Category Archives: Books

7 Strange Facts & Stories About The American Civil War

80 Years After The Civil War Ended, Confederate Ammunition Killed Two Soldiers

7 Strange Facts Concerning The Civil War

Burke Davis Civil WarTens of thousands of books have been written about the American Civil War. The book that I recently read was not a penetrating analysis of a battle or biography of a soldier. Rather it was a book containing some unusual stories about the Civil War. Well written and researched, I think a small portion of the book is worth sharing here.

In no particular order here are 7 quick stories from the book The Civil War Strange & Fascinating Facts by Burke Davis, Fairfax Press (1982) (previously published as Our Incredible Civil War, 1960): Continue reading

A List Of 59 “Really Interesting” Books About New York City Compiled In 1936

These 59 Books About New York City Were Recommended To Anyone Who Was Considering Working For The City

In 1936 New York librarian Rebecca Rankin was asked to compile a list of books with good stories which have New York as a background by the Municipal Service Commission. Along with Miriam Mayer of the Municipal Library, the two came up with a list of hundreds of good books that they would recommend to anyone considering working for the city. Continue reading

What You’ll Find In Allentown – From The Beatles to President Nixon

Twice A Year Allentown Hosts A Collectibles Show That Has A Bit Of Everything

browsers at AllentownIt’s about a 95 mile drive from New York City to Allentown, PA. Leave by 7:00 a.m. and drive through the traffic free streets of New York, you can arrive in under two hours at Agricultural Hall. Because of Allentown’s location, visitors arrive in large numbers from the surrounding states. If you get there a few minutes before the doors open — you will then see this sight – lots of people waiting in line to begin an odyssey at the Allentown Paper Show.

Line before show opens at Allentown PAFor the over 100 dealers at the show, it is not just paper they are selling. Because whatever you collect, there is a good chance that at least one dealer, if not several will have what you are looking for.

Collectors know this and that is why they line up early to get in. Continue reading

Walt Whitman & James Bond At The Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair

The Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair 2019Customers at Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair 2019

While rare books abound at the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair, you can spend as little as $10 for something very readable and collectable.

Or you can plunk down as much as $85,000 and walk away happy with your purchase. The Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair, going six years strong, is currently at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint, 72 Noble Street.

Greenpoint – Franklin Avenue

Greenpoint, if you haven’t been there recently, is worth the trip alone. It is hip and revitalized with many unique shops and trendy restaurants filled with customers. The pubs in the area lure you with sweet aromas of barley and hops with their Brooklyn craft beers. Flea markets are nearby and you have great views from the waterfront.

Getting back to the fair, I didn’t spend $85,000 which was the asking price of a magnificent first edition copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Continue reading

A 21st Century Woman In The 19th Century – Maverick In Mauve

Book Review: Maverick In Mauve The Diary Of a Romantic Age

Maverick In Mauve book coverLifelong New Yorker, Florence Adele Sloane kept a diary from 1893 – 1896. That in itself is not unusual. What is out of the ordinary is that the diary covers Florence’s life from the age of 19 through 23 and her observations on life and her surroundings are written with astute wisdom beyond her years. Continue reading

Idiot or Autistic? New York’s 19th Century “Idiot Asylum”

New York’s Idiot Asylum Was A School / Prison For Children Who Were Often Not “Idiots”

The New York Asylum for Idiots Report 1867 coverWithout discussing the question how far down in the scale of idiocy the work of education can practicably go, this much may be said: that some idiots are teachable to an extent which will fully compensate for the amount of labor involved in their instruction. These certainly should be cared for by the State.

It will be seen by the report of the Superintendent, that according to the last census, there were in the State, 303 idiots under 15 years of age. No one can examine these returns without being convinced that the actual number is at least double the number so returned. Were only a third of these fit subjects for management and training in a public institution, even then it is obvious that the present provision made by the State falls short of their needs.

– from the 1867 Sixteenth Annual report of the New York Asylum for Idiots: transmitted to the Legislature, January 17, 1867

Today it would be politically incorrect to label anyone with mental disabilities or deficiencies as an idiot. The word mentally retarded has also fallen out of common usage.

Idiot.

Imbecile.

Moron.

In the early 20th century these words took on new psychiatric meaning, which has since been expunged from the nomenclature of psychiatry. In the 19th century those words were pretty much interchangeable for anyone considered mentally deficient or inherently stupid.

What Do We Do With “Idiots”?

The study and understanding of psychology and medical conditions related to learning and developmental disorders was virtually nonexistent before the 20th century. In a large state like New York, a facility was developed at public expense to deal with so-called idiots. Hence came the “Idiot Asylum.”

The Idiot Asylum Syracuse NY circa 1860Often parents couldn’t understand why a child wasn’t speaking. paying attention, responding to social cues, or learning like other children. Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #19 – Chinese Restaurants, A Brief History

Postcard Views 1910 – 1949 & A Short History Of Chinese Restaurants In New York City

The Chinese Tuxedo Restaurant in New York’s Chinatown 1910

Along with Chinese immigration to the United States in the 1850s, came Chinese food. It wasn’t long before Americans took a liking to the transoceanic cuisine. The Chinese population in New York City was only 747 in 1880. By 1900 it had grown to 6,321.

