New-York Historical Society

Woman of Letters: Charlotte Lennox and The Life of Harriot Stuart

Written by Maureen Maryanski, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections.

Among the uncatalogued treasures at the New-York Historical Society are two small, leather bound volumes I recently stumbled upon in the library stacks. Out of pure curiosity, I picked these volumes up and looked at the title page. The title read: The Life of Harriot Stuart, Written by Herself.

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[Charlotte Lennox], The Life of Harriot Stuart. Written by Herself (London: Printed by J. Payne and J. Bouquet, in Pater-noster Row, 1751). Uncataloged, New-York Historical Society Library.

The first volume’s title page, as you can see, is torn in half, the bottom half containing publication and printing information lost to time. The title page of the second volume, however, is wholly intact and lists the place of publication as London in 1751. As the book was found in the biography section of the book stacks, I immediately was intrigued by this apparent account of an 18th century woman’s life, told from her own perspective. I whisked the books downstairs to my desk for further investigation. What I discovered was more remarkable than I had expected.

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Title page of Volume 2 of The Life of Harriot Stuart.

Mistakenly placed in the biography section of our library stacks, The Life of Harriet Stuart is in fact a novel written by the English author Charlotte Ramsey Lennox (ca.1729-1804). Although she lived most of her life in England, Lennox was most likely not born there. Her father James Ramsey was a member of the Coldstream Guards, and she spent the early years of her life traveling the world where ever he was stationed, including a posting to colonial New York from 1739-1743. After his death in 1743, Lennox traveled to England, settling in London in 1747, the same year she married “feckless Scotsman” Alexander Lennox.

In London Lennox began to write, producing collections of poems, novels, and plays. In addition, she gained a reputation as a “versatile woman of letters” through her translations of French texts. The N-YHS Library holds copies of two of these translations: Memoirs of Maximilian de Bethune, Duke of Sully (1751) and The Greek Theatre of Father Brumoy (1759).

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Dedication page from the Memoirs of Maximilian de Bethune, Duke of Sully, translated by Charlotte Lennox and printed in 1752. Livingston DC122.9 .S9 A3 1778, New-York Historical Society Library.

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Title page of The Greek Theatre of Father Brumoy, translated by Charlotte Lennox and printed in 1759. Livingston PA3545 .A2 B89 1759, New-York Historical Society Library.

 

 

 

Lennox also published a monthly periodical in 1760 and 1761 called The Lady’s Museum that argued the importance of women’s education, especially in history and philosophy. A contemporary and friend of such luminary men of letters as Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, and Samuel Johnson, Lennox was widely admired during her life time. Indeed Johnson praised her as superior to other female authors of the time, encouraging and supporting her literary pursuits.

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Lennox described relations between colonists and Native Americans in colonial New York, including peace treaty negotiations detailed on this page from Volume 1 of The Life of Harriot Stuart.

The Life of Harriot Stuart is Lennox’s first novel and details the experiences and adventures of Harriot Stuart, a young woman in the 1740s, as she travels to colonial New York and England. Written as a memoir in the form of letters, the similarities between Lennox and Stuart’s lives have led many to believe that it is a partially autobiographical tale of her own life. Since 1940, claims have been made that Lennox was the first American novelist, as both The Life of Harriot Stuart and her last published work Euphemia (1790) are partially set in colonial New York. Indeed The Life of Harriot Stuart is one of the earliest literary references to colonial New York City, Albany, and Schenectady, including descriptions of colonial life and manners, relations between colonists and Native Americans, and impressions of New York City, described with an unfortunate lack of detail: “At last, after a tedious voyage of nine weeks, we came in sight of N——. That city making a delightful appearance from the water, I stood some moments contemplating it with great pleasure.”

 

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The back cover of The Life of Harriot Stuart, Volume 1 features inscriptions and ownership markings. Clearly visible is the name “John Cox.” Directly above this name is the faint inscription: “New York November 21, 1770.”

According to the British Library’s English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC), the recently re-discovered N-YHS copy of The Life of Harriot Stuart is only the 18th known copy of the first edition, joining its fellows at the British Library, the Bodleian Library, Harvard, Yale, the University of Illinois, Indiana University, the Newberry, Princeton, and New York University. I’m still in the process of piecing together the provenance of the N-YHS copy, but luckily several ownership markings and inscriptions are visible on both volumes. What is known at the moment is that the book belonged to three generations of the Cox family in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in New York. The names of John Cox Jr.(1756-1825), John Palmer Cox (1794-?), and Emilie Aglae Cox (1821-1866) all appear in these inscriptions. It appears that the book passed from father to son, and then from father to daughter. Several other names and markings appear in the book that have yet to be deciphered and researched completely, but hopefully we’ll learn more soon about the extraordinary journey of these two volumes produced in London in 1751 which found their final home in the New-York Historical Society Library in 1925.

Works Cited:

Eve Tavor Bannet. “The Theater of Politeness in Charlotte Lennox’s British-American Novels.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Autumn 1999), pp. 73-92.

