Author Archives: Lindsay Turley

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.

Alfred E. Smith – the people’s politician?

Archival Intern, Karis Raeburn

Archival Intern, Karis Raeburn

This week, we have a  guest post from one of the interns who worked with us over the summer, Karis Raeburn, who has since returned to Dayton, Ohio, where she is obtaining her Master’s Degree in Public History, with studies in archives management, museum studies, and collection management, at Wright State University.  Karis processed the Alfred E. Smith papers  (finding aid available on the Museum’s catablog for archival collections) and before she headed back to school, she took the time to tell us more about Smith,  the collection, and her experience of processing it:

Alfred Emanuel “Al” Smith (1873-1944) grew up in the Fourth Ward of New York City’s Lower East Side.  This map provides a snapshot of living conditions in the neighborhood approximately ten years before his birth.  The wider electorate looked upon Smith as a “typical” New Yorker, and New Yorkers loved him for his humble origins.  Smith rose through politics with the backing of the  Tammany Hall political machine, sitting on the New York State Assembly and serving first as Sheriff of New York County and then as President of the Board of Aldermen, before going on to be elected governor of New York State four times between 1919 and 1928.  Smith went on to run as the Democratic candidate for the United States presidency in 1928, losing to Herbert Hoover.

Cartoon which would have been published in "The World" if Smith had won the 1928 presidential election. 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 43.366.48

Cartoon which would have been published in “The World” if Smith had won the 1928 presidential election. 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 43.366.48

When I first started looking at the documents in the Al Smith collection, I couldn’t quite believe that people had so much respect for a politician.   I’m British; we don’t like our politicians very much.  The collection, however, holds published articles in praise of Smith, an honorary doctorate from SUNY, and a booklet full of voter signatures in Smith’s home district pledging their support in the 1928 election.  Other messages of support came from the Motion Picture Theatre Owners of America, and one of Smith’s former teachers.  Could people really like a politician this much?

Front page of a book of signatures pledging support for Smith in the 1928 presidential election. 1928. Museum of the City of New York.

Front page of a book of signatures pledging support for Smith in the 1928 presidential election. 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.56

When I began researching Smith, I discovered that, far from the one-sided view of him I feared I was getting, the collection is actually an accurate representation of how popular Smith really was, at least in New York City.  It would be foolish to think he was universally loved: he was a Catholic, he was anti-Prohibition, and he was linked to Tammany Hall.  He was progressive in his support for civil rights, women’s rights and worker’s rights – gaining him admirers as well as detractors – but he tried to follow a populist line and always maintained an image as a true working class New Yorker.

Smith’s down to earth persona helped him win the race for  Governor of New York in 1918.  Although he lost the  next election in 1920, he was successful in the 1922, 1924 and 1926 elections, choosing not to run in 1928 in order to run for the United States presidency.  Running for president proved to be vastly different from running for governor, and Smith’s image worked against him in places that distrusted urbanites, despite the reality that, by 1928, Smith’s life in upstate New York looked more like that of a country gent than of a city slicker.  Smith was also seen as having a limited view of the country’s issues; he had never traveled outside New York state before the election campaign, spoke with a heavy New York accent, and his Roman Catholic religion was attacked with abuse and slurs throughout the campaign, especially in the south.

Smith and members of his family at the Oliver Street polling station. 1924. Museum of the City of New York. f2012.58.1175

Smith and members of his family at the Oliver Street polling station. 1924. Museum of the City of New York. f2012.58.1175

The 1928 Presidential election, though difficult to call during the campaign, resulted in a landslide victory for Hoover. After his devastating loss, Smith left politics behind and became president of Empire State, Inc., the organization that built the Empire State Building.   He held this position until his death in 1944, never returning to the political stage.

The collection contains documents that span Smith’s entire life, from playbills that document his childhood exploits in amateur dramatics at St. James’ School to his calendar notebook for 1945.  Smith’s scrapbook, created around 1896, shows his early interest in politics: he pasted a number of newspaper clippings on New York political stories alongside playbills and invitations to events.

