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)


Delmonicos-ny-since-1837Wining and dining are the center of any social scene in New York City, especially during the holiday season.  From the Bronx to the Battery, countless restaurants and bars have come and gone, and a select few have stood the test of time and are celebrating numerous decades of serving food to hungry New Yorkers, namely, Delmonico’s and the “21” Club.  An obsession with dining in our fair city, however, is a tradition that dates much farther back in our history, to the early days of Dutch settlement, before New York was a city at all or was even called such.

In A Description of the New Netherlands (1653), Adriaen van der Donck described waters filled with sturgeon, salmon, oysters, herring, sharks, turtles and lobsters up to six feet long and fields dense with elk, deer, bear, venison and all manner of fowl.  Van der Donck’s account is affirmed by Nicasius de Sille, a contemporary who enthused, “[t]he Indians bring us wild geese, turkeys, partridges, wild pidgeons [sic], ducks, and various other birds and animals; in fine, one can live here and forget Patria.”  Two Labadist missionaries touring New York in 1679 marveled at trees “so laden with peaches and other fruit that one might doubt whether there were more leaves or fruit on them,” and concluded that “the city was quite like a garden.”  Daniel Denton, in the first English-language description of New York, described rollicking in fields of wild strawberries.  All of the above quotes, other than Van der Donck’s, are found in Bayrd Still’s excellent Mirror for Gotham, which includes more than 600 diverse voices from Dutch times to the 1940’s woven into a historical narrative.

Thomas De Voe as a butcher from The Market  Assistant 1867

Thomas De Voe as a butcher from The Market Assistant 1867

New York, a polyglot society of Belgians, Dutch, English, and African-Americans from its very early days, always offered a uniquely cosmopolitan cuisine.  One man who was fascinated with the foods of New York was Thomas DeVoe, a cattle dealer and head butcher at the Jefferson Market.  DeVoe delved into old newspapers, books and archives to write two excellent books, The History of Public Markets (1862) and The Market Assistant (1867), a compendium of the surprising produce and livestock (including skunk, sold under another name) available in the city’s markets.  Here, DeVoe cites the range of foodstuffs exhibited, provides recipes and methods of preparation, and adds practical advice to housekeepers, offering a window into daily life.  Both books incorporate anecdotes, excerpts from earlier writings and arcane historical facts about old New York:

Black Bear. – The flesh of this animal is the only species I ever knew to be brought to our markets for sale.  Bear, (or b’ar-meat) is the common name to designate its flesh (when spoken of), and is rather luscious but savory eating; that from a young bear, when nearly full-grown and fat, is considered best.  Generally found in our markets in the late fall or early winter months, and some years in great plenty.  The dealers in its flesh cut it to suit purchasers, for roasting, steaks, etc. (The Market Assistant)

A modest cafeteria named Delmonico’s opened on William Street in 1828 and introduced New Yorkers to exotic French cuisine.  Until then, the choice of dining establishments had been limited to taverns, private eating clubs or meals taken in one’s home or boarding house.  Henry Collins Brown’s Delmonico’s: A Story of Old New York is a history of the restaurant that parallels the evolution of New York’s culinary tastes to the restaurant’s own meteoric rise to become one of New York’s most legendary restaurants as it continued to move uptown with the growing affluent classes.  William Grimes writes in Appetite City, his social history of restaurants and food trends in New York, that “[i]n 1860, not long after Delmonico’s had scored the coup of the century by catering a grand ball for the Prince of Wales at the Academy of Music, he [Lorenzo Delmonico] bet once more that the tide of wealth and fashion would surge even further uptown,”  and adds that “. . . Delmonicos’s established the tone for fine dining in New York almost overnight and it would remain preeminent until the 1890’s.”
WD-Astor House letter page 1

In 1836, well-heeled visitors and New Yorkers dined lavishly when John Jacob Astor opened the splendid Astor House, America’s first luxury hotel.  “Black duck, lake duck, meadow hen, short neck snipe, doe witches, cedar birds, grouse, plover, rail birds, mallard duck, robin snipe, surf snipe and venison” were featured on one fall menu.  The Metropolitan, the Saint Nicholas, the Hoffman House, and the Fifth Avenue Hotel followed, evermore luxurious and culminating in the Waldorf-Astoria.

