New-York Historical Society

Now He Belongs to the Ages: 150 years after Lincoln’s Assasination

Today marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.


Currier & Ives, “The Assassination of President Lincoln, April 14, 1865.” PR 52, Portrait File.

As is fitting for our most eloquent president, Lincoln’s death, and life, have inspired a torrent of writing. The memorializing began at the moment of Lincoln’s death, when his friend and Secretary of State, Edward Stanton, famously said, “Now he belongs to the ages” (or, as some others heard it, “Now he belongs to the angels”). Walt Whitman was inspired by Lincoln’s assassination to write two of his most famous poems: “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and “O Captain! My Captain! (1865-1866).  More recently, Doris Kearns Goodwin has continued Lincoln’s apotheosis with Team of Rivals (2006), a book that changed my admiration for Lincoln into unabashed hero-worship. As of 2012, the count of books about Lincoln was already at 15,000, and the pace has picked up considerably in the three sesquicentennial years since. Indeed, according to Paul Tetrault, Director of Ford’s Theater, more ink has been spilled about Lincoln than any other figure in world history, save for Jesus Christ.

But of the 1,691 items cataloged under “Abraham Lincoln” in the N-YHS library, the ones that speak most poignantly to me today are wordless.  Take, for example, these locks of Lincoln’s hair.

"From Robert T. Lincoln to Hon. G.V.Fox, Ass. Sec. Navy"

“From Robert T. Lincoln to Hon. G.V.Fox, Ass. Sec. Navy,” 1865. MS 439, Naval History Society Collection.

Removed after Lincoln’s death, the hair was sent by his son Robert to Gustavus Vasa Fox, who served as Lincoln’s assistant secretary of the Navy and enjoyed a close relationship with the president. Although viewed today as odd or even creepy, saving locks of a deceased loved one’s hair, and even wearing it as jewelry, was a common form of Victorian mourning. Outdated as the custom may be, its emotional impact is, for me, as strong as ever: holding these locks of Lincoln’s hair, thinking of Robert enclosing them in an envelope, one feels an intimate connection to the living man, and a powerful sense of loss and regret over his death.

Scrap of the coat Lincoln was wearing on the night of his assassination.

Scrap of the coat Lincoln was wearing on the night of his assassination.

In a similar vein, N-YHS also holds a small piece of the waistcoat Abraham Lincoln was wearing on the night of the assassination. It was sent to N-YHS on October 5, 1865, by Maunsell Bradhurst Field, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Lincoln Administration, who was present at Lincoln’s deathbed. Field’s accompanying letter identifies it as “a portion of a larger piece presented to me 24 hours after the [assassination] by Mr. Lincoln’s body-servant.” The remaining portions, Field writes, he gave to “history souvenir hunters.” However callously it may have been distributed, to touch this fabric now, imagining its removal from the dying President’s body, conjures up the drama and anguish of the assassination night more directly than even the most vivid written or visual account.

A less dramatic memento, but for me no less touching, is this piece of crepe I discovered just a few weeks ago, in the recently donated Ludington Family Papers.

crepe caption


“Piece of crape Charles wore after the assassination of Pres. Lincoln.” MS 2962, Ludington Family Papers.

Buried among a pile of letters and other documents, this material was folded around a business card and carefully wrapped in age-foxed paper, identifying the contents as a “piece of crape [the 19th century spelling of crepe] Charles wore after the assassination of President Lincoln.” Charles Ludington, partner in the dry-goods store Lathrop and Ludington (later Lathrop, Ludington & Co.), assisted in raising regiments and rendered other patriotic services to the Union during the Civil War. It was common for men to wear black armbands as a symbol of mourning in the Victorian era, as can be seen in a number of early photographs. But this carefully preserved example of the fabric itself evokes the grief of its wearer with an immediacy no image can match. It reminded me of saved scraps of flags and cards from the spontaneous memorials that sprang up after 9/11, which capture the mood that pervaded the city in the attack’s aftermath more vividly than any photograph.

lincoln obsequies

lincoln ghost 2









Charles Ludington also saved a program for the “Obsequies of Abraham Lincoln,” an oration given by George Bancroft in Union Square on April 25, 1865. Printed for the Citizens Committee, of which Ludington was a member, the program’s frontispiece is a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, which has bled through to the adjoining page, as if to illustrate Lincoln’s spirit leaving his body.

N-YHS holds many other rare and valuable records relating to Lincoln and his legacy, but these tangible mementos of his assassination recall his spirit, for me, “far above our poor power to add or detract.” As Doris Kearns Goodwin commented about the chair in which Lincoln was sitting when he was shot, which will be on the stage with her when she delivers a sesquicentennial address at the Ford Museum,”There’s an intimacy to it that catapults you back in time. And hopefully along with that, you’re not just thinking of the death but the life that made it worthwhile.”

Walt Whitman, Brotherhood, and the American Civil War

This post was written by Jonah Estess, Digital Project Intern in the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library.

Walt Whitman. New York Historical Society Collections.

Walt Whitman. New York Historical Society Collections.

In the N-YHS collections are three letters addressed from Walt Whitman to the parents of Erastus E. Haskell, Samuel and Rosalinda Haskell. He writes to them about their son’s condition at a military hospital in Washington D.C. Walt had been a volunteer nurse at area hospitals, and had grown fond of caring for the sick and wounded soldiers. He took a particular interest in Erastus, who had contracted typhoid fever while stationed at a nearby Union encampment. The content of his letters, in addition to that in a fourth one co-authored by Joel M. Jansen (born Janson) and Erastus himself, conveys brotherly spirit in more ways than one. Walt’s voyage to find his supposedly wounded brother, his care of Erastus, and the bond between Erastus and Joel, both musicians, serve as examples of the endurance of togetherness at a time when such sentiment faced nearly insurmountable battles in warfare and illness.

