Tag Archives: Central Park

The Great Bygone Museum Tour

Museums of New York, July 9, 1939

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

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

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

Scudder's American Museum

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

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

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

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

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

Peale's Museum

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

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

Sleighing in New York

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

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

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

[Ruins of Barnum's Museum.]

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

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

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

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

Eden Musee, 59 West 23rd Street.

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

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

Museum of Safety Appliances.

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

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

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

[American Museum of Natural History.]

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

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

[Obelisk with Metropolitan Museum of Art.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Central Park Casino

It’s 1929 in an Art Deco ballroom. Dancers glide around, dimly reflected in the black glass ceiling while outside on the terrace, the sound of champagne corks popping intersperses with conversations, laughter, and jazz, all  floating through the night air. Surrounded by Central Park, the Central Park Casino was the place for rich, fabulous, and socially and politically connected citizens of the late 1920s and early 1930s who wanted to party together and ignore the troublesome 18th Amendment. Yet by 1935, the party was over. How did a political rivalry end the revelry at one of the most exclusive Jazz Age nightclubs?

The Central Park Casino began in 1864 as the Ladies’ Refreshment Salon, a quaint Victorian two-room stone cottage designed by Calvert Vaux on East Drive and 72nd Street. Unaccompanied ladies could relax during their excursions around the park and enjoy refreshments at decent prices, free of any threat to their propriety.

Twenty years later, the salon had morphed into a far pricier destination, called The Casino, and was open to both sexes. The name was used to invoke the Italian translation of “little house” rather than denoting a gambling joint. Locals and tourists flocked to the restaurant, where one could get a sirloin steak for 75 cents (just under 20 dollars in today’s money) and choose from an extensive wine list. Because it was in the park and had the then rare attraction of outdoor seating, it was the place to see and be seen.

X2011.34.4545 Charles F. Flower and Raphael Tuck & Sons. Central Park, New York. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.4545

Charles F. Flower and Raphael Tuck & Sons. Central Park, New York. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.4545.

Unknown. Casino Cafe in Central Park. ca. 1885. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.1206

Unknown. Casino Cafe in Central Park. ca. 1885. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.1206.

Yet after decades of feeding and refreshing wealthy and hungry park-goers, the Casino fell onto hard times and according to an article from the New Yorker from September 20, 1941 by the early 1920’s  it was being managed in “a somewhat dumpy nite-club style.”

In 1926 New York City was swept up in the Jazz Age.  Speakeasies, dancing, and just a general pursuit of good times engulfed the city. To go with this fun-loving era, New York City elected a new mayor, James “Gentleman Jimmy” or “Beau Jim” Walker, who personified this spirit. Walker was a successful songwriter with the 1905 hit “Will You Still Love Me in December as You do in May?” and was generally much more enthusiastic about the excesses of the Roaring Twenties than being the mayor of New York. This worked out well since Tammany Hall was quite content to manage the city while Walker functioned as its dashing figurehead. Walker reportedly never made it to City Hall before noon and when he did and wasn’t feeling up to the task, he had a private “hangover room,” complete with a bed and an exercise bike (the bike was reportedly never used). (New York Times)

Unknown. Mayor Jimmy Walker walking down a street. ca. 1925-1935. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.866.

Unknown. Mayor Jimmy Walker walking down a street. ca. 1925-1935. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.866.

