Tag Archives: 1800s

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.

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.

The Great Bygone Museum Tour

Museums of New York, July 9, 1939

Museums of New York, [Museum Map and Guide], July 9, 1939, Museum of the City of New York, 98.52.15

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Verso of ticket to the National Academy of Design’s 22nd Annual Exhibit, 1917, Museum of the City of New York, 38.237.1

Ladies and Gentleman! Step this way! My dear blog readers, please accompany me on a tour to discover the unique and marvelous history of museums in New York City.  Be sure to leave your parasols and walking sticks with the attendant. We will be traveling through Scudder’s cabinets of wonder, to see the Great Ajeeb, and even into the apartment of the fabulous Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and her confidant Juliana Force. My cherished, curious guests! I know you will be delighted to hear that there is a reception at the conclusion of our expedition.

Scudder's American Museum

Scudder’s American Museum, 1825, Museum of the City of New York, 29.100.1895

Let me first lure you to the proprietorship of former sailor Mr. John Scudder, the preeminent naturalist, taxidermist, and scholar of the bizarre and beautiful. He had gallantly taken up the reins of the “American Museum” initially established by Tammany Hall for their very own members in 1791.  (Among other things, the collection included guillotines used during the French Revolution for the demonstration of decapitation on wax models.) Renamed Scudder’s American Museum, it was relocated by the City rent-free to the second floor of New York’s first almshouse in City Hall Park in 1812. Working late? No worries, Scudder’s stayed open by candlelight until 9pm several days a week. Visitors could take in the aroma of live mud turtles and other exotic species and then wander down the hall to rest their eyes on the bed linens of Mary, Queen of Scots. There were over 150,000 objects in Scudder’s domain, not to mention a bona fide zoo and performance hall.

New York Historical Society, ca. 1845, George P. Hall and Son,  Museum of the City of New York, 29.100.1748

New York Historical Society, ca. 1845, George P. Hall and Son, Museum of the City of New York, 29.100.1748

Another resident of a former almshouse in City Hall Park (a center for museums in the mid-19th century) was the New~York Historical Society, established in  1804. Its Board was a preeminent  assemblage of notables, socialites, and politicians whose vigorous collecting contributed to building a valuable repository of many of the United State’s most treasured documents and works of art. To your left you will see the Historical Society in its later quarters uptown on 11th Street and Second Avenue (constructed in 1857) which would remain its home until 1908.

Peale's Museum

Peale’s Museum, 1825, Museum of the City of New York, 29.100.1863

Next stop: 252 Broadway, Mr. Rubens Peale’s Museum (which opened on the same day as the Erie Canal, October 26, 1825). Peale was the direct competitor of our dear Scudder and son of the great Charles Wilson Peale, founder of the Philadelphia Museum. Artist and eccentric, Rubens Peale assembled four floors of paintings, natural wonders, and slightly unnatural wonders (just a few two-headed sheep here and there), cosmoramas (enormous panoramas of exotic locales, one of which is currently on display in the Metropolitan Museum’s American Wing), and wax figure displays. Peale specialized in live entertainment and lectures, with subjects ranging from animal magnetism to séances. This was not to say New York’s Peale establishment was pure frivolity and entertainment; these displays and presentations stemmed from a Linnean preservationist’s ardor for the natural world and was in spirit with popular science at that time.

Sleighing in New York

Thomas Benecke, Sleighing in New York, 1855, Museum of the City of New York, 45.271.1

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Ticket to Barnum’s American Museum, 1867, Museum of the City of New York, 10.43.29.40

Let us now journey three blocks through City Hall Park to Broadway and Ann Street in the year 1841. It seems the colossus otherwise known as P.T.Barnum’s American Museum has engulfed both Scudder’s and Peale’s treasures, amassing both collections under one frenzied roof. Barnum was a master marketer both visually and audibly; his PR consisted of a live band playing on the balcony and the most fantastic typography ever to grace the wheat paste poster. The Museum literally screams at you to come in! Barnum acquired ownership of Peale’s building and kept it running just for contrast against his booming establishment of encyclopedic wonders, which at its peak was open 15 hours a day.  See here the “million curiosities”: live freak shows, bizarre and colorful animals (including “sassy monkeys”), and throngs of specimens in outrageous ‘educational’ display. Peale’s American Museum appeared modest and pedantic in comparison.

