Category Archives: History

Old New York In Postcards #18 – Bridges

Some Unusual and Rare Postcard Views of New York City Bridges

An unusual circa 1900 postcard view of the Brooklyn Bridge promenade with elegantly attired ladies

We don’t think too much about New York City’s bridges except when driving across them. Then you want to know if they are free from traffic, tolls and potholes.

Besides being civic utilitarian objects, on occasion they be considered architectural masterpieces like the Brooklyn Bridge and George Washington Bridge.

But many of the old bridges crossing New York waterways had great thought put into their design. Unfortunately unless you are stuck in traffic or you bicycle or walk over them, you probably would not take the time to notice the turrets, iron flourishes and fine details that decorate and beautify most of New York City’s early bridges.

Let’s take a look at some 100+ year old bridge postcards and sprinkle in some interesting facts and stories.

Williamsburg Bridge at 6 pm 1906

The Williamsburg Bridge’s tower can be glimpsed in the background, but what makes this view interesting is its vantage point on Delancey Street. While not dated, the postcard has the printing year of 1906 and the time as 6:00 pm. Hundreds of Brooklynites make their way to the bridge to walk or take a trolley or elevated train back home.

If the Williamsburg Bridge seems crowded that’s because it is. In 1906 an estimated 1,191,000 pedestrians; 3,548,900 passengers and drivers of vehicles; 51 million surface car (trolley) passengers; 56 million elevated car passengers; and exactly 1,149,543 vehicles and 33,375 horses led by hand, crossed the bridge.

The Williamsburg Bridge was opened on December 19, 1903. The cost of the construction of the bridge with the land was $23,277,560.

Manhattan Bridge at night circa 1910

It is a snowy night and and the roads leading onto the Manhattan Bridge have a light coating of ice, snow and slush on them. The scene is brilliantly lit and there are vehicles or pedestrians in the scene. The Manhattan Bridge was opened for vehicular traffic December 31, 1909 and opened for pedestrian travel July 18, 1910. Including the land, the bridge cost $24,105,200.

Tolls were eliminated on the Williamsburg, Manhattan, Queensboro and Brooklyn Bridge on July 19, 1911 by order of Mayor Gaynor.

High Bridge is the oldest extant bridge in New York. Designed by John B. Jervis and completed in 1848 the bridge cost $963,428. The pedestrian bridge originally contained two three foot pipes which brought New York City fresh water from the Croton River, 41 miles away. The amount of water these pipes could carry was found to be inadequate within a dozen years. The side walls of the bridge were expanded and between 1860 -1864 a seven foot diameter water pipe was laid on top of the original two pipes.

The bridge was modeled after ancient Roman aqueducts, High Bridge’s 15 stone arches graced the river until the early 20th century. During World War I the bridge was declared a menace to navigation. Two proposals were put forward in 1918 to either remove two arches and replace that section with a steel span or entirely demolish the bridge at a cost of $150,000. Continue reading

More Unusual, Strange and Funny Cemetery Epitaphs

“Here lies the body of Henry Round
Who went to sea and never was found.”

Unusual Cemetery Epitaphs from Great Britain and the United States

We’ve covered unusual epitaphs before and the question that always comes to mind is: did the deceased intend to have these words placed upon their monument or is it more often the work of some comedic relative?

Funny Epitaphs by Arthur Eaton photo: Gil’s Book Loft Binghamton, NY

This collection in book form entitled Funny Epitaphs collected by Arthur Wentworth Eaton, (The Mutual Book Company), Boston, 1902, gathers up epitaphs from around Great Britain and the United States.

These inscriptions are claimed to be on tombstones. Eaton does not disclose how he compiled the epitaphs. Some quick research shows Eaton probably collected the majority of epitaphs from previously published sources. Unfortunately, in many of the examples, Eaton does not give names or more importantly the cemetery or location where the inscription can be found.

Like Ripley’s Believe It or Not, you’ll have to decide for yourself if these epitaphs can really be found in a cemetery.

