Category Archives: Digital Project

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.

Decadance and Fashion: Costume Treasures

Theatre is a space that grants opportunity for collaboration, inviting artists of different medias to join together to create something much larger than themselves. It is an opportunity to take an any idea–a fantasy, an historical moment, or a work of literature–and breathe life into it on a new scale. Costume design is integral to this transcendence. Whether glamorous or realistic, the craftsmanship and vision that goes into each garment transports the body of the actor into an alternate realm. The Art Deco movement exemplifies the crossover of the traditional role of the artist. Practitioners were not relegated to one medium: they designed sets and costumes, wrote scripts, and at times acted in the same production. We highlighted fashion in last week’s post – Mod Women: New York Fashion of the 1960s (if you haven’t yet voted for our project to digitize this collection, please do so here!); this week we will look at theater costumes.  At the Museum of the City of New York, we are fortunate enough to have many rare documents related to productions with costumes of spectacular artistry. Please enjoy the following selection:

["Broadway Nights" theater still.]

White Studio. ["Broadway Nights" theater still.] 1929. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.11730

In high Art Deco style, George Barbier’s scenery and costumes for Broadway Nights depict a playfulness and stylization of urban culture in the 1920s. Barbier is also known as one of the premier fashion illustrators of his time, whose lavishly colored haute-couture fashion plates defined the movement.

[Katharine Cornell as Ellen Olenska in "The Age of Innocence".]

Vandamm. [Katharine Cornell as Ellen Olenska in "The Age of Innocence".] 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.7649

In The Age of Innocence Barbier teamed with Worth of Paris to create Katherine Cornell’s sumptuous gowns. (See more Worth gowns in our online exhibition Worth & Mainbocher: Demystifying the Haute Couture.)

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White Studios. [Beth Dodge, A Night in Venice.] 1929. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.3724

Barbier was famous for joining with designer Erté (Romain de Tirtoff) on some of the most memorable costumes of the 1920s (notably for the Ziegfeld Follies). The above piece depicts showgirl Beth Dodge (of the Dodge Twins) in one of her signature feathered numbers. The Twins were known as “The Two Birds of Paradise”– they literally dressed as birds while crooning with their nightingale voices.  Like Barbier, Erté was also a renowned illustrator, designing over 200 covers for Harper’s Bazaar.

Anna May Wong.

Carl Van Vechten. Anna May Wong. 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 42.316.426

The above image depicts screen goddess Anna Mae Wong in costume (designer unknown) as the princess Turandot, in the dramatic adaptation of Puccini’s Opera Turandot, Princess of China: A Chinoiserie in Three Acts.

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Bertram Park. [Diana, Viscountess Norwich (Lady Diana Cooper) as the Madonna in 'The Miracle'.] 1924. Museum of the City of New York. 47.86.118

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['The Miracle'.] 1924. Museum of the City of New York. 51.116.137

Visionary artist Norman Bel Geddes designed these costumes from the The Miracle. Bel Geddes also designed the scenery, which replicated a Cathedral and featured burning incense (original sketches were recently on exhibit in the Museum of the City of New York’s exhibition Norman Bel Geddes: I Have Seen the Future). The Miracle was written by Max Reinhardt, who was a leading pioneer in the German Expressionist movement. The play was co-written by Karl Gustav Vollmöller, who also wrote the film Blue Angel (which launched Marlene Deitrich’s career). Diana, Viscountess Norwich, who played the statue Madonna, was one of the more famous socialites of her time, running in avant-garde circles with the “Lost Generation.”

[Tillie Losch in "The Band Wagon".]

[Tilly Losch in "The Band Wagon".] 1931-1932. Museum of the City of New York. 62.97.403

[Fred and Adele Astaire in "The Band Wagon".]

Vandamm. [Fred and Adele Astaire in "The Band Wagon".] 1931-1932. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.19

Ensembles designed by Kiviette for The Band Wagon depict the variety of pieces worn during during the golden age of the Broadway revue. The Band Wagon was considered the greatest examples of this style of show. It was the very last time Fred Astaire performed with his sister Adele on stage before she retired to marry Lord Charles Cavendish. Tilly Losch (Ottilie Ethel Leopoldine Herbert, Countess of Carnarvon) was also a collaborator with Max Reinhardt, who cast her in the London production of The Miracle. She enjoyed a long career as a dancer, choreographer, actress, and painter.

