New-York Historical Society

Attending Ford’s Theater with the Lincolns: the tragic lives of Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone

Shooting

Henry Rathbone, with Clara Harris, attempting to stop John Wilkes Booth. (PR 052, Currier and Ives Print)

Most Americans are familiar with the events of the Lincoln assassination. On the evening of April 14th, 1865 Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln went to see Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. During the play the actor John Wilkes Booth snuck into the Presidential Box and shot President Lincoln. However the details of the other couple in the Presidential Box that night, Clara Harris and her fiancée Henry Rathbone, have largely been forgotten. Unfortunately their tragic future was also determined by the horrors of that night.

Clara Harris was the daughter of Senator Ira Harris of New York. After Harris’s mother died, her father married Pauline Rathbone. Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris were step-brother and sister but still fell in love and eventually became engaged to be married. Henry joined the US Army after the outbreak of the Civil War and saw many bloody battles.  He had hoped to come home from the war, marry his fiancée, and move on with his life. Clara Harris had become friends with the First Lady through the Washington social scene. Others had been invited to Ford’s theater that night, including Julia and Ulysses S. Grant, but all had turned down the invitation.

Lincoln was reportedly enjoying the play until Act III when John Wilkes Booth came into the Presidential Box and suddenly shot the President in the back of the head. Startled, Henry stood up and wrestled with Booth, who stabbed him severely in the arm hurting him from shoulder to elbow. As Booth began his escape, Henry screamed “Stop that man!” while Clara yelled, “The President is shot!” Seriously injured, Lincoln was moved to a house across the street from the theater and died the next morning with many in attendance, including Clara.

Lincoln's Death

Mourners at the death of President Lincoln. Clara Harris is depicted in a lavendar dress at the far right. (PR 052, Currier & Ives Print)

The library at the New-York Historical Society has a letter that Clara Harris wrote to her friend Mary describing that frightful night. She describes Mrs. Lincoln seeing blood on Clara’s dress and screaming, “oh! my husbands blood.” Only later would they learn that it was mostly Henry’s blood on Clara’s dress from his severe stab wound.

Harris letter

Letter dated April 25, 1865 from Clara Harris to her friend Mary describing the night of the assassination. She describes how Mrs. Lincoln saw Clara and exclaimed, “oh! my husband’s blood, – my dear husband’s blood- which it was not, though I did not know it at the time. The President’s wound did not bleed externally..” (AHMC Harris, Clara)

After the terrible night at Ford’s Theater, Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone married and had three children. However, Henry was never able to get over what happened at Ford’s Theater. He felt guilty for surviving the assassination and believed, as many had gossiped, that he should have done more to prevent the tragedy from happening. He felt he could never escape attention for being there that night and began to suffer from hallucinations and eventually declined into mental illness. On Christmas Eve in 1883 while living in Germany, he attacked his own family and himself.  Almost imitating the assassination of years before, he shot Clara and stabbed himself several times with a knife.  Clara died from the attack, and Henry was declared insane.  He was committed to an asylum for the criminally insane in Germany and his children were sent to live with their uncle in the United States. Henry died in 1911 and was buried with Clara in a cemetery in Germany.

For many years, Clara kept her bloody dress from the night at Ford’s Theater in a closet in their family summer home in Albany. According to family lore, she had the closet walled up with bricks after believing that she saw Lincoln’s ghost.  In 1910 their eldest son, Henry Riggs Rathbone, had the dress burned stating that it had been nothing but a curse on his family.

The story of the couple’s life is mostly remembered through historic fiction.  Clara Harris’s stained dress was the subject Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews’s 1930 book The White Satin Dress The story of the ill fated couple is also told in Thomas Mallon’s 1995 book Henry and Clara.

 

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General Grant Dines in Vicksburg

Written by Mariam Touba, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections.

One hundred-fifty years ago, in the late spring of 1863, the news was troubling for Federal forces as they awaited an invasion of the northern states by Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  The hope was that Major General Ulysses S. Grant, operating with some independence in the West, could accomplish his goal of gaining full control of the Mississippi River.  Standing in the way was the Confederate outpost at Vicksburg.  Grant’s determined pursuit of this goal included attempting to build a canal to bypass the stronghold, a frontal assault on the city, the laying of mines under Confederate barricades, and bombardment from gunboats.  He finally settled into a relentless siege of the city.

Cave Life in Vicksburg During the Siege, 1863.  Etching by Adalbert Johann Volck, PR.010.1.30

Cave Life in Vicksburg During the Siege, 1863. Etching by Adalbert Johann Volck, PR.010.1.30

As the siege of Vicksburg began in the third week of May 1863, General Grant’s troops dug themselves into over 60,000 feet of trenches around the works protecting the city.  Stationed in nearby dugouts and forced to conserve ammunition, the Confederate defenders could only trade nightly gibes and barter for coffee and newspapers with their besiegers.  Civilians shoveled themselves into more commodious hillside caves, an arrangement the Union soldiers dubbed “Prairie Dog Village.”  The non-combatants usually managed to escape the exploding shells but suffered most from the food and water shortages.

Confederate survivors of the siege of Vicksburg contended that most civilians were as generous as they could be but that, as the wealthy had been able to flee, the danger of starvation fell to the indigent and to abandoned Confederate army horses.  Survivors would also recall the multiple terrors of incendiary shells, Federal sharpshooters firing on anyone who approached the river for water, and newly-designed Parrott missiles so rapid that they arrived even before the report of the gun could be heard.