Some are not so funny, but profound. Here is a selection of some of the better and more unusual epitaphs.

 

 

Here lies the body of Johnny Haskell,
A lying, thieving, cheating rascal ;
He always lied, and now he lies,
He has no soul and cannot rise.

Beneath this stone a lump of clay,
Lies Arabella Young ;
Who on the 24th of May,
Began to hold her tongue.

On a tombstone in New Jersey :

Reader, pass on I — don’t waste your time
On bad biography and bitter rhyme ;
For what I ant, this crumbling clay insures.
And what I was, is no affair of yours

At Wolstanton :
Mrs. Ann Jennings

Some have children, some have none ;
Here lies the mother of twenty-one.

Ruth Sprague tombstone Hoosick Falls, NY

There is an epitaph of an eccentric character that
may be seen on a tombstone at the burying-grounds
near Hoosick Falls, New York. It reads :

Ruth Sprague, Daughter of Gibson and Elizabeth Sprague.
Died June 11, 1846, aged 9 years, 4 months, and 3 days.
She was stolen from the grave by Roderick R. Clow, dissected at Dr. P. M. Armstrong’s office, in Hoosick, N. Y., from which place her mutilated remains were obtained and deposited here.

Her body dissected by fiendish man,
Her bones anatomized,
Her soul, we trust, has risen to God,
Where few physicians rise.

Here I lie, and no wonder I am dead,
For the wheel of a wagon went over my head.

Tread softly mortals o’er the bones
Of this world’s wonder, Captain Jones,
Who told his glorious deeds to many
Yet never was believed by any.
Posterity let this suffice
He swore all’s true, yet here he lies.

 

This is all that remains of poor Ben Hough
He had forty-nine years and that was enough.
Of worldly goods he had his share,
And now he’s gone to the Devil’s snare.

Here lies the body of Henry Round
Who went to sea and never was found. Continue reading

7 Untrue Historical “Facts”

The Mayflower Brought Over The First English Colonists and Six Other Untrue Historical Facts

The first English settlement in 1607 by George Popham, Fort George. (photo from the archive Simancas Spain – courtesy Maine’s First Ship)

On the internet you can absorb a lot of “facts” that are completely inaccurate. A skeptical reader should ask where is the information coming from? What is the source?

Unfortunately many mistaken or untrue beliefs, facts and quotations were originally put down in printed books. Sometimes there was shoddy research involved, other times hearsay was used as evidence and other times outright fabrications were entered as fact. Over time, some false facts have been repeated to the point where they become sources of truth.

That is why if you take the time you can discover some entertaining books out there that delve into history and provide context to factual events. These are books written not to provide revisionist history, but corrected history based upon thorough research end evidence.

Tom Burnham’s The Dictionary of Misinformation (1975) Thomas Y. Crowell Company is just such a book.

Burnham researched hundreds of stories, quotations and facts to compile a “dictionary” of reference, rumination and pure delight based upon “misinformation, misbelief, misconstruction and misquotation.”

Here are seven untrue historical facts that we found interesting:

Henry Ford created and introduced the assembly line in automobile factories
In 1902, Ransom E. Olds of the Olds Motor Vehicle Company produced 2,500 cars using an assembly line method. Wooden platforms on casters passed between lines of workmen who added parts until the car was completed. The previous year Olds built just over 400 cars.

Henry Ford improved upon the idea using a conveyor belt system, which brought various parts to the production line. Ford’s innovation cut the time to produce a Model T down from a day and a half to 93 minutes.

The First English colonists ventured to New England in 1620 aboard the Mayflower- 
In 1607, under the leadership of George Popham, 120 persons established a colony at what is now the mouth of the Kennebec River in Maine. The colonists built a fort, houses, a stockade, and a storehouse.

Harsh circumstances abounded: an alliance with local Indians soon fell apart.  An Indian attack on the colonists caused thirteen deaths.  The site of the small settlement was exposed to brutal winter winds and a particularly severe early winter set in, resulting in food supplies giving out.

