New-York Historical Society

“Feelin’ Tomorrow Lak Ah Feel Today”: W.C. Handy, the St. Louis Blues, and Marion Harris

Written by Maureen Maryanski, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections.

St. Louis Blues, copyright 1914, Popular Music, N-YHS Sheet Music Collection

St. Louis Blues, copyright 1914, Popular Music, N-YHS Sheet Music Collection

An often overlooked source of historical and cultural memory is the ephemeral format of sheet music. The New-York Historical Society houses an extensive sheet music collection numbering close to 15,000. Many of these are from the 19th century, but a significant subsection contains popular songs from the early to mid-20th century. One of the most famous and widely recorded early blues songs is W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues.” The N-YHS holds sheet music for this song in a ukulele arrangement. From this document, and especially the beautiful illustration and publicity information gleaned from the front cover, multiple threads of the story of early blues music, and its publication, performance and recording, can be deciphered.

Handy Bros. Music Company (Home of the Blues). The appearance of this name for Handy's publishing company indicates that this pieces of sheet music was printed after 1920.

Handy Bros. Music Company (Home of the Blues). The appearance of this name for Handy’s publishing company indicates that this pieces of sheet music was printed after 1920.

First, we begin with the composer W.C. Handy (1873-1958). Known as the “Father of the Blues,” Handy was one of the first to publish music in this form, beginning in 1912 with “Memphis Blues.” The song caught the ear of New York bandleader James Reese Europe, who was employed by famous dance couple Irene and Vernon Castle. The Castles proceeded to use the song to accompany their new step, the foxtrot. In 1914, “Memphis Blues” became the first blues song preserved on record. Following the success of the song, Handy started his own publishing company, Pace and Handy Music Company, only the third music publishing company owned by African Americans. In 1918, he moved to New York, and by 1920 he operated the publishing company as a family-owned business, Handy Brothers Music Company, at 1545 Broadway, described on this piece of sheet music as the “Home of the Blues.”

First page of "St. Louis Blues" for ukulele in D Tuning. Notice the lyrics, written in dialect vernacular.

First page of “St. Louis Blues” for ukulele in D Tuning. Notice the lyrics, written in dialect vernacular.

While “Memphis Blues” was among the first, “St. Louis Blues” is considered the best example of early blues music, and the first to be successful as a popular song. Published in 1914, the song is supposedly based on Handy’s experiences being penniless and sleeping on the streets of St. Louis in 1892. As with his other blues compositions, much of his inspiration was drawn from preexisting folk music of the South, evident from the musical structure, as well as the lyrics written in dialect: “I hate to see de ev’nin’ sun go down.”  However, with “St. Louis Blues” Handy combined this black rural blues tradition with a habanera rhythm to create what has been heralded as a masterpiece of blue notes and syncopation. Early versions of “St. Louis Blues” were usually up tempo, reflecting the song’s appearance during the ragtime era and its use as a dance arrangement, this time for the tango. The first recording of the song appeared in 1915, but the first great vocal recording came in 1920 with Marion Harris’ slower rendition, which also began a counter-tradition of singing the song as a lament.

Marion Harris (1896-1944), recording artist, vaudeville star, and blues singer.

Marion Harris (1896-1944), recording artist, vaudeville star, and blues singer.

It is Marion Harris’ recording for the Columbia Phonograph Company, record number 2944, that is advertised with this ukulele sheet music. So, who was Marion Harris? Though her name might not be familiar today, she was one of the most popular singers of her day, praised as the “Queen of Blues” and later “The Little Girl with the Big Voice.” Little is known of her background beyond her birth in 1896, possibly in Kentucky or Indiana. Discovered in a Chicago-area theater by Vernon Castle in the early 1910s, her debut recording was in 1916 for Victor Records. Her move to Columbia in 1920 was partly due to her desire to record the “St. Louis Blues,” as discussed by Handy in his 1941 autobiography Father of the Blues. A top recording artist, vaudeville star, and radio personality through the early 1930s, Harris famously recorded other songs including “After You’ve Been Gone,” “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” and “The Man I Love.” As with nearly all early recorded blues vocalists, Harris was white, yet as Handy wrote in his autobiography, “Miss Harris had used our numbers in vaudeville for a long time, and she sang the blues so well that people hearing her records sometimes through that the singer was colored.” Her recordings and creativity influenced subsequent singers and stars, including Ruth Etting and Bing Crosby.

Columbia Record 2944. This sheet music was advertised by highlighting Marion Harris' 1920 recording.

Columbia Record 2944. This sheet music was advertised by highlighting Marion Harris’ 1920 recording.

The “St. Louis Blues” has an extensive legacy as a fundamental part of jazz repertoire and one of the most widely recorded blues songs, from Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong’s legendary 1925 version to last year’s rendition by Hugh Laurie and the Copper Bottom Band. You can even perform your own interpretation, on ukulele, by visiting the New-York Historical Society and looking at the sheet music yourself!

William Halsey Wood and the Cathedral that Never Was

Post written by Luis Rodriguez, Library Collections Technician

Cathedral

“Jerusalem the Golden”, Wood’s design for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, MS141

The architect William Halsey Wood died in 1897 at the age of 41, less than a decade after losing out on the opportunity to build his masterpiece. He did manage to build a number of other noteworthy churches and homes, but when looking at his relatively brief career, the looming question is more about what might have been rather than what actually was. The 1888 competition to design an Episcopal cathedral in New York resulted in some wildly ambitious designs, and among them was the work of the young William Halsey Wood of Newark, NJ. Of the four finalists in the competition to build the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Wood’s design, named “Jerusalem the Golden”, was probably the most striking. The seemingly endless series of turrets, spires, and arches surrounding an enormous domed tower drew both high praise for originality and criticism for impracticality. The commission ultimately went to George Heins and Christopher Grant La Farge, and then in 1911 it was taken over by Ralph Adams Cram.

