Behind The Scenes

Monopoly: Causing Family Fights Since 1935

In February 1935, Parker Brothers began selling their classic board game Monopoly, a game of money and real estate that has become an American favorite. It has also caused numerous screaming matches in my household. How many of your readers have flipped a table when your friend has blocked you from being able to build any hotels?

According to Philip Orbane’s book Monopoly: The World’s Most Famous Game & How it Got that Way, Lizzie J. Magie Phillips developed a board game in 1906 called The Landlord’s Game, an educational game that taught the dangers of real estate monopolies. Her game spawned  the Parker Brothers’ version, based on Atlantic City, New Jersey. Over the years, Monopoly has produced a number of its own spinoffs, including New York City Monopoly, Doctor Who Monopoly, Batman Monopoly, Yankees Monopoly, and more.

There have also been unsanctioned knockoffs, some that come with their share of controversy. In October 2003, the New York Times reported on heated opposition to the new game “Ghettopoly,” which was being sold at Urban Outfitters stores throughout the region. Though intended as humorous rather than degrading, the game provoked outrage in many circles. Kweisi Mfume, President of the NAACP, condemned the game as “a racist and bigoted product attempting to hide behind the cloak of entertainment.” Protestors, including Yale students and members of the local NAACP, gathered in front of Urban Outfitters stores, where games were flying off the shelves. Under pressure, the national chain finally pulled the game from its stores.

Over 500 board games from the 1820s through the 1940s were donated to the New-York Historical Society in 2000 by Ellen Liman. That period was a time when the American home, no longer the heart of economic production, became the center of education, entertainment, and moral enlightenment. Middle-class families—with expanded leisure time as well as rising income levels—embraced leisure pursuits in the home and encouraged their children to play games that would develop skills and provide moral instruction. It was also a period when New York became the heart of the chromolithography business and the nation’s board game industry. Come see some of these games on display in the DiMenna Children’s History Museum!

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Happy 132nd Birthday, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

America’s 32nd President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was born in Hyde Park, NY this day in 1882. Roosevelt  is greatly remembered for leading the US through a depression and WWII, and his wife Eleanor’s humanitarian efforts. However, he is also known as our only physically disabled president, and founder of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now known as the March of Dimes).

This lower leg brace was one of many used by Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) after he was permanently disabled by polio in 1921. Despite paralysis of both legs, FDR was determined to walk again and sought out numerous cures, from mineral baths to braces. Heavy steel braces allowed him to “walk” short distances, and lower leg braces, such as this example, helped to prevent atrophy of his leg muscles. This leg brace came from the estate of Roosevelt’s White House Secretary, Grace Tully.

Roosevelt was also the only president to serve more than two terms, since there was no official rule saying someone couldn’t serve more than two terms (the 22nd Amendment was ratified in 1951). However, FDR’s third and fourth terms came with a lot of controversy, and a lot of opposition.


This pinback campaign button is from the 1944 election resulting in FDR’s third term, from the anti-Roosevelt factions. The New-York Historical Society’s museum collection has numerous buttons from the anti-Roosevelt campaigns, with witty slogans like “Roosevelt, Hide at Hyde!“, “Roosevelt for EX President“, and my personal favorite, “Sure I’ll Vote for Roosevelt ha ha ha ha ha“. However, Roosevelt won his third term with 55% of the popular vote, and his fourth with 53%, so a good percentage of Americans must have been wearing “Carry on with Roosevelt” buttons (though Roosevelt clearly didn’t spring for the wittiest slogan writer).

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How New Yorkers Got Their Cultural Fixes

New York has long been known as a center of the arts, with many spaces dedicated to music, dance, and other performances. Many have stood strong for decades, while others are almost forgotten. Below are a few places where New Yorkers enjoyed the arts. Tell us, where do you get your cultural kicks?

Carnegie Hall’s cornerstone was laid in 1890, where Andrew Carnegie stated,  “It is built to stand for ages, and during these ages it is probable that this Hall will intertwine itself with the history of our country.” The Hall opened the next year, and since then it’s become the place to perform for musicians of any type. They just need to make sure they practice.

Clinton Hall, aka the Astor Place Opera House, was the site of the famous Astor Place Riot of 1849, which left dozens dead or injured. The riot began with a dispute between Edwin Forrest, a notable American actor, and William Macready, a similarly famous British actor. Macready was performing Macbeth at the Opera House, and on May 10, 1849, hundreds of Forrest fans gathered to stop the performance. In this video, our librarians explain the melee. Clinton Hall was converted into condominiums in 1995, though remnants can still be found if you know where to look.