This is not to say that Walker was a bad mayor. His constituents loved him because he vowed to keep subway ride prices at a nickel, allowed baseball games to be played on Sundays, and promised to improve the parks. Mobsters loved him too since he was such a fan of the nightlife that they ran. On top of that, Walker was a gifted speaker, always ready with a quip, wisecrack or some delightful repartee.  He was New York City’s master of ceremonies.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the next incarnation of the Central Park Casino started with a favor. Sidney Solomon, a noted hotelier,  had introduced Walker to his personal tailor and that, to the always snazzily dressed mayor, was worth quite a bit.  So when Solomon asked to take over the Casino to make it into an “outstanding restaurant instead of the shanty it is now,” Walker (through a series of somewhat sketchy maneuvers) made it happen. After a $500,000 renovation, the Casino added a tulip pavilion, orange terrace, a silver conservatory and, most importantly, a black-glass Art Deco ballroom. There were tables to seat 600 and a parking lot for 300 cars.  Solomon said, very humbly, “it is not just a renovation. It’s something that has never before existed so perfectly in the world.” On the night of June 25, 1929, every seat was taken as the Casino opened to select guests, the so-called “fashionable and fastidious” to whom the restaurant now catered to. It was called “Walker’s Versailles,” where the bandleader would immediately start playing “Will You Still Love Me in December as You do in May?” as soon as Walker and his mistress, the actress Betty Compton, walked in the door.

For the next few months, parties regularly lasted until 3 A.M., with Tammany hotshots mingling with Ziegfeld Follies’ showgirls. To get around the pesky Prohibition laws, patrons would leave their Rolls-Royces stocked with bootleg champagne parked outside. The maître d kept an eye on the drinks at the wealthiest tables and when they ran low, he would signal their chauffeur, standing near the doorway, to restock the alcohol from the stash in the car. It was the most exclusive playground for the most exclusive set.

In the fall of 1929, Walker easily defeated Fiorello La Guardia for a second term as mayor.  While the Casino was still dazzling its well-heeled guests, some people saw it as the epitome of all that was wrong in New York.  After the
October 1929 Stock Market Crash the critics roared louder. Why was it fair that the rich could gorge themselves at an expensive restaurant in the midst of a public park while the poor could barely feed their families? The loudest critic? Robert Moses, Parks Commissioner.

Unknown. Robert Moses in front of a map of New York City. ca. 1925-1940. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.960

Unknown. Robert Moses in front of a map of New York City. ca. 1925-1940. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.960

To be fair, Moses did have a pretty solid point. When he and three friends visited to the Casino, their bill was a staggering $27 (around $475 today). Moses contended that the Casino’s prices were far more expensive than the Plaza Hotel and thus the Casino was inappropriate in a public park. But like all good stories, there was another layer to Moses’s hatred of Walker’s Versailles; Moses’s hatred of Walker himself. This mostly one-sided rivalry began when Walker insulted former Governor Al Smith, who had mentored both men. Moses wanted all physical traces of Walker’s legacy erased, but Walker was doing a fine job of that himself. Walker’s free-wheeling ways had finally caught up with him. Before Walker could be removed from office by Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt on corruption charges, he resigned and sailed to Paris with Betty Compton.

But that wasn’t enough for Moses. In an act of sheer vindictiveness, Moses refused to let Solomon make any changes like lowering the prices to make the Casino accessible to a wider range of patrons.  Instead, Moses began to make  plans to raze the building for a children’s playground. Despite protests from those who saw the historic value of the building, the Appellate Court decided that Moses had the right to demolish the building. On May 6, 1936, just 24 hours after Moses received court permission to tear down the Casino, wrecking crews were at the site.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). [Destruction of the Central Park Casino.] 1936. Museum of the City of New York, X2010.7.1.16818

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). [Destruction of the Central Park Casino.] 1936. Museum of the City of New York, X2010.7.1.16818.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). Destruction of the Central Park Casino. 1936. Museum of the City of New York.  X2010.7.1.16820.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). Destruction of the Central Park Casino. 1936. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.16820.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). Destruction of the Central Park Casino. 1936. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.16817.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). Destruction of the Central Park Casino. 1936. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.16817.

In 1937, the Rumsey Playground was built on the same spot as the Casino, but it was never a big success. In the 1980’s the site was razed again and converted into Rumsey Playfield where SummerStage events are now held.  So next time you’re at a performance at SummerStage, close your eyes and imagine yourself among the politicos and showgirls, sipping champagne and dancing to “Will You Still Love Me in December as You do in May?”  in the ballroom at the lost Central Park Casino.