Also fired was a bit of psychological warfare in the form of a printed circular beginning, “Cave in boys and save your lives, which are considered of no value by your officers.”

To Our Friends in Vicksburg!  SY 1863 no. 1.  The allusion to General Henry E. McCulloch refers to a failed attempt to relieve the Confederates at the Battle of Milliken’s Bend.

To Our Friends in Vicksburg! SY 1863 no. 1. The allusion to General Henry E. McCulloch refers to a failed attempt to relieve the Confederates at the Battle of Milliken’s Bend.

A Union officer claimed that 300 leaflets were fired in bombshells into Confederate lines with the hope that a few would arrive intact and help break the resolve of the besieged.  It may be more likely that the small papers were floated in balloons.  In any case, the Confederates apparently saw none of them, but this one—likely never fired or floated—survives in the New-York Historical Society collections.

In a city where the besieged citizens and soldiers lacked for food and water, the shortage of paper would have been of relatively small concern, but the editor of the Vicksburg Daily Citizen also had to be resourceful.

[Vicksburg] Daily Citizen, July 2,4, 1863, verso.  Newspaper collection

[Vicksburg] Daily Citizen, reverse sides of July 2 and 4th issues, 1863. Newspaper collection

Like newspaper publishers elsewhere in the Confederacy, he issued his newspaper on the blank side of bolts of wallpaper.  The paper’s tone is one of defiance as it reports on the success of Robert E. Lee marching toward Gettysburg (“To-day Maryland is ours, tomorrow Pennsylvania will be, and the next day Ohio”).

[Vicksburg] Daily Citizen, July 2, 1863.  Newspaper collection

[Vicksburg] Daily Citizen, July 2, 1863. Newspaper collection

Editor J. M. Swords ridicules the “Yankee Generalissimo” Grant’s ambition to dine in Vicksburg on the Fourth of July by reminding the general that he would have to “catch the rabbit” first.  He assures the citizens that “there is plenty within our lines” and that “Confederate beef,” i.e., mule meat, is “sweet, savory and tender.”  This rare surviving newspaper, dated July 2, 1863, was found set in type in the printing office when, on July 4, the city capitulated and Federal forces entered after 47 days of siege.  Not losing an opportunity to put out the news, the Union troops reissued the paper with this addendum in the lower right corner:

Note.  Two days bring about great changes.  The banner of the Union floats over Vicksburg.  Gen. Grant has “caught the rabbit;” he has dined in Vicksburg, and he did bring his dinner with him.  The “Citizen” lives to see it.  For the last time it appears on “Wall-paper.”  No more will it eulogize the luxury of mule-meat and fricasseed kitten—urge Southern warriors to such diet never more.  This is the last wall-paper edition, and is, excepting this note, from the types as we found them.  It will be valuable here-after as a curiosity.

 

[Vicksburg] Daily Citizen, July 4, 1863, excerpt.  Newspaper collection

[Vicksburg] Daily Citizen, July 4, 1863, excerpt. Newspaper collection

 As for the citizens of Vicksburg, Mississippi, tradition states that they did not celebrate the Fourth of July for decades.

 

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Before the Declaration of Independence…

Portrait of John Dickinson published by R. Wilkinson, May 1783. PR 52 Portrait File

Portrait of John Dickinson published by R. Wilkinson, May 1783. PR 52 Portrait File

The line between historical obscurity and fame is often a fine one. It’s not surprising then that on July 4th no one thinks about the most important document produced by Congress before the Declaration of Independence: the Declaration of the Causes and of the Necessity of Taking Up Arms. As its title implies, it was a justification for armed resistance to England’s abusive treatment of the colonies, with a chronicle of outstanding grievances.

Like many such historic texts written “by committee” its authorship has been the subject of some curiosity. Roger L. Kemp offers the now accepted explanation in Documents of American Democracy: A Collection of Essential Works. On June 26, 1775, after Congress had scrapped the first draft by John Rutledge of South Carolina, it appointed to the committee Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson, of Pennsylvania. Ultimately, Dickinson wrote the final version, incorporating content from a previous draft by Jefferson. Though that draft is held by the Library of Congress, an original draft, in Dickinson’s hand, resides at the New-York Historical Society.

The first page of Dickinson's draft of the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, 1775. AHMC - Dickinson, John

The first page of Dickinson’s draft,1775. AHMC – Dickinson, John

Perhaps influenced to some extent by his Quaker roots, Dickinson favored a measured course of action and so Congress presumably intended for him to mollify Jefferson’s more combative rhetoric.  In fact, Dickinson’s demeanor had previously led John Adams to reflect in his diary that “Mr. Dickinson is very modest, delicate and timid.”  He would also later oppose the Declaration of Independence, believing it was premature for such a drastic measure. Still, the Declaration of Causes suggests Dickinson’s approach did not preclude defiance. After all, the title itself is indicative of its purpose: a defense of “taking up arms” by the colonies. Even excepting Jefferson’s rebellious influences, the document was far from conciliatory. Among the more quotable of Dickinson’s prose is “Our cause is just. Our union is perfect. Our internal resources are great, and, if necessary, foreign assistance is undoubtedly attainable.”