After the Civil War, parvenus such as Astor and Vanderbilt invaded the bastion of the staid, Dutch society and vied with each other in throwing extravagant balls and dinners.  As Allen Churchill writes in The Upper Crust: An Informal History of New York’s Highest Society, “[t]he parvenus seemed to increase daily.  As the year 1880 drew nearer, the number of people in New York Society or aspiring to it was placed at 100,000.  It was a measure of the challenge facing the “Shoddies” [a newly wealthy with no social standing; called shoddies because of allegedly inferior products they manufactured for the Civil War.]

The dining room at the Astor House

The dining room at the Astor House

The passage of the 1920 Volstead Act prohibiting alcohol consumption changed the New York dining landscape forever.  Law-abiding, fine restaurants like Delmonico’s, Rector’s, and Louis Sherry’s floundered, as people of all classes patronized the new illicit speakeasies such as Jack and Charlie’s 21, which remained a favorite haunt called The “21” Club after Repeal, after Rector’s and Louis Sherry’s were long gone.

From 1815 to 1915, and especially in the late 1800s, millions of people from all over the world passed through New York’s harbor. Those who stayed enriched the city’s cuisine and culture.  Rupert Hughes’ The Real New York, 1904 has an extensive description of all manner of restaurants to fit any customer’s desires:The passage of the 1920 Volstead Act prohibiting alcohol consumption changed the New York dining landscape forever.  Law-abiding, fine restaurants like Delmonico’s, Rector’s, and Louis Sherry’s floundered, as people of all classes patronized the new illicit speakeasies such as Jack and Charlie’s 21, which remained a favorite haunt called The “21” Club after Repeal, after Rector’s and Louis Sherry’s were long gone.  Delmonico’s closed its doors for some time but reopened in a new location and is still in business today.

We have everything that every other nation has, and all our own besides. . . .Dining in New York is like other forms of religious worship. There’s something for every taste.  In London all restaurants serve the same thing.  It’s only the prices that vary. . . .In New York you can get almost anything that has ever been heard of.

Chinese chop suey, Southern Italian pastas and sauces, German pastries and Eastern European Jewish staples of dried fish, hot dogs and cold cuts were seen in stalls and stores on the Lower East Side.  The strange and exotic foods of improvident immigrants eventually were integral to New York’s cuisine.  One could sup at the Waldorf-Astoria, down a beer with a sandwich of dubious content in a raucous Bowery saloon and stand at one of the many counters selling fresh oysters all in one day, in one afternoon if one were hungry enough.  Rian James’ 1931 All About New York: An Intimate Guide states:

Within a few square miles, you can sample the foods of India, Syria, Japan, and Normandy; you can eat the foods of the French, the German and the Irish; the specialties of the Italians and the Swedes and the Russians and the Danes.  You can drink Turkish, European and Florentine coffee; rose-water or Danish beer.  You can revel in Smorgasbord, Hors d’oeuvres, or Antipasto; and buy a meal for 50 cents or 50 dollars.

The above was written almost a century ago.  Perhaps today, one could add a few more nationalities to the mix, but the general outlook remains the same: the more, the tastier.  Bon appetit!

Click here for a selected bibliography of titles related to this entry.


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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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For a general appreciation of where you are, it helps to know who came before you and what was done.  Especially if it helps you now.
—Philip Copp in “One Track Mind”

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

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

In 1978, Philip 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.

Copp is now working on his Portfolio Series, where each portfolio of the series will detail one line of the subway system, the first of which is due out later this year.  In advance of its publication, we have asked Copp to tell us a bit about his journeys through the NYC subway (and elevated) system and his plans for the future.

Drawing no. 160, SIlver Connections, Volume I Book II, page 682

Drawing no. 160, Silver Connections, Volume I Book II, page 682

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.

Silver Connections

Silver Connections

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.

Drawing no. 36, Silver Connections, VolumeiV, page 295

Drawing no. 36, Silver Connections, VolumeiV, page 295

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.

Silver ConnectionsI’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.

Copp-bowlinggreenOne 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.

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.

copp 2That 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.

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

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

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.

My first Portfolio is nearly completed, and should be in print by early November.  Please check back again soon for further information.

My daughter, like her mother, LOVES books, and, also like her mother, she loves books about New York.  I noticed recently, as I was putting books away after one of the read-a-thons we call “bedtime,” though “booktime” would be more accurate, is that we have a TON of picture books about New York City, and I am guessing that this is typical of many New York households with children.  I think that we, as parents, either consciously or unconsciously, want our children to love New York as much as we do and to understand the beauty and richness and complexity that is their hometown.  There are countless children’s books that have New York City as their setting or subject, and the list keeps growing.  I do not profess to be an expert on the subject, but I am most certainly an expert on what books my New York daughter likes.

