Glimpses of the Sixties
Glimpses of the Sixties—At the "Sign of the Buck-horn"—Madison Square in Civil War Times—A Contemporary Chronicler—Mushroom Fortunes—Foreign Adventurers—Filling the Ballroom—Brown of Grace Church—Sunshine and Shadow—The Avenue and the Five Points—The Old Bowery—Blackmail—The Haunts of Chance—Two Famous Poems, William Allen Butler's "Nothing to Wear," and Edmund Clarence Stedman's "The Diamond Wedding."
It seems but yesterday that the old Fifth Avenue Hotel passed to the limbo of bygone things. When "Victoria's Royal Son" came to visit us it was new and stately, and held by loyal patriots to be something for strangers from beyond the seas to behold and wonder at. But before the hotel there had been a famous tavern on the site, and then a hippodrome.
"Can it be true," wrote Mrs. Schuyler Van Rennselaer in an article in the "Century Magazine" many years ago, "that I dreamily remember a canvas hippodrome where the Fifth Avenue Hotel stands? Kids curvetting in idiotic pride over imaginary mountain peaks on the rough ground of what is Madison Square? Can it be true that when we looked from our nursery windows towards Sixteenth Street we saw, on a lot foolishly called vacant, the most interesting of possible houses, an abandoned street-car, fitted with a front door and a chimney pot, and inhabited by an Irish family of considerable size?" That delightful Swiss Family Robinson-like habitation may have been a creation of Mrs. Van Rennselaer's fancy, but Franconi's Hippodrome was an historical fact, and the tavern that she remembers was Corporal Thompson's Madison Cottage, where, at the "Sign of the Buck-horn," trotting men gathered. When Fifth Avenue was in its infancy Madison Square still recalled the name of Tieman's, and in the centre there was a House of Refuge for sinful boys. At the Square the old Boston Post Road for a moment touched what was afterwards to be the Avenue before it twisted off in a northeasterly direction.
Corporal Thompson's establishment was a diminutive frame cottage, surrounded by what might be called "a five acre lot," which was used, when used at all, for cattle exhibitions. It was, Mr. Dayton recorded, "the last stopping place for codgers, old and young. Laverty, Winans, Niblo, the Costers, Hones, Whitneys, Schermerhorns, Sol Kipp, Doctor Vache, Ogden Hoffman, Nat Blount, and scores more of bon vivants, hail fellows well met, would here end their ride for the day by 'smiling' with the worthy Corporal, and wash down any of their former improprieties with a sip of his ne plus ultra, which was always kept in reserve for a special nightcap. There was a special magnetism about the snug little bar-room, always trim as a lady's boudoir, which induced the desire to tarry awhile, as if that visit were destined to be the last; so it frequently happened that a jolly party was compelled to grope slowly homewards through the unlighted, gloomy road that led to the city."
But all that has been in the days before. By the time that the Fifth Avenue Hotel had been firmly established on the site of the Buck-horn, the corner had become the centre of the new town. Across the Square, at the northeast angle, on the site of the building now capped by the figure of Diana, was a low, sordid shed. It was the Harlem Railroad Station. There, from one side started the cars for Boston, and from the other, the cars for Albany. Cars, not trains, for horses were the motive power as far as Thirty-second Street. There engines were attached in the open street. Later, the horses ran through the tunnel as far as Forty-second Street where the Grand Central Station now stands. In the Square the Worth Monument had been erected in 1857, and on the east side of the park, then enclosed by a high railing, was the brown church which dated from 1854. That decade from 1860 to 1870 was one of constant changes and shiftings. The New England soldier who marched through the town on his way to the front in 1861 rubbed his eyes a little when he passed through it again homeward bound after the surrender of Lee's army at Appomattox Court House had brought the War of Secession to a close. The last vestige of Knickerbocker life had disappeared forever.
It had been, and still was, an era of extravagant speculation. Mushroom fortunes were springing up, and their possessors, as socially ambitious as they were socially inept, invaded Fifth Avenue strong in the belief in the all-conquering power of the Almighty Dollar. In most cases they did not last long. But they served a purpose. They erected the splendid houses on the Avenue that a few years later the clubs were to occupy and enjoy. Of the clubs that were on the Avenue in 1868, a contemporary chronicler wrote that nearly every one recorded the brief life of a New York aristocrat. "A lucky speculation, a sudden rise in real estate," so runs the rhetorical statement, "a new turn of the wheel-of-fortune, lifts the man who yesterday could not be trusted for his dinner, and gives him a place among men of wealth. He buys a lot on Fifth Avenue, puts up a palatial residence, outdoing all who have gone before him; sports his gay team in Central Park, carpets his sidewalk, gives two or three parties, and disappears from society. His family return to the sphere from which they were taken, and the mansion, with its gorgeous furniture, becomes a club-house." Perhaps this picture should be regarded with a certain restraint. The observer was an up-state minister, looking for the excesses, wickednesses, and extravagances of the great city. His judgment may have been as faulty as his style.
But, if merely for the sake of learning a certain point of view, it is amusing to turn over those old volumes dealing with the sunshine and shadow of the city of the sixties. High Life and Moneyocracy, we are told, were synonymous. To use the Tennysonian line, "Every door was barred with gold, and opened but to golden keys." "If you wish parties, soirees, balls, that are elegant, attractive, and genteel (how they loved those dreadful adjectives 'elegant' and 'genteel'!) you will not find them among the snobbish clique, who, with nothing but money, attempt to rule New York." The words are of the clerical visitor before quoted. "Talent, taste, and refinement do not dwell with these. But high life has no passport except money. If a man has this, though destitute of character and brains, he is made welcome. One may come from Botany Bay or St. James; with a ticket-of-leave from a penal colony or St. Cloud; if he has diamond rings and a coach, all places will be open to him. The leaders of upper New York were, a few years ago, porters, stable boys, coal-heavers, pickers of rags, scrubbers of floors, and laundry women. Coarse, rude, uncivil, and immoral many of them still are. Lovers of pleasure and men of fashion bow and cringe to such, and approach hat in hand. One of our new-fledged millionaires gave a ball in his stable. The invited came with tokens of delight. The host, a few years ago, was a ticket-taker at one of our ferries, and would have thankfully blacked the boots or done any menial service for the people who clamour for the honour of his hand. At the gate of Central Park, every day splendid coaches may be seen, in which sit large, fat, coarse women, who carry with them the marks of the wash-tub." That was the kind of hot shot that the rural districts wanted from those they sent to look into the iniquities of the Metropolis. At once it made them sit up and filled them with a sense of their own sanctity.
According to the same ingenuous chronicler, the most famous figure in the social life of the New York of the sixties, the later Petronius, or the forerunner of Mr. Ward McAllister, was Brown, the sexton of Grace Church, which, for many years, had been the fashionable centre. "Arrogant old Isaac Brown," Mrs. Burton Harrison called him in her "Recollections, Grave and Gay," "the portly sexton who transmitted invitations for the elect, protested to one of his patronesses that he really could not undertake to 'run society' beyond Fiftieth Street. To be married or buried within Grace Church's walls was considered the height of felicity. It was Brown who passed on worthiness in life or death. He arranged the parties, engineered the bridals, conducted the funerals. The Lenten season is a horribly dull season, but we manage to make our funerals as entertaining as possible"—Brown said, according to the quoted story. Without Brown no Fifth Avenue function was complete. "A fashionable lady, about to have a fashionable gathering at her house, orders her meats from the butcher, her supplies from the grocer, her cakes and ices from the confectioner; but her invitations she puts in the hands of Brown. He knows whom to invite and whom to omit. He knows who will come, who will not come, but will send regrets. In case of a pinch, he can fill up the list with young men, picked up about town, in black swallow-tailed coats, white vests, and white cravats, who, in consideration of a fine supper and a dance, will allow themselves to be passed off as the sons of distinguished New Yorkers. The city has any quantity of ragged noblemen, seedy lords from Germany, Hungarian Barons out at the elbow, members of the European aristocracy who left their country for their country's good, who can be served up in proper proportions at a fashionable party when the occasion demands it. No man knows their haunts better than Brown."
Here is a picture of the famous Brown, drawn by the same pen:
"Brown is a huge fellow, coarse in his features, resembling a dressed up carman. His face is very red, and on Sundays he passes up and down the aisles of Grace Church with a peculiar swagger. He bows strangers into a pew, when he deigns to give them a seat, with a majestic and patronizing air designed to impress them with a relishing sense of the obligation he has conferred upon them."
Later Peter Marie wrote the poem, "Brown of Grace Church," beginning:
"O glorious Brown! thou medley strange, Of church-yard, ball-room, saint and sinner, Flying in morn through fashion's range, And burying mortals after dinner, Walking one day with invitations, Passing the next with consecrations."
