The New York Public Library Opens Display Examining Creation of Robert Caro’s ‘The Power Broker’

The free display is the first in a new “Made at NYPL” series highlighting works inspired by the Library’s renowned research collection

JAN 20, 2016 -- Robert A. Caro’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography “The Power Broker” is the subject of a new display opening January 23 at The New York Public Library.

Made at NYPL: Robert A. Caro’s ‘The Power Broker’ will be on display on the third floor of the Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street through April 7, showcasing items from the Library’s collections that Caro actually used while researching his pivotal biography on Robert Moses, as well as items related to the book.

The free display is the first in the new “Made at NYPL” series, which will highlight works inspired by the Library’s renowned research collection.

Caro did much of his research on Moses at the Library’s main branch, and wrote part of The Power Broker as a research resident in the Library’s Allen Room.

“Coming to the Library, whatever I was looking for I seemed to be able to find in the archives, “ Caro said. “You’d go up and put in that pink slip, and an hour later, the stuff would appear on your desk -- old maps, Robert Moses’s Ph.D thesis, the Yale Poetry magazine his poems had appeared in -- it all seemed to be there.”

For this display, Caro was interviewed about the items that the Library chose from its General Research and Manuscript and Archives Divisions, including:

  • “Mona Lisa,” a poem by Moses featured in The Yale Courant in 1908. While studying at Yale, Moses had aspirations to be a poet for a short time. Caro writes that Moses was “quite taken by” the famous painting while traveling through Europe as a young man.

  • Map of the Bronx showing existing and proposed parks from 1930. Caro said, “This map is really Moses’s vision from when he was young. In each of his offices he had a huge map behind his desk of New York City, New Jersey, Westchester, and parts of Connecticut. And he would get up in front of this map when he got excited. He would always use these long yellow pencils with a sharp point and say, ‘Can’t you just see the highway ought to go here? . . . “

  • A 1939 appeal to the decision to deny the construction of a Brooklyn Battery Bridge because it would ruin the landscape. Caro said, “Moses wanted to build the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge, he didn’t want a tunnel. But people said it would ruin the view . . . I originally didn’t want to write very much about this debate, but after seeing this volume I ended up writing a whole chapter. Through documents like this, you really realized how in fact a bridge would destroy the landscape there. It seems like such a delicate, spidery thing, but it would be this immense obstruction.”

  • A 1969 audit of the World’s Fair by the New York City Comptroller, which Caro called “an amazing document, the first time Moses’s financial misrepresentations had ever been revealed to the public.”

  • An illustrated proposal, entitled “Title 1: Slum Clearance Progress.” Published in 1956, brochures such as this one were used by Moses to gain support for projects from the City Council.

  • A 1961 photograph of Moses, along with his assistant Sidney Shapiro and Governor Nelson Rockefeller. In choosing this item, Caro says “this is the beginning of the end right here. Moses and Governor Rockefeller really didn’t along.”

“For more than a century, the library's unparalleled holdings have sustained research in every area of inquiry. ‘Made at NYPL’ highlights some of the most consequential examples of that work,” said William Kelly, the Library’s Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Research Libraries. “We begin appropriately with ‘The Power Broker,’ Robert A. Caro's groundbreaking biography of Robert Moses, the book which launched Caro's seminal, and ongoing, investigation of the workings of power in twentieth-century America. Its roots are firmly planted in the collections and the research rooms of the Library. We are proud to honor Mr. Caro's enduring achievement and to celebrate the NYPL's intimate relation with one of the world's greatest biographies.”

Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos and Adam Bartos Exhibitions Fund, and Jonathan Altman.

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