Author Archives: Lindsay Turley

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.

43_131_1_430

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.

Festivities of the Gilded Age “Season”

The morning after returning from visiting family for Thanksgiving, I awoke with the thought, “The ball season has again returned, and already the ‘busy hum of preparation’ for its festivities may be noted on every hand.” (New York Times, November 20th, 1870).  Well, perhaps I didn’t use those words exactly, but when I realized my first holiday party of the season was that night, I reconciled myself to the fact the holiday season was upon us in full force.  While most of us may have a busier social calendar than usual between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Gilded Age New Yorkers celebrated all the way through January and February, up until the the onset of Lent, which brought about the close of the winter season.  During Lent,  New Yorkers continued to entertain quietly,  but large, ostentatious events were put on hold until the end of the religious observance.

Invitation to the Patriarch's Ball, February 29th, 1982, from the Collection on New York City Society.  Museum of the City of New York. 83.20.2.

Invitation to the Patriarch Ball, February 29th, 1892, from the Collection on New York City Society. Museum of the City of New York. 83.20.2.

One of the most coveted invitations during the season was to the Patriarch Ball.  With the support of Mrs. Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, wife of William Backhouse Astor, Jr., Ward McAllister founded the Society of Patriarchs, a committee of 25 “representative men of worth, respectability, and responsibility.”  Each member of the Society was responsible for distributing a certain number of invitations, with the goal to unite the old and newly rich in conducting each season’s “most brilliant balls.”

Menu for First Assembly Ball, December 10th, 1896, in the Collection on New York City Society. Museum of the City of New York. 47.229.2.

Menu for First Assembly Ball, December 10th, 1896, in the Collection on New York City Society. Museum of the City of New York. 47.229.2.

The exclusive “Assembly Balls” were initiated in 1882, and were considered to represent the best and most brilliant of New York society. Originally, three Assembly Balls were given during every winter season, in December, January, and February.  They were organized by a committee of 50 women, and each hostess was given nine invitations to send out as she saw fit.    Original leaders included Mrs. John Jacob Astor, Mrs. August Belmont, Mrs. Paran Stevens, and Mrs. Hamilton Fish, and the events were held both at Delmonico’s and the Waldorf Hotel (and later the Waldorf-Astoria), over the years.  While just as exclusive as the discontinued Patriarch Balls they replaced, the Assemblies were considered more fashionable.

Some of the balls, while I am sure quite lovely, were essentially corporate parties or professional gatherings, such as the Matthew T. Brennan Coterie.  The Matthew T. Brennan Association was a political club affiliated with Tammany Hall that honored one of its “oldest and most dedicated workers,” Matthew T. Brennan, who also served as a New York City Police Commissioner (New York Times, August 18, 1970).  This November 20th, 1870, New York Times article presents a preview of the ball season, and mentions that members of the M. T.  Brennan Association would each be assessed $25 to cover the expense of the ball, an equivalent of $450 in today’s dollars.  That’s a pretty expensive party ticket.

Admission ticket to the Matthew T. Brennan Coterie, January 12, 1870, in the Collection on New York City Society.  Museum of the City of New York. 36.196.1.

Admission ticket to the Matthew T. Brennan Coterie, January 12, 1870, in the Collection on New York City Society. Museum of the City of New York. 36.196.1.

Another attraction of the holiday season was of course the fancy dress or masquerade ball.  One of the most famous of such balls was the Vanderbilt Ball of 1883, already described in all its glory in one of our earlier posts.    Gilded Age New Yorkers, however, had an insatiable appetite to dress up in fanciful costumes.  The Grand Masquerade of the Prospect Association seems to have been a bit more of a raucous affair than the Patriarch or Assembly Balls.  In 1886, the ball was excessively large, “if not select, and was composed of the juvenile element of the so-called gilded youth.” (New York Times, February 5, 1886)  Due to the crowds,  at 1 a.m.  the Police enforced a halt to all wine sales outside of the supper room, to the great dismay of the attendees.  One can just image those Patriarchs and Assembly hostesses groaning that there was clearly something behind an exclusive invite only party, and these ticketed events just got out of control.  What were the “gilded youth” coming to?

Admission ticket to the Prosepct Association's Grand Masquerade Ball, January 31st, 1884, in the Collection on New York City Society.  Museum of the City of New York. 49.66.51.

Admission ticket to the Prospect Association’s Grand Masquerade Ball, January 31st, 1884, in the Collection on New York City Society. Museum of the City of New York. 49.66.51.

While I did not find any invitations in the City Museum’s collection directly related to Christmas balls, I did find some related to Hanukkah.  The Young Men’s Hebrew Association (now, along with the Young Women’s Hebrew Association, more commonly know as the 92nd Street Y) hosted its annual Chanucka Celebration at the Academy of Music throughout the 1870s and 1880s.  While the New York Times reported on how crowded the event was, the Jewish holiday was still unfamiliar enough to the paper’s readers that several paragraphs were devoted to explaining the origins of the holiday, and how it was celebrated.

