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).

DSC_2518-LL

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.

DSC_2521-LL

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)

Set in New York: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

The main character of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is Francie Nolan, a daughter of Irish and Austrian immigrants who grows in poverty in early 20th-century Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Obviously, Francie‚Äôs Williamsburg looks quite different from today’s: birthplace of the hipster and now home to luxury high-rise condos. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn ends in 1918, when Francie is 17 years old — almost a century ago.

Strikingly, many of the names of places and streets have stayed the same through the years, even as the structures around and along them have changed. But you can still find a few remainders of that era, from the church Francie would have attended to the subway station (then the “El”) where she would have boarded the train to Manhattan.

Continue reading “Set in New York: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith”

Poe Park

This will be a short post, and a lesson in doing your research in advance.

Edgar Allan Poe lived the last years of his life in a cottage in Fordham, New York — now a neighborhood of the Bronx. Though Poe himself in fact died in Baltimore, the cottage was still his primary home at that time, and his wife Virginia did die in the Fordham cottage. It was subsequently moved and the land around it became Poe Park.

I got out of work early on a Friday afternoon and thought I’d pop up to the Bronx to check it out. However, I didn’t think to check the house’s hours… which go only until 3 PM on Thursday and Friday. Oops!

I did take a quick stroll around the park, and was able to take a photo of the house (above) from afar. But I can’t quite check this one off my to-visit list yet.

dsc_1435-ll

-Ellen

Location: Poe Park: Grand Concourse between E 92nd St and E Kingsbridge Rd (the Cottage is at the north end)
Nearest Public Transit: B/D at Kingsbridge Rd; 4 at Kingsbridge Rd
Cost: Free entrance to the park; the Cottage is $5 for adults, $3 for students, seniors, and children
Website