Like others, Walt likely would have skimmed the casualty lists published in the newspapers, hoping that he wouldn’t run across a familiar name. In December of 1862, Walt left Brooklyn for Washington D.C. on a search for his brother George, a Union Army soldier who may have been wounded. He believed that the name “G. W. Whitmore,” which had appeared in the New York Tribune, was strikingly similar to that of his brother, George Washington Whitman. To put an end to his own incessant worry (and presumably his mother’s as well), Walt ventured to the Union capital. At that time, most people lacked the means to make such a journey. Walt, who from 1846-1848 was the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, made the trip not simply because he could, but because he was unwilling to wait for a third-party to confirm that his brother was being cared for.

April 5, 1863. Joel and Erastus write to Erastus’s father about their life and well-being white stationed at Camp Casey.       Page 3 of 4.

April 5, 1863. Joel and Erastus write to Erastus’s father about their life and well-being white stationed at Camp Casey.       Page 3 of 4. New York Historical Society Collections.

April 5, 1863. Joel and Erastus write to Erastus’s father about their life and well-being white stationed at Camp Casey.       Page 1 of 4

April 5, 1863. Joel and Erastus write to Erastus’s father about their life and well-being white stationed at Camp Casey.       Page 1 of 4. New York Historical Society Collections.

Twenty-one year old Erastus Haskell of the 141st New York Volunteer Infantry had taken ill with typhoid fever and was sent to Armory Square Hospital in Washington D.C. He, a carpenter from Connecticut, and Joel M. Jansen, a 19-year-old farmer from Tompkins, New York, had both volunteered in Elmira, New York in 1862. Erastus was placed into Company K, while Joel was put into Company C. They were each designated a fife player, musician being a rank equivalent to private. The 141st Infantry Regiment fought in nearly 20 battles and skirmishes, during many of which fife music would have inspired patriotic unity among their fellow infantrymen; as bullets flew and blood spilled, they and their fifes were responsible for keeping pace and restraining soldiers’ nerves on the battlefield. Shortly before Erastus fell sick, Joel wrote a letter to Erastus’s father in New York. He writes a little of Erastus’s well-being, but primarily about their unusually comfortable stay at Camp Casey. His letter finishes half of the way down one page. With paper being so precious and scarce a resource, Joel offered the rest of the page and the length of another to Erastus’s pen. Erastus accepted his offer, and wrote to reassure his family of his safety while off duty. This simple, everyday act of sharing paper, though today taken for granted, also symbolized the bond which had developed between the two young men. While it is unclear whether they knew of each other before the war, their appointments to the rank of musician would have brought them closer together. That Joel and Erastus wrote this letter together indicates some degree of brotherly sentiment shared between the two soldiers.

July 27, 1863. Walt Whitman informs Erastus Haskell’s parents that their son has typhoid fever, and of the care that he has given their son.   Page 1 of 4. New York Historical Society Collections.


Shortly after arriving, Walt learned that his brother had indeed been wounded, but his injuries were minor, merely a flesh wound to the cheek. Prior to his trip, Walt had received his brother’s letters, which detail the severity of soldiers’ wounds and the hardships of life between skirmishes and battles. The sight of wounded and sick men disturbed Walt, and he began spending considerable amounts of time in the northern capital caring for them. But something about Erastus resonated with Walt. Though Erastus seemed disinterested in sharing too many of his thoughts with Walt, Brooklyn’s poet became invested in the boy’s emotional and physical health. On July 27, 1863, he wrote to Erastus’s parents, “I enclose you an envelope to send your letter to Erastus-put a stamp on it & write soon. I suppose you know he has been sick a great deal since he has been in the service.” Walt sat for hours, sometime late into the night beside Erastus’s bed, keeping an otherwise alone and dying young soldier company. Erastus E. Haskell died on August 2, 1863, of typhoid. In a letter to Erastus’s father dated August 10 of that year, Walt writes further about caring for Erastus:

“I used to sit by the side of his bed pretty silent, as that seemed most agreeable to him, & I felt it so too-he was generally opprest for breath, & with the heat, & I would fan him-occasionally he would want a drink.”

August 10, 1863. Walt describes Erastus’s behavior and condition at the end of his life. Reflecting on the young man’s life and loyalty, Walt writes, “He is one of the thousands of our unknown American young men in the ranks about whom there is no record or fame, no fuss about them dying, so unknown, but I find in them the real precious & royal ones of this land, giving themselves up, aye even their young & precious lives, in their country’s cause.” Page 1 of 4. New York Historical Society Collections.

At the time, some believed Walt to be homosexual, and the matter has been investigated by scholars since. Walt writes in his first letter of July 27, “I am merely a friend.” In spite of the persistent rumors of Walt’s sexual orientation and the deeply caring sentiment conveyed through his letters about Erastus, this statement should be taken at face value. Whether Walt was gay or not is of no concern here, because his sole intention was to care for the “poor boy.” No matter what Walt felt for Erastus, he did care for Erastus and for the many soldiers Walt assisted in their hour of need.