Admission ticket to the Young Men's Hebrew Association Chanucka Celebration, December 15, 1881, In the Collection on New York City Society. Museum of the City of New York.  X328.1.

Admission ticket to the Young Men’s Hebrew Association Chanucka Celebration, December 15, 1881, In the Collection on New York City Society. Museum of the City of New York. X328.1.

To learn more about the famous balls of the Gilded Age, check out Susan Gail Johnson’s essay “Like a Glimpse of Old Versailles,” in Gilded New York: Design, Fashion, and Society, the companion text to the Museum’s exhibition.

“I have seen the future:” Norman Bel Geddes and the General Motors Futurama

I Have Seen the Future Pin, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

I Have Seen the Future Pin, 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

Regular followers of this blog will recognize the button featured at the right from one of our earlier posts about the Museum’s New York World’s Fair collections.  Visitors to the General Motors Highways and Horizons exhibit at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair proudly wore this “I have seen the future” pin after stepping out of the “Futurama,” a ride-like feature of the exhibit that traversed several levels of the pavilion, and extended for a third of a mile.  The Futurama covered 35,000 square feet and was made up of 408 separate sections created by hundreds of skilled artists and craftspeople.

Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964). Norman Bel Geddes, 1935. Museum of the City of New York. 42.316.69.

Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964). Norman Bel Geddes, 1935. Museum of the City of New York. 42.316.69.

Who was the visionary behind this world from the future?  Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958), whose creations are now on view at the Museum through February 10th.

“Five million people saw the Futurama of the General Motors Highways and Horizons exhibit…long queues often stretched more than a mile, from 5,000 to 15,000 men, women and children at a time, stood, all day long every day, under the hot sun, and in the rain…” (Norman Bel Geddes, Magic Motorways. New York: Random House, 1940).

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). People waiting in line for the Futurama ride at General Motors Highways and Horizons pavilion, New York World's Fair. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.18077

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). People waiting in line for the Futurama ride at General Motors Highways and Horizons pavilion, New York World’s Fair. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.18077

The map of the General Motors exhibit building below provides a clear picture of what a large portion of the exhibit was devoted to the Futurama.

Excerpted map from "The General Motors Exhibit Building," 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York Worlds Fair Collect.  Museum of the City of New York, 95.156.17.

Excerpted map from “The General Motors Exhibit Building,” 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collect. Museum of the City of New York, 95.156.17.

The “ride-like” aspect of the Futurama was derived from the moving people conveyor – or “carry-go-round,” as they called it – from which visitors viewed the exhibit.  The moving chairs were equipped with sound and the souvenir booklet that accompanied the ride includes a written version of the narration from the exhibit.  You can almost hear the words these visitors are listening to:

Excerpt from "Futrama,"in the Worlds Fair Collection, 1939.  Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.17

Excerpted image from “Futrama,” 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.17

“Come tour the future with General Motors! A transcontinental flight over America in 1960. What will we see? What changes will transpire? This magic Aladdin-like flight through time and space is Norman Bel Geddes’s conception of the many wonders that may develop in the not-too-distant future…this world of tomorrow is a world of beauty.”

The souvenir booklet provides insight into the perception of the future.  As visitors were transported past scenes of suburbia and more rural homes, the sound chair resonated with the words, “Night falls on the countryside and wives are serving supper to hungry families and farm hands.”  While Bel Geddes’s imagination was boundless when it came to advancements in technology and envisioning designs of future cities with towers and skyscrapers, it seems some of his predictions were still steeped in the social order of 1940.

Excerpted image from "Futurama," 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair Collection.  Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.17

Excerpted image from “Futurama,” 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.17

As visitors glided through the final portion of the Futurama, into the “metropolis,” the narrative states, “There are approximately 38,000,000 motorcars in the America of 1960 – almost a third more than in 1940.” In this case, Bel Geddes didn’t dream big enough.  In fact, by 1960 there were 74.4 million cars on the road in the United States: nearly twice what Bel Geddes imagined in 1940.

Excerpted image from "Futurama," 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.17

Excerpted image from “Futurama,” 1939, in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 95.156.17

President Franklin Roosevelt sought out Bel Geddes to advise the country on transportation and the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944 bears remarkable conceptual similarities to the network Bel Geddes envisioned; thus, future became reality.  For more information on the Futurama, check out Lawrence W. Speck’s chapter in the companion text to the exhibition and source for much of the information in this post, “Norman Bel Geddes Designs America” (Abrams, 2012).

Postcard issued by  Grinnell Lithographic Company, General Motors Building, 1939.  Museum of the City of New York. 88.63.34.

Postcard issued by
Grinnell Lithographic Company, General Motors Building, 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 88.63.34.