. Volume I. Museum of the City of New York. 52.24.2A.

The Museum has not digitized its volumes of Birds of America, but the Audubon Society has digitized a First Octavo Edition, available here.

John Bute Holmes, surveyor and polygamist.

To quote my colleague Susannah in her fascinating post from a few weeks ago, “Hints about long vanished and forgotten aspects of New York surround us if we know where to look.”  This is no recent concept, and was in fact intriguing to City Surveyor John Bute Holmes (ca.1820-1887) as far back as the 1860s,  continuing up to his death in the 1880s.   Holmes created maps that showed dualities – the city as it had been and the city as it was – and he  himself led a life of multiplicities, leading to a certain fogginess surrounding basic biographical details. You’ll understand why he attempted to remain rather elusive  later in the post.

Holmes claimed to have been born on the Island of Mauritus in the Indian Ocean in 1822 (an article published shortly after his death states he was just shy of 69 years old in 1887,  implying his birth year would have beem 1818);  have moved to Cork, Ireland, at the age of eight;  and, according to him, he left Cork to emigrate to the United States in 1838, 1841, or maybe 1842, depending on the particular situation he was trying to talk himself out of.  He worked as a surveyor, moving back and forth between Cork, London, and Owego, New York, until 1848, and then resided in Brooklyn and Staten Island until 1856.  His exact whereabouts between 1856 and 1873 are somewhat vague (perhaps as a result of the fact he was hiding from the wife he had left destitute), though he is assumed to have been in or near New York City based upon his City Surveyor position.  He eventually landed on a farm in New Jersey and died there in 1887.

It was while conducting the assessment of maps in the J. Clarence Davies Collection, as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant project, that I first came across a number of maps executed by Holmes.  These maps featured farm boundaries, property lines, streets, and lanes from the 18th century or even earlier, overlaid with the existing street grid from the second half of the 19th century, when Holmes was conducting his survey.  The map below of the East and West De Lancey Farms is a perfect example, showing De Lancey (now condensed to “Delancey”) Street  cutting right through the middle of the original farm property, running east to west.

John Bute Holmes. Map of the East and West De Lancey Farms.  Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2902.

John Bute Holmes (ca.1820-1887). Map of the East and West De Lancey Farms. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2902.

(Click on any of the maps in this post to be taken to the high resolution image in the Collections Portal, where you have the capability to zoom in on the finest detail.)

The maps are extremely helpful when trying to identify streets whose names have changed. The map of the Bayard Farm, shows a number of such streets with their previous names and the names they had at the time of Holmes’s surveys.

John Bute Holmes (ca. 1820-1887) and Th. Casimir Goerck (d. 1798).  Map of the Bayard Farm.  Museum of the City of New York, 29.100.2811.

John Bute Holmes (ca. 1820-1887) and Th. Casimir Goerck (d. 1798). Map of the Bayard Farm. Museum of the City of New York, 29.100.2811.

The Map of Kip’s Bay Farm closely follows the boundaries of today’s neighborhood of Kips Bay.  You’ll see in this map that some streets didn’t just change names, but actually changed in layout, as well.

John Bute Holmes (ca.1820-1887).  Map of the Kip's Bay Farm.  Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2823.

John Bute Holmes (ca.1820-1887). Map of the Kip’s Bay Farm. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2823.

The Museum holds several more maps from this series, referred to as the “John Bute Holmes Conveyancing Maps,” published by M. (Matthew) Dripps, including the key to how they all fit together.  While the entire series hasn’t yet been digitized, you can view a number of them on the Collections Portal by clicking here.

The more time I spent with the Holmes maps, the more I began to wonder about the man behind them.  I always wonder what used to be here and how did this street get its name as I walk down New York City’s streets.  I envisioned John Bute Holmes doing the same thing, nearly 150 years ago.  Was John Bute Holmes a kindred spirit?  After a little research, however, I began to feel amazed and even baffled by Mr. Holmes.

While I’ve had trouble unraveling the exact chronology, John Bute Holmes was married to at least four women during his life, sued by a fifth for “impeaching her chastity” as a result of “breach of promise of marriage,” known to have lived with another “as husband and wife,” and was reputed to have killed a policeman with whose wife he was involved.  Some of these relationships appear to have overlapped, and most of the wives were unaware of the previous wives, even when the unions had been dissolved legally.  It wasn’t until Holmes’s death in 1887 that the four legal (or at least to their knowledge) wives came face to face in an attempt to claim their inheritance.  The dual nature of Holmes’s maps strangely seems to reflect the duplicitous nature of Holmes’s life.  Did Holmes get so entranced by his maps that he felt he was living in multiple time periods, and therefor entitled to multiple wives?