Jerry C. Beasley. “Charlotte Lennox.” Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 39; British Novelists, 1660-1800. The Gale Group, 1985. pp. 306-312.

Judith Dorn. “Reading Women Reading History: The Philosophy of Periodical Form in Carlotte Lennox’s The Lady’s Museum.” Historical Reflections / Reflexions Historiques, Vol. 18, No. 3, The Eighteenth Century and Uses of the Past (Fall 1992), pp. 7-27.

Kimberly Dawn Lutz. “Charlotte Lennox.” American National Biography.

A Pictorial Record of New York’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial March, April 5, 1968

Photo by Margot Gayle showing Jefferson Market Courthouse. MS 241 Margot Gayle Papers

Photo by Margot Gayle showing Jefferson Market Courthouse in the background. MS 241 Margot Gayle Papers

Margot Gayle is synonymous with historic preservation. A leading figure in the movement which found its voice following the tragic loss of Pennsylvania Station in 1963, Gayle played a seminal role in the creation of New York’s Landmark Preservation Law two years later. For sixteen years she penned an architecture column in the Daily News while  helping to found the Victorian Society in America in 1966, and the Friends of Cast Iron Architecture in 1970. Naturally, her papers here at the New-York Historical Society reflect many of these noteworthy achievements, particularly through the medium of photography. While Gayle was an amateur, her photographs nevertheless tell important stories about New York’s built environment, most especially its architecture.

Martin Luther King, Jr. PR 52 Portrait File

Martin Luther King, Jr. PR 52 Portrait File

Though they are certainly a valuable resource, the collection seems an unlikely place to find pieces of Civil Rights history; however, on April 5, 1968, Gayle took a small group of photographs documenting New York’s reaction to the news of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in Memphis the previous day. As the world reeled from the shocking news that King had been murdered, a crowd of New Yorkers gathered at the Central Park bandshell, with the New York Times reporting seven to eight thousand high school students in attendance. They listened to speeches from leading figures such as Dr. Barry Spock and Jarvis Tyner, the national chair of the W.E.B. Du Bois Clubs, which inspired a march down Broadway to City Hall.

Gayle photographed the march at 5.30 pm as it arrived at City Hall Park. It’s unclear under what circumstances this occurred but her passion for documenting New York architecture suggests Gayle may have carried her camera along with her, and simply had been in the right place, at the right time. As photographs go, they certainly don’t compare aesthetically with the most powerful images of the Civil Rights struggle, but in their own way, they are remarkable records of a critical moment in New York, and American, history.

During the march, in fact, many New Yorkers feared for the worst as elsewhere in the nation frustrations over the the terrible news had kindled rioting and other acts of violence. Fourteen people all told lost their lives. Remarkably, despite some unrest, including report broken windows and taunting of police in the course of the march, New York remained comparably calm with the Times even noting other marchers remonstrating for peace in respect of King’s principles of non-violence.

In an America where recent events have revealed the challenges still facing the nation in dealing with one of its most troubled legacies, Gayle’s photographs take on additional meaning and seem an appropriate, and timely, reminder of Martin Luther King’s achievements, particularly as we prepare to celebrate his extraordinary life next week.

MLK March 3 MLK March 4 MLK March 5 MLK March 6 MLK March 7 MLK March 1Another important photographic record of the Civil Rights era is soon to be on exhibit at the N-YHS in Freedom Journey 1965: Photographs of the Selma to Montgomery March by Stephen Somerstein, opening on January 16th

Vintage advertising calendars

The beginning of a new year seems like the perfect time to explore our collection of vintage calendars.

Birdland Calendar, 1909.  Calendar Collection, Box  1, Folder 1.

“The Hummer.” Birdland Calendar, 1909. Calendar Collection, PR146, Box 1, Folder 1.

It’s hard to imagine in this age of email marketing and television commercials, but calendars were once among the most effective means of advertising.  Unlike advertisements in newspapers or magazines, which were likely to be discarded right away, a free calendar could potentially hang in a home or business for an entire year.

"The Nightingale." Birdland Calender, 1909.  Calendar Collection, Box 1, Folder 1.

“The Nightingale.” Birdland Calender, 1909. Calendar Collection, PR 146, Box 1, Folder 1.

The more attractive the calendar, the more likely consumers would be to display it on their walls, which gave companies a powerful incentive to create colorful calendars featuring beautiful illustrations.  Among the many fine examples in our collection, my favorite is this 1909 “Birdland” calendar.

"The Red Flyer." Birdland Calender, 1909.  Calendar Collection, Box 1, Folder 1.

“The Red Flyer.” Birdland Calender, 1909. Calendar Collection, PR146, Box 1, Folder 1.

 

Apparently the brainchild of George J. Charlton, passenger agent for a group of railroad companies, the calendar promotes the conglomerate’s  Clover Leaf Route (connecting Chicago,  St. Louis and Kansas City).  It features illustrations of women wearing bird plumage, cleverly designed to evoke the names of four passenger trains: “The Hummer,” “The Nightingale,” “The Red Flyer” and “The Nighthawk.”

