Posts Tagged ‘New York in the 1880s’

The curious 1870s cat hospital on Division Street

January 9, 2017

Even 19th century New York had its cat ladies—and the New York Tribune wrote about one Lower East Side cat lady’s curious tale.

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“On Division Street, about midway between Essex and Norfolk Streets, in this city, stands a three-story, dilapidated wooden building, that evidently dates back to the Dutch period of the city,” stated the Tribune in 1878 (image below).

divisionstreetcatsnypl1861“The third floor is given up to Mrs. Rosalia Goodman, better known by the children in that vicinity as ‘Catty Goodman,’ because she devotes much of her time to the comfort and relief of persecuted cats.”

Goodman, a widow, rented out rooms in her home and left two rooms for herself and about 50 cats, reported James McCabe’s New York by Gaslight, in 1882.

She didn’t run a hospital, as articles describing her as one of the city’s “great curiosities” claimed; Goodman seemed to simply care for homeless felines.

“Lying in the closets, on the tables, and under the stove, were cats of all descriptions,” wrote the Tribune. “Some had broken limbs or missing eyes, the result probably of prowling around at night.”

cathospitalclippinThese were some lucky tabbies. In 1894, New York’s chapter of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals took charge of the city’s homeless cat situation by trying to find homes for them—or gassing them.

“Mrs. Goodman receives no pay for her attention to the cats, only the satisfaction which it gives her to attend to the maimed, neglected animals.”

“Her idiosyncrasy is so well known in the neighborhood that whenever a cat is found that is in want of food, or is in any way injured, the unfortunate sufferer is without delay placed in her charge.”

[Top image: New York by Gaslight; second image: Tribune article; third image: NYPL]

A New York socialite dubbed “King of the Dudes”

March 31, 2014

EvanderberrywallchowdogEvery era in New York history has its characters.

And in the late 19th century city, which celebrated extravagance and excess, socialite and clotheshorse Evander Berry Wall was one of the most colorful.

Born in 1860 into a wealthy family, he inherited $2 million by his 21st birthday.

That was an incredible sum in the Gilded Age, and it enabled party-loving Wall (who sported a monocle, and insisted on only drinking champagne) to not work for a living and instead indulge in his love of fashion.

Evanderberrywall1888How much of a fashionista was this guy? Reportedly he owned 500 pairs of pants, 5,000 ties, loved loud colors and patterns, and changed his clothes six times a day.

“He wore waistcoats that dazzled the eye. He wore violet spats. His spread-eagle collars and startling cravats kept New Yorkers agog,” wrote The New York Times in his 1940 obituary.

In the 1880s, he battled for the title of best-dressed New York man with another foppish dandy. Wall eclipsed the other guy during the Blizzard of 1888, when he entered the luxurious Hoffman House bar clad in thigh-high black patent leather boots.

From then on he was crowned “King of the Dudes.” Dude was kind of an insult at the time, but Wall embraced it with pride.

In 1912, he and his wife (yep, he was married) began living abroad in Europe.

EvanderberrywallmonocleHe befriended royalty, indulged his love of social events and horse racing, and took his beloved chow. wherever he could.

He’s best remembered by his outfits, of course, and as the epitome of the Gay 90s.

“To the end he was a fabulous and eccentric dresser of his earlier days—stiff shirts, tailcoats, Byron collars—and he never went to Longchamps in season without his silk hat even if, as he complained, valets no longer knew how to ‘keep the gloss on your topper,'” wrote the Times.

The only shame is that no color photos survive to really show off what a bon vivant fashion plate Wall truly was.

Chronicling a city “shrouded and mute in snow”

February 10, 2014

JosemartiMarch 11, 1888, a Sunday, had started out spring-like, with temperatures hitting 40 degrees by noon. But afternoon rain turned to evening sleet, then heavy snow overnight.

New York’s surprise blizzard of 1888 had set upon the city. Before the 60 mile-per-hour winds and blinding snow ended on Tuesday, 20 inches would blanket the metropolis, paralyzing the city for days and killing about 200 people.

During the blizzard, Jose Marti wrote. Marti (above photo) was a Cuban journalist who had moved to New York in 1881 after leading his country’s fight for independence from Spain.

