Behind The Scenes

How New York Reacted To World War I

World War I began on July 28, 1914, almost exactly 100 years ago. The United States did not enter the war until 1917, but the horrors of the war were known, and America reacted in a number of different ways. First, there were those who supported the war and the troops, however they could. This doll, according to acquisition documents, was “used to promote Liberty Bonds during WWI.”

Others, of course, fought for the cause. This hat was worn by donor Charles M. Lefferts, during World War I. Lefferts first enlisted as a private in Co. K, 7th Regiment, National Guard New York, in 1893. After the active 7th Regiment was called into service in WWI, a reserve regiment was recruited to serve at home in case of need. Lefferts re-enlisted in this new organization November 14, 1914.



This cane was made to celebrate victory in World War I in 1918. Its silver handle depicts the American flag and a bald eagle.


World War I victory cane, ca. 1918. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Lou and Barbara Grumet

There was even a temporary memorial arch constructed on Fifth Avenue near Madison Square Park, in honor of the city’s war dead. The arch cost $80,000 and was modeled after the Arch of Constantine in Rome, but bids to make the arch permanent failed.

Even though this arch didn’t stay, there are many WWI memorials around New York City. Which have you seen?

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How We Celebrate Our Independence

My plan for this Independence Day involves hot dogs, hanging out on my friend’s balcony, and watching the fireworks on the East River. I think it’s a pretty good way to spend my day, but New Yorkers have been celebrating with parades, beaches and parties since we pulled down that statue of King George.

Some celebrated with parades, like these firemen in Hempstead, NY.

Some read comic books about The Yellow Kid, created by Richard F. Outcault.

Some, like Jean Lussier,  went over Niagara Falls in a rubber ball. Lussier, originally from Quebec and living in Niagara Falls, New York, challenged the Falls on Independence Day in 1928. This machinist’s successful trip was in a self designed, 1.8 metre (six foot) rubber ball lined with rubber tubes filled with oxygen. On July 4, 1928, after taking some hard knocks in the upper rapids, it skipped perfectly over the Falls. One hour later, Lussier stepped ashore below the Falls unharmed.


Some played castanetes, like these used during the Centennial celebration on July 4, 1876.

So remember your forefathers this Independence Day!

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What Are Your Madeline Memories?

madeline1At the New-York Historical Society, we mount exhibitions that directly connect American history and art to you, our visitors. This summer, we will present Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the beloved schoolgirl and the iconic illustration and writing of her creator.
The story of Madeline‘s author Ludwig Bemelmans mirrors that of so many other New Yorkers: he was an immigrant who went against the grain in his home country (in his case, due to juvenile delinquency) and used his creativity and hard work to make a name for himself in America. Madeline was also born in New York – in some notes scrawled the back of a menu at Pete’s Tavern in Gramercy. Since then, many New Yorkers have grown up reading the Madeline series, inspiring them to travel to Paris, to find bravery to undergo appendectomies, and to pursue their adventures and dreams.
Our former high school intern Lily Shoretz is a prime example. We were thrilled when she reached out to us to reconnect and share her excitement for the exhibit:
Madeline has had a particularly important place in my childhood. She was my role model — the smart, strong, spunky female character I aspired to be like. My mother read me the Madeline books, watched the Madeline videos with me, and organized Madeline-themed tea parties for my third and fourth birthdays. These parties included dramatic presentations that my family put on for our guests, with me as Madeline (in a home-made blue coat and yellow hat), my mother as Miss Clavel (in a full habit, no less), and my father and brother filling in as the secondary characters. My brother, 11 at the time, even went so far as to don dog ears and a yellow bow to play Genevieve.
My family’s enchantment with Madeline became meaningful early on when, at age two and a half, I had open heart surgery. While I was in the O.R., my mother embroidered an open heart surgery incision on my beloved Madeline rag doll, who already came with a scar on her tummy from her appendectomy. I was stuck in the hospital for a month, and my family did everything they could to entertain me. We drew pictures, made paper chains, and watched Shirley Temple movies on repeat, but one of my favorite things to do was read Madeline books. When we got to the right page, I, like Madeline, would sit up in my hospital bed and shout, “Voila! My scar!” Madeline taught me to be proud of my scar and gave me the confidence to know that I was brave and strong.
What are your Madeline memories? Tell us below in the comments, and visit the exhibition July 4 – October 19, 2014.


Happy Birthday, Coney Island Cyclone!

It’s officially summer, which means Coney Island is hopping with locals and tourists alike, enjoying the beach, eating hot dogs, and riding rides. On June 26, 1927 one of Coney Island’s most popular and enduring rides was born–the Coney Island Cyclone!


