Tag Archives: 1900s

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.

Chantecler_Museum_of_the_City_Of_New_York_23

“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:

Chantecler_Museum_of_the_City_Of_New_York_03

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

Chantecler_Museum_of_the_City_Of_New_York_06

“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.

Chantecler_Museum_of_the_City_Of_New_York_20

“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.

 

Up on the roof, entertainment en plein air

Spring in New York City is glorious.  Allergy issues aside, the season of rebirth is especially welcome after this winter’s polar vortex shenanigans.  And though I celebrate the sunny days and refreshing rain of spring, I can see the heat waves forming on the horizon.  Summer is coming and with it a suffocating wall of humidity.

One of my best strategies to beat the heat is going to the theater. Be it a movie, musical, or play,  the cool darkness of a theater combined with a few hours of entertainment is my preferred place to be on an unbearably hot day.  A hundred years ago, this wasn’t so much the case.  Without air conditioning, the heat of the lights and the crush of fellow audience members could make visiting the theater  intolerable.  Not wishing to lose business during the summer months, theater owners came up with a new strategy: the roof!

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) [Roof Garden, Madison Square Garden Theatre.] ca. 1900.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, Madison Square Garden Theatre. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10866.

In the photograph above, a rooftop audience enjoys some light entertainment on the Madison Square Garden roof.  This MSG was located at 26th Street and Madison Avenue.  Designed by Stanford White, it was the second tallest building in the City at the time construction finished in 1890. Part of the fun for the audience was the chance to watch musical comedies and operettas from 32 stories off the ground. (Check out Mia’s early blog on the theater’s Diana statue.)

Further uptown at 44th and Broadway, the New York Theatre roof offered similar entertainment fare. The New York Theatre was originally built as the Olympia Theatre by  Oscar Hammerstein I (the grandfather of the Oscar Hammerstein from musical theater’s famous “Rodgers & Hammerstein”).

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.10880.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.10880.

Though a financial failure for Hammerstein I, the theater was only the second to be built in what would become the Times Square Theater District.  In 1895, the area was known as Longacre Square.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10877.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10877.

Hammerstein I’s second effort at extravagant outdoor entertainment was the  Paradise Roof Garden at 201 West 42nd Street.  Part enclosed space and part open air, the Garden spanned the roofs of  the Victoria Theatre and the Theatre Republic next door.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). [Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein's Victoria.] ca. 1904.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein’s Victoria.]ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10856.

The Paradise Roof Garden was run by Hammerstein I’s son Willie.  As the noise of an ever expanding New York drifted upward, the vaudeville shows presented on the roof adapted to include wordless routines and pantomime.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) [Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein's Victoria.] ca. 1904.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein’s Victoria. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10860.

Just down the block at 260 West 42nd Street was the American Theatre.  With a seating capacity of over 2,000, the American Theatre was a  popular venue for melodrama and comedies.  The roof  offered escape from the crowds below.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.), American Roof Garden. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.17841.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). American Roof Garden. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.17841.

Beautiful lights lit up the roof and audiences could gather around small tables to chat or enjoy a variety of entertainments.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden - American Roof Garden 1898 Eighth Ave at 42nd Street S.E. Cor. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.18358.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden – American Roof Garden 1898 Eighth Ave at 42nd Street S.E. Cor. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.18358.

Lighter fare was the entertainment of choice for rooftop theaters. Many of the auditoriums below were known for their comedic musicals and revues.  Rooftops offered even less serious spectacle with acrobatic troupes, vaudeville sketches, and variety acts requiring minimal staging.  It was just too darn hot to think of weightier things.  No doubt it’s the same impulse that guides the current blockbuster push for summer movies.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) [Roof Garden, Casino.] 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10850

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Roof Garden, Casino. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10850.

Movie screenings were also a part of rooftop entertaining.  As the technology developed, projectors and screens were taken up top so that audiences could enjoy the silent films and a breeze.

Postcard. "Fred Winter's Summer Garden, Brooklyn, New York." Charles Stock & Co. Litho., ca. 1910.

Postcard. “Fred Winter’s Summer Garden, Brooklyn, New York.” Charles Stock & Co. Litho., ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York, X2011.34.3841.