For a collection of New York Times articles about the Casino and the Rumsey Playfield, download this PDF.

The “Forgotten” Father of Greater New York: Andrew Haswell Green

November 13, 1903. An 83 year old man leaves his office at 214 Broadway and gets on the Fourth Avenue street car by City Hall to join his nieces for lunch at his home. At 38th Street and Park Avenue, he disembarks the car and walks toward his house at 91 Park Avenue, a mere three houses away from the station. At his front gate, a man rushes at him, accusing the older man of turning a woman’s affection against him. (For a highly dramatic take on the confrontation read the opening of this Daily News article.) A passer-by hears the older man shout, “Who are you anyway? I don’t know you! Get away from me!” Five shots are fired, and the older man falls dead, right inside of the gate to his property. The shooter stands over the body with his revolver, his shoulders heaving, but his feet rooted in place. When the police arrive, he finally turns and blurts out: “He deserved it, —- him! He forced me to do it!” (New York Times.)

Funeral of Andrew H. Green. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. 2011.5.15.

Funeral of Andrew H. Green. 1903. Museum of the City of New York. 2011.5.15.

So begins the strange tale of the life — and death — of Andrew Haswell Green. Never heard of him? That’s completely understandable. Despite doing so much for New York City, and helping make it into the city we know today, his name faded into obscurity. However, it just takes a cursory glance around the five boroughs to see that the legacy of A.H. Green never faded at all. In fact, it thrives: Consolidation of the five boroughs? Green did that. Central Park? A.H. Green. The American Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Bronx Zoo, Washington Bridge in Harlem, and New York Public Library? They all owe their existence to this one man. Green could perhaps be compared to the other great master builder of New York City, Robert Moses, just without the controversy. He is also one of the first preservationists, and was praised by nearly everyone for his single-minded, constant effort to improve his adopted city.

Stacy. Andrew Haswell Green. ca. 1868. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.5.10.

Stacy. Andrew Haswell Green. ca. 1868. Museum of the City of New York. 2011.5.10.

Andrew Haswell Green was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1820. He moved to New York City at the age of 15, where he worked as an errand boy, before eventually making his way through law school to became a partner in Samuel J. Tilden’s law firm. Perhaps inspired by Tilden, it was during this time that he began his lifelong quest for the betterment of New York City with a position on the Board of Education in 1855; three years later he was the president of the Board. He had found his passion.

Certificate from  New York Board of Education Honoring Andrew Haswell Green. 1857. 2011.5.12

Certificate from New York Board of Education Honoring Andrew Haswell Green. 1857. 2011.5.12.

Public parks and green spaces were not part of the 19th century idea of a city. Due to the rapidly growing population of Manhattan, however, city officials began looking for an area in the wilderness above 42nd Street to locate a park, and Green was elected to the Board formed to oversee its creation. When the landscape architects Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted presented their plans for the urban oasis, Green was so taken and inspired by their proposal that he had the board create the position of comptroller for him, ensuring his close involvement. As with many public building projects, the park was already over budget and behind schedule. But in short order, Green managed the finances and even stepped into controlling the daily operations of the park building, from the construction schedule to the deciding of materials — much to the dismay of Vaux and Olmsted. Green drove the architects crazy with his own ideas about everything in the park, while also keeping them on a tight financial leash.  Despite their personal difficulties, the three men managed to fund and create one of the world’s most beautiful and recognizable urban open spaces: Central Park.

Sarony, Major & Knapp Lith. Map showing the original Topography of the site of Central Park with a Diagram of Roads and Walks now under construction. Museum of the City of New York. 50.358.60

Sarony, Major & Knapp Lith. Map showing the original Topography of the site of Central Park with a Diagram of Roads and Walks now under construction. Museum of the City of New York. 50.358.60

In 1871, the Tweed Ring, the corrupt political organization that controlled the city’s finances, was ousted and its leader, Boss Tweed, thrown in jail by Green’s old friend and mentor Samuel J. Tilden. The city reeled from the sudden loss of leadership, and was nearly left in financial ruin. Andrew Haswell Green came to the rescue again. He was elected Acting-Comptroller and went to work balancing the budget and doing whatever else it took: things were so bad, an apocryphal story tells of him paying the police force out of his own pocket. He stayed on as the city’s Comptroller for the next five years, leaving the city’s coffers in much better shape than he found them.