"The Nighthawk." Birdland Calender, 1909.  Calendar Collection, Box 1, Folder 1.

“The Nighthawk.” Birdland Calender, 1909. Calendar Collection, PR146, Box 1, Folder 1.

 

A cross between Audubon specimen and pin-up girl, these images would appeal to a broad range of consumers, having something for almost everyone — art, fashion, nature, theater, and sex appeal (it’s not clear if the term “bird” was in common use in America as a slang term for young women at the time, but it’s hard not to make the connection).

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Birdland calendar, 1909. Calendar Collection, PR146, Box 1, Folder 1.

The back of the four sheets are also illustrated, with allegorical prints depicting “Luxury,” “Speed,” and “Agriculture,” culminating in “Perfect Passenger Service.”  Although the images are hardly subtle, explanatory text is provided to make sure their message is clear, i.e.:  “Speed, represented by the central figure, rests, after attempting to keep up the continuous fast pace of the modern locomotive.”

A particularly charming example of chromolithography (the technique that made inexpensive color printing widely available), this calendar is one of many held by N-YHS; collectively, they form an invaluable and largely untapped resource on the history of advertising.

 

 

 

From “Splendid” to “Usurper”: The fickle story of the Ailanthus tree

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“Ailanthus Tree, Nagle Ave. and 204th St.,” 1953. PR 65, Stereograph File

Historians are accustomed to constructing human history through surviving texts, architecture, and images but the living world  can help us understand our past in its own unique way. A particularly good example of this is the Tree of Heaven, or Ailanthus altissima. Although now widely regarded as a weed, at one time it was a heralded exotic plant. Most will also recognize it as the focal point of the novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It’s a tree anyone living in or near New York has seen, and indeed, a species now found in most parts of the United States. That said, its ubiquity belies an interesting story which offers its own unique perspective on the history of America.

If you’ve contemplated the ailanthus at all, you may have observed that it doesn’t quite fit with the landscape of the Northeast; that makes sense because it’s actually not an American species. Instead, the ailanthus is native to China and Taiwan, having made its way to Europe in the first half of the eighteenth century when English landscape design was particularly enamored by the gardens of the Far East. In America, it made landfall decades later in 1784, with Philadelphian William Hamilton credited as having brought the first  specimen for his garden at his estate, The Woodlands.

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Prince’s 1822 plant catalog showing the misidentified ailanthus as “European tanners’ sumach, Catalogue of fruit and ornamental trees and plants, bulbous flower roots, green-house plants, &c. &c. , New-York : T. and J. Swords, 1822

Prince's 1823 plant catalog correctly advertising the ailanthus for sale, Annual Catalogue of fruit and ornamental trees and plants, bulbous flower roots, green-house plants, &c. &c., New York: T. and J. Swords, 1823

Prince’s 1823 plant catalog correctly advertising the ailanthus for sale, Annual Catalogue of fruit and ornamental trees and plants, bulbous flower roots, green-house plants, &c. &c., New York: T. and J. Swords, 1823

It took another forty years to arrive in New York. In 1820, according to his son, Flushing horticulturalist William Prince, Jr. obtained a specimen from Archilbald Thompson, a London nurseryman. The only problem was that it arrived misidentified as common tanner’s sumac (Rhus coriaria). Prince’s catalogs document that the ailanthus remained undiscovered until 1823. As his son relates, that turned out to be a lucrative discovery since the popularity of the new offering, “Chinese Ailanthus,” facilitated a threefold increase in price. We can easily ascribe this good fortune to the prevailing interest in exotics, as well as the lingering fascination with garden styles of the Far East; however, it also provides an useful baseline for understanding how tastes would later change, and recognizing how societal influences contributed to the shift.

In the succeeding decades, the tree enjoyed widespread popularity as an exotic ornamental and was especially employed as an urban planting, perhaps because of its resilience and because the species boasts a natural tolerance for pollution. Prince, in his 1828 work A Short Treatise on Horticulture, described it as a “splendid tree” and one that “forms one of the most beautiful trees when at maturity.” On the other hand, other traits mitigate  its appeal: the male tree emits an unfortunate odor when flowering while the plant’s hardiness is complemented by a toxin secreted to ward off nearby plants. Andrew Jackson Downing, regarded by many as the father of American landscape architecture, foreshadowed  its fall from grace in 1852, seemingly at the height of the ailanthus’ popularity. In his magazine, The Horticulturalist, he cited the tree’s ability to reproduce at a near-constant pace, and other less attractive qualities, while extolling less noxious, native species to the American public.

