When I was a boy I worked on a farm in Little Neck, Queens in New York City. It was the only working farm left in Queens. The land was originally settled by a Dutch family. Every morning I would awake and bike from one side of Queens to the other. There I would feed ducks, cows, till, gather eggs, and eat my lunch under a huge tree or when it rained in the barn. [Read more…] about Lower Hudson Valley History: Stories on the Wind
New York City
As New York’s State Historian, I often say that New Yorkers have long provided the country with some of its most informed leadership. Why? Because they understand and appreciate their state’s place in American history.
Take as a case in point the 100th anniversary of the American Civil War (1961-65). This was a time when some Americans were using their heritage to defy federal desegregation efforts. New York’s Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, however, used his state’s history for a far better purpose. He promoted civil rights and racial equality in America by joining with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others in celebration of the 100th birthday of a document owned by the New York State Library—Lincoln’s draft Emancipation Proclamation. [Read more…] about New Yorkers and the Memory of the Civil War
In New York City during the 1920s, an employee of the New York Clearing House, an august downtown financial institution composed of the city’s elite banks, would descend every day and mark three numbers on a chalkboard, each of which was meant as a general economic indicator to be used by the financial industry. Two of these numbers were immediately copied down by a different sort of employee and phoned uptown to a different sort of bank, one whose doings possessed a good deal more relevance for the hundreds of thousands of African Americans who had recently transformed the sleepy neighborhood of Harlem into a budding “black metropolis.”
The uptown bankers, known colloquially as “kings” and “queens,” dealt not in stocks and bonds but in millions of paper slips, each one marked in pencil and each one representing a one, five, or maybe a ten-cent bet placed by a resident on the outcome of a three-digit number derived via a set formula from that day’s Clearing House results. “Playing the numbers” was a cultural institution in Harlem, one that about half the neighborhood’s population seems to have engaged in each day, one that tied them in strange ways to the city’s licit economy, but one that has been strangely understudied by scholars, who in the past have trained their focus largely on the high-cultural manifestations of Harlem’s remarkable flowering.
Playing the Numbers: Gambling in Harlem Between the Wars takes a different tack, utilizing the authors’ remarkable research to tell a story that illuminates the lives of the ordinary Harlemites who most often form little more than a colorful backdrop to accounts of the Harlem Renaissance. For a dozen years the “numbers game” was one of America’s rare black-owned businesses, turning over tens of millions of dollars every year. The astronomical success of “bankers” like Stephanie St. Clair and Casper Holstein attracted Dutch Schultz, Lucky Luciano, and organized crime, fresh off Prohibition and in need of a new hustle, to the game. By the late 1930s, most of the profits were being siphoned out of Harlem. All in all, Playing the Numbers reveals a unique dimension of African American culture that made not only Harlem but New York City itself the vibrant and energizing metropolis it was.
Interestingly, the authors of Playing the Numbers are four Australian academics who received a grant from their government to research this remarkable phenomenon. You can get a taste of the data itself on an innovative website they’ve produced called Digital Harlem: Everyday Life, 1915-1930, which won the Roy Rosenzweig Fellowship for Innovation in Digital History this year from the American Historical Association.
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On Tuesday, March 2, 2010 (from 6:30-8:30pm) the New York City Historic Districts Council will offer a cultural resource survey presentation on Addisleigh Park, a little-known but culturally significant neighborhood in Southeast Queens. The event will be held at the Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street, Manhattan.
In 2007 HDC began an effort to document Addisleigh Park, home to numerous major African-Americans figures such as James Brown, Roy Campanella, W.E.B. DuBois, Count Basie, Lena Horne, Jackie Robinson and Ella Fitzgerald (to name just a few). Once completed, they submitted all the material to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, who recently calendared a historic district, partially in response to our work. This free program will allow participants a firsthand look at the research and learn more about this neighborhood and its storied past.