Cram, like Wood, was a student and practitioner of Gothic Revivalism as well as a devout Anglo-Catholic. Reflecting on Wood’s cathedral plans in 1937, he wrote that “had ‘Jerusalem the Golden’ actually arisen on Morningside Heights, it might very possibly have considerably modified the course of development in American architecture. In a sense he anticipated Sullivan, Wright, Goodhue and the other path-breakers towards modernism.” Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright in particular are given credit for introducing an indigenous style to American architecture rooted in clean lines and the cultivation of a building’s unique sense of place. A connection between their work and the almost otherworldly grandeur of “Jerusalem the Golden” seems improbable, but there may still be something to Cram’s statement.

Portrait

Portrait of Wood at age 24, MS141, 1879

In the descriptive text that Wood attached to his cathedral design, he espouses a number of principles that share some similarity with what Wright later termed “organic architecture”. To begin with, there is the way that Wood approached the specific physical location of the cathedral. As he writes in his description, “the site is the curved summit of a rock-ledge looking abruptly down into the lap of Harlem plain, while sloping gracefully in other directions. The compelling corollary follows that the Cathedral must be firmly and securely anchored on this rock; and that its solidity and integrity of construction should be, even as an outgrowth of its granite foundation of mother rock; and that its prevailing contour and outlines should involve the idea of pyramidical solidity and permanency.” In allowing the site to suggest the cathedral’s shape and its granite construction, Wood emphasizes the monumentality of both the physical landscape and the building itself. The building should, “continue uninterrupted as a mountain eminence,” he says, continuing the idea that the cathedral would be a natural and graceful extension of the rock beneath it.

Sketch

Original sketch for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine competition, MS 141, 1888

This mindfulness with regard to place, however, is just one element in an overall approach that emphasizes unity and integrity even as it breaks with convention. He further describes the design as an “ensemble”, which is, “not a plagiarism or a transplanted exotic, nor is it the echo or reflection of any foreign creation…It is nothing more or less than a spontaneous and general outgrowth of the writer’s structural conceptions as nurtured at the altar within recognized lines of artistic and aesthetic propriety.” The remarks about not transplanting a foreign design are significant because while Wood was invested in Gothic Revivalism, he was also attempting to make something that would be a unique product of its own time and place.

He described “Jerusalem the Golden” as “American Gothic”, or more specifically, “a demonstration of this practicability and plasticity of Gothic ideals under the demands of American life and thought”. Some of the “demands” he refers to were technological, as advances in building and engineering were making it possible to complete structures that could not have existed in previous eras. Other demands were social, as New York at that time was characterized by a rapidly expanding and increasingly diverse population. Wood notes that the design “should incorporate the ethnic types of civilization,” but more than that, he was interested in bringing the masses together into a unified theological framework that could be expressed in architecture. Quoting from the Psalms, he writes, “‘Jerusalem is built as a city at unity with itself’ and so the shallow, wide transepts and nave of the same proportions, gather up all the faithful with one great mass of worshipers”. Using the Book of Revelation to create a system of numeric symbolism expressed in various architectural features, Wood attempted to generate a sense of continuity and integration between scripture and the forward-looking New York of the late 19th century.

Winmarleigh

“Winmarleigh”, the house Wood built for himself in Newark, NJ, MS141

The William Halsey Wood Papers at the N-YHS Library contain, in addition to personal letters, drawings, and clippings related to his work, an interesting and seemingly unpublished quotation that may or may not be attributable to Frank Lloyd Wright. William Halsey Wood Jr., the son of the late architect, added some additional material to the papers in which he describes a conversation he had with the architectural historian C.L.V. Meeks. In it, the latter recalls an interview with Frank Lloyd Wright, who, when asked how he felt about starting modern architecture in the United States responded, “I did my part, but my late partner Louis Sullivan did much more than I did. Furthermore, the man who really started it all was William Halsey Wood.” Whether or not Wright actually said this or saw Wood as the man who started it all, the fact remains that Wood did suggest a different and ultimately more modern architectural style. While this style is most fully in evidence in his drawings for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, bits of it can be seen in the many buildings that he did complete as well.

Sketchbook

Drawings from Wood’s sketchbook made during his apprenticeship, MS141, 1875

 

Keeping the Peace with Samuel Colt

ColtPortrait

Portrait of Sameul Colt, Imperial Portrait Photographic File, PR210, Brady, undated.

Post written by Tammy Kiter, Manuscript Reference Librarian

“If I can’t be first, I won’t be second in anything.” – Samuel Colt, 1844

Born in Hartford, CT, in 1814, Samuel Colt transformed the evolution of firearms. An ambitious inventor and successful industrialist, Colt was fascinated by machinery from an early age. He enjoyed taking things apart to see how they worked, including his father’s guns. One of his earliest and most valued possessions was the flintlock pistol used by his maternal grandfather while serving in the Continental Army.

ColtRevolver-Armsmear

Exterior and Interior view of Colt Revolver. Armsmear: the home, the arm, and the armory of Samuel Colt: a memorial. Barnard, Henry, 1866.

As a young boy at school, he was introduced to a scientific encyclopedia that contained information about Robert Fulton and gunpowder, both of which provided a great deal of inspiration for the curious Colt. While working in his father’s textile plant, Colt developed an interest in chemistry and gained more expertise with the tools being used by the craftsmen there.

In 1830, Colt was a passenger onboard the ship Corvo. The idea for a revolving firearm purportedly came to Colt while watching the ship’s wheel and noticing that the spokes always returned in perfect alignment with a clutch that locked the wheel in position. Most pistols produced prior to Samuel Colt’s invention fired one shot at a time and took 20 seconds to reload. Instead, Colt’s gun featured an automatic, revolving chamber that enabled the handler to fire six shots in succession. Samuel Colt received U.S. Patent #9430X for this revolutionary invention on February 25, 1836.

