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).

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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.

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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.

–Ellen

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)

Trinity Church and Cemetery

There are any number of fascinating cemeteries in New York City, but Trinity Church’s three cemeteries may have the highest proportion of familiar names — and if you’re a Revolutionary War buff or a Hamilton fan, the original, downtown cemetery easily takes the cake. (The uptown Cemetery & Mausoleum has some very interesting people as well… but that’s a subject for another post.)

The Trinity Church you can see today is the third on this spot; the original building was built in 1696 but, unfortunately, burned to the ground in 1776. However, the nearby St. Paul’s Chapel is part of the parish of Trinity Church, and may be the second oldest surviving building in Manhattan, after Fraunces Tavern. (It, too, is the subject for another post.) The current Trinity Church was completed in 1846, making it still quite distinguished in age.

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Continue reading “Trinity Church and Cemetery”

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Favorite St. Patrick’s Cathedral fact: when the cornerstone was laid, in 1858, the church was so far outside the “city” that it was ridiculed as “Hughes’s Folly.” If I ever have access to a time machine, my first stops will be to various points in New York’s past; I’d like to see the time when Midtown was nothing but wilderness and no one thought the city would ever extend so far north.

Now, of course, St. Patrick’s is the epitome of an urban church, sandwiched between Rockefeller Center and Madison Avenue, surrounded by luxury shopping. (The Manhattan flagship location of Burberry is a block away.) Unlike downtown Trinity Church — only a decade or two older than St. Patrick’s — which sticks out like a 19th century oasis among the modern buildings, the imposing, almost ostentatious cathedral seems to fit right in with its surroundings and the Midtown crowds.

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Unsurprisingly for a church with a ~150-year history and many wealthy patrons, St. Patrick’s is stuffed with ornate art, from stained glass windows to elaborate altars lining the north and south walls to sculptures, such as a reproduction of Michelangelo’s Pietà (according to my tour guide, 3 times the size of the original, necessitating some changes in the figures’ arrangements). There are altars dedicated to a number of saints, including one with an unorthodox aesthetic commemorating Elizabeth Seton, an early American saint (and a New Yorker).

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Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, known as the first American saint
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The Pietà

St. Patrick’s is open to visitors every day, including public masses. They also offer guided tours on most Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (check the schedule), or by appointment for larger groups. If you can time your visit for a guided tour, I recommend it, since guides can take you into the high altar and the crypt — both otherwise closed to visitors.

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A view of St. Patrick’s from the high altar, looking west
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“In this crypt lie the remains of the archbishops of New York – Requiescant in pace”

So — worth a visit? If you’re Catholic and the cathedral is personally, religiously meaningful to you, definitely. If you’re going more for the history or art, there’s certainly plenty of both to be had. For a short-term trip to New York, though, I don’t think this is a necessity on your schedule.

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Ellen

Location: 5th Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets
Nearest Public Transit: E/M at 5 Av/53 St; 6 at 51 St; B/D/F/M at 47-50 Sts – Rockefeller Ctr
Estimated Timespan: Tour takes approximately 1 hour
Cost: Free ($5 suggested donation)
Website

Unexpected Discoveries: Bowne & Co. and the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse

This evening I took a jaunt down to Pearl Street and Water Street — coincidentally, both routes that mark previous water lines of Manhattan, though the island has now, of course, been extended several blocks farther outward.

I was searching for a spot on Pearl Street that marked a building I knew no longer existed, but had once stood on that spot. I was out of luck, it turned out; the remaining buildings didn’t even have Pearl Street addresses, officially sitting on its cross streets.

Right around where I had estimated that spot would be, though, I found something else interesting: an undated and untitled plaque.

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“On this site, then 39 Queen Street, Robert Bowne, New York merchant, philanthropist, and educator, established Bowne & Co. in 1775. The company is New York’s oldest business concern operating under the same name since its founding. Robert Bowne helped to establish the city’s first free school, first bank, and first fire insurance company.”

The plaque commemorates the former site of Bowne & Co., New York’s”oldest business concern operating under the same name since its founding.” (No longer true, as it was acquired by R. R. Donnelley in 2010.) The plaque further directs one to the historic South Street Seaport area and 211 Water Street, where a restored Bowne & Co. stationery store operates part of the South Street Seaport Museum.

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South Street Seaport
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211 Water Street: Bowne & Co. Stationers

Along the way, I encountered another landmark that I’d probably walked by many times without recognizing what it was.

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The RMS Titanic Memorial Lighthouse

The RMS Titanic Memorial Lighthouse was supposedly erected at the insistence of “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, one of the survivors of the Titanic‘s sinking. Relocated from its original location, it now sits at the corner of Pearl Street and Fulton Street, just down the  block from Bowne & Co. and at the entrance to the South Street Seaport area.

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The RMS Titanic Memorial Lighthouse, looking back towards downtown Manhattan

Do you stop and read the historic plaques you walk past?

Ellen


Location: Memorial Lighthouse: corner of Fulton St and Pearl St; Bowne & Co. plaque: Pearl St between John St and Fulton St; reconstructed Bowne & Co.: 211 Water St
Nearest Subway: 2/3, 4/5, A/C, or J/Z to Fulton St.
Cost: Free!

White Horse Tavern

A dark bar on the corner of Hudson and West 11th Street, White Horse was established in 1880, and first gained popularity was a sailors’ bar, being near the Hudson River. Later it became notorious as a writers’ hangout; most infamously, Dylan Thomas drank there a few nights before his ignominious death.

Now White Horse is both unconcerned with its history and unable to forget it. There are no plaques or informational signs, and you get the impression that asking the employees for stories would be frowned upon. On the other hand, an entire wall in a back room is covered with a photograph of Dylan Thomas sitting at the bar. An “Established 1880” sign is hidden away in a window. And, frankly, there’s not much besides its historicity to recommend it as a destination.

Continue reading “White Horse Tavern”