Rooftop entertainment began a sharp decline in the 1920s, a decline that coincided with the rise of air conditioning installations in theaters of all types. While live performance on a rooftop may be a thing of the past, New Yorkers can still check out a movie thanks to the series set up by Rooftop Films.  You can also get your fix for outdoor theater this summer with the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park productions.  Another great way to beat the heat: visit a museum!

Alfred E. Smith – the people’s politician?

Archival Intern, Karis Raeburn

Archival Intern, Karis Raeburn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

100 years of the Actors’ Equity Association

Look at the cast list in any theater program across the country and you will see a small * beside a performer’s name leading to a footnote indicating the performer belongs to the Actors’ Equity Association.  Peruse the program bios for these same starred performers and you will often encounter the phrase “proud member of Actors’ Equity.”  The union representing live theatrical performance turns 100 years old on Sunday. Rather than attempting 100 years of coverage in a single blog entry, this week’s posting will focus on just a few points of pride.

Actors’ Equity was founded on May 26, 1913 when 112 theatrical actors met at the Pabst Grand Circle Hotel in New York City.

Byron Company. [Columbus Circle.] 1902. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17949.

Byron Company. [Columbus Circle.] 1902. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17949.

Unknown. [Francis Wilson in unidentified production], ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 52.21.25

Unknown. [Francis Wilson in unidentified production], ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 52.21.25

Six months before this meeting the Actors’ Society of America, a previous attempt at organizing a labor union for theatrical actors, dissolved, due in large part to the fact that the Actors’ Society did not have the clout necessary for serious negotiations with theatrical managers. The plans for a new organization emerged from its ashes, and the May 26th meeting established a constitution for the new theatrical labor union. Comedic actor Francis Wilson was elected the Equity’s first president.

Equity’s first significant trial as a union came in 1919 when it joined with the American Federation of Labor (now the AFL-CIO).  Demanding better pay  and performance schedules from theater owners, the Union also fought for recognition. Tensions came to a head on August 7, 1919 when the casts of 12 New York productions refused to go on stage. By the end of the month, nine more New York theatres went dark and Equity members in Chicago, Boston, and Washington D.C. joined the strike.

White Studio [Actors' Equity strike of 1919.] 1919. Museum of the City of New York. 37.361.101.

White Studio [Actors' Equity strike of 1919.] 1919. Museum of the City of New York. 37.361.101.

White Studio. [Actors' Equity Strike - The Committee.] 1919. Museum of the City of New York. 37.361.102.

White Studio. [Actors' Equity Strike - The Committee.] 1919. Museum of the City of New York. 37.361.102.

Producers gave in to demands in early September after suffering an estimated loss of 3 million dollars in revenue. Equity had won its first major battle, and the result was a major blow to the power oftheater owners and managers who controlled the venues and booking across the United States.  Membership also quadrupled, bringing Equity performers to almost 14,000.

Program for "Malvalorca", 1922. Museum of the City of New York. 32.73.94

Program for “Malvalorca”, 1922. Museum of the City of New York. 32.73.94

Beginning in 1922, the organization sponsored a theatrical company run entirely by actors. Taking a lease on the 48th Street Theatre, the company’s inaugural production was Malvaloca. The Equity Players, Inc. went on to produce 13 more plays under that name  and 22 as the Actors’ Theatre. Productions were a mix of original work and revivals of major plays by Henrik Ibsen, Bernard Shaw, Eugene O’Neil, Oscar Wilde, and William Shakespeare. Though the company did not survive the depression, Equity Players focused on the quality of the actor and their shows were an important part of a move toward ensemble production.

Actors’ Equity Association played a part in the major social changes that swept across the country during the middle of the 20th century. The union was outspoken in its opposition to audience segregation and to  Senator Joseph McCarthy’s blacklist. Equity’s officials participated in congressional hearings advocating for governmental support of the arts that resulted in the 1965 establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Invitation to Equity's Golden Anniversary reception, 1963. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.3

Invitation to Equity’s Golden Anniversary reception, 1963. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.3

Equity celebrated its Golden Anniversary in 1963 with a month long extravaganza including a reception at Gracie Mansion and a special performance highlighting the best scenes and songs from the last 50 years of theatrical productions. Festivities  continued with exhibitions at the New York Public Library and the Museum of the City of New York.

Greene & Rossi, Inc. [Frederick O'Neal and May Davenport Seymour at opening reception for Equity's Golden Anniversary Exhibition.] 1963. Museum of the City of New York, exhibition archives.

