This is not New York City related, but it pertains to the state capital. New Yorkers woke up this morning 100 years ago to see the haunting portrait above in the morning papers. The state capitol building in Albany , completed just 12 years before, caught fire on the evening of March 29, 1911, destroying most of the state library and killing one man. Many documents from the early days of New York history -- from the founding of New Amsterdam and the early colonization of the region -- were destroyed.
Images like the one above momentarily pushed aside stories and images from Triangle Factory Fire, which had just happened a few days previous.
For more images from the New York state archives, take a look here.
Escapes from the Bronx Zoo are relatively rare today, so news of a 20-inch Egyptian cobra slithering away last Friday -- its current whereabouts unknown -- struck fear and excitement in the hearts of Bronx residents. The slithery beast has even inspired its own Twitter feed @BronxZoosCobra. (Its latest Tweet: "Taking the Sex And The City Tour!!! I'm totally a SSSamantha.")
But the institution once known as the Bronx Zoological Park is a 111-year old zoo after all, and during the park's early years, animals were escaping all the time, almost yearly in fact. And the creatures making the prison breaks back then were far larger than a mere snake. Here's just a sampling, culled from some early New York Times articles:
July 1902 -- A rather plucky Mexican panther broke loose from his new home behind the puma house and crashed a noontime picnic full of women and children. Soon the grounds were buzzing with panicked families and people fleeing for indoor safety. This made life easier for the animal, who feasted upon abandoned picnic lunches. The headlines claimed, "He Eats Sandwiches and Ham for Lunch, but Balks at Pie." The panther eventually jumped into the Bronx River and swam away.
The original article [found here] makes mention of a bear that had escaped the previous summer. It is unclear whether this was the same "tiny black bear" granted to the zoo by Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 -- actually a bear named Teddy Roosevelt, years before the animals that might have inspired the 'teddy bear'.
July 1904 and 1905 -- Both snow leopards in captivity at the Bronx Zoo escaped in successive years. The first was "shot dead after an all night hunt," and the next year its mate tried to make a break for it, disappearing "like a ghost" until it was found the next morning. [source]
July 1908 -- The iguana would have been quite an exotic beast to children one hundred years ago, so imagine the shock when two Cuban iguanas escaped from their confines during a crowded summer day in the reptile house. Women and children ran to the doors. "One man sprang over a low iron fence into the alligator cage in his excitement and scrambled out again as soon as he realized where he was." They were thrown into burlap sacks and returned to their confines. [source]
August 1908 -- Later that year, an 36-foot long East Indian python (perhaps the one pictured above) briefly fled while being transferred to a pit and had to be recaptured by police officers.
November 1916 -- Most unusual is the tale of Loco, the ring-tailed cat, who escaped his cage but hung around the zoo for over two months, killing various birds and rats. Loco was a donation from a Texas animal owner, who gave the cat that particular name because he "must have eaten of the loco weed" before being captured. After feasting with abandon on the zoo's bird collection, Loco was recaptured and returned to his cage, "mus[ing] upon the good time he has had." [source]
For more information on the history of the Bronx Zoo, you can download our podcast on the subject right here (recorded in April 2010).
New York's PBS affiliate WNET tonight debuts the documentary '50th & 8th: A Skyscraper Story' about the construction of One Worldwide Plaza, the complex of buildings in Hell's Kitchen that fashioned itself as an architectural pioneer of midtown's west side. I would not have thought this exemplar of 1980s architecture, a modern try at replicating the Rockefeller Center formula and a nod to art deco, would merit an entire film, so I'm very interested in seeing where this will go.
There's no doubt that the three buildings and surrounded plaza forced a new identity upon the deteriorating west side of the 1980s and most believe it may have given the fortunes of the surrounding neighborhood's a much needed boost. The complex was designed by David Childs, at the firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; his current project can be seen ascending downtown in the from of One World Trade Center.
Worldwide Plaza replaced Madison Square Garden (or MSG III, and the first building with that name nowhere near Madison Square) which sat here from 1925 to 1968. The neighborhood was the inheritor of many vice industries by the late 19th century, particularly during Prohibition.
Eighth Avenue, as the outer west edge of Times Square, was particularly known as a harbor for prostitution in the 1960s and 70s, sometimes known as the 'Minnesota Strip', an unfortunate nickname gleaned from the supposed Midwestern origins of many of the avenue's teenage prostitutes. Check out the WNET Thirteen website for a schedule of showtimes, or check your local PBS affiliate.
NOTE: Thanks to a commenter who indicated this is an older film produced after the plaza was first built. And is being re-broadcast because WNEW is making the building a new home!