One of her all-time favorites is Kay Thompson’s Eloise, a book I never read myself as a child.  From a parent’s perspective, Eloise’s story is a sad one.  She is left to live with her very loving nanny at the Plaza Hotel while her mother gallivants around the world leading the glamorous life and calls every once in a while to say hello or to send for her daughter to join her in some exotic locale.  But Eloise shows us that she is a resourceful and inventive six year old with unlimited imagination and spunk. The Plaza Hotel, that New York landmark that in real life houses her portrait, is Eloise’s plaything and constant companion.  She is indeed a “city child,” as she describes herself, mingling with (and sometimes terrorizing) the hotel guests and using its hallways and grand salons as backdrops for her daily dramas.  My daughter and I have read Eloise countless times, and, as its subtitle states, it is “a book for precocious grown ups,” thus I enjoy it as much as she does, every single time.

Another classic that graces our shelves is not an obvious New York book.  My daughter loves Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen so much that she memorized it word for word.  The only way I know she is reciting and not actually reading it is that she looks at the pictures, not the words, when “reading” it aloud.  The story appears to be set in Brooklyn, where Sendak grew up, and features an unusual depiction of the Manhattan skyline.  From a historical perspective its themes are dark—mustachioed men baking a boy in an oven—but it is also a story about a child dreaming of falling into an imaginary urban landscape where buildings are made from baking ingredients and utensils.

My daughter’s third favorite New York book is a lesser-known, quieter book that has actually moved me to tears.  At Night, by Jonathan Bean, is about a girl who cannot sleep until she decides to set up a makeshift bed on her roof.  She finally falls asleep once she is able to feel her place in the city:

She lay in her bed
on her house in the city,
in the night,
under the sky.

She thought about the wide world
all around her and smiled.

She looked up,
breathed, closed her eyes…and slept.

An illustration from Jonathan Bean’s AT NIGHT

This excerpt loses much without the illustrations, but I have choked back tears when reading this aloud, perhaps because I, too, had trouble sleeping as a child when faced with the dark night.  To my daughter’s relief, by the time the protagonist falls asleep on the roof, her mother is sitting in a chair watching over her daughter, so she is not sleeping outside alone.

I feel that I must not leave out This is New York, Miroslav Sasek’s classic 1960 book from his series of children’s travel guides to large metropolises around the world.  My daughter claims that she finds the book “boring,” as it does not have a story but is a catalog of facts about places in the city, but I have caught her poring over its pages and see her face light up whenever she comes across an illustration of a site she recognizes.  Narrative or no narrative, she is drawn to its visual cues—water towers, subway stations, hotdog vendors, and, of course, the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.

These are four out of oodles of great picture books about or set in New York.  Everyone who grew up in New York has his or her favorites.  These are my daughters, at least for now.  I cannot wait until she is older, when I can introduce her to more complex New York stories such as Stuart Little and The Cricket in Times Square.  One of my personal favorites is E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed Up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler about a sister and brother team who hide out in The Metropolitan Museum of Art and get caught up in a mystery involving a statue.

New York is a fascinating topic for readers, no matter what age.  Children who grow up in New York City have a very singular perspective.  For a short while, before they realize that the world is wide, they do not know anything else.  They think the entire world is like New York until they slowly come to realize that New York is like no other place in the world.  Oh, to be in that place again, when the world was my oyster, and that oyster was New York!

Reading list:

Bean, Jonathan. At Night. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007.

Konigsburg, E L, and E L. Konigsburg. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. New York: Atheneum, 1967.

Sasek, M. This Is New York. New York: Macmillan Co, 1960.

Selden, George. The Cricket in Times Square. New York: Ariel Books, 1960.

Sendak, Maurice. In the Night Kitchen. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1970

Thompson, Kay, Hilary Knight, and Marie Brenner. Kay Thompson’s Eloise: The Absolutely Essential Edition. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1999.

White, E B, and Garth Williams. Stuart Little. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.

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Madeline at the Paris Flower Market. TM and © Ludwig Bemelmans, LLC. (via N-YHS site)

Madeline at the Paris Flower Market. TM and © Ludwig Bemelmans, LLC. (via N-YHS)

“The purpose of art is to console and amuse—myself, and, I hope, others.”
― Ludwig Bemelmans

It seems I’m making the rounds of the great New York cultural institutions.  Once you’ve gone to see the children’s book exhibition at NYPL (see my post on The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter), you MUS MUST MUST go to N-YHS (that’s The New-York Historical Society) to see Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans.  Is it just a coincidence that this, too, is a children’s book-related, as well as a New York-related, exhibition?  Perhaps it’s just in the air.  Or perhaps I have a six-year-old New York kid, so I am tuned in to these kinds of things.

