Articles by Yukie Ohta

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In this month’s issue of NEW New York Books, we venture beyond the printed page to include a podcast and a website, as well as a good ol’ printed and bound book. Writing about New York comes in all shapes, sizes, and media these days, as these three gems will prove.


strangers in the westStrangers in the West: The Syrian Colony of New York City, 1880-1900

By Linda K. Jacobs
paperback, 496 pages


Strangers in the West: The Syrian Colony of New York City, 1880-1900 tells the never-before-told story of the first Arab immigrants who came to New York from Greater Syria and settled in tenements on the lower west side of Manhattan, founding an Arabic-speaking enclave just south of the future site of the World Trade Center. It began as a family history project for Linda K. Jacobs, the book’s author, as all four of her grandparents were part of the community, and soon evolved into the first ethnography of this early Arab community. It was a community of peddlers and merchants, midwives and doctors, priests and journalists, belly dancers and impresarios, and between 1880 and 1900 these immigrants built a thriving colony that soon became the cultural and economic center of the Syrian diaspora in America. This is their story.

Linda L. Layne, Hale Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, author of Home and Homeland, says of Strangers in the West:

At a time when the issue of immigration is once again a national concern, Jacobs’ fascinating account of this first generation Arab-American community is a welcome reminder of the challenges immigrants face and the wealth of benefits they bring to American society. Engagingly written, this work of historical demography is a superb resource.

Click here for more information or to purchase this book.


New-France_2_6_Map-of-New-Belgium-or-New-NetherlandNew Netherland Praatjes Podcast

If you visit the iTunes Store, you will see that there is a podcast about anything and everything you have ever wanted to know. There is something for everyone, and this includes old New York enthusiasts.

From the New York History blog:

The New Netherland Institute is now producing a new podcast hosted by best-selling author Russell Shorto. ‘New Netherland Praatjes’ (Dutch for ‘chat’) is a series of chats with historians, archaeologists, and other experts on New Netherland and the world of the 17th-century Dutch.

The latest episode features historian Susanah Romney, whose book New Netherland Connections: Intimate Networks and Atlantic Ties in Seventeenth-Century America won the 2014 Annual Hendricks Award. Romney’s work challenges the assumption that state actors and trading companies were predominantly responsible for the perpetuation of New World colonies.

Subscribe to this series of podcasts via iTunes .

Also available on the New Netherland Institute’s website is the audio of the fifteen presentations at their latest conference, “The Dutch in American Across the Centuries: Connections and Comparisons.” The conference was jointly sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Dutch-American Studies (AADAS).

From the site: “By 1700, the block was part of the large Bayard farm. The farm stretched from what is now Chinatown to the southern part of Greenwich Village, around 200 acres.” (Thomas Howell, ‘Greenwhich Village painting,’ 1768. Via Greene Street Project)

From the site: “By 1700, the block was part of the large Bayard farm. The farm stretched from what is now Chinatown to the southern part of Greenwich Village, around 200 acres.” (Thomas Howell, ‘Greenwhich Village painting,’ 1768. Via Greene Street Project)

Greene Street: A Long History of a Short Block

What can one block, a span of less than 500 feet of a New York City street, tell you? If you look closely enough, you can see 400 years of economic development. In a new website entitled, “Greene Street Project: A Long History of a Short Block,” (, William Easterly and Laura Freschi of NYU and Stephen Pennings of the World Bank have created an interactive timeline covering 400 years that charts the economic evolution of one NYC block, Greene Street between Houston and Prince, that reflects the broader evolution of the entire SoHo area from rural farmland to high-end retail hub, thus placing current day SoHo in the context of New York City’s history.

From Laura Bliss at CityLab:

Led by William Easterly, Co-Director of the DRI and an economics scholar, the Greene Street Project is an interactive tour of the historic development of this single block in SoHo.

Most development economists tend to focus on macro-level units such as cities, or even more commonly, nations. But Easterly believes that such broad assessments belie the more chaotic realities that shape economies at the hyper-local scale.

“There’s a ‘Great Man’ view of history: that great successes happen because some wonderful, wise leaders intended them to happen,” Easterly says. “But looking at development at the micro level allows us the ‘common man’ view: that there were unintended consequences from lots of surprises on this block, and individuals taking advantage of them.”



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Barbara Cohen, a dealer in New York books, at her apartment in Manhattan. “‘The Iconography of Manhattan Island’ is considered the single most important work on New York by many historians,” Ms. Cohen said. Credit Ángel Franco/The New York Times


In 1915, ISAAC NEWTON PHELPS STOKES(1867-1944) published the first volume of his six-volume The Iconography of Manhattan Island. This year 2015 marks the centenary of this unparalleled reference work that encompasses New York City’s history, architecture, maps, and prints.

In a recent New York Times article, “A Visual Banquet of Manhattan Has Its Own Compelling Past,” David Dunlap celebrates this occasion by by featuring none other than our own fearless leader, Barbara Cohen:

“ ‘The Iconography of Manhattan Island’ is considered the single most important work on New York by many historians,” said Barbara Cohen, who is among the more important contemporary dealers in New York books. She brought the centenary to my attention. (Read the full article here.)

The Iconography of Manhattan Island, I.N. Phelps Stokes' monumental six volume history of New York

The Iconography of Manhattan Island, I.N. Phelps Stokes’ monumental six volume history of New York

Barbara, a huge fan of Stokes, has written about Stokes’ work on this site in the past. Read What is the Stokes Iconography? and Stokes, Wharton, and Love Fiercely, a post about Stokes and the Gilded Age as reflected in Jean Zimmerman’s book, Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance.

With six volumes spanning several centuries, the folio-sized Stokes Iconography is the definitive collection of images related to New York City. Complied from original sources and based on the public and private collections of I.N. Phelps Stokes, it includes reproductions of important maps, plans, and documents, dating from the city’s earliest history.

The six volumes were published between 1925 and 1928 with meticulous care. It includes an exhaustive bibliography and a massive index, itself an impressive reference. It was originally issued in two editions, the first on Holland handmade paper with a choice of two bindings, vellum and bluecloth. The second was a limited edition issue (42 copies) on Japan vellum with extra color plates signed by the engraver and designers.