“The good people of this world are very far from being satisfied with each other and my arms are the best peacemaker.” – Samuel Colt, 1852

AmerInst1

Judge’s Reports, 10th Annual Fair, 1837, American Institute Records, MS 17.

AmerInst2

Judge’s Reports, 10th Annual Fair, 1837, American Institute Records, MS 17.

With the financial assistance of wealthy relatives, he was able to open Colt’s Patent Arms Manufacturing Company in Paterson, NJ, in 1836. Colt created a product with interchangeable parts, thereby increasing productivity and decreasing the cost of materials. The company used a force of traveling salesmen, known as agents, to peddle their wares to individuals and small shops as well as 15 to 20 jobbers to coordinate large scale purchases with wholesalers. He was among the first businessmen to use celebrity endorsement and corporate gifts in an effort to promote his products, regardless of the negative attention it sometimes resulted in. Colt was an innovator in the fields of advertising, product placement, mass marketing and mass production.

Colt’s repeating firearms were first exhibited at the American Institute Fair, held at Niblo’s Garden, in 1837. His weapons were well-received and the designs earned him a gold medal for the Best Many Chambered Cylinder Rifle. The images show the judge’s reports for his entries at the 10th Annual Fair. The Fairs provided an opportunity for inventors of every imaginable craft not only to exhbit their materials, but to earn the prestige that came with winning one of the American Institute’s premium awards. At the 1852 Fair, one judge deemed Colt’s revolving pistols to be “decidedly superior and unsurpassed in workmanship”.

Detail - Armsmear map

Map of Colt’s property in hartford, CT. Armsmear: the home, the arm, and the armory of Samuel Colt: a memorial. Barnard, Henry, 1866.

In 1847, the Texas Rangers ordered 1,000 revolvers from the Colt factory to aid with their efforts in fighting the Mexican-American War. Improved manufacturing made the guns much safer and the business expanded rapidly. His firearms were also prominent during the settlement of the Western Frontier, as they allowed pioneers to defend themselves, their homes, and their livestock. Of course, they were also used by gunslingers and outlaws such as Wild Bill Hickock, John Wesley Hardin and Jesse James. In fact, many proponents said that “Colt won the west”. His advances transformed the revolver from a utilitarian object to a symbol of pride.

By 1860, his factory in CT was the largest private arms manufacturing plant in the world and had produced over 400,000 revolvers. The large tract of land he purchased included the Armory, a manor known as Armsmear, employee tenement housing, a game hall, discussion rooms and a library. Colt’s revolvers were the preferred sidearm of civilians, soldiers and outlaws alike. At the beginning of the Civil War, his company supplied arms to both the North and the South, as he was a capitalist and saw no reason to make a moral decision in the matter. However, newspapers such as the New York Times and Hartford Daily Courant branded him a traitor and Southern Sympathizer and eventually, the factory only supplied weapons to Union soldiers.

Ironically, at the time of his death from gout in 1862, Colt had never fired one of his guns at another human being. He had become one of the wealthiest men in America at the age of 47. Samuel Colt was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006. The original company has gone through many changes over the years, but the factories in Hartford, CT still flourish and the Colt name is synonymous with quality firearms.

New York City: the Curling Capital

Cover, History of Curling by John Kerr, 1890.

Cover, History of Curling by John Kerr, 1890. GV845.K4.

Most Americans view curling — reinstated as an Olympic medal event just 16 years ago , in 1998 — as a novel and peculiar sport.  Given its exotic status, not to mention the U.S. team’s dismal performance at Sochi, it may come as a surprise to learn that this ancient Scottish game also has a long history here in the United States.

It’s generally agreed that the first curling club in America was established in the 1830’s, near Detroit, and by the 1850’s, the sport’s popularity spread to a number of other locales,  including New York City.  Indeed, according to Scotsman John Kerr — whose 1890 History of Curling is still considered the “cornerstone of any curler’s library” — Sottish immigrants made New York “the “headquarters of United States curling.”  One of the earliest New York clubs was the St. Andrew’s Curling Club, established in 1858.  It was started, according to an early member, by “a little colony of Scotsmen, mostly stone-masons” who wanted “to while away the time during the long winter months” when the building trades were out of work.  They made the first curling-stones out of boulders strewn around Manhattan (which then still had some meadows), assisted by their wives, who were said to be “so enthusiastic that they all turned in and helped to polish [the stones] in the wash-tubs.” (Skeptics might ask if the ladies were avid for the sport or just eager to get their unemployed husbands out of the house!).

Constitution and By-laws, St. Andrews Curling Club.

St. Andrews Curling Club By-Laws. MS 2442.

In keeping with the traditions of their homeland, the St. Andrews’ curlers insisted on “cordiality and brotherly feeling with each other,” as  expressed in their motto “We’re Brithers A,” and their delightful logo illustration.  Other New York clubs soon followed (the New York Curling Club, the Thistles, the Caledonians, the Yonkers, and many more), and the clubs competed in hotly-contested matches on lakes in Central Park, Van Cortlandt Park, and Hoboken, among others.  In fact, one of the ponds in Central Park was originally known as the “Caledonian Curling Pond.”

"Great Curling Match on the Central Park Pond Between the St. Andrews and Caledonian Clubs.  Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, February 17, 1872.

“Great Curling Match on the Central Park Pond Between the St. Andrews and Caledonian Clubs. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, February 17, 1872. Geographic File, PR 20.

By 1867, there was a sufficient number of clubs to warrant formation of a “Grand National Curling Club of America,” also headquartered (naturally) in New York City.  Modeled on its Scottish counterpart, the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, the American federation of clubs held annual meetings and produced a yearly guide that detailed the previous year’s team records.  It also promulgated the rules of the game, providing detailed illustrations of the various diagrams that were to be drawn on the ice.  Most importantly, though, the National Club sponsored contests and presented the winners with prestigious trophies, including the most important prize of all: the Gordon medal.