Alfred E. Smith at Coney Island, age 4. 1877. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.239

Alfred E. Smith at Coney Island, age 4. 1877. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.239

There are photographs showing him throughout his lifetime, from a picture of him taken at Coney Island, aged 4, to a shot of him surrounded by his children and grandchildren.  There is even a memorial postage stamp in the collection, issued in Smith’s honor in 1945.  Among other documents attesting to his popularity, from as early as 1916, is a  beautifully illustrated testimonial presented to him from the Knights of Columbus  celebrating his election as Sheriff of New York County.

Front page of testimonial presented to Smith by the Knights of Columbus. 1916. Museum of the City of New York.

Front page of testimonial presented to Smith by the Knights of Columbus. 1916. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.57

In 1928 his former teacher presented him with a certificate and photographs entitled “Fond Memories and Fonder Hopes to my Dear Boy Alfred E. Smith.” The honorary doctorate of laws conferred on him by SUNY in 1933 states, “Public Education in this State owes much to his broad-minded, consistent and courageous support, and the conferring of an honorary degree upon him will be but a just acknowledgment of this debt.”

Al Smith fishing. c1933. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.132

Al Smith fishing. c1933. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.132

The City Museum’s Alfred E. Smith papers are a window into the life of a man who, while not quite making it big on the national stage, was an extremely successful and well liked politician in New York City and State.  Click here to see more images of objects related to Smith in the collection.

Relaxing with a summer cocktail – it wasn’t always so easy.

Just because this August has been cooler than usual (or perhaps it just seems that way after July’s heatwave), doesn’t mean those New Yorkers of legal drinking age are any less fond of their summer cocktails.  These days, one doesn’t have to wander the streets for too long before coming across a bar, or at least a restaurant with an extensive drink menu.  My personal preference is to find somewhere with sidewalk seating or a backyard garden to enjoy the fresh air, like the one below, which was located not far from where my apartment stands today, in central Brooklyn.  I like to imagine myself waving friends in for a drink as they come home from work.

Postcard published by Charles Stock & Co. Lithography.  Fred Winter's Summer Garden, ca.1910.  Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.3840.

Postcard published by Charles Stock & Co. Lithography. Fred Winter’s Summer Garden, ca.1910. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.3840.

Unknown. Liquor Valued at More than $100,000 Seized by Police at 2501 Pitkin Avenue, Brooklyn, 1921. Cityana Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 91.69.19.

Unknown. Liquor Valued at More than $100,000 Seized by Police at 2501 Pitkin Avenue, Brooklyn, 1921. Cityana Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 91.69.19.

Grabbing a drink in New York, or anywhere in the country for that matter, didn’t remain as easy as it was in the image above from the early 20th century, nor as easy as it is today.  During the Prohibition era (1920-1933) the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcoholic beverages was illegal throughout the United States under the 18th Amendment.  While the actual consumption of alcohol was not covered under the terms of Prohibition, I certainly wouldn’t have been sitting at a sidewalk table waving at people, drink in hand.  However, when there is a will (and the incentive of making a profit), there is a way!  By the early 1920′s, speakeasies, establishments largely operated by organized crime networks that sold alcoholic beverages illegally, began to crop up all over the city.

The exact number of speakeasies in operation during Prohibition is unknown due to the very nature of their business.  In 1930 Police Commissioner Grover Whalen had provided an estimate of 32,000 (twice the number of legal saloons in New York City prior to Prohibition), though other estimates held the figure at nearly 100,000.  David J. Hanson, Ph.D, provides more historical background on Prohibition in New York in his article posted on the SUNY Potsdam, website.

This map created by New York Magazine shows the locations of some of the more well known speakeasies, including the Stork Club, the Merry Go Round, the 21 Club, and Leon and Eddie’s.  Many establishments flagrantly sold alcohol, having secured the willingness of law enforcement to turn a blind eye, thanks to generous bribes; in fact, donors to the Museum’s collection of speakeasy cards include two lawyers and a judge.  However, a culture of secrecy still surrounded the illegal speakeasies, and individuals were often required to show membership cards such as the ones shown below, before being granted admittance:

Cotton Club membership card, ca. 1930, in the Collection on Nightlife. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.102.69.

Cotton Club membership card, ca. 1930, in the Collection on Nightlife. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.102.69.

