Since opening in 1887, the Albert Hotel on University Place and 11th Street has been a magnet for creative souls.
Author Robert Louis Stevenson booked a room in this lovely Victorian Gothic building, receiving Augustus St. Gaudens as a guest.
Walt Whitman and Mark Twain spent time at the Albert, as did Hart Crane and Thomas Wolfe in the 1920s. Jackson Pollack, Robert Lowell, and folk rock bands like the Mamas & the Papas all made the hotel their home base.
But one late 19th century painter who gained notoriety for his moody landscapes and eccentric habits was so taken aback by an experience he had in the hotel’s restaurant, it inspired one of his darkest, most haunting works.
The painter, Albert Pinkham Ryder (left), was a near-recluse. Totally devoted to his art, he often walked from his downtown flat to the Battery late at night to observe the effect of clouds passing over the moon.
“But a roof, a crust of bread and an easel,” was all he needed in life, Ryder reportedly wrote.
Ryder’s brother was the manager of the Albert, so he often took his meals there. One evening, he talked up a waiter about an upcoming horse race, the Brooklyn Handicap, and a favored thoroughbred named Hanover.
“The day before the race I dropped into my brother’s hotel and had a little chat with this waiter, and he told me that he had saved up $500 and that he had placed every penny of it on Hanover winning the race,” Ryder recalled years later.
“The next day the race was run, and as racegoers will probably remember, Hanover came in third. I was immediately reminded that my friend the waiter had lost all his money.”
“That dwelt on my mind, as for some reason it impressed me very much, so much that I went around to my brother’s hotel for breakfast the next morning and was shocked to find my waiter friend had shot himself the evening before.”
Subtitled “Death on a Pale Horse,” the painting was completed between 1896 and 1908.
It belongs to the Cleveland Museum of Art—a work of art whose connection to a Bohemian hotel in Greenwich Village and a horse race in Brooklyn is not obvious yet runs deep.
[Fourth image: MCNY 126.96.36.19911; fifth image: The Sun headline, two weeks after Ryder died in 1917]