Cunningham-Burdell Murder Case

The Cunningham-Burdell murder case scandalized and fascinated 1850s New York society. Emma Hempstead Cunningham was a widow with five children and Dr. Harvey Burdell a dentist with a thriving practice when they met and began a tumultuous relationship. In January 1857, Burdell was found horrifically murdered on the floor of his office. Not long after, Cunningham appeared with the claim that they’d been secretly married and she was the heir to his estate. Instead, she was rewarded with murder charges.

Cunningham was a landlord, and Burdell her tenant; both lived and worked at 31 Bond Street in NoHo, an area that no more than a decade prior had been a tony residential neighborhood, home to the Astors and other elite New York families. By the late 1850s, though, the area was on a downward slide. The property of 31 Bond Street still exists, but not, alas, the house: the building that’s currently standing there was built in 1900, long after both Burdell and Cunningham were deceased.


Though Cunningham was ultimately acquitted of murder, the taint of the case stuck with her for the rest of her life. She died in poverty in 1887, thirty years later. Both Cunningham and Burdell were buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. For a long time, the graves were unmarked, but headstones were erected for both in 2007. The amazing resource Find A Grave provides latitude and longitude for the location of Cunningham’s grave, and section/lot information for Burdell’s.


(Sources: New York Times, Smithsonian, Murder by Gaslight)



Cherry Blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The cherry blossoms are in bloom at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden! As you might recall from our previous post about the BBG, entry is free on Tuesdays and Saturdays before noon. Sadly, the garden closes at 6 PM on weeknights, making an evening trip difficult — but it opens at 8 AM, so a morning sojourn (assuming you live nearby, as I do) is not impossible. Nor is it crowded.


I arrived at about 8:05, and was among the first visitors, but not the first. The sky was threatening rain, which may have dampened (get it?) interest, but about a half-dozen people were already scoping out photo-ops on the Cherry Esplanade. Thankfully, the rain held off until I’d continued on my commute.


It wasn’t just the cherry blossoms; other flowers were blooming all over the garden, like these tulips.


This weekend is the Sakura Matsuri! That means no free Saturday entry, but lots of activities beyond the usual. Since the cherry blossom festival is scheduled far in advance, it’s pure luck when it happens to coincide with peak blossom — as it will this year.


Location: 990 Washington Avenue (stretches east-west from Flatbush Avenue to Washington Avenue and north-south from Eastern Parkway to Empire Boulevard).
Nearest Subway: Eastern Parkway entrance: 2/3 at Grand Army Plaza or Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum, or B/Q at 7 Avenue; Washington Avenue entrance: 2/3 at Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum or Franklin Avenue, or S at Botanic Garden; Flatbush Avenue entrance: B/Q at Prospect Park.
Estimated Timespan: 2-3 hours
Cost: $12 Adults; $6 Seniors and Students; free Saturday before noon and Tuesday all day.


Western Union on Display

I was walking downtown the other evening (enjoying the finally-spring weather), when I happened across a history display in the windows of a building! 60 Hudson Street was built to be the headquarters of the Western Union Company, and while it no longer holds that position, several of its windows have displays about the history of the company.


One window displayed telegraphs that had been sent through Western Union, and my favorite was this one, sent from Duke Ellington to Ella Fitzgerald.



Brooklyn Museum

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t entirely know what the Brooklyn Museum was until I visited. (Yes, yes, I knew it was a museum.) Brooklyn history? Modern art? Who knew?

So here’s your answer: it’s an art museum in the vein of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with a sizeable collection of antiquities — meaning it’s as much about history and culture as it is about art per se. (My favorite kind of art museum!) It also feels cozier than the Met, though it’s still enormous (according to Wikipedia, about 500,000 square feet to the Met’s 2 million).

In the time I spent there, I didn’t come close to being able to take in everything the museum has on display (and I skipped the current special exhibition, on Georgia O’Keeffe). I enjoyed, far more than I was expecting, the exhibit on the first floor called “Infinite Blue,” which was — you guessed it — a collection of (partly) blue things.

The Egyptian galleries of the museum had a small special exhibit called “A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt,” as well as a wide-ranging permanent selection of artifacts — including several mummies and displays about the process of mummification, which was both fascinating and uncomfortable. The exhibit tried to acknowledge the problems inherent to displaying human remains, but the fact remaining that it was displaying human remains.

One of my favorite things about the museum wasn’t an exhibit at all, but an app! Ask Brooklyn Museum allows you to open a live chat with museum experts and ask them your questions. (Only while you’re on the museum grounds.) I used it several times, though I was frustrated that the functionality to upload a photograph wasn’t working.


I wanted to identify this writing system, but wasn’t able to share the photo through the app. (Answer, if anyone was wondering: Cuneiform.) Hopefully, just a temporary blip.