Andrew Jackson Downing, The Horticulturist, and Journal of Rural At and Taste, 1852

Andrew Jackson Downing, The Horticulturist, and Journal of Rural At and Taste, 1852

Given its less desirable qualities, and the fact that it is a non-native plant Downing’s take makes sense. He is especially known for his commitment to constructing an explicitly America landscape design style where native flora take center stage. Yet more significant here is the language he employs in deriding the ailanthus which suggests a deeper, more insidious motivation. He begins by describing how the ailanthus “seduced by the oriental beauty of its foliage,” continuing in a similar vein:

We look upon it as an usurper , which has come over to this land of liberty, under the garb of utility to make foul the air, with its pestilent breath, and devour the soil with its intermeddling roots – a tree that has the fair outside and the treacherous heart of the Asiatics, and that has played us so many tricks that we find we have caught a Tartar which it requires something more than a Chinese wail to confine within its limits.

While he may have understandably been disappointed by the plant, the less than subtle racial undertones in his comments are unmistakable. Taken in the context of a changing America, where immigration was revealing what would become a long, sordid history of American sinophobia, Downing’s comments also become a larger reflection of American society.  Perhaps most fascinating though is how a plant could become a conduit for Downing’s anti-Chinese feelings and  a reminder of how aesthetics are shaped by the society they represent.

“The Peace of Christmas Eve”: Ending the War of 1812

This post was written by Mariam Touba, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections

Peace of Ghent 1814 and Triumph of America, painted by Mme. Julia Plantou, engraved by Alexis Chataigner, circa 1815.  PR 068.  This engraving was taken from the highly allegorical large (7 x 11 foot) painting by the French-trained artist who was proud of her American citizenship. Note the fallen British flag in the foreground and the American commissioners’ names on Minerva’s shield

Peace of Ghent 1814 and Triumph of America, painted by Mme. Julia Plantou, engraved by Alexis Chataigner, circa 1815. PR 068. This engraving was taken from the highly allegorical large (7 x 11 foot) painting by the French-trained artist who was proud of her American citizenship. Note the fallen British flag in the foreground and the American commissioners’ names on Minerva’s shield

It is the time of  year when people talk most of “Peace on Earth.”  A bit of peace of the worldly sort emerged 200 years ago this week when the United States and Great Britain came to terms ending the two and a half years of fighting the War of 1812 and foreshadowing the centuries of peaceful relations between the two countries.  The hard work of diplomacy was hammered out in the city of Ghent, Belgium where the American and British finally signed a treaty on December 24, 1814.

Albert Gallatin to James Monroe, December 25, 1814, Gallatin Papers, Box 22, 1814, #188

Albert Gallatin  reports on the peace to Secretary of State James Monroe, “as favorable as could be expected,” December 25, 1814.  Gallatin Papers, Box 22, 1814, #188

The delegation of American peace commissioners that finally found themselves at Ghent was a distinguished lot, but not congenial either in personality or regional bias: it comprised  the irritable (as he described himself) New Englander John Quincy

John Quincy Adams, engraved by A. B. Durand, PR 052

John Quincy Adams, engraved by A. B. Durand. PR 052

Albert Gallatin, from the original painting by Gilbert Stuart, engraved by the American Bank Note Co., PR 052

Albert Gallatin, from the original painting by Gilbert Stuart, engraved by the American Bank Note Co., PR 052

Adams, the frontier war hawk and House Speaker Henry Clay of Kentucky, Federalist James A. Bayard, politically ambitious diplomat Jonathan Russell, and the longtime Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin.  The historian Henry Adams and grandson of J.Q. Adams, would go so far

as to write of this delegation, “The negotiation with the British commissioners was, however, much more simple than the negotiation with one another.”  John Quincy

Adams, in particular, glumly complained about Clay, a bad influence whose desultory work habits included indulgences such as staying up late and drinking.   The Swiss-born Gallatin, with a broader national outlook and what Adams would admit in his diary was a “playfulness of disposition,” kept them all on message.  But, in the end, it was the card-playing Clay who knew when to call the British commissioners’ bluff.

An early draft of the Treaty of Ghent, likely in the hand of John Quincy Adams.   The language about “the carrying away any negroes or other property” at the top would be altered to “slaves” in the final document.  Gallatin Papers, Box 50

An early draft of the Treaty of Ghent, largely in the hand of John Quincy Adams. The language about “the carrying away any negroes or other property” at the top would be altered to “slaves” in the final document. Gallatin Papers, Box 50

A negotiating document indicating the final willingness of the British to waive or lessen some of their demands.  The final treaty had 11 articles. Gallatin Papers, Box 50

A negotiating document indicating the final willingness of the British to waive or lessen some of their demands. The final treaty had 11 articles. Gallatin Papers, Box 50

The negotiations had been a hard slog:   The British commissioners refused to formally concede on the principles of  free trade and the impressment of American sailors, even as the ending of the Napoleonic wars made these matters far less urgent. At the same time the British diplomats brought new—or rather, unresolved—issues to the table:  the border of Canada, rights to the Mississippi, American fishing privileges in Newfoundland, and protection of their American Indian allies.  At one point, eager to make the protracted war worthwhile, they sought to bring the Duke of Wellington, fresh from his victory over Napoleon, to the Atlantic theater.  While willing to follow orders, Wellington seemed to want none of it, and, like many influential Britons, urged his government to settle for limited war aims.   Meanwhile, the relatively easy victory the British had had in Washington in August was followed by their being forestalled at Lake Champlain and Baltimore and presaged more costly war ahead.