This collection of letters was digitized in 1998 as part of the N-YHS Library’s first digital project, “Civil War Treasures from the New-York Historical Society,” for the Library of Congress American Memory website. The Library of Congress is currently restructuring the American Memory site, and has retired collections digitized by other institutions. In assembling the data necessary for the New York Historical Society to republish the letters online, I have become particularly attached to these letters. The thoughtfulness of the content is thoroughly engaging, bringing to the attention of scholars and schoolchildren the bonds cultivated between strangers during the Civil War. In some sense, these letters show how the war brought people together, in spite of the divisions that incited the conflict, divisions that threatened to divide a country.

To access the fully digitized collection of these letters, please visit

To access all other fully digitized collections within the Civil War Treasures project, please visit

“We Are All Americans:” Grant, Lee, and Ely Parker at Appomattox Court House

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

Robert E. Lee wore a puzzled look as he examined the officer’s dark features, then recovered enough to extend his hand and remark, “I am glad to see one real American here.” On that April 9 afternoon, 150 years ago, at the McLean House in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, General Lee was greeting Ely S. Parker, a Seneca Indian who was serving as General Ulysses S. Grant’s secretary. Parker replied with dignity, “We are all Americans.”

Surrender at Appomattox Courthouse,, W.H. Stelle & Co., 1885; PR 068 Wars

Surrender at Appomattox Court House, (Ely Parker is depicted seated at table in rear), W.H. Stelle & Co., 1885; PR 068 Wars

After Lee and Grant’s preliminary and unusually pleasant conversation, Grant reached out to write out the surrender terms for the Army of Northern Virginia. This would effectively end four years of America’s bloodiest war.  Parker provided the writing materials, a “manifold book” with its new-fangled yellow sheets of copy paper; one can see one of the three copies here bearing Grant’s writing and Parker’s emendations.













Terms of Surrender, April 9, 1865, manifold impression in the hand of Ulysses S. Grant, with revisions by Ely S. Parker; BV Grant, U.S.

Lee studied the document, noting that the generous terms allowing the Confederate officers to keep their horses and side arms would “do much toward conciliating our people.” When time came for a clean copy to be made, Grant’s adjutant, Colonel Theodore S. Bowers, a one-time journalist, was too shaken by the magnitude of the occasion to complete the assignment. The task thus fell to Parker, who, with his legal training, had the composure to write out the terms on letterhead paper for Lee’s official approval. Parker kept one of the earlier yellow manifold copies for himself. He held proudly onto it all his life, placed it in a wood frame case, and had Ulysses Grant attest to its authenticity—in the attached text at the top margin—15  years later.  The framed document came later to the New-York Historical Society through the donation of the New York Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.

E. S. Parker, engraved by  R. O’Brien from a photograph by Napoleon Sarony; PR 052 Box 105 , engraver, , photographer

E. S. Parker, engraved by R. O’Brien from a photograph by Napoleon Sarony; PR 052 Box 105

The copy of the surrender letter was not, however, Ely Parker’s most prized possession.  That honor belonged to the seven-inch silver medal presented by President George Washington to his Great, Great Uncle Red Jacket in 1792. Parker both inherited the medal and rescued it from sale to a museum, and thence wore it frequently. Born in 1828 and named Ha-sa-no-an-da, Ely Samuel Parker was the son of a War of 1812 veteran who had fought for the United States. Raised on the Tonawanda Reservation near Buffalo, Parker impressed others with his curiosity, intellect, and facility with languages. He pronounced his “white” name “Eelee” and took on the additional name Do-ne-ho-ga-wa on becoming a sachem in 1851. By then Parker had served as a teenaged interpreter and diplomat for his tribe in Albany and Washington, met with Presidents and statesmen, studied law and engineering. Not admitted to the New York bar because, as a tribal member, he was not a U.S. citizen, he pursued his career in civil engineering. Work as a U.S. government engineer took Parker to Galena, Illinois, where, in 1860, he met Ulysses Grant, a Mexican War veteran with a West Point education struggling to make do as a civilian.

Despite his being an active Freemason, engineer, and militia officer, prejudice at every level stymied Parker’s application for an officer’s commission in the Civil War. In Parker’s recollection, Lincoln’s Secretary of State William H. Seward, a fellow New Yorker, told him that “the struggle in which I wished to assist, was an affair between white men and one in which the Indian was not called on to act. The fight must be made and settled by the white men alone.”  It was the intervention, two years later, of Grant and other Galena officers that sent him to Vicksburg, Mississippi, days after its successful capture, to join Grant’s staff; a year later he was formally appointed as Grant’s secretary with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Robert Weir, Sagoyewatha, or "Red Jacket" (ca. 1758-1830) 1828 Oil on canvas Gift of Winthrop Chanler 1893.1

Robert W. Weir, Sagoyewatha, or “Red Jacket” (ca. 1758-1830), (with presidential medal), 1828, Oil on canvas, Gift of Winthrop Chanler; 1893.1

After remaining at Grant’s side throughout the drama at Appomattox in 1865, Parker accompanied the General with his staff to Washington.

According to Parker’s account in news reports, he arrived in time to meet with President Lincoln on Good Friday, April 14, show him the Red Jacket medal, and demonstrate all that it meant to him. Abraham Lincoln continued with his plans to end that day at Ford’s Theater.

Parker was a natural choice as President Grant’s Commissioner of Indian Affairs and was, in fact, the first Native American to hold that position. In that tenure, Parker was not reluctant to use the Army, but he and Grant attempted to avoid the major Indian Wars that characterized the period. A Congressional investigation, from which he was cleared of charges of fraud, ended Parker’s service in 1871.