The Simplon Club, Inc. membership card, 1933, in the Collection on Nightlife. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.102.32.

The Simplon Club, Inc. membership card, 1933, in the Collection on Nightlife. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.102.32.

The Stork Club membership card, 1932, in the Collection on Nightlife. Museum of the City of New York. 38.382.17.

The Stork Club membership card, 1932, in the Collection on Nightlife. Museum of the City of New York. 38.382.17.

In order to keep the speakeasies stocked with alcohol, the business of bootlegging, the illegal transportation and sale of alcohol during Prohibition, became extremely lucrative, and was likewise primarily under the control of organized crime.  Not only would bootleggers supply alcohol to the speakeasies, they made home deliveries, as well.  They advertised their trade by distributing booklets which included price lists, cocktail recipes, and even the occasional purchase incentive gifts – such as a set of glasses that packed up small enough to fit into your pocket!

Paddy's price list, ca. 1930.  Museum of the City of New York. X2012.102.40.

Paddy’s price list, ca. 1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.102.40.

And here’s that recipe for a “Summer Cocktail:”

Excerpt from Mixed Company, a Book of Choice Recipes from Brook's, ca. 1930.  Museum of the City of New York. 56.71.73.

Excerpt from Mixed Company, a Book of Choice Recipes from Brook’s, ca. 1930, in the Collection on Nightlife. Museum of the City of New York. 56.71.73.

Click here to view the entire “Mixed Company” advertising booklet. You’ll notice many cocktail recipes from this era contain heavy portions of lemon, syrup, and other flavors.  These ingredients were intended to mask the actual taste of the inferior bootleg alcohol.  While there are some recognizable brand names on the list below, there are others that certainly don’t ring any bells.

Excerpt from Penrod's price list, ca. 1930, in the Collection on Nightlife. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.102.30.

Excerpt from Penrod’s price list, ca. 1930, in the Collection on Nightlife. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.102.30.

An increase of crime and violence surrounding the illegal alcohol trade eroded support for Prohibition.  Eventually most Americans came to the opinion it was nearly impossible to enforce and created more problems than it solved.  Popular opinion contributed to the decision by the United States legislature to delegate the authority for controlling the sale of alcohol to each individual state.  While many states promptly repealed Prohibition themselves, some continued the practice as recently as 1966.  Some local municipalities still prohibit the sale of alcohol, but by in large, it is legal to purchase alcohol in the United States today.  So next time you raise a glass, you might also want to toast the ratification of the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th Amendment and Prohibition at the national level, on December 5, 1933.

Cover of Rex's priocelist, ca. 1930, in the Collection on Nightlife. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.102.64.

Cover of Rex price list, ca. 1930, in the Collection on Nightlife. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.102.64.

See here for more images related to cocktails in the Collections Portal.

Conservation of the J. Clarence Davies Map Collection

The Museum is nearing the completion of the two-year National Endowment for the Humanities grant-funded project “Conserving, Digitizing, and Creating Access to the J. Clarence Davies Collection of Art.”   Begun in 2011, this project encompasesed 1,578 paintings, drawings, maps, and prints documenting the history of the city of New York from the 17th through the 20th century.

unknown photographer. J. Clarence Davies Real Estate Office, ca.1894. Museum of the City of New York, X2010.11.7075.

unknown photographer. J. Clarence Davies Real Estate Office, ca.1894. Museum of the City of New York, X2010.11.7075.

J. Clarence Davies (1868-1934) was a leading New York real estate businessman who primary dealt in Bronx properties, earning him the nickname “the King of the Bronx” from his colleagues. (He’s pictured in front of his office, last man on the right, in the photo to the left).  He was a civic leader who served on many public and charitable committees, and was also one of the foremost collectors of visual records of New York City’s past. His donation of New Yorkiana to the Museum in 1929 reflects all five boroughs, and included not only maps, prints, paintings, and drawings, but also textiles, ceramics and other types of objects–as long as they depicted the city in some way.  Davies was such an avid collector that he occasionally acquired works for his collection regardless of their condition.  It is also clear from notes on many of the objects, and is evidenced by wear and tear, that Davies used at least portions of his map collection as a working reference collection, and consulted it regularly for his real estate business.  Both of these factors, along with the objects’ ages, led to the need to conserve particular objects within the J. Clarence Davies Collection.

