Posts Tagged ‘Lincoln in New York City’

A desperate Mrs. Lincoln visits New York in 1867

March 14, 2016

Marylincolnmathewbrady1861On September 17, 1867, a woman checked into a room in the posh St. Denis Hotel (below) on Broadway and 11th Street.

Her reservation was made under the name Mrs. Clarke. But with her real name written on her luggage, she was quickly recognized as presidential widow Mary Todd Lincoln.

This was hardly Mrs. Lincoln’s first trip to the city. After her husband was elected in 1860, she was a frequent visitor to New York.

Her trips weren’t about politics, however. She was mainly in Gotham to shop the city’s many expensive stores—like A. T. Stewart, Lord and Taylor, and Tiffany & Co.

MarylincolnstdenishotelMrs. Lincoln was what today would be called a shopaholic. Perhaps she bought so many things to dull the pain after her 11-year-old son Willie died in 1862. Or maybe she felt that the president’s wife had to look her best at all times.

“I must dress in costly materials. The people scrutinize every article that I wear with critical curiosity,” Mrs. Lincoln told her seamstress and confidante, Elizabeth Keckley, during her husband’s 1864 reelection campaign.

Her extravagant spending was what brought her back to New York in 1867. She had fallen deeply in debt since her husband was assassinated two years earlier and she was forced to leave the White House for Chicago.

The struggling Mrs. Lincoln had the idea to sell some of her wardrobe items and jewelry, hoping it would ease her troubles.

MarylincolnkeckleyKeckley (left) arrived in New York the next day to assist Mrs. Lincoln with the sale. The two women moved to the Union Place Hotel, because the St. Denis would not allow Keckley, who was African-American, to stay on the same floor as her friend.

They went to a diamond broker first, and then “Elizabeth and Mary invited second-hand clothing dealers to their hotel to inspect Mary’s wardrobe for sale,” wrote Catherine Clinton for the New York State Archives Partnership Trust.

“Both women then prowled shops on Seventh Avenue, hoping to trade old clothes for new greenbacks.” But “gossip began to circulate about this mystery woman wrapped in widow’s weeds who was peddling her wardrobe.”

After the diamond broker betrayed her trust by having her letters published in the New York World, the press savaged her “old clothes sale” (though the New York Times also felt that family members of former presidents should be better provided for).

MarylincolnstdenistodayPublic opinion was against her. Even worse, her items drummed up no interest. She fled back to Chicago to her rented rooms.

Her financial situation continued to fall apart, as did her mind. She was committed to an Illinois asylum in 1875 but made periodic trips to New York to address her health before dying in 1882.

[The St. Denis Hotel today, which was on the route President Lincoln’s funeral procession took through New York in April 1865]

New York is dazzled by its first luxury hotel

October 19, 2015

In 1836 Manhattan, houses were lit by candles. Floors were generally made out of wood. Private bathrooms? Decades away.

Astorhouse1874nypl

Yet all of these things could be had at the Astor House (above, in 1874), the city’s first luxury hotel, at Broadway between Vesey and Barclay Streets.

Built by multimillionaire John Jacob Astor, this 360-room granite palace dazzled New Yorkers, few of whom had the means to spend a night there or dine in the hotel’s for-men-only restaurant, enclosed under a rotunda in a center courtyard (below, in 1899).

Astorhouserotunda1899“It can never be a success—it is altogether too far uptown,” Astor’s associates warned him, forgetting the he was a real estate pro who foresaw the northward march of the city.

The hotel wasn’t just a huge success, it became an emblem of the growing Empire City.

And what amenities! An in-house gas plant provided gas lighting. A plumbing system offered hot and cold running water to each floor. Rooms had private water closets. A car ferried guests to Madison Square Garden.

Astorhousebroadway

President Lincoln stayed there twice: first when he came to New York to deliver his famous speech as a presidential candidate at Cooper Union in 1860, then in 1861, on the way to his inauguration. He made an impromptu speech at the hotel during his second stay, as memorialized in the Harper’s Weekly cover below.