Detail of Dickinson's draft of the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for taking up Arms. AHMC - Dickinson, John

Detail of Dickinson’s draft of the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for taking up Arms. AHMC – Dickinson, John

With the events at Lexington and Concord already three months old, Congress adopted the resolution in Philadelphia on July 6th 1775. It’s no secret that  the Crown’s lack of movement would precipitate the Declaration of Independence the following year. The rather obvious, but critical, difference was that the Declaration of Causes merely threatened King George III with colonial independence while the Declaration of Independence severed ties unequivocally. As for Dickinson’s role in it, contrary to some sources he did not actually vote against the Declaration of IndependenceHe simply remained absent while Congress voted on it. What’s more, he subsequently played an active political and military role in the colonial cause.

That brings up an interesting side note. For some time after John Trumbull painted his famous work Declaration of Independence, Stephen Hopkins was identified as the man in the hat standing off to the side of the proceedings; however, art historian Irma Jaffe confirmed in the 1970s that this identification was incorrect and the figure was instead John Dickinson.

W. Greatbach's print of John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence, with Dickinson highlighted. PR 68 Subject File

W. Greatbach after John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence with Dickinson highlighted. PR 68 Subject File

In any event, over two hundred years later, our nation infuses the Declaration of Independence with monumental significance while the Declaration of the Causes of Taking Up Arms remains something of a footnote to most Americans — and unjustly so. Although it’s understandably of secondary importance, it still offers a unique record of the escalating discontent in the colonies, and represents the  penultimate step to declaring independence from England. Taken in that light, it’s hardly an insignificant piece of American history.

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“Jane’s jaunts:” the travel sketchbooks of Jane Bannerman

Jane Campbell Bannerman — now a sprightly 103 years of age — embarked on her first trip abroad in 1929, long before there were iphones or digital cameras.  Instead, she carried sketchbooks and watercolors to record the scenes and people she encountered.  Colorful, personal, quirky, and utterly unique, Bannerman’s 74 sketchbooks capture the quintessential spirit of the places she visited, and also reflect her own appealing personality.

The Great Wall, China.  Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Box 10, Folder 1).

The Great Wall, China. Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Box 10, Folder 1).

At the time of her inaugural trip, Jane Campbell was a graphic design student at Parsons School of Design (then known as the New York School of Fine and Applied Art).  She spent the academic year of 1929 abroad, studying at Parsons’ recently opened (in 1921) Paris Atelier.  The experience sparked a lifelong love of travel: “I hadn’t seen any of the world up until that time,” Jane says, “Paris started my life.”

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Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (France and Israel, Box 7, Folder 1).

It also marked the start of an enduring habit of sketching the people and places she visited.  “Jane’s jaunts,” however, did not begin in earnest until the 1950′s. Until then, Jane, who married Charles Bannerman in 1938, was occupied with raising her daughter and pursuing a career in interior design. (A collection of Bannerman Family Papers, relating mainly to Jane’s grandfather-in-law Francis Bannerman VI, and to his namesake Bannerman Island, is held in the library’s manuscript department).

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Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Egypt, Box 5, Folder 1).

In 1955, Jane resumed her travels with a vengeance, embarking on a dizzying succession of trips:  Sweden, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria, Russia, Hungary, Japan, China, Thailand, Sri Lanka (“the most fun”), India — even a brief layover in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) during the height of the Viet Nam war! In 2003, at the age of 93, she visited the Azores, producing two sketchbooks and a series of paintings depicting those Portuguese islands.

Horta, Azores.  Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Box 10, Folder 4).

Horta, Azores. Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Box 10, Folder 4).

Although Jane’s travel sketches include all the usual tourist fare — famous attractions, beautiful scenery, “local color,” native characters, fellow travelers, hotel rooms, and tasty (or not) meals – her characteristic whimsy takes them out of the ordinary, and makes them unmistakably her own.

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Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Hong Kong, Box 3, Folder 2).

Even when at home in New York City, Bannerman often traveled with a sketchbook, capturing the essence of city life in the period 1955 to 2010, from jury selection to homeless beggars to the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Times Square circa 1960, with famous Camel cigarettes advertisement that blew smoke rings.  Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Box 1, Folder 3).

Times Square circa 1960, with famous Camel cigarettes advertisement that blew smoke rings. Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Box 1, Folder 3).

Bannerman’s sketchbooks were recently added to the library’s permanent collections, and are available for viewing during regular library hours by advance appointment (to schedule an appointment, email printroom@nyhistory.org).  An exhibition of selected sketchbooks will also be held in the library from July 29th to August 26th, 2013.

Dancers.  Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Japan, China and South Korea, Box 7, Folder 3)

Dancers. Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Japan, China and South Korea, Box 7, Folder 3)

 

 

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Combating Crime through Community Organizing: The Story of the Westside Crime Prevention Program

This post was written by N-YHS intern Erin Shaw. The Westside Crime Prevention Program Records are now available to researchers at the New-York Historical Society’s library.

Although crime has always been an issue for New York City residents, an unprecedented rash starting in the 1970s began to terrorize the Upper West Side of Manhattan — a troubling sign of the crime epidemic’s severity in New York City during that time. Residents were often subject to robberies and muggings, and the drug epidemic reached unparalleled levels. Crack vials littered the streets, and drug dealers sold their products openly in public: “It’s anarchy down there,” one middle-aged resident noted as he witnessed a crack sale beneath his window in 1988. “Some days there are so many cars lined up to buy that it looks like a McDonald’s drive-in.”