This is the eloquent story of Mr. and Mrs. Newly-Rich who did not seek the social chaperonage of the all-powerful Brown. He had been a reputable and successful hatter. She had made vests for a fashionable tailor. By a turn of fortune they found themselves rich. He gave up hatting and she abandoned vests. They bought a house on upper Fifth Avenue and proposed to storm society by giving a large party. The acquaintances of the humbler days were to be ignored. It was guests from another world that were wanted. But instead of going to Brown and slipping him a handsome fee, Mr. and Mrs. Newly-Rich took the Directory, selected five hundred names, among them some of the most prominent persons of the city, and sent out invitations. The first caterer of the town laid the table. Dodsworth was engaged for the music. The result is easy to guess. The brilliantly lighted house, the silent bell, the over-dressed mother and daughter sitting hour after hour in lonely, heartbroken magnificence. But save for its association with the omnipotent Brown, it is the story, not of the sixties in particular, but of any decade of social New York.
It may be worth while to follow the critic from up-state in some of his venturesome explorations of other parts of New York. Those to whom he was to return, those for whose entertainment and instruction his book was written, wanted to hear of the shadows as well as the sunshine. It was the picture of a very sinful metropolis that they demanded, and the author was bound that he was not going to disappoint them.
The frontispiece of the book shows the Stewart Mansion at the corner of Thirty-fourth Street and Fifth Avenue, and by contrast, the Old Brewery at the Five Points. Before the Mission was opened the Five Points was a dangerous locality, the resort of burglars, thieves, and desperadoes, with dark, underground chambers, where murderers often hid, where policemen seldom went, and never unarmed. A good citizen going through the neighbourhood after dark was sure to be assaulted, beaten, and probably robbed. Nightly the air was filled with the sound of brawling. Wretchedness, drunkenness, and suffering stalked abroad. There were such rookeries as Cow Bay and Murderer's Alley, the latter of which continued to exist, though its sinister glory had long since departed, until fifteen or twenty years ago. The lodging houses of the section were underground, without ventilation, without windows, overrun with rats and vermin.
For diversion the miserable denizens of the quarter sought the near-by Bowery, with its brilliantly lighted drinking dens, its concert halls, where negro minstrelsy was featured, and its theatres where the plays were immoral comedies or melodramas glorifying the exploits of picturesque criminals. News-boys, street-sweepers, rag-pickers, begging girls filled the galleries of these places of amusement. Here is the clerical visitor's description of the thoroughfare that was then the second principal street of the city: "Leaving the City Hall about six o'clock on Sunday night, and walking through Chatham Square to the Bowery, one would not believe that New York had any claim to be a Christian city, or that the Sabbath had any friends. The shops are open, and trade is brisk. Abandoned females go in swarms, and crowd the sidewalk. Their dress, manner, and language indicate that depravity can go no lower. Young men known as Irish-Americans, who wear as a badge long frock-coats, crowd the corners of the streets, and insult the passer-by. Women from the windows arrest attention by loud calls to the men on the sidewalk, and jibes, profanity, and bad words pass between the parties. Sunday theatres, concert-saloons, and places of amusement are in full blast. The Italians and Irish shout out their joy from the rooms they occupy. The click of the billiard ball, and the booming of the ten-pin alley, are distinctly heard. Before night, victims watched for will be secured; men heated with liquor, or drugged, will be robbed, and many curious and bold explorers in this locality will curse the hour in which they resolved to spend a Sunday in the Bowery."
To find adventure and danger the rural visitor did not have to seek out the Bowery and the adjacent streets to the east and west. Adroit rogues were everywhere. Bland gentlemen introduced themselves to unwary strangers. Instead of the mining stock or the sick engineer's story of our more enlightened and refined age, these pleasant urbanites resorted to the cruder weapon of blackmail. The art was reduced to a system. Terrible warnings were conveyed to the innocent country-side by the chronicler in such sub-heads as "A Widower Blackmailed," "A Minister Falls among Thieves," "Blackmailers at a Wedding," "A Bride Called On."
Darkly the investigator painted the gambling evil of the New York of the sixties. The dens of chance were in aristocratic neighbourhoods and superbly appointed. Heavy blinds or curtains, kept drawn all day, hid the inmates from prying eyes. Within, rosewood doors, deep carpets, and mirrors of magnificent dimensions. The dinner table spread with silver and gold plate, costly chinaware, and glass of exquisite cut: the viands embracing the luxuries of the season and the wines of the choicest. "None but men who behave like gentlemen are allowed the entree of the rooms" is the naive comment. "Play runs on by the hour, and not a word spoken save the low words of the parties who conduct the game. But for the implements of gaming there is little to distinguish the room from a first-class club-house. Gentlemen well known on 'change' and in public life, merchants of a high grade, whose names adorn charitable and benevolent associations, are seen in these rooms, reading and talking. Some drink only a glass of wine, walk about, and look on the play with apparently but little curiosity. The great gamblers, besides those of the professional ring, are men accustomed to the excitement of the Stock Board. They gamble all day in Wall and Broad Streets, and all night on Broadway. To one not accustomed to such a sight, it is rather startling to see men whose names stand high in church and state, who are well dressed and leaders of fashion, in these notable saloons, as if they were at home." Conspicuous among the keepers of the gambling hells was John Morrissey, who had begun life as the proprietor of a low drinking den in Troy, and as a step in the march of prosperity, had fought Heenan, the Benicia Boy, for the championship of Canada. He was a personality of the city of the sixties. The author of the curious volume thought it necessary to tell of his career as he told of the career of A.T. Stewart, and Henry Ward Beecher, and the particular Astor of the day, and the particular Vanderbilt, Fernando Wood, and Leonard W. Jerome, and George Law, and James Gordon Bennett, the elder, and Daniel Drew, and General Halpin, and half a dozen more of the town's celebrities.
The Franconi Hippodrome on the Fifth Avenue Hotel site had become a memory, but far downtown Barnum's Museum was flourishing, with the doors open from sunrise till ten at night. Early visitors from the country inspected the gallery of curiosities before sitting down to breakfast. The great showman was living in a brown-stone house on Fifth Avenue, at the corner of Thirty-ninth Street. He was approaching his sixtieth year, and had retired from active life, although he still held the controlling interest in the Museum. A.T. Stewart was living in the white stone home he had erected at Thirty-fourth Street. James Gordon Bennett's city residence was on the Avenue at Thirty-eighth Street. In fact, with a few notable exceptions who still clung to their downtown homes, such as the Astors and the Vanderbilts, all the great money kings of the decade were gathering in the upper stretches of the ripening thoroughfare. But the descendants of the Patroons held to the sweep from Washington Square to Fourteenth Street, or to lower Second Avenue, which, to the eyes of its "set," embracing a number of old-school families of Colonial ancestry, was the "Faubourg St. Germain" of New York.
In every other memoir touching on the New York of the sixties will be found an allusion to the Flora McFlimseys. For example, Mr. W.D. Howells, in "Literary Friends and Acquaintances," told of his first visit to the city at the time of the Civil War. After Clinton Place was passed, he wrote: "Commerce was just beginning to show itself in Union Square, and Madison Square was still the home of the McFlimsies, whose kin and kind dwelt unmolested in the brown-stone stretches of Fifth Avenue." There are two poems linked with the story of New York. They are Edmund Clarence Stedman's "The Diamond Wedding," and "Nothing to Wear," and the William Allen Butler verses, beginning:
"Miss Flora McFlimsey, of Madison Square Has made three separate journeys to Paris. And her father assures me, each time she was there, That she and her friend Mrs. Harris (Not the lady whose name is so famous in history, But plain Mrs. H., without romance or mystery) Spent six consecutive weeks, without stopping, In one continuous round of shopping—"
were the very spirit of the Fifth Avenue of that day. Butler wrote the poem in 1857, in a house in Fourteenth Street, within a stone's throw of the Avenue. After finishing it, and reading it to his wife, he took it one evening to No. 20 Clinton Place, to try it on his friend, Evart A. Duyckinck. Not only did the verses themselves have a Fifth Avenue inspiration and origin, but the woman who later claimed that she had written the nine first lines and thirty of the concluding lines, told in her story that she had dropped the manuscript while passing through a crowd at Fifth Avenue and Madison Square. It was a famous case in its day, and the claimant found supporters, just as the absurd Tichborne Claimant found supporters. But Butler's right to "Nothing to Wear" was fully substantiated. Horace Greeley made the controversy the subject of a vigorous editorial in the "Tribune," and "Harper's Weekly," in which the poem had originally appeared, pointed out that although the verses were published in February, the spurious claim was not put forward until July. Writing of "Nothing to Wear" forty years later, W.D. Howells said:
"For the student of our literature 'Nothing to Wear' has the interest and value of satire in which our society life came to its full consciousness for the first time. To be sure there had been the studies of New York called 'The Potiphar Papers,' in which Curtis had painted the foolish and unlovely face of our fashionable life, but with always an eye on other methods and other models; and 'Nothing to Wear' came with the authority and the appeal of something quite indigenous in matter and manner. It came winged, and equipped to fly wide and to fly far, as only verse can, with a message for the grand-children of 'Flora McFlimsey,' which it delivers today in perfectly intelligible terms.
"It does not indeed find her posterity in Madison Square. That quarter has long since been delivered over to hotels and shops and offices, and the fashion that once abode there has fled to upper Fifth Avenue, to the discordant variety of handsome residences which overlook the Park. But it finds her descendants quite one with her in spirit, and as little clothed to their lasting satisfaction."
