To celebrate the holidays, here are a few lighthearted Easter and Passover images that can hardly help but make you happy, regardless of religion.
To celebrate the holidays, here are a few lighthearted Easter and Passover images that can hardly help but make you happy, regardless of religion.
You might expect to hear this kind of question in a game of Trivial Pursuit, and if you’re inclined to say “Simpson”, you’re right – sort of.
In truth, Simpson was not part of his name at all and that’s on the authority of the man himself. On June 23, 1864, Grant wrote to Congressman E.B. Washburn with an explanation, politely noting, “In answer to your letter of a few days ago asking what ‘S’ stands for in my name I can only state nothing.” Yes, it’s largely inconsequential minutia, and one wonders why a congressman queried the commander-in-chief of the army over it while civil war ravaged the nation but it’s also a reminder that even the simplest historical questions are often not so simple.
Grant goes on to explain that the misnomer originated from the congressman who assisted his application to West Point. According to Grant, Senator Morris of Ohio had erroneously named him as “Ulysses S. Grant.” Simpson was Grant’s mother’s maiden name and the name of his brother, but had never been in his own. In fact, he was baptized Hiram Ulysses Grant, though known from the very beginning as “Ulysses.”
It seems the last straw was his diploma and commission from the academy, both of which were issued with the erroneous “S.” Apparently, Grant tried to rectify the problem but his efforts to have the S excised from West Point records proved fruitless, so he resigned himself to signing his name that way.
With the benefit of historic hindsight, though, the “S” seems less mistake than prophecy. After Grant’s spectacular victory at the 1862 Battle of Fort Donelson, his initials were said to stand for “Unconditional Surrender,” in honor of his demand for the same from the confederate forces. The nickname stuck, and Grant continued to live up to it, until finally, on April 9th, 1865 — 149 years ago today — Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, effectively ending the civil war.
This post was written by Mariam Touba, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections
It was a financial failure and—being unsanctioned—not even a real “world’s fair.” It stands as little more than yet one more piece of Baby Boomer nostalgia. But, in fairness, the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair that opened 50 years ago this month was itself a bit of Greatest Generation nostalgia: One of the motivations in the endeavor was to recreate the energy and promise of the 1939-40 “World of Tomorrow,” the great fair that opened on the same site in Flushing Meadows, Queens just 25 eventful years earlier. Parents of the 1960s literally wanted their children to experience the wonders of the future. As a Baby Boomer child of a mother who walked to the 1939 Fair from her Flushing home, I’d be one .
My mother did a good job in not revealing how much the 1964 Fair was a reprise of 1939. The forbidding Art Deco architecture of the popular 1939 General Motors “Futurama” exhibit was modified, but the pavilion’s feature of moving chairs gazing down on gleaming future cities remained the same in 1964.Only now, the projected superhighways had become a reality, and the newer exhibit optimistically showcased the use of chemicals, lasers, and nuclear power for “stretching a highway of progress” through the rainforests (“the jungle”). Westinghouse created a new time capsule for this fair, recognizing that, ”in a quarter of a century, man split the atom,, danced the twist, ran the four-minute mile, scaled Mt. Everest, fought another World War and began to probe space and the seas.” The 1960s time capsule successfully characterized the modern age by including credit cards, antibiotics and birth control pills, a rechargeable battery and superconducting wire, a Beatles record and transistor radio, contact lenses and a bikini bathing suit, and a computer memory unit.
Criticized by the sophisticated for its kitsch, the 1964-65 World’s Fair nonetheless stands as an optimistic take on the promise of the Space Age, an early taste of the digital world, a culminating celebration of plastics and synthetics, and the beginnings of modern theme-park entertainment.Looking backward, its legacy is mixed and quirky: Computers were prominent in a fair that emphasized future technology, but, even at the IBM pavilion, they were presented as nonthreatening machines that thought logically as we did, only faster. And yet, when fairgoers came to the end of IBM’s pathway “to the fascinating world of computers,” they were brought to the pavilion’s main interactive feature, a “Typewriter Bar” where they could try out the new Selectric typewriter. RCA dotted the fairgrounds with color television sets while the Bell System outfitted it with touch-tone phone booths. The AT&T pavilion also previewed the Picturephone. The latter innovation was helpful to those who used American Sign Language, but, overall, the lack of privacy inherent in the novelty was not embraced by fairgoers. Their older selves would at least find some occasions to Skype.
