Posts Tagged ‘New York in the 1870s’

The lost dinosaurs buried under Central Park

September 22, 2014

Mastodon bones and other fossilized creatures have turned up occasionally in New York City. But dinosaurs? Here’s the story.

In 1854, British artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins built giant models of dinosaurs, which were displayed at the Crystal Palace.

Hawkinsstudiocentralpark

Hawkins didn’t exactly know what dinosaurs looked like, but he based his models on the limited fossils available at the time.

CrystalpalacehadrosaurusHis models must have been impressive, as his show was a great success, thrilling audiences in England.

So in 1868, Andrew Green, one of the city planners in charge of Central Park, invited Hawkins to build dinosaur models in New York.

The models were to be housed in a Paleozoic museum planned for the new Central Park. Hawkins took Green up on the offer and began constructing his dinosaurs out of brick, iron, and concrete in a studio (above).

“In a studio in Central Park, crowded with his gigantic skeletal and full-bodied models, Hawkins worked on a 39-foot hadrosaur; his sketches show ferocious giant lizards: a large and scaly iguana head here, certain dragon features there,” states a 2005 New York Times article.

1869 Central Park Dinosaurs Hawkins full

Unfortunately, Hawkins’ work and the entire idea of a Paeozoic museum came to a halt thanks to William “Boss” Tweed, the corrupt Tammany Hall political chief who took control of the park in 1870 and had no interest in building anything devoted to science or education.

Hawkins“The next year, a few months after Hawkins spoke out publicly against both the decision to forgo the museum and Tammany Hall itself, the Tweed Ring sent vandals to his studio to smash his models and dump them into a pit in the park,” the Times wrote.

Hawkins, understandably, left New York and went back to England. In the ensuing years, Hawkins’ (below) dinosaurs were mostly forgotten.

Despite periodic searches, his sabotaged dinosaur models have never been found.

“They still rest somewhere under the sod of Central Park, probably not far from Umpire Rock and the Heckscher ballfields,” states this CUNY site.

“Could one of the pitchers’ mounds really be a small embankment covering the severed head of Megalosaurus? Who knows, maybe so.”

The banker called the “East Side J.P. Morgan”

June 14, 2012

The Lower East Side was already a growing Eastern European neighborhood by the time Alexander “Sender” Jarmulowsky arrived in 1873.

Those immigrants needed a bank they could trust, one with connections to their homelands.

So Jarmulowsky, formerly a Talmudic scholar from Russia and now the wealthy owner of a shipping business, started one.

His eponymous bank, at Canal and Orchard Streets, was a huge success.

Jarmulowsky earned a rep as an honest businessman nicknamed the “East Side J.P. Morgan” who paid 100 percent on the dollar during the occasional bank run.

States the Museum at Eldridge Street: “As one Yiddish newspaper described him, ‘Jarmu-lowsky was living proof that in America one can be a rich businessman but also be a true, pious Jew.’”

The 12-story bank building at Canal and Orchard Streets he built in 1912 still stands today. Unfortunately Jarmulowsky never got to see it; he died that year. His sons took over, but they were more Bernie Madoff than J.P. Morgan.

When customers went to withdraw their money to send to relatives abroad during World War I, they found out their savings were gone.

The Jarmulowsky building was sold for $36 million earlier this year—way too late to benefit any of the account holders who lost their savings.

Three different ways of looking at 23rd Street

November 13, 2011

“Vine-covered homes and shade trees marked 23rd Street over a century ago,” explains the caption to this 1874 photo of the street, which looks East toward Sixth Avenue.

The photos and captions come from New York Then and Now, published in 1976. “It was not until 1878 that the Sixth Avenue elevated railroad was erected, but the 23rd Street crosstown horsecar line was already a year old.”

Here’s a much less residential 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue, from 1975. “All the buildings visible in the 1874 photo have been demolished,” the caption states, including the Victorian Masonic Temple at the northeast corner, built in 1870.

“The Masonic Temple was torn down in 1910; the present 19-story Masonic Hall Building was erected on the site.”

By 1975, the famed department stores that made 23rd Street synonymous with fashion and shopping at the turn of the century—such as Stern’s and Best’s—were long gone.

The same stretch of 23rd Street today looks very similar to the 1975 version. Except for the Dunkin Donuts, even the stores look similar; the Citibank and Chase on the north side of the street replaced other bank branches.

And the tree on the far right—it looks almost identical to the one on the right in the 1874 photo!

How 19th century New Yorkers spent Sundays

October 21, 2011

During the workweek, the city was fast-paced and cutthroat, just as it is today.

But in the 19th century, that workweek generally ran from Monday through Saturday.