The nuptials that Edmund Clarence Stedman satirized in "The Diamond Wedding" united Miss Frances Amelia Bartlett and the Marquis Don Estaban de Santa Cruz de Oviedo, and were held in October, 1859, under the direction of "the fat and famous Brown, Sexton of Grace Church." Miss Bartlett, a tall and willowy blonde, still in her teens, was the daughter of a retired lieutenant in the United States Navy. The Bartlett home was in West Fourteenth Street, a few doors from the Avenue. The groom, many years the bride's senior, and of strikingly unprepossessing appearance, was a Cuban of great wealth. The wedding was the talk of the town, and Stedman, then a young man of twenty-six, satirized the ill-mating in a poem that appeared first in the New York "Tribune." The poem began:
"I need not tell, How it befell; (Since Jenkins has told the story Over and over and over again, And covered himself with glory!) How it befell, one summer's day, The King of the Cubans passed that way, King January's his name, they say, And fell in love with the Princess May, The reigning belle of Manhattan. Nor how he began to smirk and sue, And dress as lovers who come to woo, Or as Max Maretzek or Jullien do, When they sit, full bloomed, in the ladies' view, And flourish the wondrous baton.
* * * * *
"He wasn't one of your Polish nobles, Whose presence their country somehow troubles, And so our cities receive them; Nor one of your make-believe Spanish grandees, Who ply our daughters with lies and candies, Until the poor girls believe them. No, he was no such charlatan, Count de Hoboken Flash-in-the-pan. Full of Gasconade and bravado, But a regular, rich Don Rataplan, Santa Claus de la Muscavado, Senor Grandissimo Bastinado. His was the rental of half Havana, And all Matanzas; and Santa Anna—"
Famous as the wedding had been, the verses became more so. They were copied into the weekly and tri-weekly issues of the "Tribune," and into the evening papers. Stedman, in later years, told of being startled by a huge signboard in front of the then young Brentano's, opposite the New York Hotel, at the corner of Broadway and Waverly Place, reading: "Read Stedman's great poem on the Diamond Wedding in this evening's 'Express'!" The father of the bride, infuriated by the unpleasant publicity, challenged the poet to a duel, which never took place. Years later Stedman and the woman he had lampooned met and became the best of friends.
Fourteenth to Madison Square
Stretches of the Avenue—Fourteenth to Madison Square—From Brevoort to Spingler—The Story of Sir Peter Warren—The First City Hospital—The Paternoster Row of New-York—Former Homes and Birthplaces—Lower Fifth Avenue Residents in the Fifties—Blocks of Departed Glories—The Centre of the Universe—Madison Square in Colonial Days—Franconi's Hippodrome—The Opening of the Fifth Avenue Hotel—A Thanksgiving Day of the Nineties—Monuments of the Square—The Garden, the Presbyterian Church, and the Metropolitan Tower—The Face of the Clock.
In 1762, a Brevoort—Elias was his Christian name—sold a part of the family farm to John Smith, a wealthy slave-holder. On the choicest site of the purchase, now the centre of Fourteenth Street just west of Fifth Avenue, Smith built his country residence. After he died his widow continued to occupy the house until 1788, when the executors of Smith's estate, among whom was James Duane, Mayor of the city, sold the property for about four thousand seven hundred dollars to Henry Spingler. Spingler lived in the house until his death in 1813, and used the land, comprising about twenty-two acres, as a market garden farm. Spingler's granddaughter, Mrs. Mary S. Van Beuren, fell heiress to most of the property, and built the Van Beuren brown-stone front house on Fourteenth Street, where she lived for years, and maintained a little garden with flowers and vegetables, a cow and chickens. In the fifty-seven years between the Smith sale and 1845 the value of the estate had increased from four thousand seven hundred dollars to two hundred thousand dollars. Keeping still to the bucolic days of the Avenue, we pass, going from Fifteenth to Eighteenth Street, through what was the farm of Thomas and Edward Burling, relatives of John and James Burling, old-time merchants whose name was given to Burling Slip, down by the East River. Also in the course of these blocks the Avenue crosses land that was the farm of John Cowman until 1836. Between Eighteenth and Twenty-first Streets was part of the farm acquired in 1791 by Isaac Varian, who bought from the heirs of Sir Peter Warren.
This Sir Peter Warren was one of the great figures of the old town. Many have written of him. It was only a year or so ago that Miss Chapin devoted to his story a chapter of her book on Greenwich Village. So here the outline of his career will be of the briefest possible nature. It was in 1728 that he first saw New York Harbour. He was twenty-five years of age then, and in command of the frigate "Solebay." Irish to the core, a Warren of Warrenstown, County Meath, who got their estates in the time of "Strongbow," he had already seen a dozen years of active service in southern and African waters, and as captain of the "Grafton," had had a share in the seizure of the rock of Gibraltar by the British. But New York was his first official post, and here he had been sent at the orders of the home government, to keep an eye on events, and to sound the loyalty of the American colonies. The little island above the great bay and between the two broad rivers won his heart from the first, and after every new adventure he returned to it, until, in 1747, he was summoned to London, to enter Parliament and to be made Admiral of the Red Squadron. The affection for the town seems to have been reciprocal, for two years after his introduction to New York, the Common Council of the city voted to him the "freedom of the city." Then, when he was twenty-eight years old he married Susanna DeLancey, whose father, Etienne DeLancey, was a Huguenot refugee, who, settling here, soon changed the Etienne to Stephen, and married a daughter of one of the Dutch Van Cortlandts. At first the young Warrens lived downtown, but in later years, when wealth came as the result of treasure-seeking adventure on the high seas, Peter bought lands in Greenwich Village, and eventually there erected a great mansion.
Throughout the 1730's he was busy, but his opportunity did not come until the end of that decade. In 1739 trouble broke out between Great Britain and Spain. Five years later Captain Warren was fabulously rich. Early in 1744 he had been made commodore of a sixteen-ship squadron in the Caribbean. Before summer of that year he had captured twenty-four French and Spanish merchant ships, had brought them to New York, turned them over to his father-in-law's firm, "Messieurs Stephen De Lancey and Company," and had pocketed the proceeds of the sale. His "French and Spanish swag," is the way Thomas A. Janvier expressed it. Of the house in Greenwich Village on land that is bounded by the present Charles, Perry, Bleecker, and Tenth Streets, Janvier wrote: "The house stood about three hundred yards back from the river, on ground which fell away in a gentle slope towards the waterside. The main entrance was from the east; and at the rear—on the level of the drawing room and a dozen feet or so above the sloping hillside—was a broad veranda commanding the view westward to the Jersey Highlands and southward down the bay to the Staten Island Hills." After Sir Peter Warren went away the Manse became the home of Abraham Van Nest, and stood there more than a century. Not until 1865 did it entirely disappear.
In 1745 Warren played a part in the Siege of Louisbourg that won him promotion to the rank of Rear Admiral of the Blue, and his knighthood. New York, for his share in the exploit, voted him some extra land. In August, 1747, he was in command of the "Devonshire" at the naval battle off Cape Finisterre, capturing the ship of the French Commodore, "La Joncquiere." Then came his recall to England, where, on account of his vast wealth and famous achievements, he was a conspicuous figure. One of his daughters, Charlotte, married Willoughby, Earl of Abingdon. Another, Ann, became the wife of Charles Fitzroy, Baron Southampton. The youngest, Susanna, after her mother, was wedded to Colonel Skinner. New York's affection and esteem for Sir Peter Warren extended to his daughters and through them to their husbands. The old name of Christopher Street was Skinner Road. There was a Fitzroy Road that ran northward from Fourteenth Street. Then, still existing, is Abingdon Square, and Abingdon Road, better known as "Love Lane," was somewhere in the neighbourhood of the present Twenty-first Street. It is to the past rather than the present that the student of the Avenue turns in contemplating the stretch between Fourteenth and Twenty-second Streets. Here and there an historical point may be indicated. On Sixteenth Street, a few yards to the west, is the New York Hospital, the oldest in the city. It received its charter from George the Third some years before the first gun was fired in the War of the Revolution. It was not regularly opened until 1791, but the building, then at Broadway and Duane Street, served as a place for anatomical experiments. In 1788, the story is, a medical student threatened a group of prying boys with a dissected human arm. Soldiers were needed to quell the resulting riot. The reddish brick hospital of today dates from 1877. A chapter in the story of the New York Hospital as an institution concerns the Bloomingdale Lunatic Asylum, for which the land was purchased in 1816, and the building completed in 1821.
Respectively at 150 and 156 Fifth Avenue are the building of the New York Society of the Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Building. The latter houses the Methodist Book Concern and a collection of relics belonging to the Historical Society. A few years ago the stretch was sometimes called the Paternoster Row of New York on account of the number of publishing houses that lined it. Also it was long the home of many of the churches that were erected in the middle of the last century, among them the South Dutch Reformed Church, built in 1850, at the southwest corner of Twenty-first Street, and the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church at Nineteenth Street. In Nineteenth Street, just east of the Avenue, was the former home of Horace Greeley, and in Twentieth Street (No. 28) Theodore Roosevelt was born.