As a result, the final terms were the status quo ante bellum (a return to the conditions before war broke out) and a vague agreement to negotiate other issues through joint commissions.  In reporting the results to Secretary of State James Monroe in his December 25 letter, Gallatin added that America’s ability to withstand the “very formidable military power of England, and our having been able, without any foreign assistance , and after she made such an effort, to obtain peace on equal terms, will raise our character and consequence in Europe.”

Hannah Gallatin writes from Philadelphia in despair about her husband’s prolonged stay in Europe if the British prolong the negotiations. The Treaty had been signed by the time he received her plaintive note. Hannah Nicholson Gallatin to Albert Gallatin, December 1, 1814, pg. 2, Box 22, 1814, #169

Hannah Gallatin writes from Philadelphia in despair about her husband’s extended stay in Europe if the British prolong the negotiations. The Treaty had been signed by the time he received her plaintive note.
Hannah Nicholson Gallatin to Albert Gallatin, December 1, 1814, pg. 2, Box 22, 1814, #169

Americans may remember only one thing from their school days about the War of 1812: that Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815 came about after the Treat of Ghent had been signed.  Actually, fighting continued after that, and the war did not officially end until the Treaty reached the United States and was ratified on February 17, 1815.

News of the peace reached New York City on February 11, 1815.  Broadside. SY 1812-15W no. 1

News of the peace reached New York City on February 11, 1815. Broadside. SY 1812-15W no. 1

To the British public, the disappointing war and its outcome were always overshadowed in memory by the great victory over Napoleon that was cemented at Waterloo in 1815.  For Americans, it took longer for the conflict to become the “forgotten war;” indeed its heroes and lore shaped American politics and nationalism for some decades.

An attempt to keep the memory of the War of 1812 alive in post-Civil War New York.  Broadside. SY 1873 no. 124

An attempt to keep the memory of the War of 1812 alive in post-Civil War New York. Broadside. SY 1873 no. 124

Canadians would eventually come to celebrate the War of 1812 as a victory over a rapacious neighbor that allowed them to form a national identity.  There seemed, however, no way that Native Americans in the United States could see a bright side to the War of 1812, as their losses in deaths, land, and autonomy had enduring consequences. For them, this “Christmas Eve Peace” on this piece of earth was indeed a costly one.

We hope for more peace and justice ahead as we send you and yours greetings of the Season.

Requesting the pleasure of your company: Artists’ receptions and the Tenth Street Studio Building’s legacy

Autographed artist reception invitations AHMC - Tenth Street Studio Building

Autographed artist reception invitations
AHMC – Tenth Street Studio Building

This post is written by Joe Festa, Manuscript Reference Librarian

Unlike today’s art market, American artists of the early 19th century had few galleries to represent them. While many art dealers were setting up shop in Manhattan’s wealthier areas, their focus was on representing elite European artists and serving the privileged social classes. As such, early American artists maintained a living through self-promotion and their personal networks.

All of this changed drastically during the middle of the century, when New Yorkers saw the construction of 15 West Tenth Street in 1857, which was later renumbered as 51, but is most commonly known as the Tenth Street Studio Building.

Cocktail party & fundraiser invite. Tenth Street Studio Building Collection, MS 619

Cocktail party & fundraiser invite. Tenth Street Studio Building Collection, MS 619

The first of its kind in the City, the Tenth Street Studio Building was conceptualized by architect Richard Morris Hunt and built by James Boorman Johnston. It provided artists with large, clean work areas and plenty of natural light, a vast improvement over the poorly-lit and disorganized spaces artists had grown accustomed to.

What made the Studio Building unique was the deliberate inclusion of a central exhibition room two stories high; surrounding the exhibition area were artist studios that were each interconnected by doorways. The Studio Building’s exhibition space provided artists with the opportunity to show their work and, more importantly, schedule regular artist receptions where visitors could find entertainment and view art. These lavish receptions impacted an artist’s social network greatly and added to the Studio Building’s desirability, which ultimately helped define Greenwich Village as the foremost bohemian locale.

William H. Beard in his Tenth Street Studio, oil on canvas n.d.Museum Division, #1992.8

William H. Beard in his Tenth Street Studio, oil on canvas n.d.
Museum Division, #1992.8

As styles and tastes changed, the Tenth Street Studio Building began to attract more modern artists, and the building remained a vital artistic center in New York City until its demolition in the 1950s, nearly a full century after it was built. A number of important artists would come to share space here, either concurrently or in succession; they included Albert Beirstadt, John LaFarge, and Alexander Calder to name but a few.

Inquiry regarding living quarters at Studio Building Tenth Street Studio Collection, MS 619

Inquiry regarding living quarters at Studio Building
Tenth Street Studio Collection, MS 619

Today, Manhattan’s creative hubs mirror current real estate trends, and as such, these areas are in rapid flux. Nonetheless, one is able to draw many parallels between the groundbreaking Tenth Street Studio Building and the receptions held there with the way current artists work in shared loft spaces and the open studio events and gallery walks that art admirers continue to enjoy today.