Our friends The Bowery Boys dive into the history of this opera house, built in 1889 by Oscar Hammerstein. “Thanks to the construction of the elevated railroads in the 1880s, the once-distant Harlem was now linked to the heart of the city,” and Hammerstein saw the need for theaters as more people began moving to the area. However, Hammerstain had a hard time turning a profit, and “The Harlem Opera House was sold and transformed into a more traditional vaudeville house.  By the 1930s, to compete with the thriving amateur nights over at the Apollo, the Harlem Opera House had its own amateur nights.  Its most notable discovery is one of the greatest names in music—Ella Fitzgerald.” It was torn down in 1959.

Built by the same team that created Luna Park amusement park at Coney Island, the Hippodrome Theater operated from 1905-1939. It seated 5,300, and held performances by everyone from Harry Houdini to Coco the baboon. It was torn down in 1939, and in 1951 a significantly less eye-catching office building took its place.

Manhattan Opera House was another project of Oscar Hammerstein’s. According to its history, “Hammerstein built the opera house with the bold intention to take on the established Metropolitan Opera by featuring cheaper seats for the ordinary New Yorker.” After four years, the Met offered Hammerstein $1.2 million to stop producing opera for ten years, and after accepting he began experimenting with different acts. The building changed ownership a few times, and by 1940 it was Manhattan Center, which now houses another modern stage—The Hammerstein Ballroom.

No look at New York’s entertainment venues would be complete without Radio City, the art-deco theater known as “The Showplace of the Nation.” When it opened it was a popular feature film venue, though it soon had to compete with multiplexes, and began showcasing more live shows, like their famous Christmas Spectacular.

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N-YHS Acquires Jacob Riis’s Copy of ‘How the Other Half Lives,’ With Author’s Annotations

The New-York Historical Society has acquired a first edition of Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives, heavily annotated by the author with pages scrawled with moral indignation towards slumlords, asides about tenement residents, and copyedits. It was donated by Ted Gup, who recently wrote a New York Times op-ed on his purchase of the volume and the continuing resonance of a work that attacked the conscience of America’s Gilded Age, invigorating generations of investigative journalists and social reformers.

Riis's annotated copy of How The Other Half Lives

Riis’s annotated copy of How The Other Half Lives

“I cannot imagine a more appropriate home for this Jacob Riis volume than the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library of the New-York Historical Society,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, Vice President and Director of the Klingenstein Library. “Our collection holds all first editions of his books, and still larger holdings of the social service agencies and organizations that were ignited by his work. We are grateful to Mr. Gup for donating this volume to New-York Historical to mark the centennial of Riis’s death.”

Riis Donation 5

Prior to being purchased by Ted Gup from a Washington, D.C. bookseller, the book was passed down through several generations of Riis’s descendants, most recently his great-granddaughter, Gretchen Moore Cooke.

Jacob August Riis (1849-1914), undated photograph. PR 084, Pach Brothers Portrait Photograph Collection (1880s-1940s)

Jacob August Riis (1849-1914), undated photograph. PR 084, Pach Brothers Portrait Photograph Collection (1880s-1940s)

Jacob A. Riis (1849-1914) immigrated to the United States in 1870 and lived in poverty for several years before becoming a newspaper police reporter on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In the 1880s, he began his effective crusade to improve immigrants’ living conditions through tenement house law reform and programs for children. Riis turned to photography in 1887 as a powerful tool to persuade people that the slum horrors were real. At first, he relied on Richard H. Lawrence and other amateur camera club members to obtain images. Later, he began taking his own photographs. In 1890, Riis published How the Other Half Lives, which documented the systemic failure of tenement housing alongside greed and neglect from the wealthy. The book featured 35 illustrations, including 17 halftone reproductions of Riis’s photographs.

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Colonel Blimp: How A British Cartoon Become A Beloved Movie Figure

This Friday, the New-York Historical Society will present a free screening of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, the 1943 classic that follows the life of the titular character through the Second Boer War, WWI and the beginning of WWII. However, Colonel Blimp actually began life as a cartoon character.

Created by cartoonist David Low in 1934, the Colonel Blimp cartoons appeared in the Evening Standard, making “confused and childlike pronouncements on current events” from the saunas in a Turkish bath, according to Low’s biography. He was a lovable dope, and a satire on the reactionary opinions of many British politicians at the time.

The film, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, sees the Colonel captured in that same Turkish bath, and flashes back to over forty years of his life and service. As Roger Ebert summed up:

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp has four story threads. It mourns the passing of a time when professional soldiers observed a code of honor. It argues to the young that the old were young once, too, and contain within them all that the young know, and more. It marks the General’s lonely romantic passage through life, in which he seeks the double of the first woman he loved. And it records a friendship between a British officer and a German officer, which spans the crucial years from 1902 to 1942.

Introductory remarks to the film will be made by Thelma Schoonmaker, the Academy Award-winning film editor. Schoonmaker was married to director Michael Powell from 1984 until his death in 1990.