Greene & Rossi, Inc. [Frederick O'Neal and May Davenport Seymour at opening reception for Equity's Golden Anniversary Exhibition.] 1963. Museum of the City of New York, Exhibition archives.

The Museum’s exhibition was dedicated to Equity’s Golden Anniversary and included a benefit performance commemorating Equity’s accomplishments.  In the midst of the month of celebration, Equity took time to recognize the Museum’s Theater Curator, May Davenport Seymour, at a special exhibition preview arranged specifically for Equity members. Frederick O’Neal, Equity’s president-elect (the first African-American Equity president), presented Ms. Seymour with 50 roses and a scroll honoring her achievements as the founder of what was then called the Theater and Music Collection at the Museum. Ms. Seymour retired one month later after nearly 36 years spent establishing and curating the Museum’s collection.

Program insert, 1960. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.2.

Program insert, 1960. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.2.

The celebratory approbations were well deserved considering that just three years prior the organization was in another round of heated negotiations with theater owners. One of the major issues on the table was the establishment of a a pension plan. On June 1, 1960, the performers in The Tenth Man exercised a one-night shut down as protest in accordance with Equity’s harassment policy.  The next day, performers at 22 New York theatres showed up to work only to be informed that the show would not go on. The result was the largest work stoppage since 1919 in what theater producers dubbed a strike but Equity called a lockout. The Mayor’s office intervened with a plan to support pensions and the dispute was settled in less than two weeks at the expense of about one million dollars in ticket sales.

Program. Equity Annual Ball, 1924. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.1

Program. Equity Annual Ball, 1924. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.1

Since its inception, Equity has hosted events  celebrating its members and often fundraising to support wider efforts of theatrical promotion. In recent decades, those events have become more focused on the fight against one of the greatest threats to the theatrical community, the spread of HIV and AIDS. The committee for Equity Fights AIDS was established in 1987 to raise money for performers affected by HIV and AIDS. A year later, Broadway Cares was founded with the similar goal by The Producers’ Group. The two groups merged in 1992 to become Broadway Cares/Equity fights AIDS.

Program for Easter Bonnet Competition, 2009. Museum of The City of New York. F2013.50.4

Program for Easter Bonnet Competition, 2009. Museum of The City of New York. F2013.50.4

In addition to fundraising at shows, Broadway Cares/Equity fights AIDS sponsors auctions and themed events. The Broadway Bears auction sells teddy bears constructed to resemble current season characters. The more salaciously named Broadway Bares features strip-teases by Broadway performers. The program at right is for the 2009 Easter Bonnet Competition which raised $3,402,147 .

One can join an Equity by being a member in good standing of a sister union such as Screen Actor’s Guild or American Guild of Variety Artists  or by performing with an Equity contract production. At its centennial, Equity boasts nearly 50,000 members,  and every one of them has a story about how they earned the * next to their names.  For a more complete history of the Actors’ Equity Association, visit the timeline available on the organization’s website.

Eugene O’Neill: the sailor, the sickness, the stage

In December 1912, a young man experiencing the onset of tuberculosis committed himself to Gaylord Sanatorium in Connecticut. The third son of a well known Irish-American actor, the young man had up to that point led a somewhat dissolute life. Brought up in boarding schools, he was suspended from Princeton University after his first year . By the time he checked into Gaylord he’d been a miner in Honduras, married (and abandoned) his first wife, spent several years sailing the Atlantic , and survived at least one suicide attempt. A change came when at the sanatorium he began writing plays. He was 24 years old. His name was Eugene O’Neill.

Eugene Gladstone O’Neill,  son of actor James O’Neill, was born on October 16, 1888 at the Barrett House Hotel located in what was then known as Longacre Square.

Unknown. [Broadway north from 43rd Street.] 1896. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.943
The Barrett House Hotel is the distant building on the left side. It later became the Hotel Cadillac.

James O’Neill was a dramatic actor known best for his role as Edmond Dantes in a stage adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo. His declamatory style was in step with the kind of theater popular at the time: full of bold gestures, spectacle, and clear lines of morality.

In May of 1913, after receiving a clean bill of health, the young Eugene took up play writing in earnest.  He attended George Pierce Baker’s play writing class at Harvard University.  Sailing up to Cape Cod in 1916, he spent his first summer in the company of the Provincetown Players, a newly formed group of theatrical artists committed to working against the grandiose melodrama that dominated the American stage.  It was at the Players’ Wharf Theatre that O’Neill performed in his own Bound East for Cardiff.  (Shown on the far left in the image below).