The first volume took six years of research and covers three centuries: the Period of Discovery (1524-1609), the Dutch Period (1609-1664), the English Period (1664-1763), the Revolutionary Period (1763-1783), the Period of Adjustment and Reconstruction: New York as the State and Federal Capital (1783-1811). Volume II has the earliest cartography of New York, with maps dating from 1500. Volume III continues the historical narrative, beginning from The War of 1812 and the Period of Invention, Prosperity, and Progress (1812-1841), the Period of Industrial and Educational Development (1842-1860), The Civil War and the subsequent Period of Political and Social Development (1861-1876), and finally the Modern City and Island (1876-1909). Volumes IV and V are a chronology of the periods outlined and include reproductions of handwritten and printed accounts of events in Manhattan. The final volume includes more maps and an addendum.

This monumental work can be viewed in its entirety online through the Columbia University Libraries site. Take a few moments to familiarize yourself (or revisit, if you are a student of Newyorkiana) with the Iconography and celebrate its 100 years with us. Cheers!

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imagesIt’s that time of year again! When the New York Society Library begins taking submissions for their New York City Book Awards. Quility books that focus on New York City are published every month, and these awards are a great way of acknowledging the best of the countless New York stories out there.

Here’s a list of last year’s awardees, in case you missed any of them:

imgresAward for Natural History
Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York by Ted Steinberg (Simon & Schuster)

Award for Biography/Memoir
J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist by Thomas Beller (New Harvest)

Award for Fiction
Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish (Tyrant Books)

The Hornblower Award for a First Book
Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City by Catherine McNeur (Harvard University Press)

For a full list of past winners, click here.


The New York City Book Awards

The New York Society Library’s New York City Book Awards, established in 1995, honor books of literary quality or historical importance that, in the opinion of the selection committee, evoke the spirit or enhance appreciation of New York City. The city must play an essential role beyond that of the setting. A worthy book, whether academic, literary, or popular, must be well written and engaging. It should shed some new or unusual light on New York City.

The Hornblower Award

As part of the Book Awards, the Library also presents the Hornblower Award. Established in 2011, this award is given to an excellent New York City-related book by a first-time author.


The Library welcomes submissions of qualifying books from publishers and authors. Submissions are now welcome for books published between January 1 and December 31, 2015. Click here for submission guidelines and entry form. Winners will be announced in March 2016.

NYSL buildingHistory

For a century and a half, until the New York Public Library system was founded in 1895, the New York Society Library was known simply as the “City Library.” The New York Society, a civic group, opened the library in the old City Hall on Wall Street in 1754. The first library of its kind, the group felt that New York City needed a subscription library that anyone could join and offered a wide range of books.

For over 250 years, the New York Society Library has made books available to all in New York City. After moving to several locations in downtown Manhattan, the Library moved to its current home at 53 East 79th Street in 1937.

Over the years, the library has been visited by the likes of George Washington, Washington Irving, James Fennimore Cooper, Henry David Thoreau, John James Audubon, Willa Cather, Herman Melville, W.H. Auden, Clarence Day, Lillian Hellman, Barbara Tuchman, David Halberstam, Wendy Wasserstein, Shirley Hazzard, P.G. Wodehouse, Mary McCarthy, Truman Capote, and thousands of others.


The New York Society Library relies on the support of members and friends to sustain its collection, adult and children’s programs, exhibitions, and extraordinary personal service. Please donate today by clicking here.




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Dual contracts coverSilver Connections

by Phillip Ashforth Coppola
Four Oceans Press, 2015

168 pp, illustrated throughout, bibliography


To place an order, place email



In 1978, Phil Copp intended to spend a month working on an article about the art in New York City subway stations that he hoped to sell to a magazine. Today, thirty-four years later, Copp has probably not spent a day during which he did not work on this “article,” now a multi-volume collection of books, some self-published in limited edition and some in manuscript form.

We are pleased to announce that Copp has now completed the first volume of his Portfolio Series, entitled DUAL CONTRACTS PORTFOLIO:IRT PELHAM BAY LINE. His first professionally printed book, this handsome 8×10 volume with full-color cover is 168 pages with numerous illustrations and a bibliography. When the series is completed, each portfolio of the series will detail one line of the subway system.

To celebrate the first portfolio’s publication, we are posting Copp’s recent essay about his journeys through the NYC subway (and elevated) system and his plans for the future.


Phil Copp (image: Jeremiah's Vanishing New York)
Phil Copp (image: Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York)

A Brief History of Silver Connections

by Phil Copp


I began my study of New York City subway station interiors in 1978 – at first out of curiosity, to find those tile pictures I’d heard of long ago, and to learn their stories. But soon I realized that the MTA, at that time, pursued a policy of resurfacing stations with big bland tiles. Any station which had become inconveniently old, dingy, or pocked, with gaps in its tiles or mosaics, stood in line for an MTA make-over. Two timely examples were Bowling Green (1905) and the IRT’s Cortlandt Street (1917) station, both heedlessly impersonalized in the mid/late 1970’s. Bowling Green got a new red wall, as an “experiment” to see how an old station could be completely modernized from the ground up. Cortland Street got walls of beige bricks – perhaps to give it a sleek finish in the style of the World Trade Center, upstairs. As I dug deeper into my study, I heard of the Brooklyn Bridge (1904) side platforms, not seen since the early 1960’s, and the IRT’s 14th Street/Union Square (1904) side platforms, sealed up, maybe, in 1910—neither of these the MTA’s doing, but still part of the system’s pervasive loss. And I saw whole routes gone under: the BMT’s Broadway (Manhattan) line, and their Fourth Avenue (Brooklyn) line. These were both given the big tile treatment in the 1970’s, also. The Authority seemed dismissive of the irreplaceable mosaic intricacies, artistry, and craftsmanship inherited from prior transit authorities of an earlier era, in a different New York City. With the possibility of unending losses like this, the light study I first envisioned developed into a serious journey through the whole system.

Illustration from Dual Contracts: IRT Pelham Bay Line
Illustration from Dual Contracts portfolio: IRT Pelham Bay Line

But the MTA has had a change of heart and mind since the mid-1980’s. Now they essentially preserve their heritage and, in some exalted cases, have found an artisan who can replicate 90-year-old mosaic patterns, to repair gaps where necessary. But still, there are anomalies: 23rd & Lex. (1904), re-done; N. 3rd Ave & 149th St, Bronx (1905), re-done; and 137th & B’wy (1904), re-done, although two 1922 name panels there are retained. All of them were re-imaged in the mid/late 1980’s. And now the 42nd St. (1904) shuttle platforms have been obscured and thoroughly commercialized in this Century.

