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Posts by Sachiko Clayton

Reading a photograph

Who doesn’t like old photographs? When I explain my responsibilities as a librarian here at the Milstein Division of the New York Public Library people seem most fascinated by my work with photographic prints. Perhaps this is due in part to the sense of history images capture that can elude written descriptions. This Fall I will be teaching a class on dating family photographs. Inspiration for developing this class came as I encountered undated and often times completely unmarked photographic 

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How to celebrate Labor Day?

Labor Day has become a holiday mostly associated with blow-out sales and backyard barbecues, but looking back at its origins reveals a highly political past. While its roots can be traced back to decades of civil discontent in the United States, the first Labor Day was on September 5, 1882 (which was actually a Tuesday). The celebration was a general strike in New York City, declared by the Central Labor Union, and consisted of a parade, a train ride to a local park, a picnic and other festivities. The parade took place in New York City, starting in lower Manhattan and ending at 42nd 

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Ode to the ice cream truck (or wagon)

One of my favorite ways to cool down during the summer months is a visit to good old Mr. Softie. My favorite ice cream truck is usually parked on Sixth Avenue and 41st street. What I like best about this particular ice cream truck is that it's jingle-free; I suppose that's because we all know he'll be there for the day.

While enjoying my weekly ice cream I began thinking about the history of ice cream trucks. Does any one know when ice cream trucks started circulating through the city? The image above was published in 1885. Much earlier than I expected! I searched the

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Gift from Genealogical and Biographical Society

Exciting news: The New York Public Library has received a very important gift from the Genealogical and Biographical Society. To read more about it, see the press release found on our website and the New York Times article from Saturday's paper.

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New York City Seal debate

Did anyone happen to catch this article in the New York Times on Monday on the Seal of New York City? It reminded me of a post that I put up about the city flag which, as I was corrected by Michael Miscione, displays the city seal not the state seal. The article provides a background to the debate and politics surrounding the date on the New York City seal, presently listed as 1625. The article also 

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Long Island: home and second home

My last couple of posts have dealt with places of respite in the big city, namely Bryant Park and municipal pools, both highly appreciated during New York City summers. Today’s post deals with a summer activity which takes people out of the city; specifically, to Long Island, that skinny piece of land which juts out of New York state like a fish tale, or perhaps more like a lobster claw. To the south of the island is the Atlantic and to the north is the Long Island Sound, 

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Looking for old photographs?

Recently the Milstein Division of U.S. History, Local History and Genealogy has acquired close to fifty books of historical photographs from locations across the United States. Photographic books are not uncommon but generally focus on large 

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More on public spaces: municipal swimming pools

With all of our concrete and asphalt spaces, it is sometimes very difficult to find refuge from the summer heat in New York City. As a child I envied my neighbors in the apartment building across the street which had a pool. It was surrounded by a fence high enough so that you could only see swimmers plunge off the diving board. If only I had known then of the free public swimming pools scattered through all of the five boroughs!

Public swimming pools have an interesting history in New York City (covered very concisely in the

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Midtown's Lawn: Bryant Park

What makes stretching out on the Bryant Park Lawn irresistible? This photograph taken in 1925 could easily be a scene of the park today. The similarities, however, would end there considering the Bryant Park depicted in the above photo and the Bryant Park of today. Those of you familiar with the park's evolution know that its history is dappled with periods of renovation and dereliction.

In the 1920's Bryant Park was known to be a camping ground for jobless men and during the Great Depression it was overrun with weeds. An unsuccessful redesign effort in 1934 left the 

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Violence and/or Absurdity at Astor Place

Have you lived in New York City long enough to remember when it used to be dangerous? Even the Worst Case Scenario Handbook:Travel has a section on how to handle riding the subway here! While this city is now arguably a safe place to live it certainly has a history marked with violence.

Take riots for 

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W.M. Van Der Weyde

For the past few months I have been working with a collection of photographs of various locations in the United States from the late nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century. The collection will be available on our wonderful digital gallery in the future and I’m looking forward to seeing these images uploaded – some of them are really amazing.