Which made Sunday the city’s day of leisure, when the mood of New York drastically changed, explains James McCabe’s Lights and Shadows of New York Life, from 1873.

“On Sunday morning New York puts on its holiday dress. The stores are closed, the streets have a deserted aspect, for the crowds of vehicles, animals, and human beings that fill them on other days are absent.”

Around 10 o’clock, New Yorkers went to church—preferably on Fifth Avenue, so well-to-do residents could promenade on the city’s most fashionable street afterward.

“The toilettes of the ladies show well here, and it is a pleasant place to meet one’s acquaintances,” says McCabe.

Dinner was served at 1 p.m.; servants had the rest of the day off. “After dinner, your New Yorker, male or female, thinks of enjoyment.” That meant more promenading, a drive in Central Park, or if you were working class, a picnic in the park or skating session on one of the frozen lakes.

Concerts were well-attended; saloons had plenty of business too. By sunset, “the Bowery brightens up wonderfully, and after nightfall the street is ablaze with a thousand gaslights. . . . Bowery beer-gardens do a good business.”

And with Sunday over, it was time to start the workweek . . . and do it all over again.

[Top two illustrations: NYPL digital collection]

The thieving street walkers of 1870s Soho

September 20, 2011

“Strangers visiting the city are struck by the number of women who are to be found on Broadway and the streets running parallel to it, without male escorts, after dark,” wrote James D. McCabe in his 1872 guidebook Lights and Shadows of New York Life.

“They are known as Street Walkers, and constitute one of the lowest orders of prostitutes to be found in New York.”

“They are nearly all thieves, and a very large proportion of them are but the decoys of the most desperate male garroters and thieves.”

One common scam, McCabe explains, was for a street walker to lure a tourist to her room in one of the subdivided “bed houses” in today’s Soho.

There, the street walker and a male confederate would rob the tourist while threatening his life.

Another trick was what McCabe called “panel thieving”:

“She takes her victim to her room, and directs him to deposit his clothing on a chair, which is placed but a few inches from the wall at the end of the room. This wall is false, and generally of wood.”

While the street walker and customer do their thing, a male thief will quietly slide out from behind the fake wall and lift the customer’s wallet.

The sucker won’t realize what has happened until he is out on the street, the street walker and her co-conspirator long-gone.

New York in 1872: A city filled with drunks

July 18, 2011

It’s tough to say whether the New York of 2011 is any more or less a drunken city than the New York of the post-Civil War years.

But the author of the 1872 guidebook Lights and Shadows of New York Life makes the case that 19th century city residents imbibed at incredible levels.

Among the venues for more respectable men were the large saloons and “better-class bar-rooms.”

The down and dirty places to get wasted: “Broadway rum palaces,” “gin mills” of the Bowery,  and the lowest of the low, the “bucket shops of the Five Points.”

And it’s the copious amounts of drinking done by female New Yorkers at what he deems “ladies restaurants” that really seems to shock the book’s author:

The 1870s version of Missed Connections ads

June 24, 2011

Think those missed connections/I saw you personals are only as old as Craigslist or the back page of the Village Voice?

Nah. They were around at least 140 years ago, according to a city guidebook called Lights and Shadows of New York Life, published in 1872, which reproduced several in its pages.

The book detailed the appeal of the “personals” printed in the first column of an unnamed city paper:

“Very many persons are inclined to smile at these communications, and are far from supposing that these journals are making themselves the mediums through  which assignations and burglaries, and almost every disreputable enterprise are arranged and carried on.”

So then as now, these missed connections-type ads don’t always have an innocent, romantic aim.

But apparently many did. “If a lady allows her face to wear a pleasant expression while glancing by the merest chance at a man, she is very apt to find some such personal as the following addressed to her in the next morning’s issue of the paper referred to.”

So what are the odds that any of these men hooked up with the lady they were looking for? I guess we’ll never know.

Gilded Age New York’s lovely mermaid clock

August 12, 2010

Lots of New York buildings feature a clock on the facade.

But one of the most unique is this clock, supported by two mermaids, at the top of Gilsey House—an 1871 cast-iron beauty with a mansard roof and all kinds of ornamental touches.

In the late 19th century, the popular Gilsey Hotel, on the northeast corner of Broadway and 29th Street, was smack in the city’s theater district. 

But as the theater district moved uptown, the fortunes of this stretch of Broadway faded, and the hotel became a loft building.

Since the late 1970s, it’s been a co-op residence in a no-man’s-land best known for its knockoff jewelry and perfume wholesalers. But the neighborhood is primed for a comeback; the hipster Ace Hotel recently opened across the street.


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