MGs, Fords, Bugattis, Austins, Willys and Maserati: Early Photos of American Car Racing

This post was written by Alison Barr, Manuscript Department volunteer

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A logo of The Automobile Racing Club of America. MS 168, William Thompson Dewart Collection of Frank A. Munsey and New York Sun Papers

With the advent and popularity of NASCAR in America, long forgotten is New York’s road racing circuit in the tradition of the European Grand Prix. Between the two wars, in 1934, the Collier Brothers (Barron, Samuel and Miles) and Thomas Dewart founded The Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA).  Besides driving in these events, Thomas Dewart (who would go on to become the president and publisher of the New York Sun) also photographed many of them. The negatives are held within the William Thompson Dewart Collection of Frank A. Munsey and New York Sun Papers here at the New-York Historical Society. It is clear from the negatives that Thomas Dewart loved the cars which are photographed.

Unidentified race, showing car numbers 53,3, 58 and 34. MS 168, Dewart Collection

Unidentified race, showing car numbers 53,3, 58 and 34. MS 168, Dewart Collection

As the lore goes, Barron received a British MG from his fiancée and, with that car, began the young men’s racing careers in the driveway of the Collier’s sprawling home, Overlook, in Pocantico Hills, New York.  They invited their friends, primarily from St. Paul’s School, Harvard, and Yale, to join their club of gentlemen racing drivers.  Although there were social and avocational aspects to the club, these young men were quite serious about the cars and driving. 

Miles and Sam Collier became the first American MG import agents so that they could supply cars and parts.  Another ARCA founding member, George Rand, ran a garage in New York City where the MGs and other European imported cars could be serviced and parked. Member William L. Mitchell who designed the “ARCA” badge and sketched the cars during the races joined General Motors styling team and later became head of design at GM. 

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The Race Around the Houses, 1938, showing Miles Collier in the number 5 car, an MG nicknamed “Leonidis,” trailing, the number 2 car a Ford. MS 168, Dewart Collection

The rudimentary racing that began in the driveway of Overlook quickly flourished into a circuit that staged events in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., Roosevelt Raceway, N.Y., Montauk Point, N.Y., Alexandria Bay, N.Y., Wayland, MA., Marston’s Mills, MA., Mount Washington, N.H., and Memphis, TN.  The courses varied from dirt or sand tracks to paved village roads.  The races themselves were as charming as their names: the contests at Overlook were the Sleepy Hollow Ring, the event in Memphis was the Cotton Carnival Race, and the ones at Marston’s Mills were the Cape Challenge.   The Race Around the Houses consisted of 50 laps of a 1.4 mile circuit around the picturesque village of Alexandria Bay where Thomas Dewart had a summer home.  And, it was a race indeed with the cars reaching speeds of over 60 miles per hour.

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Car number 35, an Austin, in 1938. MS 168, Dewart Collection

 The events staged at  Mount Washington were dubbed the Climb to the Clouds.  (In fact, Mount Washington was the site of the first American auto race in 1904, and the Climb to the Clouds is still held today.) This course ran from the bottom of the Mount Washington Carriage Road (later, the Mount Washington Auto Road) to the top, about an eight-mile climb from 1,500 feet to 6,000 feet above sea level.  In the 1937 Climb to the Clouds, Barron and Sam Collier finished first and second, with their brother Miles coming in fifth, driving an Alfa Romeo, an Auburn V-12, and a Willys 77, respectively.

Although the MG was the predominant make, especially in the early years, the automobile makes varied from Bugatti to Austin to Willys to Ford to Alfa Romeo and Maserati. There were also many so-called “specials”, cars that combined the chassis of one make with the body of another.

Another aim of ARCA was to represent America in European racing.  In 1939, Miles Collier and his team entered his rebuilt MG “Leonidis”, into the premier European road race – Le Mans – with Miles as the driver.  While the Leonidis had been victorious at the 1938 Race Around the Houses, it did not finish at the Le Mans.

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A victorious Miles Collier kissing the hood of his Leonidis. MS 168, Dewart Collection

On the brink of World War II, ARCA staged its last event at the World’s Fair in New York on October 6, 1940, and ARCA dissolved officially on December 9, 1941.  The Collier Brothers and most of the other young club members served in the war.  In 1944, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) formed with many of the former members of ARCA.  Watkins Glen, N.Y. was the first race venue for SCCA in 1948 and happily Miles and Sam Collier joined the race.  Sadly, two years later in 1950, Sam Collier would die on this same racecourse, as did a young spectator in 1952, putting an end to road racing on village roads in New York State.

The First Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center

This post was written by Marybeth Kavanagh, Reference Librarian for the Department of Prints, Photographs and Architectural Collections.

