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.
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)
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.
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.
Along the way, I encountered another landmark that I’d probably walked by many times without recognizing what it was.
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.
Do you stop and read the historic plaques you walk past?
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!