Posts Tagged ‘New York in 1912’

A desperate appeal to save the city’s sick babies

July 25, 2016

In 1911, a card went out to city residents asking for donations to help fund a precious commodity.

Over a thousand “little white hearses passed through the streets of New York City in two weeks last summer,” the card read. “One-eighth of the 123,433 little ones born during the year . . . died under 12 months.”

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One of the causes of this appalling infant mortality rate? A lack of access to clean, fresh milk among New York’s poorest families.

Milk in the 19th century had a deservedly bad reputation, with much of New York’s supply coming from “‘swill’ milk stables attached to breweries and distilleries in the city,” explains this post.

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“The cows in these stables ate the leftover grains from the fermentation process in the brewery or distillery. Unfortunately, the milk produced from these stables was very low quality and often full of bacteria. Even milk brought to the city from the country was often adulterated with water and carrying bacteria.”

With the rise of pasteurization, officials began touting milk as a healthy part of a child’s diet. There were still a lot of bad, or “loose” milk for sale at corner groceries though.

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Sp safe milk stations went up around the city (above). Some were funded by individual philanthropists; the dairies in Central and Prospects Parks were built to offer clean milk.

Other milk depots were run by the New York Milk Committee—which also sent nurses into poor families’ homes to help spread the word about hygiene and good nutrition.

Were they successful? In the summer of 1911, the Committee sold an average of 3,800 quarts of milk a day through its depots at below cost, serving 5,000 babies and attracting twice as many mothers as expected.

[Many thanks to the New York Academy of Medicine Library, which has this card and more in its Milk Committee Ephemera Collection]

The old city along the East River waterfront

February 8, 2016

Everett Longley Warner’s “Along the River Front” captures the city in 1912 on the cusp of change.

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The old New York waterfront, one of horse-drawn wagons loaded with packages heading to small commercial fish dealers and the office of a steamship line, have been dwarfed by the modern city’s enormous bridges and the traffic they carry.

Pier201900This photo, from 1900, gives an idea of what Warner was looking at. He changed the name of the steamship line from the New Haven Line to the Maine Line, for unknown reasons.

Warner was an impressionist painter who lived in New York in the early 1900s. Despite early notoriety, his lovely depictions of industry and commerce in the city haven’t made him a household name.

Hanging laundry on a New York tenement roof

April 6, 2015

John Sloan sure had a thing for painting rooftops.

“Red Kimono on the Roof,” from 1912, is just one of many Sloan paintings depicting the view from a roof, or featuring women hanging laundry or catching a breeze from the top of a tenement.

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“This unglorified glimpse of a woman hanging laundry was probably painted from Sloan’s studio window,” states the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s website.

An abstract painter’s lonely, melancholy city

November 24, 2014

Greenwich Village resident Stuart Davis, who died in 1964, is best known as an artist who embraced the 20th century’s abstract styles, depicting modernist and cubist still lifes and landscapes with intense color.

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[Above, “Tenement Scene,” 1912]

Yet in the early years of the 20th century, he started out as a student of Robert Henri.

Henri was a social realist painter who was a prominent member of the Ashcan School, a loose-knit group of artists who preferred to show the darker side of urban life. [Below, “Chinatown,” 1912]

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Henri’s influence can be seen in some of Davis’ melancholy, realist paintings of city streets and buildings and the people who inhabit them, painted when he was only 20 years old. [Below, “Bleecker Street,” 1912]

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Like other Ashcan artists, Davis showed his work at the famous 1913 Armory Show, which brought avant-garde art to American audiences.

“In the following years Davis abandoned his Ashcan realist style and experimented with a variety of modern European styles, including Post-Impressionism and Cubism,” states the website for the Museum of Modern Art.

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Stuartdavis1940His later abstract paintings (such as Jefferson Market, from 1930, above) have been described as jazz-influenced precursors to Pop Art.

They certainly have their merits, but there’s something about these moody scenes from the New York of 1912 that capture the city’s humanity.

[Right: Davis in 1940]

What’s the commotion at City Hall Park?

April 24, 2014

Something’s drawn a crowd downtown at the edge of City Hall Park, according to this penny postcard, stamped 1912. A tangle of wagons on the right, and adults and kids swarming the curb in front.

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Just another spring or summer day in a park featured in many vintage postcards? Without a caption, we’ll never know.

