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

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Old New York In Postcards #20 – Hotels Of The Past On The Upper West Side

Old New York Hotels Of The Upper West Side from 70th – 86th Streets

Hotel MAjestic 72nd St Central Park WestFor the past 150 years New York has had a thriving hotel industry. With real estate prices continually rising in Manhattan, more new hotels are opening now in Queens and Brooklyn.

The Plaza, The Waldorf Astoria and the St. Regis have over a century of  history. Those hostelry’s are the exception to longevity. Many of New York’s hotels are constantly in flux with ownership and name changes. Often smaller hotels have gone out of business because the real estate they sat upon was too valuable. Developers acquire the hotel and surrounding parcels and the hotel passes into history. Other times the buildings are spiffied up after years of neglect and converted from hotels to apartments.

Here are some views of the upper west side’s hotels of the past.

Hotel Emerson 75th Street off BroadwayThe Hotel Emerson at 166 West 75th Street off Broadway was a 300 room 16 story hotel opened in 1922, designed by Robert Lyons. In 1959 it became the Hotel Lincoln Square. The building has been remodeled and turned into rental apartments and is now named the Amstrdm. (That’s right, they cut out some vowels.) Continue reading

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Classic Hollywood #82 – Judy Garland- What Hollywood Said The Day After She Died June 22, 1969

Judy Garland Died 50 Years Ago Today – How Hollywood Reacted

Mickey Rooney director George Seitz Judy Garland on the set of Andy Hardy Meets Debutante May 18, 1940

Mickey Rooney, director George Seitz and Judy Garland discuss a camera angle on the set of Andy Hardy Meets Debutante May 18, 1940 photo: MGM

Judy Garland’s third husband, Sid Luft claimed that Judy tried to kill herself at least 20 times in their 13 years of marriage.

The public knew of Judy’s ups and downs and her problems with pills and alcohol. What they didn’t realize was just how unhappy the star had been for most of her life and her multiple attempts at suicide. And few people, some close friends and her doctor, realized how ill Judy had been during the last few years of her life.

Judy’s self-destructive path culminated when she was found dead in her London apartment June 22, 1969 of a drug overdose. She was only 47-years-old.

In 1961, Judy’s London physician, Dr. Philip Lebon had diagnosed her with cirrhosis of the liver and insisted she stop drinking. Dr. Lebon warned Judy that she only had five years to live at most.

After her death, eight years after making that prognosis, Dr. Lebon said, “Death could have come at any time. How she lived this long I don’t know.” Continue reading

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Gloria Vanderbilt Dead At 95 – Rare News Photos Of When She Was Young

Young Gloria Vanderbilt –  Rare Press Photos

Bruce Cabot and Gloria Vanderbilt attend a theater in Hollywood November 29, 1941 photo Acme

Actor Bruce Cabot with 17-year-old Gloria Vanderbilt at the Music Box Theater in Hollywood for the premiere of “They Can’t Get You Down” October 27, 1941 photo: Acme

Being a rich child with a large trust fund did not define Gloria Vanderbilt. Neither did a sensational tug of war child custody battle between her mother Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt and her aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.  When Gloria Vanderbilt died of stomach cancer in New York on June 17, 2019 at the age of 95, she had achieved prominence in many facets of life. Continue reading

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The General Slocum Disaster – 115 Years Ago Today

The General Slocum Steamship Disaster Wiped Out Entire Families – June 15, 1904

The New York Evening World General Slocum Cover June 15 1904 headline Over 1.000 Dead115 years ago today, a penny brought you news of a  massive calamity. It was a disaster unlike any other that had ever occurred in New York City.

Earlier that day, June 15, 1904, the General Slocum excursion boat caught fire. Women and children who comprised the majority of the passengers, were burned alive or drowned.

As news filtered in to the newspapers, the death toll continued to mount. The number of victims would rise from hundreds to over 1,000. Continue reading

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Disappointment in Boston, Happiness For St. Louis – The Blues Finally Win The Stanley Cup

St. Louis Blues Win The 2019 Stanley Cup On Boston’s Home Ice

From TD Garden June 12 2019 St. Louis Blues celebrate winning the Stanley Cup

June 12, 2019, Boston – The St. Louis Blues celebrate winning their first Stanley Cup at TD Garden in Boston photo: L. Stefano

At TD Garden, The St. Louis Blues won their first Stanley Cup with a decisive 4-1 victory. It took seven games but they did it. The Blues ended a 52 year streak of never having won a championship. Above is a photo of the Blues celebrating and raising the Stanley Cup. Yes, we had one of our contributors at the game. Continue reading