UPDATE: This is a very odd film, almost like an industrial video made to impress investors. Why do I feel like I'm watching the Matt Damon movie 'The Informant'? However, to see the neighborhood and the surrounding streets in the late 1980s make it worth sitting through. If you live or work in Hell's Kitchen (or Clinton, as the documentary prefers), you'll get even more value. But the dry British narrator isn't helping matters!
Photo courtesy flickr/TravelingMango
I was thinking, what if I made a point to go out of my way to do ONE nice thing for someone a day? It could really make a difference, I'm going to try that this week- it would be awesome if you did as well! I hope yall have a blessed Sunday!
Where they lived: Victims of the Triangle Factory Fire, the homes they left behind, a hundred years later
Lonely tenement on Avenue C and 13th Street, near many homes of the Triangle Fire victims. photo by Percy Loomis Sperr [NYPL]
From cable television to museums and campuses all over the city, you've been able to find a host of remembrances of the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory one hundred years ago. At the bottom of this post, I'll reprint my list from a couple weeks ago (with a couple new additions) outlining some easy ways to learn about the history.
I wanted to focus on something a little different. Thanks to the research of Michael Hirsch and the Kheel Center at Cornell University [found here], it's possible to actually come up with a map of the homes of all 146 victims of the Triangle fire. It would look something like the map below. Just zoom into it to look at the individual sites and take a gander at which neighborhoods and boroughs that were most affected:
View Triangle Factory Fire in a larger map
NOTE: The addresses are accurate, but a few of the points are approximately placed. In a few cases, the streets no longer exist, so I placed the points in close vicinity.
To nobody's surprise, the neighborhood most devastated by the tragedy is the Lower East Side (The east side above Houston Street -- i.e. today's East Village -- didn't take that new designation until the 1960s.) There doesn't seem to be a block in the neighborhood with an empty home that day one hundred years ago.
A few years before the Triangle fire, the Lower East Side has experienced an even more ghastly tragedy -- the explosion of the General Slocum paddle steamer on June 15, 1904. Among the 1,021 victims of that horrific event, most lived in this neighborhood and specifically in the German area of Kleindeutschland. As the victims were mostly women and children, the disaster effectively marked the end of the German enclave here. New York wouldn't see such a large loss of life until September 11, 2001.
The deaths of the 146 garment workers on March 25, 1911, did not produce the same effect to the neighborhood, but certainly the loss was gravely felt in tenements and houses throughout the city. The map shows that the disaster's immediate impact reverberated even into the other boroughs.
East vs. West
Of the 146, most all of them were born in three countries -- Italy, Russia or Austria. A handful were born in the United States, presumably the children of first generation immigrants. So its no surprise most of them found homes in the Lower East Side, still the heart of immigrant life in the early 20th century. But I really didn't expect it to be so decisive. Outside of a small cluster of people who lived in Greenwich Village close to the factory, there were no victims who listed addresses anywhere on Manhattan's west side -- not in Hell's Kitchen, the Upper West Side, or anywhere else.
Yorkville and Beyond
I'm fascinated by those who lived further out, near the growing immigrant village of Yorkville on the Upper East Side, for instance. A great many took streetcars and elevated trains into work from Brooklyn and the Bronx, and some might even have taken advantage of the new subway (although in 1911, its route was very limited). No surprise that none of them lived in Queens; the ethnic neighborhoods of that borough would really flourish after the 1920s.
And then there's young Vincenza Billota, a 16 year old girl who lived out with her uncle in Hoboken, NJ -- the only one of the victims to commute into the city. Her uncle came in from New Jersey that night to identify Vincenza who burned alive inside the factory. He identified her because her shoes had recently been repaired; he recognized the cobbler's work.
There's something moving about finding and identifying the homes of the victims. Most of these people had no solid roots, no property they owned. Only an address, a home they most likely shared with family members and other tenants. Every year the sidewalks outside these addresses are marked with chalk, the names and ages written on the ground as a yearly reminder. You can look at a photo array from the most recent chalk excursions here.
They didn't live in fabulous Beaux-Arts mansions or apartment buildings. Their homes were tenements, most overcrowded and poorly maintained. Thus, many of the actual buildings themselves are gone. In the cases of the victim's homes on Monroe Street, even most of the street itself is gone, replaced with more modern housing projects. At left, 135 Cherry Street, the home of fire victim Rose Cirrito. The photo is from 1939 (courtesy NYPL); the entire row of buildings was later demolished.
509 East 13th Street was the home to two Italian girls, Antonietta Pasqualicchio and Annie L'Abate, and an older Italian woman Annina Ardito, who all lost their lives that day. But that building has been replaced with a most modern apartment.
Family and Friends
To grasp a disaster of this magnitude -- at a vantage one century later -- you have to deal with it in generalities. The victims were mostly girls, mostly immigrants, mostly uneducated. However, by singling out a particular address, the individual tragedies come into focus. And oddly, you get to place that person's life next to what inhabits that address today. In the case of the Lower East Side, some of these places are now restaurants, bars and luxury condos.