Annual of the Grand National Curling Club of America

Annual of the Grand National Curling Club of America, 1889-1890. GV845.G8A2, V. 18.

This gold medal was donated in 1869 by Robert Gordon, a Scottish immigrant who was among the founding members of the St. Andrew Curling Club, and was later elected the first patron of the Grand National Curling Club. It was awarded to the best national curling team, to be determined at an annual bonspiel (curling tournament). Still held today, the Gordon Grand National Championship is one of the oldest sporting events in North America, preceded only by the America’s Cup yachting races (1851) and the Bell Quoit Silver Medal, an iceless summer bonspiel where quoits (the forerunners to horsehoes) are thrown.

St. Andrews Curling Club of New York City Collection

St. Andrews Curling Club of New York City Collection, MS 2442.

In 1884,  Gordon presented a second medal, to be played for in an annual contest between the United States and Canada, which is also still being held (this year’s will take place from March 13th to March 15th at the Schenectady Curling Club).  The U.S. won the very first Gordon International Curling Medal medal in 1884, and also won it last year.  But Americans looking to for consolation after Sochi will not want to examine the in-between record, which is resoundingly in favor of Canada.

There’s hope for the future though.  Although curling has long taken a back-seat to baseball and other sports in the U.S., it seems to be making a comeback:  the Bronx recently approved plans for the Kingsbridge National Ice Center, which will include a year-round ice curling facility, and plans for similar facilities are afoot in other states.   Canadian curlers, watch out!

 

Joseph P. Day: The Man Who Sold The Bronx

Post written by Daniel Velardo, Scanning Technician

New York City officially consolidated with its outer boroughs in 1898. The metropolitan area was now comprised of vast swaths of unpopulated lands ready for development, especially those east of the Bronx River which were formerly part of Westchester County.

This problem was solved in in 1904 when New York City’s famed subway system served to connect some of these newly incorporated parts of the city with Manhattan. With the subway’s second phase of construction completed in 1920, there was a new hope to achieve the American Dream outside of the city’s crowded streets.

Increased public transit accessibility, combined with high demand for new housing, meant unsold property would be a hot commodity. Enter Joseph P. Day, a born and raised New Yorker, at a time when immigrants were arriving by the thousands at Ellis Island. A full fledged realtor by the age of 21, Day would become a recognized name relatively quickly. With his status in areas of Brooklyn and Queens secured through large lot real estate auctions, Day moved his keen eye for development to the Bronx. Traveling from property to property with his commissioned photographer, William D. Hassler, the pair not only sold land but helped photographically map and document the rapidly expanding city. The photos taken by Hassler are currently being digitized via a grant-funded project and featured throughout this piece.

Auction Day, May 31, 1914 PR83 Hassler Collection

Auction Day, May 31, 1914
PR83 Hassler Collection

What would currently be nestled under the shadow of the Bronx’s largest public hospital, Jacobi Medical Center, the Pearsall Estate was a large plot of private property situated in the present day neighborhood of Morris Park. Historically just open land, the estate was broken into lots, given street names and sold at auction under the tutelage of Joseph P. Day, who on the day of auction played both realtor and auctioneer. Day partnered with J. Clarence Davies to sell a grand total of 420 lots of undeveloped land over two days, May 31st and June 1st, 1914. Said lots commanded an average price tag of around $805, or $18,760.44 in today’s money. However, Day wouldn’t rest on his laurels. In 1921, he would hold what might possibly be the largest single day real estate sale ever; selling over 1,500 homes in 12 hours (Alef, D.,  Joseph P. Day: The Great Salesman; p 2).

The new community boasted easy access to travel through trolley connections to train lines that no longer exist, the Second and Third Avenue Els, and within a year, the promise of a new station along White Plains Road. The Pearsall Estate auction represented an opportunity to have a home away from the hustle and bustle of the inner city, which had yet to feel the effects of slum clearance, but remain within the city’s limits.

Close up of auction sign, corner of Williamsbridge Road and Pelham Parkway

Close up of auction sign, corner of Williamsbridge Road and Pelham Parkway

Advertised on a considerably large billboard at the time at the intersection of Williamsbridge Road and Pelham Parkway (see photo), the auction was a well publicized event. The New York Times advertised the then mostly rural area as a “growing section of [the] borough.” Today the Morris Park neighborhood (mostly 10461 zip code) in which the Pearsall Estate was located has a population density just under 22,000 people per square mile. Within a hundred year period, the borough would transform immensely and so would the neighborhood, changing from Jewish to Italian and now slowly into Latino hands.

Pearsall Avenue just north of original Pearsall Estate holdings

Pearsall Avenue just north of Pearsall Estate border

Today, much like the other families with large holdings in the borough (Astor, Spencer, Morris, Pell, etc.), the only link the residents of this Morris Park community have to the Pearsall family and its rural estate is a street sign, Pearsall Avenue, which runs north-northwest from the estate’s northern boundary.

Note: All original Hassler photos will be uploaded to the Photographs of New York City and Beyond section of New York Heritage digital collections.

 

 

 

The gallery below features both images of the area in 1914, and what it looks like today:

Intersection of Williamsbridge Road and Pelham Parkway, 1914 PR83 Hassler Collection

Intersection of Williamsbridge Road and Pelham Parkway, 1914
PR83 Hassler Collection

 

Intersection of Williamsbridge Road and Pelham Parkway, 2014

Intersection of Williamsbridge Road and Pelham Parkway, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intersection of Yates Avenue and Pelham Parkway, 1914 PR83 Hassler Collection

Intersection of Yates Avenue and Pelham Parkway, 1914
PR83 Hassler Collection

 

Intersection of Yates Avenue and Pelham Parkway, 2014

Intersection of Yates Avenue and Pelham Parkway, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panoramic view of Narragansett and Lydig Avenues, 1914 PR83 Hassler Collection

Panoramic view of Narragansett and Lydig Avenues, 1914
PR83 Hassler Collection

Intersection of Narragansett and Lydig Avenues, 2014

Intersection of Narragansett and Lydig Avenues, 2014

 

 

 

Artist as soldier: David Cronin’s sketches from the field of war

This post was written by Deborah Tint, cataloging assistant.