[Ruins of Barnum's Museum.]

Ruins of Barnum’s Museum, ca. 1865, Museum of the City of New York, X2010.11.759

Time to lower our hats and journey past dear Barnum’s in 1865, the year of the great furnace fire that shot through from the basement and took the lives of all its living animals in the most horrific spectacle of all.  The New York Times lamented the end of an incomparable collection.  “No public institution in the country pretended even to rival the geological collection of the museum either in extent or value…. Birds of rarest plumage, fish of most exquisite tint, animals peculiar to every section, minerals characteristic of every region, and peculiarities of all portions of the earth, costly, beautiful curious and strange, were crowded on the dusty shelves of room after room, where they attracted the earnest attention and studious regard of the scholar and the connoisseur.” After the fire, Barnum’s would continue on as a side-show museum and move to a more mobile platform as a traveling circus.
Eden Musee, 59 West 23rd Street.

Byron Company, Eden Musee, 59 West 23rd Street, ca. 1899, Museum of the City of New York, 41.420.413

Ok, enough with the depressing part of the tour. What is this here? A battleship wedged between two buildings on 23rd street?  No need to duck the cannon fire, this is the Eden Museé, an astounding palace of wax figures and automata. Their oily waxen faces were not conversational, but they were considered to be excellent listeners. Eden opened its doors in 1884 and was considered a premier establishment for family entertainment, though its reputation was somewhat diluted when it came to the basement “Crypt” (a motley assortment of execution scenes). A  New York Times review reported it “incomplete,” having only “four or five tableaus.”

Eden Musee, 59 West 23rd Street.

Byron Company, Eden Musee, 59 West 23rd Street, ca. 1907, Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.15517

Meet the Mysterious Ajeeb. He was the preeminent resident and chess champion at the Eden Museé. The wise Ageeb has played chess with Sarah Bernhardt, Edgar Allan Poe, and other notables, including celebrity chess players. Do you dare to challenge him? Be careful not to shake his clockwork hand upon defeat, you may find the warm grasp of his operator Mr. Charles Edward Hooper, who worked inside Ajeeb, quite unsettling.

Museum of Safety Appliances.

Byron Company, Museum of Safety Appliances, 1908, Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.7045

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The American Museum of Safety Exposition Booklet, ca. 1914, Museum of the City of New York, 81.146B.3

The Museum of Safety, located in the Engineering Societies’ Building on 29 West 39th Street focused on a different kind of conservation than that of artworks and artifacts. The ‘conservation of human life’ was the foremost concern. No exotic fantasies here, only the stark realities of industrial injury. As accident prevention became a big industry, the exhibitions not only educated workers, but also served as advertisements for safety equipment. The transition into an electrified city of telephone lines and automobiles was not met without some unintended tragedy for those uneducated in the dangers these modern wonders .

[American Museum of Natural History.]

Harroun & Bierstadt, American Museum of Natural History, ca. 1877, Museum of the City of New York, X2010.11.1234

Now we proceed uptown to visit some of the city’s most beloved and ever-thriving institutions in their most rudimentary state. The 1870s was a golden era for museology in New York City. Philanthropists of the Gilded Age bequeathed great sums to create institutions that would hold their own against European models. Virtually unrecognizable, this view of The American Museum of Natural History (above) depicts the original Victorian Gothic building designed by J. Wrey Mould and built between 1874-1877. At this time the surrounding Central Park looks more like an industrial wasteland than the current wooded landscape and austere skyline, since it was still mostly un-developed farmland.

[Obelisk with Metropolitan Museum of Art.]

Adolph Wittemann, Obelisk with Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1890, Museum of the City of New York, X2010.11.1512

Here is an early incarnation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although the grid system existed then, many roads remained unpaved and the landscape was largely rural. (Untapped Cities does an excellent job of  describing the secret history of the Met’s architecture). The Egyptian government gifted the obelisk, Cleopatra’s Needle, in 1881 and shipped it from Alexandria on the Steamship Dessoug. There was a grand Masonic ceremony attended by over 9,000 Masons and 50,000 spectators to celebrate the installation.

Buildings, Brooklyn Children's Museum, Brooklyn Ave. & Park Plac

Byron Company, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Brooklyn Ave. & Park Place, 1924, Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.16737

Please devote a few brief moments to pay homage to this building, known once as the Adams House. This idyllic Victorian mansion was transformed into the original Brooklyn Children’s Museum in Crown Heights, the world’s first children’s museum established in 1899.