Since the end of World War II, there have been five complete stations abandoned, in one year or another, plus there are bits and pieces and areas of stations sealed from the public, and others begun but not finished and buried, so that the transit system, besides the travelways obviously active to all commuters, is a maze of mystery and lost spaces beyond and besides. There’s a lot of New York – this unique niche of New York – and New York history being lost to the ravages of time. My purpose for creating this record is focused on two goals: to preserve the design formats and ceramic icons, in text and drawing, of all of the NYC subway stations as they originally appeared when first opened to the public, and to give credit to those who created the formatted designs for those stations – as well as the manufacturers who fashioned those plaques and mosaics from the architects’ plans.

That second goal has enlarged the project’s scope to include the persons inseparable from the construction of the system: contractors, engineers, city or state authorities, and the financier of the IRT only, as far as I am aware. I got caught up in the history of the construction because, learning more as my research progressed, the whole story fascinates me – and I believe those players ought to be recognized. Besides, the construction and the design are interrelated, and the story of one leads into the other. And so, for Volumes I, II, III, and IV, my primary message delivers the oldest stations in word and picture, and my secondary focus, in company with the first, spotlights the architects, engineer/architects, and craftspeople. I wouldn’t be too far wrong to say that they have all (excepting Mr. Belmont and his equine legacy) been lost to the passage of time and events.

Illustration from Dual Contracts Portfolio: IRT Pelham Bay Line
Illustration from Dual Contracts Portfolio: IRT Pelham Bay Line

By my count, there are 496 stations in the system – not counting the “new” lines: Parsons Boulevard, Archer Avenue, and the 63rd Street tunnel link. That 496-station system evolved, in stages, over the years spanning 1900 to the early 1940’s; anything after that I consider “new” (even 70+ years later). So far, through the four volumes I’ve finished, I have covered transit developments in the New York City region from 1900 to 1908. Since 1978, these past 36 years have been rather crowded, and I have only 8 years of events to show for them.

Along the way a host of generous people have given me encouragement, help, and answers. Through the good graces of a few booksellers of recent memory, the interested public have become ready patrons. It’s good that recognition has been minimal, though, because, through my solo efforts alone, I can produce only a limited number of copies per volume.

Since I have published, I’ve been interviewed now and then by a variety of media. They’ve mostly been New York-based news reporters, but there have been a few others; interviewers from England, Japan, Mexico, and Thailand. Even the MTA Arts for Transit chief contacted me, at one time, for verification of the American Encaustic Tiling Co. And a few college students have tapped me for some input as well.

Filmmaker Jeremy Workman documented my project over a number of years, beginning in the year 2000; his 30-minute film, “One Track Mind,” debuted at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival. We’ve had subsequent showings and Q & A’s at a variety of locations since. The Museum of Modern Art bought a copy of the film for their archives a few years back. And I think PBS shows the movie at odd hours of the day – like at 2 or 3 in the AM, for the insomniac transit crowd.

39 drawing

Illustration from Dual Contracts portfolio: IRT Pelham Bay Line

I’ve come upon this study as an outsider. I grew up in New Jersey, with no particular fascination with transit – though I did play around the railroad tracks behind the A & P with my best friend Danny, to the alarm of our parents (and the DL&W engineer whose train I outran across his track one afternoon). In my school days, I much more favored tromping around in the woods and meadows of the South Mountain Reservation, than sojourning through urban spaces across the river. Before 1978, the most NYC history I knew was from Washington Irving’s Knickerbocker’s History – and that’s not exactly historic at all. When I hit the Library in 1978, I had absolutely no idea which came first – the elevated trains or the subway system.

One of the advantages of being on this project for so long is that I’ve known stations and interiors that are now either changed, or demolished. I’ve written about them (the Franklin Avenue Shuttle, ca. 1987, for instance), or I have notes and photos on them (the Centre Street Loop, ca. 2003, and the Stillwell Avenue Terminal, ca. 2001, and both BMT and IRT Cortlandt Street stations), so I can write them up in future chapters. Likewise, I’ve been fortunate to know one or two key persons in this drama who have since left the scene. But their stories are not lost with them. Even some sources of information I’ve relied on are no longer available. But what I garnered is preserved in my notebooks and lodged in my file cabinets.

One of the disadvantages of not living in New York, though, is that I’ve still missed a lot, because the system is continually evolving, in one way or another, in one borough or another, along one line this month and another route the next. Though I used to get in to see the sights and hammer away at the primary source books nearly every weekend, when I began this study, that’s barely the case now. But we’re trying to change that.

Proceeds from Silver Connections do not pay the bills. I labor on my study in evenings or on weekends, funding my project as I go. Though good, sympathetic people have helped me produce the four volumes of my study, I am essentially a one-man band. The passing times have reshuffled my crew, such as it may have been, and I’ve not produced anything since 1999, except for the few copies of Volumes I and II, scraped together from old & new printed pages, two years ago, and the recent Volume I – Revised text, last year.

Volumes from Copp's SILVER CONNECTIONS (image: Jeremiah's Vanishing New York)

Volumes from Copp’s SILVER CONNECTIONS (image: Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York)

There is a Volume V, begun about a decade ago, which I had to put aside as I revised Volume I. Volume V proceeds along the lines of its predecessors, and delivers (will deliver as presently planned) not only the full descriptions and images of the stations of the Centre Street Loop, the Steinway line from 42nd Street to Hunters Point Avenue, and the BRT’s Fourth Avenue subway, but also their construction history, the deliberations of the Public Service Commissioners, the fortunes of its Chief Engineers (up to 1914), and a roster of the contractors and the engineers involved. In short, the standard, researched approach which makes Volumes I through IV so voluminous.

That takes years of devotion and energy, but time moves right along for all of us, and I’m no longer 29, and my steadiness of hand and sharpness of eyesight are not what they used to be. With this condition in mind, it is very much time for a new way to complete this research. And so my efforts from here on will depart from the format of the fat volumes that chronicled the years 1900 through 1908 (and up to 1914, if all goes well).