From my perspective, as the archivist who cares for the Museum’s map collection, one of the most exciting aspects of this project was the conservation element.   In order to decide what maps would be good candidates for conservation, we evaluated items in terms of both their condition, and their significance to New York City and the Museum’s collection.   Once candidates for conservation were identified, the Museum worked with the Northeast Document Conservation Center to obtain treatment estimates.  Walter Newman, former Director of Paper Conservation at the NEDCC, made three trips to the Museum over the course of the project to evaluate works onsite.

Some of the condition issues encountered when examining the maps were simply a result of regular use, as shown with the map of the Property of Phillip Hone, below.  Philip Hone served as the Mayor of New York from 1826-1827, but is most famously know for “The Diary of Phillip Hone, 1828-1851,” a chronicle of his rise to great prominence in New York society and the events that come with such a position, and also for documenting the changing city; thus, making this map a significant object in the Museum’s collection, and an excellent candidate for conservation.  (Please click on the images in the post to open larger views and fully see the condition details of the before and after shots.)

Francis Nicholson (1753-1844). Map of Property belonging to Philip Hone Esquire, Situated in the 9th Ward of the City of New York, 1827 (Before treatment, front and back). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.3016

Francis Nicholson (1753-1844). Map of Property belonging to Philip Hone Esquire, Situated in the 9th Ward of the City of New York, 1827 (Before treatment, front and back). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.3016

As you can see in the “before treatment” photos, above,  the map had been folded up in the past and sections that were exposed when folded were particularly soiled and discolored. The paper was brittle and there was extensive breaking and some loss along the folds and at the edges. There were several pieces of paper tape on the reverse.  There were a few dark brown stains and scattered finger marks.  One section on the reverse was also marked by liquid stains and insect specks.  The image below shows the map after conservation.

Francis Nicholson (1753-1844). Map of Property belonging to Philip Hone Esquire, Situated in the 9th Ward of the City of New York, 1827 (After treatment, front and back). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.3016

Francis Nicholson (1753-1844). Map of Property belonging to Philip Hone Esquire, Situated in the 9th Ward of the City of New York, 1827 (After treatment, front and back). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.3016

Some objects were clearly relevant to New York City’s history and their condition begged for  immediate conservation:

Map published by M. (Matthew) Dripps.  Southern Part of West-chester County N.Y. Surveyed by R. F. O. Conner, 1853  (Before and after treatment). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2628

Map published by M. (Matthew) Dripps. Southern Part of West-chester County N.Y. Surveyed by R. F. O. Conner, 1853 (Before and after treatment). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2628

This map is especially significant as it depicts sections of the Bronx which were previously considered part of Westchester, prior to the consolidation of New York City in 1898.  As evidenced from small staple holes in the map, it was originally mounted on dowels at the top and bottom and rolled around the dowels when not in use, accounting for the rippled texture of the map in the “before” shot to the left.  Additionally, at the time Davies acquired this map, it would have been common practice to back rolled maps on fabric and shellac the front to protect the surface.  Over time the shellac darkens and cracks, and the ancient acidic fabric breaks down; as a result, the very materials that were intended to extend the life of the map contributed to its ultimate deterioration.

Bird's Eye View of that Portion of the 23rd and 24th Wards of the City of New York, lying west of the N.Y. and Harlem Railroad, and of the Grand Boulevard & Concourse, Surveyed by Louise A. Risse, 1897, (Before and after treatment). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2612B.

Bird’s Eye View of that Portion of the 23rd and 24th Wards of the City of New York, lying west of the N.Y. and Harlem Railroad, and of the Grand Boulevard & Concourse. Surveyed by Louise A. Risse, 1897 (Before and after treatment). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2612B.

The map above, picturing the Bronx as well as a portion of northern Manhattan, also shows evidence of brittle paper and breaking along creases caused by rolling.

Northeast Document Conservation Center lab. Andover, Massachusetts, 2012.

Northeast Document Conservation Center lab. Andover, Massachusetts, 2012.

