The culture of ancient Rome banned the moving or dividing of corpses. Christians of the third and fourth centuries maintained the desire for proper burial. A call for corporeal integrity runs throughout medieval culture. Bodies intact were ready for the Last Judgment when soul and body were reunited. [Read more…] about Napoleon’s Private Parts On Fifth Avenue: A Cautionary Tale
Equestrian artist Philip Astley was a pioneering entertainment entrepreneur. His demonstrations of trick horse-riding at London’s Royal Amphitheatre in 1768 constitute the origins of modern circus.
Astley performed his routine in a circular arena which would subsequently be referred to as the ring. He interspersed his displays with a variety of additional acts. Both in Europe and America other producers copied and expanded his new style of entertainment. [Read more…] about Circus Artists and the Flying Trapeze Metaphor
For centuries people have been mixing potions, initially in a quest for medicinal elixirs, and later to produce exotic drinks. Punch was introduced from India to England in the early seventeenth century. The term, of uncertain etymology, was first recorded in 1632. [Read more…] about Masters of Mixology: American Showmanship & French Finesse
Many eighteenth century publicans framed a list of pre-conditions for the “perfect” tavern which was displayed in full view in British public houses and drinking dens.
The advice to customers consisted of “Twelve Good Rules” that dated back to the rule of Charles I: [Read more…] about Twelve Tavern Rules, Thirteen Toasts and America’s 1814 Anthem
New York has important associations with the formation of what is now considered a traditional American Christmas. “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (a.k.a. “Twas The Night Before Christmas”) was first published in the Troy Sentinel in 1823; The Albany Evening Journal ran an advertisement on December 17, 1841, that is believed to be the first time Santa Clause was used to advertise a store; and America’s first Christmas card was published in Albany in 1850/51.
Recently two rare printings of the first commercially printed Christmas card, published in England, have been announced for sale at auction. The cards depicts a family toasting with glasses of red wine. Commissioned by Henry Cole and designed by John Callcott Horsley, it carries the message “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.” [Read more…] about Puritans, Prussians, and the History of Christmas Cards
Born in 1799, Clemente Bassano (the family name originates from the Veneto region of Italy) settled in London and started his career as a fishmonger in Soho. By 1825 he ran a warehouse from Jermyn Street, St James’s, importing almonds, oil, capers, and macaroni.
His daughter Louise was an opera singer who toured with Franz Liszt on his London visit in 1840/1. Her brother Alessandro became a high society photographer with a studio in Regent Street. His portrait of Horatio Kitchener was used during the First World War for an iconic recruitment poster. [Read more…] about Harlem’s “Black Beauty” Mills; London’s Josephine Baker
In his stories Arthur Conan Doyle used the leitmotif that misdeeds are not impulsive acts of random individuals. They are machinations of a subtle criminal mind. Enter Professor James Moriarty, a figure with a phenomenal mathematical brain whose hereditary criminal tendencies were rendered deadly by his mental powers. [Read more…] about A Master Thief, Irish Hostess, English Duchess, and the Origins Pan Am
Pictures of street hawkers with their trade shouts recorded in captions of poetry or prose are known as “Cries.” They first appeared in Paris around 1500. This early creation of an urban iconography included socially marginal people such as vagrants, beggars, prostitutes, and others.
Fifty years later, these images were established as a stylistic category across Europe. Eventually, they would make their way to New York. [Read more…] about Urban Cries: Street Hawkers’ Shouts in New York & London
In fiction, poetry or song, houses are treated as living organisms. They are noble, respectable, or infamous. There are houses of high rank and those of low repute – houses have human characteristics and their individual biographies.
The Isokon Building in Hampstead tells a striking tale of recent historical events. At the time of completion, it was one of the few modernist dwellings in London’s cityscape; the block of flats housed a number of notable refugees from Nazi Germany; almost simultaneously it served as a recruitment office for Soviet spies. Crucial aspects of post-war American cultural and political developments originated in a few flats in this leafy corner of North West London. [Read more…] about Concrete, Plywood and Soviet Spies
Although much remains unclear about the origins of Cockney rhyming slang, there is a consensus that it stems from London’s East End, dates back to the 1840s, and is alive and thriving. One slang expression reads “on one’s tod,” meaning: on one’s own; all alone. The phrase is a shortened version of the original “on one’s Tod Sloan.”
In full, these four words offer a multi-colored mosaic of socio-cultural events involving Manhattan, London, and Paris. [Read more…] about Slang, Stirrups, Paris in the 20s, and the Invention of the Bloody Mary