Green was discussed as a candidate in nearly every mayoral election from 1876 to 1896. The closest he came to actually running was in 1876 when the Independent Citizens Committee nominated him on a Reform Ticket. For once, he was unsuccessful.

Reform Ticket, Independent Citizen's Committee, Mayor, Andrew H. Green. 1875-1876. Museum of the City of New York. 2011.5.13.

Reform Ticket, Independent Citizen’s Committee, Mayor, Andrew H. Green. 1875-1876. Museum of the City of New York. 2011.5.13.

However amazing all of these contributions are, they are overshadowed by what the press dubbed “Green’s hobby.” In a word: consolidation. Green wanted to see all the competing towns, villages, and settlements in Manhattan, Richmond, Kings, The Bronx, and Queens counties under one government. As early at 1868 he was the sole voice championing consolidation. For over 20 years he lobbied hard for this, despite bitter opposition from entire cities (namely Brooklyn) and various political hurdles. He helped draft the Consolidation Law in 1895 which was passed in 1897. On January 1, 1898 Greater New York was a reality.

Colton, Ohman & Co. Map of the City of New York. 1901. Museum of the City of New York. 53.191.8.

Colton, Ohman & Co. Map of the City of New York. 1901. Museum of the City of New York. 53.191.8.

One explanation for why Green’s legacy faded into obscurity, other than just New York being fickle, might be related to his shocking death. The story at the time, was his murderer, Cornelius M. Williams, was in love with a woman who had moved her affections on to an older gentleman with the last name of Green. Williams was so jealous that he consulted the city directory and found the first Green listed, Andrew H. Green, and laid in wait for an opportunity to show his displeasure. That opportunity presented itself on November 3, 1903 when he murdered a man for having a common last name.  However, the reality is just as coincidence filled and involves a man named John R. Platt, read  all the salacious details in this New York Times article.

Right after Green’s death, there was a plan to name a road running along the edge of Manhattan after him, but plans floundered and for years, the only public monument dedicated to Green was a bench in a remote area of Central Park. In 2011, thanks to the tireless efforts of Manhattan Borough Historian Michael Miscione, Andrew Haswell Green Park on the bank of the East River between 59th and 63rd Streets opened to the public. Hopefully this will be the first step in remembering the forgotten father of Greater New York.

Rockwood. Andrew Haswell Green. 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 2011.5.4.

Rockwood. Andrew Haswell Green. 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 2011.5.4.

Winter in the City

In case you missed it, winter descended on New York City last week. Freezing temperatures (the coldest in two years), snow, and wind made many New Yorkers remember why they love the summer.  To observe the late arrival of winter, and the snow that’s falling as this is being written, here are some of our favorite winter images.

There is something undeniably magical about New York in the winter. The fall of snow on skyscrapers muffles the usual street noises until you can almost believe you’re walking in an earlier time. Blankets of snow transform the hard geometries of familiar sights like Herald Square and the Flatiron Building with the soft brush-like strokes of impressionist art.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Broadway North from 34th Street. 1899. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17918

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Broadway North from 34th Street. 1899. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17918.

Jessie Tarbox Beals. Flatiron Building. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. 91.53.38.

Jessie Tarbox Beals. Flatiron Building. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. 91.53.38.

Central Park has been the place to enjoy winter in Manhattan since it opened in 1857. Generations of New Yorkers have skated, sledded, had snowball fight,s and simply enjoyed nature in its 843 acres. (If you want to see an amazing 1898 short film by Edison depicting the splendor of Central Park in the winter, especially sleighing, go here.)