The two maps above were unrolled to be examined onsite at the Museum; Mr. Newman, however, recommended they not be unrolled again until the objects reached the NEDCC’s lab.  While this project was underway, I had the opportunity to visit the lab, see the NEDCC team at work, and learn all about the various techniques they use to conserve paper objects.

A few of the many conservation treatment techniques used over the course of the project included: reduction of surface soil using dry cleaning techniques; humidification of objects were and blotter-washing with filtered water to clean the paper and reduce acidity (after determining the media wasn’t water soluble); removing old paper mends  before washing with a wheat starch paste poultice (recommended for removing adhesives from paper); backing objects with thin Japanese paper and wheat starch paste to mend tears and fill losses; adding additional strips of heavier weight Japanese paper using wheat starch paste to further support breaks and provide overall supports; and a final humidification of objects and flat drying between blotters under pressure.

One of the highlights of this project was the discovery of the map below, Plan of the City of New York, In North America: Surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767, surveyed by Bernard Ratzer, and published by Jefferys & Faden, London, 1776, at the Museum’s offsite storage facility.  This map is considered one of the finest depictions of pre-Revolutionary New York City.  While documentation in the Museum’s collections management system had indicated that the Museum held several later reprints, the discovery of an original printing of an early edition of the map was an exciting surprise.  After visiting Brooklyn Historical Society, to examine their “first state” Ratzer (published 1770), it was determined that the Museum’s copy is likely a “second state” – not as rare, but still quite a find.   Aside from the fact the map had at one time been cut into several sections to facilitate storage (it’s 48 3/4″ high x 35 3/4″ wide), it did not appear to be significantly deteriorated, considering it is over 225 years old;  it had been backed, however, on a heavy fabric somewhat resembling burlap, which necessitated immediate removal.

Engraved by Thomas Kitchin. Plan of the City of New York, In North America: Surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767. Surveyed by Bernard Ratzer. Published by Jefferys & Faden, London, 1776, (Before closeup to left, after to right).  Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2537

Engraved by Thomas Kitchin. Plan of the City of New York, In North America: Surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767. Surveyed by Bernard Ratzer. Published by Jefferys & Faden, London, 1776, (Before closeup to left, after to right). Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2537

As a result of conservation, the seams between the sections are hardly visible, significant surface soil has been removed, and the map is now backed on Japanese paper rather than coarse, acidic cloth.

Davies once stated he “had treasured his collection for many years in the hope that he might someday be able to place it where future generations could study with its aid the history of the city.”  The Museum considered Davies’s collection so  important that a copy of the deed of gift was among the documents placed inside the cornerstone when construction began in May 1929 on the present, landmarked building on Fifth Avenue.

Click here to view more selections from the J. Clarence Davies Collection.

The Museum of the City of New York gratefully acknowledges the National Endowment for the Humanities for their support on this project.

Berenice Abbott and Elizabeth McCausland in a “Changing New York”

Archival Intern Suzanna Calev.

Archival Intern Suzanna Calev.

This week, we have a  guest post from our fabulous archival intern, Suzanna Calev, who is currently obtaining a double Master’s Degree in Library Science with a concentration in Archives Management and History at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. Suzanna recently completed processing Berenice Abbott’s Changing New York papers  (the finding aid is available on the Museum’s catablog for archival collections).  Suzanna’s  insights on the collection, and her experience of processing it:

Every time I return to New York, I find the city has changed.  Whether it is the demise of my favorite brunch place or the construction of a new high-rise, New York City is always changing, always re-inventing itself.  Being a native of the city, I should not be surprised by this, but I always have a mixed feeling of hope and nostalgia by the transformation of the city I love, missing the old stomping grounds from my childhood and hoping that the coming changes are favorable ones.

Perhaps this is exactly what the photographer Berenice Abbott felt when she returned to New York City in 1929. Originally from Springfield, Ohio, Abbott moved to Greenwich Village in 1918 with college friends. She moved to Paris in 1921 and it was there that she developed an interest in photography, working as an assistant to Man Ray. Her return to New York City was meant to be temporary, but when she saw how much the city had changed – the skyscrapers replacing nineteenth century classical columns, new towers and structures popping up all around her – she decided to move back permanently to capture this transformation through the lens of a camera.  For more information on Abbott’s life,  as well as the Changing New York  project, take a look at the finding aid for Berenice Abbot’s Changing New York papers.

