Posts Tagged ‘New York Gilded Age’

The first ambulance hits the streets of Manhattan

June 2, 2014

Can you imagine being in pain and riding to the hospital in this?

It’s the first ambulance in the city (and reportedly the nation), launched in 1869 to ferry the sick and injured to Bellevue Hospital.


The idea for an ambulance service came from a Civil War surgeon, who realized that hurt soldiers would be brought to medical tents via flimsy stretchers and carts, which often resulted in further injuries.

EdwarddaltonSo army doctor Edward B. Dalton (right) developed a vehicle with a roof and shock absorbers that could transport casualties quickly and safely.

After the war, Dalton was hired by the Department of Charities and Corrections to start a civilian ambulance corp.

In June 1869, two lightweight, 800-pound vehicles hit the (often unpaved and muddy) streets.

“Ambulances were staffed by a driver and an ‘ambulance surgeon,’ in fact, an intern fresh out of two years of medical school,” states

What was inside? A rolling bed, surgical lamp, pillows, and blankets. Medical supplies included bandages, tourniquets, a stomach pump—plus a straitjacket, handcuffs, a flask of brandy, and drugs like amyl nitrate and morphine!


“In addition, the ambulance surgeon carried a black leather satchel containing hypodermic syringes, tracheotomy tubes, a Nealaton’s probe, catheters and dressings for minor wounds,” writes


Instead of a siren on top, a bell operated by a foot pedal alerted pedestrians that the ambulance needed to get through. Telegraph communications let drivers know where to pick someone up.

NY3dBookIntCover-1In a rapidly growing city, the service was a big success. Five more ambulances were added in 1870, and by 1891, Bellevue had more than 3,000 ambulance calls.

As time went on, ambulances changed. The second photo is from 1895; the third, 1910.

The ambulance corp is another advancement from post-Civil War New York, a time of incredible modernization in the city. Read more about it New York City in the Gilded Age. [Photos: Museum of the City of New York;]

Meet the most “picturesque woman in America”

January 16, 2013

Ritadeacostalydigphoto1913When Rita de Acosta Lydig was a young New York socialite in the late 1890s and early 1900s, there were no paparazzi to chase her around the trendy clubs and restaurants of the Gilded Age city.

Yet her image was all over the place—photographed, sculpted, and painted by artists such as Edward Steichen, Augustus Rodin, and John Singer Sargent.

That’s how Lydig, born in 1875 to a prominent New York family of Spanish and Cuban descent, earned the title “the most picturesque woman in America.”

Ritadecostalydig1911Like many socialites, she had what sounds like a messy romantic life: Lydig divorced twice and had a very public broken engagement. Yet she also possessed “a rare charm and intellectual brilliance as well,” states her 1929 obituary in The New York Times.

Lydig had legendary style and a deep appreciation for the arts, socializing in creative circles here and in Paris and holding salons in her home that attracted artists and actors such as Sarah Bernhardt.

She died in 1929 in her apartment at the Hotel Gotham at Fifth Avenue and 55th Street, her image immortalized in art.

Her lavish collection of clothes and shoes, interestingly, were donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

[Top photo: Adolf de Meyer; bottom painting: Giovanni Baldini]