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.

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

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–Ellen

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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)

East River State Park

The irony of the Manhattan skyline is that you can’t see it when you’re in Manhattan: you have to be in New Jersey, Brooklyn, or Queens. It’s a striking view that many short-term visitors to the city don’t get.

On the Brooklyn side, one of your options for a prime skyline view is East River State Park, in northern Williamsburg. It bumps up against the slightly more northerly and deceptively-named Bushwick Inlet Park, which includes an athletic facility; by contrast, East River State Park is an empty expanse of lawn dotted with picnic tables and playground equipment… unless you’re there in the summer, in which case it’s home to the bustling food truck market Smorgasburg.

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Cypress Hills Cemetery & The Evergreens Cemetery

There’s an area of Brooklyn and Queens that, by my count, contains at least ten distinct, contiguous cemeteries and at least two public parks. I’m not sure of their origin, except that several seem to have been established around the same time. Were they originally more distant then merged together as their boundaries grew? Or was this simply viewed as a good spot for a cemetery?

At any rate, I saw only two of them on my visit — my first visit, that is; if nothing else, I want to return to see Harry Houdini’s grave in nearby Machpelah Cemetery! And I suspect the others have hidden historical gems as well.

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First on my itinerary was Cypress Hills Cemetery, where I had a vague notion of attempting to find three notable gravesites: those of artist Piet Mondrian and of the “spiritualist” sisters Margaret and Kate Fox. I failed in both attempts, since the cemetery map I found online was not very detailed and signs on the lots didn’t seem to line up with it. After a while, I gave up and just wandered.

Continue reading “Cypress Hills Cemetery & The Evergreens Cemetery”

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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Canarsie Pier

This weekend, a friend with a car and I were planning to cruise around Brooklyn and hit a few of the destinations on my to-visit list that are difficult and/or time consuming to get to via public transportation. The forecast dissuaded us, however, and indeed as I look out the window over my laptop screen I can see pretty heavy snow falling.

So instead I got up early, procured a to-go tea, and set out on foot, hoping to complete a 10-mile loop before any precipitation showed up (I succeeded). The destination I picked: Canarsie Pier, on the shore of Jamaica Bay.

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‘Alexander Hamilton: Striver, Statesman, Scoundrel’ at the NYPL

There are just a few days left to see the NYPL’s Alexander Hamilton exhibit, “Striver, Statesman, Scoundrel,” which closes on December 31st. Though it’s a modest one, contained in one small room off the lobby of the Schwarzman Building, it’s still worth visiting for history (or musical) buffs, especially since the NYPL’s exhibitions are generally free!

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The exhibit displays a selection of its holdings, including some interesting pieces — such as Hamilton’s draft of George Washington’s farewell address. There aren’t, however, a large number in Hamilton’s own hand. Some of the pieces are from people associated with Hamilton, such as Aaron Burr and the Schuyler family.

Fans of Hamilton the musical will recognize the title of this screed by the founding father:

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And, of course, the famous duel with Aaron Burr takes up a good amount of real estate, including the whole back wall, which reproduces an artist’s depiction of the fatal shot.

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While you’re at the Schwarzman Building, you can also check out an exhibition called “A Writer’s Christmas” — definitely on my list for sometime between now and when it closes on January 8th!

Ellen

Location: NYPL’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, 476 Fifth Avenue (main entrance at Fifth Avenue and 41st Street)
Nearest Public Transit: B/D/F/M at 42 St-Bryant Park
Estimated Timespan: For just the Hamilton exhibit, 15-20 minutes
Cost: Free
Website