Tonight, thousands of people will gather to celebrate the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, a spectacle that’s been a holiday tradition in New York City for over 70 years. Though the first official ceremony was held in 1933, the tradition actually began on Christmas Eve 1931, when workers on the site put up a 20 ft balsam tree and decorated it with paper garlands, strings of cranberries, and a few ornaments. The workers then lined up to receive their paychecks, distributed by  a foreman standing behind a wooden crate.

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“December 24, 1931 — Our first Christmas Tree on the site of the French and British Buildings.” PR 2-456.

The construction of Rockefeller Center,  begun on May 17, 1930, took place during the worst years of the Great Depression, a time when 64 percent of building trade workers in NYC were unemployed.  It’s estimated that it provided employment for 40,000 to 60,000 people. It was a project of unprecedented scale which ultimately transformed the cityscape.

A photograph album in the N-YHS collections, which once belonged to Hugh Robertson, the first executive manager of Rockefeller Center, documents the change in the 22-acre site between 48th and 51st Streets and 5th and 6th Avenues.   To kick off the holiday season, here are a few images from that album, with original captions.   Happy Holidays!

“Before it all began . . . a few were speakeasies.” Album File, PR 2-456.

“The last full-front view of St. Patricks Cathedral. George Atwells shovels are already scooping out the foundation for the International Buildings.” Album File, PR 2-456.

“Time out for a snapshot. Raymond Hood, Wallace K. Harrison and Andrew Reinhard inspect one of the early models.” Album File, PR 2-456.

“Mussolini inspected this model for comparison between Rockefeller Center and the Pantheon (left), and the Marcus Aurelius column and statue (right).” Album File, PR 2-456.

“Placing the last piece of limestone on the topmost unit of the RCA Building where more than 14,000 tons of limestone were used.” PR 2-456.

“The skating pond was here to stay.” Album File, PR 2-456.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The same spot a decade later . . . organ music and candles.” PR 2-456.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gobbling Up Thanksgiving in New York!

This post was written by Tammy Kiter, Manuscript Reference Librarian.

This time of year has become synonymous with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  As we revel in the excitement of watching our favorite characters float larger than life down Central Park West, let’s celebrate three of the key ingredients for a fantastic holiday in the Big Apple: Family, Food and Fun! Oh yeah… and history!

Daguerreotype of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, 2000. PR 157, Jerry Spagnoli Photograph Collection

Daguerreotype of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, 2000. PR 157, Jerry Spagnoli Photograph Collection

The image above is from a daguerreotype taken by photographer Jerry Spagnoli. Daguerreotypes are made using a very early photographic process that utilizes an iodine-sensitized silver plate and mercury vapor, which is then exposed to light. In the foreground, the New-York Historical Society stands proudly along the parade route.  Just behind it is the American Museum of Natural History. The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was held in 1924 and it is the second oldest Thanksgiving Day parade in the United States. It has run every year since 1924, with the exception of 1941 – 1944, when materials were needed for the war effort.

Advertisement for Thurber & Co. roast turkey, late 19th century. PR 31, Bella Landauer Collection of Business and Advertising Ephemera

Advertisement for Thurber & Co. roast turkey, late 19th century. PR 31, Bella Landauer Collection of Business and Advertising Ephemera

What Turkey Day dinner would be complete without, well, a turkey? This colorful advertisement from Thurber & Co. features a promotion for roast turkey. Thurber & Co. was founded by Horace K. and Francis B. Thurber in 1875. In the late 19th century, their firm was one of the largest wholesale grocery houses in the country and their corporate headquarters occupied an entire city block.

Recipe for “Mrs. Gallagher’s Pumpkin Pie”, dated pre-1940. BV Cookery , MS 1127.

Recipe for “Mrs. Gallagher’s Pumpkin Pie”, dated pre-1940. BV Cookery , MS 1127.

For those of us  who are vegetarians, please pass the mashed potatoes! Better yet, how about a nice piece of pumpkin pie. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can attempt to make one yourself. Here is a recipe from an early 20th century recipe book kept by an unidentified home cook. No oven temperature, cooking time or detailed instructions are included with the recipe. I imagine the woman who kept this book was familiar enough with her kitchen and comfortable enough with her baking skills to make a delicious pie sans such modern necessities. One also has to assume  she was able to make a pie crust from scratch (perhaps w/o the aid of a recipe), since those handy ready-made pie crusts were not available at the time.

Thanksgiving dinner menu from the Oliver Cromwell Hotel, 1948. N-YHS Menu Collection

Thanksgiving dinner menu from the Oliver Cromwell Hotel, 1948. N-YHS Menu Collection

If the thought of spending hours engrossed in food preparation does not appeal to you, why not head out to one of the countless wonderful restaurants here in the city? Let’s see what was on the menu at the Oliver Cromwell Hotel in November 1948. If you look closely, you can spot the gravy stains on the menu. The Oliver Cromwell was designed by influential architect, Emery Roth, whose outstanding designs can be seen among numerous NYC landmarks including The San Remo, The El Dorado and the Warwick Hotel. Note the powerful message of PEACE at the top of the menu, a reminder that WWII had ended just a few years earlier.

