Tag Archives: 1920s

Alfred E. Smith – the people’s politician?

Archival Intern, Karis Raeburn

Archival Intern, Karis Raeburn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art Deco Treasures

Art Deco architecture flourished in Europe and the United States during the 1920s and 1930s. Spurred by the 1925 Paris exhibition Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes which boasted over 16 million visitors, structures such as the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building began dotting the New York City skyline. Below are some recently digitized photographs, not yet available on the Museum’s portal, that struck me as particularly beautiful in their exemplification of Art Deco architecture.

The Ziegfeld Theatre opened to audiences on February 2, 1927 with the musical comedy “Rio Rita”. The 1,638-seat theater, named in honor of impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, was financed by William Randolph Hearst and Arthur Brisbane and designed by Joseph Urban and Thomas W. Lamb. Located at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 54th Street, the theater dazzled audiences during its 38-year tenure with original productions of “Ziegfeld Follies of 1931″ and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, to name a few. The limestone structure was razed in 1966 to make way for an office building. In 1969 a 1,131-seat movie palace named after the original Ziegfeld Theatre opened just a few hundred feet away.

Ziegfeld Theatre. 1927. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.84

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Ziegfeld Theatre. 1927. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.84

Graybar built their namesake building at the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 43rd Street from 1926-27, which served as the distribution company’s corporate headquarters until 1982 . In 2012, New York City Department of Planning (DEP) announced a proposal to rezone East Midtown, the area generally located between Second and Fifth Avenues, from 39th to 57th Streets. Some people are worried that the proposed rezoning could lead to the demolition of older buildings which are not protected by landmark status. Following the DEP’s announcement, the Municipal Art Society of New York submitted the Graybar Building as well as 16 other structures in East Midtown to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for evaluation.

420 Lexington Avenue. Graybar Building, detail of middle entrance. 1927. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.2609

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 420 Lexington Avenue. Graybar Building, detail of middle entrance. 1927. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.2609

The Goelet Building, now called the Swiss Center Building, was built from 1930-32 and designed by Victor L. S. Hafner. The engineering firm E.H. Faile & Co. produced the building’s structural frame. Commissioned by Robert Goelet, the building was constructed at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 49th Street, on land previously occupied by the Goelet family mansion. The building’s heritage was beautifully displayed on the main entrance at 608 Fifth Avenue: the cast metal tympanum, shown in the three photographs below, featured a shield with the family monogram “G” as well as the family crest, the swan. Subsequent modifications to the building in 1965 by the Swiss Center included removal of the entrance arch on Fifth Avenue.

608 Fifth Avenue. Goelet Building. Detail of metalwork over entrance. 1931. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.4841

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 608 Fifth Avenue. Goelet Building. Detail of metalwork over entrance. 1931. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.4841

608 Fifth Avenue. Goelet Building. Detail of metalwork over entrance. 1931. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.4842

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 608 Fifth Avenue. Goelet Building. Detail of metalwork over entrance. 1931. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.4842

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 608 Fifth Avenue. Goelet Building. Entrance. 1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.4906

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 608 Fifth Avenue. Goelet Building. Entrance. 1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.4906

The Herman Ridder Junior High School (Public School 98) in the Crotona Park East section of the Bronx was designed by the Board of Education’s Bureau of Design and Construction and built from 1929-31 in response to the borough’s rapid increase in population during the 1920s. The concept of junior high schools, where young teenagers could transition to high school or prepare to enter the workforce, was relatively recent at that time.  The junior high schools in existence were modeled after elementary school plans, albeit with some modifications. The Herman Ridder Junior High school was the first school in New York City built specifically with the needs of junior high students in mind.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Boston Road and 173rd Street. PS 98, Herman Ridder Junior High School. 1933. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.5573

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Boston Road and 173rd Street. PS 98, Herman Ridder Junior High School. 1933. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.5573

The Bronx had become a magnet for the middle class with upwardly mobile aspirations, an affordable alternative to pricey Manhattan real estate. The completion of the Jerome Avenue subway line in 1918 made the area more accessible and therefore, more desirable. Scores of Art Deco apartment houses were being constructed during this time. The boom was particularly evident along Grand Concourse. Perhaps one of the most beautiful examples is 888 Grand Concourse, shown in the photographs below. It was designed by renowned architect Emery Roth in 1937.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 888 Grand Concourse. Apartment building. 1937. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.7464

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 888 Grand Concourse. Apartment building. 1937. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.7464

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 888 Grand Concourse. Apartment building. 1937. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.7465

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 888 Grand Concourse. Apartment building. Entrance. 1937. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.7465

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 888 Grand Concourse. Apartment building. Entrance. 1937. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.7467

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 888 Grand Concourse. Apartment building. Entrance. 1937. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.7467

Digitization of the Wurts Bros. Collection was made possible by the generous funding and support of the Leon Levy Foundation.