Nameplate of Harper’s Weekly, July 27, 1861. {E171 .H29 Oversize}

Nameplate of Harper’s Weekly, July 27, 1861. (E171 .H29 Oversize)

Article published in Harper’s Weekly each week from July 6, 1861 to August 3, 1861. (E171.H29 Oversize)

Article published in Harper’s Weekly each week from July 6, 1861 to August 3, 1861. (E171.H29 Oversize)

 

At the start of the Civil War Harper’s Weekly, then known as a journal of news, culture and serial fiction, sprang into action to provide striking images of the conflict to those at home and at the front. Articles appeared to inform readers that a corps of “Regular Artist-Correspondents” would supply sketches from the field, and to solicit freelance submissions from “volunteer correspondents.” Free copies of the paper were offered to any regiment or ship of war.

 

Pen and ink self-portrait based on an 1881 photograph, published in The work of David E. Cronin. John Thomas Washbourn. {NC Box 1}

Cronin’s self-portrait in The work of David E. Cronin by John Thomas Washbourn in the New-York Historical Society Quarterly Bulletin, January, 1941. (NC Box 1)

 

 

One of those artist-correspondents was David Cronin, working for Harper’s under the pseudonym Seth Eyland. The majority of the David Edward Cronin Papers, a remarkable collection of artwork and correspondence from the Civil War and beyond, came to the New-York Historical Society from his postwar patron, Daniel Parish, Jr.

Cronin was born in Greenwich, N.Y., studied art in New York City, and then in Europe from 1857 to 1860. Only a short time after his return to the U.S., he was moved by the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter to enlist in the Union army on April 19, 1861. He joined the 12th New York Militia, and soon after received an assignment as an artist for Harper’s Weekly. Later Cronin served with the 1st New York Mounted Rifles. Although his field sketches inevitably show some harrowing events, they more often convey a feeling of wry playfulness or melancholy. His numerous portraits of soldiers and commanders stress empathetic likeness over drama and heroism. It is clear from not only the volume of his wartime output but also his careful presentation of his memoirs after the war that preserving the historical record was vitally important to Cronin. On the occasion of the Society’s first comprehensive exhibit of Cronin’s work in 1941, an article in the New-York Historical Society Quarterly Bulletin recounted,

“Years later while looking through the files of Harper’s Weekly, Cronin was amazed to note how little they contained of value to the future historian. In a letter to Daniel Parish, Jr., he wrote: ‘The drawings are often of the most inferior grade—slight and inaccurate— the latter defect due no doubt to liberties taken by the office draughtsman who transcribed the drawing on wood.’ “

Encampment of the First Connecticut Volunteers at Roach’s Springs, Virginia. Harper’s Weekly, July 6, 1861. {E171.H29 oversize}

Encampment of the First Connecticut Volunteers at Roach’s Springs, Virginia. Harper’s Weekly, July 6, 1861. (E171.H29 oversize)

These frequent adjustments from field sketch to newspaper engraving are neatly illustrated by Cronin’s sketch of Roach’s Mills, Va. As reproduced in Harper’s, one of the main figures is shown leaning on a piece of heavy artillery, indicated by two large wheels. A watercolor in the Cronin collection shows the same scene with a notable difference. Here the figure leans instead on a modest box of provisions. This is most likely a copy of the sketch Cronin sent to Harper’s. The sketch caption reads, “Harper’s took many liberties with my drawing, even introducing cannon.” Elsewhere Cronin notes that there were no cannon with the advance in May of 1861.

Cronin’s watercolor. Camp of the 12th N.Y.S.M. at Roach’s Mills, Va. June 1861. Papers of David E. Cronin, Series I, v.2. (MS670.9)

Cronin’s watercolor. Camp of the 12th N.Y.S.M. at Roach’s Mills, Va. June 1861. Papers of David E. Cronin, Series I, v.2. (MS670.9)

The process of turning these field sketches into printable wood engravings was complex. Once submitted, the original sketch was redrawn in reverse on a number of woodblocks by a draughtsman. These blocks, small because they were cut across the grain of the wood, allowed finer carving and did not warp. In the interests of time the blocks were distributed among a number of wood engravers who carved the center but left the edges of each block clear. Finally the blocks were clamped together and the edges completed by a finisher to create a consistent image that was ready to print.

In the case of Cronin’s camp picture of Roach’s Mills, which covered a half page, six blocks were used, but the joins are too expertly handled to be visible. A different example can serve to illustrate this point. In a double-page spread it was much more difficult to create a seamless whole because of the number of blocks involved. Lines between blocks are visible to various degrees throughout the picture.

The United States fleet off Fort Pickens, Florida, by an uncredited artist, Harper’s Weekly, April 20, 1861. (E171 .H29 Oversize) Detail.

It is impossible to know how many of Cronin’s sketches made their way into the pages of Harper’s. Although some of Harper’s artists are credited by name, among them Winslow Homer and Thomas Nast, Cronin’s work, along with a large number of his colleagues went uncredited and was simply captioned, “from a Sketch by our Special Artist.” Luckily for us, Cronin’s energetic documentation of his experiences, and Daniel Parish’s prescient collecting of the artist’s work has preserved for us this invaluable window into a soldier’s life during the Civil War.

Doris Ulmann’s Portraits: “The Marks of Living Intensely”

Doris Ulmann Collection, PR 72.

Doris Ulmann Collection, PR 72.

In honor of the death of Pete Seeger last week, this week’s blog will highlight the work of another champion of American folk music and crafts: the photographer Doris Ulmann (1882-1934).