The colony’s sponsor in England passed away, and George Popham died on February 5, 1608. When a supply ship finally arrived the following June, the remaining colonists abandoned the settlement and returned to England.

Revolutionary patriot Nathan Hale’s dying words were:  “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” –
School teacher Nathan Hale was hung by the British in New York City for being a spy on September 22, 1776. American General William Hull claimed to have heard about Hale’s last words from a British soldier who witnessed the hanging. Hull’s daughter immortalized Hale’s words in 1848 when she published her father’s memoirs.

But an eyewitness account from British officer Frederick Mackensie, is what we might call on the spot reporting. Mackensie wrote the following in his diary:

“He (Hale) behaved with great composure and resolution, saying he thought it the duty of every good Officer to obey any orders given him by his Commander-in-Chief; and desired the Spectators to be at all times prepared to meet death in whatever shape it might appear.” Continue reading

New York in the 1920’s & 30’s as Seen by Luigi Kasimir – Part 2

Six More Views of New York City From The 1920s & 30s by Artist Luigi Kasimir

New York City skyline as seen from Central Park. Etching by Luigi Kasimir

Seven years ago we featured the art work of Luigi Kasimir.

In the first half of the 20th century Kasimir was admired by peers and critics in the art world. His name has been forgotten in the 21st century by most people, except New York art aficionados.

Luigi Kasimir was born in 1881 in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and later came to New York where he repeatedly captured the architectural sights of the city. Kasimir is best known for his detailed etchings, many of which were done in color, which apparently was not the norm for early 20th century etchings.  The New York Times distinguished Kasimir from other etchers of the time at a contemporary exhibition in 1926 by referring to him as a “colorist.” These aquatints have a vibrancy that makes the New York of the 1920’s and 1930’s come alive.  Kasimir was prolific and produced hundreds of works until his death in 1962.

We thought it was worth taking another look at Kasimir’s delightful scenes of New York. So here are six additional etchings of Luigi Kasimir’s New York City.

(click on any etching to enlarge.)

Wall Street, April 1936 Continue reading

New Yorkers Welcome In The New Year 1907 – But No Horn Blowing Allowed!

New Year’s Celebration 1907 – New York Police Commissioner Bans Horn Blowing

A photographer from the Montauk Photo Concern decided to photograph the scene inside the Cafe Martin, at 26th Street and Fifth Avenue on New Year’s Eve December 31, 1906.

As midnight approached the revelers at Cafe Martin noisily whooped it up, raised their glasses and toasted the coming New Year of 1907. This photograph captures a singular moment: right before the stroke of midnight the lights were put out and at exactly twelve, were put on again. The guests then sang along as the band broke into the Star Spangled Banner. Afterwards guests blew horns and confetti was strewn everywhere. Young men filled with the idea of making a speech got up on chairs and spoke to the heart’s content without anyone to stop them.

The guests, all elegantly attired, look like they are having an extraordinary time.

Outside the restaurant it was supposed to be quieter. A city ordinance forbidding horn blowing in the streets had been on the books for years. Earlier in the day Police Commissioner Theodore Bingham informed the newspapers that the bells of Trinity and Grace Church would be heard when they tolled the midnight hour.

Bingham instructed the police to enforce the noise law. All horn blowing was prohibited on New Year’s Eve! Continue reading

45 Years Ago President Truman Died – Remembering A Man of Conviction and Courage

Harry Truman Died December 26, 1972 At Age 88.

Some Words About and From President Truman

Here’s how the CBS Evening News covered the death of the 33rd President of the United States, Harry S. Truman. This three minute clip reflects the simplicity of Harry Truman.

Throughout his life Harry Truman spoke his mind and was honest and ethical, highly unusual traits for a politician.

How much of a straight shooter was Harry Truman? The following story clearly illustrates it.

President Nixon tours Truman Library with President Truman March 21 1969 photo: Harry S. Truman Library

When he retired from public life in 1953, President Truman and his wife Bess moved into his mother-in-law’s house in Independence, MO. They had almost no money.