 F. (Fanny) Palmer (1812-1876).  Love, Marriage and Separation.  Museum of the City of New York. X2012.5.34.

F. (Fanny) Palmer (1812-1876). Love, Marriage and Separation. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.5.34.

A few different accounts in the New York Times attempt to sort it out, and briefly, this is what I’ve come away with:

  • Wife # 1: Anna Maria Clear, married Cork Ireland 1838.  Holmes left her in 1856, Anna filed for divorce in 1875.  One daughter.
  • Living as husband and wife:  Ida Kerr, dates unknown.
  • Wife #2: Hannah Wright Williamson (also his half-sister), marriage date unknown. Three children.
  • Sued for breach of marriage promise: May Chamberlayne, 1874.
  • Wife#3: Mary Sullivan Browning, marriage date unknown.  One son.
  • Wife#4: Katie Meadows, married ca. 1886.

The two women who seemed to feel they had the strongest claim to Holmes’s inheritance were first wife Anna, who was 64 at the time of his death, and final wife, Katie, who was just 19.  Just like Holmes’s maps represented the city in two time periods, these two women represented Holmes as he was once, and Holmes as he was in the present day.  Click here to read the May 27, 1887 New York Times article for more details on the fight amongst the wives and their children.

A visit to Sochi, 1939.

Postcard issued by Grinnell Lithographic Company. Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  New York World's Fair, Exposition Souvenir Corporation, ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 88.63.17

Postcard issued by Grinnell Lithographic Company. Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. New York World’s Fair, Exposition Souvenir Corporation, ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 88.63.17

What do the  2014 Winter Olympics and the 1939 New York World’s Fair have in common?  The promotion of Sochi, Russia as a tourist destination.

As mentioned in a earlier post, the 1939 New York World’s Fair featured state and international pavilions.  These spaces served to educate visitors to the Fair about the history, politics, arts, culture, economy, and industry of a particular location; and also served as tourism bureaus.   The Pavilion for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or Soviet Union, as Russia was known in 1939, was an example of increased cooperation with the West evident in the 1930’s.

Materials such the “Intertourist Map of the Soviet Union” (shown below) featured example travel itineraries through the U.S.S.R.  One such “tour” spent four days in Sochi, located on the northeast coast of the Black Sea.  Note the total cost for a third class travel package – $110.00.

Map issued by Intertourist, Inc. Excerpt from Intertourist Map of the Soviet Union. Ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.60.

Map issued by Intertourist, Inc. Excerpt from Intertourist Map of the Soviet Union. Ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.60.

SSochi travel brochure. Intourist, ca. 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.61.

Sochi travel brochure. Intourist, ca. 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.61.

The Soviet Pavilion also distributed informational brochures on specific destinations.  The brochure for Sochi is to the right.  While one would expect some obvious changes in the 75 years in between the 1939 New York World’s Fair and the 2014 Winter Olympics, one difference in the way the city is marketed for the two events jumps out at me right away – the climate.  The brochure to the right depicts a downright tropical scene.  According to the text inside the brochure “The Caucasian shores of the Black Sea, that blissful, sunny corner of the globe, has [sic] always enticed the traveler with the incomparable beauty of its scenery and the wonderful healing power of its climate.”  Yet the Sochi of the Winter Games is just that – wintry.

Bill Morris, Chief Photographer of the New York World's Fair. Snow bedecks the Soviet Pavilion, 1940.  Museum of the City of New York.  1939-1940 New York Worlds Fair Collection.

Bill Morris, Chief Photographer of the New York World’s Fair. Snow bedecks the Soviet Pavilion, 1940. Museum of the City of New York. 1939 -1940 New York World’s Fair Collection.

Before I opened the Sochi travel brochure, I assumed it must look the way I would image most of Russia, and any city hosting the Winter Olympics to look: cold and snowy.  This photograph to the left, of the Soviet Pavilion covered in snow during its dismantling in Flushing Meadows Park following the conclusion of the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair much better fits the image I had in mind.  However, the fact is, the climate hasn’t changed; Sochi is simply a city that has seasons.  According to the Washington Post, Sochi is the warmest city to ever host the Winter Olympics, and some initial concerns for this year’s games included avalanche risk and snow drought.

The mysteries of Sochi don’t end with the climate, however.  The 1939 travel brochure boasts, “[T]his lovely resort stretches for 25 kilometers along the sea coast.  Magnificent sanatoria, rest-homes, clinics, and hotels nestle amid…fine bathing places and aquatic sport stations.”  Once again, I’m surprised.  The word “resort” evokes images such as this one:

Excerpt from Sochi pamphlet, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.61.

Excerpt from Sochi travel brochure, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.61.

But “sanatoria, rest-homes, and clinics,” brings to mind something like this:

Excerpt from Sochi pamphlet, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.61.