Executive Director Marjorie Cohen with Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2004. She was honored for her work in the community at the Manhattan Civic Leaders Breakfast.

Executive Director Marjorie Cohen with Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2004. She was honored for her work in the community at the Manhattan Civic Leaders Breakfast.

In response to the fear generated by the crime in the area, neighborhood residents organized and fought back. The Westside Crime Prevention Program (WCPP) was founded in 1981 by a group of Upper West Siders in response to this rash of street muggings, burglaries, and drug crime. Marjorie Cohen, a freelance writer and Upper West Side resident, began organizing and leading the program as Executive Director in 1988. The WCPP was a community-based, not-for-profit organization made up of volunteers who were dedicated to making life on the West Side (from 59th street to 110th street, from the Hudson River to Central Park) safe and secure. To do this, the program developed both a Neighborhood Watch Program and a Crime Victims Witness Assistance Project that were so successful that they have since been used as models throughout the city. The WCPP also lobbied for increased police street patrols on the Upper West Side, which resulted in the establishment of the Community Patrol Officer Program (CPOP) and the Narcotics Enforcement Unit (SNEU) in the 20th and 24th Precincts.

The WCPP would use slides such as this one to visually train residents on how to identify drug paraphernalia.

The WCPP would use slides such as this one to visually train residents on how to identify drug paraphernalia.

While the Westside Crime Prevention Program led and collaborated on many community projects in their thirty year existence, their Crime Prevention and Drug Watch Training program and Safe Haven are two that stand out. The WCPP led training events to teach residents how to identify drug dealings and paraphernalia, and also how to best report these incidences anonymously to the police. Many residents feared retribution by criminals if they were to get involved with the police, so the WCPP helped to facilitate a safe and anonymous system of reporting. By directly involving constituencies in crime prevention efforts, the WCPP helped to empower the community against crime and ultimately increased police protection in the neighborhood.

A pamphlet promoting the Safe Haven program.

A pamphlet promoting the Safe Haven program.

Safe Haven was established in 1971 and is a continuing program that helps to foster awareness of street safety among students, parents, and teachers. Merchants and businesses involved in Safe Haven offer a secure environment and telephone use for children who may become lost or feel unsafe. A participating location places a bright yellow “Safe Haven” decal in the storefront window, and the children are instructed to seek out these establishments if they feel that they are in imminent danger. The Westside Crime Prevention Program helped to promote and expand this program in their neighborhood.

Feeling that the core mission of the organization had been fulfilled, Marjorie Cohen and the members of the Westside Crime Prevention Program decided to disband in 2010. However, the substantial effect the program had on the safety of the Upper West Side is undeniable.

 

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The Shantytown: Nineteenth-Century Manhattan’s “Straggling Suburbs”

This posting was written by Catherine McNeur, a Bernard & Irene Schwartz Postdoctoral Fellow at the New-York Historical Society. 

In the spring of 1855 Charles Loring Brace, who had recently started running the Children’s Aid Society, ventured into a neighborhood on the edge of the city called Dutch Hill. Located near East 41st Street and the East River, Dutch Hill (also known as Goat Hill) was in the area that is now the U.N. and Tudor City. Brace was there to look for children to send west or enroll in his industrial schools. Taken by the conditions he experienced in Dutch Hill and hoping to solicit donations, Brace decided to write an account of what he found for the New York Times of this foreign-feeling suburb.

The shantytown that Brace described towered high on a rocky outcropping, with the “little board or mud shanties scattered around like the wigwams of an Indian village, with most perplexing paths winding among them.” Brace lingered on characteristics that made the village seem foreign and much less civilized than the rest of the city. He called the architecture “primitive” and noted how goats, pigs, hens, and dogs walked in and out of the buildings, climbing over everything. While most of the male Irish and German inhabitants worked in nearby quarries, their wives and children picked through the city’s garbage for rags and bones that they might sell to various industries.

Dutch Hill in 1863, “View from School House in 42nd Street Between 2nd & 3rd Avs. Looking North” (PR 020 Geographic File)

Shantytowns, by nature, are difficult to find in the archives. Brace’s writings aside, downtown residents rarely visited these communities that were primarily north of 34th Street. Authors of guidebooks aimed at tourists deliberately avoided mentioning these less-than-sparkling locations. Writers from Charles Dickens to George “Gaslight” Foster investigated mid-nineteenth century Manhattan’s poverty and crime by visiting to Five Points, not Dutch Hill or the other shantytowns. As a Schwartz Fellow at the New-York Historical Society this year, I’ve been trying to unearth more information about these ignored and semi-ephemeral communities in the library’s collections.

In addition to the papers of the Children’s Aid Society that contain Brace’s and other employees’ writings, the New-York Historical Society has a range of materials that help to reveal details about the city’s mid-nineteenth century shantytowns. One of the least expected places where I found evidence of shantytowns was William Perris’ 1859 insurance maps of New York. Insurance maps typically focus on the more developed section of the city downtown where the threat of fire is greatest but Perris’ maps extend further north, revealing blocks with tiny scattered wooden homes that defy the rectilinear order of the grid.