Like Seeger, Ulmann was born in Manhattan, and seemed an unlikely candidate to work in the rural South. The eldest daughter of a prosperous German-Jewish father and American mother, Ullman was trained as a teacher at the Ethical Culture School, graduating in 1903.  She later married a doctor, Charles H. Jaeger, and began to study psychology at Columbia University.  While there, she also took a photography course with Clarence H. White, and became one of his most devoted students. Ulmann’s husband, Dr. Jaeger, was also an amateur photographer and protoge of Clarence White, and both Ulmann and Jaeger were members of the Pictorial Photographers of America, which White helped to found. By 1918, Ulmann had adopted photography as her profession.

Doris Ulmann Collection, PR 72.

Doris Ulmann Collection, PR 72.

Ulmann began her career as a studio portraitist, photographing and publishing pictures of notable doctors, lawyers, scientists,  and writers — the fitting offshoot of her life as the wife of a a leading orthopedic surgeon and fellow photographer. But in the mid-1920’s, Ulmann and Jaeger divorced, and Ulmann began to pursue a new direction in her photography.  She set off on a series of extensive, annual car excursions south to the Appalachian mountain states and further into Louisiana and South Carolina.  John Jacob Niles, composer and collector of American folk ballads, accompanied her to help with the heavy equipment, and conducted his own research on Appalachian musicians and ballad singers.

Together, Ulmann and Niles began to document the culture of the Southern Highlands. While Ulmann captured the “vanishing types” of mountain craftsmen and other rural residents in photographic portraits, Niles transcribed traditional songs from oral sources.  Ulmann was particularly moved, she said, by “a face that has the marks of living intensely, that expresses some phase of life, some dominant quality or intellectual power.”  Her Appalachian portraits reflect this preference; although Ulmann also photographed children and young adults, the majority of her portraits depict elderly people, reflecting Ulmann’s belief that “the face of an older person, perhaps not beautiful in the strictest sense, is usually more appealing than the face of a younger person who has scarcely been touched by life.”

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Doris Ulmann Collection, PR 72.

Ulmann’s best-known work was produced when she visited the South Carolina plantation of her friend, novelist Julie Peterkin, who employed a large community of Gullah workers to cultivate her fields (the Gullahs were descendents of West African slaves who settled mainly on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia and developed a distinctive creole language and culture).  The two women collaborated on Roll Jordan Roll, a book that documents, through Peterkin’s words and Ulmann’s images, the vanishing Gullah culture.  Widely regarded as Ulmann’s finest work, the fine art edition of Roll Jordan Roll, issued in 1933, has been described as one of the most beautiful books ever produced.

Doris Ulmann Collection, PR 72.

Doris Ulmann Collection, PR 72.

Like Seeger, however, Ulmann’s  aims were not merely artistic. By documenting what seemed to be a more authentic way of life, Ulmann hoped to promote interest in American regional culture. To this end, she spent the last two years of her life documenting the handicrafts of the Southern Highlands, photographs that were later used to illustrate Allen Eaton’s landmark book Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands. “I am of course glad to have people interested in my pictures as examples of art,” Ulmann told Eaton, “but my great wish is that these human records serve some social purpose.”

Doris Ulmann Collection, PR 72.

Doris Ulmann Collection, PR 72.

Always a sickly and frail person, Ulmann did not live to see the publication of Eaton’s book, which appeared in 1937. She died in 1934 at the age of 52. Eaton later lamented that she “didn’t realize that she had made the most definitive collection of rural characters, certainly in the field of handicrafts, that’s been done any place in the world.”  The New-York Historical Society is fortunate to have, in the Doris Ulmann Photograph Collection, the largest known body of prints made by Ulmann herself.

“An abomination in the eyes of sportsmen”: The early days of professional football

Detail of James F. Maury's entry for April 4, 1865. MS 1800, BV Maury, James F.

Detail of James F. Maury’s entry for April 4, 1865. MS 1800, BV Maury, James F.

On April 4, 1865, New Yorker James F. Maury wrote in his diary “Very fine day. I celebrated the capture of Richmond by breaking my leg while playing football.” Although the injury will not be new to today’s football fan, the game played that day might not have been quite as familiar. In 1865, football as we know it was yet a hybrid of existing sports like rugby and soccer; however, the game would continue to evolve and by the close of the century had become a popular intercollegiate sport.

With Super Bowl LXVIII descending upon New York and New Jersey this week, it seemed appropriate to take a quick look at professional football’s legacy. We found a small selection of photographs of football at the Polo Grounds thought that they might be early images of the Giants. Sadly, despite many hours of searching, we could not identify the team. A small consolation was the discovery that the advertising  matched a 1931 photograph, providing an approximate date range.

Unidentified football games at the Polo Grounds, circa 1931. PR 68, E.B. Child Photograph Collection

Unidentified football game at the Polo Grounds, circa 1931. PR 68, Subject File

Still, the effort served as a reminder of the humble beginnings of professional football. Despite its big money, big city status today, the game lagged behind amateur football for decades. One of many reasons for this is documented in the November 28, 1896  issue of Harper’s Weekly:

As for the individuals who, through hiring out at so much a game, lend themselves to the pollution of amateur sport, I hardly know what to say. In civil life a man who obtains goods under false pretences receives his deserts in court. In amateur sport men violate the same principle and suffer no punishment other than loss of the respect of their friends, which, in my estimation, is the severer sentence. But many of these football professionals who masquerade as amateurs are of too coarse fibre to shrink under the loss of friends’ respect. Perhaps they have never had it; perhaps they have become callous to the shame of it all. At all events, whatever their individual sensations, the influence of their example is demoralizing to the game, and to many young boys who in ethical ignorance glorify some brilliant ground-gainer as a foot-ball hero, and accept whatever he does as the law and gospel of the game.

