Archive for the ‘Holiday traditions’ Category

The lost ritual of the Fifth Avenue Easter Parade

April 14, 2017

It started as an informal promenade in the 1870s, when New York’s most prestigious churches—like St. Patrick’s and St. Thomas, both on Fifth Avenue—began decorating their interiors with beautiful floral displays in honor of Easter.

Churchgoers dressed in their Easter Sunday best would visit different houses of worship to admire the flowers, explains author Leigh Eric Schmidt in Consumer Rites.

By the 1880s, this post-service visiting transformed into a loosely structured parade, with the fashionable and well-to-do strolling in the early afternoon on Easter Sunday up and down Fifth Avenue, from Madison Square to Central Park.

New Yorkers loved the spectacle. “Fashion bursting from its sack-cloth and adorning itself in new and beautiful garments,” the New York Times front page read on April 11, 1887, the day after Easter.

“Everybody and his cousin were on the pavement yesterday. For was it not Eastertide, Fifth Avenue’s brilliant day of days in all the length of the year?”

The Easter Parade was partly a ritual shaking off the chill of winter, but it was also the Gilded Age version of a fashion show, with Fifth Avenue sidewalks as the runways.

“The men were all in sober black save when at times the irreverent dude lit up the street with a gridiron shirt and a sonorous necktie,” the Times continued.

“But the ladies? They were as a flock of butterflies that, for a time locked within the church, had fluttered outward far and wide to try the Springtime sunlight on their glittery wings.” (You have to love that 19th century journalistic style.)

While you can’t tell from the black and white photos, these female parade-goers were decked out coats and dresses covering every color of the rainbow.

The crowds moved at a crawl all afternoon, dissipating as the temperature rose only to swell again in later in the day as the sun began to set, the Times reported.

“[As] the crowd reappeared, and hour after hour, the well dressed, motley pilgrims from all the wealthy quarters of a great city sauntered slowly along, from Delmonico’s to the Park . . .”

“[And] when night fell tailor and milliner had no cause to complain that full publicity had not been given to the long-studied creations of their fruitful hands.”

New York actually still has an official Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue, and it’s open to everyone, not just the upper crust.

But it doesn’t command the attention it did until the 1940s and 1950s, when the tradition was mostly replaced—by real spring fashion shows, egg hunts, and the beloved New York tradition of long Sunday brunch.

The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910, has more on the humble beginnings of New York’s favorite holidays.

[Top photo: LOC/Bain Collection; second photo: MCNY 90.28.51; third photo: MCNY 93.1.1.18452; fourth photo: LOC/Bain Collection; fifth photo: MCNY 2010.11.10601; sixth photo: LOC/Bain Collection

A mystery valentine sent to a Brooklyn address

February 13, 2017

Faded and yellowed after more than a century, this Valentine’s Day card is hard to read. It appears to have been sent in 1906 to a Miss Tarehin on Glenmore Avenue in Brooklyn—between Brownsville and East New York.

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But who is it from? The sender is a mystery, and there doesn’t appear to be any message. The last name of the recipient is an unusual one as well.

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A quick Google search uncovers an Anna Tarehin, buried in 1945 in Queens’ Third Calvary Cemetery, which is not that far from Glenmore Avenue.

[Card: NYPL Digital Gallery]

The beauty and magic of New York City on skates

January 5, 2017

What is it about skating that captivated so many New York City illustrators and painters during the 19th and early 20th centuries?

[Below, “Skating in Central Park,” 1910]

glackensskatingincentralpark1910

It could be the challenge of capturing the motions of skating, the gliding or rolling skaters do, kind of an unchoreographed dance even the clumsiest person can master.

Or perhaps in the case of ice skating, artists can’t resist the glorious winter colors that frame New York’s frozen ponds and lakes.

[“Skaters, Central Park,” 1912]

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Skating might also have been seen as a little risque. During the Gilded Age, ice skating was one of the few social activities men and women could do together without upsetting the boundaries of the era’s gender-specific spheres.

[“Roller Skating Rink,” 1906]

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Ashcan School artist William Glackens painted these three images of New Yorkers on skates. He may have simply enjoyed depicting spirited scenes of day-to-day life in the city where he lived and worked (his studio was on Ninth Street off Fifth Avenue).

The roller skating rink painting, however, stems from an actual trip to a city rink Glackens made with Robert Henri and other Ashcan painters.

“The hilarious evening, in which Glackens was the first to fall, encapsulates the artist’s fascination with the modern city and its popular attractions,” wrote the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has this work in its collection.

New York kids, toy windows, and holiday dreams

December 24, 2016

Is there anything more wonderful for a kid than a holiday toy store window display? These kids—their eyes transfixed on dolls and blocks and drums and animal figurines—answer the question.