40_140_0191_recto-copy

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). “Park Avenue and 39th Street,” 1936. Museum of the City of New York. 40.140.91

After photographing the city independently for six years, unable to get financial support from organizations, foundations, or private individuals, she was finally hired by the Federal Art Project (FAP), a small division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) formed in 1935 to centralize various public work projects. The FAP was a relief agency for artists and supported the work of many painters, photographers, and printers, including Romare Bearden, Ben Shahn, and Lee Krasner.

In 1937 the Museum of the City of New York mounted an exhibition, Changing New York, of Abbott’s photographs for the FAP. This prompted interest in publishing a Changing New York book that would include both the photographs and captions written by Elizabeth McCausland, a writer, art critic, and Abbott’s longtime partner.

Abbott’s papers relating to the project, along with several of Abbott’s photographs from the Changing New York project, were in the custody of the Metropolitan Museum of Art prior to their transfer to the Museum of the City of New York.  The Changing New York materials appear to have been deposited with the Met as a matter of convenience, if not accident, when the FAP presented the Met with materials from another project.  Because of the City Museum’s role in the original exhibition, the Met felt the rightful home of the papers was with the City Museum and custody of the collection was transferred in 1947 along with 215 unmounted and 71 mounted photographs from the Changing New York project.

The Berenice Abbott papers contain the original captions proposed for the book and they are an absolute treasure to read.  They reveal the literary genius of McCausland, who attempted to produce cinematic effects with her descriptions of the photographs.  For example, she implored the reader to recite “like Vachel Lindsay’s train announcer” the names of various cheeses for Cheese Store on Bleecker.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). "Park Avenue and 39th Street," 1936. Museum of the City of New York. 40.140.91

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). “Cheese Store,” 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 40.140.29

Original, Unpublished captions by Elizabeth McCausland for Changing New York, "Berenice Abbott papers." Museum of the City of New York.

Original, Unpublished captions by Elizabeth McCausland for Changing New York, 1938, “Berenice Abbott Changing New York papers.” Museum of the City of New York.

E. P Dutton, the publisher of the book, foresaw many tourists visiting New York and buying guidebooks for the opening of the 1939 New York’s World Fair, so he wanted Abbott’s book to be a simple guidebook that could attract multiple audiences. As a result, he rejected McCausland’s original captions, such as the one for the Cheese Store, pictured above.  The published Cheese Store  caption below is strictly factual:

Excerpt from "Changing New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott." New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1939, 84.

Excerpt from “Changing New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott.” New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1939, 84.

It saddens me that Dutton didn’t use McCausland’s original captions.  The published captions lack her lyrical voice. Many of the original captions convey McCausland and Abbott’s political and social beliefs, which may have been too radical for Dutton and Co., Inc.  For example, the original caption for Gunsmith and Police Department suggested that the placement of the gun over the shop facing the police department in Abbott’s composition was intentional.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), "Gunsmith and Police Department," 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 49.282.113

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), “Gunsmith and Police Department,” 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 49.282.113

Original, Unpublished captions by Elizabeth McCausland for Changing New York, 1938, "Berenice Abbott Changing New York papers." Museum of the City of New York.

Original, Unpublished captions by Elizabeth McCausland for Changing New York, 1938, “Berenice Abbott Changing New York papers.” Museum of the City of New York.

McCausland’s bold caption above was replaced with a toned down version that suggested a cooperative relationship between the Police Department and Frank Lava’s gun shop:

Excerpt from "Changing New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott." New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1939, 64.

Excerpt from “Changing New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott.” New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1939, 64.

Although Dutton had final say over the captions, thankfully we can still see how Abbott and McCausland viewed the changing landscape of the city and how they wanted to impart these changes to the general public.  Despite the conflicting vision over the Dutton book, it is comforting to know that no matter what the era, New York City continuously surprises and mesmerizes its inhabitants.

New York City on Two Wheels

League of American Wheelman Sweater Patch, 1896, in the Sports COllection.  Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.1.

League of American Wheelman Sweater Patch, 1896, in the Collection on New York City Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.1.