Unknown. [From left to right: Eugene O'Neill, Fred Burt, David Carb, and George Cram Cook in "Bound East for Cardiff" in Provincetown Wharf Theatre.] 1916. Museum of the City of New York. 54.380.39

Bound East for Cardiff was the first in what would become the Glencairn Plays, so named for the fictional ship on which the one-act plays were set.  The S. S. Glencairn, its characters, and its journeys were inspired by O’Neill’s time aboard the British steamship S. S. Ikala.  These four plays include Moon of the Carribees, The Long Voyage Home, and In the Zone.  They focus on a group of sailors and what they carry: secrets, a longing for a different life, and sometimes a bottle of rum.

Though written second, In the Zone is considered the last play in the series in terms of the characters’ chronology. The play debuted on Broadway at the Comedy Theatre as part of an evening of one-acts.

Theater program for “In the Zone”. 1917. Museum of the City of New York. 74.72.2

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Left to right: Eugene Lincoln, Robert Strange, Frederick Roland, Jay Strong, Arthur Hohl, and Rienzi De Cordova in The Washington Square Players production of "In The Zone".] 1917. Museum of the City of New York. 47.59.18

The play was successful enough to allow for a 34 week tour giving O’Neill his first steady income as a playwright.  It wasn’t until 1924 that the Provincetown Playhouse put up the first full-scale production of the complete cycle in New York City. By that time O’Neill was an established playwright with a Pulitzer Prize under his belt.

Unknown. [Scene from "Moon of the Caribbees" at Provincetown Playhouse, NYC.] 1924. Museum of the City of New York. 75.130.12

In 1920 O’Neill’s Beyond the Horizon earned him his first in what would turn out to be four Pulizters for Drama.  His first full-length work, the play is set in a rural farm community not unlike the one dreamed of by the sailors aboard S.S. Glencairn.  The opening scene is a road.  Below is a sketch from a draft page of Beyond the Horizon and the realized scenery at the play’s debut at the Morosco Theatre.

Eugene O’Neill. First page of draft of “Beyond the Horizon”. 1918. Museum of the City of New York. 30.145.3A

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Setting for Act I, scene 1 of "Beyond the Horizon".] 1920. Museum of the City of New York. 34.157.24

The main character, Robert Mayo, is described in the opening stage directions as having “a touch of the poet” about him. He is a dreamer and longs to travel outside what he has known. (Robert was portrayed by Richard Bennett, below, seated at far right).

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Mary Jeffrey, Sidney Macy, Erville Alderson, Robert Kelly, and Richard Bennett.] 1920. Museum of the City of New York. 34.157.25

Robert’s older brother Andrew is content to work the land, but through the affections of a young woman, the brothers’ fates are reversed. Robert stays on the family farm while Andrew takes to the sea. Neither fares well. Robert ends up contracting tuberculosis. He dies in the final scene as the sun rises up from a disappearing road.

Eugene O’Neill’s own end came with a long illness, a neuromuscular disorder that rendered him unable to hold a pen. He died 59 years ago this week at the Sheraton Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. He was 65 years old.

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.

Peter Pan: over 100 years of the boy who wouldn’t grow up

Wendy Darling:
Boy, why are you crying?

Boy:
What’s your name?

Wendy:
Wendy Moira Angela Darling. What is your name?

Boy:
Peter Pan.

Wendy:
Is that all?

Peter Pan:
Yes.

-Act I, Peter Pan; or, the boy who wouldn’t grow up by J. M. Barrie.

Otto Sarony Co. [Maude Adams as Peter Pan], 1905. Museum of the City of New York. 32.290.9.

This is how we are introduced to Peter Pan, in the Darling children’s bedroom, crying with frustration over his separated shadow.  The boy who wouldn’t grow up turns 108 this year and with his latest incarnation, Peter and the Starcatcher, showing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway, he still can still draw our attention.

 Peter Pan made his Broadway debut on November 6, 1905, just under a year after appearing for the first time on the London stage.  Written by J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan; or, the boy who wouldn’t grow up was produced in London by Charles Frohman and remounted at his Empire Theatre on Broadway and 40th Street. The production starred Maude Adams as the  eponymous boy.