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Holiday-themed store windows apparently got their start in New York, of course. Macy’s pioneered them way back in 1874 when the store was located on 14th Street, and toys were among the merchandise on display.

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These photos were all taken around the city between 1910 and 1915 by George Bain. The names of the stores or addresses aren’t listed, unfortunately.

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But this last one below must be a big retailer. Look at all the adults crowded around, getting a close look!

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[Photos: Bain Collection/LOC]

Shopping for Christmas dinner in the 1870s city

December 24, 2016

Most New Yorkers today get their holiday roasts and chops all nicely packaged from a refrigerated counter.

Not so in the 1870s. Hitting up one of the city’s huge (and typically filthy) outdoor markets so you could pick out a main course for your holiday meant looking Christmas dinner in the eye.

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“The neighborhood of Fulton Market, and all the passages of the market itself, were thronged yesterday with holiday buyers, who elbowed each other about in the snow and slush as if their lives depended upon the celerity with which they made their tour of the meat shops and poultry stands,” wrote the New York Times two days before Christmas in 1876.

Fulton Market—not just for fish but meat and game as well, as seen in the 1878 illustration above—was one of New York’s biggest. Washington Market on the West Side (below in 1879), also supplied New Yorkers with fresh game.

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A 1901 Harper’s Weekly article paid tribute to the “market men” who ran these venues and supplied the city with fare for holiday banquets.

“The city is awake and ravenous. In all the river streets the sidewalks are blockaded with great heaps of things to eat. Inside and outside the markets, as far as you can see, are butter and eggs, apples, pears, bananas, oranges, potatoes, cabbage, ducks and wild game, fat geese and chickens, grouse, quail, and woodcock, the staple meats in amazing quantity, fish, lobster, scallops,  and mussels, and turkeys, turkeys, turkeys, until one is convinced that the gobbler and not the eagle should be stamped on all the coin in the realm.”

[Illustrations: NYPL]

A cast-iron jewel sits behind this glass facade

December 19, 2016

tiffanys2016If only we could peel back the black reflective glass obscuring 15 West 15th Street and knock off some of the coffin-shaped boxes from the upper floors.

Because underneath what looks like another modern commercial building is the skeleton of Tiffany & Co.’s 1870 headquarters, a spectacular cast-iron building designed for New York’s legendary “palace of jewels” (below).

This is where the famed jeweler relocated after starting out on Broadway across from City Hall in 1837 before moving to Broadway and Prince Street in the mid-19th century.

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“To call John Kellum’s design for the 5-story building ornate would be an understatement; its decorative columns, cornices, and other projections attempted to render in cast iron a symbol of the ‘palace of jewels’ inside,” wrote John Hill in Guide to Contemporary New York Architecture.

tiffanysunionsquarenewstore1870nyplUnion Square was an ideal spot for the new Tiffany’s.

After the Civil War, Ladies Mile, New York’s premium shopping district, moved to the fashionable stretch between 9th Street and 23rd Street along Broadway.

Tiffany’s wanted to be part of the action. On Union Square East, the store occupied prime real estate betwen the best dry goods emporiums of the day, like Lord & Taylor, which also relocated “uptown” in 1870, to 20th Street.

Throughout the Gilded Age, Tiffany’s dazzled New Yorkers with its jewelry collection and what the New York Times in 1873 called its “spacious galleries” of home furnishings and objects of art.

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Imagine the store during holiday time in the late 19th century, with well-heeled wives perusing the display counters for gifts of gold and diamonds (above) . . . and thieves looking for a way to break in and rob the place, which happened all too often, according to newspaper accounts.

tiffanys1899nyplTiffany’s stuck around Union Square until the 1900s before following other retailers to a new midtown spot at Fifth Avenue and 37th Street in 1905. In 1940, it moved to its present address up the avenue at 57th Street.

So how did the Union Square store end up swathed in black, as if it’s in mourning?

Amalgamated Bank took over the building in the early 1900s, then stripped it of its ornamental loveliness (a safety precaution, as a chunk fell off and killed a pedestrian) in the 1950s.

tiffanyfacade1953-1954mcny54-37-18For five decades the featureless, white-brick building (right) housed various tenants. In the 2000s, it was redone as a pricey apartment residence.

The architects for the new residence removed the white brick. “With the brick and [much of the] cast iron gone, the new zinc-framed glass walls sit two feet in front of the remaining 1870 cast iron structure,” wrote Hill.

Apparently at night, if you look closely, you can see the original arched windows—a ghostly remnant of one of the city’s most famous emporiums.

[Second photo: MCNY, 1885, x2010.11.3352; third photo: NYPL, 1870; third image: NYPL, undated; fourth photo: NYPL, 1899; fifth photo: MCNY, 1953, 54.37.18]

Santa as we know him was invented in New York

December 19, 2016

New Amsterdam’s 17th century colonists celebrated “Sinte Klaas” every December 6. The “jolly old elf” who drops toys down chimneys dates to 1823, when “A Visit From St. Nicholas” was published anonymously in an upstate newspaper.

