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Blog Posts by Subject: History of North America

My Library: Jerilyn Jurinek

Jerilyn is a painter of American history, and teaches drawing at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers and Spring Studio, and collage at The Cooper Union Department of Continuing Education.

What brings you to the Mulberry Street Library today?

I intend to use the computer. I do everything that needs to be done with email, practice how to use the 

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Charles Kuralt and Walt Whitman on the Road

Walt Whitman filled the pages of Leaves of Grass with poetry exalting the lives of Americans. While out in the streets, he observed and recorded the beauty of daily life. Whitman's poem "I Hear America Singing" is a delightful example how common activities make up the fabric of America.  Within its lines, a boatman owns a part of America, and a mother's daily activities are considered 

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Music manuscripts from the composer of the Star-Spangled Banner

It’s been a while since my last post, but the genesis of this post began with July 4th, 2010.  I was thinking:  What better way to observe the anniversary of the United States of America than with the national anthem. (The image above ‑ seen through mylar protection ‑ is of the first edition of the Star-Spangled Banner owned by the Music Division – one of 

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Fact Checking a Novel: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Did that really happen?!? 

Historical fiction is a genre that encompasses both fact and fiction, but where the line is drawn between the two can be anyone's guess sometimes.  Some authors do tremendous research for their novels to be historically accurate, while others take liberty with history to fit their plot line.

One such novel that rides that line between fact and fiction is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz.  It follows the story of Oscar Wao and 

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Wertheim Study and the Allen Room writers celebrate Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Free public lectures in the South Court Auditorium by the writers and scholars of the Research Study Rooms began last week, and with a bang.

Distinguished historian and biographer Susan Butler spoke about her forthcoming book, Roosevelt and Stalin: Winning the War: Shaping the Peace.  For it, she discovered 300 unpublished hot-war messages, researched the Tehran and Yalta conferences, and we learned all sorts of things - 

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In the Neighborhood: Theodore Roosevelt's Birthplace

Of all the reference questions I expected upon coming to work at the Andrew Heiskell Library in its current location on West 20th Street in Manhattan, "Where is Teddy Roosevelt's birthplace?" was nowhere on my list. I quickly learned that the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace Historic Site is a short two blocks east, at 28 East 20th Street, and that this question comes up mostly during the summer tourist season. Since then, I've often walked past this now familiar, unassuming townhouse and 

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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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Have you read... Bill Bryson?

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 ›

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 ›

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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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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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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Boss Tweed's Last Swindle

Amazing to think how something beautiful can come from something corrupt.  The inspiring Jefferson Market Library (born a courthouse) had just such a beginning. You may have heard of Boss Tweed?  William Marcy "Boss" Tweed was a 19th century politician who swindled New York City out of millions of dollars.  By the 1860s, Tweed became head of Tammany Hall, a powerful group of Democratic politicians.  He organized his associates into the Tweed Ring, which sponsored schemes for city improvements.  Millions of 

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Drawing on the Past: Enlivening the Study of Historical Geography at

On behalf of The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, the NYPL’s Director of Digital Strategy and Scholarship and our partners EntropyFree LLC, I am proud to announce the launch of

This new website is a parallel snapshot of all maps currently available on the Digital Gallery as well as a powerful set of tools designed to significantly enhance the way we access and use maps and the cartographic 

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Where Is St. John's?: The Old Burying Ground

St. John's Burying Ground used to occupy the space which is now James J. Walker Park, between Leroy, Hudson and Clarkson Streets. In a sense it still does since the old stones were buried in place and few of the 10,000 occupants were moved. The only stone remaining is one dedicated to three firemen who gave their lives in the line of duty over 150 years ago.

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The Pony Express: History and Myth

Nearly everything you thought you knew about the Pony Express is wrong. Well, perhaps not wrong, but exaggerated or romanticized. If you’re like me, you’re probably imagining men dressed in fringed leather uniform on horses, riding at break-neck speeds to carry important business and love letters hundreds of miles, perhaps while simultaneously shooting their Wincester rifles in the air. When not dashing across the prairie, the riders would be found roping cattle, drinking and playing cards in saloons, hunting buffalo, and dodging Black-Hatted Bandits and 

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Leroy Street 75 Years Ago

Look at all that parking! So few cars! The downside of Leroy Street from 75 years ago is no trees. I'll take the trees and Leroy Street (aka St. Lukes Place) as it is today.

The pictures are great, but the captions also contain illuminating nuggets of information. The top caption talking about the Hudson Park Branch includes:

"The eastern side of the building exactly marks the old eastern boundary of the Trinity Church Farm, which was originally one of the Dutch farms confiscated by the Duke of York, and was deeded in perpetuity to Trinity Church by ... Read More ›
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