Other good thing to know: like the Met, the Brooklyn Museum’s stated admission price is “suggested”: you don’t have to pay the full amount to enter. (Ticketed exhibits are the exception.) And, entry is free the first Saturday of every month, from 5 PM to 11 PM.

This was my first visit to the Brooklyn Museum, but it certainly won’t be my last — or my last post about going there!


Location: 200 Eastern Parkway, corner of Eastern Parkway and Washington Avenue
Nearest Public Transit: 2/3 at Eastern Parkway–Brooklyn Museum; 2/3/4/5 and S at Franklin Av; 2/3 at Grand Army Plaza; B/Q and S at Prospect Park.
Cost: Suggested Admission $16 adults; $10 students and seniors; ages 19 and under free. Free 5 PM – 11 PM first Saturday of every month.

Roscoe Conkling & Herman Melville

It’s easy to forget how many notable people spent part of their lives in New York City. Sure, we New Yorkers think our city is the center of the universe, but we forget how many others through the ages have been of the same opinion. This blog hasn’t been around that long, and we’ve already written about Alexander Hamilton’s grave, Edgar Allan Poe’s house, Dylan Thomas’s favorite bar, and a restaurant George Washington visited. Recently, near Madison Square Park, I stumbled across the stories of two other notable New Yorkers (okay, one probably has a more recognizable name than the other).


In the southeast corner of the park itself is a statue of Roscoe Conkling, New York congressman and mayor of Utica. Conkling was caught in a blizzard in Union Square while walking north towards 25th Street, and died a month later; his friends had wanted to erect a statue of him in that park, but:

Park officials believed Conkling not of a stature to warrant placement of this work alongside existing sculptures in the park of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and the Marquis de Lafayette.

So the statue found its home in Madison Square Park instead.


A few blocks away, at 104 E 26th Street, a plaque marks the location of Herman Melville’s New York residence. Melville lived there from 1863 to the end of his life; he’s buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Conkling died just 3 years before Melville — while Melville was living in his house on E 26th Street. It’s funny to think that they might well have passed each other on the street, or concurrently milled in Madison Square Park. Now both have memorials only a few blocks apart.


Location: Roscoe Conkling: southeast corner of Madison Square Park, Madison Avenue and E 23rd Street; Herman Melville: 104 E 26th Street, between Park Avenue S and Lexington Avenue
Nearest Public Transit: 6 at 23 St or 28 St; R/W at 23 St; F/M at 23 St
Cost: Free
Website (Madison Square Park)

Old Stone House

Park Slope’s Old Stone House is an oddity. It’s neither the original house nor located on the original site, though it’s near the original site and the reconstruction used some original materials. The original was important to the Battle of Brooklyn, also known as the Battle of Long Island, of the Revolutionary War. The reconstruction seems to serve as little more than background to the families who bring their children to the playground that serves as its front lawn.


I had a somewhat disappointing visit, too, because the house was closed for a private event. The perils of visiting off-the-beaten-path historic sites! Neither the website nor their limited social media indicated the closing and I didn’t call in advance. (In contrast to my visit to Poe Park, where showing up on a day when the house was closed was entirely my fault.)

I was able to take a turn in the garden associated with the house, but without any signs or labels, it wasn’t very enlightening.


Park Slope may be easy to get to, but the rewards were greater when I schlepped out to the Wyckoff House.


Nearest Public Transit:
Cost: Park is free; I couldn’t find any information about the house!

Msgr. McGolrick Park

Last month’s strangely warm weather was perfect for park outings — even accidental ones. My boyfriend and I were out for an afternoon ramble when we stumbled across Monsignor McGolrick Park, which neither of us had previously known existed.


Prominent in the park are two memorial statues. The angel in front of the flag is dedicated “to the living and the dead heroes of Greenpoint who fought in the World War.” (The First, one presumes; the park was opened in 1891.)


The other was erected “to commemorate the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimac,” also known as the Battle of Hampton Roads, in the Civil War, “and in memory of the men of the Monitor and its designer John Ericsson.” The Monitor, I learned later, was built in Brooklyn.

The “Msgr.” of the name stands for Monsignor; Monsignor McGolrick was the pastor of a local church in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

At the center of the park is the large Shelter Pavilion, a designated New York City Landmark, pictured at the top.

Researching Msgr. McGolrick Park led me to NYC Parks’ Historical Signs Program. The site says:

New York City has more than 1,700 parks, playgrounds and recreational facilities. Unfortunately, few New Yorkers know whom they are named after or why. To help teach New Yorkers about their local parks and playgrounds and provide a sense of community, we created the Historical Signs Program.

True enough! I missed the sign that would have told me about Monsignor McGolrick, but I’ll know to keep an eye out for them in the future. 1,700 parks — I’ve still got a ways to go.


– Ellen

Location: Between Driggs Ave and Nassau Ave; between Russell St and Monitor St; Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Nearest Public Transit: G at Nassau Av
Cost: Free