Posts Tagged ‘Horace Greeley’

The long-gone East Side hamlet of Odellville

March 8, 2012

Busy, corporate Third Avenue at 49th Street is often referred to by the bland Midtown East, or the more illustrious Turtle Bay.

But more than 170 years ago, in the 1840s, it was the rural outpost of Odellville—named for the barkeep who ran a tavern there, according to New York: Old & New, a guide from 1902.

How country was it? “Open fields lay to the west of Odellville in that slow-moving time, but to the east a few scattered houses flecked the river-bank, and one of these, set down at the foot of Forty-Ninth Street, was for a time the country home of Horace Greeley,” the book states.

The only communication Odellville had with the city to the south was an hourly stagecoach Third Avenue.

Another memoir of 19th century life, A Tour Around New York, by John Flavel Mines, recalls Odellville:

“At forty-ninth Street and Third Avenue was a tiny hamlet known as Odellville, which owed its patronymic to Mr. Odell, who kept a country tavern at the corner first named, and with whom life agreed so well that he nearly lived out a century.”

[Illustration: 49th Street at the East River, circa 1840, from New York’s Turtle Bay Old & New by Edmund T. Delaney]

The celebrated seances of the spooky Fox Sisters

May 31, 2011

Claiming to be able to talk to the dead is a skill that can instantly turn you into a celebrity. This was especially true in 1848, when Ouija boards and seances were all the rage.

That’s how the Fox sisters became notorious in New York. Growing up in Rochester, word spread that Katherine and Margaret Fox, then 12 and 15, could communicate with spirits.

How? They would snap their fingers, and this would elicit rapping sounds from the deceased that could be decoded into a message.

Within a few years, the sisters, along with their older sister and manager, Leah, were invited to the city by showman P.T. Barnum.

They quickly became the talk of pre-Civil War New York, serving as mediums for high society.

Among the bold-face names they attracted to their hundreds of seances were journalist and poet William Cullen Bryant, writer James Feinmore Cooper, and Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune.

Though thousands of people believed the sisters and followed their quasi-religion “spiritualism,” skeptics publicly doubted them. The girls eventually quarreled and became alcoholics.

In 1888, Margaret confessed in the New York World that their medium powers were a hoax; the rappings sounds that supposedly came from dead people were created by cracking their joints.

They died before the century’s end, as paupers.