Gracie Mansion, first home of the Museum of the City of New York

Gracie Mansion, first home of the Museum of the City of New York, ca. 1923, Museum of the City of New York, X2010.11.14217

[Gracie Mansion, Interior, Showing Old New York Costumes.]

Arthur Vitols, Byron Company, Gracie Mansion, Interior, Showing Old New York Costumes, The mannequins with old costumes in the Museum of the City of New York when its home was Gracie Mansion at 88th Street & East River, 1927, Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.3.566

Did you know that before Gracie Mansion became the home to New York City’s mayors, it was the original residence for The Museum of the City of New York? Preservationist Henry Collins Brown secured and restored the mansion to include domestic period rooms showcasing the blossoming collection. The City Museum differentiated itself from the New York Historical Society by focusing its acquisitions solely on New York City. Eventually the collection outgrew the historic home and the construction of the building at 1220 Fifth Avenue was spearheaded under the direction of James Speyer and completed with much celebration in 1932.

Juliana R. Force [residence]. Living room to window.

Samuel H. Gottscho, Juliana R. Force Residence. Whitney Museum of American Art, 1932, Museum of the City of New York, 88.1.1.2332

Time to pay a visit to the original Whitney Museum of American Art, originally situated in three adjoining Greenwich Village residencies at 8–12 West 8th Street. It was the first manifestation of The Whitney as a museum as well as the home of its founder, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and her assistant, Juliana R. Force, who amassed an unprecedented collection of contemporary American Art.

Museum of Modern Art, birds-eye view from 41st floor of Rockefel

Wurts Brothers, Museum of Modern Art, birds-eye view from 41st floor of Rockefeller Center, 1941, Museum of the City of New York, X2010.7.1.8137

Our tour now ends at the Museum of Modern Art. While still standing at the same location since the first permanent building was constructed in 1939, it has doubled in size and gone through several physical incarnations. Entertain yourself with this birds-eye of the then newly constructed MoMA  and then follow me downstairs to an opening reception.

John Vachon, Frank Bauman, Stanley Kubrick, Museum of Modern Art [Art opening.], 1949, Museum of the City of New York, X2011.4.12063.71

John Vachon, Frank Bauman, Stanley Kubrick, Museum of Modern Art [Art opening.], 1949, Museum of the City of New York, X2011.4.12063.71

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.

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.

Dollar Princesses, or how the American heiress saved Downton Abbey and other estates like it

Perhaps it goes without saying that among the Collections crew here at the Museum there are a number of huge fans of the Masterpiece Classic series Downton Abbey.   In the weeks since season three drew to a close, we’ve been attempting to placate our sense of loss over the absence of the Crawleys from our Sunday nights by hypothesizing about various plot lines for the rumored Downton prequel.   Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton, has spoken to the press about what he wants to do next: a series for American network television called The Gilded Age, set in 1880′s New York City.  One of the main storylines of the new series would revolve around the meeting of Lord Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, and the future Countess of Grantham, the American Cora Levinson.  As referred to several times throughout multiple episodesDownton Abbey would have been lost if it weren’t for Cora’s inheritance.  In exchange, Cora obtained a royal title.

Reception of the Prince of Wales, 1860, in the Society Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 34.241.8.

Reception of the Prince of Wales, 1860, in the Society Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 34.241.8.

While the marriage of Robert and Cora may sound calculating, crass, and even downright cold to us today, it is steeped in historical fact.   The growth of United States industrialism following the Civil War created a whole new set of exceedingly wealthy American families.  Meanwhile, the British aristocracy was faced with centuries-old, crumbling estates, and minimal funds to maintain their properties.  Edward, Prince of Wales, made his celebrated visit to the United States in 1860, and New York’s wealthiest families sponsored and hosted numerous events such as the dinner listed in the menu above, in his honor.  These events founded relationships between the Prince and wealthy New Yorkers that continued to develop over the ensuing decades.

By the late 19th century, the practice of seeking noble matches for American heiresses  was commonplace enough that the term “Dollar Princess” was coined to describe these young women.  One of the most well-known matches was that of Consuelo Vanderbilt to Charles Spencer-Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough.