An illustration of Pudge Heffelfinger, the first professional football player. Harper's Weekly, November 28, 1896

An illustration showing Pudge Heffelfinger of the Allegheny Athletic Association, regarded as the first professional football player. Harper’s Weekly, November 28, 1896

The article itself is a panegyric for the Chicago Athletic Association’s attempts to restore the amateur status of their teams, praising that effort as a “stalwart stand for honest sport.”

Detail showing a billboard for a game between the Orange Athletic Club and Princeton University, 1894. PR 82, Charles Gilbert Hine Photograph Collection

Detail showing a billboard for a game between the Orange Athletic Club and Princeton University, 1894. PR 82, Charles Gilbert Hine Photograph Collection

This he contrasts with the creeping professionalism on display at the Allegheny Athletic Association and Pittsburg Athletic Club. About the latter, the author sneers “Pittsburg’s football teams have always been an abomination in the eyes of sportsmen.” He certainly leaves no doubt as to his derision for professional sport, but he also establishes a precedent for many of the debates about compensating athletes that still rage in collegiate sports today. Less controversially, he demonstrates western Pennsylvania’s role as the cradle of American professional football, which would later spread to Ohio and then across the Midwest.

Even the briefest glance at a list of early professional teams shows that the sport was not confined to bustling Midwestern metropolises. In the 1920s, as the American Professional Football Association became the National Football League, teams hailed from locales such as Muncie, Dayton,  Hammond, Pottsville, Rock Island, Louisville, Canton, Evansville, Duluth, Minneapolis, Oorang, Racine and Akron.  Professional football made its way eastward too, and in addition to New York and Boston, teams sprung up in Providence, Hartford, Brooklyn and yes, Staten Island. In the 1890s, an early semi-professional team emerged from the Orange Athletic Club in Orange, NJ as well. Thirty or so years on, that club would become the Orange (later Newark) Tornadoes, and spend the 1929 and 1930 seasons as a bona fide member of the NFL.

Professional football struggled to gain an advantage over its collegiate counterpart, a reality that saw smaller NFL clubs, unable to sustain themselves financially, fall by the wayside; the survival of the Green Bay Packers is a noteworthy exception.  Ultimately, the arrival of television in the 1950s offered a means of  increasing revenue, paving the way for the NFL’s present stature.

Ticket stub for the New York Yankees game, November 16, 1947. PR 31, Bella C. Landauer Collection of Business and Advertising Ephemera

Ticket stub for the New York Yankees game, November 16, 1947. PR 31, Bella C. Landauer Collection of Business and Advertising Ephemera

One of the minor, but regrettable, aspects of declining smaller market teams was the loss of many unique nicknames. While many catchy ones can still be found in the NFL, in the college ranks and in other sports, many are not. Among these are the Triangles, Pros, Steam Roller, Eskimos, Celts, Red Jackets, Panhandles, Maroons, and Jeffersons.

Yet another curious side story is the intersection of baseball and professional football, particularly in the early decades when many stadiums hosted both sports (e.g., the Polo Grounds, Wrigley Field, Tiger Stadium, Comiskey Park and Yankee Stadium). Yankee Stadium, in fact, played home to the New York Yankees. The football team that is. As incongruous as it sounds, the Yankees existed as an NFL team from 1926-1928 and in a second iteration played from 1946-1949 in the All America Football Conference, a competitor with the NFL.

So, with quite a varied and interesting history, the NFL marches on, and this Sunday thousands of fans will head to MetLife Stadium for the ironic privilege of placing themselves at the mercy of Mother Nature. That fact is perhaps the simplest indication of how far professional football has really come.

The Light at the End of the Hudson Tunnels

This post written by project cataloger Geraldine Granahan.

Plans for Hudson Tunnels, 1902

Detail of Plan for Hudson Tunnel, 1902.

Few commuters probably give much thought to the tunnels under the Hudson River, even as they travel through them every day, but they should.  The history of the tunnels is a fascinating example of early Gilded Age engineering technology, which predates the construction of the New York City subway system by more than 30 years.

Before the construction of the tunnels, it was difficult for commuters from New Jersey to get to Manhattan. Passengers and freight had to cross over the Hudson, leading to many delays on the waterfront, as cargo ships, ferries, and other boats had to compete  for space on the Hudson River docks. In addition, boats were at the mercy of the weather, with ice and fog frequently lengthening the crossing.  Manhattan did have one rail line connected to the mainland, the New York Central Railroad, but because it ran from the Bronx, across the Harlem River, and then down the west side of Manhattan, it did not help New Jersey commuters.

Construction site, New Jersey Side. MS 1611.

Construction site, New Jersey Side, circa 1873 . MS 1611, BV Jackson.

As it was considered too dangerous to build in the deep mud of the Hudson’s riverbed, a bridge would not connect New Jersey and New York until the George Washington Bridge opened in 1931.  Another solution then was needed to alleviate the river’s chaos and congestion; the only logical option was construction of a tunnel.

DeWitt Clinton Haskin, an engineer from upstate New York, was inspired to build a tunnel under the Hudson after he spent a freezing night on a ferry stuck fast to the icy Hudson.  He had become an expert in railroad and tunnel construction during his time with the Union Pacific Railroad out west.  This experience, combined with a prescient understanding of the economic opportunities a tunnel would create, led him to found the Hudson Railroad Company in 1873.

Construction side, New Jersey side, looking towards shaft. MS 1611.

Construction site, New Jersey side, looking towards shaft, circa 1873. MS 1611, BV Jackson.

The tunnel was to connect Jersey City and Greenwich Village, but work had hardly begun when it was stopped in 1874 because of a legal challenge by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Co., threatened by the potential competition to its ferries. After five years, construction began again, but progress was slow.  A tunnel of this enormity had never been attempted before, and presented a considerable challenge to the available technology. Haskin had invented a compressed air method for reducing cave-ins, a constant problem. But less than a year into the renewed construction, 20 workers were killed when the compressed air failed to keep the walls  from collapsing  and water from rushing in. They worked on, but another accident occurred in 1881.