Blizzardstreetsceneloc

In exile, Marti wrote dispatches about life in New York for Spanish-language newspapers and continued his fight for Cuban freedom. He chronicled the “white hurricane” for the Argentinian paper La Nacion in searing, poetic language, capturing a city stuck without the communication and transportation systems it greatly depended on.

Blizzardmadisonave“[T]he first straw hats were just beginning to be seen on the streets of New York along with the glad, bright clothes of Easter, when the city opened its eyes one morning shaken by the roar of a storm, and found itself shrouded, mute, empty, buried in snow.”

“The snow was knee deep, and the drifts waist-high. The angry wind nipped at the hands of pedestrians, knifed through their clothing, froze their noses and ears, blinded them, hurled them backward into the slippery snow, its fury making it impossible for them to get to their feet, flung them hatless and groping for support against the walls, or left them to sleep, to sleep forever, under the snow.”

On Tuesday, a shaken city began to dig out. Trains that had been grounded resumed running, and residents set out to their workplaces.

“The elevated train, encamped for two days in sinister vigil next to the corpse of an engineer who set out to defy its gale, is running again, creaking and shivering over the treacherous rails that gleam and flash.”

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“This city of snow dotted with brick-red houses is terrible and astonishing, as if flowers of blood were suddenly to bloom on a shroud. The telegraph poles broadcast and contemplate the mess, their lines lying in tangles on the ground like disheveled heads.”

Blizzard14thst6thave“The city awoke this morning without milk, coal, mail, newspapers, streetcars, telephones, or telegraphs. . . . All businesses are closed, and the elevated train, that false marvel, struggles in vain to take the angry crowds that pack the stations to work.”

“The city is coming back to life, burying its dead, and pushing back the snow with the chests of horses and men, the ploughs of locomotives, and buckets of boiling water, sticks, planks, bonfires. And there is a feeling of immense humility and sudden goodness, as if the hand we all must fear has resting on all men at once.”

After the blizzard, Marti continued to write and push for Cuban independence, returning to Cuba in 1895. Later that year, he perished on the battlefield.

Blizzard of 1888 Bdwy at 31st St.

A bronze statue heralding Marti as an “apostle of Cuban independence” was dedicated in Central Park in 1965. On the pedestal, a plaque notes his literary genius.

[Photos: Library of Congress, New-York Historical Society, New York Public Library Digital Collection, New York Times]

New York’s most spectacular apartment building

December 7, 2013

Incredible, right? Called the Navarro Flats, this massive fortress of Gilded-Age extravagance was built on Central Park South at Seventh Avenue in the mid-1880s.

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Twice the size of the Dakota, the Navarro Flats was also early example of apartment-style living. At the time, most New Yorkers of means still preferred living in a single brownstone or townhouse.

But “French Flats” were catching on, and the developer, Jose Francisco de Navarro, expected to make a mint selling luxury apartments to new-money New Yorkers.

Navarroapartments

He spared no expense. The seven-bedroom duplexes had as much as 7,000 square feet of floor space, including a drawing room, library, and billiards room (but only two bathrooms per apartment).

Navarroflats2Each $20,000 duplex was part of one of eight townhouses within the complex, an arrangement thought to make the idea of apartment life more palatable, reports Nathan Silver’s Lost New York.

So why isn’t such a spectacular mishmash of Queen Anne and Gothic architecture there anymore?

Some apartments sold, but mostly, New Yorkers didn’t bite. In 1888, de Navarro was fending off lawsuits from mortgage holders, and the enormous complex met with foreclosure.

By the 1920s, it was gone–replaced by newer luxury residences the Hampshire House and Essex House.

[Middle Photo: NYPL Digital Collection]

The racy painting at a Madison Square bar

November 4, 2013

HoffmanhouseIn 1880s New York City, few hotels could match the elegance of Hoffman House, on Broadway between 24th and 25th Streets (at left).

And the hotel’s mahogany-walled grand bar and salon was famous in the city.

This was where New York’s titans of industry and political power brokers congregated. Boss Tweed was a regular, along with Grover Cleveland, William Randolph Hearst, and Ulysses S. Grant.

HoffmanhousesaloonPart of the reason they made the venue their regular haunt was its sense of privacy and luxury—plus the famous cocktails.

