Category Archives: Books

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

The Startling Changes in New York From 1873 – 1923

Robert Underwood Johnson Tells Of New York In 1873 and How It Changed Over 50 Years

Everything today seems to be moving at the speed of light. Changes of all sorts have greatly altered our everyday living in ways that might have been unimaginable 20 or even 10 years ago.

Some might argue there was more change at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century than there is today. All the people who lived through and witnessed that change are long dead. Maybe if you heard it from someone first hand, it might make a greater impression upon you.

Fortunately we have people like Robert Underwood Johnson (1853-1937) who put down his memories in his book, Remembered Yesterdays (Little, Brown & Co., 1923) which serves as a living time capsule of that period.

Johnson was a long time editor at The Century Magazine, a leading monthly periodical which covered news art and literature. Johnson also wrote regularly for Scribner’s Magazine.  Along with John Muir, Johnson was one of the main forces behind the creation of Yosemite National Park.  Johnson personally knew every major personage imaginable during his lifetime and his memoir reflects that.

What I found particularly interesting was a brief chapter entitled “New York in the 70’s” (meaning the 1870s). In that chapter, Johnson compares the New York City he arrived in, in 1873 with the present (1923).

This is what had occurred over 50 years. Below is an excerpt from the book:

A STUDY IN CONTRASTS

LOOKING back it is difficult to identify the New York of that time, just beginning to feel its strength, with the brilliant metropolis of to-day. Think of the points of contrast! In 1873 there were no electric lights, no skyscrapers, no trolleys, no blazing, twirling or winking signs and thus, of course, no Great White Way, Broadway being preéminently the street of business and there being little or no shopping on the cross streets above Fourteenth. Continue reading

You Never Know What You’ll Find At Papermania Plus In Hartford

Papermania Plus – Something For Everyone

A little bit of everything at Papermania Plus In Hartford CT. This dealer featured movie memorabilia; books, pinbacks and Fate magazines at one table.

On a beautiful summer day, customers came from many states to search among a variety of goods, not all necessarily made of paper.

Collectors congregated at Hartford, Connecticut’s XL Center for Papermania Plus 74, which took place on Saturday, August 25, 2018.

Shoppers looking for interesting finds at Papermania Plus 74

There were all sorts of antiques, ephemera, collectables and memorabilia for sale including books, comics, original art, movie stills and posters, postcards, photographs, magazines, manuscripts and a few other things that you might be surprised to find at Papermania.

Promoter Gary Gipstein assembled more than four score quality dealers to offer their wares. Prices ranged from a dollar to four figures for some rare items.

But you don’t have to be a collector of anything specific to enjoy the show. There is so much to look at and appreciate, that it is unlikely you could come here and not go home with something desirable at a very fair price.

So what did we notice? Continue reading

What Is Happiness? 10 Ideas About What Makes Us Happy From 10 Famous People

Happiness IS…. (It Depends Who’s Giving You The Answer)

Charles Schulz, who often contemplated the meaning of happiness through his Peanuts comic strip, once did an entire book on the subject, “Happiness is a Warm Puppy.”

For some, maybe happiness can be summed up so simply.

Happiness is an elusive quest for so many of us. For centuries great minds have contemplated what constitutes happiness.

From Random House Webster’s Quotationary edited by Leonard Roy Frank (1998) Random House, here are interesting insights from ten noted people about what makes us happy.

“Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness; it is generally the by-product  of other activities.” Aldous Huxley (1945) from Religion and Time

“Human happiness konsists in having what yu want, and wanting what yu hav.” Josh Billings (1874) from Everybody’s Friend or or Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia  and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor

“There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.” George Sand (1862) from a letter to Lina Calamatta

“It is not enough to be happy: It is also necessary that others not be.” Jules Renard (1894) written in his journal Continue reading

The New York Rules Of Etiquette 120 Years Ago

The Extremely Formal & Somewhat Strange Greetings and Salutation Rules Of New York City Etiquette In 1899

A gentleman opens a door for a strange lady, holds it open with one hand and lifts his hat
with the other, while she passes through in advance of him. He always offers her the precedence; but he does it silently, and without resting his gaze upon her, as if he would say,
” You are a lady and I am a gentleman. I am polite for both our sakes. You may be young
and charming, or you may be old and ugly; it is all the same to me. I have not looked at you
to discern, but I am certain that you are a lady.” –  Social Etiquette of New York – Abby Buchanan Longstreet (D. Appleton & Co. – 1899)

“Ladies and gentlemen.” We’ve heard those words countless times, but what is it to be a lady or a gentleman? A century ago it applied to people who followed proper etiquette.

A society dinner c.1899

In the 19th and early 20th century etiquette was taken pretty seriously by some Americans. It was a time when etiquette meant proper behavior, civility and deportment. Manners and politeness were taken to heart.  The rigid rules and lessons were adhered to not just by wealthy society, but those who aspired to be true “ladies” and “gentlemen.”

If you were unsure of certain situational  behavior, scores of books were written on etiquette. Some books specifically concentrated on New York City etiquette.

“Everything which refines the habits of a people ennobles it, and hence the importance of
furnishing to the public all possible aids to superior manners.”

The sentiments are those of the doyenne of proper behavior,  Abigail Buchanan Longstreet (1833-1899) who wrote a number of books on good manners during the 19th century.

Longstreet’s book, written anonymously, Social Etiquette of New York, went through many editions and revisions between 1879 -1899, the year of  Longstreet’s death.

Depending on how you look at it,  you will see these rules as antiquated nonsense or quaint and dignified guidelines that are delightful to contemplate.

Today almost all of these forms of etiquette have been completely discarded or heavily modified.

Here are just a few of the rules for greetings and salutations. From the rules of Social Etiquette in  New York:

A gentleman always lifts his hat when offering a service to a lady, whether he is acquainted with her or not. It may be the restoration of her dropped kerchief, or fan, the receiving of her money to pass it to the cash-box of a car, the opening of her umbrella as she descends from a carriage — all the same ; he lifts it before he offers his service, or during the courtesy, if possible. She bows, and, if she choose, she also smiles her acknowledgment ; but she does the latter faintly, and she does not speak. To say ” Thank you ! ” is not an excess of acknowledgment, but it has ceased to be etiquette. A bow may convey more gratitude than speech.

Two ladies may extend hands to each other, and so also may two gentlemen, although hand-shaking is not so common as formerly. Continue reading

Searching Here In Allentown- At The Book & Paper Show With Postcards, Antique Advertising & A Real Black Bear

Things You Will Find At The Allentown Book & Paper Show

On a cloudless Saturday at eight forty in the morning, a line of about 200 eager men and women snaked its way around Agricultural Hall at the Allentown Fairgrounds in Allentown, PA.

They were anxiously awaiting the April 21 opening of the two day Allentown Book and Paper Show, an all encompassing smorgasbord of anything and everything collectible that has a relationship to paper.

On  the show floor a few minutes before 9:00 am,, show promoter Sean Klutinoty announced to the 170 dealers over the public address system, that the anxious crowd would soon be admitted. This was the cue for the dealers to return to their tables. They had set up their stalls the day before but quite a few dealers were scurrying about making some last minute purchases from one  another.

Searching through hundreds of thousands of postcards

At nine sharp, customers started filing in. Like bees who fly precise routes to pollinate flowers, the mad dash began for people to get to their favorite dealer. For those who do not have a special dealer to go to, there is a rush to visit each booth methodically row by row.

Each patron is searching for something particular and they ask dealers if they possess whatever special item they seek, before the competition, real or imagined, swoops in and beats them to it.

Another aisle of postcard row

If it made of paper and you cannot find it in Allentown that is the exception.

Unlike a book show where you have books and some ephemera, at a paper show there is literally no limit on what antiquity or modern collectible you may find. Continue reading