“most Americans Don’t Know What Lincoln Really Represents”

For a good part of his life, the governor of New York has used history as a guide—and a solace

Those who see Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York for the first time are likely to be surprised. Led to expect a short man with baggy eyes (someone, in his own words, with the appearance of a “tired frog”), they are startled to meet a goodlooking six-footer with the physique of a linebacker. He emanates the tightly coiled kinetic energy of a football player a few seconds before kickoff. Yet at the same time, he’s a comfortable man to be with. Indeed, he carries self-effacement and self-scrutiny almost to a fault. His office is unexpectedly modest too.Read more »

The First Chapter Of Children’s Rights

In the quiet New York courtroom, the little girl began to speak. “My name is Mary Ellen McCormack. I don’t know how old I am. … I have never had but one pair of shoes, but can’t recollect when that was. I have had no shoes or stockings on this winter.… I have never had on a particle of flannel. My bed at night is only a piece of carpet, stretched on the floor underneath a window, and I sleep in my little undergarment, with a quilt over me. I am never allowed to play with any children or have any company whatever.Read more »

“Everybody Likes Italian Food”

A restaurant critic who’s a food historian and the fortunate recipient of an Italian grandmother’s cooking follows the course of America’s favorite ethnic fare in its rise from spaghetti and a red checked tablecloth to carpaccio and fine bone china

Should the Smithsonian Institution ever wish to display an example of a prototypical Italian-American restaurant, it could do no better than to move Mario’s, lock, stock, and baròlo, from the Bronx to Washington, D.C. Read more »

When Our Ancestors Became Us

In 1820 their daily existence was practically medieval; thirty years later many of them were living the modern life

It is a commonplace that the American Revolution determined the political destiny of the country. Far less noted is the fact that the Revolution’s consequences, profound as they were, had little, if any, impact on the daily existence of most Americans. The social structures and economic realities that had determined the everyday lives of the British subjects living in the colonies continued to determine the existence of the American citizens of the new Republic.Read more »

Post Haste

The urge to move documents as fast as possible has always been a national pre-occupation, because it has always been a necessity. Fax and Federal Express are just the latest among many innovations for getting the message across.

Reaching out and touching someone hasn’t always been easy—especially if it was necessary to hand that person something in the process. Yet there have always been Americans who absolutely and positively had to have it the next day, week, month, at any cost, and this in turn has always drawn others with the dollars and determination to make it happen.Read more »

The Magnitude of J. P. Morgan

It cannot be measured in dollars alone. It involved a kind of personal power no man of affairs will ever have again.

On the night of Thursday, October 24, 1907, nearly every important banker in New York was meeting in J. P. Morgan’s exquisite private library, located next to his house at the northeast corner of Madison Avenue and Thirty-sixth Street. In the magnificent East Room, with its three tiers of inlaid wood and glass cabinets containing the printed masterpieces of the world, the bankers sought a way to end the financial panic that held Wall Street, and thus the country, in its grip. Read more »

Bernhardt In America

In the years between the dedication of the Statue of Liberty and the First World War, the Divine Sarah was, for hundreds of thousands of Americans, the single most compelling embodiment of the French Republic

During Sarah Bernhardt’s 1912–13 American tour, the souvenir program for La Dame aux Camélias quoted Mark Twain: “There are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses, and Sarah Bernhardt.”

In her own country the prestigious Journal des Débats pronounced her a national institution, maintaining that “to criticize her is like criticizing the tomb of Napoleon.” It was Read more »

The Quiz-Show Scandal

 

In October 1956 the twenty-nine-year-old scion of an illustrious American literary family took up a suggestion that countless Americans were then making to their more erudite friends and relations. He could use some extra money; Columbia University paid him meagerly enough to teach English alongside his famous father, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Van Doren. So why not try to get on one of those new television quiz shows? If he happened to get lucky, he might win a few thousand dollars.Read more »

The Other Fair

New Yorkers recall 1939 as the year of the great World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow. But that’s just more Eastern provincialism. Take a look at what was going on in San Francisco.

A newspaper article the other day informed me that the late 1930s are back in fashion. Historical societies are girding to protect Art Deco. The clarinet of Benny Goodman is heard on compact discs. Designers are filching illustrations and typefaces from The Saturday Evening Post. If the trend continues, we may shortly be revisited by dotted swiss housedresses, junket rennet custard, the wimple, and the Studebaker sedan. Read more »

Collecting History

Wherever you travel in this country, you have a good chance of bringing a piece of the past home with you

I drove twenty thousand miles and got just one real bargain. That was up the Hudson River on a boisterous, wind-scrubbed October day fifteen years ago. My friend Harris is an antiques dealer who at the time was specializing in live steam: elegant old working models of freight locomotives, tugboats, ocean liners. He had spotted a tiny ad buried in the part of The New York Times where they usually herald auctions of kitchen equipment; it announced a live-steam sale that Saturday in Claverack, New York. Harris was jubilant.Read more »