Recently in History Category

We're pleased to join with a group of other NYC blogs in a collaboratively produced 2009 holiday guide. See the bottom of this entry for links to participating sites.

nissenbaum.jpgHow about putting a little history in your holiday basket? Stephen Nissenbaum's The Battle for Christmas is a perennial favorite around these parts.

Nissenbaum, in a highly entertaining narrative, shows not only that the American version of the holiday has been commercial from the start (the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade was a late arrival on that front), but also that it's what you'd call an "invented tradition." All the bits about Dutch origins were part of an effort among nineteenth-century New York gentry -- the self-anointed Knickerbocker set -- to create a colonial cultural heritage for themselves by establishing the social preeminence of their Dutch lineage, real or imagined. A byproduct: Santa Claus was able to sidestep an earlier Puritan bias against celebrating Christmas in the American colonies. Cyrus has summarized Nissenbaum's argument here before, but Santa Claus was smuggled into New York by the group of patricians also responsible for the New-York Historical Society (especially John PIntard) and writer-friends such as Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore.

Irving doesn't need so much introduction, but many readers may not have heard of Moore, or if they have they know him only for his poem "A Visit from St. Nicolas," more familiarly known by its first line: "Twas the night before Christmas." But Moore left his imprint all over the city, especially in Chelsea, the neighborhood named after his family estate. (His father was both the president of Columbia College and New York's Protestant Episcopal Bishop; his grandfather, a British officer, had purchased farmland in Chelsea in the 1750s, but the Moores had owned land in Queens since the 1650s.) After graduating Columbia as valedictorian in 1798, Moore dabbled in belles lettres and anti-Jeffersonian pamphleteering, compiled a two-volume English-Hebrew lexicon, and donated the land for the General Theological Seminary, where he was a professor of classical languages for three decades. (The seminary still stands, filling the entire block from Ninth to Tenth Avenues between West 20th and 21st Streets.)

Nissenbaum's The Battle for Christmas is especially good on making Moore's famous "A Visit from St. Nicolas," written in 1822, come alive in new ways. Ever wonder why the poem's narrator was so quick to spring from his bed to see what was the matter (rhymes with "clatter")? He probably thought a house-break was in progress. Christmas in early nineteenth-century New York, Nissenbaum suggests, had started to take on some of the elements of English seasonal misrule. But what had traditionally served as an escape valve -- allowing laborers to let off some steam but ultimately keeping social order in check -- was turning increasingly violent as a new industrial order demanded more of workers without giving much back. The mobs of working-class carolers who had traditionally demanded that rich folk bring them some figgy pudding -- insisting that they wouldn't leave until they get some -- were evolving into "Callithumpian bands" parading in the street making noise and committing acts of petty larceny. (One contemporary described these roving bands as made up of "Negroes, servants, boys, and other disorderly persons.")

I won't give much more away, but Nissenbaum argues that the significance of Moore's poem was to silence a little of that seasonal clatter, tame it to protect polite audiences. Santa Claus is a housebreaker, sure, but he's bringing gifts for the kiddies. The "patron-client exchange" that had defined seasonal misrule ("We won't go until we get some!") shifted to a parent-child exchange that made Christmas a domestic holiday rivaled only by the invented tradition of American Thanksgiving, taking shape around the same time. Moore's poem helped make Christmas "a practical simple ritual that almost any household could perform." The upshot: we have nineteenth-century New Yorkers, not seventeenth-century New Amsterdammers or their Old World parents, to thank for the cult of St. Nick and for Christmas trees. (Speaking of Christmas trees ...)

How to thank Mr. Moore? You might, like Cyrus's family, make his poem part of your own holiday ritual. (He recommends the pop-up edition by Robert Sabuda.) Or try one of these annual Moore Advent events:

Chelsea Community Church (346 W. 20th St.) holds an annual candlelight service and reading of Moore's poem. This year's event happens on December 13 at 6 pm. According to the NYC Parks & Rec website, at the nearby Clement Clarke Moore Park (W 22nd St. at 10th Ave.), neighborhood folk gather on the Sunday before Christmas for a reading of his poem. A similar event takes place uptown, in Washington Heights, at the Church of the Intercession (155th St. and Broadway), where people gather for carols, a reading of Moore's poem, and a candlelight march to Moore's grave site, in the Trinity Cemetery on 155th Street. This celebration has apparently been going on since 1911; this year it takes place December 20 at 4 pm.