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Nickolas Muray. [Dorothy Arnold as the Duchesse in the ballet 'Nighingale and the Rose', Greenwich Village Follies.] 1922. Museum of the City of New York. 82.102.1

The gown above was designed by James Reynolds for Dinarzade for the part of the Duchesse in a Follies ballet based on the Oscar Wilde poem, “The Nightingale and the Rose.”  “It was sea-green net with a scarf of lilac taffeta and garland of flowers in various shades of pink and mauve, jewels of emerald, diamonds and pearls.” Although not visible here, it is of note that Reginald Marsh painted the backdrops for the production.

[Mae West as Catherine II in "Catherine Was Great".]

[Mae West as Catherine II in "Catherine Was Great".] 1944. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.1519

Cinema idol Mae West wrote and starred in Catherine Was Great. She is shown here in a piece designed by Mary Percy Schenck and Ernest Schrapps at the Sam S. Shubert Theatre.

[Eva Le Gallienne in the title role of "L'Aiglon".]

White Studio. [Eva Le Gallienne in the title role of "L'Aiglon".] 1934. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.5967

Above, actress Eva Le Gallienne in menswear designed by Aline Bernstein for her famous title role “L’Aiglon.” Bernstein was a renowned costumer who went on to establish The Costume Institute (now housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Eva Le Gallienne was known as much for her love life as her professional career, having open affairs with prominent female actresses of her time.

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Ira D. Schwarz [Ruth Page (left) in the Music Box Revue.] 1922. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.3768

The Music Box Revue featured costume designs by Ralph Mulligan and Adrian (and music by Irving Berlin). Ruth Page (left) became a legend in the world of choreography and ballet.

[Jane Cowl as Cleopatra in "Antony and Cleopatra".]

[Jane Cowl as Cleopatra in "Antony and Cleopatra".] 1924. Museum of the City of New York. 27.75.1

[Jane Cowl as Cleopatra in "Antony and Cleopatra".]

[Jane Cowl as Cleopatra in "Antony and Cleopatra".] 1924. Museum of the City of New York. 52.248.20

A very Art Deco Cleopatra designed by Rollo Peters (who also played Antony) premiered at Shubert-Belasco Theater in 1924.

If you enjoyed these fashion images, check out last week’s post  Mod Women: New York Fashion of the 1960s, and don’t forget to vote for MCNY’s project here! As always, we are grateful to the Institute of Museum and Library Services for their generous support of the City Museum’s project to digitize our Broadway production photographs, without which these fabulous images would have remained hidden.

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.

Chantecler, a Barnyard Fantasy

"Chantecler" theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.65.

“Chantecler” theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.65.

While digitizing the vast collection of over 30,000 photographs that make up the theatre production files at the Museum of the City of New York, a project generously funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, there oftentimes come to light incredible images that are unusual and dream-like, seemingly attached to a time and space very distant from a typical 21st century production. One example is the photographs by White Studios of the 1911 Broadway production of Chantecler, a Verse Play in Four Acts, by French poet and dramatist Edmond Rostand, adapted by Louis N. Parker. Rostrand had dealt with 10 years of writer’s block before writing the script and the production was particularly contentious: the public was shocked that such an elaborate production featured chickens; the original Paris production was postponed due to a great flood; and the American version was surrounded in controversy over the casting of a woman (Maude Adams) as the male protagonist.

Act 4 of "Chantecler" - "In the Heart of a Wood", 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.53.

Act 4 of “Chantecler” – “In the Heart of a Wood”, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.53.

The plot centers around the existential struggle of the rooster Chantecler (meaning ‘clear singing’), who is convinced that his crowing is solely responsible for the sun rising. There is much conflict among the barnyard animals:  jealousy, deception, denial of the possibility Chantecler could emit a call so beautiful it could command daylight. Chantecler defends his belief in his life-summoning art, even placing its importance above the affections of a beautiful young pheasant (who eventually learns to accept his dedication to deliver the dawn after he nearly gives his life for it).  Although it is revealed that the sun does rise regardless,  Chantecler maintains his conviction that it is his duty to signal the new day to every creature and to call attention to the radiant rays of light that shield the farm’s inhabitants from birds that prey in the darkness.