And so I’ve embarked on a new approach to this record of the NYC transit system. I have begun my Portfolio series. Each Portfolio will detail one line of the subway system. I figure I can cover one route, within the bounds of one borough in a year’s span, as things stand now. It looks like there are 31 lines, by my count, so I’ll have to do better than that. I will start with the Dual Contract routes, of course, because they were the next era of construction after the intermediate tunneling work succeeding Contracts 1 and 2. But I won’t be following a strict chronology. If I did that, I would consider all four railroads to Coney Island (Brighton Beach, Culver, West End, and Sea Beach) in my first Portfolio. But I haven’t; I’ve started further north. Along the way, Staten Island will be remembered, of course. So will the Newark City Subway. Considering a timely finish to this record, the IND lines will be more of a breeze to get through – as they are just white-tiled walls with a colored stripe. Perhaps I could sail through a whole borough or two of them in one year. There is a lost code to their color sequence, by the way, but I think that has been cracked since 1957. We’ll have to look at that in due time. As it is, I already examined both the 8th and the 6th Avenue stations in Manhattan at the very beginning of my project, before I realized that they weren’t the earliest lines on the subway map.


What this Portfolio series means, though, is that I am not researching the personalities or the manufacturers or the detailed construction of these transit lines. There will be just a minimal gloss of historic background, which is not much history. And so I won’t tell you what Commissioner Eustis said to Mayor Gaynor, nor the joke which contractor Sam Rosoff played on the bank president. Nor, regrettably, much about the three – or four? – architect/engineers who designed the Dual Contracts and the IND station formats (but I have their stories). I won’t be saying much about the artisans and tile companies, either. Nor what happened with the four main subway pioneers, profiled in Volume I, after October 1904. All these sidelights are sidelined, thrown into limbo for now, under the present exigencies, because all those details are research, and they comprise the secondary focus of this study.

My primary goal is to record station layouts and their décor, as I see them on my field trips, before more is lost. This is what I have to do, because this is what I set out to do. Days do not stop running by, but maybe I can still hit my 2030 target for completing this study after all.

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This is a project that goes a bit beyond the realm of New York Books, yet it involves New York, and books, and Newyorkiana, history, ephemera, and all those things that we bibliophiles cherish.  As some of you may know, I also write a blog called The SoHo Memory Project, and today I am kickstarting a fundraising campaign through Kickstarter, an online crowdfunding platform for creative projects.

I plan to design and build a portable historical society that can navigate the bustling urban environment of today’s SoHo while showing a glimpse of its past.

Using unconventional media such as Viewmaster viewers and a smell station, I will chronicle the evolution of SoHo from rural farmland to high-end retail hub, charting its cycles of development and thus placing current day SoHo in the context of New York City’s history.

soho rep then ss
When I was growing up in SoHo, I remember walking down desolate streets. There were no stores or restaurants, but I felt safe because everyone who lived here knew each other. I learned how to ride a bike in my house. And I also often slept in my coat because we didn’t have heat after 5 pm.

When people think of SoHo today, they think of high-end shopping and expensive lofts. Nobody thinks of it as a tight-knit community where children roamed free and people actually knew and liked their neighbors. That was the SoHo of my childhood. That was the SoHo out of which ideas such as the adaptive reuse of buildings and loft living were born, ideas that influence how we live today.

SoHo currently has no neighborhood society dedicated to preserving its history, and I think it deserves one!



unnamedWorking in partnership with The Uni Project, a nonprofit dedicated to creating pop-up learning experiences across the city, I hope that this exhibition will be just the first step in finding a permanent home for The SoHo Memory Project.

My long-term plan is for The SoHo Memory Project to have a physical space where people can come to learn more about our neighborhood. But before I can apply for grants to sustain my project for the long-term, I need to produce something tangible that I can bring to funders to demonstrate my knowledge and commitment.

Help me create a pop-up historical society by donating today. And tell your friends, and ask them to tell their friends. If we preserve SoHo’s past, present generations will understand our neighborhood’s rich history, and this understanding will inform how we all shape its future.


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Washington Squarimage: Cathryn Swann)

Washington Square Park (image: Cathryn Swan)

As a native New Yorker who grew up downtown, Washington Square Park was, and still is, an enormous part of my life. When I was a little kid, I ran up and down the (old) hills and “swam” in the fountain every summer. That’s how I built up my immunity! When I was a big kid, I hung out there at night with my friends, farther into the night than my parents will ever know (at least until now). Now I bring my own daughter there to swim in the NEW fountain and she spends hours rolling down the NEW hills (others call them “mounds”).


Me, with my mom and sister, in Washinton Square Park, ca. 1977

Me, with my mom and sister, in Washinton Square Park, ca. 1977

Washington Square Park was, and is still, the only wide-open space near my house where children and adults can play. It is such a vital part of downtown, dare I say, the heart? That’s why I am so happy there is The Washington Square Park blog.

Cathryn Swann

Cathryn Swan of The Washinton Square Park Blog

This hyper-local blog is written by Cathryn Swan, a writer, blogger, and entrepreneur living in New York City. Cathryn herself is a fascinating person. She grew up in New Jersey where she wrote a fanzine (“The Aurora”) about Bruce Springsteen while she was in high school. After college, she entered the music business and represented superstar artists like Patti Smith, Sarah McLachlan, Aretha Franklin and AC/DC, to name a few!

Tales of Washington Square Park (click to order)

Tales of Washington Square Park (click to order)

During that time, Cathryn started an aromatherapy fragrance line, B-girl (the name The B-girl Guide comes from this – and is inspired by), which has been sold online and in stores like Fred Segal and Nordstrom. B-girl has been written up in ELLE, IN Style, British ELLE, Paris ELLE, Latina, Seventeen, and more.

In 2000, wanting to give ‘back,’ Cathryn started taking on issues as a grassroots activist and organizer relating to helping the environment, animals & wildlife. For the last seven years, she has written The Washington Square Park Blog focusing on the redesign of the landmark park, its history and events, and touching on New York City issues, including the privatization of public space and more.

Cathryn has also written a book about the Park entitled, Tales of Washington Square Park, a compilation of twelve stories from her blog, and it covers the history, personalities, and nature at the park, information on the park’s redesign, and stories about the many personalities whose lives were touched by the park such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Jacobs, Bob Dylan and Dave Chapelle.