Coney Island Cyclone [Flickr user Keith Putnam]

Coasters like the Thunderbolt and the Tornado were popular additions to Coney Island’s amusement parks, so Jack and Irving Rosenthal bought land previously occupied by the Giant Racer roller coaster, and hired coaster designer Vernon Keenan. Rides, which send you hurtling across 3,000 feet of track in 100 seconds, cost a quarter. Now, the coaster is a National Landmark.

The first time I rode the Cyclone I was 14-years-old, and despite the whiplash it was the most exciting and exhilarating roller coaster I had ever been on. Have you ridden the Cyclone? Tell us about your Coney Island memories!



Enjoy Tiffany Lamps? Thank Thomas Edison


Dragonfly shade, designed probably by Clara Driscoll for Tiffany Studios pre-1906, 22 in. (55.9 cm) diam.; library base, designed pre-1906. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Dr. Egon Neustadt, N84.110


Tiffany Studio’s stained glass lamps are among the most gorgeous decorative objects ever created and represent an incredible historical moment of American art joining the world stage. While numerous countries are filled with beautiful painting, sculpture and architecture, American stained glass of the late-19th and early-20th century outshines the competition. Tiffany lamps not only embody America coming into its own artistically, their innovative opalescent glass and usage of incandescent bulbs also illuminate America as a beacon of technological collaboration and innovation.

From his earliest days as a telegrapher working for Western Union in Boston, Thomas Edison was a tinkerer. However, it was right here in New York and New Jersey that Thomas Edison made history with inventions including the stock ticker, the phonograph, and—of course—the incandescent bulb. Edison’s inventions were capital-intensive, and required funding from businessmen, politicians and other powerful individuals based in New York. While Edison did not invent the first light bulb, by 1879 he created the first practical, long-lasting light bulb and patented a system of electricity distribution. Without Edison’s innovations, electric lighting would not be suitable for interiors and Tiffany’s artistry would have been limited to interior design, stained glass windows, and oil lamps.

In 1884, Edison worked with theatrical innovator Steele MacKay to design the lighting for the Lyceum Theater at Broadway and 22nd Street. Louis Comfort Tiffany was also brought on board to design the interiors. Tiffany was designing stained glass windows at the time, but had not yet begun to design stained glass lamps or lighting fixtures. Working alongside the electrical “wizard,” Tiffany could have looked at those bare, exposed light bulbs and seen potential.

Underwood & Underwood, Thomas Edison in his laboratory, East Orange, New Jersey, 1901. Stereograph. New-York Historical Society # 41493

Underwood & Underwood, Thomas Edison in his laboratory, East Orange, New Jersey, 1901. Stereograph. New-York Historical Society # 41493

Unlike Edison’s enduring electricity, Tiffany’s art nouveau and aesthetic style fell out of fashion for a time in the twentieth century.  Tiffany is once again adored, with reproduction lamps in homes everywhere, original lamps fetching hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction, and museums with extensive collections (including our own, which was established with a major donation by collector Egon Neustadt). Scholarship has also caught up to recognize a crucial part of Tiffany’s genius: he employed talented artistic collaborators. One designer in particular, Clara Driscoll, is believed to have led a team of women in designing the majority of the 132 lamps in our collection. Visitors will have the opportunity to examine the beauty and historical significance of these lamps as never before when the Luce Center reopens following renovation in 2016. Until then, we hope you’ll explore them online and in our publication A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls.

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Votes For Women! When Congress Approved The 19th Amendment

On June 4, 1919, the US Congress approved the 19th Amendment, which granted suffrage to women. The Amendment was not ratified by the states until August 18, 1920, but the approval was a huge victory for women’s rights. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton first drafted and introduced the amendment in 1878, but it took over forty years for women to get the right to vote.

Before that, the rules of suffrage were undefined by the Constitution, though most states did not extend the vote to women (New Jersey being the exception, though they revoked women’s suffrage in 1807). Though the amendment was introduced in 1878, Congress repeatedly ignored it, and the fight for women’s suffrage moved to the states. Beginning in 1910 a number of western states passed legislation for full or partial suffrage for women.

The Woman Suffrage Party was organized by Carrie Chapman Catt in 1909 out of many small suffrage societies. It put the state legislature under intense pressure in 1913, forcing a referendum on votes for women in New York State. In 1915, a second vote was forced by more campaigning, helping women gain the vote in New York state. With the momentum started in New York and the added votes from women in the state, New York carried the country and the 19th Amendment was finally approved by Congress.

Then it was up to the states to ratify it; 3/4 of the states needed to ratify it for it to become part of the Constitution (meaning 36 of the 48 existing states). There were a few holdouts–Virginia, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina did not ratify the amendment until the 1950s and 1960s, and Mississippi was the last to ratify it, waiting until 1984!