"Chantecler" theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.73.

“Chantecler” theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.73.

Although peculiar in its approach and aesthetic, Chantecler was unanimously heralded as a great work of philosophy and artistic accomplishment. Most of the tickets were sold in advance, due to the public anticipation as to whether Maude Adams could take on such a symbolic masculine role. The casting was seen as a publicity stunt by legendary producer Charles Frohman, who preferred Adams in gender-atypical roles, previously casting her in 1905 as Peter Pan. Chantecler premiered at the Knickerbocker Theater (Broadway and 38th Street), January 23, 1911. “The demand for seats was unprecedented. A line began to form at four o’clock in the afternoon preceding the day the sale opened. Within twenty-four hours after the window was raised at the box-office as high as $200 was offered in vain for a seat on the opening night.” (1) The play ran four months with nearly 100 performances, and subsequently toured more than 60 cities.

Maude Adams in the title role of "Chantecler", 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.52.

Maude Adams in the title role of “Chantecler”, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.52.

“To Miss Adams’s mind the most violent misconception of ‘Chantecler’ is the idea that the chief character should be absolutely masculine…The whole play, in a nutshell, to her way of thinking, is the story of an idealist going forth into the world and getting the edges rubbed off his ideals by the stern realities of life. But she believes that the cock’s steadfastness to these ideas, even when he learns that his part in the scheme of things is not as important as he thought it was is the most lasting lesson in the play, sending men and women out of the theatre determined to do their level best in their various undertakings.” (2)

"Chantecler" theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.58.

“Chantecler” theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.58.

It was the combination of pure spectacle with the humbling nature of the pastoral scene that made Chantecler such a unique phenomenon. The passions and aspirations of the ego in search of artistic expression and authenticity were reflected by literally stripping the stage of the human presence.

A review in the Indianapolis Star describes the impact of the unusual use of scale in the production:

“Chantecler…doesn’t look to most spectators more than twice the size of a real rooster and not more than half the height of Maude Adams. The transient effect is produced by an enlargement of the inanimate objects in sight…a haystack in the background is a mountain; a wheelbarrow fills the space of an oxcart…. That method of belittling the beasts and birds is feasible throughout, as no glimpse of a human figure is given in he whole play. A usual oak in a forest is a thick at the trunk of a California wonder tree.” (3)

"Chantecler" theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.60.

“Chantecler” theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.60.

Upon observing the bewildering beauty of the production photos, it should be  no surprise that producer Frohman assembled a production design team of extraordinary ingenuity. Documents from the stage manager’s manual depict the cutting edge technology used to engineer the production. Remember, electric (tungsten) stage lights had only recently been invented!

Stage equipment for "Chantecler", 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.77.

Stage equipment for “Chantecler”, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.77.

Much of Chantecler’s stagecraft was developed by J.M. Hewlett, A.T. Hewlett, and Charles Basing under the direction of W.H. Gilmore. J.M. Hewlett (formally of McKim, Mead & White and founder of Lord and Hewlett) is perhaps best  known for designing notable buildings such as the Brooklyn Masonic Temple (1907) and Brooklyn Hospital (1920), to name a few. As a team, Hewlett and Basing were responsible for the design and execution of the infamous celestial ceiling in Grand Central Station, as well as many other important public works, including the eight historical murals at the Bank of New York and Trust Company building.

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“Chantecler” Press Clipping, 1911, From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

A description under a press photo (above) describes the way the special effects were achieved:

“Viewed from the auditorium this is a stage setting done in the regular way. It shows a superb and realistic forest full of color and atmosphere. In reality, however, there is no color there at all except what is thrown on from colored lights. The trees are only pieces of white gauze and the back drop, with its apparent elaborate distant perspective, only a plain black curtain.”

Below, a few documents from behind the scenes reveal  the technical skill ‘behind the curtain’ that went into producing this microcosmic wonder:

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“Chantecler” Stage Manager’s Script, Act 1. 1911, From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

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“Chantecler” Stage Manager’s Script, Act 1, Positions of Lights. 1911, From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

To read the original synopsis of the Chantecler play, view the  story card that was handed out to Knickerbocker Theatre audiences:

Chantecler_Museum_of_the_City_Of_New_York_19

“Chantecler” Knickerbocker Theatre Play Synopsis (recto). 1911, From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

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“Chantecler” Knickerbocker Theatre Play Synopsis (verso). 1911, From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

Click here to explore even more images of Chantecler. Click here to see all of the Broadway production photographs digitized to date under the IMLS grant.