Truman had been offered many jobs, but turned them all down. Truman had not exploited his fame or former power of the high office he had held for monetary gain.

“I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency,” Truman would later write of his refusal to influence-peddle to get by.

No president received a pension until 1958 when Congress established a law giving former presidents a pension of $25,000 per year.

Truman would frequently recite this prayer…and mean it:

“Oh! Almighty and Everlasting God, Creator of Heaven, Earth and the Universe: Help me to be, to think, to act what is right, because it is right; make me truthful, honest and honorable in all things; make me intellectually honest for the sake of right and honor and without thought of reward to me. Give me the ability to be charitable, forgiving and patient with my fellowmen—help me to understand their motives and their shortcomings—even as Thou understandest mine! Amen.”

To get a sense of Harry Truman, Continue reading

Old New York In Photos #82 – Central Park Mall c. 1870

The Mall In Central Park & The American Elms

Central Park was once young and so were its trees. We are looking south from 72nd Street in this rare circa 1870 stereoview photograph. You can see the American elm trees along both sides of the Mall that had been planted only a decade before. If you’ve been along this famous stretch of the park, you know that the trees are a constant – always the same year after year for over 100 years. To see the trees at this height is a startling sight. Continue reading

Mendicants In New York City – 1910

Mendicants 1910

This photograph taken at Sixth Avenue and 14th Street by Lewis Hine in 1910 is simply labeled “Mendicants.”

It’s a word you don’t often hear today. Mendicant – a beggar; panhandler.

While you may think the main subject here is the blind man sitting by the pole of the el, that would not be the case The focus of the photograph is the little girl who is begging. She appears aged and streetwise beyond her years. But both of them are mendicants.

Hine’s photographs of children at work in major cities usually focuses on newspaper sellers, shoe shiners, telegraph boys, delivery boys and other street trades. In 1910 mendicant was considered a street trade.

Who are these two people? Father and daughter? Grandfather and granddaughter? Or just two people in need who have teamed up to ply their trade?

Where did they live?

Unfortunately Hine did not get the names, ages and addresses of this girl and blind man, as he did with many of his other subjects. Continue reading

The Appliance Every Household Needs

An Appliance Store Advertises A New Dishwasher Innovation -1951

You almost have to wonder if the sign in the window was a joke, or did some unfortunate writer really make this blunder?

Automatic Butterfingers

New York: The signpainter must have been thinking of the last time he helped dry the dishes at home, when he made this sign on the window of a Staten Island appliance store. Of course it’s a dishwasher on display, not a dishmasher. (11-26-1951) credit: Acme

My guess is, Continue reading

Shooting’s Fun For Everyone

Teaching Children To Shoot – 1957

Not that long ago shooting a rifle or a pistol was a right of passage for American children.

Here is a 16 page 1957 pamphlet put out by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute to encourage shooting for boys and girls. Its the sort of thing that today would probably be considered politically incorrect and start a huge protest if it were given out to schoolchildren. Some might call the pamphlet propaganda, but in the 1950s shooting and hunting as a recreational activity was one of the most popular leisure pastimes in the United States.

Shooting as a sport was considered to be a wholesome, fun activity that the family could do together. The popularity of sport fishing and wild game hunting in the United States soared to new heights in 1957 when a record total of 34,195,183 licenses were sold to devotees of those outdoor sports.

Today recreational shooting and especially hunting have been on a steady decline with 33 states issuing fewer hunting licenses in the past 20 years according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In an NBC interview Mark Damian Duda, executive director of Responsive Management, a Virginia-based natural resources research group said, “Fifty years ago, a lot of kids would hunt and fish and be outside, now it’s easier to sit in your playroom and play video games.”

Today the idea of giving a child a gun and teaching them how to use and respect a gun is an anathema to many people. When the word “shooting” is mentioned in the news it is usually preceded by the word “mass”.

What has changed? Continue reading