Invitation to the marriage of Consuelo Vanderbilt to the Duke of Marlborogh, 1895, in the Society Collection.  Museum of the City of New York. 36.177.116.

Invitation to the marriage of Consuelo Vanderbilt to the Duke of Marlborough, 1895, in the Society Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 36.177.116.

The marriage was orchestrated by Alva Vanderbilt, a prominent socialite of the Gilded Age, who sought to assure the social position of the Vanderbilt family through the union.   Hundreds of police were called out to restrain curious onlookers the day of the wedding.  The image below briefly catches the bride as she climbs into her carriage.  Click here to see more photos of the event.

Byron Company. Weddings, Vanderbilt-Marlborough, 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.16376.

Byron Company. Weddings, Vanderbilt-Marlborough, 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.16376.

Sadly, unlike Lord and Lady Grantham, who take every opportunity to remind us that they did “grow to love each other,” while Consuelo gained a royal title, and the Duke was said to have obtained $2.5 million in railroad stock as the marriage settlement (roughly $68 million today), the 9th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough were reputed to have a rather unhappy marriage.   The couple separated in 1906,  divorced in 1921 (an event referred to in the season three finale of Downton), and in 1926 the marriage was annulled.

Invitation to the marriage of Cornelia Bradley-Martin tot he Earl of Craven, 1893, in the Society Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 33.213.3

Invitation to the marriage of Cornelia Bradley-Martin tot he Earl of Craven, 1893, in the Society Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 33.213.3

The Museum also holds an invitation to the marriage of Cornelia Martin, or Cornelia Bradley-Martin, as her mother preferred to refer to the family’s last name, to the 4th Earl of Craven, in 1893.   The Bradley-Martins, equally socially mobile as the Vanderbilts, may be best known for the lavish Bradley-Martin Ball held at the Waldorf Astoria in 1897.  According to the World, which reported on the event, of the 40 men present, less than half a dozen were not millionaires.  The series of renovations at Coombe Abbey, the ancestral home of the Earl of Craven, begun the year of his marriage to Cornelia, suggests that without the influx of American money, Coombe Abbey, like Downton Abbey, would have been lost.

So as we wonder what comes next, or in this case, what came before, for the Crawleys and the Granthams, stay tuned for more highlights from our collections as we prepare for this fall’s exhibition on the Gilded Age in New York.  Now I think I hear the dressing gong – time to pick out a gown for dinner!

The Great Crystal Palace Fire of 1858

The New York Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and steel structure completed in 1853  on the site of current day Bryant Park, located between 42nd and 40th streets to the north and south, the Croton Distributing Reservoir (current location of the Stephen A. Schwarzman  Building of the New York Public Library) to the east, and Sixth Avenue to the west.  The structure, designed by architects Georg J. B. Carstensen and Charles Gildermeister in the shape of a Greek cross, featured a dome at its center and was reputed to be fireproof.

Print issued by John Bachmann. Birds Eye View of the New York Crystal Palace and Environs. John Bachmann, 1853. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.2387

Program for the Inauguration of the Crystal Palace, 1853, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.3357.

The Crystal Palace was built to house what is often thought of as the first United States world’s fair — known as the “Exhibition of Industry of All Nations” –  which opened to the public  on July 14, 1853.  The building and the exhibition were inspired by similar events held in London in 1851 and Dublin in 1852, featuring agricultural products and industrial innovations.  Elisha Otis first obtained widespread attention for his new invention, the elevator, at the fair in 1854.   The fair also celebrated the fine arts, showcasing a collection of sculpture and paintings.   While the fair included exhibitors from around the world, those from the United States were most numerous.

Initially, the fair was very popular and no visit to New York could be complete without a visit to the Crystal Palace.  Attendees purchased souvenirs that included canes, clothing, ash trays, medals, spoons, thimbles, and objects such as the plaque pictured below.

Souvenir plaque of the Exhibition of the Industry of all Nations, New York, 1853-1854, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 43.118.14.

However, by the latter part of its first year, the Crystal Palace exposition began to suffer from declining attendance.   Theodore Sedgwick, the first president of the Crystal Palace Association, resigned and was replaced with the grand entertainer Phineas T. Barnum.  When the exhibition finally closed on November 1, 1854, despite the change in leadership and paid attendance exceeding 0ne million, the sponsors of the fair were left with $300,000 in debt.  When the Crystal Palace reopened, it was leased as a space for special events and continued to host the Fair of the American Institute, previously held at Niblo’s Garden, for the next few years.