(1) Frohman, Dainel and Marcosson, Issac F.,  Charles Frohman: Manager and Man, 1916.

(2) Fitzgerald, J.A., Chantecler Comes, Crows, and Conquers, Maryland Evening Post, Feb. 2, 1911

(3) Fyles, Franklin, Chantecler, Not only a Novelty in Gotham, Indianapolis Star, Jan. 29, 1911.

 

Elaine Stritch, Grande Dame of the Stage

Last Saturday night the crowd gathered around the piano at Marie’s Crisis to sing “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Broadway’s 1970 hit musical, Company, in honor of the dearly departed woman who sang it, Elaine Stritch. Glasses were raised again and again to the line repeated throughout the number, “I’ll drink to that.” In real life Stritch made no bones about being a heavy drinker, or anything else for that matter. She dazzled audiences with her acerbic wit and frank speech on stage and off for over 60 years. She died last week at the age of 89 in her home in Birmingham, Michigan. A long-time resident of the Carlyle Hotel on East 76th Street, Stritch moved back to her home state of Michigan because of declining health and to be closer to family.

Stritch made her debut on the New York stage in the 1944 children’s play Bobino. Two years later she played Pamela Brewster in Loco, and also replaced Jane Middleton as Miss Crowder in Made in Heaven. Critics favorably took note of her in 1947 when she appeared alongside Paul and Grace Hartman in the revue Angel in the Wings.

Vandamm. "Angel in the Wings" theater still, with Grace Hartman, Paul Hartman, and Elaine Stritch in the sketch "Trailer Trouble". 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.11959

Vandamm. ["Angel in the Wings" theater still, with Grace Hartman, Paul Hartman, and Elaine Stritch in the sketch "Trailer Trouble".] 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.11959

Vandamm. Hank Ladd and Elaine Stritch in "Angel in the Wings". 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4222

Vandamm. [Hank Ladd and Elaine Stritch in "Angel in the Wings".] 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4222

Stritch served as Ethel Merman’s standby for the role of Mrs. Sally Adams in Call Me Madam, but did not appear on the Broadway stage – the famously never-absent Merman did not miss even one performance.

Photographer unknown. Elaine Stritch as Mrs. Sally Adams in "Call Me Madam". ca. 1952. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4786

Photographer unknown. [Elaine Stritch as Mrs. Sally Adams in "Call Me Madam".] ca. 1952. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4786

 Stritch got a break, however, when it was announced that she would star in the national tour of Call Me Madam.

Photographer unknown. Elaine Stritch as Mrs. Sally Adams in "Call Me Madam". ca. 1952. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4789

Photographer unknown. [Elaine Stritch as Mrs. Sally Adams in "Call Me Madam".] ca. 1952. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4789

In 1955 she played a lonely, world-weary owner of a rural Kansas diner in Bus Stop. In retrospect, the character Grace Hoylard, with her acrid banter and jaded musings, seems to have been created especially for the notably wry Stritch.

Zinn Arthur. Elaine Stritch as Grace Hoylard in "Bus Stop". 1955-1956. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4605

Zinn Arthur. [Elaine Stritch as Grace Hoylard in "Bus Stop".] 1955-1956. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4605

Brooks Atkinson called her out in a New York Times review of the play: “Elaine Stritch’s loose-jointed, tough-talking restaurant keeper is vastly amusing.”

Zinn Arthur. Patrick McVey as Carl and Elaine Stritch as Grace Hoylard in "Bus Stop". 1955-1956. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4607

Zinn Arthur. [Patrick McVey as Carl and Elaine Stritch as Grace Hoylard in "Bus Stop".] 1955-1956. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4607

In 1970 she played another role that suited her perfectly, the hard-drinking, cynical Joanne in Company.