Though perhaps not a complete representation of the east side shantytowns, the small yellow squares note the placement of the wooden shanties in 1859, William Perris, Maps of the City of New-York, vol. 5, Plate 76 (1859)

Another great source includes the handwritten notebooks of the Citizen’s Association of New York’s Council of Hygiene and Public Health, which reveal the locations and conditions of the city’s shantytowns in the middle of the 1860s. With varying levels of detail, Manhattan doctors went block by block listing the characteristics of New York’s property and homes with hopes of inspiring widespread environmental and housing reforms. While their eyes were mainly trained to see issues with tenement houses, their maps and descriptions sometimes fixed on shanties as well.

“Goat Hill” from Citizens’ Association’s Record of Sanitary Inquiry, 1864-1865, Ward 19, (BV Citizens’ Association page 67)

The Citizens’ Association notebooks reveal many of the scattered uptown shantytowns in 1864 Manhattan. Dr. H. Mortimer Brush toured part of the 19th Ward that included several shantytowns including “Goat Hill,” another name for Dutch Hill. Brush’s enthusiasm for the project was evident early on in his notebook where he includes wonderfully detailed maps of each block. Unlike Brace’s description, Brush’s wasn’t completely negative. He noted that the community was relatively healthy, well ventilated, and inhabitants were able to get fresh water from a hydrant on 44th Street. Some of what he mentioned shows the changes the community had undergone since Brace’s visit almost a decade earlier. The inhabitants of the shanties were now almost exclusively Irish (the Germans moved on). Even the animal inhabitants had changed: while goats and chickens still ruled the roost, the inhabitants no longer kept pigs. In 1859 New York City made it illegal to keep pigs below 86th Street and apparently the Dutch Hill residents abided by the law.

As the Dutch Hill community became increasingly Irish, it took on several other nicknames including “Corcoran’s Roost” and became notorious for gang activity. James “Paddy” Corcoran, who became a leader of the Irish-American community, lived on Dutch Hill from about 1850 to 1880 and was perhaps its most famous resident even after developers replaced the shanties with tenement buildings in the late nineteenth century and later Tudor City in the early twentieth century.

While searching for shantytowns in the historical record can often seem like looking for a needle in a haystack, the search is worthwhile.  Shantytowns provide a wealth of information about the way the city expanded during a period of massive urbanization, how immigrant communities scraped by, and how the government, landowners, and benevolent organizations tried to intervene. These were Manhattan’s forgotten “straggling suburbs” of the nineteenth century.

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“Don’t Give Up the Ship”

Written by Mariam Touba, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections

James Lawrence Esq.,    showing his victory as commander of the sloop of war Hornet.  PR-052 Portrait File Box 81

James Lawrence Esq., showing his victory as commander of the sloop of war Hornet. PR-052 Portrait File Box 81

Such a challenge seems unheard of in modern warfare, but, nearly a year into the War of 1812, Captain Philip Bowes Vere Broke of the British frigate Shannon wrote to Captain James Lawrence of the United States frigate Chesapeake promising that their ships could duel outside of Boston without interference from any vessel.  The ships could even sail out under a flag of truce;  “choose your terms, but let us meet.”  To goad his subject, Broke went on to write that, after all, these single-ship actions are all that “your little navy” can accomplish.  The statement stung on both ends because the small U.S. Navy had indeed won a series of stunning one-on-one actions against the Royal Navy.  The 31-year-old Lawrence, commanding another vessel, the Hornet, had been one of those victors, feted as “Captain Jim” in New York and Philadelphia.

In Captain Broke of the Shannon, Lawrence would find his match, as the ships were evenly gunned and manned.  The Shannon, having plied the waters on routine patrol, was not much to look at, but her experienced crew was superbly trained in gunnery and its sighting equipment was state-of-the-art, having been supplied at Broke’s own expense.   Lawrence, a New Jersey native, had originally requested to remain near his pregnant wife, Julia,  at his post at the New York Navy Yard but was eager now for the glory:  He set out at noon on June 1 even before receiving Broke’s written message, and here in his rushed hand ends his last letter, written to his brother-in-law,   “An English frigate is close in with the lighthouse, & we are now clearing ship for action.  Should I be so unfortunate as to be taken off, I leave my wife and children to your care…” with the added post script, “10 A M the frigate is plain in sight from our deck and we are now getting underway.”

James Lawrence to James L. Montaudevert,  June 1 [1813].  NHSC—BV Cooper’s Navy
James Lawrence to James L. Montaudevert, June 1 [1813]. NHSC—BV Cooper’s Navy

There was gallantry even in the way the ships approached each other, with the captains at first refusing to maneuver in the most advantageous manner.  With the first gun, Lawrence had a white banner with the slogan “Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights” run up the foremast.  Once the broadsides began, however, the action was as bloody and desperate as battle can be:  In the less than fifteen minutes of fighting, 228 men were killed or wounded in the bloodiest frigate action of the War of 1812.  The Shannon’s gunnery did make the difference, inflicting enough initial damage on the Chesapeake’s officers, gun crews, rigging, and maneuverability as to leave her vulnerable to the Shannon’s men, who, as the ships collided, boarded right onto the quarterdeck.