Excerpt from Sochi brochure, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.61.

nalchick

Nalchick travel brochure. Intourist, ca. 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.58.

Sarah Kanowski of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that these sanatoria were the destinations of many Soviet workers who spent up to six weeks “cleari[ing] the coal dust from their lungs.”  While these days, the “resort” aspects of the city seem to outweigh the “clinical” attractions, Sochi still offers curative relaxation, as shown in this photo essay by Simon Schuster from Time.

One still wonders, however, in a country so known for its cold temperatures that the 1939 World’s Fair featured a “Pavilion of the Arctic” as part of the greater Soviet Pavilion, why one of the warmest cities in Russia was chosen for the Winter Olympics.  Why not somewhere like Nalchik, which the brochure to the right describes as featuring a “mantle of snow and snow-clad ridges?”  Perhaps even more remarkable is the glimpse we have at pre-Cold War Russia through the lens of the country’s own tourism marketing materials, and the ability to look at the city now, as it hosts one of the premier sporting events in the world.

The Museum is grateful to the Council on Library and Information Resources , whose support made it possible to share these finds from the 1939 -1940 New York World’s Fair Collection as a result of a generous Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR).

Myths surrounding the origin of the Statue of Liberty

Irving Underhill (d. 1960), Statue of Liberty by Night, New York City, ca. 1930, in the Postcard Collection. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.2594.

Irving Underhill (d. 1960), Statue of Liberty by Night, New York City, ca. 1930, in the Postcard Collection. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.2594.

The Statue of Liberty, designed by Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), was a gift from France as a symbol of American freedom, and has watched over New York Harbor since its dedication on October 28, 1886.    There have been many claims on the internet and elsewhere that the Statue of Liberty was originally intended to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States following the end of the Civil War, and that the model for the Statue was an African American woman.

Many sources suggest that the Museum of the City of New York can verify this information, and questions about the Statue’s origins remain among the Museum’s most frequently received inquiries.   The Museum refers these researchers to the Statue of Liberty National Monument, the authority on the Statue.  The National Parks Service, who cares for the Monument, has likewise been contacted with researchers seeking to verify these same claims, among others, and has posted a report on its website, addressing these rumors, and sharing their findings.

While the Museum can’t affirm or deny any of the claims about the Statue’s origins, we do our best to answer questions that involve the Museum’s collections.  In this case, the Museum is lucky enough to have have two early maquettes, or a small preliminary models, similar to an artist’s sketch, by Auguste Bartholdi.

 Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904). Statue of Liberty. Museum of the City of New York. 42.421.

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904). Statue of Liberty, ca. 1875. Museum of the City of New York. 42.421.

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904). Closeup of Statue of Liberty, ca. 1875. Museum of the City of New York. 42.421.

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904). Closeup of Statue of Liberty, Museum of the City of New York. 42.421.

The sculpture above, accession number 42.421, is cast in bronze, and strongly resembles the Statue as we know it today, aside from the fact it measures just over 21 inches in height.  The statue is signed and dated “Bartholdi 1875.”  An additional inscription on the small sculpture reads “Washington, 31 August 1876, No 9939 C,” but the Museum does not have any information shedding light on the meaning of that inscription.  The sculpture was a gift of Samuel T. Staines, Esquire, in 1934, but the gift paperwork does not document how Mr. Staines acquired the model.

The other sculpture, shown below, is made from terracotta, and perhaps holds some clues as to how the Museum became associated with the rumors concerning the Statue’s origins.  The 19 3/8 inch maquette is estimated to have a date of ca. 1870.  The terracotta sculpture was a gift of Estella Cameron Silo in memory of her husband, James Patrick Silo, in 1933, but again, the Museum does not have documentation regarding how Mr. Silo acquired the object.

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904). Statue of Liberty, ca. 1870. Museum of the City of New York. 33.386AB

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904). Statue of Liberty, ca. 1870. Museum of the City of New York. 33.386AB

This image above shows what may be a broken shackle in her hand, and the close up below shows what appears to be chains coming out from the Statue’s robe.  However, the Museum has no documentation to  interpret the symbolism of these chains.

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904). Closeup of Statue of Liberty, ca. 1870. Museum of the City of New York. 33.386AB

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904). Closeup of Statue of Liberty, ca. 1870. Museum of the City of New York. 33.386AB

The Statue of Liberty National Monument’s report does make reference to a design similar to this one in “Claim 3,” but as you read on, you’ll see that even the “official” meaning of the statue has been interpreted in various ways over the years. We therefore leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions! The statue, like any sculpture, is a work of art, and can mean many different things to many different people.
Check out the Museum’s online Collections Portal for images of the Statue of Liberty, especially this one depicting her arm and torch on display in Madison Square Park while money was being raised to complete the statue.