"Worth noting," says "Fifth Avenue," the publication issued by the Fifth Avenue Bank, "are the names of prominent New Yorkers who, during the fifties, lived on Fifth Avenue between Washington Square and Twenty-first Street. Among them were Lispenard Stewart, Thomas Eggleson, Silas Wood, Henry C. De Rham, Thomas F. Woodruff, Francis Cottinet, David S. Kennedy, James Donaldson, Dr. J. Kearney Rodgers, C.N. Talbot, N.H. Wolfe, James McBride, Charles M. Parker, L.M. Hoffman, August Belmont, Benjamin Aymer, Henry C. Winthrop, Eugene Schiff, Captain Lorillard Spencer, Moses Taylor, John C. Coster, Henry A. Coster, Sidney Mason, Marshall O. Roberts, Robert L. Cutting, Gordon W. Burnham, Robert C. Townsend, George Opdyke, Robert L. Stuart, whose magnificent art collection was given to the Lenox Library, and James Lenox, the founder of the Lenox Library. The fortunes of these gentlemen as recorded in 'Wealth and Biography of the Wealthy Citizens of New York,' averaged between one hundred and three hundred thousand dollars. One of the richest men in New York at that time was James Lenox, who had inherited the then huge fortune of three million dollars; another large fortune was that of James McBride, estimated at seven hundred thousand dollars."
Then there were the clubs, the Union at the northwest corner of Twenty-first Street, the Lotos Club, just across the Avenue, the Athenaeum, at the southwest corner of Sixteenth Street, the Travellers; in the building that had formerly been the residence of Gordon W. Burnham, at the southwest corner of Eighteenth Street, the Arcadian, at No. 146, between Nineteenth and Twentieth Streets, the Manhattan, occupying the Charles C. Parker house at the southwest corner of Fifteenth Street, the New York, which, occupying another corner at the same street, until 1874, then moved a few blocks northward to a house on the Avenue facing Madison Square. How the window loungers of that clubland stretch of the seventies and eighties would have stared and rubbed their eyes had it been given to them to see the procession that throngs the sidewalks today!
The stretch of glories departed is quickly passed. The nine blocks are really eight, for it is at Twenty-second Street that the Flatiron begins, and the drab hives behind are forgotten as the vision of the Square strikes the eye. The Parisian, sipping an aperitif at the corner table of the Cafe de la Paix, believes himself to be occupying the exact centre of the universe. The Manhattanite knows him to be wrong by a matter of three thousand and some odd miles. Be he plutocrat or panhandler he knows that it is some spot from which he can look up and see the lithe figure of Diana, and the illuminated clock in the tower of the Metropolitan Building.
Although not formally opened as Madison Square until 1847, the story of the land goes back almost two hundred and fifty years. It was in 1670 that Sir Edward Andros, Governor of the Province, granted to Solomon Peters, a free negro, thirty acres of land between what is now Twenty-first and Twenty-sixth Streets, extending east and west from the present Broadway (Bloomingdale Road) to Seventh Avenue. Forty-six years later the negro's descendants sold the tract to John Horn and Cornelius Webber, and a hundred years after it became vested in John Horn the second. In the middle of the present roadway west of the Flatiron Building the Horn farmhouse, occupied by John the Second's daughter and son-in-law, Christopher Mildenberger, stood when the Avenue was cut through to Twenty-third Street in 1837. It was allowed to remain there two years more, when it was removed to the famous site at the northwest corner of Twenty-third Street and became the Madison Cottage. The old chroniclers tell of the joyous spirit and flavour of that roadhouse, a favourite rendezvous of horsemen in the forties, and of the genial management of its proprietor, Corporal Thompson. In the Collection of Amos F. Eno there is a photograph of the business card of the Cottage, with the announcement that the stages "leave every 4 minutes." A picture shows the stages before the building with its slanting roof and its three dormer windows facing the Avenue and Park. Several miles beyond the city proper, it was a post tavern in the coaching days, and the huge pair of antlers announced the "Sign of the Buck-horn."
It had its brief and glorious day and then passed. Early in 1853 it was torn down to make room for a circus, known as Franconi's Hippodrome, built by a syndicate of American showmen, among whom were Avery Smith, Richard Sands, and Seth B. Howe. The lithograph in the Collection of J. Clarence Davies shows a combination of tent roof and permanent wall. There was a turretted sexagonal entrance at the corner facing the Avenue and Twenty-third Street, and another at the northern end of the building. Seven hundred feet in circumference was the Hippodrome, of brick sides, two stories high, with an oval ring in the centre two hundred feet wide by three hundred feet long, seating six thousand people, and having standing room for about half as many more. It was a bold venture, perhaps too bold for its time. When the novelty had worn off the profits began to dwindle and then ceased entirely. Amos F. Eno, a New Englander who had prospered exceedingly in New York, bought the property and planned to erect a hotel that was to surpass anything that the city had already known. Sceptics ridiculed the idea, predicting that a situation so far uptown meant certain disaster. But the Hippodrome building was torn down, the new structure begun, and in September, 1859, the Fifth Avenue Hotel opened its doors under the direction of Colonel Paran Stevens. It was of white marble, six stories in height. Among the innovations and conveniences that made it the wonder of its day was the first passenger elevator ever installed. New York then knew the device as "the vertical railway."
But between the time when Solomon Peters received his grant and the day when the opening of the Fifth Avenue Hotel ushered in a new era, the land experienced many vicissitudes. In the last years of the eighteenth century it was a Parade Ground, at one time extending from Twenty-third to Thirty-fourth Streets, bounded on the east by the Eastern Post-road and on the west by the Bloomingdale Road. At the southern end a Potter's Field was opened in 1794, and there were buried the victims of the frequent yellow-fever epidemics. But in 1797 a new Potter's Field was opened in Washington Square. According to the plans of the Commissioners' Map of 1811, there was to be no Fifth Avenue between Twenty-third Street and Thirty-fourth Street. The Avenue was to end temporarily at the former point, and resume its journey eleven blocks farther north. As early as 1785 a powder magazine stood within the present domains of the Square. A United States Arsenal, erected in 1808, was near the spot of the Farragut statue. In 1823 the Arsenal building became the house of refuge of the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents, the first organization instituted in America to care for youthful offenders. In 1839 it was destroyed by fire. That was two years after the Parade Ground had been reduced to its present limits of 6.84 acres and renamed in honour of President Madison. In 1844 the Eastern Post-road was closed. Its course may still be traced by the double row of trees that runs northeast towards Madison Square Garden.
In 1847 the Square was formally opened and soon after society began to migrate there. That was during the mayoralty of James Harper. From 1853 until the end of the Civil War it was the social centre of the city. "Among those who lived in this vicinity," says "Fifth Avenue," "were Leonard W. Jerome, and his elder brother, Addison G. Jerome, who, with William R. Travers, were social leaders and prominent Wall Street brokers; James Stokes, who, in 1851, built at No. 37 Madison Square, East, the first residence on Madison Square, and whose wife was a daughter of Anson G. Phelps; John David Wolfe, whose daughter, Catherine Lorillard Wolfe, gave her magnificent art collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Frank Work, William and John O'Brien, Henry M. Schieffelin, James L. Schieffelin, Samuel B. Schieffelin, Benjamin H. Field, Peter Ronalds, and William Lane."
Elsewhere is told of the glories of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, of the part it played as one of the Hosts of the Avenue, of its share in the great days, of its Amen Corner, and of the distinguished men like General W.T. Sherman, former Senator Platt, and the actor, William J. Florence, who for years made it their home. A quarter of a century ago the entrance to the hotel was the starting point, every Thanksgiving Day noon, for many gaily decorated coaches bound for the old Manhattan Field. In earlier days the destination had been Berkeley Oval at Williamsbridge, or the old Polo Grounds at One Hundred and Tenth Street and Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Draped down to the wheels with bunting of dark blue or of orange and black the tally-hos drew up before the portico and were soon topped with eager, ardent youth. As they were whirled away up the Avenue there broke out upon the autumn air the sharp "Brek-a Coex-Coex-Coex" of Yale, or the sky-rocket of Princeton. The return was marked by high elation or deep depression according as the Fates had decided on the chalk-lined turf. For the collection of sundry wagers the victors hurried into the near-by Hoffman House, where the presiding genius and stakeholder, Billy Edwards, divided attention with the paintings of fauns and nymphs that adorned the walls. That youth of yesteryear has come to grizzled hair. There are crow's feet about the eyes, and the world is one of vastly changed values, and the game at which the heart is throbbing is a more poignant one than that which involved touchdowns and goals from the field and desperate stands on the two-yard line. But it is the same old-time spirit, that then expressed itself in the call, "Hold them, Yale," or "Hold them for Old Nassau!" that, passed on to succeeding generations, is grimly awaiting the shock on the plains of Picardy.