…H.M.S. Shannon, Commencing the Battle with the American Frigate Chesapeake, on the 1st. June 1813.  Designed by Captain R. H. King, painted by J. C. Schetky, engraved by L. Haghe.  (London, n.d.)  PR-047 Irving S. Olds Collection of Naval Prints, #208

…H.M.S. Shannon, Commencing the Battle with the American Frigate Chesapeake, on the 1st. June 1813. Designed by Captain R. H. King, painted by J. C. Schetky, engraved by L. Haghe. (London, n.d.) PR-047 Irving S. Olds Collection of Naval Prints, #208 

Captain Lawrence, standing conspicuously in full-dress uniform on deck, had seen the midshipmen serving alongside him killed instantly.  He was already nursing a pistol ball in the leg when he received his fatal wound from the enemy’s swivel gun in their maintop.  It was here that he gave, repeatedly, his famous command, “Don’t give up the ship.  Fight her till she sinks” and “Tell them to fire faster, don’t give up the ship.”  Once helped below, lying on the surgeon’s table and informed of the British sailors boarding above, he then called out, “Then blow her up!  Blow the ship up!”

Defeated and captured, Lawrence died in agony three days later and was buried with full honors by his captors in Halifax.  His body was transferred first to Salem, Massachusetts before coming that September to its final prominent resting place in Trinity Churchyard in his adopted city.  He became even more of a hero in defeat as his command became a rallying cry throughout the war and the enduring motto for the United States Navy.   Philip Broke, who had led the Shannon’s boarders onto the Chesapeake’s quarterdeck, suffered a severe head wound but recovered enough to live out his life as a baronet and British hero.

As is common in the chaos of warfare, painful ironies accompany Lawrence’s famous order:  For one thing, it was not the Americans who formally “gave up the ship,” but rather the Shannon’s borders who had gained control of the main deck and raised the blue British colors over the Stars and Stripes.  Arriving among them was the Shannon’s First Lieutenant George Watt who then wanted to raise an even showier white British ensign on the mizzen halyards.  As he went about doing this, he and his men were killed by a Shannon gun whose crew most likely thought the momentary lowering of the blue flag was the work of straggling American survivors.

Death of Captain Lawrence.  “Don’t Give Up the Ship” Painted by Alonzo Chappel. Engraved by H. B. Hall.  New York, Martin, Johnson, & Co. Publishers.  1856.  PR-052 Portrait File Box 81.

Death of Captain Lawrence. “Don’t Give Up the Ship” Painted by Alonzo Chappel. Engraved by H. B. Hall. New York, Martin, Johnson, & Co. Publishers. 1856. PR-052 Portrait File Box 81.

A further paradox is obscured by engravings such as this one, evoking Lawrence’s heroism by depicting him grievously wounded and held up by his men on the quarterdeck.  At this point he had reportedly asked his Third Lieutenant, the recently-promoted William S. Cox, to “bear a hand” and help him below to the ship’s surgeon.  Cox assisted his commander down the hatchway ladder where he left him to the surgeon and raced back to his post with his guns.  However, the following year it was young Cox who was brought before a court martial and convicted of unofficer-like conduct, in part because he “accompanied his disabled commander, James Lawrence, Esq., from the quarter-deck while the enemy was boarding.”   Cox, cashiered from the Navy, chose to enlist for the duration of the war as a private in the Army.  Convinced that Lieutenant Cox was being scapegoated for the Chesapeake’s defeat, his family and others would eventually convince Congress and the President to restore Cox’s Navy commission posthumously.   This took quite a while, but persistence paid off as this order was signed by Harry S. Truman in 1952.

 

Captain Lawrence’s original Trinity Churchyard tombstone can be seen in the New-York Historical Society’s Luce Center.   It reveals that Lawrence’s son was born but five weeks after his father’s death; he died in infancy and was buried with his father.  A wealth of additional material about Lawrence, the Chesapeake, and the Shannon has come to the Society from his great-great nephew as The Eugene H. Pool Collection of Captain James Lawrence.

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“Get Me A Radium Highball!”: New York and the Radium Craze

This post was written by Kate Burch, Library Page.

Radium, a naturally occurring element first isolated by Marie and Pierre Curie in 1898, fascinated the world with its radioactive and luminescent properties. With no understanding of the ill effects of radiation poisoning, radium became a fashionable trend, a medical cure-all, and an industrial wonder. Newspapers imagined future cities lit by radium lamps, restaurants serving glow-in-the-dark radium cocktails and candy, radium fertilizer improving the output of farms, and doctors using radium to cure cancer forever.

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The New York Times, December 10, 1911.

The radium industry took hold in New York in the early twentieth century. Beginning in 1904 with L.D. Gardner’s Manhattan-based company producing his patented radium “health” water, Liquid Sunshine, and his glow-in-the-dark radium ink, factories producing radium cures and novelty products began to appear all over the city and surrounding suburbs.

After scientists successfully killed cancer cells with radium in early experiments in Europe, the demand for the element soared. Sick patients all over the world demanded to be treated with “radium the wonderful.” While some doctors experimented in earnest with a radium cure for diseases like cancer, tuberculosis, and lupus, their work was overshadowed by unscrupulous businessmen and quack doctors marketing radium cures for almost every ailment. They aggressively advertised and sold, with enormous success, radium creams, drinks, salts, and suppositories that claimed to cure acne, anemia, arthritis, asthma, baldness, birthmarks, blindness, constipation, diabetes, goiters, hardened arteries, headaches, impotence, insanity, rickets, tooth decay, and warts.

radiumink

L.D. Gardner’s Radium Ink. PR 031

Often (and perhaps luckily) these quack products did not even contain real radium. The demand for the metal far outpaced the ability to extract it, and by 1915 radium was valued at $84,500/gram (about $1.9 million in today’s dollars). City authorities urged consumers to look out for fake radium.