All of this and more can be found on The Washington Square Park blog. Visit it today, and while you are there please consider making a donation to the blog, and pick up a copy of Tales of Washington Square Park for just ten dollars while you’re at it!



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Fourth Avenue, New York (men reading at outdoor book stall), June 4, 1959In 1922, The Douglas Book Shop published Adventures in American Bookshops, Antique Stores and Auction Rooms by Guido Bruno. Despite its title, the book’s focus is the New York bookselling scene that, at times, is not unlike the New York book scene of today.

The following are excerpts from this book, a witty and sometimes snarky review of bookshops and booksellers, that paint a romantic portrait of biblioculture in early 1920’s NYC.



In New York Book Shops

The location of book streets changes with the growth of a city. Seventy-five years ago the book centre of New York was far downtown on Ann Street; after the Astor Library had opened is doors, Fourth Avenue became the city center and soon was lined with picturesque bookshops. The city grew and twenty-third Street became the Dorado of the book-hunter. Then people began to make immense fortunes and build palaces and mansions on Fifth Avenue, Central Park was opened to the public…and Fifty-ninth Street became the book street of New York. Ever further the city expanded. Harlem grew in population and One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street is another shopping center for lovers of books and objects of art. (page 39)

sunwise turn

The Sunwise Turn Bookshop

There they are simply quiet and awfully Batik. Another art shop for art’s sake where the returns more than justify us in being artistic. “See this Batik dress, isn’t it expressive, why don’t people dress like that all the time?” Nobody but a Bahaist or a Rosicrucionist or a Greenacre disciple would be seen dead in it. Then there are books, lots of nice books by nice people and bought by nice people. …The room is decorated in the scheme of a musical chord. A rope would be more appropriate for those who are responsible for its decoration. (page 118)



Washington Square Book Shop

Just a while before the time when certain people got the ambition to own teas shop in Greenwich Village, the very same people thought it the aim of their lives to be the proprietors of book shops in the vicinity of Washington Square. Still more ambitious were they. They wanted to print their own books. The Boni Brothers (now Boni and Liveright) started their Glebe Magazine there, and published pretty little books by all sorts of authors; Kreymborg here printed his booklets; and many others, whose fame was too short lived to be recorded, half a dozen of them. One sold out to the other and finally Egmont Arens purchased whatever there was left from pretty Renee LaCoste. His became the bookshop of the neighborhood. (page 52)

schulte1Schulte’s Book Store

Scattered about the throbbing city are a few quiet nooks and corners that seem especially made for the lover of antiques. They are not numerous, but full of a certain charm. Book stores, with big boxes in front of the doors, where you can choose for your pennies tomes in old-fashioned binding and printing. Inside are shelves laden with books in delightful disorder left by the book-hunter who looked through them before you. The narrow passageway becomes narrower on each visit you pay to the shop because of newly-arrived books and pamphlets. (page 81)


The Man Who Knows His Books

Bruno quotes Mr. Corbett, the proprietor of a shop on Thirty-Eighth Street near Sixth Avenue:

“You know,” he told me once, “the bookseller has a very important mission in life. The writer writes his books, but he doesn’t know into whose hands they will fall, the publisher sells them as merchandise to dealers all over the country, but we little shop-keepers come in contact with real readers. It’s up to us to place something in their hands that might make criminals out of them. A few pennies that we might gain might mean the perdition of lives and souls.” (page 67)


An Optimist

Bruno profiles Frank Bender, who at one time was considered one of the leading second-hand book dealers of Fourth Avenue, who says:

…I signed a lease for a little one-story building that stood where the new post-office on Fourth Avenue and Thirteenth Street is at present. I sold enough architectural books to pay my first month’s rent and to buy lumber to fix up my shop. I literally built up my own business. I laid the floors, built the shelves the tables. My shelves remained empty because I had no money to buy books. One day a friendly print dealer came along who must have taken an interest in and pity on me. “Why don’t you hang some prints around your ship to fill out the wall spaces?” he asked. “It will make it look better. I have a bunch of prints I will sell you for forty dollars and I’ll give you six months in which to pay it.” …I accepted his offer, and those prints netted me over five hundred dollars in a surprisingly short time. (page 45)


The Den of a Pessimist

Bruno also speaks to E.A. Custer, who has a shop on Fifty-ninth Street near Park:

There was a time when people really loved books and bought them in order to read. The successful man of today has an automobile, has to go out joy-riding after business hours, has to spend his time in cabarets and roadhouses. He needs books only as decorations when he buys a home or furnishes an apartment. And then he leaves it usually to his decorator to choose the most attractive and expensive bindings in keeping with the color scheme of his library. …I tell you New Yorkers don’t know books, don’t ant to know them. The men read newspapers, the women magazines, and the young people trashy novels. (page 42)



‘Way Down in Greenwich Village

The fad of false Bohemia in Greenwich Village has passed. The purple and orange brand of tearooms and of so-called gift shops where art lovers and artistic people from the Bronx and Flatbush assembled, have gone out of existence. The designers and manufacturers of astounding atrocities who called themselves “modern artists” have disappeared. True there are a few short-haired women left, who parade the streets in their unusual clothes, but they, too, will soon move to other parts of the city with the return of the soldiers, and will reassume their real calling in life.” (page120)


All excerpts from:

Adventures in American Bookshops, Antique Stores and Auction Rooms By Guido Bruno (Detroit: The Douglas Book Shop, 1922)


This and other books by Guido Bruno available online here.

Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: Adventures in American bookshops, antique stores and auction rooms / (Detroit : The Douglas Book Shop, 1922) (page images at HathiTrust)

Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: Bruno’s weekly / ([New York, N.Y.] : Guido Bruno, c1915-) (page images at HathiTrust)

Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: FRAGMENTS FROM GREENWICH VILLAGE. (NEW YORK : GUIDO BRUNO, 1921) (page images at HathiTrust)

Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: Greenwich village. (New York : Guido Bruno, [1915]) (page images at HathiTrust)

Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: Sentimental studies : stories of life and love / (New York : [s.n.], 1920) (page images at HathiTrust)

Bruno, Guido, 1884-1942: Songs of the cosmos : 17 rythms / (New York : [s.n., c1915]), also by Charles Augustus Keeler (page images at HathiTrust)


bruno 2About Guido Bruno, from Wikipedia:

Guido Bruno (1884–1942) was a well-known Greenwich Village character, and small press publisher and editor, sometimes called ‘the Barnum of Bohemia’.