143 Essex Street was the home of two victims -- two teenage brothers Max and Sam Lehrer from Austria. Both had arrived in the United States via Ellis Island in 1909; another Austrian, Sigmund Freud, also arrived at Ellis Island that year. Last year, that building itself caught on fire.
Young Jennie Stellino had lived in New York since she was 12 years old; she died in the blaze at age 16. She walked to the factory every day from her home at 315 Bowery, one of the few with a fairly easy commute. Jennie survived the blaze but died from her burns three days later. Decades later, the building at that address became internationally renown for the tenant at its ground floor, CBGB's.
I'm not sure there's even a 35 Second Avenue anymore. The street is inhabited by a diner and a few bars today; the Anthology Film Archives sits across the street. But it was the home to three women who lost their lives that day -- Catherine Maltese and her two daughters.
Press: Lots of articles will be generated about the fire, but I recommend you start with the excellent coverage by the New York Times, including a story last week about researcher Michael Hirsch and his quest to identify the last six remaining victims of the fire whose names until now had been unknown. [New York Times]
and last but definitly not least..
6. Paula Deen's Celebrates! Best Dishes and Best
Wishes for the Best Times of Your Life
Okay, seriously. If you enjoy cooking/baking and enjoy hosting events BUY
THIS BOOK! It brings a smile to my face everytime! Of course we all love
the one and only Mrs. Paula Deen! This book is filled with tips and advice for living a
happy life and most importantly recepie ideas for special occasions such as New Years,
Valentines Day, Marti Gras, Easter, May Day, The Fourth of July, and many more.
I'm always looking for any excuse to have a party so this is just perfect!
.. I'm currently planning a pink and white May day party inspired by this book.
I'll stop now but seriously- its good!
What do you love? Have a wonderful day!
Above: Liz with Sammy Davis Jr., with her husband Richard Burton kissing (!) another woman*. I'm not sure where this is taken, but as it's from the LIFE collection by photographer Leonard Mccombe, it's probably from the evening of October 20, 1964, after the opening of Davis' hit musical 'Golden Boy'.
Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011), who died this morning in Los Angeles at age 79, was a fixture of New York nightlife, comfortable in smoky nightclubs like the Waldorf-Astoria's Empire Room and the Copacabana in the 1960s. She even became a staple of 1970s glitterati, evidenced by her 46th birthday party at Studio 54, a soiree thrown for her by the fashion designer Halston and her good friend Andy Warhol.
From Victor Bockris' biography on Warhol: "Elizabeth Taylor's birthday cake was baked in her image and wheeled out by the Rockettes dancing in choreographed precision."
From one of Taylor's many biographies:
"Elizabeth and her mother had spent three whole days in Chicago, en route to New York, going on a shopping spree at Marshall Field .... In New York, it continued: they shopped round the clock for her bridal trousseau. Conrad Hilton had said to her, 'Elizabeth, when you walk through the doors of the Waldorf, I want you to feel perfectly at home.' When she went to register, the desk clerk handed her an envelope. Inside was a block of Waldorf-Astoria shares, making her a part-owner of the place right away. She felt perfectly at home."
-- From Elizabeth: The Life of Elizabeth Taylor By Alexander Walker
Below: from a 1986 Life Magazine photograph, a tribute to the actress at Lincoln Center with some of her famous friends, including Warhol, Roddy McDowell and Maureen Stapleton
*Thanks to a reader for pointing out that the 'other' woman was May Britt, Sammy Davis' wife!
A slight correction:
I inferred in this week's show that the very first Supreme Court -- with Chief Justice John Jay -- met in Federal Hall. They actually first convened on February 2, 1790, in a building very close by to Fraunces -- the Royal Exchange Building. Also called the Merchant Exchange, the Court's first home was located at Broad and Water streets, making it practically Fraunces' neighbor. At the time there were only six justices that served on the court.
It was completely unsuited for such important work. According to writings from 1920 by Joseph Bucklin Bishop, the Exchange was "a very curious structure, for its ground floor was open on all sides, and in tempestuous weather the merchants who gathered there for business found it extremely uncomfortable. It had a second story which was enclosed and consisted of a single room" [source] Here's an illustration of this odd building:
By 1791, the court moved to Philadelphia. A more dignified Merchants Exchange was later built in New York and featured a well-regarded statue of Alexander Hamilton in its rotunda. Unfortunately this building was promptly burned down in the Great Fire of 1835.
So, is Fraunces Tavern really the oldest building in Manhattan? It really depends on how much leeway you're willing to give it. There's been a continually standing structure there since 1719, easily outdistancing two other Manhattan buildings, St. Paul's Church on Broadway and Fulton streets (1766) , and the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights (1765).