Judge’s ticket during the 29th Annual Fair of the American Institute at the Crystal Palace, 1857, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 36.409.58.

Attendance to events at the Crystal Palace continued to dwindle and by 1856, according to The New York Times, it was considered a “piece of dead property.”  Perhaps the low attendance was considered a blessing when, on October 5, 1858, the Crystal Palace caught fire while hosting the American Institute Fair.  A letter in the Museum’s collection from Franklin Harvey Biglow to his sister Elizabeth Biglow describes being present at the Crystal Palace on the day of the fire, and how the entire structure collapsed in “not more than ten minutes from the time the alarm was given.”   Biglow was likely an exhibitor at the 30th Annual American Institute Fair, as suggested in his statement in the letter: “Very little of the immense value in goods & merchandise was saved.  My cases and contents went with the rest, my actual loss will not vary much from $900 dollars”–the equivalent of $23,050 in 2012.  Click here to view the full letter.  The total losses from the fire were estimated at approximately $500,000 (the equivalent of $12,802,150 today ), including the value of the building, exhibits, and statuary still installed from the time of the “Exhibition of Industry of All Nations.”  Nearly 2,000 people were inside when the fire broke out, but no one was injured.  The Museum also holds a chunk of glass salvaged from the burnt structure (accession number 36.407) in the collection.

Photographer unknown. Crystal Palace Interior, ca. 1855. Photo Archives. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.5044.

Click here to view more images of the Crystal Palace from the Museum’s collection.

The Beecher-Tilton Affair

What do women’s rights, religion, and sex all have in common?  The Beecher – Tilton Affair.

Photographer unknown.Henry Ward Beecher, ca. 1860. Museum of the City of New York. 33.153.1

Henry Ward Beecher was the first minister of the Plymouth Church, in Brooklyn, appointed in 1847.   Raised as one of thirteen children (including half-siblings) in a strict Presbyterian household in Litchfield, Connecticut, Beecher was somewhat reticent and bashful as a child,  but grew to be a charismatic  preacher.  Beecher was popular amongst his congregation, and according to some sources, especially so with young, attractive women.   Rather than preaching the harsh judgment of God, as his father had, Beecher spoke of the loving presence of God.  Beecher was known for taking stands against slavery and anti-Semitism; and championing women’s suffrage, temperance, and education.

Illustration from Harper’s Weekly. “Get Thee Behind Me, (Mrs.) Satan!” Thomas Nast (1840-1902), 1872. Museum of the City of New York. 99.124.22.

Despite Beecher’s belief in certain equal rights for women, such as the right to vote, Beecher was not in favor of complete equality for women.  He spoke out against Victoria Clafin Woodhull’s concept of “free-love,” or in other words, the right of women to marry, divorce, and bear children without the interference of the government, same as a man.  Woodhull and her sister Tennessee were both advocates of women’s rights, and an excerpt from One Moral Standard for All: Extracts from the lives of Victoria Clafin Woodhull and Tennessee Clafin, states “if a male debauchee is allowed to circulate in respectable society and marry women with unsoiled robes, then the female debauchee should be allowed the same privileges and be treated in the same manner.  This is justice – not mercy, not charity!” (Museum of the City of New York.  F2011.16.7).

Woodhull accused Beecher of hypocrisy, claiming that he himself practiced the very sort of free-love principles he denounced to his congregation, and was in fact involved in an affair with a married woman, Elizabeth Tilton.   Elizabeth Tilton and her husband Theodore were both members of the Plymouth Church Congregation.   According to Richard Wightman Fox, author of Trials of Intimacy: Love and Loss in the Beecher-Tilton Scandal, Theodore Tilton was once one of Beecher’s most committed devotees.  The two had a deep personal relationship, as well as a professional relationship through their work on the editorial content of the national religious journal Independent.   Beecher even presided over the Tiltons’ marriage.

(left) Photographer unknown. Theodore Tilton, ca. 1870. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.1235. (right) Pendleton Photographers. Elizabeth Titlon, ca. 1870. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.1236.

