Category Archives: Monuments and Memorials

It’s Our Anniversary!

Valentine heart-shaped baloons in a blue sky with clouds. Vector background

Sixty-two years. We are often asked, “What’s the secret?” Darned if we know. We do know that we’ve been incredibly lucky in so many ways. Whatever health problems have occurred have been fixable, and for that we are very grateful.

However, as we look back, there is one thing that has made the journey easier. In the early years of our marriage when the kids were tiny, we lived in a little house without air conditioning. During the summer, when our neighbor, Miss Harris, was in her garden, she could hear everything above a whisper that went on in our kitchen. One day she remarked to Mary, “You two sure do laugh a lot.”  We did and still do—at this crazy world and at ourselves. The walls of our pre-war New York City apartment building are thick; so far the neighbors haven’t complained.                                                         HK—MLK

 

AN OLD TRICK NOW

As soon as we promised
for better or worse,
she put words in my mouth;
I did the reverse.

Then we could converse
without being heard
by a hidden bug
or a tattletale bird.

Since I can’t see
there’s anything to it,
I can’t tell you
how we do it.

We echo each other
like rhymes in a verse
that hold it together
for better or worse.

Herb Knapp     From the forthcoming Flying Backwards by Herb

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 Comments

Filed under Monuments and Memorials, Poetry

The Historic House Tells It Like It Was

Front parlor, Merchant's House Museum. Photo by Patrick Blanc

Front parlor, Merchant’s House Museum. Photo by Patrick Blanc

To feel the world of the nineteenth century in our bones, it’s necessary to find a place that can take us there. Such places are rare. Without question, in New York City, the most authentic domestic nineteenth-century place is the Merchant’s House Museum. 

From the introduction to the forthcoming Miracle on Fourth Street: Saving an Old Merchant’s House by Mary Knapp

http://a002-vod.nyc.gov/html/recent.php?id=2842&pn=1%20

If you can’t visit this wonderful place in person, this documentary by BluePrint New York City, which aired on New York stations last week, is the next best thing. Just click on the link above to view.

Front hall and stairway, Merchant's House Museum. Photo by Patrick Blanc

Front hall and stairway, Merchant’s House Museum. Photo by Patrick Blanc

Of all the ways we have of connecting to the past, as far as I’m concerned, the historic house museum trumps all others when it comes to understanding life in a place and time beyond memory. It’s here we can come closest to the people who went before us. These are the very walls that enclosed them. Here they stood before the fire. Here are the mirrors that reflected their movements in the parlor. This is the stair they climbed on their way to bed.

When we tune in to the height of the ceilings, the nearness of the walls, the path we travel from room to room, the narrowness of a passageway or the lack or presence of natural light, we begin to understand what daily life was like for those who lived there long ago.

One house that serves us particularly well in our attempt at understanding is the Merchant’s House Museum in New York City. I say that not because this year marks the twentieth anniversary of my involvement with the Museum, but because this house is unique.  Only one family, The Seabury Tredwells, lived there for almost 100 years. They moved in in 1835; the baby born in the  house in 1840 died in an upstairs bedroom  in 1933.  So there is one continuous storyline; no confusing amalgamation of different families’  ghosts.  They came, and they stayed—for almost a century.This was their home, and most importantly, these are their things. They quit buying new furniture somewhere around midcentury. And that’s not all! There are 40 gowns worn by the Tredwell women that go on exhibit on a rotating basis as well as personal objects like books and needlework and fans and children’s homework.

The House underwent a structural restoration in the 1970s that is unparalleled for authenticity. For example, when it was necessary  to remove the floorboards in the kitchen to address a problem of water infiltration, the original boards were carefully numbered and their placement indicated on a diagram so that they could be replaced just the way they were. When the House was reroofed, original slate tiles were reused where possible. The parlor draperies and carpet are exact reproductions of the originals. Today, when walls need repainting, the original colors are matched as determined by the latest scientific methods of paint analysis.

Finally, the serendipitous floor plan makes it possible for us to actually enter the rooms and feel the space around us.  We can never come closer to the nineteenth century than we do here.

http://merchantshouse.org

8 Comments

Filed under Architecture, Conservation, Historic House Museums, Merchant's House, Monuments and Memorials, Movies and Videos, Preservation

The Transmogrified Times Square Time Ball

The beautiful Waterford Crystal Times Square Time Ball

The beautiful Waterford Crystal Times Square Time Ball

Tonight a million people will squeeze themselves into Times Square and beyond to celebrate the arrival of the New Year. The focus of their merriment will be an 11,785 pound  ball of iron sheathed in Waterford Crystal mounted on a pole at the top of the building at 1 Times Square.   A million voices in unison will count down the seconds before midnight as the ball descends the pole and a billion people around the globe watch on television. I don’t like crowds, or standing around in the cold, so I won’t be there, although a nice thing about living in New York is knowing that you could be there if you wanted to.

It has always seemed to me to be a curious custom. I wondered how it ever got started, so I looked it up:

Once upon a time, time balls were prosaic navigational tools:  wooden balls mounted on poles sitting atop a high point observable by ship captains peering through their telescopes.

The time ball at the Greenwich Observatory, London. Established 1833

The time ball at the Greenwich Observatory, London. Established 1833

Their purpose—to notify seamen of the exact time so that they could set their chronometers. The first time balls were located on top of observatories where exact time was determined by celestial observation.

