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Blog Posts by Subject: History

Changing the Changing City

Seeking further enlightenment into the city we call home, I recently took a class on the literary and cultural history of New York City. Among the many themes common to New York City novels we discussed was the portrayal of the city itself as a character with power to shape the lives of its citizens.

Many of us New Yorkers have felt this pressure in our own lives: we choose where to live based on our budgets, our hobbies, our family situation, and often our ethnic, linguistic or religious 

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Leading a Double Life: Agent Zigzag

Has the recent roundup of Russian spies left you wanting to read up on the wide world of espionage?  Then I have the book for you: Agent Zigzag, by Ben Macintyre.

His name was Edward Arnold Chapman. The British police also knew him as Edward ... Read More ›

Maurice Wertheim

The Wertheim Study is a hidden gem at The New York Public Library, though certainly treasured by the writers and scholars that use it.  But who was Maurice Wertheim?

Born in 1886 and a Harvard graduate, he wore many hats.  He began his career at the United Cigar Manufacturers Company, moving on to Hallgarten & Co., the Underwood Corporation, the Cuban Atlantic Sugar Company, the Hat Corporation of America, the Bond Stores Company, and his own company, Wertheim & Co.  During WWII he 

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A Language of Our Own: America’s English and the Influence of Noah Webster

Most people are familiar with the name Noah Webster as the father of the American Dictionary, a book that we all grew up with and still use today.  What many people may not know is that besides being a lexicographer, he was also a dedicated orthographer and philologist, working in spelling reform and lingustics, and had a large influence on the early American language.

Webster began his career as a schoolteacher and recognized a need for a quality teaching tool for children learning grammar and 

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Lamenting the Greater Fall: 19th Century Prison Reform and The Women's Prison Association Records

An entry from Isaac T. Hopper's logbook of released prison inmates

November 27, 1846: "William Haynes, a native of Ireland, has been in this country about two years and six months.  He was sent to Blackwells Island three months for selling pernicious books."

December 30, 1846: "John H. Gilman, 41 years old, a native of Vermont, was convicted in this city for forgery in passing counterfeit money and sentenced to Sing Sing for seven years and three months."

January 22, 1847: "Cecelia Elizabeth Doremus, a native of this City 

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Best of Reference 2010: Thrifty Reference

Knowledge is power, and in hard times, finding the best information can be even more important. These books, websites, and electronic resources, available through your local library, can save you both time and money! 

Selected and presented by librarians from all three NYC library systems, Best of Reference is sponsored by The New York Library Association's Reference and Adult Services Section.

Coupon Clipping   Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend Anthony S. Mercatante and James R Dow, eds. ... Read More ›

A Clue to a Cue

“I’m looking for a pool hall that used to be on 14th street on the east side. I’m not sure what of its name. It was open at least as late as 1989, and it was next to a nightclub. Can you tell me the name of the hall?”

This was an interesting reference challenge. Normally when one is faced with a business name question, it’s as simple as heading to the yellow pages or reverse directory (also known as an address directory) for the time period in question. Without an exact 

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Not Just Another New York Travel Guide

In these tight economic times, we’re all looking for ways to save money, and as summer approaches this applies to vacation plans as well. About this time of year Americans start to dream of vacations to faraway places, respite from the daily grind and a little sun and relaxation. Conventional wisdom says that in recessions we lean towards travel options light on the wallet, heading to locales closer to home, such as a national park or an American destination city.   Well, the budget ... Read More ›

The United States Sanitary Commission Records Processing Project

The Manuscripts and Archives Division has embarked on a three-year project to comprehensively arrange, describe, and physically preserve the United States Sanitary Commission Records, made possible by a generous donation enabling The New York Public Library to expand access to its archival collections. This blog will introduce you to the organization, its records, and the processing project, with further explorations and updates to 

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Endurance racing: Second Leg, Ultra-Marathons

My last post focused on an early example of endurance racing, the Bunion Derbys of 1928 and 1929. Lest you think that such unusual endurance races were one-time pranks typical of the fad competitions of the 1920s and 30s, I’m happy to be able to say that endurance running as a sport is alive and well. There is a vibrant American ultra-marathon community, with hundreds of “ultras” run in the United States alone.   What, ... Read More ›

Endurance Racing: First Leg, the Bunion Derby

Vacationers traveling in the United States usually do so by car, plane or train, but in 1928 (and again in 1929), approximately 200 runners signed on for the challenge of crossing the country coast-to-coast on foot. These were the runners in the Transcontinental Footrace, jokingly called the “Bunion Derby” by the newspapers. The race was used to advertise everything from foot products to the new Route-66 highway to Madison Square Garden, and was managed by a sports promoter of questionable character named C.C. Pyle, whose legal troubles added an additional bit of entertainment 

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Travel in Andalusia, Spain

The secret to a successful trip abroad may simply be to know yourself, what you are looking for, and where to find it. For the traveler looking for art and history, untouched mountain trails and sandy beaches, along with distinctive culinary and musical traditions, Andalusia in Spain may be the ideal choice.