In addition to its popularity as a cure-all, radium was a huge commercial success for its luminescent properties. Many competing companies patented glow-in-the-dark paints and products that ranged from the practical- house numbers and light switches that could be seen in the dark- to the playful- glowing eyes for children’s toys and Christmas tree lights that were “safer” than real candles.

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The Radium Dance, 1904. PR 031

 

The radium craze even spread to the New York stage, where radium plays and dances featuring performers in glow-in-the-dark costumes were shown in theaters throughout the city. However, due to the prohibitively high cost of the element, many critics suspected the glowing costumes were not made of radium, but of plain old phosphorous.

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Undark, the standard of radium luminous material, c.1917. Landauer HD9539 .R282 .R33 1930z.

 

By the peak of the radium craze, some scientists had begun to suspect that the “radium cure” was not only ineffective, but in fact extremely harmful to humans and other living things. Unfortunately, their cautions were not heeded until the tragic deaths of young radium workers at a factory in East Orange, New Jersey made headlines around the world.

In 1917, the United States Radium Company patented a radium paint called Undark, which was mainly used to produce luminous watch and clock dials at their factory in East Orange. The dial-painting factory was staffed by young women, mostly Italian immigrants, who mixed their own paints from radium powder. To achieve a fine brush point for painting the small numbers, the factory workers wetted the brush tip between their lips. Some even painted their lips and teeth with the luminescent paint to surprise their husbands and boyfriends.

By 1922, many of the women who had worked as dial painters began to develop troubling health problems. When they went to see doctors about painful mouth sores and tooth decay, the doctors were shocked to find that the bones in their faces and jaws had disintegrated. Many women then developed cancer. Doctors suspected that the sudden onset of this terrible disease in healthy young women was caused by the exposure to radium paint. However, the United States Radium Company maintained that the paint was totally safe and attempted to smear the reputations of the women by suggesting their illnesses were instead caused by syphilis. The scandal forced the closure of the East Orange factory, and the women became known in the press as the “radium girls.”

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The New York Times, April 27, 1928.

Five young women filed a suit against the United States Radium Company in 1927. The litigation was settled out of court a year later, but the shocking images of the dying girls being wheeled into a courtroom to testify made a lasting impression. Most of the women died before receiving much financial remuneration, but the suit formed the foundation for occupational hazard labor law and set a precedent for compensation in suits involving environmentally-contracted cancers.

By the mid-1930s, the radium craze subsided, as the scientists and inventors who had pioneered the use of radium slowly died of cancer. Their radioactive bodies were buried in lead-lined graves. Radium, the marvel of the future, had become a menace.

 

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The Cherokee Nation and the Birth of a New Script

Written by Geraldine Granahan, CLIR project cataloger

Title page of Cherokee Almanac 1861

Cherokee Almanac 1861. Park Hill [Okla.] : Mission Press, [1860]. Okla. 1861 .C44 P3.

The Patricia D. Klingenstein Library of The New-York Historical Society has several items in its collections that were printed in the Cherokee language. One example is the above almanac, Cherokee Almanac 1861, which is written in Cherokee (or Tsalagi), an Iroquoian language used by the Cherokee people. The writing system was invented by a Cherokee known as Sequoyah, or by his English name George Guess or George Gist (1776-1843). He worked as a silversmith and also served with the Cherokee regiment in 1813-14 under General Andrew Jackson. Having been exposed to white settlers and their alphabet, Sequoyah was inspired to create a Cherokee written language, so as to aid the Cherokee Nation in sharing ideas and information and facilitating learning. After much experimentation with his writing system, he finally settled on a syllabary that consisted of 85 symbols representing different syllables. In 1821, he introduced his syllabary to the Cherokee people, and within a few years thousands of Cherokee could read and write in their new script.

Cherokee Bible

Title page of the New Testament in the Cherokee Language. New York: American Bible Society, 1860. Y 1860 .Bib.

Samuel Austin Worcester, a missionary, immediately saw the potential for Sequoyah’s new writing system to be utilized in the field of missionary work and education. He learned the syllabary and language, but never became a fluent Cherokee speaker. He established the Park Hill Mission in Oklahoma in 1836, and was instrumental in the founding of the Park Hill Printing Press, where he arranged to have typesetting done in Cherokee characters. By 1837, the press had begun printing parts of the Bible (right), newspapers, books, and almanacs.

On October 25, 1843, the Cherokee National Council passed an act authorizing the publication of a national newspaper, the Cherokee Advocate (below). The first issue of the newspaper was published on September 26, 1844. It was published weekly in both English and Cherokee. The newspaper provided the Cherokee Nation with knowledge and power, as it informed readers of their rights, spread important information, and discussed newly enacted laws. The paper was published until 1906, with a hiatus between 1853 and 1870 due to lack of funds.

Masthead of Cherokee Advocate

Cherokee Advocate. Tahlequah, Okla. 1873: Feb. 8.

Today—partly because of former government policies that enforced the removal of Cherokee children from Tsalagi-speaking homes—only about 22,000 people speak Tsalagi. That does not, however, diminish Sequoyah’s great achievement: he remains the only known person in history to single-handedly invent and perfect a widely used system of writing.

The almanac from this blog post, as well as other examples from the New-York Historical Society’s American Almanac Collection, will be featured in an exhibition on view in the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library reading room from May 20 to July 29, 2013.