Of all the monuments that have graced Madison Square that which first comes to mind is one that has gone. Twenty years ago a splendid white arch spanned the Avenue, with one pier close to the sidewalk in front of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and the other touching the edge of the opposite Park. It was in direct line with Washington Arch seventeen blocks away. Under it, on September 30, 1898, passed the victor of Manila Bay, whose name it bore, bowing right and left to the city's riotous welcome. For months it remained there, and then disappeared. Why was the beautiful structure not made permanent? The Worth Monument, in the centre of the triangular piece of ground bounded by Fifth Avenue, Broadway, Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth Streets, dates from 1857. By order of the Common Council the plot was set apart for the erection of the shaft in December, 1854. Major-General William J. Worth, of Mexican War fame, died at San Antonio, Texas, June 7, 1849. The monument was dedicated with a parade and a review November 25, 1857, and the General's remains interred under the south side. In bands around the obelisk are recorded the names of the battles in which Worth took part. On the east face, cut in the stone, may be read "Ducit Amor Patriae" and on the west face, "By the Corporation of the City of New York, 1857—Honor the Brave." At the moment of writing the building beyond the Worth Monument, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Twenty-fifth Street, is in the process of demolition. At one time the New York Club was housed there, and there, for years, the sign of the Berlitz School for Languages stretched across the southern face of the structure.
"Were all the statues in New York made by St. Gaudens?" was the recent naive and ingenuous question of a visitor from the West who had just completed the first two days of his stay. "Most of the good ones were," was the laughing rejoinder of an artist. "At least that is the way it seems. And nearly all the pedestals for them were made by Stanford White." In query and response there is a certain amount of justice. It is Augustus St. Gaudens's benevolent presentment of Peter Cooper that stands within the little park enclosed by Cooper Square. The name of St. Gaudens is associated with those of John La Farge, White, MacMonnies, MacNeil, and Calder in the making of the Washington Arch. To St. Gaudens belongs the equestrian statue of William Tecumseh Sherman in the Plaza. And here, in Madison Square, the Farragut statue is his. Unveiled in 1881, executed in Paris when the sculptor was thirty years of age, and exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1880, the Farragut is, in the opinion of Miss Henderson, the base upon which St. Gaudens's great reputation rests. "And while," she writes, "in New York its merits are often balanced with those of the Sherman equestrian group, at the entrance to Central Park; the Peter Cooper, in Cooper Square; and the relief of Dr. Bellows, in the All-Souls' Church—all later works—it has never had to yield precedence to any, but holds its own by force of its splendid vigour and youthful plasticity. It has the essential characteristics of the portrait, but so combined with the attitude of the artist that the figure stands as much more than a portrait, having in it something more living, more typical, deeper than the mere outward mould of the man. St. Gaudens's Farragut has the bearing of a seaman, balanced on his two legs, in a posture easy, yet strong. He is rough and bluff with the courage and simplicity of a commander; his eye is accustomed to deal with horizons, while the features are clean-cut and masterful. The inscription is happy: 'That the memory of a daring and sagacious commander and gentle great-souled man, whose life from childhood was given to his country, but who served her supremely in the war for the Union, 1861-1865, may be preserved and honored, and that they who come after him and who will love him so much may see him as he was seen by friend and foe, his countrymen have set up this monument A.D. MDCCCLXXXI.'"
There are other statues in the Square besides the noble one commemorating the deeds of the hero of "Full steam ahead, and damn the torpedoes!" At the southwest corner there is a bronze one of William H. Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State, the work of Randolph Rogers. The effigy of Roscoe Conkling, by J.Q.A. Ward, is at the southeast corner. Cold and proud is the stone as the man was cold, and proud, and biting. What chance had haranguing abuse against his icy: "I have no time to bandy epithets with the gentleman from Georgia"? Then there is the drinking fountain by Emma Stebbins, given to the city by the late Catherine Lorillard Wolfe, and the Bissell statue of Chester A. Arthur.
No other structure in the city is so many different things to so many different people as the Madison Square Garden. To the old-time New Yorker, who likes to babble reminiscently of the past, the site recalls the railway terminus of the sixties, when the outgoing trains were drawn by horses through the tunnel as far north as the present Grand Central. To one artistically inclined the creamy tower, modelled on that of the Giralda in Seville, suggests the collaboration of St. Gaudens and White, and the surmounting Diana the early work of the former inspired by Houdon's Diana of the Louvre. To the more frivolous, the sportingly inclined, the seekers after gross pleasures, the Garden has meant the Arion Ball, or the French Students Ball, the Horse Show, Dog Show, Cat Show, Poultry Show, Automobile Show, Sportsman's Show, the Cake-Walk, the Six-Day Bicycle Race, or events of the prize-ring from the days of Sullivan and Mitchell to those of Willard and Moran; Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show, or the circus, the Greatest Show on Earth, with its houris of the trapeze and the saddle, and its animals, almost as fearful and wonderful as the menagerie of adjectives that its press-agent, the renowned, or notorious, Tody Hamilton, gathers annually out of the jungles of the dictionary. Also the interior of the vast structure echoes in memory with political oratory, now thunderous and now persuasive. Through the words directed immediately at the thousands that fought their way within the walls Presidents and candidates for president have sent ringing utterance throughout the land.
Opposite the Garden, at the southeast corner of Twenty-sixth Street, is the Manhattan Club, in a house that was formerly the home of the University Club, and adjoining it to the south, is the Appellate Court House, architecturally one of the city's most distinguished buildings. Designed by James Brown Lord, it was completed in 1900, at a cost of three-quarters of a million dollars. Among the men whose work is represented in this home of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court for the City and County of New York are Maitland Armstrong, Karl Bitter, Charles Henry Niehaus, Charles Albert Lopez, Thomas Shields Clarke, George Edwin Bissell, Philip Martiny, Robert Reid, Willard L. Metcalf, Henry Augustus Lukeman, John Donoghue, Henry Kirke Bush Brown, Edward Clark Potter, Henry Siddons Mowbray, Frederick W. Ruckstuhl, Herbert Adams, George Willoughby Maynard, Joseph Lauber, Maximilian M. Schwartzott, and Kenyon Cox.
The old home of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church was in the block between Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Streets. Then, on the northeast corner of the latter street stood one of the last surviving residences recalling the days when the Square was the possession of Flora McFlimsey and her kind, the old brown-stone dwelling of Catherine Lorillard Wolfe. The Wolfe property, offered for sale, was purchased by an official of the Metropolitan Company, and an exchange was effected by which the church relinquished its old site and moved to the northern corner. The present church was designed by Stanford White, who met his death in 1906, the year before the formal dedication. With its grey brick exterior, showing repeatedly the Maltese Cross, its interior following the spirit of the Mosque of Santa Sophia in Constantinople, and its mural paintings and windows, many of them the work of Louis C. Tiffany, it is one of the most beautiful of all the city's edifices for religious worship. But to the casual eye it is quite lost on account of its proximity to its gigantic neighbour.
The traveller approaching Paris can see from miles away, the apex of the Eiffel Tower outlined against the sky. The eye of one nearing New York, whether his point of observation be the deck of an incoming steamer, or a car-chair in a train arriving from the West, is met first by the cluster of skyscrapers at the southern end of the island, and then by a shaft vastly more conspicuous by reason of its isolation, the tower of the Metropolitan Building. Whatever artists may think of it—and there is division of opinion—that tower is, structurally, one of the wonders of the world. Rising seven hundred feet above the sidewalk, topping the Singer Building by ninety feet and being outclimbed only by the Woolworth Building (seven hundred and ninety-two feet), the tower is seventy-five feet by eighty-five at its base, and carries the building to its fifty-second story. Exactly half-way between sidewalk and point of spire is the great clock with the immense dials of reinforced concrete faced with mosaic tile, each twenty-six and a half feet in diameter, with the hour hand thirteen and a half feet long, weighing seven hundred and fifty pounds, and the minute hand seventeen feet long and weighing one thousand pounds. At night the indicating flashes, the hours in white, the quarters in one, two, three, or four, red, may be seen at a distance of twenty miles.
But nearer at hand, as the hours creep one by one towards the dawn, are the derelicts of the Square, dozing fitfully on the park benches. In waking moments their dull eyes watch the illuminated face, and the hands pushing forward to another day. The spectacle moved one of them, Prince Michael, heir to the throne of the Electorate of Valleluna, in O. Henry's "The Caliph, Cupid, and the Clock," to pessimistic utterance. "Clocks," he said, "are shackles on the feet of mankind. I have observed you looking persistently at that clock. Its face is that of a tyrant, its numbers are false as those on a lottery ticket; its hands are those of a bunco-steerer, who makes an appointment with you to your ruin. Let me entreat you to throw off its humiliating bonds and to cease to order your affairs by that insensate monitor of brass and steel."
Sang Sara Teasdale:
"We walked together in the dusk To watch the tower grow dimly white, And saw it lift against the sky, Its flower of amber light."
Some Great Days on the Avenue
Some Great Days on the Avenue—Pictures and Pageants—When a Prince Came Visiting—A Regiment Departs—Honour to the Captains—Funeral Processions—Receptions—Dinners—The Orient and the Avenue—When Admiral Dewey Came Home—Greeting a Marshal of France—The Roar of the City and the Guns of the Marne.