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When New York Wanted To Secede

Platforms Illustrated, 1864, New-York Historical Society Library. Election of 1864: Sumner, Grant and Farragut holding Lincoln up on platform (Baltimore convention); Seymour and Wood leading McClellan's platform (Chicago convention).

Platforms Illustrated, 1864, New-York Historical Society Library. Election of 1864: Sumner, Grant and Farragut holding Lincoln up on platform (Baltimore convention); Seymour and Wood leading McClellan’s platform (Chicago convention).

Most people think of New York as the center of all that is liberal and progressive in America, with strong, Dutch-instilled values of tolerance permeating the culture. However, New York is also a place of business, and before the Civil War that meant it dealt heavily with the business of slavery. In December 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede, but on January 7, 1861, New York City Mayor Fernando Wood suggested that the city follow suit.

Although New York ended slavery in 1827, the city profited from slave-grown cotton, which accounted for 7/8 of the world’s supply as the city positioned itself as a center of international trade. According to our New York Divided resources, “White newspaper editors praised slavery as a benevolent system of labor and the only fit condition for people of African descent in America. Discrimination and ridicule greeted black New Yorkers every day,” hardly the attitude we expect from the “melting pot” of America. Wood suggested that New York become a “free city,” independent from both the North and South,  in order to not lose business to seceding Southern states.

The city was also a center of mixed sentiment regarding Abraham Lincoln. While his speech at Cooper Union may have sealed his presidential candidacy, “Many New Yorkers gave Lincoln a cold shoulder when he visited on his way to the inauguration,” according to Lincoln and New York. Mayor Wood hoped to capitalize on this hatred, saying independence would be “disrupt[ing] the bands which bind her to a venal and corrupt master.” However, that all changed with the attack on Fort Sumter. According to the New York Times:

The tidal wave of support for the Union overwhelmed secessionist sentiment in the city. New York, alongside the rest of the North that April, proclaimed its loyalty to the United States. On April 20, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers gathered in a massive patriotic rally in Union Square, by which time New York had already begun to provide vast amounts of money, men and supplies that would save the Union over the next four years.

The South, meanwhile, fumed. “New-York will be remembered with especial hatred by the South to the end of time,” raged the Richmond Whig on April 22. “Boston we have always known where to find; but this New-York, which has never turned against us till the hour of trial, and is now moving heaven and earth for our destruction.”

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Photos: New York Is A Winter Wonderland, No Matter The Year

New York is a magical place in the winter—just look at the snow outside right now! From the holiday decorations to ice skating in Central Park, there’s always something fun to do in the winter, even if it’s just watching the snowflakes fall outside your window. Below are some of our favorite images of the city in winters past.

Recognize this structure? From 1896 to 1941, Castle Garden (now known as Castle Clinton) served as the Battery Park Aquarium. Before that, it was a fort, an entertainment center, and the entry point for many immigrants before Ellis Island was built.

Who needs a skating rink when you have a frozen pond? These oarkgoers made the best of the cold in Flushing, Queens by strapping on their skates and enjoying the outdoors. Though now, you can always skate at the World Ice Arena if you prefer to skate indoors!

This photo shows the statue of John Ericsson in Battery Park, decorated with a nice holiday wreath. Ericsson was a Swedish engineer and inventor who was best known for designing the USS Monitor. Here you can see the original builder’s model for the ship.

Grace Church still stands beautifully on 10th street and Broadway in Manhattan. In this photograph, you can see that a long exposure time was needed to capture the image, with all the people depicted on the street in a blur.

Where would New York be in the winter without the intrepid street sweepers? There’s no way anyone could get around without their work, which thankfully they’ve been doing since at least when this photo was taken.

As you can see here, the snow pile up after the street cleaners come down can be quite large!

Of course, many New Yorkers take the winter as a time to go on a great vacation. Niagara Falls is always a popular spot, especially with gorgeous views like this after a heavy snow.

What are your favorite memories of New York in the winter? Let us know in the comments!

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Nineteenth-Century Toys, No Need To Recharge!

These days many kids are used to solving puzzles on an iPad or reading along with a DVD. But our holiday exhibit, Batteries Not Included: Toys and Trains at the New-York Historical Society, shows you don’t need an electricity source to have fun! The New-York Historical Society has a collection of approximately 3,000 toys and games, primarily from the nineteenth century, which document the leisure pursuits of American families. By the nineteenth century the middle class in America was growing, making the ideas of leisure time. Also, child labor laws made it such that many children did not need to spend their time working, and instead could do what we now expect children to do: play. Let’s look at how they did that:


Locomotive engine, ca. 1900-1910. Painted metal. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Conrad Milster, 1956.19


Wooden toy soldier, ca. 1840-1870. Painted wood. New-York Historical Society, The Folk Art Collection of Elie Nadelman, 1937.501