The Children’s Aid Society, founded in 1853 by Charles Loring Brace, is a charitable organization that has been providing assistance to children and families in New York for over 160 years. Throughout the seventy-five year span of the Orphan Train Movement, Children’s Aid Society, along with New York Foundling Hospital and several other orphan asylums, placed at least 200,000 children into new homes; many located out west and in the Midwest. Representing the importance of family and friends, these beautiful children at the Society’s West Side School enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner in 1915.

Thanksgiving dinner at the West Side School. The Victor Remer Historical Archives of the Children’s Aid Society, MS 111. Photo by A. Tennyson Beals, 1915.

Thanksgiving dinner at the West Side School. The Victor Remer Historical Archives of the Children’s Aid Society, MS 111. Photo by A. Tennyson Beals, 1915.

The first documented Thanksgiving Day football game took place in Philadelphia, PA, in 1869. In this photo, young athletes huddle together to strategize during a game.  Irving Browning, the photographer, was born and raised in New York City and became an innovator in both photography and cinematography.

Football huddle, circa 1930s. PR 09, Irving Browning Photograph Collection

Football huddle, 1940s. PR 09, Irving Browning Photograph Collection

As you reflect upon what you’re most thankful for this holiday season, please think about those who are less fortunate. Consider donating essential items to a local food bank, winter coat collection or toy drive. Happy Thanksgiving from the New-York Historical Society!

The Last Hours of World War I

This post was created by intern Alison Dundy.

Captain Raymond J. Walsh on the Champagne front, October 1918. His horse was killed the next day. MS 671, World War I Collection

Imagine hearing the war is over, but a time lag in communications means men are still laying on their bellies in trenches while shells whizz overhead and explode around them. Elsewhere in the world, champagne corks are popping and glasses are raised in toasts to peace. Will you make it out alive or will you and the men you lead die senselessly in the seemingly interminable last minutes of this nightmare?

Captain Raymond J. Walsh gave a gripping account of the last hours of World War I in a WEAN radio broadcast on February 25, 1939. The transcript of this broadcast is in the New-York Historical Society World War I Collection. Walsh fought with the 15th Field Artillery Regiment of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, alongside the French Fourth Army in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of 1918 (also known as the Battle of the Argonne Forest).

Walsh recounts what happened on the morning of November 11, 1918:

“Around 8:00 a.m. I got a call from our Battalion Commander, Major E.H. Brainard of the Marines. He told me that an Armistice had been signed with the Germans and that no firing was to take place after 11:00 A.M. He then gave me the correct time. It was a very dramatic moment, I thought. Three hours to live or die. I went to the gun crews and gave them the news. As I recall it, they received it stolidly—there was no demonstration, but I could see their eyes brighten. I made them all lie down and told them to stay there until I gave the word to get up. Those three hours were the longest I think I’ll ever live. I don’t know how many times I looked at my watch. I certainly smoked my head off. We got little or no shelling the last hour or so. Maybe the Germans were sick of the whole business too. As for Battery C, we never fired a shot after 11:00 P.M. the night before. The war was slowly ticking away from us and most of us were too sodden with fatigue to realize that the horrible nightmare was about to end. As the last few minutes crept by we all got very restless; one of the officers walked up and down in back of our small camp, taking off and putting on his steel helmet; the rest of us fidgeted around and stared ahead like stunned people—unbelieving.

“At 11:00 A.M. the whole affair closed down like the lights being put out at the theatre, like the machinery stopping suddenly in a great factory. The rumble of guns in the distance, the sharp crack of the neighborhing 75s—all ceased. Silence prevailed everywhere—then a French ammunition wagon rattled along the road nearby, the driver trying to whip up his tired horse; there were a few shouts, but only a few—too many of us remembered the men killed the night before. Someone built a fire, then everyone seemed to think that was a good idea—impromptu fires broke out all along the front. From a distance you could hear singing. Our men said it was the Germans across the river. Some of us looked at one another and grasped hands.

“The War was over.”

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"Warring nations invade America for cavlary horses." Underwood & Underwood, 1939.  PR 68, Subject File.

“Warring nations invade America for cavlary horses.” Underwood & Underwood, 1939. PR 68, Subject File.

What about that horse?

Captain Walsh must have cherished the memory of his magnificent horse because he kept the photograph featured above. Horses were beloved companions and heroes in World War I, as related in the novel War Horse, which went on to become a smash hit on  stage as well as a Steven Spielberg-directed Hollywood movie.

Between 1914-1918, the U.S. sent nearly one million horses to the European allies. When the U.S. entered the war, another 182,000 horses were sent overseas with the American Expeditionary Forces.  Twenty days was the average life expectancy for a horse at the front. Their plight led to the establishment of the American Red Star Relief, a welfare service for horses and mules in the U.S. Army, which still exists today as part of the American Humane Association’s emergency services.

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This is a blog created by staff members in the library to draw attention to the richness and diversity of our collections.

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