He was based at his “Garret on Washington Square” where for an admission fee tourists could observe “genuine Bohemian” artists at work. He produced a series oflittle magazine publications from there, including Bruno’s Weekly, Bruno’s Monthly, Bruno’s Bohemia, Greenwich Village, and the 15 cent Bruno Chap Books. [1]

From July 1915 to December 1916, Bruno’s Weekly published poems, short stories, essays, illustrations and plays, as well as special sections, such as “Children’s House,” and “In Our Village.” The publisher was Charles Edison[2] Bruno’s Weekly published Alfred KreymborgDjuna Barnes and Sadakichi HartmannAlfred Douglas, articles on Oscar Wilde, and Richard Aldington on the Imagists. Others were Theodore Albert Schroeder, Edna W. Underwood, and Charles Kains-Jackson.


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Weegee - Naked City (1945)We have some great news to report today, and a great story to go along with it. Beginning today, New York Bound Books will be featuring posters from Georgetown Book Shop founder and once­New Yorker Andy Moursund (see his full NYC collection), who left West 110th Street when a 2-bedroom apartment was $40.00 a month, but still remains a Manhattanite at heart.

Although Andy no longer has his Washington-area shop, he still sells his poster reproductions featuring sports, books, propaganda, as well as a huge collection of, er, “unusual” items. We have created a gallery of his New York­-related posters that can be purchased through this website.

A 2004 Washington Post article describes his political posters:

Andy Moursund, owner of Georgetown Book Shop in Bethesda, has a massive collective of political posters spanning the political and cultural climate of the past two centuries. (photo: Washington Post)

Andy Moursund, owner of Georgetown Book Shop in Bethesda, has a massive collective of political posters spanning the political and cultural climate of the past two centuries. (photo: Washington Post)

Taken together, Moursund’s bizarre posters constitute an alternative American history, an unofficial Museum of Stuff That’s Way Too Weird for the Smithsonian. …Moursund has an odd sense of humor — “it’s kind of a black humor,” says his wife — and it’s reflected in his choice of mages for the posters. They’re all a tad off­kilter. This is kitsch with a twist. One poster is an ad for a 1934Fourth of July picnic — but it’s a picnic sponsored by the Communist Party. Another poster is an ad for a 1939“Pro­-American Rally” in Madison Square Garden — but it’s sponsored by American Nazis. “Onward Christian Soldiers,” says one poster —but the name of that beloved old hymn is written atop a photo of a 1925 Ku Klux Klan march in Washington.

Andy’s collection is indeed broad and wacky. It also contains numerous New York­-related posters that would be of interest not only to New Yorkers, but to anyone interested in New York. We are very pleased to include his New York collection on our site. To view the full NYC collection and for information on how to place an order, please visit our “NYC Posters” gallery or by clicking on the tab above. Below are a few examples of what awaits!


1934 Columbia vs Stanford (Rose Bowl)

1934 Columbia vs Stanford (Rose Bowl)


Abbott - Greenwich Village Today and Yesterday (1949)

Abbott – Greenwich Village Today and Yesterday (1949)


1923 Yankees vs Red Sox Opening Day program

1923 Yankees vs Red Sox Opening Day program

Father Coughlin's Social Justice  - Do Communists Control  Ne

Father Coughlin’s Social Justice – Do Communists Control New York

1930 Notre Dame vs NY Giants (Unemployment Relief Benefit   at

1930 Notre Dame vs NY Giants (Unemployment Relief Benefit)





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Over the past few years I have had the wonderful opportunity to pore over countless books describing New York City’s past while doing research for posts.  These forays down the memory lanes of others have painted a colorful picture in my mind of what New York was in decades (and centuries) past.  I would like to share a few snippets here that I found especially interesting in that they describe what places all too familiar to me in 2014 “looked” like back in the day.

A drawing titled “The Genius of Advertising” from an 1880 issue of the National Police Gazette shows men outside a brothel gazing at pictures of some of the attractions awaiting them inside (photo via The New York Times)

A drawing titled “The Genius of Advertising” from an 1880 issue of the National Police Gazette shows men outside a brothel gazing at pictures of some of the attractions awaiting them inside (photo via The New York Times)

SoHo (1859)

During the early 1800′s, the posh shopping and dining neighborhood in downtown Manhattan called SoHo (which stands for SOuth of HOuston), enjoyed  its previous heyday as a commercial destination for well-to-do New Yorkers.  By mid-century, however, while Broadway around Prince and Spring Streets remained for some time the “Fifth Avenue” of its day, bordellos began popping up on side streets, and the area soon became New York’s first red light district.  Particularly informative listings could be found in the Directory to the Seraglios in New York, published by A Free Loveyer, in 1859:

Miss Clara Gordon
No. 119 Mercer Street
“We cannot too highly recommend this house, the lady herself is a perfect Venus: beautiful, entertaining, and supremely seductive. Her aidesdecamp are really charming and irresistible, and altogether honest and honorable. Miss G. is a great belle, and her mansion is patronized by Southern merchants and planters principally. She is highly accomplished, skillful, and prudent, and sees her visitors are well entertained. Good wines of the most elaborate brands, constantly on hand, and in all, a finer resort cannot be found in the City.”