A few other historically oriented seasonal suggestions:

If you'd like to seek out a patrician New York Christmas that predates Moore's poem (and hence is decidedly not Santa-centered), check the seasonal calendar for the eighteenth-century Van Cortlandt House Museum in the Bronx.

Jewish historians of Christmas, Episcopalian compilers of Hebrew lexicons, and Tin Pan Alley's Jewish Christmas Broadway musicals notwithstanding, maybe Christmas just isn't your thing? Then you probably already know the traditional alternative for December 25 is dim sum. We're not exactly sure when this practice started, but the big decision, these days, is whether to go with Jing Fong or Golden Unicorn. When you're finished eating, work off some calories on Big Onion's 19th Annual Dec. 25 walking tour of the old Jewish Lower East Side.

George Balanchine's Nutcracker has been a tradition in New York City since 1954. The very thought may make you yawn. If so, did you know that Uptown Dance Academy has been performing Black Nutcracker since 1995? Catch it at the Apollo Theater on December 22nd; proceeds go toward a new studio for the kids.

If you'd like to revive a non-commercial historic NYC holiday tradition, try "calling on" (visiting) as many friends as possible on New Year's Day. You'll need to bring the equivalent of a photographic calling card to leave behind. I suppose you could do something like this on Facebook, but we're fans of the slow media version that requires actual travel from house to house. We wrote about it last holiday season, as did our friend Esther at Ephemeral New York.
A final suggestion for those who'd prefer to bring a little misrule back to your yule: you might consider joining in the annual Parade of Santas in Santacon NYC 2009, on December 12. Be warned: though some participants will be decked out in period costumes, you may also encounter pub crawlers with puke in their beards. (Putting the ho back in ho! ho! ho! since 1994. A little Santacon history here.) We suggest it in the spirit of the nineteenth-century Callithumpian bands, mentioned above. 

Discover lots more in the 2009 "NYC Bloggers Do the Holidays" Guide:

Brooklyn Based: Home for the Holidays
Give and Get: Tis The Season to Volunteer
the improvised life: unwrapping the holidays
Manhattan User's Guide: The Gift Guide
Mommy Poppins: Offbeat and Multicultural Family Holiday Events
NY Barfly: It's the Holidays, Time to Drink
NewYorkology: Big-ticket holiday shows: Nutcracker, Rockettes, Wintuk
Ten Holiday Getaways Near NYC
the skint: 30 days of skintmas - a cheap (or free!) holidays-in-nyc-treat for every day of the season
The Strong Buzz:
Holiday Eats Old and New
WFMU's Beware of the Blog: Happy Freakin' Holidays Playlist
Walking Off the Big Apple
: The Thin Man Walk: A New York Holiday Adventure with Nick and Nora Charles

If you write a NYC-oriented blog and would like to contribute to a future group post, please let us know!
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Public historian

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JillLepore.jpgThe NEH's magazine, Humanities, has a terrific interview this month with one of my favorite historians -- and favorite people -- Jill Lepore. A Harvard prof (and chair of the school's History and Literature program) and award-winning author, Lepore also, along with our friend Caleb Crain, has become a key writer on American history and culture for the New Yorker. And she's an active parent of small children. And she's only a few years on the other side of 40. As Ari over at Edge of the American West asked, "Jealous?"

The whole interview is worth reading, but especially relevant to this site is the bit about her book New York Burning, a gripping read about the city's purported slave revolt of 1741:

HUMANITIES: In New York Burning, you wrote about ... the fires that swept through Manhattan in 1741.

LEPORE: ... Another long-forgotten episode in early American history. It's a little like Salem witchcraft, which everyone knows about, the 1692 witchcraft trials in which twenty people died, except that what happened in New York was a lot worse. Thirteen black men were burned at the stake; seventeen more were hanged. No one was burned at the stake in Salem. That's just a figment of our collective imagination. What happened in New York was also, historically, far more significant. It played a role in how slavery evolved in the North. And it played a role, I think, in how American politics evolved and how Americans came to tolerate partisanship and the two-party system.