Ludwig Bemelmans (1898-1962)

Ludwig Bemelmans (1898-1962)

Regardless of whether or not you have children, however, the Madeline exhibition is a fantastic feast for the eyes.  There are over 90 paintings, photographs, and drawings on view, as well as items such as two panels from murals created for the children’s playroom of Aristotle Onassis’s yacht, The Christina, and two Madeline-themed lamps from Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel.

Ludwig Bemelmans, “Interesting as the hotel was, my ambition was to paint” (1950), from “Adieu to the Old Ritz” in the December 1950 issue of Town & Country. Photo: Courtesy Mr. and Mrs. Charles M. Royce.

Ludwig Bemelmans, “Interesting as the hotel was, my ambition was to paint” (1950), from “Adieu to the Old Ritz” in the December 1950 issue of Town & Country.
Photo: Courtesy Mr. and Mrs. Charles M. Royce.

Bemelmans, who was born in Austria-Hungary in 1898, came to New York in 1914, exactly 100 years ago, where he worked in several hotels and restaurants.  Although he is most famous for his books about Madeline, a feisty young French girl (who he described as his alter ego), he was most certainly a New York artist and writer through and through.  As a matter of fact, he began writing Madeline (dropping the “e” from Madeleine because more words rhyme with Madeline) on the back of a menu at Pete’s Tavern in Gramercy Park.  He also designed matchbooks for Luchows (the long-gone German Restaurant that was on 14th Street), a menu for the Waldorf-Astoria, and murals for the Hotel Carlyle, which he exchanged for an 18-month stay for himself and his family.  He also wrote Hotel Splendide (1941), an illustrated memoir about his years working at The Ritz in midtown, among other books for adults.

The book Hotel Bemelmans collects two dozen of the authors best writing about his life in hotels and restaurants.  From the Barnes and Noble website about the reprint edition with an introduction by Anthony Bourdain:

jpeg“Ludwig Bemelmans was the original bad boy of the New York hotel/restaurant subculture” writes Anthony Bourdain, and with his reporter’s eye for sensory detail and his keen wit, Bemelmans’ humorous autobiographical tales of behind the scenes kitchen life at the Ritz in 1920s and 30s New York never fail to amuse and engage.

Proabaly Bemelmans’ best work—and certainly his most famous essays—Hotel Bemelmans brilliantly evokes the kitchens, back passages, dining rooms, and banquet halls of Bemelmans’ years at the Hotel Splendide—a thinly disguised stand-in for the Ritz. It’s a strange, fabulous, and sometimes terrible universe populated by rogues, con-men, geniuses, craftsmen, lunatics, gypsies, tramps, and thieves—and it’s all here in bitingly funny detail. Twenty-four of the tales are vintage Bemelmans, two have never before been published, and the lot is accompanied by 73 of Bemelmans’ original, charming drawings.

In addition to Madeline, also by Bemelmans is the lesser-known yet entirely charming children’s book Sunshine: A Story About the City of New York, in which a grouchy old man in Gramercy Park rents a room to a noisy woman.  From Kirkus reviews:

sunshineNot entirely for the children is this latest by the fine-knifed master of satire. Although the “juvenile” Bemelmans of Madeline has an imaginative, gentle whimsy, here the verse is often over-sophisticated and relies on experiences familiar only to adults — room renting, lawyers and leases. However, the situations are delightful — how the stuffy Mr. Sunshine (all gloom and thunder clouds) rents a room to quiet, sedate little Miss Moore who, to the horror of Mr. Sunshine, runs an active and noisy music school, how Miss Moore is trapped into paying her rent money for two thousand umbrellas, how the rent is raised and the children and Miss Moore give a concert at Carnegie Hall. The illustrations by the author, full color and black with one color, are delightful. The rain has never rained so hard over New York, nor the snow snowed in Central Park with such glittering brilliance.

Click here to view an animated version of Sunshine:

Sunshine: A Story About the City of New York

This book, along with all of the Madeline books are available for perusing at the exhibition.  There is also a great (free) audiotour that is geared toward children but is quite interesting and informative. The exhibition is on view through October 19.  For more information go to:


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