Here’s how it worked: A few minutes before one o’clock in the afternoon (12 noon in the United States), the ball was raised halfway up the pole. Then two or three minutes later the ball was raised all the way to the top. On the exact hour, the ball started its descent. The beginning of the drop signaled that it was now 1 p.m. (or noon). After the invention of the telegraph, a time signal could be sent to points distant and time balls were installed on the highest building in many cities and towns to enable people to set their watches. After the introduction of the radio, of course, time balls were no longer necessary.

So How Did a Time Ball Get to Times Square?

In 1904, Adolph Ochs , publisher of The New York Times, bought the building at what is now 1 Times Square. (At the time it was called Longacre Square, but Ochs convinced the City to rename it.) And to celebrate the New Year, he decided to have a fireworks display launched from the top of the building. That went on for three  years, and a good time was had by all, but in 1907 the City banned the fireworks. Rather than give up the celebration, Ochs had the brilliant idea of installing a time ball that would designate exactly when the New Year arrived, and give revelers a reason to continue to celebrate in front of his building.

To maximize the merriment, the customary procedure of designating the time from the beginning of the descent was turned on its head. Now revelers began the countdown to midnight as the ball dropped. When it reached the bottom—the midnight hour had arrived and the New Year was born.

The original Times Square Time Ball

The 1955 Time Ball. The original time ball had 100 light bulbs. By 1955, there were 180.

That first Times time ball was studded with 100 incandescent light bulbs. When the magic hour arrived, four electric signs—one on each side of the building—flashed “1908” in numerals six feet high. Since then, the ball has been modified many times. In 2000, to mark the millennnium, the Waterford Crystal ball was introduced. Today LED lighting technology makes possible a wide variety of spectacular effects.

Few time balls still exist; two of them are in the U.S.: one at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C and the other at the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse at the South Street Seaport in New York City.

The Greenwich observatory time ball in London and the one at the Naval  Observatory are operational; they still drop at the designated hour every day. The Times Square ball, on the other hand, has never served as a daily indicator of the time. It drops only once a year.

Tonight’s the night!

6 Comments

Filed under Monuments and Memorials, Uncategorized

In Honor Of Lt. Daniel R. Leffel and All Those Who Have Served

imagesWhen those of my generation speak of “the war,” you should know that we are referring to World War II, when every able-bodied young man was in uniform and every family had “their serviceman”–if not a father, son, brother, or husband, then a cousin or the son of a friend, or the boy down the street.

Our soldier was Lt. Daniel Leffel, who was married to my mother’s sister, my aunt Florence. When Danny marched off to war, he and Florence were newlyweds. They were a vibrant young couple. She was beautiful and funny and lovable. I adored her, and I thought Danny was simply the perfect boyfriend—so handsome in his dress uniform, which I remember Florence told me they called their “pinks,” I suppose because of the slightly rosy tone of the drab trousers. Danny came home for one last leave, and then Florence accompanied him back to California where he shipped out, and she made the long, lonely train ride home by herself to Lansing, Kansas, where she spent the war years living with her mother, my grandmother.

Danny was the commander of Company G, 184th Infantry, Seventh Division, a veteran of four Pacific campaigns: the Aleutians, Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, Leyte, and finally Okinawa. At Okinawa, in the early morning of April 19, 1945, Danny and his men were the first to come under fire from the Japanese as they attempted an assault on Skyline Ridge of Ouki Hill. According to the official military history, Lt Leffel sent a squad forward to “feel out the enemy.” When they came under heavy fire, he radioed for an armored flame thrower. Fighting continued all day, and finally the American forces were forced to retreat to the bottom of the hill.

At 1525 G Companies of the 32nd and 184th Regiments undertook to resume the attack which had been stalemated since early morning, without a great promise of success. Along the base of Ouki Hill both companies were pinned to the ground at 1620 by an extremely heavy 81 mm mortar concentration. Amid the din of exploding mortar, slivers of flying metal filled the air. In small groups or singly the men dashed back in short spurts toward their former position. Many were killed while in flight. One man running wildly back toward safety stopped suddenly and assumed what appeared to be an attitude of prayer. In the next instant, he was blown to bits by a direct hit.

And worse was yet to come. The fiercest fighting of the bloodiest battle of the War occurred from April 20-24. Danny was wounded on April 23 and flown to a hospital in Hawaii where he died on April 26, 1945. We know he fought bravely, for he was awarded the Silver Star for heroic action on Leyte.

American soldiers moving up a shell-torn hill in the Seventh Armored Division’s struggle for Skyline Ridge.

I still have a letter he wrote me in August of 1944 from Oahu, Hawaii after the Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Monuments and Memorials

Ten Reasons Why I Love New York

A professional group I belong to recently asked us to list on the discussion board what, in our opinion, were the ten most significant historic sites in New York City. We could decide what “significant” meant, so I decided to make a list of ten “personally significant” sites—places that for one reason or another meant the most to me. I’m glad they asked, because in making my list, I realized how incredibly rich the city is in material connections to the past. For tourists, they are attractions to visit; for New Yorkers, they are part of the fabric of our daily lives. Here are my picks—with my reasons.

Grand Central Terminal Concourse

Grand Central Terminal Concourse

Grand Central Terminal tops the list because of its significance in establishing the constitutionality of Landmarks Legislation, without which I am certain that many of the historic sites I cherish would have been demolished or defaced. And for me Grand Central is a gateway to family who live up the river. Continue reading

10 Comments

Filed under Landmarking, Merchant's House, Monuments and Memorials