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130 Years Ago, Elephants Solved Panic On the Brooklyn Bridge

On May 24, 1883 the Brooklyn Bridge opened to traffic, and though now we know it as a beautiful landmark, New Yorkers of the time were a bit more wary. At the time it was the only bridge spanning the East River, connecting the separate cities of Brooklyn and New York, and many doubted that a bridge that large could hold.

This fear is what may have prompted a stampede a week after the Brooklyn Bridge opened, on May 30. The New York Times wrote that a woman tripped and fell on the steps up to the bridge, prompting another woman to scream and crowds to push forward. Then, panic: “Those following were in turn pushed over and in a moment the narrow stairway was choked with human beings, piled one on top of the other, who were being crushed to death. In a few minutes, 12 persons were killed, 7 injured so seriously that their lives are despaired of, and 28 others more or less severely wounded.”

Earlier that year, showman and circus founder P.T. Barnum had suggested marching his elephants, led by his most famous one, Jumbo, across the bridge in celebration of its opening. He was turned down, but with public trust of the structure still wavering, a display of the Brooklyn Bridge’s strength seemed to be a good idea. On May 17, 1884, Barnum marched 21 elephants across the bridge, along with 17 camels.

The animals made it across just fine, proving that the bridge was steady. At the time it opened, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, and it lives on today as one of New York’s finest landmarks.



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Beach Scenes From New York’s Past

Memorial Day Weekend is upon us, which means it’s officially beach season! The New York City parks department maintains 14 miles of beaches, which New Yorkers have been using to cool themselves from the city heat (or enjoy some amusement park rides) for many years. Many of these beach scenes are from almost 100 years ago, but we bet opening weekend won’t look much different!

Below is a scene outside of Curley’s Hotel, an extremely popular Rockaway destination until it burned down in 1968.

How have we never thought of bringing rocking chairs to the beach before?


Group of women in dresses seated on Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, undated (ca. 1920). William D. Hassler photograph collection, New-York Historical Society

Which roller coaster is being built in the background here? We think it may be the Tornado, which was 2,790 feet long.

This bathing suit is too cute. Hopefully some fashions like this will come back in style!

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How America Reacted To Watergate…With Buttons!

On May 17, 1973, the United States Senate Watergate Committee convened to begin the investigation on the Watergate scandal. The year before, five men were arrested for breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters, and President Nixon’s campaign office was implicated. From May 17 through August 7, the hearings were broadcast on national television, and an estimated 85% of American households with TVs tuned in.

In the New-York Historical Society Museum collection, political buttons showed many Americans were unsupportive of President Nixon. Numerous buttons have slogans such as “Impeachment with Honor” and “Free The Watergate 500,” in reference to the 500 tapes Nixon had to turn over to the Watergate Committee.

Nixon resigned his Presidency due to the Watergate scandal, saying in his resignation speech, “To have served in this office is to have felt a very personal sense of kinship with each and every American.” Do you remember when Nixon resigned? Tell us your story in the comments!

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The Hats of Spring

Finally, it’s warm and sunny enough to be able to enjoy the outdoors, which for many women means an excuse to don their best hats. Here’s a look at some of our favorite headwear represented in the New-York Historical society collections.


Albert Abendschein, Eleanor Jay, 1902. Gift of the Estate of Peter Marié.



Albert Bierstadt, Indian Beauty, ca. 1863-1873. Gift of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot



Aline Alaux, Esteban Rodriguez Miro (1744-1795), ca. 1850. Gift of Mr. Thomas W. Streeter

Men have always had fashionable hats too, like this on on Esteban Miro, the governor of Louisiana from 1782 to 1791.


Katherine Schmidt, Almeda’s Daughter, 1937. Gift of David Toorchen in memory of his father Harold Aaron Toorchen


[Unidentified young woman in polka-dot cloche hat and checkered dress sitting in a car, undated. Facing away from the camera; another woman partially visible beyond her.] Eugene L. Armbruster photograph collection, 1894-1939.

We’re in love with this polka-dot getup, not to mention the car!


Full-length portrait of Julia Hassler, posed in summer dress and hat under a grape arbor, undated (ca. 1913). William D. Hassler photograph collection, New-York Historical Society Library

Bill Cunningham, St. Paul's Chapel, ca. 1968-1976. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bill Cunningham

Bill Cunningham, St. Paul’s Chapel, ca. 1968-1976. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bill Cunningham

Of course, Bill Cunningham always as an eye for fashion, as seen here in an image from his Facades collection. You can see this in more at Bill Cunningham: Facades, now on view at the New-York Historical Society.

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