After leaving government, and now married to a young Washington socialite, Parker made a Gilded-Age fortune, but lost much of it just as quickly in the Panic of 1873.  Thereafter, Parker would touch on history in still yet another way, in his last career as the head requisitions clerk for the New York City Police Department, a position held for nearly 20 years until his death in 1895. There at headquarters at 300 Mulberry Street, the “noble old fellow” was a favorite of a reporter on the police beat, Jacob Riis.

Jacob Riis. PR 84, Pach Brothers Photograph Collection

Jacob Riis, Pach Brothers Photograph Collection; PR 84

Later made famous for his exposure of conditions in the nearby tenements, Riis would recall that he was drawn to Parker’s encyclopedic knowledge and by Riis’s own childhood interest in James Fenimore Cooper’s tales of American Indians in his native Denmark: “They had something to do with my coming here, and at last I had for a friend one of their kin. I think he felt the bond of sympathy between us and prized it, for he showed me in many silent ways that he was fond of me. There was about him an infinite pathos, penned up there in his old age among the tenements of Mulberry Street on the pay of a second-rate clerk, that never ceased to appeal to me.”

Parker’s post-war recollections of Appomattox have helped in setting the countless depictions of the iconic scene in the McLean parlor. Here, in interview notes taken by artist James E. Kelly, Parker describes Grant’s informal dress and knee-high boots. With a laugh, he adds, “If you want to show General Grant as he really was—he had a cigar in his mouth.”

James E. Kelly Papers, Box 2

James E. Kelly Papers, Box 10



Celebrating Women’s History: Rebecca Lepkoff

To celebrate Women’s History Month, here are some images by pioneering street photographer Rebecca Lepkoff.

Mrs. Taylor, circa 1947-1948. PR 285, Rebecaa Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Mrs. Taylor, circa 1947-1948. PR 285, Rebecaa Lepkoff Photograph Collection.


Lower East Side, 1940's. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Lower East Side, 1940s. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

A quintessential New Yorker, Lepkoff gained international acclaim for her iconic images of the Lower East Side. She was born on August 4, 1916, in a Hester Street tenement. Like the majority of families living in the neighborhood at that time, her parents were Jewish immigrants, struggling to improve their circumstances. Lepkoff dreamed of becoming a dancer, and after graduating from City College she was hired to dance at the 1939 World’s Fair. With the money she earned, she bought her first camera, and began to shift her artistic vision to photography.

Hester Street, 1940's. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Hester Street, 1940s. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Hester Street, 1940's. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Hester Street, 1940s. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Lepkoff took advantage of free photography classes offered by the New Deal’s National Youth Administration, and later joined the Photo League. Founded in 1936 by photographers Sid Grossman and Sol Libsohn, the Photo League encouraged its members to document everyday life, a mission that Lepkoff gloriously fulfilled. Her photographs capture and make palpable a world that no longer exists. She focuses on the daily incidents of life that spilled out of too-small dwellings onto sidewalks and streets: mothers watching their babies, boys making fists, people shopping or sitting on stoops, neighbors chatting. Although indelibly stamped with the imprint of a vanished era, we recognize our own lives in Lepkoff’s images.  They have an authentic quality that makes you realize the past really happened.

Hester Street, 1940's. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Hester Street, 1940s. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.


Lower East Side, 1940's.  PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Lower East Side, 1940s. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Lepkoff was one of many women in the Photo League, which was “gender neutral at a time when women were not particularly visible outside the home,” says Catherine Evans, co-curator of a recent traveling exhibition about the League. About a third of the League’s members were women,  including many famous names such as Berenice Abbott, Dorothea Lange, Margaret Bourke-White, and Ruth Orkin. Their work shares a commitment to documentary photography, but can hardly be characterized as “feminine.” As Evans noted, “if we were to cover up the wall labels in [the Photo League] exhibition, you’d be hard pressed to say ‘that was by a woman, that was by a man.'”

The vibrancy of Lepkoff ‘s photographs reflects her own vitality: she lived to be 98, continuing to photograph almost up until the day she died (August 17, 2014). Luckily, her legacy is preserved at N-YHS and other institutions and will continue to inspire women for many years to come.

“The unadulterated Irish language”: Irish Speakers in Nineteenth Century New York

Unidentified map of Ireland, circa late 1700s. (Donegal on this map is spelled "Donnagall")

Unidentified map of Ireland, circa late 1700s. (Donegal on this map is spelled “Donnagall”)

The June 13, 1857, issue of Harper’s Weekly ran this short anecdote under “Things and Otherwise”:

A woman a short time since appeared at the lower police court in New York city, and, going up to the judge, addressed him, as nearly as our reporter could understand, as follows:“R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r!” The judge at once called the interpreter of the court. “Here, F—, this woman speaks a foreign language.” The interpreter said: “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” “R-r-r-r-r-r.”“Parlez vous Francais?” “R-r-r-r-r-r.” “Habla Espanol?” “R-r-r-r-r-r.” “Parlate Italiano?” “R-r-r-r-r-r.” The lingual accomplishments of the interpreter were now exhausted, and he turned away in despair, when an Irishman present suddenly exclaimed, “Och, yer honor! it’s mesilf can spake with the leddy, sure.” Pat tried his hand, and succeeded to admiration. She spoke the unadulterated Irish language.