Astorhouseharpersweekly2With City Hall and Barnum’s American Museum across the street, the Astor House booked plenty of politicians. artists, and entertainers, such as Jenny Lind, Mathew Brady, Daniel Webster, Jefferson Davis, and Henry Clay.

Even as the city inched uptown and sumptuous hotels threatened the Astor’s status, it remained a beloved fixture—until John Jacob Astor’s descendants fought over the property and the subway arrived.

In 1913, the Greek Revival beauty, with its Doric columns and pink granite, was torn down because subway construction threatened its foundation.

Astorhouse1913demolition

It was replaced by—what else?—office space aptly called the Astor House Building.

[Photos: NYPL Digital Gallery]

Lincoln’s statue gets little love in Union Square

March 3, 2014

Lincolnstatue1917mcnyAfter his death, president Lincoln was embraced by the public. But his image in bronze wasn’t beloved by critics.

Shortly after Henry Kirke Brown’s bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln was unveiled at the southwest end of Union Square in 1870, one critic loathed it.

“A frightful object has been placed in Union Square,” stated The New York Times in September.

“It is said to be a statue of a man who deserves to be held in lasting remembrance as a true patriot, a sincere, unselfish, noble-hearted chief in times of great trouble and perplexity—Abraham Lincoln. But it does not resemble Mr. Lincoln. The lines which give the face character are not there. . . . “

Lincoln1895inunionsquaremcny

“The sculptor has tried to atone for this defect by putting plenty of hard lines in the clothes, which are enough to distract anybody who thinks that dress need not of necessity increase the hideousness of man.”

Lincoln2014nyparksThe writer poked fun at the “pantaloons” Lincoln was wearing, as well as his toga.

“It is like the hideous nightmare . . . . How much it costs to make it and put it up, we do not know, but we will gladly receive subscriptions toward the expense of taking it down and sending it off to Chicago, where ‘works of art’ of this kind are highly appreciated.”

Yikes. The public seemed to be okay with this depiction of the martyred president—in those post-Civil War years very much beloved, even by New Yorkers.

But when Union Square underwent a redesign in 1930, and the Lincoln statue moved to its current home in the north-central part of the park (above), workers didn’t treat the statue with about as much respect as the Times did.

Toppledlincolnstatue

Here it is, looking like it was toppled over during an air raid in a hardscrabble, treeless Union Square of the Depression.

[Top photos: MCNY; middle: NYC Department of Parks and Recreation; bottom: NYPL Digital Gallery]

When tenements were named for U.S. presidents

December 1, 2010

I wonder if New Yorkers respected their presidents more around the turn of the 20th century, when all of these residences went up.

Or perhaps developers gave their buildings presidential monikers because they were all constructed in poor neighborhoods.

Maybe having the name of a leader above the front entrance lent a low-rent tenement a more aspirational air.

Whatever the reason, there sure are a lot of presidentially named buildings. Lincoln (on West 51st Street) is understandable, and Roosevelt (East 14th Street) was New York’s former governor.

But McKinley’s (East Village) connection to New York? I’m not aware of one. His may be a sympathy choice; he was assassinated in 1901, right around when the building named for him appeared.

Who is watching Lincoln’s funeral procession?

March 27, 2009

See the two little figures looking out the second-floor window facing south in the building on the corner? Supposedly it’s a young Teddy Roosevelt and his brother Elliot (future father of Eleanor); they’re viewing President Lincoln’s funeral procession. The future president would have been seven years old when this picture was taken on April 25, 1865.

That’s his grandfather Cornelius Roosevelt’s property on Broadway between 13th and 14th Streets; the procession is heading to Union Square.

lincolnsfuneralbroadway2

Cornelius Roosevelt’s house was torn down and an eight-story terra cotta and brick structure put in its place in 1894. Called the Roosevelt Building, it stands at 13th and Broadway today.