Posts Tagged ‘New York in 1830s’

The spectacular giraffes on display on Broadway

November 25, 2013

Philiphone1809In 1838, residents of New York were treated to a rare sight: two giraffes at Broadway near Prince Street.

The giraffe exhibit is recorded in the diary of Philip Hone, a wealthy resident (at left) who served as mayor in 1826.

“July 3, Tuesday: Two of these beautiful animals [giraffes] are being exhibited in a lot on Broadway below Prince Street; the place is handsomely fitted up, and great numbers of persons pay their respects to the distinguished strangers,” wrote Hone.

“The giraffes or cameleopards, as they are called (I like the first name best), were taken by one of our Yankee brethren in the interior of Southern Africa.

“They are the only survivors of eleven who were taken, and have been brought to this country at a very great expense.”

The sketch below accompanies the diary entry, republished in The Hone and Strong Diaries of Old Manhattan, by Louis Auchincloss.


The caption reads “A drawing made in the beautiful pavillion. No. 509 Broadway, were hundreds daily resort to gaze with delight upon these elegant quadrupeds, the first ever seen in America.”

It doesn’t look like Broadway at Prince Street would be like at the time, but this is what the caption tells us.

Traffic, rent, and dandies: the big gripes of 1837

February 18, 2013

Aglanceatnewyorkcover1About 176 years ago, newspaper editor Asa Greene published A Glance at New York, outlining the city’s problems.

Quotes from this curmudgeonly tome were reprinted in a 1946 New York Times article with the headline “New York Was Always Like This,” which pointed out that the gripes of 1837 are the same ones of 1946.

And no surprise, they’re same complaints we toss around today.

Traffic? It was just as bad in pre-Civil War New York as it is now. Green gave a bracing account of what it was like trying to cross Broadway, packed with “omnibuses, coaches, and other vehicles” (below, at St. Paul’s Chapel):


“To perform the feat with any degree of safety, you must button your coat tight about you, see that your shoes are secure at the heels, settle your hat firmly on your head, look up street and down street, at the self-same moment, to see what carts and carriages are upon you, and then run for your life.”

DandyRising rents? Green whinged about it, then came to the conclusion many New Yorkers hold today:

“Such an increase in the expense of living, if it do not cause absolute famine . . . will at least afford such discouragements and obstacles to the dwellers of New York that they will naturally turn their backs upon the city and seek a residence elsewhere.”

Finally, Green lobs insults at the hipsters of his era: the stylish men then known as dandies:

“Like other great cities, New York has her share of this class of the biped without feathers. . . . Our present dandies may be divided into three classes, namely chained dandies, switched dandies, and quizzing-glass dandies.”

“These are so distinguished, as the reader will readily conceive, from those harmless pieces of ornament which they severally wear about their persons or carry in their hands.”

“Their speech is exceedingly parrotlike, and mostly consists in the use of a single word, which is applied promiscuously to all sorts of articles. They are all ‘shuperb.'”