Language is rarely counted among the many challenges facing the Irish who arrived here in the 19th century but as this story reveals, for some Irish immigrants, English was a foreign tongue. While the Irish language made a precipitous decline in Ireland by the end of the century (the exact causes of which remain the subject of historical debate ) it was very much alive in the early 1800s. It follows that many such immigrants would have spoken Irish as their primary language. In fact, historians estimate that a quarter to a third of Famine immigrants were Gaeilgeoirí, or Irish speakers, and undoubtedly counted monoglots in their numbers. With English so ubiquitous in Ireland, this may be a bit hard to fathom today but at the time there would have been an appreciable number of Irish immigrants for whom English was as much a foreign language as Italian, French or German.

Bill of exchange to Bridget Sweeney of Ardara, Co. Donegal, July 28, 1851. MS 54, Abraham Bell & Son Records

Bill of exchange to Bridget Sweeney of Ardara, Co. Donegal, July 28, 1851. MS 54, Abraham Bell & Son Records

Unfortunately, traces of this are fleeting given that this was a largely illiterate population. Though there were some exceptions even those who were literate bore anglicized names such as Seán Ó Dreada, a noted stone carver, who was known by John Draddy. Still, geographic connections can provide some insight into identifying an Irish speaker. A good example occurs in this document recording money being sent via the Irish-American merchant firm of Abraham Bell & Son to Bridget Sweeney, of Ardara, County Donegal in 1851. The greatest concentration of Gaeilgeoirí has typically been in areas furthest from the epicenter of English influence around Dublin. This map of Irish-speaking districts suggests that 81-90 percent of those living in that area of Donegal would have spoken Irish, so we can reasonably conjecture that this was a transaction between speakers.

Fleeting glimpses show how the Irish language manifested itself on these shores as well. A researcher using the Children’s Aid Society Records recently pointed out that in writing his “Incidents and Sketches Among the Newsboys,” CAS agent W. Colopy Desmond documented a handful of examples from the Irish boys that he interacted with. In one case, Desmond attempted to capture phonetically the accent of Dennis O’Driscoll, a “tall boy with a rich brogue, and harsh features” of Skibbereen, County Cork.  While he notes O’Driscoll’s exclamations such as “Och” and “Gor”, far more interesting is his comparison of a bump on a forehead to a “mealy praty” the latter deriving straight from the Irish prátai, or potato.

"Outward Bound: The Quay of Dublin", Williams, Stevens & Williams: New York, 1854. PR 10, Caricature and Cartoon File

“Outward Bound: The Quay of Dublin”, Williams, Stevens & Williams: New York, 1854. PR 10, Caricature and Cartoon File

In a slightly more curious line, Desmond relates O’Driscoll’s description of Newsboy antics: “Och! see how them divils are puckin’ each other like buck goats.” The combination of “puckin'” and “buck goats” is fitting since Terence Patrick Dolan’s A Dictionary of Hiberno-English defines a puck or pucán as a male goat. There is yet another link to the Irish pooka,  according to P.W. Joyce’s English As We Speak It “a mischievous and often malignant goblin that generally appears in the form of a horse, but sometimes as a bull, a buck-goat, &c.” Joyce also offers puck as an associated verb which he defines as “a softened equivalent of playing the devil.

Taking into account that Skibbereen (a region decimated by the Famine) remained significantly Irish speaking in this era, it’s logical that O’Driscoll’s English is sprinkled with words of Irish origin while hinting at the much greater discussion concerning Irish words that survive in American English. Although many generations of usage and hybridization usually obscure origins, some, such as “slew,” “galore,” and “smithereens,” are well-documented and remain popular today .

This understanding of Irish speaking in 19th-century New York has real value in honing and intensifying interpretations of historical events. A particularly good example is a popular George Templeton Strong’s diary entry describing the singing of laments, or keening, by Irish women at the death of two laborers. He finishes with this comment:

It was an uncanny sound to hear, quite new to me. Beethoven would have interpreted it into music worse than the allegretto of the Seventh Symphony. Our Celtic fellow citizens are almost as remote from us in temperament and constitution as the Chinese.

Cass Gilbert & the Brooklyn Waterfront

Photographer unknown. Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. warehouse under construction, June 1914. PR 21, Cass Gilbert Collection

Photographer unknown. Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. warehouse under construction, June 1914. PR 21, Cass Gilbert Collection

This post is by Nina Nazionale, Director of Library Operations

The architectural profile of the Brooklyn waterfront, especially in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, has changed radically in the last ten years. Amidst the new, high-rise towers, stands a massive, stately low-rise. Originally known as the Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. warehouse and now a luxury apartment building, it is a visual reminder of the waterfront’s commercial and industrial past.

The building was distinctive from the day it opened, if for no other reason than its architect Cass Gilbert (1859-1934), known for his innovative designs of the U.S. Customs Building (1907) and the Woolworth Building (1913). It was, and still is, unusual for a renowned architect to design a warehouse. The developers of the site knew that Gilbert’s name would lend cachet to the project, and Gilbert himself remarked, in 1913, that “a building of dignity commensurate with the standing of such a company was a valuable advertising and business asset.”


Cass Gilbert. Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. warehouse, longitudinal section, October 16, 1913. PR 21, Cass Gilbert Architectural Record Collection

Gilbert believed a building’s design should flow from its intended use. Working in the Egyptian Revival style, which emphasized scale and proportion, he integrated what were disparate needs—the processing, packing, and shipping of food; the hosting of retail buyers; and a comfortable, well-lit environment for employees—into an elegant and effective design. The warehouse was built with reinforced concrete, a relatively new technique that reduced costs and also the threat of fire, a serious consideration in the years following the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911.