Fraunces, however, has gone through a host of radical changes to its appearance, with floors added and removed, its rooms reconfigured and its exterior entirely altered as to render it almost unrecognizable. A renovation in the 1900s by architect William Mersereau did bring it closer to its original state. There are certainly elements from the original structure that remain. Is that enough to bestow it the title Manhattan's oldest building?
There are several buildings in Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens that lay claim to being much older. You can read about some of them here.
Downstairs at Fraunces:
You can read the story about the alleged 'dungeon' underneath Fraunces Tavern here: MAY HIDE DARK SECRET OF FRAUNCES'S TAVERN; Proprietor Likely to Conceal Noisome Dungeon from "Blisters." SO HE TERMS THE BUYERS
Places to Visit:
You can find directions and hours to the Fraunces Tavern Museum here. We recommend hanging a right at the second floor and watching the short introductory video before exploring the room.
When you're done with the museum, head on up Pearl Street one block north to see some curious ruins under foot, the remnants of old Lovelace's Tavern. Bricks embedded in the sidewalk also indicate where the Stadt Huys (or New Amsterdam's city hall building) once stood.
Pearl Street sat along the edge of Manhattan in the 1660s, meaning the land Fraunces sits upon today would have been water and docks. This interactive map from PBS's Dutch New York display illustrates this pretty effectively.
Curious to learn more about New York during the Revolution? Check our two-part podcast series from 2008: The British Invasion: New York 1776 and Life In British New York 1776-1783.
There's not any real contemporary books on Fraunces Tavern history, but you might find this artifact from 1919 of interest -- A Sketch of Fraunces Tavern and Those Connected With Its History, a short 'official' history by Henry Russell Drowne, a member of the Sons of the Revolution.
Drowne was best known as a collector of coins and printed money but was active in New York historical preservation as well. In stark contrast to his name, Drowne died in a house fire on the Upper West Side in 1934.
PODCAST Fraunces Tavern is one of America's most important historical sites of the Revolutionary War and a reminder of the great importance of taverns on the New York way of life during the Colonial era. This revered building at the corner of Pearl and Broad street was the location of George Washington's farewell address to his Continental Army officers and one of the first government buildings of the young United States of America. John Jay and Alexander Hamilton both used Fraunces as an office.
As with many places connected to the country's birth -- where fact and legend intermingle -- many mysteries still remain. Was the tavern owner Samuel Fraunces one of America's first great black patriots? Did Samuel use his position here to spy upon the British during the years of occupation between 1776 and 1783? Was his daughter on hand to prevent an assassination attempt on the life of George Washington? And is it possible that the basement of Fraunces Tavern could have once housed a dungeon?
You can tune into it below, download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, or get it straight from our satellite site.
Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys: Fraunces Tavern
One of the oldest, diverse and historic rooms in New York City, the Long Room played host to Colonial Era dance classes, George Washington's farewell speech (pictured below), decades of guests as a boardinghouse, and now a replica of tavern life in early America. [Columbia U]
How the interior may have looked in the 19th century, as Fraunces became more a lodging house frequented by longshoremen, sailors and dock workers. [NYPL]
The changing facades of Fraunces: this sketch is from some point in the 19th century, when additional floors were added to the original structure. You can see the difficulty architect William Merserau might have faced in the 1900s when trying to reconstruct the building to reflect its original condition.
This doesn't seem like it could even be the same building, and yet, there's the sign for the tavern hanging over the second floor and a street sign for Broad Street to the left. This picture is between 1890 and 1904, before the structural changes. [LOC]
After reconstruction, somewhere between 1910-1920, looking almost as it does today. In the distance to the right you'll see a bit of the elevated train line. [LOC]
By the 1970s, modern skyscrapers permanently change the feel of the Financial District, but Fraunces holds firm.
The parking lot across the street would soon be replaced by the towering Goldman Sachs building. Interestingly, underneath these cars lies the remnants of Dutch New Amsterdam, including the earlier Lovelace's Tavern. [LOC]
Samuel Fraunces, in a portrait of the tavern owner painted between 1770-1785, giving little clue to what many consider to be his real racial identity. The lineage of the man nicknamed 'Black Sam' continues to be debated to this day.
Fraunces was the scene of a relatively recent attack in 1975 when members of the Puerto Rican nationalist group Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña (FALN) placed a bomb in one of the tavern's doorways, killing 4 people and seriously injuring many others. (You can find the picture below and many others -- including the note left at the scene taking responsibility for the attack -- at this Latin American studies website.)
Fraunces Tavern makes an wildly inaccurate appearance in a 1992 animated film, loosely based on the life of Washington.