There’s the kiosk for a City Hall subway stop, and the statue of Nathan Hale, relocated many times in its 120-year history.

Waiting for word about the Titanic survivors

April 7, 2014

On the morning of April 15, 1912, at least one New York newspaper carried the grim announcement: the Titanic had sunk. What wasn’t clear for several days, though, was how great the loss of life was.

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So anxious New Yorkers with friends and relatives aboard the unsinkable ship went down to the Bowling Green Offices Building at 9 Broadway, which housed the headquarters of the White Star Line.

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A crowd outside the building soon grew, spilling over onto the sidewalk and then across Bowling Green. At first, a White Star spokesman assured everyone that the ship was safe.

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Then wireless reports began to trickle in. But only when the Carpathia docked on the rainy night of April 18 did people really learn whether their loved ones were safe or if they had gone down with the ship.

The White Star Line is long gone, but their former headquarters remains—now home to a Subway.

The Titanic love story of Isidor and Ida Straus

April 15, 2013

IsidoridastrausIf you’ve seen the movie, you might remember this tragic side story. But on the 101st anniversary of the demise of the unsinkable liner in the Atlantic, it bears another telling.

Germany-born Isidor Straus came to the U.S. in 1854. He got started in the dry-goods business, and by 1902, he and his brother co-owned Abraham & Straus and Macy’s, opening the famous Herald Square store that year.

Isidor and his wife, Ida, also a German immigrant, married in 1871. Successful and wealthy thanks to Isidore’s business efforts, they became generous philanthropists.

In 1912, after a trip to Germany, they were booked to return to New York on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. In the early morning hours of April 15, with the fate of the ship sealed and women and children getting into lifeboats, Ida Straus refused to leave Isidor.

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“Mrs. Straus almost entered lifeboat 8 but changed her mind, turned back, and rejoined her husband. Fellow passengers and friends failed to persuade her otherwise,” states Stuart Robinson in Amazing and Extraordinary Facts: the Titanic.

Strausparksign“She is reputed to have told Isidore: ‘We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.'”

Passengers reported seeing the couple “standing alongside the rail, holding each other and weeping silently,” according to a 2012 New York Post article.

Isidor’s body was recovered, but Ida’s was never found. A memorial service for the two held at Carnegie Hall a month later drew thousands, including Mayor Gaynor, Andrew Carnegie, and other notable New Yorkers.

In 1912, the city renamed a park at 106th Street and Broadway Straus Park in honor of the couple, who had lived on 105th Street.

A monument dedicated three years later featured the biblical inscription, “lovely and pleasant they were in their lives, and in their death they were not divided.”

“Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges,” 1912

June 11, 2012

Not only does this postcard offer a fascinating glimpse of a crowded, smoky Lower Manhattan a century ago, it shows the trolleys and trains that used to cross the Brooklyn Bridge.

We also get to see a few old ads: for Borden’s Evaporated Milk and something that looks like the New York Family Story Paper.

Crossing Riverside Drive on a beautiful day

March 1, 2012

“Everything is fine and dandy so far,” someone scrawled in cursive on the back of this postcard, stamped March 11, 1912—almost 100 years ago to the day.

“Jake met us at the station. Was very nice. We are having a fun time.” It’s signed “F & M.” Father and mother? I wonder who they were.

Does anyone know exactly where this stretch of Riverside Drive is? My guess is the upper 80s.

A Sunday rooftop ritual on Cornelia Street

June 24, 2011

Painter John Sloan captures three young women in a semi-private ritual in “Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair,” from 1912.

Watching the three from his studio at Sixth Avenue and West Fourth Street, Sloan called them unselfconscious performers in “another of the human comedies which were regularly staged for my enjoyment by the humble roof-top players of Cornelia Street,” according to this caption from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“Rather than engaging in polite rituals in the elegant or exotic private habitats that American academics and Impressionists preferred to portray,” the caption explains, “these lightly clad Three Graces exhibit an easy camaraderie and a forthright relationship to the viewer.”

“They display their chests and bare arms as they perform their toilette, and their hair is freed from the decorous buns, ‘psyche knots,’ and other coiffures required for appropriate appearance in public.”

The breeze must have felt good up there on the roof. Here’s another John Sloan rooftop.