Located at the southernmost part of the Iberian Peninsula, Andalusia’s major cities include Cordoba, Granada, Malaga, Ronda, and its capital, Seville. These urban 

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Lady Drivers!

For symbols of the freedom of the road, you can't beat the wind in your hair, piles of crinkly state road maps at your side, and a whole continent of asphalt spilling out underneath your wheels. The devil-may-care excitement that goes with exploring the American continent has lured many a traveler since the invention of the automobile.

But would one ever call taking a road trip a feminist activity? I don’t mean Thelma and Louise on a tear in a Ford Thunderbird, shooting criminals and running from the law. 

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'You have not known misfortunes such as mine!': Storytelling and Trauma in Candide

Jessica AlpertCandide is a story composed of other stories, as the hero spends much of his world travels listening to others. Few stories are as long and involved as the old woman's in chapters 11 and 12, and she even spurs other characters to tell their stories of misfortune and tragedy at the end of her tale: "I advise you to divert yourself, and prevail upon each passenger to tell his story."

Jessica 

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LIVE from the NYPL, Richard Holmes: Post Event Wrap-Up

The LIVE from the NYPL program featuring Richard Holmes in conversation with Paul Holdengräber was off to a rocky start last night; the technology controlling the microphones kept malfunctioning. Mr. Holmes joked that it probably had "something to do with homeland security." This prompted a few chuckles from the crowd. When the microphone started acting up again twenty minutes later, Richard commented, "this gives new meaning to [part of] the subtitle of the book; ‘the Beauty and Terror of Science.'" At this point, he had the audience roaring with laughter. 

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Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City

Robert A Caro’s tome The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York is a thick, unwieldy book at 1344 pages. It sits on my shelf with yellowed pages. I bought it shortly after I moved to New York City 30 years ago. I enjoy history and learned after I moved here that Robert Moses was an important piece of the NYC history puzzle. The book upon first reading was lost to me. I had no real understanding of New York City at that point and Robert Moses’ story 

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A Mystery in Astor Hall

I recently received a research question that posed a bit of an unusual mystery. The question was why John Jacob Astor, a founder of the library, was listed as a benefactor on one of the Astor Hall marble columns not once, but twice.

The question sent me over to Astor Hall to investigate, where I found the first four benefactors listed as John Jacob Astor, William Backhouse Astor, James Lenox, and John Jacob Astor, in that order. Hmm, a mystery indeed.   To answer the question, I began with the first issue of the ... Read More ›

Literary Memories of an Ex-Manhattanite

After thirty-four years of living in Manhattan, I’m left with a lot of memories, crackling in my head like dried-up autumn leaves.

I was born in Brooklyn and spent all of my adult years in Manhattan (first on the Upper West Side and then in Stuyvesant Town) except for one curious, Alice in Wonderland sort of year in Astoria, Queens. Recently, however, my wife and I packed our few sticks of furniture and scraps of clothing (like the Joads in Grapes of Wrath) and moved to Westchester, proving that there is always a new page 

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Herman Melville

For a long time Herman Melville has been one of my favorite writers, perhaps the favorite. I read Moby Dick in junior year of high school in 1968 and was totally mesmerized. I have re-read it at least five or six times and it amazes me every time. I've also read all of his other novels, some of which were very difficult to read, but always worthwhile and interesting. When you read them in order: Typee, Omoo,

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Charles Schulz and Peanuts

There are only a handful of art forms native to America. Among these are jazz, musical comedy, the mystery novel, and the comic book. As far as comics are concerned there are arguably no characters more beloved and instantly recognizable than Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. After all, the saga of Charlie Brown and his friends is arguably the “longest story told by a single artist” in the history of all mankind. But what do we really know about this cartoonist and his alter ego? In the biography

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