Theater program for “Peter Pan” at the Empire Theatre, November 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2012.42.2.

The Empire Theatre revived the play three times in the early part of the 20th century, all starring Ms. Adams who by the 1915 production was 43 years old.

Unknown. [Eva Le Gallienne as Peter Pan]. 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 37248.9

Barrie’s boy got two revivals in the 1920s, the second of which was directed by and starred Eva Le Gallienne.  Though only 29, Ms. Le Gallienne was already a seasoned Broadway director.  Her production was seen as a  break away from Frohman’s productions. However, the New York Times review noted that the play “had lost nothing essential of its magic”.  The reviewer described Ms. Gallienne’s Peter as a “gallant, buoyant  clean-cut figure”, but also noticed that she “wears the limit of bare legs”.  Though her pose at left is decidedly less boyish than her predecessor, the choice of city rooftop is perhaps the most striking contrast to Ms. Adams’s idyllic woodland backdrop.

Lucas-Monroe. [Boris Karloff as Captain Hook], 1950. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.2163.

The final Broadway production of Peter Pan the play was mounted in 1950 at the Imperial Theatre.  Continuing the tradition of a grown woman playing Peter, Jean Arthur took up the title role, and none other than the original Frankenstein, Boris Karloff, played Captain Hook.  In the premiere London production, the actor who played Captain Hook also portrayed Mr. Darling, the children’s father.  Peter’s archenemy is a father figure in disguise, an image as psychologically subtle as the make-up on Mr. Karloff’s face.

Peter Lawrence, a producer on Mr. Karloff’s production, arranged a national tour in the fall of 1951.  This time Peter was played by the improbable Veronica Lake.  The Digital Team at the Museum uncovered the images below in the archives of the Lucas-Pritchard / Lucas-Monroe Studios.

Lucas-Monroe. [Veronica Lake as Peter Pan], 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.2115.

Lucas-Monroe. [Veronica Lake as Peter Pan and Lawrence Tibbett as Captain Hook], 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.2119.

Though Peter Lawrence’s production was the last time the play was produced on Broadway, Barrie’s work was turned into a popular musical that opened just four years later. With a score by Mark Charlap and music by Carolyn Leigh, the production was directed by Jerome Robbins and starred the very popular Mary Martin.  Ms. Martin’s boy became the definitive Peter Pan. (She donated her Pan costume to the Museum in 1968 including the piece for Peter’s shadow.)

Sheet music for “Captain Hook’s Waltz” from “Peter Pan”, 1954. Museum of the City of New York. 70.22.123D.

Though the musical’s original run was only 152 performances, Ms. Martin starred in three live televised productions that gave the show a wider audience. The musical was revived five times, the last opening in 1999.  Now on Broadway, Peter Pan has been re-made for the 21st century in Peter and the Starcatcher, a precursor to the boy’s adventures with the Darlings. The play garnered an impressive nine Tony nominations this year, winning awards for its feature actor and sweeping the design categories.  The boy who wouldn’t grow up still won’t, and we can’t stop clapping our hands.

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How Harlem River Speedway Became Harlem River Drive

Before it was called the Harlem River Drive, the parkway running north and south along the west bank of the Harlem River was called the Harlem River Speedway. Construction began in 1894, and the speedway opened in July of 1898.

Jay Hambridge. Summer on the Speedway. Museum of the City of New York. 34.100.33

It stretched from 155th Street in Washington Heights to Dyckman Street in Inwood. At first, use of the speedway was restricted to equestrians and carriage drivers. This pleased the wealthy, who worried that sharing the road with other vehicles would ruin their good time. In advance of the speedway’s opening, a New York Times headline from May 15, 1898 announced: “No Danger that Bicyclists Will Mar the Horsemen’s Sport on the Speedway. THEY ARE EXCLUDED BY LAW.”

Robert L. Bracklow. Harlem River Speedway. Museum of the City of New York. 93.91.249

The speedway became a tourist destination where people could watch horse and boat races, visit Highbridge and Fort George Amusement Parks, and enjoy the scenery along the Harlem River.