Friedman-Abeles. Charles Braswell as Larry and Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company". 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.318

Friedman-Abeles. [Charles Braswell as Larry and Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company".] 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.318

 Walter Kerr praised her performance in a New York Times review:

“And, while we are thoroughly aware of Elaine Stritch from the beginning (Miss Stritch has what funny lines George Furth has chosen to write, and she stands alone in the group in making no pretty pretenses about the pleasures of matrimony), we are still not prepared for what happens to us and to the theater when she reaches a left-field snarl, complete with a snappy, snide foot-tap, called “The Ladies Who Lunch.” Miss Stritch spends a good bit of the evening exhaling cigarette smoke; what smoke she exhales during the song I don’t know, but it is hers alone and it is scathing. A great number, perfectly done.”

Friedman-Abeles. Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company". 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.277

Friedman-Abeles. [Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company".] 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.277

If you missed Stritch on the stage, you can still see recordings of her performances – be sure to check out this link.

Martha Swope. Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company". 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.275

Martha Swope. [Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company".] 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.275

For even more Elaine Stritch, visit our Collections Portal. We are constantly adding more material as it is digitized and cataloged, thanks to a generous grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services that supports our project to make accessible more than 30,000 photographs of Broadway productions.

 

 

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.

 

Jack Stewart and the documentation of early graffiti writing

When graffiti first began to appear on subway cars in New York City in the late 1960s, Jack Stewart (1926-2005) became one of the first, along with Jon Naar, to photograph and document it. From late 1972 through early 1973, he photographed subway cars every weekend, documenting the rapidly evolving style of the graffiti writers.

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Worm, By Riff I70, 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 2014.24.2

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Worm, By Riff I70, 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 2014.24.2

Jack Stewart  was born in Atlanta, GA in 1926 and earned a BFA degree at Yale University, where he studied painting with Josef Albers and Willem de Kooning. He moved to New York City in 1949 and began designing and executing mosaic murals on commission. In order to better understand how to work with architects on these commissions, he enrolled in the Columbia University Evening School of Architecture. He also exhibited his paintings throughout his life. Stewart later enrolled as a graduate student at New York University in order to study graffiti more formally, earning his Master’s degree in 1975 and completing his Ph.D. in 1989. His dissertation, Mass Transit Art Subway Graffiti, was published by Abrams in 2009 under the title Graffiti Kings: New York City Mass Transit Art of the 1970s. It was the first academic study of graffiti.

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Lee, Mickey Mouse, Dec. 1977. Museum of the City of New York. 2014.24.6

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Lee, Mickey Mouse, Dec. 1977. Museum of the City of New York. 2014.24.6

Stewart photographed graffiti throughout the 1970s, but he felt the style peaked around 1973. His work predated Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant, both of whom began documenting the scene a few years later, and he covered graffiti in more depth than Naar. Over the years Stewart taught at almost every major art school on the east coast, including Pratt Institute, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the New School, the Rhode Island School of Design, and others. In the last decades of his life, he held positions in many professional organizations, such as New York Artists Equity Association, the National Society of Mural Painters, the Fine Arts Federation of New York, and the National Academy of Design.

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Tracy (Early Wild Style Letters), 1976. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.2

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Tracy (Early Wild Style Letters), 1976. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.2

The City Museum recently acquired 31 of his photographs through a generous gift from the Green Foundation. You can see all of them on the Collections Portal. And, through Labor Day, visit the Museum’s exhibition City as Canvas to see several of Stewart’s photographs on view.

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Jester I [Painted by Jester in 1972. Tags painted by Ace 137 and Cay 161 in 1971]. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.8

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Jester I [Painted by Jester in 1972. Tags painted by Ace 137 and Cay 161 in 1971]. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.8

 Stewart’s papers are at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.

Revolutionary sisters: Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin

If you’ve never heard of Victoria Woodhull or her younger sister Tennessee “Tennie” Claflin, you’re not alone. When I first came across them in the Museum’s Portrait Archive, I was immediately intrigued by the designation of “Brokers” on their portraits. The more I researched them, the more interested I became.  They challenged the staunchly Victorian society of 1870’s New York City by opening the first female stock brokerage firm, were the first women to start a newspaper (one dedicated to radical reform, no less), and launched the first presidential campaign for a woman. Welcome to the strange and incredible true lives of Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee “Tennie” Claflin.

Unknown photographer. Mrs. Woodhull (Broker). Museum of the city of New York.  F2012.58.41.

Unknown photographer. Mrs. Woodhull (Broker). Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.41.