Currier & Ives. Central Park in Winter. ca. 1885. Museum of the City of New York. 57.100.5.2

Currier & Ives. Central Park in Winter. ca. 1885. Museum of the City of New York. 57.100.5.2.

While this Currier and Ives print has sleighing in the forefront, New Yorkers have found ways many ways to enjoy the snow throughout the boroughs.

The ever popular sledding in Central Park:

Unknown. Sleigh riding in Central Park. 1897. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.1313.

Skating with friends:

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). Brooklyn Friends Seminary – ice skating. 1940. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.12630.

And proving that New Yorkers are nothing, if not intrepid:

Unknown. Bicycle in the snow, C. W. Hadley at the handlebars. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.13336

Unknown. Bicycle in the snow, C. W. Hadley at the handlebars. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.13336.

In all the five boroughs, during winter, you can feel like you’re in the depths of nature and not in one of the largest cities in the world.

Irving Underhill (d. 1960). Central Park Snow Scene. 1923.Muiseum of the City of New York. X2010.28.362

Irving Underhill (d. 1960). Central Park Snow Scene. 1923.Museum of the City of New York. X2010.28.362.

George Miller, Jr. When Winter Comes - Riverdale - N.Y. City. ca. 1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.12.152

George Miller, Jr. When Winter Comes – Riverdale – N.Y. City. ca. 1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.12.152.

Enjoy the rest of the of winter, whatever it might bring!

Click here to view more images of winter and New Yorkers having fun in the snow from the Museum’s collection.

Summer in the City

Now that summer is in full swing, we look back at the ways New Yorkers have either escaped or embraced the heat.

The Drive in Central Park was a place to see and be seen, particularly for the wealthiest New Yorkers, who dressed in their finest attire and rode carriages through the park.

Byron Company. Central Park: The Drive, Summer. 1894. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17778

At the turn of the century, long black stockings typically accompanied women’s bathing suits (or bathing gowns, as they were called). Bathing suits became less restrictive a few years later, when women began participating in competitive swimming.

Byron Company. Sports, Bathing, Midland Beach. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17470

Before air conditioning, it was not uncommon for tenement dwellers to put their mattresses on the roof and sleep through the season’s hottest nights.

John Sloan. Roofs, Summer Night. 1906. Museum of the City of New York. 82.200.1

The Jackie Robinson Pool originally opened as the Colonial Park Pool in Harlem on August 8, 1936. It was one of 11 swimming pools opened throughout the city that year and funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal agency created to combat the Great Depression.

Sid Grossman. Federal Art Project. Colonial Park Swimming Pool, Harlem. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.9.58

Some New Yorkers preferred water hoses to swimming pools.

United States. Office of War Information. Children spraying a hose from a porch. 1944. Museum of the City of New York. 90.28.88

Every summer, Coney Island’s boardwalk bustles with city dwellers seeking a respite from the heat.

Andrew Herman. Federal Art Project. Feeding Ice-Cream to the Dog. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.5.34

Nathan’s Famous opened in Coney Island at Surf and Stillwell Avenues in 1916, where it still stands today and attracts scores of New Yorkers and tourists alike.

Andrew Herman. Federal Art Project. Nathan’s Hot Dog Stand, Coney Island. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.5.13

Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park began hosting an annual poolside beauty contest called Modern Venus in 1913. Beauty contests flourished as bathing suits became skimpier.

Reginald Marsh. Modern Venus Contest at Steeplechase Park. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. 90.36.2.2.2F

After World War II, folk singers began congregating in Washington Square. The singers and their audience clashed with some residents of the neighborhood, who thought they were a nuisance. In 1947, the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation started issuing permits for public performances in city parks. In 1961, Parks Commissioner Newbold Morris rejected folk singers’ applications to play in Washington Square. Protests ensued, culminating in a fight between the musicians and their supporters and the police seeking to clear the crowds. In the end, a compromise was reached, with folk singers being allowed in the park on Sunday afternoons.

Frederick Kelly. Musicians – Washington Square. 1962. Museum of the City of New York. 01.59.22

Some people, like the man below, embrace the “if you can’t beat the heat, join it” philosophy.