 The Beecher-Tilton Affair was alleged to have taken place during the 1860s,  when, due to conflict in the relationship and Theodore’s extended absences related to his work, Elizabeth sought the companionship of Beecher.   In 1870, Elizabeth confessed to her husband that she had engaged in an adulterous relationship with Beecher.  The confession was soon well-known among certain influential members of Plymouth Church, and eventually reached the ears of Woodhull, who then made the confession public.  Beecher and Theodore badgered Elizabeth to retract her confession, then retract the retraction, respectively.  By 1873, Theodore Tilton was no longer editor of the Independent, and in fact the journal came down hard against Tilton and in support of Beecher.  Tilton was also excommunicated from the Plymouth Church congregation.

Despite much published evidence of the affair, Plymouth Church exonerated Beecher, leading Theodore Tilton to bring suit against him in 1874 for “criminal intimacy” with his wife.

Admission card to “Tilton vs. Beecher,” 1875, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 32.287.6.

The trial was opened in January of 1875, and captivated the nation.  The significance of the trial was not lost on Beecher, as evidenced in the letter below, which states “But this poor note may have an extrinsic interest as being written at the climax of this remarkable trial.”

Letter from Henry Ward Beecher to Mrs. Southwick, June 24, 1875, in the Letters Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.3373.

At the close of the trial in July of 1875, the jury deliberated for six days, but could not reach a verdict.   Following the trial, Plymouth Church exonerated Beecher once again.  Theodore Tilton moved to Paris following the trial, where he lived out the remainder of his life.  Elizabeth Tilton remained a member of the Plymouth congregation until she, yet again, re-confessed to having an affair with Beecher in 1878.  At that point, she was also excommunicated from Plymouth Church.  Beecher remained a popular figure, though he never received quite the level of adulation he was accustomed to before the trial.

The Beach Pneumatic Transit Company – just a bunch of hot air?

My alarm didn’t go off this morning, meaning I overslept and I did not have enough time to ride my bicycle into work as I often do, and instead would have to take the subway.  While the weather has recently been quite pleasant, people often ask me how I can bear to ride my bike on those summer days when temperatures climb into the 90′s, and my response is always to ask how they can stand to wait on subway platforms as immense waves of hot air roll down the tracks in the wake of the trains.   As I was reading on the way in, I came across a review for Taras Grescoe’s Straphangers, a new book about public transportation.  The review mentions the inclusion of “a subway prototype, from 1870, constructed inside a huge pneumatic tube” in New York.  In other words, an underground train whose motion was controlled entirely by forcing air through the tunnel.

“General Plan, showing the arrangement of the machinery, air-flute, tunnel, and the mode of operating the pneumatic passenger-car,” illustration from The Broadway Pneumatic Underground Railway, 1871, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 42.314.142.

Secret, forgotten, and out of commission subway tunnels and stations have always been intriguing to me, and I assume, (though perhaps incorrectly), for most New Yorkers.  Therefore, many of you may already know this is a reference to the pneumatic underground railway conceived by Alfred Ely Beach, in 1869, in response to the ever growing traffic and congestion on New York City streets, especially Broadway.  Beach’s underground railway ran just the length of one block under Broadway, between Warren to Murray Streets.

The rail line was built primarily as a demonstration of how such a system could work, and employed a 48-ton fan to “blow” the train down the tracks.  When the train reached the end of the line at Murray Street, the baffles on the fan were reversed, drawing the train car back toward Warren Street.

“Under Broadway – Interior of Passenger-Car,” illustration from The Broadway Pneumatic Underground Railway, 1871, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 42.314.142.

The entrance to the station was through the Devlin Stores, in what was later known as the Rogers, Peet & Co building.   The station and passenger car were both very elegant, with mirrors, fountains, and saloons for ladies and gentlemen in the station; and the car featured comfortable, upholstered seats for 22 people.  When the number of riders exceeded 22 people, a large platform car with a wooden sail at one end was used instead, where passengers sat upon comfortable settees, which accommodated up to 30 passengers.

Alfred C. Loonam. Beach Pneumatic Tunnel Under Broadway, ca. 1870. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.26.126.

Despite the popularity of Beach’s railway, selling 25-cent rides to over 400,000 people during its first year of operation, it remained little more than a novelty.  Beach fought Tammany Hall for over two years as he tried to pass a bill introduced to the New York State Legislature to extend the line all the way to Central Park.  The bill finally passed in 1873, only to face funding problems both from waning public interest, and the stock market crash that led to the Panic of 1873.  Eventually, Beach abandoned the project.  This blank stock certificate below is probably one of many that sat unused as financiers drifted away.