The event is free to the public. Reservations are required, as space is limited. For more information, please contact Kristen Morith at (212) 614-9107 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stretching over four miles through the center of the West Bronx, the Grand Boulevard and Concourse, known simply as the Grand Concourse, has served as a silent witness to the changing face of the Bronx, and New York City, for a century. To coincide with the Concourse’s centennial, New York Times editor Constance Rosenblum has written a book, Boulevard of Dreams: Heady Times, Heartbreak, and Hope along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx that brings to life this historic street.
Designed by a French engineer in the late nineteenth century to echo the elegance and grandeur of the Champs Elysées in Paris, the Concourse was nearly twenty years in the making (it celebrated its centennial in November). Over that century it has truly been a boulevard of dreams for various upwardly mobile immigrant and ethnic groups, yet it has also seen the darker side of the American dream.
Constance Rosenblum unearths the history of the street and its neighborhoods through a series of life stories and historical vignettes. The story of the creation and transformation of the Grand Concourse is the story of New York—and America—writ large, and Rosenblum examines the Grand Concourse from its earliest days to the blighted 1960s and 1970s right up to the current period of renewal. Illustrated with historical photographs, the vivid world of the Grand Concourse comes alive—from Yankee Stadium to the unparalleled collection of Art Deco apartments to the palatial Loew’s Paradise movie theater.
The publishers call it “An enthralling story of the creation of an iconic street, an examination of the forces that transformed it, and a moving portrait of those who called it home, Boulevard of Dreams is a must read for anyone interested in the rich history of New York and the twentieth-century American city.”
This remarkable cemetery of rolling hills and gently sloping meadows features several thousand trees and flowering shrubs in a park like setting and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also the subject of an outstanding new book, Green Oasis in Brooklyn: The Evergreens Cemetery 1849-2008 by noted historian John Rousmaniere. [Read more…] about A New Book Highlights Brooklyn’s Evergreens Cemetery
A new online effort from the Royal Netherlands Embassy (part of the 400th celebration) will help promote interesting events in New York City throughout 2009. The Embassy and their partners are celebrating 400 years of shared history between the US and the Netherlands with a new widget that keeps users updated on local events and online content and helps tell the story of our shared cultures. The widget displays a game where users can match up symbols and Dutch/English words to reveal content related to that subject. For example, the History match reveals information about the New Amsterdam walking tour of Manhattan that you can download to your mobile phone for free.
There are over 50 partners in this effort including New York City, New Netherland Project, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can check out the Royal Netherlands Embassy across social media: there is a blog with contributors ranging from Dutch artists to Muslim activist Eboo Patel (http://www.ny400.org/blog), a video gallery of performances/ interviews/events (http://www.ny400.org/video.
The Dutch and the indelible role they played in the formation of the ideas and ideals that shaped New York City and America is being celebrated by National Parks Service, the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy, and the Henry Hudson 400 Foundation with The New Amsterdam Trail. This free downloadable audio walking tour is the first of three in a series featuring the iconic National Park Service Rangers and an expert cast of historians, scientists, and other great storytellers.
Using a backdrop of period music and special sound effects, the audio with map can be downloaded from the Harbor Conservancy’s website or on the Henry Hudson 400 website. Visitors travel through the streets of downtown Manhattan to 10 historically significant locations, cueing commentary from their mobile phone, mp3 player or ipod. As they stand at the tip of the Battery, they can visualize Manhattan in the hours before Henry Hudson arrived and when he first navigated our waters and then listen to the stories of the life and times of New Amsterdam’s most famous and infamous settlers.
The New Amsterdam Trail features Steve Laise, Chief of Cultural Resources for Manhattan’s National Parks; Eric Sanderson, author of Mannahatta, Natural History of New York City; Andrew Smith, editor of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, and Russell Shorto, author of Island at the Center of the World.