The sisters had less than auspicious beginnings. Victoria Woodhull (neé Claflin) was born in 1838 in the wilds of Ohio and Tennie was born six years later. Their father was a one-eyed snake oil salesman and their mother a religious fanatic. The girls were soon part of their father’s schemes, earning money as child mediums, healers, and clairvoyants at tent revivals. For much of their childhood they were nomadic, staying in towns long enough to sell medicines and messages from the beyond, leaving before they could be chased out of town.

Unknown photographer. Miss Tennie C. Claflin (Broker). ca. 1875. Museum of the City of New York. 41.366.53.

Unknown photographer. Miss Tennie C. Claflin (Broker). ca. 1875. Museum of the City of New York. 41.366.53.

For the next few decades, the sisters traveled difficult roads: bad marriages and a mentally handicapped child for Victoria, and the rough life of an itinerant faith healer for Tennie. And then one day, according to Victoria, the spirit of Demosthenes (the Greek orator, with whom she believed she communicated with regularly) sent her vision of a house on Great Jones Street in New York City where, the spirit promised her their lives would change for the better.

In 1868, the Claflin sisters invaded Manhattan. As promised, a house on Great Jones Street was procured and they immediately set to work taking over the city. Their first stop? Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt because, well, when you want to get to the top you need allies, especially ones who possess one of the biggest fortunes in the country.

William R. Howell (d. 1890). Cornelius Vanderbilt. ca. 1880-1887. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.1269.

William R. Howell (d. 1890). Cornelius Vanderbilt. ca. 1880-1887. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.1269.

The sisters met the Commodore at just the right time. He had always been a superstitious man who trusted mediums more than medical doctors. At this time he was still deep in mourning for his beloved first wife. Thankfully, Victoria and Tennie could help with that. Victoria began hosting séances to give Vanderbilt business tips while Tennie focused on magnetic healing. She was apparently so gifted that she became Vanderbilt’s lover. It was serious enough to warrant pet names: he called her ”my little sparrow”; she called him ”the old goat.” There were rumors that he asked her to marry him, but alas it can’t be proven. It was this connection, however, (and Vanderbilt’s finances) that led to the sisters’ next big step.

On February 5, 1870 a large, boisterous crowd gathered outside 44 Broad Street to witness a first in New York’s history: two women opening their very own stock brokerage firm, with the silent backing of Vanderbilt’s fortunes. Woodhull, Claflin & Co. opened at 10 A.M. precisely and was promptly swarmed by men wanting to see how the fairer sex handled business. Newspapers were filled with eyewitness accounts of the first day of business. (See the amazing variety of articles this produced here). But for the most part, the papers championed the “Bewitching Brokers” and “The Lady Bankers,” while calling attention to the regal beauty of Victoria and the feisty flirtiness of Tennie. With their studied social rebellions, short hair, and dresses short enough to show their boots, the sisters were treated as novelties by the press. However novel they were, they were also a success – they supposedly made $700,000 the first six weeks they were in business (a hefty $13 million in today’s dollars).

Miss Tennessee Claflin Receiving Orders for Stock Speculation, 1870. Reprinted in One Moral Standard for All: Extracts from the lives of Victoria Clafin Woodhull and Tennessee Clafin. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.16.7.

Miss Tennessee Claflin Receiving Orders for Stock Speculation, 1870. Reprinted in One Moral Standard for All: Extracts from the lives of Victoria Clafin Woodhull and Tennessee Clafin. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.16.7.

The press and public clamored for stories (positive and negative) about the nonconformist sisters, so for years they were never far from the headlines  and that suited them just fine…even when they were subjects of political cartoons like this.

From the New York  Evening Telegraph, February 18th, 1870. eprinted in One Moral Standard for All: Extracts from the lives of Victoria Clafin Woodhull and Tennessee Clafin. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.16.7.

From the New York Evening Telegraph, February 18th, 1870. Reprinted in One Moral Standard for All: Extracts from the lives of Victoria Clafin Woodhull and Tennessee Clafin. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.16.7.

Keep in mind that this happened in the height of the Gilded Age, when a woman didn’t have a voice, property, or money independent of the men in her life, whether it was her husband, brother, or father. Thanks to a private door in the rear of the building leading to a women-only lounge, Woodhull, Claflin & Co. made it acceptable for women ranging from elite society dowagers to actresses to take control of their money. Most people would be content with this success, but the sisters weren’t satisfied; they had bigger plans. As Victoria later said: “We went unto Wall Street, not particularly because I wanted to be a broker…but because I wanted to plant the Flag of women’s rebellion in the center of the continent.”