Tai Sy Chinese restaurant

There “are eight thriving Chinese restaurants that can prepare a Chinese dinner in New York, almost with the same skill as at the famous Dan Quay Cha Yuen (Delmonico’s) of Shanghai or Canton,” according to Wong Chin Foo in the October 1888 Current Literature Magazine.  With only one day off, Chinese patrons, usually working as laundrymen, would crowd the Chinese restaurants on Sunday’s.

Port Arthur Restaurant

Port Arthur Restaurant 7 & 9 Mott Street, considered among the finest Chinese restaurants in New York City est. 1899

Continue reading

The Shape Of Your Head Indicates Everything! 19th Century Quackery- Phrenology

Fowler & Wells, Phrenologists – The Art of Reading The Shape Of Your Head.

phrenologyWhat sort of foolishness did people believe in the 19th century? Phrenology, which might sound silly today, was studied and taken seriously by many people.

Phrenology is the “science” of reading character traits by the shape of your head. And of course there were plenty of experts – phrenologists – who could perform such accurate assessments.

Of course it is a pseudo-science, that is absurd, and yet there are still people today who believe in Phrenology. Continue reading

Book Review – Fortunate Son by John Forgerty

John Fogerty, Fortunate Son & Survivor Of The Cutthroat Music Industry

The Story Of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Leader

Fogertyy Fortunate Son book“I am a bit of a control freak,” admits John Fogerty in his autobiography Fortunate Son: My Life My Music (Little, Brown & Co. – 2015).

It’s a justifiable sentiment, because if John Fogerty was not a control freak, Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) would never have become one of the most popular rock bands in the world.

Many CCR fans may be unaware, that Fogerty‘s bandmates; bassist Stu Cook, drummer Doug “Cosmo” Clifford and Fogerty‘s older brother, rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty, until CCR’s final album, contributed nothing to the band in terms of music, lyrics, production, mixing and arrangements of songs.  Without John Fogerty, Creedence Clearwater Revival was nothing, according to Fogerty.

While that may sound like a self-inflated opinion, it is probably more of an objective fact. Between 1968 to 1972, John Fogerty as lead singer, sole songwriter, lead guitarist, arranger and producer, garnered over 20 hit singles and millions of album sales. CCR’s commercial success during that time was rivaled by no one except the Beatles and possibly Led Zeppelin. Continue reading

What Were The Best New York City Restaurants In 1929?

Brooklyn Daily Eagle Columnist Rian James Shares His Picks For The Best Restaurants in New York City in 1929

Rian James (1899-1953) may not be a well known name today, but back in the 1920s and 30s, he was a widely read journalist and  “man about town.”

In 1933 James took a stab at writing for the movies. He wrote the screenplay for 42nd Street, one of the most successful and popular films of the 1930s. James would go on to write over three dozen screenplays.

As a columnist for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from 1928-1935, James rambled all around New York City. Along the way James hobnobbed with everyone: the well-to-do, the hoi-polloi, actors,  and bohemians, in the process, hitting all the night spots. The stories James gathered made for a widely read column about the city he loved.

Four times a year the Eagle published a small guide Going Places With Rian James casting his top picks in New York City food and entertainment.

For the Summer 1929 Going Places, a good portion of  James’ 32 page booklet is devoted to dining. Unlike the modern Zagat restaurant guides or Yelp, consensus was not considered. The only thing that mattered was James’ opinion. James knew all the “in” places, the haunts of celebs, the exclusive, the ribald and the popular.

Proving he’s no snob, the best New York restaurant according to James is not at a high class hotel or Madison Avenue establishment. It’s Feltman’s, originator of the hotdog, in Coney Island that wins the prize.  James writes, “The best all-round food in all New York, excluding no place.”

This is a New York booklet written for New Yorkers.

James offers a unique slice of the New York dining scene just prior to the October 1929 stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression. The good times were to end soon after.

While there were a ton of contemporary guidebooks published about New York City, very few delved into the restaurant scene. James’ punchy one line descriptions tell you a lot more than many a detailed review.

The writing has some jazz age jargon such as “Beeway” for Broadway and “black and tan” for an establishment that has race mingling between Blacks and Caucasians. Sometimes there’s an “inside”, long forgotten, or even a risque reference such as this one:

BARNEY’S – 85 W. 3rd St.
The best bet for whoopee in the Village.

In other words, where you have the best chance of hooking up.

James later wrote several full length books about New York City: a full guidebook All About New York An Intimate Guide; John Day (1931) and another not surprisingly titled, Dining in New York; John Day (1934).

While you peruse this list, you may recognize some names long gone from New York’s glorious culinary past. Other eateries you never heard of just sound like they would have been a blast to visit.

What is stunning in the transient world of dining, is that there are a small number of restaurants that are still in business nearly 90 years later.

We have left Rian James’ spelling, grammar and punctuation as it is written in the booklet.

So with that, here is Rian James’ New York City’s restaurant recommendations for the summer of 1929, divided into his appropriate section headings in bold.

Restaurants of All Nations

Name      Address       Nation

L’AIGLON – 55th, E. of Fifth Ave. French
Complete French Cuisine.LUCHOWS – 110 E. 14th St. German
Complete German Cuisine. Try the German Rye Bread. Continue reading