But it may also had to do with the nude paintings hanging along the walls, especially “Nymphs and Satyr,” a suggestive, eight-foot depiction of voluptuous young women by French artist Adolphe Bouguerneau.

This was racy stuff (if not exactly great art) to Victorian-era New Yorkers.

Usually the painting was covered by a thick velvet drape, but when it was open, patrons could discreetly view it by looking in the mirror on the opposite wall.

“Nymphs and Satyr” became a huge tourist attraction. It was such a sensation, even women were allowed to peek at it—but only one day a week, as ladies were normally barred from the bar.

Nymphsandsatyr“A quartet of ripe, naked maidens prancing around a preoccupied faun was for 24 years the despair of Victorian moralists and the delight of the clubmen who crowded Manhattan’s Hoffman House bar,” wrote Time in 1943.

By 1901, the painting was in storage, and after the Hoffman House closed in 1915, it remained there. In the 1940s, it was purchased at auction and given to the Clark Institute in Massachusetts

Until 2014, you can see for yourself the painting that titillated Gilded Age New York at the Met, where “Nymphs and Satyr” is currently on display.

Why is Lady Liberty’s torch in Madison Square?

May 10, 2012

It’s very strange to see the Statue of Liberty’s enormous hand and torch parked in front of the western side of Madison Square—a genteel, elite neighborhood at the end of the 19th century.

But it all came down to fund-raising, and Madison Square was where the money was.

The hand and torch were placed in the park from 1876 to 1882 to get enough donations from Americans to complete the pedestal (the statue itself was the financial responsibility of the French).

Cash was coming in slowly, so Joseph Pulitzer, editor of The World, stepped in.”Pulitzer used his newspaper to criticize both the rich who had failed to finance the pedestal construction and the middle class who were content to rely upon the wealthy to provide the funds,” reports this Statue of Liberty website.

“Pulitzer’s campaign of harsh criticism was successful in motivating the people of America to donate.”

The first man to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge

February 23, 2012

When the Brooklyn Bridge opened in May 1883, it gained fame for its beauty and accessibility. And not long after that, it became known for its jumpers.

The first person to leap from the bridge was Robert Odlum, a 34-year-old swimming instructor.

On the afternoon of May 19, 1885, after going to church, he assembled an audience: a tugboat full of spectators in the East River, as well as a rescue swimmer waiting below to help him onto the boat after he hit the water.

Around 5:30, with the bridge packed with pedestrians strolling the walkways, Odlum climbed over the rail and took his plunge.

“To lower the impact, he held one arm above his head and the other pressed to his side,” writes G.S. Prentzas in The Brooklyn Bridge.

Did he survive? Initially, yes. He rose to the water’s surface motionless, and another man on the tugboat swam out to get him and bring him on board. But his insides were lacerated, and he died that evening.

Why he did it is kind of a mystery. Some sources say it was just a daredevil stunt, others that he was after fame and fortune. He did become famous—and ever since, others have taken the same leap into the East River, with mixed results.

Whatever happened to New York’s pickpockets?

February 24, 2011

Apparently, they’re a dying breed. An article in Slate today stated that in 1990, the NYPD logged 23,000 reports of pickpocketing.

By 2000, the number was less than 5,000. And these days, pickpocketing is so rare, police no longer keep stats on it, Slate reported.

But flash back to the first half of the 20th century, when colorful scare stories of pickpockets were all over New York newspapers.

The one above, from a 1922 edition of The New York Times, warns about a pickpocket subtype called the “lush worker.”

“The lush worker patrols the streets late at night and when he sees a drunk ‘tails’ him. If convenient and if his proposed victim is intoxicated enough, he makes friends with him. Perhaps he helps him across a crowded street, and takes his watch in pay for the service.”

A second subtype: the lady pickpocket. From a 1916 Times story:

“These women, and there are quite a number of them, do their stealing in the department stores and in the fashionable candy shops and ice cream and soda water ‘parlors’ on Fifth Avenue.

“They dress well, and like the male pickpocket, two or more of them usually work together. The one who does the stealing passes the plunder to her sister pickpocket, so if she is caught and searched nothing will be found on her.”