Benedict J. Fernandez. Male Beauty, Coney Island, 1970. Museum of the City of New York. 99.150.23

Skully, also known by variants like “skellie,” is a children’s street game played with bottle caps. Its popularity among youth began to fade in the 1980s.

Joseph Rodriguez. Game of Skellie, East Harlem, 1987. Museum of the City of New York. 2007.8.1

A telltale sign that summer has arrived is hearing the music from ice cream trucks. Ice cream vendors have used noise to attract customers since the late 1800s. But not everybody welcomes the familiar melody of ice cream trucks. In 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to ban the music in the city’s noise code. An outright ban was unsuccessful, but now vendors are only allowed to play music when their vehicle is in motion.

Gerard Vezzuso. Young boys at ice cream truck, Staten Island NY, 1999. Museum of the City of New York. 01.26.8

Photographing the Postcard Collection

Allyson photographing postcards.

Ever wonder how much work goes into digitizing a collection for view on our Collections Portal?  Here at MCNY, the digital team has been hard at work numbering, shooting, and cataloging our collection of 7,691 New York City postcards.   It took about 20 days of photography shooting 400 to 600 postcards each day.  After imaging, the files are sent to our catalogers who research information such as location, date, and publisher. The keywords they apply allow the images to be searchable in our database and online.

Our postcard collection ranges from the 1890s through the 1990s, with particular strength in the early 1900s, when a postcard craze swept the nation, as explained by the Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City:

An accumulation of factors led to an explosion in the popularity of postcards during these years. The American middle class had grown much larger in size, and the excess money it had to spend on nonessential goods was enough to support a large industry […] Photography and printing technology had also advanced to a point that enabled high quality images to be produced in tremendous numbers and they were. Card dealers began to outnumber booksellers. Over 7 billion postcards were mailed worldwide in 1905, almost one billion in the United States alone; and this does not account for those that ended up in collections rather than the mailbox.

The images include popular tourist subjects such as aerial views of  lower Manhattan and major landmarks, but also incorporate some eccentric imagery and views outside of Manhattan,  like the three examples below.

Greetings from the Bronx, ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.1795.

Central Park Menagerie. Feeding a Snake, New York, 1905-1914. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.1588.

Kings County Jail, Raymond Street, ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.1823.

While most of these were purchased as traveler’s cards to be sent to family and friends back home, quite a few were actually sent within New York City  limits.  In an age before you could just send a quick text or email, postcards were a fast and informal way to get in touch with someone who did not yet own a telephone.

Capturing some of the postcards in a digital format proved challenging.  Most were the standard 3 1/2″ by 5″ but some were specialty fold out postcards. Here is an example of a particularly complicated one.  This was a folded paper postcard from the 1939 World’s Fair. When expanded and viewed through a hole in the front of the card, the viewer sees a three dimensional landscape.  Our photographers found that the best way to capture the view was to tie the postcard underneath the lens and allow it hang open while being photographed.

View captured through the lens. New York World's Fair, 1939. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.33.2119.

Front cover of the postcard - by looking through the cutout one can view the telescoping image.

Several other postcards include special fold-out sections that provide a view of the New York City skyline.

Irving Underhill (d. 1960). New York Skyline, 1900. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.3006.

As an added enticement to the consumer, postcard companies often hand applied tinseling or glitter to the views to enliven the image – often incongruously, as in this bedazzled depiction of Grant’s Tomb.

General U. S Grant Monument & Tomb, New York, ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.33.14.

Not every postcard showed exciting and interesting places such as Coney Island and the Empire State Building; here is a postcard showing the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.’s new women’s lunch room:

Lunch room, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.325.

One of our favorite postcards is this multiple choice “busy person’s correspondence card” showing the Empire State Building.

Empire State Building at Night, New York City, 1934-1940. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.34.3492.

We are in the process of uploading the postcard collection to the Portal. Look for it online in the next week or two.