Photographer unknown. Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. warehouse under construction, September 1914. PR 21, Cass Gilbert Collection

Photographer unknown. Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. warehouse under construction, September 1914. PR 21, Cass Gilbert Collection

The size and grandeur of the building suited Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc., then the largest wholesale grocery business in the world. The wholesaler was able to consolidate the operations of all nine of its Manhattan locations into one building in Brooklyn. With access to the waterfront and located next to a freight terminal, the new site allowed Austin, Nichols to ship the bulk of its inventory by rail at a time when trucking costs had become exorbitant. Freight cars were loaded on the warehouse’s first floor, transported to the adjacent Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal, then floated on barges to Manhattan and New Jersey, where rail lines that stretched across the country originated.

Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. prided itself not just in its highly efficient packaging and distribution operations but also in its on-site production of fresh food, spices, and coffee. Peanut butter, a food introduced just twenty years earlier and not yet popular, was made and jarred at the warehouse. Whole cloves and cinnamon were ground into powder; vanilla beans immersed in pure grain alcohol to make vanilla extract; and, a large part of the fifth floor was devoted to coffee roasting. The company’s attention to high-quality food extended to rooms called restaurants—rather than cafeterias—where employees ate meals subsidized by the company.  And, at least in the time right after the warehouse’s opening in 1915, a French chef oversaw the preparation of all meals.


Southside of 184 Kent Avenue. New-York Historical Society/Glenn Castellano, 2015

In the decades after Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. vacated the building, it was occupied by a series of commercial and residential tenants.  When a long and contentious attempt to landmark the building failed in 2007, the development of the building for residential use began. The Austin Nichols warehouse re-opened as the apartment building 184 Kent Avenue in 2010.

In celebration of both the hundredth anniversary of the opening of the Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. warehouse and the library’s vast Cass Gilbert holdings, I have curated a small installation, Cass Gilbert & the Brooklyn Waterfront, that will be on view along the Leah and Michael Weisberg Monumental Treasure Wall on the first floor of the New-York Historical Society, through Sunday, May 3, 2015.

“To wake the sluggards effectually”: The Beginnings of Daylight Saving Time

Benjamin Franklin. PR 52 Portrait File

Benjamin Franklin. PR 52 Portrait File

This post is by Samantha Walsh, Reference Assistant in the Department of Prints, Photographs & Architectural Collections

The first mention of Daylight Saving Time was made by Benjamin Franklin, in a 1784 letter to the editor of the Journal de Paris. While many attribute today’s practice of turning the clocks forward and back to Franklin, it is widely accepted that Franklin’s proposal was an example of his infamous satire. In his letter, which he signed “A Subscriber,” Franklin explains that after forgetting to close his shutters one night, “An accidental sudden noise waked me about six in the morning, when I was surprised to find my room filled with light; and I imagined at first, that a number of those lamps had been brought into it; but, rubbing my eyes, I perceived the light came in at the windows.” Franklin explains his shock at discovering that the sun provides light before noon. He explains, “Your readers…will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of his rising so early; and especially when I assure them, that he gives light as soon as he rises.” Franklin goes on to propose that Parisians rise earlier with the sun in order to conserve lamp oil and utilize daylight. In order to implement this change Franklin proposes a tax on shutters, as well as a limit on the amount of candle wax a household may purchase per week. Finally, Franklin declares that all church bells should ring as the sun rises, and if this does not do the job, “let cannon be fired in every street, to wake the sluggards effectually, and make them open their eyes to see their true interest.”  Despite its satirical intent, this letter does prove that Franklin did think of Daylight Saving Time first, but it is clear that he in no way meant to be taken literally, and we may assume that it was not read that way.

Invitation to the Daylight Savings Convention and Luncheon. Charles Leopold Bernheimer Papers MS

Invitation to the Daylight Savings Convention and Luncheon. MS 58, Charles Leopold Bernheimer Papers

Government-mandated Daylight Saving did not begin until over 100 years after Benjamin Franklin’s death, during WWI. On April 30, 1916, Germany began practicing Daylight Saving Time by putting the clock forward one hour until the following October. Most of Europe, including Britain, followed suit in a matter of weeks. A movement to begin DST in the U.S. had already begun, however the enemy’s adoption of DST seems to have given it the fuel needed to convince Americans to wake up earlier. Groups arguing for a law on Daylight Saving Time sprung up all over the country, the most influential being Pittsburgh’s Chamber of Commerce, led by Robert Garland. Garland is remembered as the “father” of Daylight Saving as a result of his efforts. New York had its own New York Daylight Saving Committee, which held the “National Daylight Saving Convention and Luncheon” at the Hotel Astor on January 30 and 31, 1917.

The convention attracted 632 delegates and a wide variety of speakers. Garland spoke, as well as representatives from The National Lawn Tennis Association and a member of England’s House of Commons, who explained “the benefits of the plan as seen in England.” The convention resulted in the formation of the national Daylight Saving Association, which opened offices in D.C. the next day. The Charles Leopold Bernheimer Papers, held in N-YHS’s Manuscript Collections, contain an invitation to the event as well as correspondence regarding Daylight Saving Time efforts in New York. Bernheimer, active in NYC public affairs and a seemingly non-functioning member of the New York Daylight Savings Committee, was serving as president of the Safety First Society of New York. The Society worked closely with the railroads, an industry which has long maintained an interest in anything that affects the clocks.

The argument occurring most frequently in favor of Daylight Saving is that an extra hour of daylight will allow more time for recreational activities, but posters found in N-YHS’s Poster Collection suggest that the war was a major tool in convincing the American public to turn their clocks forward.