Using the profits from Woodhull, Claflin & Co., they started their own weekly newspaper, the not so creatively named Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. It’s within these pages that we can see how modern their ideas were, and still are: sexual education for teenagers, eight hour workdays, fair wages, and gender equality are issues still being argued 144 years later!

Alll of this was a mere stepping stone for their next move. Stay tuned for the continuation of the saga of Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin.

 

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.

 

 

 

Mel Rosenthal in the South Bronx

Mel Rosenthal (born 1940) grew up in the South Bronx. When he returned to the area 20 years later, after receiving a Ph.D. in English Literature and American Studies from the University of Connecticut and a stint working as a medical photographer in Tanzania, he discovered an alien landscape of destruction and affliction. The burned-out buildings and rubble-strewn vacant lots have since become a visual shorthand for the urban decay of the 1970s and 1980s. Rosenthal began documenting the area and its residents, many of them native Puerto Ricans, creating a series of photographs that were eventually published in 2000 in the book, In the South Bronx of America.

Near Bathgate Avenue and East 173rd Street, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York 2013.12.40

Near Bathgate Avenue and East 173rd Street, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York 2013.12.40

In what is today roughly Morrisania and East Tremont, in the vicinity along Bathgate Avenue, Rosenthal photographed people who lived, played, loved each other, struggled, and sometimes protested in the midst of an environment that was elsewhere rendered in horrified, sensational headlines.

Among the Last Residents, Mother and daughter, East 173rd Street, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York, 2013.12.34

Among the Last Residents, Mother and daughter, East 173rd Street, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York, 2013.12.34

In 1976, Roger Starr, Commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development, proposed a course of “planned shrinkage” that would allow the city to abandon what were considered blighted areas, especially in the South Bronx. This abandonment took the form of withdrawing public services such as libraries, public transportation, and, perhaps most notably, fire services. “The Bronx is burning” was a literal, not a figurative phrase.

Mikey at the bar, next to my photographs. I loved hanging out, having a beer, taking pictures, listening to what people said about the neighbor-hood. People were open and generous with me, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.14.

Mikey at the bar, next to my photographs. I loved hanging out, having a beer, taking pictures, listening to what people said about the neighbor-hood. People were open and generous with me, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.14.

The attitudes behind these policies were presaged by Starr in his 1966 book Urban Choices: the City and its Critics. In one passage he wrote, “Since they have no property, their only marketable asset is hardship…. [S]ome of the people displaced by urban renewal might just be exaggerating the sense of deprivation they feel over their ‘lost homes.'”

Teens clean up the rubble in order to create a neighborhood garden, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.25

Teens clean up the rubble in order to create a neighborhood garden, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.25

Starr and his supports believed that planned shrinkage would make way for future middle class housing, or, in the case of the neighborhood documented by Rosenthal, industrial development. And indeed, this area today is characterized by low-slung warehouses.

She had been left behind when her family and friends moved out of the neighborhood, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.8

She had been left behind when her family and friends moved out of the neighborhood, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.8

The city administrators’ beliefs about the people who lived in these areas and their “exaggerated” attachment to their communities are belied by Rosenthal’s photographs. The images capture the individuality and the humanity of those few earlier residents who remained, and those from a new generation who made their lives there.

Candido with neighborhood kids, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.27

Candido with neighborhood kids, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.27

His work, then, is not only a moving documentary to the resilience of people living in challenging circumstances, but also an activist’s critique of government policies that wrote off entire communities.

One of the high school students told me she was going to be a dental assistant. The other two said they wanted to be models, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.4

One of the high school students told me she was going to be a dental assistant. The other two said they wanted to be models, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.4

The Museum of the City of New York received 42 original prints from the Bronx series as a gift from Rosenthal’s wife, Roberta Perrymapp. We recently finished digitizing and cataloging them. View all 42 on the Museum’s Collections Portal, along with his later photographs of Arab Americans in New York City.

Mel Rosenthal in his old bedroom in the South Bronx, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.23

Mel Rosenthal in his old bedroom in the South Bronx, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.23