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Mafia Kingpin Frank Costello About To Appear On Television – 1951

Frank Costello On His Way To Testify Before Senate, To Be Broadcast On National Television

Mafia lord Frank Costello on his way to Senate Investigation on Organized crime 1951

If there was one thing mob boss Frank Costello (1891-1973) didn’t like it was publicity. So appearing before nationally televised Senate hearings on organized crime was especially disturbing to Costello. On the other hand, Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver who organized the hearings reveled in the publicity,

The caption for this photo reads:

Doesn’t Care For TV

New York: Frank Costello reputed overlord of the U.S. underworld, arrives at Federal Court, March 13, to testify before the Senate Crime Investigation Committee. After Costello was sworn in, his attorney, George Wolf, objected to the televising of Costello’s appearance. 3/13/1951 credit photo: Acme

An estimated 30 million viewers watching Costello’s testimony live and were riveted to their TV sets. This was the man who controlled organized crime? Continue reading

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Old New York In Photos #103 – An Unfinished St. Patrick’s Cathedral c. 1880

The Incomplete St. Patrick’s Cathedral, & A Glimpse of the Hotel Buckingham & 626 Fifth Avenue

St Patrick's Cathedral Fifth Avenue 50th Street unfinished 1880 Buckingham Hotel and 626 Fifth AvenueThis photograph looking east along 50th Street from Fifth Avenue was taken around 1880 by William T. Purviance.

626 Fifth Ave from Fifth Avenue Start to Finish 1911

626 5th Ave

The new St. Patrick’s Cathedral was formally opened on March 25, 1879. It would not be until 1888 that the spires were completed.To the left of the Cathedral in the background on 51st Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues is the boys section of the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum. The girls section was across Madison Avenue to Fourth Avenue (Park Ave.).

A very small portion of the stately mansion and stone fence at 626 Fifth Avenue is visible on the northwest corner of 50th Street. This desirable corner residence belonged to Walter S. Gurnee, a millionaire and former Mayor of Chicago. Continue reading

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Classic Hollywood #81 – Clark Gable & Hedy Lamarr

Clark Gable and Hedy Lamarr In Comrade X – 1940

Hedy Lamarr Clark Gable in Comrade X 1940 photo Bull MGMComrade X released in 1940 has a pretty convoluted plot involving Gable smuggling news out of communist Russia. He also ends up aiding Lamarr get out of the country.

Here is the copy from the rear of the  MGM promotional photo: Continue reading

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A President Behind Home Plate

Who Is That Masked Man? A Future President? Ask Chevy Chase.

Future President Gerald Ford plays baseball in 1949

No, It’s not Donald Trump. Trump did play baseball in college. But behind home plate is a career politician who later became President.

Maybe a closer look will help.

Close-up of President Ford 1949 playing catcher in a softball gameWhen catching a ball it usually helps to have your eyes open. We’ll pardon you if you didn’t recognize Chevy Chase’s favorite comedic target when starring on Saturday Night Live,  President Gerald Ford.

The 1949 photograph comes from the UPI archive. We see Michigan Congressman Gerald Ford crouching behind home plate. In the batters box Representative Glenn R. Davis of Wisconsin demonstrates how to execute a bunt improperly by gripping and exposing his right fingers around the bat directly into the path of the ball so he can break his fingers.

Contrary to popular belief, Gerald Ford was very athletic and was not clumsy or simpleminded. In 1934 Ford was named the Most Valuable Player of the University of Michigan’s football team.

Why and when did people begin thinking Ford was awkward?

Probably when President Ford fell down a few steps disembarking Airforce One in Vienna on June 1, 1975. He also stumbled a few more times on the trip. Unfortunately for Ford, network TV was there to capture the airplane moment and show it nationally.

Then, Chevy Chase capitalized on the event and began portraying Gerald Ford in comedic sketches on SNL, as absent-minded, uncoordinated, constantly falling down and being prone to accidents. Though Chase neither looked or sounded like Ford, people began to believe that Chase’s characterization was how Ford was in real life!

For a year, week after week, Chase satirized President Ford on late night TV.

Finally, Ford and Chase met each other at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner on March 25, 1976.

At the dinner in front of 1000 people at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Chase performed his Gerald Ford routine as President Ford sat at the dais and laughed at his impersonator.

Afterwards, Ford got up to speak and said Continue reading

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