Mrs. Bailey
No. 76 Greene Street, below Spring
“This quiet and comfortable resort is situated very central, and within a few moments’ walk of Broadway and the principal hotels… Gents must come well recommended or they won’t get in. . . The hostess is an agreeable lady, indued with a tasteful mind. . . Her young ladies behave with much prudence and propriety…”

Exerpted from: SoHo A Guide by Helene Zucker Seeman and Alanna Siegfried, published by Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., New York, NY, 1978.


memories of manhattanGreenwich Village (1860s/1870s)

When I first picked up the book Memories of Manhattan in the Sixties and Seventies, I thought to myself, oh goody, a memoir about the New York of my childhood.  I opened the book, and to my surprise and delight, this catalog of memories, written by Charles Townsend Harris, is a look back not on the twentieth century, but on the 1860’s and 1870’s.  In an early chapter, he writes about his memories of the Village:

The street life of Greenwich Village in the sixties and seventies was different from that of any other part of the city, having more of the rural atmosphere.  Vendors with tin ovens sold hot corn in the summer and baked potatoes with butter and seasoning in the winter.  During the spring and early summer women bore trays of wild strawberries on their heads, furnishing the fruit in small splint baskets.  Chimney sweeps patroled [sic] the streets soliciting jobs with their musical cries, and fish peddlers made “the welkin ring” with blasts from their tin horns.  Pass down Morton, Barrow, Le Roy, and Grove Streets or Greenwich Avenue today and observe the home like houses that are left.  There was no “jerry” building in their time; the great fault was that they lacked bath rooms, a wash tub on Saturday night furnishing the means of the weekly ablution.  The frames and inside finish of the houses were of honest timber; the method of construction was substantial and artistic and meant to be lasting. (45)

Harris, Charles T. Memories of Manhattan in the Sixties and Seventies. New York: Derrydale Press, 1928.


The Stone Bridge, from The Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York (1865)

The Stone Bridge, from The Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York (1865)

Canal Street (1886)

While doing research for an earlier post, I came across a picture of the Stone Bridge (see above) in 1800, from the 1865 edition of the Valentine Manuals. A little research then produced an article entitled “The Old Stone Bridge at Canal-street and Broadway” by Capt. Walker Bicker in The New York Times about his memories of  the bridge and its environs in the early 19th century, published April 9, 1886:

Broadway was not paved beyond “the stone bridge” which stood where Canal-street now crosses Broadway.  This was a famous resort for us schoolboys.  It was considered “out of town”—all north beyond as well as the immediate vicinity was country, post and rail fences dividing the land into different sized parcels.  This bridge spanned a small stream which conveyed water from the Collect on the east side of Broadway (where now stands the Tombs) to the west side, where was an extensive meadow covering most of the ground from Broadway to the north River and from Lispenard-street to Spring-street.

“The Old Stone Bridge at Canal-street and Broadway” by Capt. Walker Bicker. The New York Times, April 9, 1886

he author and her father. From an old daguerreotype taken at Brady's Daguerrean Gallery, 10th St. and Broadway, in 1847.

The author and her father. From an old daguerreotype taken at Brady’s Daguerrean Gallery, 10th St. and Broadway, in 1847.

NoHo (1850)

I recently read the most charming diary of a young girl named Catherine Havens.  Born into a prominent New York family in 1839, Catherine kept a diary from 1849-1850 that gives us a glimpse into the life of a child in mid-century (the nineteenth century, that is) New York.  The following is her entry on where to purchase candy and confections:

There is a bakery kept by a Mr. Walduck on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street, and they make delicious cream puffs, and when I have three cents to spare, I run down there right after breakfast, before school begins, and buy one and eat it there. On the corner of Broadway and Ninth Street is a chocolate store kept by Felix Effray, and I love to stand at the window and watch the wheel go round. It has three white stone rollers and they grind the chocolate into paste all day long. Down Broadway, below Eighth Street is Dean’s candy store, and they make molasses candy that is the best in the city. Sometimes we go down to Wild’s, that is way down near Spring Street, to get his ice-land moss drops, good for colds.

My mother says Stuart’s candy store down on Greenwich and Chambers Streets used to be the store in her day. When she was a little girl in 1810, old Kinloch Stuart and his wife Agnes made the candy in a little bit of a back room and sold it in the front room, and sometimes they used to let my mother go in and stir it. After they died their sons, R. and L. Stuart, kept up the candy store in the same place, and it is there still. (p. 58-60)

Diary of a Little Girl in Old New York, by Catherine Elizabeth Havens; 2nd edition (1920)


md13728577542Hell’s Kitchen (1937)

In Millicent Kent’s 1937Angel of Hell’s Kitchen, a memoir of her childhood and her relationship with her mother, she remembers living in an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen:

We were now living on the ground floor of a tenement in Hell’s Kitchen.  If you don’t know New York, that name will probably mean nothing to you.  Decent people in that big city steer clear of it.  Situated down near the river front, bordered on one side by passing railroad trains, trucks, and automobiles, it is the center of vice in that big city, breeding gangs of the worst sort.  From these gangs come many of the criminals you read about in the newspapers.  From here, too, come girls who still earn their miserable living walking the streets and selling their bodies.  The rankest kind of liquor is made there.  When I lived in Hell’s Kitchen it was also the center of dope traffic and the hideout of fugitives from the law.  “Hell’s Kitchen” is right.  All the hell in the world is cooked up there. (page 15)

Angel of Hell’s Kitchen Millicent Kent New York: Godwin, 1937


i am thinking of my darlingEast New York (1943)

Vincent McHugh’s euphoric 1943 novel I Am Thinking of My Darling in which New Yorkers are infected with a mysterious virus during an unusually warm spell in February that makes them happy.  The “sick” lose all inhibitions, walking away from their jobs, marriages, responsibilities.  Banks dole out cash, stores give away food, movies are free.  And it is up to one man, acting mayor Jim Rowan, to make sure the city does not fall apart while he tries to contain the contagion until a cure is found.

On Livonia Avenue, under the IRT pillars, the Moors were having a festival.  Real Moors.  Moroccans.  Other North Africans, and the Spanish ones.  The street lights out.  A yellow bonfire sparking up through the tracks, and bare bulbs strung from pillar to pillar.  Kitchen chairs for the jouncing musicians.  Sharp yells, and the vivid full skirts whirling, whipped about the smooth thighs in a folding corolla, and the easy subtle balanced rhythmic interplay of the drums, the rhythm that comes through flamenco and rumba and Calypso and samba and New Orleans jazz. (108-109)

McHugh, Vincent. 1943. I am thinking of my darling, an adventure story. New York: Simon and Schuster.