In the stirring times in which we are living, it seems as if every day is a great day on the Avenue. Take a single example: The morning broke dark and threatening. Heavy clouds presaged showers. But after an hour or two they passed from the heavens, and warmth and golden sunshine came. In the course of various activities the writer made his way to points between the Battery and Fifty-ninth Street, and the means of travel employed included three journeys on top of Fifth Avenue buses. If one of the early settlers could only have seen the proud and amazing thoroughfare!
The air vibrant with excitement. Flags everywhere. Tens of thousands of the Stars and Stripes. Thousands of Union Jacks and Tricolours of France. Hundreds of pavilions of Italy and Belgium. Every few yards gaily decorated booths from which smiling women or lusty-lunged men harangued the passers-by to "come across or the Kaiser will."
On a platform erected on the steps in front of the Public Library a slight figure in kilts addressing a swaying, surging crowd. As the bus, held up for a minute by the cross-town traffic, stopped, we could hear the pleasing burr of Harry Lauder. Two hours later; a mile and a half farther downtown. The sound of a band in the distance. The horses of the mounted policemen forcing back the curious thousands to the curb. A regiment of regulars, two regiments of militia, and then, swinging along lightly in loose step, a handful of men in soiled blue, Chasseurs a pied of France, who, at Verdun, in the Vosges Mountains, and on the Picardy front, had lived splendidly up to the traditions of the men with the hairy knapsacks and the hearts of steel whose tramp had shaken the continent of Europe one hundred years before.
It was just a day similar to other days that had gone before and to days that were to follow. To feel the thrill of what were held to have been the great days of the past we must put ourselves in the mood of old New York, or at the very least think of the world as it was wagging along a brief four years ago.
"The national banquet-hall where heroes and statesmen have been feted, or the parade-ground toward which a nation has turned to witness great demonstrations in celebration of national events of a civic or military or mournful nature. Along it have gone to the music of dirges and the sound of mournful drums the funeral corteges of many of the country's leading statesmen and greatest men, and here, too, have occurred riots and disastrous fires which have startled the city and shocked the nation." So runs the introduction to a little pamphlet issued some years ago by the Fifth Avenue Bank. One of the earliest and most notable visits, the brochure goes on to tell us, was that of the then Prince of Wales, later Edward VII., in the autumn of 1860. He was then nineteen years old. The city turned out to greet him. On Thursday, October 11th, the revenue cutter, "Harriet Lane," brought the Prince to New York from South Amboy. Then, a day of blaring bands, of blended flags, of great transparencies, that eventually led to the Fifth Avenue Hotel. He was still very young, still very much of a boy, very much bored with all the tumult and ceremony. Once out of sight of the crowd he threw dignity to the winds and played leap-frog in the corridor with his retinue. But once again, from his bed, to which he had gone with a bad headache, he was called at midnight to acknowledge the salutes of the Caledonia Club. That organization, made up mostly of members of the Scotch Regiment commanded by Colonel McLeay, headed by Dodsworth's Band, marched up Broadway to the hotel. In the Prince's honour a serenade was given, the band blared out with "God Save the Queen!", "Hail Columbia!" and other national airs, and once more the sleepy and sorely tried royal visitor was obliged to appear to bow his thanks.
The next day, Friday, was given over to visiting such public buildings as the Astor Library, Cooper Union, the Free Academy, and in riding through Central Park.
A ball, famous in city annals, was given at the Academy of Music. Among those who attended that ball and left a record of it was the late Ward McAllister. "Our best people, the smart set, the slow set, all sets, took a hand in it, and the endeavor was to make it so brilliant and beautiful that it would always be remembered by those present as one of the events of their lives."
The ball was opened by a quadrille d'honneur. Governor and Mrs. Morgan, the historian Bancroft and Mrs. Bancroft, Colonel and Mrs. Abraham Van Buren, with others were to dance in it. The rush was so great that the floor gave way, and in tumbled the whole centre of the stage. Carpenters set feverishly to work to floor over the chasm.
"I well remember," said McAllister, "the enormous form of old Isaac Brown, sexton of Grace Church, rushing around and encouraging the workmen."
In the course of the evening the Prince danced with Miss Fish, Miss Mason, Miss Fannie Butler, and others, and was conceded to have danced well. The supper was served at a horseshoe table. At one end of the room was a raised dais, where the royal party supped. At each stage door a prominent citizen stood guard; the moment the supper room was full, no one else was admitted. "I remember," confesses Mr. McAllister, "on my attempting to get in through one of these doors, stealthily, the vigilant eye of John Jacob Astor met mine. He bid me wait my turn."
Despite the assiduity with which McAllister danced after the figure of the Prince, he was not among those presented. That honour he sought the next day, on the trip to West Point:
"As General Scott was presenting Colonel Delafield's guests to the Prince I approached the General, asking him to present me to his Royal Highness. A giant, as he was in height, he bent down his head to me, and asked sharply, 'What name, sir?' I gave him my name, but at the sound of 'Mc,' not thinking it distinguished enough, he quietly said, 'Pass on, sir,' and I subsequently was presented by the Duke of Newcastle."
Forty-three years after that clamorous greeting of New York to the young Prince of Wales the present writer was to witness in Paris the visit of Edward VII. for the purpose of cementing the Entente Cordiale. The tired face told the story of the hardest-worked public servant in the world. In 1860, on Fifth Avenue, he had already begun to pay the price of the royal privilege of his exalted birth to bear the arduous burden of royal responsibility.
There are extant many old wood-cuts showing the Prince at the Academy of Music ball. But the following morning, that brought repose to so many, brought none to him. There were visits to be paid to Brady's photographic studios at the corner of Tenth Street and Broadway, to Barnum's Museum, to General Scott at his Twelfth Street residence, and the Broadway store of Ball, Black & Company.
That night a great torchlight parade in honour of the Prince was given by the New York firemen. The Prince, with his suite and a number of city officials, stood on the hotel balcony, while five thousand men in uniform, with apparatus and many bands, marched by. Fireworks were set off, the brilliant beams of the calcium light—then a novelty—were thrown upon the standing, boyish figure of the Prince, thousands of flaring torches danced and waved against the darkness of the opposite square.
The next day, Sunday, October 14th, brought some rest. In the morning there were services at Trinity, where Dr. Vinton preached; then a quiet afternoon at the hotel. With Monday came the Prince's departure. At half-past nine he left the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and in company with the Duke of Newcastle, the Earl of St. Albans, and Mayor Wood, was driven down to the harbour where the "Harriet Lane" was waiting to take him to West Point and Albany.
The next reception that the chronicler of Fifth Avenue events has seen fit to record was that given to General Grant after the close of the Civil War. At the Fifth Avenue Hotel a number of the city's leading business men met and planned the public greeting, and one hundred and fifty men subscribed one hundred dollars apiece. The reception to the returning soldier, which took place at the Fifth Avenue Hotel November 20, 1865, was hardly one of which the city or the street had reason to be proud.
Loose management led to disorder and dissatisfaction. Twenty-five hundred jostling, pushing persons crowded the halls, corridors, and reception rooms. The General stood in one of the hotel parlours surrounded by the committee, with Mrs. Grant and other ladies to his right, and on his left Generals Wool, Cook, and Hooker, John Van Buren, Ethan Allen, and others.
Little judgment seems to have been used in issuing the invitations. The throng was indiscriminate. Farce comedy was in the air. Religious fanatics, passing before the hero, offered up prayers for the salvation of his soul. Precocious children were thrust forward to his attention. Preposterous questions were propounded by preposterous people. To add to the confusion the names of those persons who fought their way through the throng to be presented to the General were announced to him by a little man who got most of them wrong.
In a postscript to his "American Notes," written many years later, Charles Dickens told of the vast changes he found on the occasion of his second visit to the United States—"changes moral, changes physical, changes in the amount of land subdued and peopled, changes in the rise of vast new cities, changes in the growth of older cities almost out of recognition, changes in the graces and amenities of life." Making all allowances for that greater charity, tolerance, and kindliness of judgment which comes with the riper years—nobody ever could have remained as Britishly bumptious, or as bumptiously British as Dickens was in his younger days when he first came to pay us a visit—taking also into consideration the fact that a certain explanatory softening of earlier criticisms was politic, that the novelist found a city far more to his taste in 1868 than he had found in 1842 is not for a moment to be questioned. Also, at the time he came to New York from Boston, he was naturally in a rather placid and contented mood. For in letters home, even while complaining of the trying changes of the wintry climate, he had told how he was making a clear profit of thirteen hundred English pounds a week, even allowing seven dollars to the pound. When he returned to New York in April, after an extended tour throughout the country, he had still better cause to be pleased with the young Republic. Says Forster in his "Life":
"In New York, where there were five farewell nights, $3,298 were the receipts of the last, on the 20th. of April; those of the last at Boston, on the eighth, having been $3,456. But, on earlier nights in the same cities respectively, these sums also had been reached; and indeed, making allowance for an exceptional night here and there, the receipts varied so wonderfully little, that a mention of the highest average returns from other places will give no exaggerated impression of the ordinary receipts throughout. Excluding fractions of dollars, the lowest were New Bedford ($1,640), Rochester ($1,906), Springfield ($1,970), and Providence ($2,140). Albany and Worcester averaged something less than $2,400; while Hartford, Buffalo, Baltimore, Syracuse, New Haven, and Portland rose to $2,600. Washington's last night was $2,610, no night there having less than $2,500. Philadelphia exceeded Washington by $300, and Brooklyn went ahead of Philadelphia by $200. The amount taken at the four Brooklyn readings was $11,128."