The Restoration of a Pilot House

Reginald Marsh. Tugboat pulling freight car floats. ca. 1938. Museum of the City of New York. 90.36.2.22.2C

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cargo containers coming into New York Harbor were loaded from ocean-going vessels onto large barges with railroad tracks on the deck. Vessels like the steam tugboat New York Central No. 31 (built in 1923 for the New York Central Railroad) moved these barges between rail yards so that the containers could be attached to trains headed to the rest of the country.

Reginald Marsh. Tugboat pulling freight car floats. ca. 1938. Museum of the City of New York. 90.36.2.22.1E

These vessels had distinctively tall pilot houses, enabling the captain to see over the cargo on the barges in order to pilot the craft safely around the Harbor, as well as several windows for good visibility in all directions.

New York Central No. 31 was operated by a crew of 6 in the freight yards of Weehawken, NJ, and the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  She retired in 1970, and the South Street Seaport Museum purchased her pilot house for the collection in 1980 with funds from the Seamen’s Bank for Savings.

Long a fixture on Pier 16, the pilot house had not been restored since 1989.  When the Museum of the City of New York took over operations at the Seaport Museum, it was clear that the time had come for some preservation work, as the harsh weather conditions on the waterfront had damaged the structure.

BEFORE: New York Central No. 31 Pilot House (1980.007) in April 2012

Glen removing the rotted layers of the roof in early May

A cross-section of the roof, including the original canvas covering

One surprise when we removed some of the rotting siding — graffiti from before the last restoration in 1989! Wonder if this couple is still together…

In early May, Jim Clements and Glen Garver, both master joiners, came to the Museum to begin work.  Jim and Glen have done extensive work both ashore and afloat, including several other pilot house projects. We were fortunate to have these two fine artists working with us on the restoration of the New York Central 31 pilot house.

The first step was to remove all of the rotting wood, exposing the internal structure of the pilot house along with a few surprises, including the original canvas roof and a graffiti record of 1980’s-era love.

Jim and Glen removed any material that was rotted and replaced it with historically – appropriate materials that would be able to withstand the harsh waterfront weather conditions.

New and old wood along the roof edge

New siding done in traditional tongue-in-groove technique

Jim fairing joints at soffit and fascia.

Once the structure was updated, Jim and Glen primed the building for painting, which Sal Polisi, the woodcarver at the Seaport Museum’s maritime crafts center, completed.  The pilot house had long been painted a greenish-gray color, but Norman Brouwer, a noted maritime historian who is consulting with the Museum on various projects, selected an olive green and bright red color scheme that is more historically accurate.

Sal painting the name board he hand-carved for the pilot house

Sal also restored and repainted the name boards he’d made for the pilot house back in the 1980’s.  These signs are exact replicas of the signs the vessel would have sported in the 1930’s.

Waterfront staff led by waterfront director Jonathan Boulware then moved the pilot house to a new location on the pier using pipe rollers and a forklift.

With a few coats of paint, the pilot house now looks cheery on the pier, and it currently serves as the ticket office for Trapeze School New York.  Come on down and check out a piece of history before you go fly high over the East River!

The Seaport Museum, currently under the management of the Museum of the City of New York, is open seven days a week from 10:00 – 6:00.

AFTER: the pilot house, brightly painted in historically accurate colors, after her restoration

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.

—-

If you enjoy seeing these digitized images in the Museum’s blog every week, please consider donating to our ongoing effort to photograph and make available more of the Museum’s collections. Click here and enter your donation amount in the Digitization box: https://boxoffice.mcny.org/public/donation.asp

“The God of Vengeance”: Is the Play Immoral?

A father lives with his wife and teenage daughter above the brothel that he owns.  It’s a simple story. A young girl is drawn to a world forbidden her. A father is determined to keep his daughter innocent and pure.  Of course, by the end of the play the young girl is not only the newest member of the oldest profession but in love with a fellow prostitute to boot.

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [David Kessler in “Got fun nekome”]. ca. 1912. Collection on Yiddish Theater, Museum of the City of New York. 66.22.16

The play is Sholom Asch’s Got fun nekome or, in English, God of Vengeance. Written in Yiddish in 1906, a New York production premiered the following year starring David Kessler as the father, Yankl Tshaptshovitsh. From the beginning there was  controversy.  The play’s depiction of the lesbian relationship between Yankl’s daughter and one of the prostitutes in his brothel caused a flurry of activity in the Yiddish press. There was concern that the play’s content would trigger anti-Semitic backlash if it became known to the wider English-speaking world. When the play finally did make its  Broadway debut at the Apollo Theatre  in 1923, it was precisely the content that led to the trial of the show’s 12 actors and producer.

Maurice Goldberg. [Rudolph Schildkraut in “God of Vengeance”]. 1923. Collection on Yiddish Theater, Museum of the City of New York. 30.170.4B

On March 6, 1923, just after the actors finished performing the second act (in which Yankl’s daughter runs away with one of the prostitutes), a detective appeared backstage at the Apollo Theatre to inform the theatre’s manager and producer that they and the entire cast had been indicted before a Grand Jury earlier in the day. The English-language version of Asch’s play had premiered just a few months earlier in late 1922 at the Provincetown Playhouse in New York’s Greenwich Village and was directed by and starred Rudolph Schildkraut, who had also performed in Max Reinhardt’s German production. The transfer uptown occurred in February. The play was open on Broadway for a just under a month when the indictment came down.