The family-friendly walking tour takes about 90-minutes– however, you can walk the trail at your own pace during lunchtime and pause the recorded commentary at any point. For more details and to download the free tour, visit www.nyharborparks.org or www.henryhudson400.com.
The Harbor Conservancy is the official partner of the National Parks of New York Harbor and together they champion the 22 National Park sites that call New York Harbor home by helping to preserve the environment, promote economic development and create the finest urban waterfront recreation and educational park system in the world.
Henry Hudson 400 New York is a foundation created to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s legendary voyage for the Dutch to the Hudson River and New York. The unique character of New York City, originally New Amsterdam, has been shaped by the legacy of the multiethnic and tolerant culture of 17th century Amsterdam. Henry Hudson 400 is producing a series of special events in 2009 to celebrate the spirit of freedom, enterprise, and diversity shared by Amsterdam and New York.
There was an interesting review of Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line by Martha A. Sandweiss in the New York Times Book Review yesterday. The book is about Clarance King, first director of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), American alpine climbing pioneer and author who passed as black, married a former slave, and lived two lives from his home base in New York City.
Passing Strange meticulously — sometimes too meticulously; the book can be plodding — recounts the unlikely convergence of two lives: King was born in 1842 in Newport, R.I., to parents of longstanding American stock, and Ada Copeland was born a slave in Georgia, months before Confederate guns fired on Fort Sumter. Copeland, like most slaves, is woefully underdocumented; we know that she somehow became literate, migrated to New York in the 1880s and found a job in domestic service. King, by contrast, is all but overdocumented; after schooling, he went west as a surveyor, summing up 10 years of work in two books, including the 815-page “Systematic Geology,” which told, one historian said, “a story only a trifle less dramatic than Genesis.”
The pair met sometime around 1888, somewhere in bustling New York. By telling Copeland he was “James Todd,” a Pullman porter from Baltimore, King implied his race; a white man could not hold such a job. They married that year (though without obtaining a civil license), settling in Brooklyn and then, as Copeland had five children, Flushing, Queens. All the while King maintained residential club addresses in Manhattan, where colleagues knew him as an elusive man about town. Living a double life is costly, and King’s Western explorations never quite delivered returns, so the Todds were always broke.
King was among the first to climb some of the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada range in the late 1860s and early 1870s and wrote Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, which includes accounts of his adventures and hardships there.
According to The Literature of Mountain Climbing in America (1918):
The beginnings of mountaineering in America have to be looked for mainly in early histories and narratives of travel, though the first ascent in the Canadian Rockies is chronicled in the supplement to a botanical magazine. The first magazine article upon American mountains seems to be Jeremy Belknap‘s account of the White Mountains, printed in the American Magazine in Philadelphia in February, 1788. The first book was Joel T. Headley’s The Adirondack, published in 1849. The Alpine Journal of England, the earliest of such magazines, had a short account of a climb in Central America in its first volume, 1864, and in the third volume, 1867, there was an account of an ascent of Mt. Hood. The first book devoted to alpine climbing in America was Clarence King’s Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada.
As an aside, among the men who were associated with Clarence King was his good friend, artist John Henry Hill. Hill accompanied King on two expeditions west (1866 and 1870) as a staff artist but his New York claim to fame is his work on the Adirondacks which he first visited in the 1860s. He camped and sketched throughout the Adirondacks, and from 1870 to 1874, lived in a cabin he dubbed “Artist’s Retreat” that he built on Phantom Island near Bolton’s Landing, Lake George. During one winter, Hill’s brother, a civil engineer, visited and the two men set out on the ice to survey the narrows and make one of the first accurate maps of the islands which Hill than made into an etching “surrounding it with an artistic border representing objects of interest in the locality.” On June 6, 1893 Phantom Island was leased by the Forest Commission to prominent Glens Falls Republican Jerome Lapham.
His journal and much of his work is held by the Adirondack Museum, and additional works can be found at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New-York Historical Society, and the Columbus Museum of Art.