Mechanical bank, Owl with turning head, ca. 1880-1920. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Henry M. Lucas, 1940.467


Cast iron toy, One-horse sleigh (with woman driver), ca. 1900. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Lila Luce and H. Christopher Luce in memory of Henry Luce III, 2007.18.1.3


Floor train, 1875-1885. Painted iron and tin. New-York Historical Society, X.465a-d

Of course, many children received toys like these as gifts from Santa. And did you know Santa Claus was a New Yorker? The modern Santa was born in the imagination of Clement Clarke Moore, a scholar who penned a whimsical poem about St. Nicholas, the patron of old Dutch New York, for the amusement of his six children at Christmastime. Soon after the publication of “A Visit from St. Nicholas”—popularly known today by its opening line, “Twas the night before Christmas…”"—St. Nicholas became a popular feature of American Christmas celebrations. At the request of the Librarian of the New-York Historical Society in 1862, he wrote out a manuscript copy of the poem, which the New-York Historical Society still holds in its library. Read more about it here!

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Washington Slept Here: How Did The President Sleep At Valley Forge?

Camp Bed, 1777-1785. Wood, canvas, iron. Gift of Ernest Livingston McCrackan

Camp Bed, 1777-1785. Wood, canvas, iron. Gift of Ernest Livingston McCrackan

On December 19, 1777, General George Washington and his Continental Army set up camp in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania for the winter ahead. Having just fought the Battle of White Marsh, the troops were weary and weak, and many traveled without shoes. That winter of 1777-1778 would live in infamy, as the troops suffered awful conditions.

According to Russel Freedman, author of Washington at Valley Forge, there were  inadequate food and water supplies, rampant disease, and freezing conditions. General Washington petitioned the  Continental Congress for more supplies, but they were unable to provide anything for months. Though these conditions may seem unlivable, the Valley Forge National Park argues that they may have been expected:

As wintry weather approached, armies often withdrew to fixed camps. Transportation problems made large-scale winter operations infeasible. In choosing a site for quarters, Washington had to balance the Continental Congress’s wish for some type of winter campaign aimed at dislodging the British from the capital [at Philadelphia] against the needs of his weary and poorly supplied army. By mid-December he had decided to encamp at Valley Forge.

From this location, twenty miles northwest of Philadelphia, the army was close enough to maintain pressure on the British yet far enough away to prevent a surprise attack. While the soldiers who entered camp on December 19, 1777, were not well-supplied, they were not downtrodden. This is attested to by an anonymous observer who recounted his visit to Valley Forge in the New Jersey Gazette on December 25:

“I have just returned from spending a few days with the army. I found them employed in building little huts for their winter quarters. It was natural to expect that they wished for more comfortable accommodations, after the hardships of a most severe campaign; but I could discover nothing like a sigh of discontent at their situation…On the contrary, my ears were agreeably struck every evening, in riding through the camp, with a variety of military and patriotic songs and every countenance I saw, wore the appearance of cheerfulness or satisfaction.”

Still, sleeping must have been rough, as evidenced by this item in the New-York Historical Society’s collection: George Washington’s Camp Bed. Made of three folding stools, it stretched six-and-a-half feet long, which barely fit the 6’2″ General Washington. You can listen to our audio guide of the object

. According to the donor’s great-aunt, Mrs. Francis A. Livingston (Catharine Roosevelt Kissam), this camp bed was given by Washington to his recording secretary, Richard Varick, at the close of the Revolutionary War. Varick then entrusted it to his wife’s niece, Mrs. John L. Lefferts (Helena Kissam), who subsequently gave it to her great-nephew, the donor.

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Happy Birthday, John Jay!

Today in 1745, founding father John Jay was born in New York City. He was a lawyer, a diplomat, the president of the Continental Congress, second Governor of New York, and the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He was also the author of five of the Federalist Papers, which were written to convince the public to ratify the proposed United States Constitution.

John Jay, "In relation to Foreign Nations." Draft of Federalist #64, ca. 1788. New-York Historical Society Library

John Jay, “In relation to Foreign Nations.” Draft of Federalist #64, ca. 1788. New-York Historical Society Library

As part of its collection of John Jay Papers, the New-York Historical Society’s Library holds this draft of Federalist No. 64, written  in John Jay’s hand. It was originally published on March 5, 1788 in the Independent Journal.  The changes in organization and wording from the published version are substantial, but the content still argues for the constitutional provisions for senatorial approval of treaties. In general, John Jay, as well as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, favored a strong, centralized government.


Papers Connected with the British Treaty (Reel 2 – #7), 1794

The collection also contains these papers concerning negotiations with Great Britain that resulted in Jay’s Treaty (also known as the Treaty of London of 1794). The treaty was meant to resolve remaining issues between the United States and Great Britain after the Treaty of Paris of 1783, which ended the Revolutionary War.

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