And only a few years ago there were Americans deploring loudly the shabby financial treatment we gave Dickens, and figuratively and literally passing round the hat!
Fifth Avenue's greeting to Charles Dickens, on the occasion of his second visit, was in the form of the dinner that was tendered to him at Delmonico's, on the evening of April 18, 1868. The hosts were two hundred men of the New York press. Covers were laid for a hundred and eighty-seven guests.
Five o'clock was the time appointed—we were a rugged, early-dining race in those days—but the guest had a slight stroke of illness and did not appear until after six. Then it was a limping old man, aged just sixty-six, who, by the aid of a cane, climbed laboriously up the great staircase. He was led to his seat at the table by Horace Greeley, and seated between Mr. Greeley and Henry J. Raymond. The editor of the "Tribune," acting as master of ceremonies, began the speech-making by referring to his first discovery, many years before, of a story by the then unknown "Boz."
In concluding his reply to the toast, Mr. Dickens promised: "manfully, promptly, and plainly in my own person, to bear for the behalf of my own countrymen such testimony of the gigantic changes in this country as I have hinted at here tonight. Also to record that wherever I have been, in the smallest place equally with the largest, I have been received with unsurpassed politeness, delicacy, sweet-temper, and consideration.... This testimony, so long as I live, and so long as my descendants have any legal right in my books, I shall cause to be republished, as an appendix to every copy of those two books of mine in which I have referred to America. And this I will do and cause to be done, not in mere love and thankfulness, but because I regard it as an act of plain justice and honour."
The amende honorable was not less welcome for being long due and the distinguished visitor sat down to loud applause and the strains of "God Save the Queen." Mr. Raymond responded to the toast "The New York Press," and was followed by George William Curtis, William Henry Hurlbert, Charles Eliot Norton, Joseph R. Hawley, Murat Halstead, Edwin de Leon, and E.L. Youmans.
Three and a half years after the dinner to Dickens Fifth Avenue greeted in a similar way a distinguished Russian guest. That was the Grand Duke Alexis Alexandrovitch, who was entertained by the New York Yacht Club at Delmonico's December 2, 1871. James Gordon Bennett, the younger, was then Commodore of the club, and received the Grand Duke in the restaurant's parlours at seven o'clock. The guests included the Grand Duke and his suite, the Russian Minister, General Gorloff, Admiral Poisset, Admiral Rowan, members of the Russian legation, Russian officers, and members of the yacht club. Against the walls of the banquet hall the Stars and Stripes blended with the blue St. Andrew's Cross. The guests were in naval uniform. The "Queen's Cup," which had been won by the "America" in 1851, had the place of honour among the club trophies. To the toast to the Czar, General Gorloff responded. The club Commodore answered to that to President Grant. After the Grand Duke had been informed that he had been elected to honorary membership, he responded with a brief sailor-like speech.
On December 22, 1877, President Hayes was the guest of honour of the New England Society at Delmonico's. Among those there besides the President were Secretary of State William M. Evarts, Presidents Eliot of Harvard and Porter of Yale, General Horace Porter, ex-Governor Morgan, and Governor Horace Fairbanks of Vermont. Mr. Evarts answered the toast "The Day We Celebrate." The presidents of Yale and Harvard, speaking in behalf of their institutions, indulged in good-natured contrasts and comparisons. In the old days, according to President Porter, when they found a man in Boston a little too bad to live with, they sent him to Rhode Island, and when they found him a little too good to live with, they sent him to Connecticut, where, among other things, he founded Yale College; while people of average respectability and goodness were allowed to remain in Massachusetts Bay, where, looking into each others' faces constantly, they contracted a habit of always praising each other with special emphasis—a habit which they have not altogether outgrown.
The Union League gave a reception to General Grant on October 23, 1880, in the theatre of the club-house. Among those present were Joseph H. Choate, General Chester A. Arthur, Chauncey M. Depew, General Adam Badeau, Colonel Fred Grant, Peter Cooper, Henry Ward Beecher, General Horace Porter, and Rev. Dr. Newman. Another reception to General Grant was given at the Hotel Brunswick May 5, 1883, by the Saturday Night Club. Certain remarks by the former President and by Roscoe Conkling on the subject of Mexico were considered of much significance at the time. Both spoke strongly in favour of the formation of a Mexican-American alliance. Mr. Conkling suggested General Grant as the logical leader of a great movement to aid the sister republic in developing its resources.
Nearly two thousand guests were present at the reception given by the Union League Club to President Arthur on January 23, 1884. With the Chief Executive, who arrived about nine o'clock, were Secretaries Teller and Folger, of his Cabinet. After shaking hands with the reception committee the President was escorted upstairs by William M. Evarts. About the President were the Cabinet officers, Mr. and Mrs. Evarts, Jesse Seligman, and Salem H. Wales, and Attorney General and Mrs. Brewster. In the distinguished gathering were Mayor Edson, Dr. Lyman Abbott, General and Mrs. George B. McClellan, Whitelaw Reid, Henry Ward Beecher, Parke Godwin, Elihu Root, Cyrus W. Field, Mr. and Mrs. John Bigelow, and Lionel Sackville-West, the British Minister.
At the supper, which was served at midnight, one of the features was the striking pieces of confectionery. In gleaming white sugar was a model of the Capitol, and a tall monument supported statuettes of the President and his Cabinet. Also there was a twenty-four-foot model of the Brooklyn Bridge with the President and troops crossing it.
At the banquet to Lieutenant Greely of Arctic fame, at the Lotos Club, on January 16, 1886, Vice-President General Horace Porter was in the chair, in the absence of President Whitelaw Reid. Besides Lieutenant Greely, Chief Engineer Melville, and Commander Schley, who headed the expedition to relieve Greely, were guests of the club, and among others at the table were Chief Justice Daly, Colonel C. McK. Leoser, Robert Kirby, Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, Dr. Pardee, Frank Robinson, Herman Oelrichs, C.H. Webb, Colonel Thomas W. Knot, George Masset, J. O'Sullivan, Douglas Taylor, James Bates, and Chandos Fulton. In his speech the guest of the evening told the story of his expedition to the Far North and explained the reason for every action. Arctic exploration, he declared, could not be futile when eleven nations were offering the lives of their men in the cause of science. He told the story of the splendid spirit of his own men during the dreary months at Cape Sabine and lauded American courage and achievement in all the corners of the earth. There were speeches by Judge Daly and Commander Schley, and then two fun-makers were introduced in the persons of Thorne and Billington, Poo-bah and Ko-Ko, from the Gilbert and Sullivan opera, "The Mikado," that was then playing in New York.
Late in November of the same year the Lotos Club honoured another explorer, Henry M. Stanley, who had just returned to New York after many years' absence, completing Livingstone's work in Central Africa. Stanley sat between Mr. Reid, the Club's president, and Chauncey M. Depew. Others at the guest's table were Lieutenant Greely, General Porter, General Winslow, Colonel Knox, Major Pond, General Townsend, Lieutenant Hickey, Commissioner Andrews, G.F. Rowe, Bruce Crane, Henry Gillig, and Daniel E. Bandmann. The speakers, besides Mr. Stanley, were Lieutenant Greely, Mr. Depew, and Horace Porter.
At Delmonico's, December 20, 1889, a dinner was given by the Spanish-American Commercial Union to the visiting delegates to the Pan-American Congress. William M. Ivins, as the principal speaker, touched upon South American relations and international arbitration as a prevention of war. Among those present were Mayor Hugh J. Grant, Elihu Root, Andrew Carnegie, Chauncey M. Depew, and Horace White. On the walls were portraits of Washington and General Bolivar, and intertwined with the Stars and Stripes, the vividly coloured banners of the South American nations. At the right of the chairman, William H.T. Hughes, sat Senor F.C.C. Zegarra of Peru, and at the left Mayor Grant. The address of welcome was delivered first in English and then in Spanish by Mr. Hughes, who possessed a perfect command of both languages. Senor Zegarra responded. The toast "Our Next Neighbour" was answered by Senor Matias Romero of Mexico. Other toasts and speakers were: "International American Commerce," William M. Ivins; "International Justice," Elihu Root; "Our Homes," Rev. Dr. John R. Paxton; "America—All Republican," John B. Henderson, and random addresses from the gallery by Mr. Depew and Judge Jose Alfonso of Chile.