I had wanted to write about this episode for my dissertation but decided against it because, while the prosecutors left behind a rich documentary trail (nearly two hundred black men were arrested and interrogated and many of them were brought to trial), the confessions aren't admissible as historical evidence, since they were confessing to avoid being burned to death and, under those circumstances, who wouldn't lie? I couldn't quite figure out how to deal with that evidentiary problem.

Then, in 1991, workers excavating the foundation for a new federal office building in Manhattan came across the African burial ground from the colonial period. And I thought, 'Oh, this will be incredibly loud, noisy, great historical evidence.' Except it wasn't. The burials and the remains were highly controversial, and the reports were not altogether forthcoming about what scholars ought to conclude from the analysis of those remains. But I wrote the book anyway.

HUMANITIES: In The Name of War [her first book, about "King Philip's War"] you showed how New Englanders described their humiliation and their suffering in language identical to how they described the Indians. In this book you showed pre-Revolutionary Americans describing the restraints on their political liberties in terms so drastic that they actually better describe the bondage in which they keep African slaves and the slaves then referred to as Spanish Negroes. There seems to be this kind of very careful, subtle argument about how we take our enemy's attributes and apply them to ourselves when we think we're in a really bad place.

LEPORE: I'm interested in our capacity to justify acts of tremendous, unspeakable cruelty. It's not obvious, at least not to me. And the way I have always tried to puzzle it out is by thinking mainly about language. What, literally, is the vocabulary of justification?

In eighteenth-century New York, a lot of people want to depose the governor. He is a tyrant. What they write about him, what they write about their right to get rid of him, is, to me, as a citizen, quite moving and inspiring. And yet those same people deploy that very same rhetoric to justify enslaving Africans. How do they manage that? How, honestly, is that possible? I don't know that we have ever really reckoned with that, with what Edmund Morgan called the "American paradox," that our democracy rests, at some level, on the idea of enslavement. It doesn't anymore. But that history matters. And I think we'd be stronger for seeing it more clearly.

HUMANITIES: You also make the argument that slavery is somehow crucial to understanding the development of political parties in America. How does slavery help illuminate the development of political parties?

LEPORE: I tried to make that argument, but I'm not sure it worked. The day that New York Burning was published, Hurricane Katrina touched down in New Orleans. I had a new baby, and I was home with him, and found myself glued to the television. Talking heads would come on--news anchors, commentators--and say, while looking at the footage of nobody but black people on the roofs of those houses, as if shocked, as if this had never occurred to them, 'Oh, my God. Race still exists in this country. There still is racism. Oh, my God. New Orleans is segregated!'

I'm trying to convince people that it matters that black men were burned at the stake in New York City in 1741, and people are surprised that black people are marooned on the roofs of New Orleans in 2005? Here I am, trying to make an argument about eighteenth-century politics, attempting to illustrate, with all manner of exhaustive archival research--charts about the census and the tax lists--and close readings of Blackstone's Commentaries and Restoration drama, trying to argue that the constant, ever-present threat of black conspiracy made white political pluralism possible. Because compared to that, having a two-party system was a piece of cake. And I had to go give some goofy book talks, and I'm thinking, at these bookstores, Sheesh, there's just this huge gap between what I'm trying to say and what people kind of need to know or where we can enter the conversation together, and that's my fault, all mine. What am I doing here in 1741? At the level of imagining our national past and wrestling with the consequences of slavery, the wages of slavery, well, that didn't even begin to happen until the last election where there was a genuine national conversation about what slavery has done to American politics.

HUMANITIES: To go back to the eighteenth century for just a second: So the threat or the partly imagined threat of a slave rebellion, it encouraged people to find a more friendly system of opposition, which was the beginnings of the party system?

LEPORE: History doesn't always work that way, neatly. And when it seems like it works that way, usually someone is being facile. But here's what I argued: In New York in the 1730s there was an extraordinary and unprecedented amount of political opposition, including the founding of an opposition political party. In 1735, a printer named John Peter Zenger was tried for sedition, for publishing a newspaper that opposed the policies of the royally appointed governor. Zenger's trial is one of the most thrilling episodes in early American political history, and it nearly tears the colony apart.