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“Fleeting Magic Designs”: Arnold Genthe and the Dance

Written by Maureen Maryanski, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections.

In the early 20th century, a new form of dance was emerging, one fostered by periods of experimentation in European cities and transferred to American stages by impassioned personalities led by Isadora Duncan. As this new, modern dance both challenged and influenced other dances from ballet to vaudeville, the lines between these forms became blurred allowing for a cacophony of creative expression. The dance world was expanding and changing in a myriad of ways, and nowhere was that more evident than in New York City, where high and low dance shared the same urban space and exchanged ideas and inspiration. Modern dance, as with other modernist movements of the time, sought new forms with which to express the spirit of modern times, and as Duncan phrased it, to express “the free spirit, who will inhabit the body of the new woman; more glorious than any woman that has yet been…the highest intelligence in the freest body.”

As modern dance developed and evolved, dance photography also began to develop, influenced by photographer Arnold Genthe (1869-1942), who utilized his signature style to capture dancers “in the free movement of the dance.” As discussed last month on the blog (http://blog.nyhistory.org/beyond-a-photographic-mask-an-introduction-to-arnold-genthe/), Genthe avoided posed photographs, choosing to capture his subjects in an unobtrusive manner, the better to express the essence of a human being. This same principle he applied to his dance photography. Here it was not just the soul and spirit of the dancer he sought to capture, but the motion of the dance, those “fleeting magic designs made by the human body.” Genthe’s goal was to create an image that suggested both the “proceeding as well as the following movement,” that suggested motion, “fluent, dynamic, natural.”

In his memoir, Genthe spent several pages discussing the difficulty of photographing this ephemeral art form adequately, claiming that very few of his pictures do dance justice, even those published in the 1916 volume The Book of the Dance. However, he is considered one of the pioneers in the field of dance photography, and his images include some of the leading participants in early modern dance, including Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, and Anna Pavlova.

The following examples of dance photography from the Genthe collection at the New-York Historical Society offer insight into the variety of dances performed in early 20th century New York City.

Isadora Duncan (1877-1927). PR 19, Genthe Collection

Isadora Duncan (1877-1927). PR 19, Genthe Collection

Lauded as the “Mother of Modern Dance,” Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) challenged established forms of dance through an emphasis on expressing the human spirit through movement. She performed throughout Europe and America and became a popular symbol and subject for modernists and artists. Photographed in New York between 1915 and 1918, Genthe was originally commissioned to take only a passport photo, but Duncan was so enraptured with the photograph and his style she had him take several more photographs of her and her dancers. As Duncan wrote in her autobiography My Life, his “pictures were never photographs of his sitters but his hypnotic imagination of them. He has taken many pictures of me which are not representations of my physical being but representations of conditions of my soul.” These photographs have since become some of the most famous made of Duncan and were included in the memorial volume Isadora Duncan: Twenty-four Studies by Arnold Genthe (1929). This photograph features Duncan barefoot and in a white Grecian tunic, signatures of her early dances and the inspiration she drew from Ancient Greece.

Isadorables. PR 19, Genthe Collection

Isadorables. PR 19, Genthe Collection

Duncan saw the education of the young as one of her key missions. To that end she opened several schools during her lifetime to teach young women the art of the dance. The first of these opened in Germany in 1904. From this school six Duncan protégées emerged who traveled and danced with Duncan into the 1920s.  Lovingly called the Isadorables, Duncan eventually adopted the six girls, and they took her last name. In addition to photographing Duncan, Genthe photographed the Isadorables between 1915 and 1918 in solo portraits and group shots, such as in this outdoor image.

Margaret Severn (), dancing at the water's edge. PR 19, Genthe Collection

Margaret Severn (), dancing at the water’s edge. PR 19, Genthe Collection

Margaret Severn (1901-1997) was an internationally acclaimed dancer who trained in ballet in London before returning to the United States during the First World War. She is most well-known for her role in the Greenwich Village Follies of 1921 and her use of Benda masks, which she performed with on the vaudeville circuit until 1928. These life-like papier-mache face masks were sculpted by Polish-American artist Wladyslaw T. Benda (1873-1948) and used in plays and dances in both New York and London, including stage productions for Eugene O’Neill and Noel Coward. This print of Severn dancing on the beach was made between 1924 and 1942 from a 1923 negative and is sometimes referred to as “Scarf Dance.” Another Genthe photograph of Severn from a similar, or possibly the same, beach photo shoot was published in the January 1924 issue of Vanity Fair.

Marion Morgan Dancers. PR 19, Genthe Collection

Marion Morgan Dancers. PR 19, Genthe Collection

The Marion Morgan Dancers was a troupe of predominantly female dancers founded and led by Marion Morgan (d. 1971) who performed interpretative dances based on classical legends and antiquity, such as Helen of Troy.  Originally formed in California, they appeared on the vaudeville stage for nearly a decade, from 1916 to the mid-1920s. At that point, the group began working in Hollywood, contributing inserted dance sequences to films such as Don Juan (1926) and  Up in Mabel’s Room (1926). Morgan also choreographed sequences for several films of her partner, director Dorothy Arzner (1897-1979), including Ten Modern Commandments (1927) and Manhattan Cocktail (1928); however, the group and Morgan’s choreography did not survive the transition to sound films. Morgan’s dances emphasized pantomime and tableaux, as well as elaborate staging and costuming, as evidenced by this Genthe photograph from the period.

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