Posts Tagged ‘New York after the civil war’

A 30th Street memorial to a martyred president

November 27, 2014

LincolnplaquecornersignNinth Avenue at 30th Street is a noisy corner, thanks to recent High Line–inspired construction and idling tunnel traffic.

But on the facade of the hulking Morgan Postal Facility on the southwest corner is a little piece of history, a hard-to-see plaque that traces the trail of a martyred president.

The plaque marks the spot as the former site of the Hudson Railroad Depot, where Abraham Lincoln arrived when he visited the city in February 1861 en route to his inauguration as president.

Lincolnplaque2It was also the place of his final departure from New York, on April 25, 1865.

That’s when Lincoln’s casket was lifted into the special car of what was termed his funeral train. This followed 24 hours of public viewing of his open casket at City Hall, and then a solemn funeral procession up Broadway to Union Square.

The day before, on April 24, Lincoln’s body arrived in New York via a ferry from New Jersey to Desbrosses Street.

A crowd of thousands greeted his casket as it was loaded onto a horse-drawn carriage to City Hall.

The next day, as this illustration shows, another crowd sent his casket off by rail, where it would travel to Albany, then cities in Ohio and Indiana before stopping in Chicago and finally Springfield, Illinois for burial.

HRrailroaddepotillustration

Perhaps this is how the Lincoln Tunnel was named, thanks to its proximity to the depot torn down in 1931? A quick check of Lincoln Tunnel historical sites doesn’t mention anything about it though.

Returning to a strange, unrecognizable New York

March 10, 2014

Marktwain1867Like Joan Didion in her essay “Goodbye to All That,” countless authors have written their story of coming to the city, building a life here, and then realizing for various reasons that it was time to go.

But there’s a similar tale that isn’t told as often. It’s about living in New York, then leaving—only to return years later to a city that feels different, distant, not the home you knew so intimately.

It happened to Mark Twain. In 1854, at age 18, he left his city printer’s job for California, where he made a name for himself as a journalist.

In 1867 (three years before this photo was taken of Canal and Mott Streets) he found himself back in an indifferent, business-oriented New York.

He dubbed it “the overgrown metropolis” and mused about how “the town is all changed since I was here, 13 years ago, when I was a pure and sinless sprout” in letters to his former newspaper.

Mottandcanalstreets1870“I have at last, after several months’ experience, made up my mind that it is a splendid desert—a domed and steepled solitude, where the stranger is lonely in the midst of a million of his race, ” Twain wrote that August.

“Every man seems to feel that he has got the duties of two lifetimes to accomplish in one, and so he rushes, rushes, rushes, and never has time to be companionable—never has any time at his disposal to fool away on matters which do not involve dollars and duty and business.”

Henryjameswithfather1854“There is something about this ceaseless buzz, and hurry, and bustle, that keeps a stranger in a state of unwholesome excitement all the time, and makes him restless and uneasy, and saps from him all capacity to enjoy anything or take a strong interest in any matter whatever—a something which impels him to try to do everything, and yet permits him to do nothing.”

Twain would not stay in New York very long. Later that year he traveled to Europe and the Middle East, then settled in Hartford, Connecticut.

Author Henry James, above with his father, also felt like a stranger when he came back to New York in 1904 after years in Europe.

21washingtonplaceBorn and raised on genteel Washington Place in the 1840s, James was aghast at the new skyscrapers, which he deemed in The American Scene “grossly tall and grossly ugly” and “. . . extravagant pins in a cushion already overplanted, and stuck in as in the dark, anywhere and anyhow. . . .”

He was struck by “the terrible little Ellis Island,”  trolley cars “stuffed to suffocation,” and the “melancholy monument” that was the new arch on Washington Square.

And James was really upset about NYU knocking down the school’s original college building…along with his childhood home.

Henryjames1913singersargent[Above, the NYU building that took James’ childhood home’s place on 21 Washington Place].

“The grey and more or less ‘hallowed’ University building—wasn’t it somehow, with a desperate bravery, both castellated and gabled?—has vanished from the earth, and with it the two or three adjacent houses, of which the birthplace was one.”

[Henry James in 1913, by John Singer Sargent]

Bleecker Street: “headquarters of Bohemianism”

August 3, 2011

“He who does not know Bleecker Street does not know New York,” wrote James D. McCabe in his 1872 guidebook Lights and Shadows of New York Life. “It is of all the localities of the metropolis one of the best worth studying.”

Why did McCabe single out Bleecker? In post–Civil War New York, it was a perfect example of how quickly a thoroughfare can go from fancy to shabby chic.

“It was once the abode of wealth and fashion, as its fine old mansion testify,” states McCabe, referring to the grand detached houses that lined Bleecker from the Bowery to Sixth Avenue.

“Twenty-five years ago they were homes of wealth and refinement . . . the old mansions are [now] put to the viler uses of third-rate boarding houses and restaurants.”

Bleecker’s rep sank thanks to the bordellos that began lining nearby Greene and Mercer Streets. Soon it became the center of Bohemianism—a label that applied into the 1960s, when Bleecker hosted Beat writers, folk musicians, and edgy comedians.

“You may dress as you please, live as you please, do as you please in all things, and no comments will be made. There is no ‘society’ here to worry your life with its claims and laws. Life here is based on principles which differ from those which prevail in other parts of the city.”

[Van Nest mansion drawing: courtesy of the NYPL Digital Collection]