Six years later, an alleged slave conspiracy brings together these two political parties, who, I argue, heal the political divisions between them by burning black men at the stake. And, I think, like decapitating Philip and putting his head on a pike, this is a constitutive moment for a pluralistic politics. It's as if those executions say, 'You and I, we can disagree. We can disagree--a lot--because we are not beyond the limits of our own politics, we are not Indians on the warpath, we are not black men talking about burning the city down.' It's a dark story, I don't like that story, I sometimes wish the past were prettier, but it's how I read the evidence.

More on the African Burial Ground here.


Today in NYC History

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EVHP-LOGO_sm.jpgThe East Village History Project has launched a new blog, Today in NYC History, which is well worth checking out. (Their main blog continues to post new material as well.)

Today's post on TNYCH has to do with the 1970 Women's Equality Strike, which happened to take place the day I was born. I wrote about that event here and on Edge of the American West last year. Next August we should make a big deal about the 40th anniversary, which will be one way to distract me from the fact that I'll be turning 40. Ouch.

With July 4 recently behind us, I've been thinking a little about the history of Independence Day celebrations in the city (and elsewhere). As my friend Farrell pointed out last week, we came pretty close, as a nation, to celebrating July 2. John Adams would have had it that way, and waxed prophetic in a letter to his wife, Abigail, about what he foresaw as a great national holiday:

The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. . . . It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
charles adams.jpgMaybe it was Farrell's quoting that letter, or maybe it was the fact that I finally had a chance to see the John Adams HBO miniseries, or perhaps it's that, in the wake of the film, I've been reading an old biography of Abigail I've had sitting around forever, but I've had the Adamses on the brain in the last week, and it has me thinking about their poor kid Charles, who came to New York in the 1790s to be a lawyer and died a drunk in the gutter in 1800, only 30 years old.

"Let silence reign over his tomb," his younger brother Thomas wrote. John seemed to concur: "There is nothing more to be said," he wrote.

Poor Charles, the only New Yorker Adams. Did the city kill him? His story would seem to be the template for a temperance melodrama, the kind that P. T. Barnum made popular half a century later. I first ran into Charles's story because he had, early on his arrival in the city, become a member of the literary circle I wrote about in Republic of Intellect. He appears to have been a rather lackluster member, though, irregular in attendance, and only really considered part of the club for a year or two. I wish I'd had time to do a little more with his story, but books having deadlines and all I let it drop. This book has a bit more, and there's a website or two out there with various speculations on the cause of his depression and alcoholism, including the possibility that he was gay. The HBO series makes him a victim of his dad's devotion to politics; in real life, but not on TV, he made a major journey to Europe as a child with his dad and older brother JQA, then returned in the company of some friends -- crossing the Atlantic without parents at age 10 or so -- and was diverted and delayed by several months. At one point his poor mother thought him shipwrecked.

If Charles's friends, once he'd settled in New York in his twenties, knew about his problems with booze, they were pretty circumspect in their diaries and correspondence. One close friend and fellow club member, Elihu Smith, mentions Charles frequently in his voluminous diary and provided medical attention to Charles's family on occasion. He never mentions Adams's personal problems and may not have been aware of them. In any case, Smith died two years before Charles did, a victim of the city's recurring yellow fever epidemics, so he clearly missed the worst of Charles's decline.

Smith does include in his diary, however, a few descriptions of early July 4 celebrations in New York, and I found myself thinking about these too last week. In 1796 Smith wrote in his diary: "It being the Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the day was observed as a festival--& I devoted it to visiting [friends]. Called at [James] Kent's--[William] Dunlap's--[William] Woolsey's--[Isaac] Riley's--[William] Boyd's--[Amasa] Dingley's--: [Richard] Alsop [was] here--He, Wm. [Johnson] & myself drank tea at S[eth] Johnson's. S[eth], Wm. & I went into the [public] Bath--after which we spent the evening at S[eth] Johnson's." The names he mention form a little catalog of literary, legal, and medical professionals his own age, many of them, like himself, Connecticut expats. Several of them would become quite famous in their own time.

The following year Smith was less social in his celebrations and even seemed a little annoyed by the holiday: "The anniversary of American Independence--celebrated with increasing parade & noise," he noted in his diary.

