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Adventures in Programming: You Never Know When You Will Need It

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About six years ago when I started working at the Mid-Manhattan Library in the General Reference Collection, a man came to the desk, wanting a book on New York Public Library history. He said the book was written by a woman. The first book that came to my mind was Phyllis Dain’s The New York Public Library: A History of its Founding and Early Years. At that moment I did not know the call number but I knew its location on the shelf. I pulled the book from the shelf and gave it to him. I gestured for him to take a seat and with a smile he walked over to a table. I went back to my seat.

A half hour later, he came to the desk to return the book and thanked me. I asked if he found what he was looking and with that he told me he was giving a lecture at the National Arts Club that evening. He had come to Mid-Manhattan to do a last bit of fact-checking. The topic of his lecture, New York Public Library history in relation to Andrew Haswell Green. Our conversation was not long, but at the end of it I decided to ask him for his business card. “Gladly!” he replied and then pulled the card out of his wallet and handed it to me. We shook hands and said goodbye. I looked at his card carefully, looked at the name. Up to that point though we had engaged in a lively conversation, however we had not exchanged names. The card said in bold lettering “Rediscovering Andrew Haswell Green NYC’s Forgotten Visionary” and under this in small letters was the name Michael Miscione. Almost half the card was taken up with a photo of a man from the neck up, his bearded visage serene, confident. The man, no doubt, Andrew Haswell Green. Once off the desk, I put the card away in my desk and thought about what an interesting hour it had been.

Later I looked up Andrew Haswell Green. He was a very prominent figure among the movers and shakers in New York City in the late 19th century and he was integral to the establishment of Central Park and New York City as we know it today, by combining the boroughs in 1898. Green was instrumental in creating the famous grid of streets and avenues that help to define Manhattan. He also was a major participant in the establishment of The New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum. You name it--Haswell was involved in every iconic facet of what we know to be New York City for the latter part of the 19th century. Unfortunately, he was murdered by a crazed individual who mistook him for someone else and his name sank into obscurity. That is until Michael Miscione came along. Michael Miscione has been a one-man force in trying to revive the name Andrew Haswell Green and his importance in New York City History.

I kept Michael Miscione’s card in my desk along with other cards that I felt may somehow be important to me one day. That day came last year, many years after we had first met. When I was asked by my supervisor to begin doing programs in late 2006, I was at first a reluctant participant. Once I started doing programs, I discovered I really liked it and that is where my programming passion began. As I searched for interesting and dynamic programs, my thoughts went all over the place. Everything I read, saw or heard suddenly had an import beyond its initial interest. A potential program was in everything I experienced.

I decided to contact Michael Miscione to speak at the library. I knew he lectured based on our one encounter many years ago. And more important I knew he would be interesting. New York City- related programs are always a draw. We get hundreds of questions about New York City; patrons can’t get enough of the subject, me included.

After many attempts at contacting Michael Miscione, I finally reached him. I relayed the story of how we met many years ago and why I saved his card and ultimately why I was calling him that day. Initially he hesitated and then like a rubber band being shot, he remembered the encounter almost exactly as I did, except he could go onto to remember a really successful lecture he gave that evening at the National Arts Club. I thought to myself “Bingo! Cyn you just got yourself a really good program.” Michael was more than happy to come and speak at the library. I learned that he was the Borough of Manhattan Historian, that he was a filmmaker, and he was in fact as interesting as I found him to be many years before.

Michael Miscione has come twice to speak at the library. The first program he presented in the spring of 2007 was The Combining of the Boroughs of 1898 and the Establishment of New York City. He presented his second program this past February: The People vs. Wayne Boyd: The Murder Trail That Nearly Redrew The Map of New York City.

Both talks were the best that programming could offer. Slide lectures with wonderful historic photographs were supported by a dynamic speaker whose command of his subject takes the viewer on a most exciting intellectual ride. One hundred people attended each program. Michael Miscione will be speaking again on Monday, November 17, 2008. I encourage New York City history enthusiasts to mark their calendars now. You won’t be disappointed!

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