The White Plague

A young girl’s memories of life in a community haunted by

The mothers of my childhood friends paid special attention to me, and I never understood why. I was dimly aware that something about me made them pat my shoulder and murmur sympathetically or, on the other hand, quite as inscrutably, bar me from their homes and keep their children from visiting me. Grown-up behavior was difficult to fathom, and I did not question it.

I never connected it with the fact that my mother suffered from tuberculosis. Read more »

The Cyclone Assemblyman

When Theodore Roosevelt—Harvard-educated, dandified, and just twenty-three—arrived in Albany as an assemblyman in 1882, the oldpols dismissed him as a “Punkin-Lily,”and worse. They were in for a shock.

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Tuxedo Park

An exclusive preserve of New York’s social elite —its rise, its flourishing years, and its slide into genteel decline

In a gazetteer of the geography of high society, Tuxedo Park, New York, might properly be described as a village (pop. 972), 40 miles NW of the Union Club in New York City, once famous for its rarefied social climate. And for the lexicographer, it is thought to be the place of origin in America of the dinner jacket—ä man’s full dress suit with the tails lopped off—commonly, though improperly, called the tuxedo. Read more »

“all Safe, Gentlemen, All Safe!”

The ups and downs of the invention that forever altered the American skyline

Of the mechanical wonders placed on view in the Crystal Palace, the great iron-and-glass exhibition hall erected in New York City in 1853 to house America’s first world’s fair, one of the most popular was a towering machine that was destined to transform the look of the world’s cities and the feel of city life. The machine was a freight hoist, or elevator, and it was the invention of a Yonkers, New York, factory engineer named Elisha Graves Otis.Read more »

When New York Feared The French

In 1693 the people of New York had more to worry about than a fiscal crisis, as the newly revealed documents on these pages attest. The British colonies were in the fourth year of King William’s War—a bloody struggle that had already seen fierce wilderness fighting and the savage destruction of Schenectady by the French and their Algonquian allies. Now New Yorkers feared that a daring blow was to be aimed against Manhattan.Read more »

A Rough Sunday At Peekskill

Paul Robeson was giving a concert. It ended in a riot that foreshadowed the McCarthy era of the 1950’s

In most ways and in most places, Labor Day weekend in 1949 was the quiet, lazy end-of-summer occasion that Americans long have cherished. There were parades and barbecues and last days at the swimming pool, and between innings of local softball games spectators and players alike tuned in on the progress of the pennant-winners-to-be, the Yankees and the Dodgers. But in Omaha there was an unpleasant reminder of growing political tensions; a fight broke out when several people attempted to distribute Communist Party literature.Read more »

His Most Detestable High Mightiness

Besides being a bigot, a fop, and a thief, the British governor Lord Cornbury, had some peculiar fetishes

Despite their many differences, Queen Anne’s North American colonies all shared a decent respect for propriety—or at least the appearance thereof. Why, then, did the early-eighteenth-century inhabitants of New York and New Jersey put up for years with a governor who paraded about in women’s clothes? One reason, no doubt, was that they were impressed by the governor’s royal connections and hoped to derive some benefit from them.Read more »

The American City

A gathering of turn-of-the-century paintings

Our cities began as muddy accidents. First settlers would set up shop on a promising spit of land; a steamer would tie up at a convenient bend in a river; two railroads would cross on an empty prairie; and soon there would be some warehouses, a saloon, a brothel, a jail, a church—a city. For the most part the cities grew up unplanned, a sort of cancerous response to the wealth being produced in and around them.Read more »

The Don Quixote Of Opera

No other impresario ever matched the record of the indomitable Max Maretzek in bringing new works and new stars to America

He was called “the indomitable Max,” “the indefatigable Max,” “the hardy pioneer,” “the Napoleon of Opera.” About that Napoleonic designation Max Maretzek himself disagreed. It would be more accurate, he ruefully said, if he were described as the Don Quixote of Opera. And in a way he was right. For some forty years the indomitable, indefatigable Max tilted at the American public and at assorted singers, mostly Italian, making and losing fortunes in the process.Read more »

Garibaldi And Lincoln

Would the great fighter come over for the Union? Italian freedom and lead troops Lincoln hoped so

In the summer of 1861, when the newspaper generals in New York clamored for a clash of arms to put down the Confederate rebellion, the battle and the recriminations came sooner than expected. The people of Washington loaded up picnic baskets in buggies and carriages and drove across the bridges of the Potomac to watch the fun. Under the southern sunlight the sabers of the Union cavalry glistened, and the hope of a quick and punishing victory was in the smoking air.Read more »