Smith's friendship with Adams allowed him one unusual experience related to the history of Independence -- in particular the question of how that history would be written and remembered. On 30 November 1796, four years to the night before Charles would die on the eve of John Adams's failed bid for re-election, Elihu met the President at Charles's home in New York. His description of the encounter may be interesting to people who've cultivated some familiarity with the Adams story:

This, tho' not the first time of my seeing him, was the first time of my being in his company; & till now I had a very imperfect idea of his countenance. The opportunity was good, & I spent near two hours with him. Some interruptions broke the chain of a conversation, concerning the origin of the American Revolution, which promised to be very interesting. Mr. Adams considers James Otis as "the father of the Revolution." Mr. Otis's publications have never been collected. Mr. Adams exprest a fear lest there should never be any good history of the Revolution written. The ground of this apprehension was, that the material facts have never been published; that they were in the memories of individuals, who were dying, one after another; & that no person qualified for the purpose, was employed in collecting the anecdotes which these individuals might afford. He remarked that, could their papers be published, the most authentic history, or the best materials for such a history, would be found in those of the Tories. He particularized Hutchinson, Oliver, & Sewall, who died a short time since, in Nova Scotia. These men, he knew, preserved notes of all the events, & had the originals of the principal papers; but, events having happened so contrary to their wishes, expectations, & endeavour, it was to be feared that their executors & friends would suppress or destroy them, from a regard to the honor, or reputation, of their authors & possessors. In the course of some remarks on Pennsylvania, Mr. Adams said that "William Penn was the greatest land-jobber, that ever existed; & that his successors in the administration of that government, had continued the same policy." The remainder of the conversation was on the topics of the day; & the state of parties in this State. Mr. Adams's manners are more agreeable than I supposed them to be. There is no affectation, or pride observable in him; yet he can hardly be called a sociable man. It is not proper to judge from one interview only but such is the impression left by having been once in his company; &, for at least an hour, alone in his company.

Stonewall @ 40

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Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which most people cite as the starting point of the modern gay rights movement. Here's a terrific piece from Democracy Now! to mark the occasion. It includes comments from historians, as well as a terrific radio documentary that features several "Stonewall vets" who recall gay life in NYC before the riots and offer memories of the uprising itself.

As a bonus, here's the Bowery Boys' podcast on Stonewall; this year they added a profile on a pre-Stonewall gay bar called Julius'

NYC Types and Voices

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123.jpgThe posters all over town for the upcoming Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (note the 2009 version uses the numerals rather than the orignal's spelled-out numbers) had Stephanie and me itching to watch the original, which we did the other night. Well worth returning to, though we hope it doesn't deflate the remake too much.

So much of the film seemed like a time capsule from the mid-70s, even though (as NYMag notes this week) the mayor's office mandated that the train used in the original be free of the era's ubiquitous subway graffiti. The contents of the time capsule, then? It would include the characters' obsessions with things like women joining the police force or transit union, the now-defunct names of transit companies, the assumption by Matthau's character that visiting Japanese transit officials wouldn't speak a word of English, and above all the array of New York accents.

Whatever happened to the New York accent -- or even to New York accents in the plural? It's possible to live in downtown Manhattan and go for days without talking to someone who speaks like a native New Yorker. You'll hear them in mom and pop shops, or in places like post offices or public schools. But it's not too much a stretch to imagine the old New York accents -- which began to be noticed by observers and represented in print in the late 19th century -- will soon be a thing of the past, thanks mostly to the homogenizing force of global capitalism.

Clearly, the filmmakers in 1974 aimed to make the train hostages a cross-section of New York types, one or two of each, almost like animals chosen for salvation on Noah's Ark. When the film ended and the credits rolled, we saw that the characters had, in fact, been named for the types they were supposed to represent. The list, in part, taken from IMDB:

Anna Berger ... The Mother
Gary Bolling ... The Homosexual
Carol Cole ... The Secretary
Alex Colon ... The Delivery Boy
Joe Fields ... The Salesman
Mari Gorman ... The Hooker
Michael Gorrin ... The Old Man
Thomas La Fleur ... The Older Son
María Landa ... The Spanish Woman (as Maria Landa)
Louise Larabee ... The Alcoholic
George Lee Miles ... The Pimp
Carolyn Nelson ... Coed #1
Eric O'Hanian ... The Younger Son
Lucy Saroyan ... Coed #2
William Snickowski ... The Hippie
Barry Snyder ... The W.A.S.P.