The show’s producer, Harry Weinberger, served as the defense lawyer for himself and the actors.  When the verdict of guilty came down on May 23, 1923, he rallied the theatrical community against the obscenity charges, producing the pamphlet pictured below.

“‘The God of Vengeance’ Is the play immoral? Is it great drama?”. 1923. Collection on Yiddish Theater, Museum of the City of New York. 30.170.12

Sholom Asch defended his work for the first time in an open letter printed in the pamphlet. He criticized American audiences for not being “either sufficiently interested or adequately instructed to accept The God of Vengeance.”  He goes on to defend himself against the Jewish community’s earlier fears about the play: “Jews do not need to clear themselves before anyone. They are as good and as bad as any race. I see no need why a Jewish writer should not bring out the bad or good traits.”

Interestingly, the New York Times article reporting the verdict does not mention the lesbian relationship as the source of the obscenity. Rather, the judge is said to have resented what he perceived as the “desecration of the sacred scrolls of the Torah.”

Though the play’s actors and producer had been found guilty of giving an immoral performance, the sentences were very light. Only Weinberger and        Schildkraut were fined, $200 each.  The rest were released on suspended sentence. Weinberger donated materials related to the play and trial to the Museum, including two appellants’ briefs. They are being processed as part of the Collection on Yiddish Theatre thanks to the generous funding and support of the David Berg Foundation and the Lemberg Foundation.

Though the indictment put an end to the Broadway run of “God of Vengeance,” the production was able to find other venues. Before the verdict was even decided, the show had moved to the Prospect Theatre in the Bronx.  It seems that despite potential imprisonment, the show must go on.

A Trip Up Broadway

From 1916 to 1921, Arthur Hosking photographed Broadway, from its southernmost leg at Bowling Green all the way north to Yonkers. Here are some highlights, all taken in 1920 unless otherwise noted.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. Bowling Green looking north from Custom House steps. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.4

At the far right of this photo is the Produce Exchange, which was demolished in 1957. This photo was taken in 1921, when both street trolleys and horse-drawn carriages competed as viable means of transportation.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. Broadway looking north from Rector Street. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.18

A photo taken a few blocks north at Broadway and Rector Street shows pedestrians, automobiles, and street trolleys competing with each other for space. Trinity Church is on the left.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. Looking north from 2nd floor window at corner of Fulton Street. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.30

Broadway is bustling at the intersection of Fulton Street. St. Paul’s Chapel, seen on the left, was built from 1764 to 1766 and is Manhattan’s oldest continuously-used public building. In 1966, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. The City Hall Post Office on the right did not fare so well. Built in 1878, it was immediately despised by city officials and the public alike. It was razed in 1938 in anticipation of the 1939 World Fair. (See http://www.nyc-architecture.com/GON/GON022.htmfor more details.)

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View of east side of Bway, looking north from Lispenard and Canal Street, where the two streets converge. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.58

Taken in TriBeCa, this photo shows an advertisement for Nehemiah Gitelson & Sons. Nehemiah Gitelson immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1880. In addition to running the family company, he supported Jewish scholarship. In honor of his patronage, the Jewish Theological Seminary named his donation of over 1,100 volumes the Nehemiah Gitelson Talmudic Library.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View looking south from 18th Street taken from 3rd floor fire escape. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.85

In 1815, the intersection of Broadway and the Bowery (now 4thAvenue) was designated a public meeting space and named Union Place for the convergence of the city’s main thoroughfares. The city gradually began to acquire surrounding land, and in 1832 Union Place was renamed Union Square.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View looking north from "El" station at 33rd Street and 6th Ave, showing Herald Square. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.108

This photo shows Saks & Co. on the left, then Macy’s. To the right is the New York Herald building. Only the Macy’s building survives today. Saks & Co. merged with Gimbels  to form Saks 5th Avenue in 1932. However, the original Saks building in this photo operated under the name Saks 34thStreet until its closure in 1965. The New York Herald building was designed by Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White in 1894 and demolished in 1921.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View looking north from 44th Street (Times Square), where Broadway crosses 7th Avenue. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.117

This photo shows the heart of Times Square. To the left is Hotel Astor, built in 1904. Before 1904, the area was known as Longacre Square, but Adolph Ochs, owner and publisher of the New York Times, convinced the city to officially rename the space Times Square. Hotel Astor remained until its demolition in 1967.

Arthur Hosking. View of the southeast corner of Broadway and 155th Street. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.158

Here is the Church of the Intercession in Hamilton Heights. It was only 8 years old when this photo was taken.

The photo below shows Broadway at a much slower pace in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. The Broadway Inn is to the left.

Arthur Hosking. Broadway Series. View looking north from Mosholu Ave with Broadway Inn at left. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.18.190