Before it was more commonly known as the AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons co-sponsored the Dynamic Maturity pavilion that stood between the 7-Up and Coca Cola buildings.
Their brochure also included a fact sheet for visitors, noting that admission was $2.00 for adults and $1.00 for children. A 21st century onlooker cannot help remarking that there was no senior rate. The Sinclair Oil Company’s large papier mâché dinosaurs and ubiquitous plastic dinosaur souvenirs continued their success in product identification. Decades after Sinclair gas stations disappeared from the East Coast, the association of dinosaurs and Sinclair remained in the minds of a generation of fairgoers.
One can wager that for most visitors to the 1964-65 World’s Fair, three distinct memories come to mind: Gazing reverently at Michelangelo’s marble sculpture, Pietà, elaborately lit on a moving sidewalk at the Vatican pavilion, gliding along in a boat while being serenaded by dolls singing the relentlessly catchy “It’s a small world (after all),” and splurging one-dollar on a berry and whipped cream-covered waffle at the Belgian Village.The presence of the “Belgian waffle” on diner menus and, most recently, on the city’s waffle carts, is a direct legacy of the 1964-65 World’s Fair. “It’s a Small World—Pepsi’s Salute to UNICEF and the World’s Children,” one of four popular Walt Disney creations at the Fair, made its way to Disneyland.
Eventually, the various exhibitions’ components and technologies were incorporated at Florida’s Epcot Center, Disney’s attempt—successful or not, for better or worse—at making permanent the magic of our World’s Fair experience.
Written by Maureen Maryanski, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections.
As Women’s History Month comes to a close, let’s focus on an attempted publicity stunt from 1916 involving New York suffragists, a biplane, and President Woodrow Wilson. Three fantastic photographs in the library collection tell the beginning of the story as a group of suffragists met at Midland Beach, Staten Island on December 2, 1916.
The plan was to “bomb” President Woodrow Wilson on his yacht, the Mayflower, as it made its way down the Hudson River en route to the illumination of the Statue of Liberty. This “bomb” consisted of yellow petitions from “woman voters of the West” and leaflets in support of the Susan B. Anthony suffrage amendment. Written by Anthony (1820-1906) with the assistance of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), this amendment called for the extension of the right to vote to women. First presented to Congress in 1878, by 1916 it had been rejected by the Senate twice, and had recently been defeated in the House of Representatives in January 1915. Not until 1920 would woman suffragists be victorious with the passage of the 19th Amendment.
The pilot of this intrepid suffrage plane was Leda Richberg-Hornsby (1887-1939) of Chicago, described by the New York Sun as “petite, plucky, brunette, holding in her hand the all-around aviator’s license she won a month ago which entitles her to fly as a Lieutenant in the Government’s service in case of war.” She was only the eighth woman in the United States to earn a pilot’s license, and the first female graduate of the Wright Flying School in Dayton. The original choice for pilot was Ruth Law (1887-1970), who unfortunately was unavailable due to her involvement with the illumination ceremony – circling the Statue of Liberty in an illuminated plane with Liberty written on the bottom. A suffragist herself, Richberg-Hornsby volunteered in Law’s place, stating: “This is war for woman’s rights. I am proud to fly for you.”
Joining Richberg-Hornsby in the two-seater biplane that day was Ida Blair (1874-1930), a business woman, welfare worker, and suffrage leader, who had previously participated in other suffrage stunts during the 1915 Empire State campaign. The plane was adorned with a large banner reading “Women Want Liberty Too,” which can be partially seen in the first photo. (The message is also written on the photo in the sky above the plane.) Cheered on by their fellow members of the New York branch of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Richberg-Hornsby and Blair took off around 5:45pm on their bombing mission. Unfortunately, the weather was not on their side.
Although airborne for nearly a mile, the high winds that day (described by the New York Sun as “virtually a gale”) forced Richberg-Hornsby to crash land the plane in a Staten Island swamp. Neither woman was seriously injured from the adventure, nursing only a “few mundane bumps,” but were disappointed not to succeed in their attempt to demonstrate the fervor of their convictions. One thing is sure. Regardless of the outcome, they were committed to their cause, as were the hundreds and thousands of other women who fought so long and hard in the late 19th and early 20th century for the right to vote. Cheers to you, ladies.
Written by Maureen Maryanski, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!
Post written by Luis Rodriguez, Library Collections Technician
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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”.
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.
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!).
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
This post was written by Deborah Tint, cataloging assistant.
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.
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.’ “
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.
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.
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.
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