WWI Daylight Saving publicity poster. PR 055-07 Poster File: WWI

WWI Daylight Saving publicity poster. PR 055-07 Poster File: WWI

WWI Daylight Saving publicity poster. PR 055-07 Poster File: WWI

WWI Daylight Saving publicity poster. PR 055-07 Poster File: WWI


Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower, Madison Avenue. PR 20 Geographic File

Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower, Madison Avenue. PR 20 Geographic File

The influence of the many committees and associations was enough to get the bill through the House and Senate, and finally passed into law on March 19, 1918. Sunday March 31 marked the beginning of national Daylight Saving Time in the United States. Bernheimer’s papers describe a celebratory reception at 1:30 AM that morning. During the celebration, Marcus M. Marks, Manhattan Borough President and Chairman of the New York Daylight Savings Committee, turned the clock in the Metropolitan Tower ahead one hour.

Less than a year after the war ended the federal law was repealed, however major cities such as New York and Pittsburgh did continue to practice Daylight Saving independently until it was again federally mandated during World War II. As NYC did continue to observe DST, this year marks the 97th anniversary of New Yorkers “Springing forward!”

“Rank Abolitionists”: a New Yorker Responds to Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin


The titlepage to the cheaper, popular edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among The Lowly, Boston: John F. Jewett and Company, 1852

On September 22, 1852, New York dry goods merchant Edward Neufville Tailer sat down to record his latest diary entry as he did religiously from 1848 until very nearly the day of his death in 1917. On this particular occasion he reflected on his reading of one of the most famous American literary works, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published only that summer.

While not every American has read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, it’s virtually impossible not to have heard of it. Regarded as the second best-selling book of the nineteenth century, it was runner up only to the bible itself, selling a whopping 300,000 copies in its first year in print. Naturally, these numbers speak volumes for its historical import but history certainly isn’t built purely on data. Instead it relies equally on sources that succeed in bringing its subjects to life. In this regard, Tailer’s entry on Uncle Tom’s Cabin brilliantly personalizes the experience of reading a nineteenth century best-seller for a modern observer:

 Amongst the works most sought after at present at the Mercantile Library, is Miss Harriet Beecher Stowe’s work entitled “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” or “Life Among the Lowly.” This book is in my opinion, written expressly to pamper with the ideas and tastes of all rank abolitionists. The heroine of the tale being a mulatto woman who escapes from her master, in order to rescue her child from falling into the hands of  a slave speculator, to whom he had been sold by his present master to enable him to pay off a mortgage. Her trials + the obstacles which she encounters when flying from before her pursuers are all most touchingly described, and enlist the sympathy + feelings of the reader. The story is in fact so beautifully written that I remained at home this evening pouring over its interesting pages, + thinking of but little else.


September 22, 1852 entry in the diary of Edward Neufville Tailer. MS 2495, BV Tailer, Edward

Setting aside the moral implications at work in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Tailer’s entry allows us to think about Stowe’s novel in the same way we recall our own personal experience surrounding the furor of something like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and in doing peel back the layers that prevent us from truly grasping the book’s impact on antebellum America.

Edward Neufville Tailer, PR 52, Portrait File

Edward Neufville Tailer, PR 52, Portrait File

That is intensified, however, by adding in the moral element and considering Tailer’s own views on the matter of slavery. His initial tone and, in particular, his choice of adjective to describe abolitionists, suggests a great deal about his thoughts. Like many fellow New Yorkers, he was entirely content to see slavery persist, assured that, properly treated, slaves enjoyed better lives than were they left to their own devices. That impression he recorded towards the end of 1852 while in Virginia, where, out of curiosity, he took in, and described, a Richmond slave auction. Despite all this, Tailer, a seemingly unlikely Stowe fan, was compelled to finish the story, revealing the the power of her narrative and its ability to absorb even those indifferent to its broader ethical message.

While he’s forced to compete with the highly regarded, and oft-quoted, New York diaries of both George Templeton Strong and Philip Hone, Tailer’s, comprising 57 volumes, are themselves exceptional as a historical resource. This was recognized early on: when he died, his obituary explicitly referenced this, nearly lifelong, endeavor.


“Seven Moments of Love”—from Langston Hughes to Robert Earl Jones

This post was written by Luis Rodriguez, Library Collections Technician.

Front page of "Seven Monents of Love" typescript with inscription. BV Hughes

Front page of “Seven Monents of Love” typescript with inscription. MS 1577, BV Hughes

Imagine a moment in Harlem in 1939. It’s inside the Community Center of the International Workers Order on West 125th Street, where the Harlem Suitcase Theater is putting on bare-bones experimental “proletariat” theatrical productions. The audience has left after a performance of Don’t You Want to be Free?—an epic depiction of African-American history that incorporates poetry, music, and drama—and the members of the theater begin to congregate. There is a sense of melancholy because Langston Hughes, the writer and director of Don’t You Want to be Free?, is leaving the project and moving to California. Hughes, a founding member of the theater, makes his way around the room, chatting, congratulating, and wishing people well, and then he comes to Robert Earl Jones, one of the evening’s featured actors and a member of the theater’s Executive Committee. Hughes takes an eight-page typescript folded into thirds from his pocket and hands it to his friend. Jones unfolds it and glances at the title—Seven Moments of Love—and then at the inscription, “To Earl Jones, These monologues, Sincerely, Langston 1939″. The two men shake hands and exchange a few kind words, and then the evening continues. Hughes, already known internationally as a writer and cultural figure, continues to travel and publish; Robert Earl Jones begins a career in film and later becomes better known as the father of the actor James Earl Jones; and the Harlem Suitcase Theater, never a great financial success, doesn’t make it past the 1939-1940 season. The typescript of Seven Moments of Love, meanwhile, arrives in the collections of the New-York Historical Society in October 1940.