Robert L. Bracklow. Washington Bridge and Speedway. Museum of the City of New York. 93.91.444

Robert L. Bracklow. Boat Races on Harlem River under Washington Bridge. Museum of the City of New York. 93.91.115

Some New Yorkers were unhappy that tax dollars were used to build an exclusionary road. As Charles C. Sargent, Jr., noted in his article “A Horseman’s Paradise” in the November 1898 issue of Munsey’s Magazine, “For the men – a few hundred at most – who own fast horses and want to ‘try them out,’ the sapient rulers of New York have spent in making the Speedway money that would have built thirty school houses, and would have provided twice over for the twenty five thousand children turned away last September from the overcrowded primary schools of the metropolis.”

It was not until 1919 that the Harlem River Speedway was opened to motorists. Three years later, it was paved.

New York Edison Company. View of the Harlem River Speedway and Harlem River from beneath Highbridge. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2150

In 1940 Robert Moses envisioned a highway that would connect all of Manhattan’s driveways. The Harlem River Drive would incorporate sections of the old Harlem River Speedway, linking the Henry Hudson Parkway, the George Washington Bridge, and the East River Drive.  In addition, traffic from the Triborough Bridge and bridges connected to the Major Deegan Expressway would flow into the Harlem River Drive. This ambitious project was completed in 1964 at a cost of $38 million.

George Roos. Harlem River Drive and the Macombs Dam Bridge. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.8558

The Literary World through the Eyes of a Woman at the turn of the 19th Century

Miss Ella M. Boult, writer and editor, served as assistant editor and secretary to Edmund Clarence Stedman from 1899 until his death in 1908.  Stedman was a journalist on the staffs of the Tribune and the World, as well as a poet, critic, and editor of literary anthologies.    Through her capacity as Stedman’s “right hand man” – as she is referred to by Edward Everett Hale, author, historian and clergyman, in a letter from September 9, 1899 – she became a frequent correspondent with many of the literati of the early 20th century.

Letter to Ella Boult from Edward E. Hale, 1899, in the Ella Boult Papers. Museum of the City of New York. 50.211.12..

Stedman made his home in the Lawrence Park neighborhood of Bronxville in the 1890s, and many other writers and artists soon joined him, establishing the Lawrence Park Artists’ Colony.   Much of the correspondence in the collection is sent between New York City and Lawrence Park.

Letter to Ella Boult from Tudor Jenks, 1903, in the Ella M. Bout Papers. Museum of the City of New York. 50.211.75A.

Miss Boult  migrated between several part-time residences during her life, and Stedman’s home in the Lawrence Park Colony was among those;  many of the individuals she corresponded with either had homes or stayed as guests in the colony.  Several letters in the collection include notes such the one to the left from the author and poet Tudor Jenks, stating “I wish you were back in the Park again.”

Jenks sent the letter above to Miss Boult upon publication of her epic poem The romance of Cinderella; being the true history of Eleanor de Bohun, and her lover, Hallam Beaufort, duke of Somerset: together with divers happenings concerning the mysterious black knight, and other illustrious persons: also setting forth the unnatural and inhuman conduct of the Lady Eleanor’s stepmother, and her two stepsisters, Mistress Rotraut and Mistress Dowsabel.   The book was illustrated by Beatrice Stevens, Miss Boult’s close friend, living companion, and artistic collaborator.

Upon originally learning of Miss Ella Boult and this collection of papers, I immediately (and mistakenly) called to mind an image of an early Peggy Olson from Mad Men; I thought the main difference was simply half a century and a typewriter.  However, not only did Miss Boult correspond with several literary figures in her capacity as Stedman’s secretary,  she formed personal relationships with the likes of Ridgley Torrence, who was instrumental in the advancement of African American theater; John Dos Passos, who is best known for his work the U.S. A Trilogy; and Reginald Birch, illustrator of Little Lord Fauntleroy.   Throughout the collection, these individuals and others consult Miss Boult on editorial and artistic questions regarding their own work, provide congratulations on her writing achievements, and also correspond about personal matters.  An illustrated card from Birch is pictured below.

Illustrated Card from from Reginald Birch, undated, in the Ella M. Bout Papers. Museum of the City of New York. 50.211.76.

This collection provides a unique glimpse not only into the life of a working woman of the early 20th century, but also into the New York literary world.  Despite the gender assumptions of the era, Miss Boult was clearly accepted by a predominantly male literary scene as one of their own.

Special thanks to one of our many summer interns, Marika Plater; without her detailed research into Miss Ella Boult and this collection of papers, this post wouldn’t be possible.