A collection of social types, professions, ethnic stereotypes. The old man was an old Jewish man, I think, though he's not listed this way. The Pimp, who was black, might have been listed as the Veteran, since he mentions his service record, and at one point one of the hijackers calls him by the N-word before cracking him across the face with a machine gun, but I suppose they didn't want to type him by the N-word in the credits. It took me a second to figure out what one of the passengers had been The Homosexual. I'll be interested to see what comparable types turn up in the new version. Will the 6 train in 2009 be similarly depicted as a cross-section of the city? If so, how will the writers and directors imagine our social divisions?

Yesterday on The Great Whatsit my friend Tim mentioned a George Carlin record, Occupation: Foole!, which he picked up in a dollar bin. It was recorded in California in 1973, making it roughly the film's contemporary. One of the tracks is called "New York Voices." Who would have thought, at the time, that either it or the original Pelham would wind up serving a documentary function?

17 Hours in Plattsburgh

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Last Friday, Betsy Bradley and I took a train up to Plattsburgh in northern (really, really northern) New York to attend the annual conference of the New York State Historical Association. I'd agreed to be on the panel that Betsy had proposed, "Knickerbocker's History: the First 200 Years," without really doing the math, which turned out to be this: 15 hours of travel time back and forth, 17 hours in Plattsburgh, and about 20 people in the audience for our session, which took place at 8:30 a.m.

It turned out to be a delightful trip: Amtrak's "Adirondack" speeds along right next to the Hudson all the way up to the Albany, and after that the scenery is a mix of rolling hills, farmland, and lakes. The historians we met were an affable group with a real passion for the history of the Empire State. I was pleased to learn about Cornell University Press's recent rededication to New York History and to see an advance copy of Betsy's book from Rutgers UP, Knickerbocker: The Myth that Made New York (officially due out on July 15).

Betsy spoke about the ways in which Irving's History responded both to the New-York Historical Society's call for documentary information about Dutch New York and to Samuel Latham Mitchill's Picture of New York; Or, The Traveller's Guide Through the Commercial Metropolis of the United States (1807), which gave short shrift to New Amsterdam.

Next up was the historian Elisabeth Paling Funk of the New Netherlands Project, who gave a talk entitled  "From Amsterdam to New Amsterdam: Washington Irving, the Dutch St. Nicholas, and the American Santa Claus." A longer version of the talk can be found in the recently published anthology Explorers, Fortunes and Love Letters: A Window on New Netherland. (If you use that link to, ignore the incorrect description presented to you. For more information about the anthology, download this PDF from NNP).

I spoke about "Washington Irving's Cosmopolitanism," making the argument that in the History (particularly the first book) Irving rejects those who reject the idea of difference and thereby  anticipates modern theories of cosmopolitanism that present alternatives not only to nationalism but also to univeralism. I highlighted this passage, which I read as a rejoinder to the account given by William Bradford in Of Plymouth Plantation:

From the foregoing arguments therefore, and a host of others equay conclusive, which I forebear to enumerate, it was clearly evident, that this fair quarter of the globe when first visited by Europeans, was a howling wilderness, inhabited by nothing but wild beasts; and that the trans-atlantic visitors acquired an incontrovertible property therein, by the right of Discovery.
Irving doesn't cite Bradford, but he does refer to a number of "authorities" (largely Dutch contemporaries of Bradford) whose arguments about the barbarism of the American natives are consonant with the account that Bradford gives. This juxtaposition allowed me to suggest that Irving's History can be seen as a New York rejoinder to the line of New England historiography begun by Bradford's Plymouth Plantation. And I suggested, finally, that Irving's cosmopolitanism arises in part from Irving's comic technique in the History: Knickerbocker pokes fun at the fallacies of other philosophers and historians, but allows us also to poke fun at him.

One of the questions we received was apparently a version of one posed at last year's conference to Bryan: it had to do with the hostility that many Dutch historians and readers feel toward Irving's History because of the way in which it seems to reinforce unflattering stereotypes about Dutch people. Bryan was reported to have said something along the lines of "get over it; it's a joke." I said something similar, adding that Irving's satire of the Dutch is affectionate, in contrast to the mocking reserved for those who think like Bradford, and that there is really affection and vividness in Knickerbocker's portrayal of the foibles of his Dutch characters.