Portrait of Langston Hughes, 1960. PR276 Bernard Gotfryd Photograph Collection

Portrait of Langston Hughes, 1960. PR276 Bernard Gotfryd Photograph Collection

Of course we don’t know exactly what the moment looked like when Hughes handed the typescript over to Jones, or if such a moment took place at all, but part of the value of this kind of document is that it can evoke a specific time and place, rich with historic and literary import. During this period in his career, Hughes seemed to be doing everything. After spending time in Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War, he was finishing an autobiography, trying to establish a new kind of theater in the United States, and still writing poetry. His influences during this time ranged from Soviet Constructivism to Shakespeare. The title of his 1940 volume of poetry, Shakespeare in Harlem, underlines the presence of the latter, and we can see it as well in “Seven Moments of Love”, the full title of which adds the phrase: “an un-sonnet sequence in blues”. Shakespeare, the most famous of English language sonnet writers, adjusted the traditional form to suit his purposes, and Hughes, likewise, applied his own meter and rhyme to the basic sonnet structure in which a speaker gives voice to a problem that is resolved in the poem’s final lines. But then this is an “un-sonnet sequence” and the structure and content of the poem are faithful only to the contemporary reader. One nice thing about Hughes’ inscription is that it makes explicit the relationship between the writer and his audience, and in this case it leads us to the person reading the poem: Robert Earl Jones. Jones left his young family when he was about 20 years old to work first in Memphis, and then in Chicago where he was a prizefighter, before landing in New York with a WPA job, which is where Hughes found him.  In the poem there are echoes of estrangement and Depression-era wages that would likely resonate with Jones on a personal level. An Elizabethan reader, and probably most readers today, wouldn’t pick up on the references made to KDQ radio and Owl Head handguns, but these bits of culture, like the typescript itself, belong only to that singular time and place that Hughes and Jones shared.

The second section of "Seven Moments of Love". BV Hughes

The second section of “Seven Moments of Love”. Ms 1577, BV Hughes

The final section of "Seven Moments of Love". BV Hughes

The final section of “Seven Moments of Love”. MS 1577, BV Hughes

Special Delivery for Valentine’s Day

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

Early children's Valentines, undated. PR 279 Marilyn Gelfman Karp Collection of Ephemera

Early children’s Valentines, undated. PR 279 Marilyn Gelfman Karp Collection of Ephemera

Like it or loathe it, Valentine’s Day is upon us. With all the advertisements for expensive jewelry, bountiful bouquets and fine dining, one might overlook the significance of a good old fashioned Valentine. Yep, a card can hold just as much meaning as a giant teddy bear and in the age of text messaging and emails, a handwritten note certainly adds a personal touch to the occasion. Of course, this doesn’t mean we can’t all enjoy a good sense of humor when it comes to February 14th, as evidenced by several of the items shown below.

After Christmas, Valentine’s Day is the second most popular holiday for card-sharing. An estimated 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged every year. Whether the card is delivered in person or travels across an ocean to reach its destination, the sentiment remains. This comical card, received by a soldier during WWII, celebrates the holiday with patriotism and a playful spirit. It also features partial lyrics from the classic military song, “We’re in the Army Now”. (Words by Tell Taylor and Ole Olsen. Music by Isham Jones. 1917.)

Valentine to a soldier, WWII era (front). PR 279 Marilyn Gelfman Karp Collection of Ephemera

Valentine to a soldier, WWII era (front). PR 279 Marilyn Gelfman Karp Collection of Ephemera

Valentine to a soldier, WWI era (inside). PR 279 Marilyn Gelfman Karp Collection of Ephemera

Valentine to a soldier, WWII era (inside). PR 279 Marilyn Gelfman Karp Collection of Ephemera

Esther Howland was one of the first commercial manufacturers of Valentine’s Day cards in the United States. At the age of 20, she began a long, successful career creating delicate greeting cards made in a Victorian style with high-quality paper and lace imported from England. Credited with a number of innovations in greeting card design, the “Mother of the American Valentine” used bright wafer paper under white lace to show contrast and later created a shadow box effect that somewhat resembled a pop-up book. While these cards do not bear the trademark red “H” of a Howland original, I’m not convinced they were not made by her company. Regardless, they are fine examples of that unique style of Valentine card-making in the second half of the 19th century.

Victorian-era Valentines, possibly made by Esther Howland. American Historical Manuscripts Collection – Valentines

Victorian-era Valentines, possibly made by Esther Howland. AHMC – Valentines

Mischievous Valentine, late 19th/early 20th century. American Historical Manuscripts Collection – Valentines

Mischievous Valentine, late 19th/early 20th century. AHMC – Valentines

Playing with the slightly cheekier side of Valentine’s Day, this unusual card includes a poem from the perspective of a less-than-subtle suitor attempting to woo a widow into his arms. Be sure to take a closer look at the artwork around the perimeter of the card. Although presumably meant to be humorous, it’s surprisingly dark and disturbing. Think Edward Gorey meets Hallmark.

Whatever your plans are for February 14th, here’s hoping Cupid is kind to you… now I’m going to go fetch some chocolate!


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