"Bushwick" A brochure published in 1946 by the Brooklyn Eagle

“Bushwick” A brochure published in 1946 by the Brooklyn Eagle

Bushwick (1946)

In the mid-1940’s, The Brooklyn Eagle published a booklet entitled “Bushwick,” as part of a series of six booklets for public school students about the history of Brooklyn townships.  Bushwick has a long history dating back 300 years.  On August 1, 1638, the West India Company bought from the Indians the land that comprises the old town of Bushwick for “8 fathoms of duffels cloth, 8 fathoms of wampum, 12 kettles, 8 adzes, 8 axes, some knives, corals and awls.”  The town was chartered by Peter Stuyvesant in 1661 and named “Boswijck,” meaning “little town in the woods.”

Bushwick proper, which includes part of Ridgewood and which lies roughly between Flushing Ave. and Jamaica Ave., north of Broadway, has changed the least o the three villages and is predominantly residential.  Its population is about 140,000. Bushwick Ave. is one of the most beautiful residential streets in the country and the area around the old Dutch church at Himrod St. is reminiscent of an old New England village.

Modern subway facilities now serve the Bushwick section, making it a more attractive place than ever in which to live. It is readily accessible to all parts of the city and to eastern Long Island.

Bushwick, a brochure published by The Brooklyn Eagle (1946) [Part of series entitled The towns that became Brooklyn : Bushwick, Flatbush, Flatlands, Brooklyn, New Utrecht, Gravesend].


The Bushwick village square, no date (source: BUSHWICK bythe Brooklyn Eagle)

The Bushwick village square, no date (source: BUSHWICK bythe Brooklyn Eagle)


101 objectsA History of New York in 101 Objects
By Sam Roberts
336 pages, Simon and Schuster


From the New-York Historical Society website:

 Can one object define New York City? Can 101? New York Times urban affairs correspondent Sam Roberts has assembled a kaleidoscopic array of possibilities in a new book, A History of New York in 101 Objects. Featuring objects from the New-York Historical Society collection, this exhibition assembles some of Roberts’s choices, which together constitute a unique history of New York.  By turns provocative, iconic, and ironic, and winnowed from hundreds of possibilities, his selections share the criteria of having played some transformative role in the city’s history.

tokenFrom the New York Observer:

The history of New York City has always been nuanced, its narrative hidden in everything from ticket stubs to water tanks. Now, Sam Roberts, the urban affairs correspondent at the New York Times and a Brooklynite at heart, has taken on the ambitious task of excavating the meaning within some of NYC’s most noteworthy artifacts in his new book, A History of New York in 101 Objects.

“It’s sort of an inanimate Humans of New York. It is a subjective, labor-of-love collection of objects that epitomize the transformation of New York over four centuries into the city that we know and love today,” Mr. Roberts said.

“It is not the history of New York,” he added. “It’s not even a history of New York. It’s really my history of New York through 101 objects.”

Within his compilation, Mr. Roberts left no room for nostalgia or ephemerality. Instead, he chose “things that would be more quirky. Things that would be more conversation pieces. Things that would make people think of history in a new light.” For him, it doesn’t matter if something’s trending at the moment. The real objects that define New York are those that will endure for decades to centuries.


knishKnish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food
By Laura Silver
300 pages, Brandeis University Press


From the Daily News:

Brooklyn ‘knish lady’ Laura Silver writes the definitive book about Eastern European potato staple from its roots in Poland to Brighton Beach, the knish is a part of American Jewry. And the city is experiencing a bit of a knishaissance.

She gained from loss.

When Mrs. Stahl’s knish shop closed in Brighton Beach in 2005, most New Yorkers shrugged and moved on at the departure of yet another neighborhood institution.

But Brooklynite Laura Silver took action, researching the seminal Eastern European staple, teasing out family stories, and even connecting with Mrs. Stahl’s descendents for “Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food,” a new book that is nothing short of a biography of the Polish potato-filled pastry.


new york modNew York: A Mod Portrait of the City
Written by Zdenek Mahler, Illustrated by Vladimir
128 pages, Universe



Exactly half a century old, this timeless illustrated classic artfully captures the “Mad Men” era of New York City for readers of all ages. The unique essence of New York City is poetically celebrated in Vladimir Fuka’s brilliant, colorful illustrations and collages and Zdenek Mahler’s playful accompanying narrative. The book takes readers on a charming journey of discovery through the magnificent metropolis’s architectural landmarks, cultural hot spots, and neighborhoods, from uptown to downtown, from Wall Street to Coney Island, and the Guggenheim Museum to Yankee Stadium. Interesting historical fun facts about the city and its inhabitants are combined with descriptions of the reality of everyday New York.


nyc 3DNew-York Historical Society New York City in 3D
In The Gilded Age: A Book Plus Stereoscopic Viewer and 50 3D Photos from the Turn of the Century


By Esther Crain and the New-York Historical Society
160 pages (paper), Black Dog & Leventhal

From the publisher:

This smart, upscale, and unique package contains 50 rarely seen stereoscopic images – including spectacular 3D views of bygone architectural marvels, as well as once-in-a-lifetime events such as the construction of the Statue of Liberty – and a paperback book that brings history to life.

Be transported to New York during the Gilded Age and experience daily life in one of the world’s most vibrant cities through mesmerizing, contemporary 3D photography and exciting tales of the time.

Black Dog & Leventhal has partnered with the New-York Historical Society to present New York in the Gilded Age as it’s never been viewed before. This innovative package includes a sturdy metal stereoscopic viewer and 50 stereoscopic photographs of turn-of-the-century New York. The package also includes a 128-page paperback that provides a brief history of the stereograph craze and an overview of the city’s evolution during that time.

rebel soulsRebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians
By Justin Martin
368 pages, Da Capo Press

From The Boston Globe:

In the late 1850s Walt Whitman was living at home with his mother in Brooklyn, scraping by on journalism, not poetry. A compulsive rambler, Whitman found his way to a dark little spot on Broadway and Bleecker called Pfaff’s. Here, he found another family of sorts in the company of writers, wits, actors, and artists. Beer (and banter) flowed freely. It wasn’t quite Cheers, but there, everyone knew the struggling poet’s name.

Whitman now is a central figure in the American canon, but his Pfaff’s pals are all but forgotten. In “Rebel Souls,” biographer Justin Martin brings them wonderfully to life in his enjoyable romp through the milieu. Whitman is the emotional core of the book — Martin’s passages on Whitman’s romantic travails and his experiences tending to wounded soldiers during the Civil War are unforgettably moving. But the other members of the Pfaff’s coterie almost steal the show.









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