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Posts Tagged ‘history’

The Great Round World and What Is Going on in It

February 25, 2014 | by

great world

Excerpts from the February 25, 1897 edition of The Great Round World and What Is Going on in It, a “weekly newspaper for boys and girls” published in New York.

There is a little flurry in Siam.

The Czar of Russia is quite ill, and every one feels sorry that he should be sick now.

Did you ever see a house move? If you have not, you have missed a very funny sight.

A great sea monster has been washed ashore on the coast of Florida, and men who study natural history are much interested in it.

At last active measures are about being taken in reference to the terrible Dead Man’s Curve.

For some time past the Fire Department has been seeking for some engine powerful enough to throw water to the top of the very high buildings—the skyscrapers, as they are called.

We gave an account, in an earlier number, of Lieutenant Wise and his efforts to make kites strong enough to lift soldiers into the air.

Katonah has a railroad depot, and a post-office, and thinks a good deal of itself.

The strikers have been beaten because of their lack of money.

This plague is supposed to attack only the dirty and unwashed, and as the majority of these pilgrims are filthy beyond description, it would be certain to fasten upon them.

 

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Exclusivity

February 18, 2014 | by

alva belmont

Alva Vanderbilt, 1883.

“Gilded New York,” an exhibition up at the Museum of the City of New York right now, showcases the ostentatious visual culture of late-nineteenth-century elites. A friend and I went last weekend, in the midst of a heavy snow. There are impossibly elaborate Worth gowns, impossibly ornate Tiffany jewels. There are idealized portraits and embellished vases. There are the McKim, Mead & and White mansions that dotted Fifth Avenue, and photo after photo of jam-packed (but highly exclusive) balls. If you’ve been reading any Wharton or James lately, I highly recommend it.

One portion of the exhibition features a slideshow of party-goers, many of them costumed, at the landmark balls of the era. Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt’s 1883 fancy dress ball was one such: a game-changer that established the nouveau-riche Vanderbilts—and their brand-new Fifth Avenue mansion—as social forces to be reckoned with. There doesn’t seem to have been a theme, as such, to the costumes, other than general lavishness. As the New York Times reported, in the months leading up to the ball “amid the rush and excitement of business, men have found their minds haunted by uncontrollable thoughts as to whether they should appear as Robert Le Diable, Cardinal Richelieu, Otho the Barbarian, or the Count of Monte Cristo, while the ladies have been driven to the verge of distraction in the effort to settle the comparative advantages of ancient, medieval, and modern costumes.”

In the end, people seem to have gone for all of the above: while royalty and nobility of all eras and nations were well represented, the ball also featured Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II as “Electric Light” (interpreted by Worth/Mainbocher), and a King Lear “in his right mind,” while Miss Kate “Puss” Fearing Strong sported a taxidermied cat’s head as a hairpiece, and had seven real cat tails sewn to the skirt of her gown. Most of the costumes seem to have been recognizable enough, but one can’t help thinking that all evening long Ward McAllister must have had to go around saying, “No, I’m Comte de la Mole! You know, the Huguenot lover of Margaret of Anjou? Whose embalmed head she carried around?” (On the other hand, perhaps Gilded Age society was really up on their Stendhal. Or even their Dumas.) Read More »

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A Brief History of the Snowball Fight

February 13, 2014 | by

snowball fight

Venceslao Boemo, January, c. 1400.

My colleague Stephen sent along this clipping earlier today, from an 1855 issue of the New York Times.

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Nor is this the only recorded instance of snowball-related violence.

January 29, 1863: Confederate troops stationed in the Rappahannock Valley in Northern Virginia begin exchanging friendly snowball fire. This escalates to a nine-thousand-rebel brawl.

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This is what happens when you put rocks in your snowballs.

January 12, 1893: Some rambunctious Princeton sophomores engage in a rock-laced snowball fight. This is the result.

The Great Depression: Snowballs (aka snowcones) are known as “hard times sundaes.”

August 17, 1945: Animal Farm is published.

Summer, 1958: My dad (or rather, the boy who will, decades later, become my dad) and his friends decide it will be the coolest thing ever if they freeze snowballs during the winter so they can have a snowball fight in July. First snowball—now pure ice—results in eight-year-old Joel Bernstein taken to the hospital for stitches.

January 7, 2013: A German teacher, hurt in a snowball fight with students, sues the school board and succeeds in getting it classified a work injury.

February 13, 2014: A brother and sister, maybe five and three, are having a snowball fight under my window. She repeatedly screams, “WHY DID THE CHICKEN CROSS THE ROAD? TO GO TO THE BATHROOM!” He throws a snowball at her face; she falls down, crying.

 

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Little Syria

September 17, 2013 | by

syrialede

“The Foreign Element in New York—The Syrian Colony,” c. 1895

“When one leaves the hurry and roar of lower Broadway and walks southward through narrow Washington-st., the average New-Yorker of Caucasian descent might easily believe he was in the Orient. A block to the east roar the trains of the elevated. A little further eastward are the rushing throngs of Broadway. In the midst of all this tumult and confusion is situated the quiet village of Ahl-esh-Shemal.”

And so, in 1903, the New-York Tribune endeavors to take its readers into Little Syria. Concentrated on Rector and Washington Streets in the lower parts of Manhattan, Little Syria in 1895 was home to an estimated three-thousand residents from modern-day Syria and Lebanon (nearly all Middle Eastern New Yorkers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would be referred to as Syrian or Arab, regardless of religion), most of whom had fled persecution under increasingly harsh Ottoman rule. Missionaries, dispatched to the Holy Lands to spread the Christian gospel, told tales of a city made of opportunity, ready and waiting to receive immigrants dedicated to hard work and moral living.

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Falling Men: On Don DeLillo and Terror

April 30, 2013 | by

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New York Police officers are seen under a news ticker in Times Square in New York, April 16, 2013. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

Some terrorist attacks become cultural obsessions, while others are forgotten completely. There were three bombings in New York City in 1975, none of which I’ve ever heard talked about, each of which would probably shut down the city if it happened now. In January, Puerto Rican separatists set off dynamite in Fraunces Tavern in downtown Manhattan, killing four businessmen—the same number of fatalities, incidentally, that led us to close the airspace over Boston last week. In April, four separate bombs went off in midtown Manhattan on one afternoon, damaging a diner and the offices of several finance firms. The worst one came in late December, when a package of dynamite exploded in the baggage-claim area at LaGuardia Airport, killing eleven.

These were underground disturbances, moments of disorder that helped warp the culture, even if they weren’t absorbed or even remembered. In 1975, Don DeLillo was thirty-nine, living in the city, possibly beginning work on Players, his fifth novel and his first about terrorism. Long before it became obvious, DeLillo argued that terrorists and gunmen have rearranged our sense of reality. He has become better appreciated as the world has come to resemble his work, incrementally, with every new telegenic catastrophe, every bombing and mass shooting. Throughout DeLillo’s work we encounter young men who plot violence to escape the plotlessness of their own lives. He has done more than any writer since Dostoevsky to explain them. Read More »

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Outside the Paris Pavilion

April 22, 2013 | by

On this day in 1964, the New York World’s Fair kicked off in Flushing Meadows, Queens. And we were there! Below, the brochure for the fair’s smallest pavilion.

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