I wrote a while ago about Hilah Paulmier and of the trail of documents that led me to verifying her identity. Recently I 

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New York Tribune and Horace Greeley

In light of Monday’s announcement of the Pulitzer Prizes in journalism I wanted to highlight the birth of the New York Tribune on April 10, 1841, and the paper’s first editor, Horace Greeley. Greeley was a highly opinionated man not afraid to print his views on temperance, worker’s rights, women’s suffrage, socialism and even vegetarianism. The newspaper, shaped by Mr. Greeley's views, was highly influential and was even called by some the “political bible,” of its time. You can 

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Helluva Town

Want to see some amazing photographs of New York City in the 1940’s and 1950’s? We recently acquired Vivian Cherry’s Helluva Town, a book of black and white photographs with images of New Yorkers at street corners and fruit auctions, on the el train and on bocce ball courts. The photographs capture the kind of New York that always seems damp and chilly, kind of like today. 

Cherry has had a long career of photography which is ongoing. She had her first one-woman show in 1940 and she 

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What flag is this?

I know its awfully unseasonable to post a wintry scene but I wanted to point something out to you in this image. It is the cover of a holiday card depicting the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on a very snowy day. You'll also notice two flags on the card. When my uncle received it last Christmas he asked me why the library would fly a French flag. I thought to myself "that's a good question."

Well, on the card the flag really does look like the French flag but it actually isn’t. You’ll notice that the 

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Discovering Algot Lange

This is a picture of Algot Lange. Do you know who he is? I had not heard about him until last week when a patron approached the General Research Division reference desk asking about him. Mr. Lange was a Swedish explorer who wrote two books about his adventures in the Amazon during the early twentieth century. He’s an interesting fellow and a reminder that not all of history 

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Historical Documents and Social Networking

The image shown left is a check written for seven million two thousand dollars for the purchase of the territory of Alaska in August 1, 1868. It is one of thousands of historical documents available in Footnote, a database recently acquired by the New York Public Library. Footnote is doing some interesting work in partnership with NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) digitizing and indexing many of their collections, making them searchable and available online. The collections are diverse and include the

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Julius Caesar Tingman

Sometimes there are actually reasons for wanting a television. I wish I could have caught this show last week. African American Lives is a PBS series in which African American celebrities are presented with stories from their own family history. Here's a clip of an interview with comedian Chris Rock during which he learns about his great-great grandfather Julius Caesar Tingman. 

I actually found Julius C. Tingman's Civil War pension record (see below) in a database we recently acquired called Footnote, which contains 

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Cast your vote and bring a camera

The above photograph is part of the "By Popular Demand: Votes for Women," a digitized collection in the Library of Congress' American Memory Project. I love the details of this one: the ink well in the bottom left hand corner, the wooden ballot box, the look on the face of the voter to the right and how the photograph was taken just as the women in the middle is tearing her ballot.

Details like these are exactly what the

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Genealogy is Fun! The Mystery of H. Paulmier solved

We all like a good challenge sometimes and one presented itself to me in these three images:

While they are not aesthetically beautiful they are lovely documents of a specific time and place. All images are from Quincy, Massachusetts. The first is of the Coddington School, the second of the Old First Church, and the third is of the residence of William Coddington. The inscription on the back of each reads, “H. Paulmier 2 Landscape Pl. Yonkers, NY.” Since photographs are most useful to us when dated and ascribed to a 

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Library of Congress + Flickr = tagging for everyone

The Astor Library was opened to the public almost 150 years ago. One reason it was not viewed as a success is expressed in the illustration left.

Most of us, I think, would agree that democratization of information is a good thing. Making books, art, music freely available to more people can only bring about societal enrichment. The New York Public Library has a history of doing just that.

Working with the idea of social collective knowledge, libraries seem to be pushing the boundaries further. Even the Library of Congress is considering the benefits of 

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