And then it was off to the station, where the step-ladders were already in place, awaiting the day's visit from the "Adirondack."

Old School LES

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Rob, over at Save the Lower East Side!* --  hands-down the most action-oriented of the anti-gentrification neighborhood blogs I follow -- has been posting some cutting-room-floor scraps of an introduction he wrote for Eric Ferrara's forthcoming book, Gangsters, Murderers, and Weirdos of the Lower East Side. The kickoff is terrific:

"I can lick any man in the House," thumped a braying John Morrissey, twice holder of the American bare-knuckles boxing championship, Dead Rabbits gang leader and the man who, after losing a humiliating fight to him, ordered Bill the Butcher murdered.

The "House" he mentions was not a local saloon. It was the United States House of Representatives, a gang to which Morrissey -- boxer, gangster, murderer -- had been elected, not once, but twice.

Follow-up installments include his treatments of the Five Points and Bowery entertainment culture. As you'd expect if you're a regular reader, these historical nuggets are interspersed between the blog's more typical fare: jeremiads denouncing Bloomberg's anti-neighborhood development ethos and petitions to save the Bowery.

When he's not blogging to save the neighborhood, Rob (and friend Ferarra) are busy saving its history in other ways -- including the founding of the East Village History Project and its new East Village Visitors Center, where you can find information about taking Ferrara's Gangsters, Murderers, and Weirdos tour, among others.

*The tshirt above isn't affiliated with the blog; rather, it's produced by WORLD NYC, located at 187 Chrystie.

3rd Ave. El

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Earlier this week the Bowery Boys noted the 54th anniversary of the 3rd Avenue Elevated Train's dismantling. They also provided this fascinating film from 1950 that takes viewers along the train's daily route. It's a fascinating view of a lost city:

One of my favorite descriptions -- and one of the most frequently quoted -- of the social transformations brought about by the elevated train comes from William Dean Howells's 1890 novel A Hazard of New Fortunes. Here's the bulk of the description, from the perspective of upper-middle-class voyeurs Mr. and Mrs. March, who think

the night transit was even more interesting than the day, and that the fleeting intimacy you formed with people in second and third floor interiors, while all the usual street life went on underneath, had a domestic intensity mixed with a perfect repose. [The train allows one] to see those people through the windows: a family part of work-folks at a late tea,  some of the men in their shirt sleeves; a woman sewing by a lamp; a mother laying her child in its cradle; a man with his head fallen on his hands upon a table; a girl and her lover leaning over the window sill together. What suggestion! what drama! what infinite interest!
The couple thinks these views -- better than attending the theater -- offer ideal material for modern painters.

I realize that this is the second day in a row I've pilfered a post from the prolific EV Grieve -- and I hope that anyone who reads AHNY regularly is already a regular reader of his site anyway -- but just in case you're not, I can't let you overlook a link and interview he has up today.

The link leads you to 98 Bowery, 1969-1989: View from the Top Floor, a website by Marc H. Miller that chronicles, mostly through photographs, his twenty years living on the Bowery between Hester and Grand (think Congee). Organized and in most cases originating as conceptual art projects (paparazzi self-portraits, for instance), the photos offer an intimate account of art and music scenes downtown, with a heavy emphasis on the dizzying decade of the 1970s. My favorite set is a series of photos Miller took of his partner, Bettie, with the stars of the fledgling NYC punk scene: "Bettie Visits CBGB." As a documentary tribute to the club and its cast of regulars, it's fantastic, but what really pushes it over the edge is Bettie's presence in each photo.

Here she is (in the dark blue) with Talking Heads:


I would have been profoundly grateful to Grieve simply for pointing me in the direction of this fantastic archive, but he went the extra mile and interviewed Miller. A highlight:

What do you want people who visit to take away from the site?

The site is my story and the story of people I knew and worked with. It's also unavoidably a small lens on the bigger downtown art and music scene in the 1970s and 1980s. During those years, I had no doubt that I was at the heart of the action, and I want people to see things as I experienced them. History can be very selective but it can also be nudged along by good story telling. That's what I try to do with the site. Some of the events and some of the people are fairly well-known. Others are less so. Hopefully the site will give people a bigger picture of those years.
The rest here.

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