In 1882,  the death of Haskin’s main financier halted work again. Haskin continued trying to find financing, but he was unsuccessful and gave up the project in 1887. The New-York Historical Society library has an account of this early attempt written by Oswald Jackson, an engineering student at Columbia University’s School of Mines, which gives an intriguing account of the early technology employed by Haskin and his crew.

Two years after Haskin’s dream died, a completely different British team, using different technology, restarted the construction.  Just 1,600 feet short of completion, they too had to stop construction due to financial difficulties.

After a prolonged gap that lasted past the turn of the century, William G. McAdoo came on the scene. As president of the newly organized New York & New Jersey Railroad, McAdoo–who later became the director of the United States Railroad Administration–oversaw the purchase of the assets, land, and partially-constructed tunnel in 1902.

Excerpt from 1902 report of the New York and New Jersey Railroad Company.

Excerpt from 1902 report of the New York and New Jersey Railroad Company.  HE2791 .N7523 M6 1902.

 

McAdoo hired Charles Jacobs as his chief engineer, who was well known for having built the city’s first tunnel for gas mains under the East River. On March 11th, 1904, construction of the first Hudson River tunnel was finally completed.  McAdoo was the first person to walk from New Jersey to New York through the new tunnel. He later added another tunnel, and the two became known as the “McAdoo Tunnels.”

The tunnels opened to the public on Feb. 25th, 1908—some 35 years after Haskin had first started construction. McAdoo later extended the rail line into upper Manhattan and helped connect the 33rd Street station, later known as Pennsylvania Station, with commercial real-estate development.

He fulfilled a dream that had defeated many before him.  To this day, PATH train commuters have McAdoo, Haskin, and all the many unsung workers to thank for providing quick and easy passage between Jersey City and Manhattan.

Cataloging of the New-York Historical Society Library’s Railroad Collection was part of a grant-funded initiative.

Generations a Slave: Unlawful Bondage and Charles Carroll of Carrollton

This post was written by Julita Braxton, EBSCO Project Cataloger

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Portrait of Solomon Northup from his memoir, 12 Years a Slave

Challenges to the legality of bondage, shown in acclaimed director Steve McQueen’s film 12 Years a Slave—which won the Best Picture for Drama at the Golden Globes on Sunday night—are not without precedence, as evidenced by a document held in the manuscript collections of the New-York Historical Society: a list of persons to be freed. While the film tells the story of the unlawful enslavement in 1841 of Solomon Northup, a free African American from upstate New York, the N-YHS list is related to an earlier case in Maryland. Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor in the movie, was kidnapped in 1841 on the streets of Washington, D.C., and sold into slavery in Louisiana, where he labored for twelve years on bayou plantations.

Title page of an 1853 printing held in the collections of the New-York Historical Society (E444.N87)

Title page of an 1853 printing (E444.N87)

His 1853 memoir depicts the horrors of American chattel enslavement from the perspective of a freeborn man who had lived that way for decades. His slave narrative went on to contribute to the national dialogue on abolition. Northup was unsuccessful in his pursuit of legal action against his captors, as the laws of the jurisdiction prohibited his testimony against a white man in the nation’s capital, the scene of the crime.

A half century before, in the courts of the neighboring Upper South state of Maryland, Charles Mahoney successfully challenged the legality of his enslavement. Mahoney brought suit in 1791 against Father John Ashton, an influential Catholic Procurator General, Jesuit missionary, head of the White Marsh Mission, and slave owner. Mahoney received a favorable ruling in Maryland’s Court of Appeals in May of 1799. Mahoney’s counsel had successfully argued that he be manumitted on the grounds that he was a descendant of a freewoman, Ann Joice, who had been unlawfully enslaved. (Joice’s descendants had long asserted their freedom, and in 1770 her grandsons, the brothers Jack Wood and Jack Crane, took an axe to the neck to the man who claimed to be their overseer.)

From the collection of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Manuscript Department, New-York Historical Society

From the collection of Charles Carroll of Carrollton

The 1799 verdict in Mahoney v. Ashton not only freed Charles Mahoney, but also all known descendants of Ann Joice. Her descendants were owned not only by Ashton, but also by several other Maryland planters.

Portrait File, PR 52.

Portrait File, PR 52.

One such person in possession of Mahoney’s relatives was Ashton’s cousin, Charles Carroll of Carollton (1737-1832), a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

In compliance with the court ruling, Carroll accounted for Joice descendants currently held at his estate at Doughoregan, and those formerly owned by him.

 “The above is an exact list of all the negroes that were sold and who obtained their freedom belonging to Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Esq.” “I desire that the commissioners may have the above negroes taken off of my assessment and those who have been sold assessed to the respective purchasers mentioned in the above list which is signed by my clerk on Doughoregan Manor”.

“The above is an exact list of all the negroes that were sold and who obtained their freedom belonging to Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Esq.”

In May of 1799, Carroll took an inventory of Mahoney’s relations, including a list of the names of 23 newly freed persons, and “A list of negroes sold on Doughoregan Manor since December the 2d, 1799 by Mr. Carroll.” In consequence of legal reversals, for a few more years, Mahoney’s family continued to petition the Maryland courts for manumission, with a final favorable ruling being delivered in 1802.

“A list of negroes who obtained their freedom of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Esq., in May, 1799 – in consequence of the verdict obtained by Charles Mahoney against the Rev. Mr. John Ashton, May Term, 1799”

“A list of negroes who obtained their freedom of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Esq., in May, 1799 – in consequence of the verdict obtained by Charles Mahoney against the Rev. Mr. John Ashton, May Term, 1799”

Mahoney v. Ashton is an illuminating example of late-eighteenth-century abolitionist movement in the Upper South.

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