May is National Bicycle Month and is recognized by various local and national bicycle and transportation advocacy groups  such as New York’s Transportation Alternatives and the League of American Bicyclists.   Some New Yorkers may feel that New York City’s “bicycle craze,”  with its vast network of bike lanes and a bike sharing program, is a relatively recent phenomenon; the city, however, has a long history with two-wheeled transportation, boasting local bicycle clubs such as the Kings County Wheelmen, Williamsburgh Wheelmen, Gramercy Wheelmen, and Harlem Wheelmen.  Many members of these clubs were also involved with the national organization of the time,  the League of American Cyclists, which was founded as the League of American Wheelma (LAW) in 1880 and had over 100,000 members nationwide by 1896.  The League of American cyclists still uses the same emblem of the three spinning wings as pictured to the upper left in the LAW sweater patch.  Notable cycling enthusiasts from New York’s History include Diamond Jim Brady, Alfred E. Smith, and John D. Rockefeller.

Kings County Wheelmen Sweater Patch, 1896, from the Collection on Sports.  Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.2.

Kings County Wheelmen Sweater Patch, 1896, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.2.

In 1949, wheelman Charles W. Hadley made a gift of several objects related to bicycle clubs and races from the late 19th century, including the patch above, and a similar one from the Kings County Wheelmen, pictured to the right.  According to a June 29, 1894 New York Times article, “Cyclists Noted for Racing: Kings County Wheelmen’s Company of ‘Scorchers’,” the Brooklyn cycling club was one the most well known and respected clubs both within New York and in other states, and members of the Kings County Wheelmen were greeted enthusiastically with “Hello, Kings County!”  It was said that an “introduction of a ‘member of the Kings County’ is the best of passports amongst cyclists all over the country.”

It is unclear whether Mr. Hadley was a member of all of the clubs whose ephemera he collected. It seems unlikely, as good healthy competition and loyalty to one’s club was part of the fun.  His participation, however, as a member of the Williamburgh Wheelmen is documented both in the photograph below (Hadley is the middle cyclist), and as the 1st Lieutenant of the club, noted

unknown photographer, The Williamsburgh Wheelmen, 1896.  Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.7.

unknown photographer, The Williamsburgh Wheelmen, 1896. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.7.
Williamsburgh Wheelman: Schedule of runs, April 4th to July 25th, 1897, from the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.12

Williamsburgh Wheelman: Schedule of runs, April 4th to July 25th, 1897, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.12

on the cover of the program  the right.  You can view the full program by clicking here, and you’ll see the interior lists “runs,” or rides, organized by the Williamsburgh club to various locations in the New York City area. The back cover makes reference to club loyalty, stating “all unattached Wheelmen are invited to attend club runs and visit club house,” excluding those associated with other clubs.

Another cycling event sponsored by the clubs, and still popular today, is the Century Ride, which is defined by the completion of 100 miles within 12 hours.

Centruy Run of the Gramercy and Metropolis Wheelmen, 1895, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.16.

Century Run of the Gramercy and Metropolis Wheelmen, 1895, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.16.

Century rides usually have multiple checkpoints where the rider has to stop and have his or her (these days, “wheelwomen” are allowed to join in on rides, too)  card punched in order to prove that he or she completed the entire ride.

Waverley Moonlight Century Run, 1897, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.14

Waverley Moonlight Century Run, 1897, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.14

Today’s cycling clubs and advocacy organizations appear to have many of the same goals as those of over a century ago: promotion of the bicycle for fun, fitness, and socializing.   We can also add the environmental benefits of bicycling today’s agenda.   The League of American Wheelmen, mentioned earlier, is credited for the paving of roads in America, even before automobiles became common, and the New York Times article referred to earlier speaks of how the King County Wheelmen did more than any group in the state to “keep the wheel before the general public” and promote cycling through road races and group meets.  As a ‘Wheelwoman” myself, I won’t attempt to hide my opinion on the subject of bicycles on the streets of New York,  but whatever your feelings, I think we can all agree that Mr. Hadley would certainly be surprised to see how much a part of the urban landscape cycling is in New York City today.

Visit the Museum’s online Collections Portal to view more images from New York City’s cycling history.