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But the Santa we know today was refined and modernized by Harper’s Weekly illustrator Thomas Nast, whose first depiction of a gift-giving, rotund father figure was published during the December 1862 holiday season, with Civil War raging.

“Nast’s Santa appears on the cover of the paper in an illustration titled ‘Santa Claus in Camp.’ states a website called Civil War Profiles.

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“Nast drew a patriotic Santa dressed in striped pants and a coat covered with stars sitting on his sleigh beneath a waving American flag. Two drummer boys in the foreground of the sketch appear fascinated with a jack-in-the-box toy. One soldier is shown opening his box to find a stocking stuffed with presents, while another soldier holds up the pipe he received as a present.”

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To make it even clearer which side Santa took in the War Between the States, Nast drew Santa holding a wooden effigy of Confederate president Jefferson Davis by a rope.

This cover illustration is one of two that feature Santa Claus on a sleigh in that January 3, 1863 issue. Inside is a more sentimental Nast drawing.

TheGildedAgeinNewYorkcoverIn one panel, a young mother prays for her soldier husband’s safe return from war. In the second panel, the husband is sitting beside a fire, ostensibly thinking of his family.

And atop the roof is a small bearded man, his reindeer-drawn sleigh parked beside him as he looks down the chimney.

Santa Claus, electric Christmas tree lights, the first tree lighting in a park—New York pioneered many of the holiday celebrations we take part in today, as The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910, explains.

Christmas sidewalk vendors of Sixth Avenue

December 5, 2016

Sixth Avenue along Ladies Mile was a prime shopping district during the 1902 holiday season, with enormous emporiums like Siegel Cooper, Hugh O’Neill, and Macy’s offering Christmas windows, in-store Santas, and deals galore.

A smart vendor could make some cash selling his wares there, as this tree or wreath vendor appears to be doing.

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Hey, isn’t that the house of worship once known as the Limelight? These New Yorkers would have called it the Church of the Holy Communion.

Christmas shopping is pretty much the same as it was 100 years ago, as these additional photos reveal.

This is the first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree

November 28, 2016

It made its debut on Christmas Eve 1931, in the muddy pit that would one day become Rockefeller Center.

rockefellercentertree1931ap

A group of mostly Italian immigrant hardhats knocking down the brownstones on the eventual site of 30 Rock chipped in to buy it—a very humble 18-foot balsam.

rockefellercenter1945edwardratcliffx2010-11-8801They put up the skinny tree inside the construction site and draped it in tin cans, paper, and tinsel—as well as traditional cranberry garlands and foil from blasting caps used during dynamiting, according to a 2015 New York Times piece.

Public Christmas trees in parks had been a thing since the first one graced Madison Square Park in 1912.

But the workers in the pit were honoring more than just the holiday (and the fact that they had jobs during this Depression year).

They were celebrating because it was payday, with each man receiving his wages in an envelope beside their tree.

Two years later, with Rockefeller Center completed, the owners decided to erect and decorate a real Christmas tree, a 65-footer that went up outside the then–RCA building.

rockefellercentertree1972c2010-11-8796Every year since, the holiday tree has delighted national crowds during its annual lighting ceremony and has been visited by hordes of thousands.

In its 85-year history, the tree has had its disruptions. Thanks to a war-mandated blackout, the two trees at 30 Rock weren’t lit in 1944.

In 1979, in an effort to bring attention to the American hostages held in Iran at the time, two men climbed the tree. One hung on for 80 minutes chanting “Free the 50.” (He was given a summons for trespassing.)

In 1971, with recycling catching on, the tree was turned into mulch for the first time—a tradition that continues once the tree has completed its duty come January.

rockefellercenterpostcard1945f2011-33-2122q

[Top photo: AP, 1931; second photo: MCNY 1945, x2010.11.8801; third photo: MCNY, 1973, x2010.11.8796; fourth image: MCNY, 1945, F2011.33.2122Q]

A turkey dinner at the Municipal Lodging House

November 24, 2016

It’s Thanksgiving Day, 1931, in New York City.

By early 1932, one in three city residents will be out of work. Roughly 1.6 million were on the relief rolls, according to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Down and out New Yorkers began building a Hooverville in Central Park.

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And an astounding 10,000 men waited for their turn to sit down to dinner at the Municipal Lodging House, the public city shelter for homeless men, women, and children at the foot of East 25th Street.

This New York City Department of Records photo captured a group of these men in bulky overcoats and hats. They’re young and old, mostly oblivious to the camera and focused only on consuming their turkey and potatoes.