Tag Archives: Trinity Church

A Practical Joke of Great Proportions

Daniel Huntington (1816-1906). Reverend Morgan Dix, 1889. Museum of the City of New York. 54.292.

I recently finished reading The Rector and the Rogue, W. A. Swanberg’s riveting true account of a peculiar situation targeting the Reverend Morgan Dix of Trinity Church over 130 years ago. This led me to wonder what sort of objects we might have in the collection related to this tale and its participants. I’ll try not to give away too much about the tale, in case you intend to read The Rector and Rogue yourself.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). West 25th Street. Rectory of Trinity Protestant Episcopal Chapel, ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.1266

The hoax began simply enough, on the morning of February 18, 1880, when Reverend Dix received a letter from the Acme Safe Company, thanking him for his inquiry into their products, enclosing a price list, and promising to follow-up.  While there was nothing threatening in the contents of such a letter, Reverend Dix had not made any such inquiry.  The Revered asked his secretary to write to the business, letting them know there had been a misunderstanding, and no further action was necessary.   The Acme Safe Company letter was followed shortly thereafter by additional letters from other businesses, and individuals as well began calling on the Reverend at his home (pictured above) throughout the day, each stating they were simply responding to inquiries they claimed to have received from him. The Reverend asked for proof of these inquiries and the vendors produced postcards inquiring into their goods and services and bearing the forged signature of Reverend Dix. (On an aside note – the Museum only has a few postcards from the 1880s in its  Postcard Collection, as the Post Office held the monopoly on printing postcards until the late 1890s, thus there were far fewer in circulation.  Early postcards functioned as a way to communicate quickly rather than as a souvenir from a visit or vacation.)

Byron Company. Portrait, Tom Burns 1890, Superintendent of Police N.Y.C, 1890. Museum of the City of New York.

After several days of nuisance, Reverend Dix approached Postmaster Thomas L. James, who then involved New York City Chief of Detectives Captain Thomas Byrnes (pictured to the right). This variety of harassment continued, with some pauses and variations, for the next month.   The Police Department and the Postal Service began investigating all present connections to Reverend Dix, as well as figures from his past, to try to find someone who might hold a personal grudge against him.  Even the parishioners and staff of Trinity Church (pictured below) were unable to escape the scrutiny of the

Photographer unknown. Broadway, north from Exchange Place, ca 1884. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.11.495.

investigation; in fact, the two prime suspects were connected to the Reverend through his church. Unfortunately, the Post Office and the New York City Police had trouble coordinating their investigations, and though they eventually arrived at the same suspect, the Postmaster was able to track him down first.  The identity of the the joker was a surprise to many: he traveled within the upper tiers of society, lived the sort of life of leisure led by the independently wealthy, and was generally regarded as a collegial sort of fellow.  While I won’t ruin the surprise and provide the culprit’s name,  I will note an interesting coincidence: he claimed to be a member of the Fairfaxes of Virginia.  You guessed it, the prankster may have been a distant relation of Reginald Fairfax Harrison, a young man whose diary is held in the Museum’s collection, and has been featured on this blog in the past.  To the end, the culprit pledged that he did not hold any sort of personal grudge against the Reverend; alas, it was just a practical joke that got slightly out of hand.

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. 17th Street foreground, and Union Square in center. 1920. 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