Posts Tagged ‘New York in 1896’

Christmas shopping on Fifth Avenue, 1896

December 21, 2012

Substitute puffy parkas for fur coats and town cars and taxis for carriages, and not much has changed in 116 years on Fifth Avenue in December.


I’m not sure where painter Alice Barber Stephens set this painting, titled “Christmas on Fifth Avenue.” Can anyone take a stab at the cross street?

The sensational clam chowder murder of 1895

January 8, 2012

It was a bowl of arsenic-laced clam chowder that felled Evelina Bliss, a wealthy 53-year-old widow living at 397 St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem.

The apparent source of the poisoned soup? Her daughter from her first marriage, Mary Alice Almont Livingston (right).

Mary Alice, who made her home at the nearby Colonial Hotel on 125th Street and Eighth Avenue, was an anomaly in Gilded Age New York: Unmarried, she had three kids by three men with a fourth on the way.

It was Mary Alice’s 10-year-old daughter who brought the lethal chowder to her grandmother, at her mom’s request, on August 30.

After Evelina died that night and the coroner determined she’d been poisoned, police arrested Mary Alice. The motive, they said, was money, according to Arsenic and Clam Chowder, by James D. Livingston.

Through the spring of 1896, the arrest and trial created a media sensation. Prosecutors had a solid case, and Victorian New York was biased against single mom Mary Alice, despite the fact that she came from an old money family.

But she had a clever lawyer, and she capitalized on the fact that most New Yorkers were against the death penalty—when it could be used on a woman, that is, especially one who showed up in court in mourning clothes.

In the end, she was acquitted, spent much of the rest of her quiet life in Manhattan (in poverty toward the end), and died in 1948.