The (almost) Russian-American Telegraph

As Lincoln lay dying from an assassin’s bullet across the street from Ford’s Theatre through the grim night of April 14, 1865, frequent bulletins on his sinking condition clicked between the major American cities along the country’s spreading web of Morse telegraph wires. News of his death in the morning spread from city to city within minutes. Yet eleven days passed before the tragic tidings reached Great Britain and Europe when the steamship Nova Scotian from New York docked in England on April 26. Read more »

The Intrepid Mr. Curtiss

The fastest man in the air competed with the Wrights for ten years, became rich, and awakened America to the air age.

America has long been celebrated as a nation of inventive tinkerers. As President Grant’s patent commissioner remarked a century ago, “our merchants invent, our soldiers and sailors invent, our schoolmasters invent, our professional men invent, aye, our women and children invent.” On occasion one of these tinkerers among us is touched with enough genius to influence history. Glenn Hammond Curtiss is a case in point. Read more »

An American Panorama

The happy meeting of a young matron and an extraordinary camera produced a memorable record of turn-of-the-century America

The little group of figures below, who have composed themselves with such artless grace on a sun-dappled lawn beside a lake, were photographed in the first decade of this century by an ingenious camera called the Number 4 Panoram Kodak. It was manufactured in relatively small numbers between 1899 and 1907—and some still exist. The photographer simply levelled the camera by referring to a device like a carpenter’s level mounted on the top of it and pushed a button that made the lens swing from one side to the other by means of a spring.Read more »

A Greeting From Coney Island

Today the place is one great migraine headache of noise and neon, and it takes a very observant visitor indeed to pick out the few pathetic remnants of the old glory: a scrap of decorative wrought iron on top of a building, a carved wooden allegory in the clammy depths of an ancient tunnel of love. But in its day Coney Island was the incarnation, in wood lath and plaster, of all that Americans found grandiose, compelling, and titillating.Read more »

Feudal Lords On Yankee Soil

Outside, winter rains pelted the hard earth and frozen waters where the Hudson and Mohawk rivers meet. Inside the magnificent manor house a sick old man sat with his son. The son noticed the old man’s stillness and tried his pulse. Stephen Van Rensselaer in, seventh lord of the manor of Rensselaerwyck, a rich, semifeudal prince in a young democracy, was dead. The date: January 26, 1839. Read more »

Terror in New York—1741

Was there really a conspiracy to burn the town?

In January, 1708, a Mr. William Hallett, Jr., of Newton, Long Island, was murdered in his sleep with his pregnant wife and his five children. Two of Hallett’s slaves, an Indian man and a Negro woman, were tried for the crime and found guilty. They and two alleged accomplices, both blacks, were executed, being “put to all the torment possible for a terror to others,” according to a contemporary newspaper account. The Negro woman was burned alive at the stake.Read more »

The Lincoln Highway

Carl Fisher thought Americans should be able to drive across their country, but it took a decade and a world war to finish his road

When Carl Graham Fisher, best known as the builder and promoter of Miami Beach who started the Florida vacation craze, died in 1939 the New York Times pointed out that he brought about a far more significant change in the life-style of modern America in his earlier and less conspicuous role as the creator of the idea of the Lincoln Highway, the first automobile road from New York to California. Read more »

The Way It Was-more Or Less

At one point in the Battle of White Plains an American militiaman whose unit was temporarily not engaged with the enemy called out to a nearby civilian: “Who’s ahead?” The civilian, holding a small square object up to one ear, replied: “Oakland, 3 to 1.” Read more »

Stand-off At White Plains

Second in a series of paintings for

Mid-October of 1776 found a badly beaten American army in full retreat from Manhattan Island into the forests and farmlands of Westchester County. It was by no means a rout; units of Washington’s army fought skillful and rugged rearguard actions every step of the way. William Howe, in command of the king’s forces, followed the Americans in a pursuit sluggish enough to allow Washington ample time to settle his troops in the hills surrounding the village of White Plains.Read more »

Utopia By The Lake

One summer evening in the mid1960’s there was a concert on the porch of an old hotel in western New York State. Gingerbread pillars towered three stories into the darkness above the conductor, and figures leaning from the windows were silhouetted against the yellow rooms behind them. Below the porch, where the lawn sloped away to a lakeshore, the audience strolled back and forth or sat on the grass beneath old-fashioned Japanese lanterns that had been strung between the trees.Read more »