Stock Certificate for the Beach Pneumatic Transit Co, ca. 1873, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 42.314.114.

The tunnel was sealed, and after the Rogers, Peet, and Co. building was lost to fire in 1898, the Beach Pneumatic Railway was all but forgotten.  In 1912, workers excavating for a line of the Brooklyn-Manhattan Subway encountered the sealed tunnel; inside, Beach’s rail car sat on the tracks, nearly intact.

Unknown photographer. Excavation at Duane and Reade Streets off Broadway, 1978. Museum of the City of New York. 84.227.

This photo in the Museum’s collection showing an excavation site off Broadway between Duane and Reade streets claims to reveal a portion of the Beach Pneumatic tunnel.  Based on the location of the tunnel a full two blocks south of this site, and the upright walls, rather than the round walls necessary for constructing a tube shaped tunnel, I’m not convinced that this is part of the Beach tunnel.  This leads us to the question, of course – what is it then?  Just another piece of the secret, lost, or forgotten infrastructure of New York City.

Click on this links to view more images of subway scenes and tunnels from the Museum’s collections. These images are all available in various sizes as museum quality archival prints. If you see something you want to hang on your wall, email us at reproductions@mcny.org

WAY Back to School

It’s that time of the year again.   As Labor Day rolls around, students of all ages and in all phases of their education start anticipating – and in some cases dreading – the first day of school.    In honor of “Back to School” sales, new notebooks and pencils, and  fresh haircuts around the world, I decided to share some objects from our “Schools” ephemera collection.

Public and private school systems have co-existed in New York City for centuries, and the Museum of the City of New York holds material culture objects from both.

A Good Girl, ca. 1875 – ca. 1890, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 46.302.7

A Good Boy, 1888, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 26.103A

Much of the material in the “Schools” collection consists of report cards, certificates of merit, and the type of material children happily bring home to their parents and the parent happily keeps for ages.  The awards at the right simply state that the student was “Good,” while some of the others get into specifics, such as stating the pupil has been “regular, punctual, and obedient” or has “correct deportment and diligent attention to his studies,” others were awareded for general “faithfulness and proficiency.”

Report Card of Alexander Hatos, 1913, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 96.32.5.

Report Card of Alexander Hatos, 1913, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 96.32.5.

While the collection lacks any sort of “Parent-Teacher letters” regarding students’ poor behavior, many of the report cards don’t tell quite the same story of good performance, such as that of Alexander Hatos, to the left.

Graduating Exercises of the De Witt Clinton High School, 1903. In the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 39.196.13

Other materials in the collection relate to specific events, such as the invitation to the Graduating Exercises of De Witt Clinton High School in 1903.  As mentioned in the invitation, the graduation ceremony was held at another school, as this was before the school moved to its new location on Tenth Avenue in 1906.

Eleventh Reunion of the the Ninth Class Association of Old Public School No. 14, 1874, In the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.18.238.

The collection also includes invitations to alumni events and dinners, such as that for the Ninth Class Association for Old Public School No. 14, to the left.

As I looked through the Private School materials, I came across an object I had not encountered with the Public School materials:  a receipt for education expenses.  This 1859 receipt from the Grammar School of Columbia College is for a charge of $10 for a 5-week course in Classics – the equivalent of $275 today.

Grammar School of Columbia College, 1857, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 33.134.6.

Admission card to Mechanics' Institute School, 1846, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.18.239

Admission card to Mechanics’ Institute School, 1846, in the Ephemera Collection. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.18.239

In contrast, the collection holds an admission card to a seminar at the Tabernacle offered by the Mechanics’ Institute, the oldest privately owned endowed technical school in the country, offering free evening courses in trade-related vocations since 1820.

I also found materials for schools that provided instruction in more specialized pursuits, such as “Miss McCabe’s Academy of Dancing,” “The Dagmar Perkins Institute of Vocal Expression,” and “Disbrow’s W. H. Riding School.”   There are also various “Schools for Boys,” and “Academies for Young Ladies.”

No matter what the fall holds for you students (and teachers) out there, I hope it brings some consolation that New Yorkers for centuries before – and we hope for centuries to come – have faced the first day of school.  You might even be able to find an image of your school on the Collections Portal.