The next Fifth Avenue reception of importance was that given by the Union League Club to General W.T. Sherman on April 17, 1890. It was a belated celebration of the old soldier's seventieth birthday which had taken place on February 8. In the centre of the decorations of the usual patriotic colours and design was the Daniel Huntington portrait of the General in uniform. Regulars of the 5th U.S. Artillery lined the stairway leading from the lobby to the reception hall. The General, reaching the club-house at eight-thirty, was met by James Otis, J. Seaver Page, and General S. Van Vliet, and, between the lines of soldiers at present arms, conducted to a place beneath his own portrait. There, surrounded by President Depew of the Club, Secretary of the Interior John W. Noble, and General Van Vliet, he greeted the six or seven hundred invited guests. The gathering included representatives of the army, the navy, the bench, the clergy, as well as business, professional, and political life. The Vice-President of the United States, Levi P. Morton, was there, and Secretary Noble, Senators W.M. Evarts and Nelson W. Aldrich, Generals Schofield, Howard, Porter, and Breckenridge, and foreign diplomats from Russia, Chile, Brazil, and Peru. Of the march to the sea Chauncey M. Depew said: "It was a feat which captured the imagination of the country and of the world, because it was both the poetry of war and the supreme fact of the triumph over the rebellion."
Another great day on the Avenue was August 28, 1896, which witnessed the arrival of the famous Chinese statesman, Li Hung Chang. He came as a special envoy of the Chinese Emperor and stayed at the Waldorf, then a comparatively new hotel. President Cleveland sent General Thomas H. Ruger to welcome the visitor. In his cabin on the "St. Louis" in the Bay Li Hung Chang received the welcoming delegation. The author of "Fifth Avenue Events" thus describes the great Chinaman on that occasion: "His appearance was most striking. Over six feet tall, with a slight stoop, he wore the bright yellow jacket denoting his high rank, a viceroy's cap with a four-eyed peacock feather attached to it by amber fastenings, and a beautifully coloured skirt of rich material. His finger-nails were polished till they shone, a huge diamond flashed on his right hand, and he peered out benignantly over the tops of a pair of gold-bowed spectacles. Dignified in bearing, he looked every inch the statesman and scholar. His gracious manner won him friends during his stay in New York, and his indefatigable propensity for asking questions—some of them rather embarrassing to those questioned, as when he politely inquired the ages of the ladies whom he met and the salaries of the officials who entertained him—aroused much merriment."
In the way of a distinguished visitor Li Hung Chang was a novelty. New York gave him a rousing reception. The Avenue was lined by cheering throngs as the Ambassador and his suite were driven to the hotel. The carriages were flanked by U.S. Cavalry. Over the gaily decorated Waldorf the golden imperial banner of the Celestial Kingdom with the great blue Dragon snapping at a crimson ball fluttered in the breeze. But Li Hung Chang did not pay the hostelry the compliment of relying on its cuisine, preferring the services of his own Chinese cooks. The day after his arrival the Ambassador was received by President Cleveland at the home of ex-Secretary of the Navy William C. Whitney, Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street. Surrounding the President were the Secretaries of State, War, the Treasury, the Attorney-General, and other officials. The visiting statesman was presented to Mr. Cleveland by Richard Olney, Secretary of State, and to the Chief Executive turned over his credentials from the Chinese Emperor.
The banquet that evening, given by former American diplomats to the Celestial Empire, began at six o'clock, as Li wished to set for the Western world the example of early retiring. In his attentions to the splendid repast before him he was most abstemious, but he finished by smoking a cigar. John E. Ward, a former Minister to China, began the speech-making by a toast to the Emperor, the President of the United States, and Li Hung Chang. George F. Seward, another former Minister to China, lauded the Ambassador's long and distinguished services to his country and to the world at large. After a brief response through his interpreter, Li left the banquet hall at eight-thirty, and went to his night's rest. His hosts, however, were not to be balked of their evening's entertainment, and the oratorical feast was continued till midnight.
About General Grant's tomb, when Li visited it, a crowd of more than twenty thousand persons was gathered. From his carriage Li stepped into his chair of state, and was borne to the tomb by four policemen. At the stairway he left the chair and made his way slowly and laboriously on foot into the vault. To those about him Li said that this visit to the hero's tomb was one of the chief things he had in mind in planning his journey to America, and that he had thought of it continually during the trip. General Horace Porter recalled that Li's contribution of five hundred dollars, one of the first received, was something that had never been forgotten by the American people. Other events of the Prime Minister's stay in New York were his reception of a delegation of American missionary societies, his visits to Chinatown, and to Brooklyn, and the dinner given to him at Delmonico's the evening of September 2nd.
Earlier events of the Avenue fade into comparative unimportance when we come to September 30, 1899. For Admiral George Dewey had come home, and Fifth Avenue had the chance to acclaim the victor of Manila Bay. Down the broad street, from Fifty-ninth Street, under the Arch at Madison Square, and on to Washington Square, the procession in the hero's honour passed. This was the order of march:
Major-General Roe and Staff. Sousa's Band. Sailors of the Admiral's Flagship, the "Olympia." Admiral Dewey, seated beside Mayor Van Wyck of New York in a carriage, at the head of a line of carriages containing Governor Roosevelt, Rear Admirals Schley and Sampson, General Miles, and others. West Point Cadets. United States Regulars. New York National Guard and Naval Militia. National Guard of other States. Union and Confederate Veterans. Veterans of the Spanish War.
When the head of the procession reached Thirty-fourth Street, the sailors from the Admiral's flagship halted and drew up along the side of the Avenue. The Admiral left his carriage and entered the reviewing stand at Madison Square. Admiral Sampson was on his right. Admiral Schley on his left. Surrounding them were officers of both branches of the service. For four hours Admiral Dewey stood there, acknowledging the salutes and saluting the flag. The following day, October 1st, saw the great naval parade through the waters of the Hudson River.
A decade passed, and then came the Hudson-Fulton celebration of September 25—October 9, 1909. Of chief importance to the Avenue was the civic procession of September 28th, when the floats, depicting a great number of historical events, moved down the Avenue to Washington Square. On the east side of the thoroughfare, from Fortieth to Forty-second Street, opposite the Public Library, there had been erected a Court of Honour. Against the stately pillars of the Court, the procession moved swiftly by. Every nation that went into the "melting pot" was represented, with the harped green flag of Ireland at the head of the long column. Following the Ancient Order of Hibernians and other Irish societies came the Italian organizations, then Poles, English, Dutch, French, Scotch, Bohemian, Hungarian, and Syrian.
It was the nation's history of four hundred years that passed in effigy on the floats. Pocahontas again interceded with her father Powhatan for the life of Captain John Smith. Balboa caught sight of the waters of the Pacific. The tea was dumped into Boston Harbour. The Minute Men stood fast on the Common. Mad Anthony Wayne stormed Stony Point. Molly Stark's husband said, "There are the red-coats. We must beat them today, or Molly Stark's a widow!" Cornwallis surrendered his sword at Yorktown. Somebody in the Mexican War said, "Give them a little more grape, General Bragg!" and Dewey said: "You may fire when you're ready, Gridley!"
In some of these events of the later years the writer had a personal share. From a seventh-story window at Twenty-first Street he looked down on the procession in honour of Admiral Dewey. From a vantage point at Thirty-fifth Street he witnessed the passing of floats in the Hudson-Fulton celebration. But there was one day on the Avenue, perhaps the greatest and most inspiring of them all, in which he did not share. That was the day that saw the visit of the Allied Commissions, the day of the coming of a Marshal of France. About the time that the guns on the warships and land batteries at Hampton Roads were thundering out their message of welcome to the distinguished guests, the writer in company with six other Americans who had been with the Commission for Relief in Belgium was entering French territory, after a never-to-be-forgotten journey through Germany. How such of us who claimed New York as our own thrilled as we pictured three thousand miles away the city's greeting to the grave, silent man whose cool genius had hurled back the Teuton hordes at the very gates of Paris! How we built up on the limited descriptions that had been cabled across the Atlantic! We saw the sweep of the procession up the Avenue, the thousands upon thousands of flags, the densely packed throngs lining the sidewalks, the eager faces in the windows of the tall buildings, and in the motor-car, for which all eyes were searching, the smiling, saluting Marshal.
"About now," said one of us, "he should be passing Madison Square."
"I can see the people on the sidewalks and crowding the windows and the housetops," said another.
"And I," said a third, "can hear the roar that goes up from the Avenue when the people catch sight of him."
"When he hears that roar," said a fourth, "he will recall the guns of the Marne as gentle zephyrs."
To that last statement and sentiment we all proudly agreed. For despite the three thousand miles of intervening ocean it was our New York and our Fifth Avenue.
Some Avenue Clubs in the Early Days
Some Avenue Clubs in the Early Days—The Invention of the Club—Cato or Dr. Johnson?—The Judgment of Thackeray—The Union—The Prolific Diedrich Knickerbocker—Omens of 1836—The Century—Its Descent from the Sketch and the Column—Old-Time Austerity—Leaders of the Talk—The Lotos—The Union League—The Manhattan—The First of the College Clubs—The Columbia Yacht—The New York Athletic—Rise and Fall of the Traveller's—The Arcadian.
"Presuming that my dear Bobby would scarcely consider himself to be an accomplished man about town until he had obtained an entrance into a respectable club, I am happy to inform you that you are this day elected a member of the 'Polyanthus,' having been proposed by my friend, Lord Viscount Colchicum, and seconded by your affectionate uncle. I have settled with Mr. Stiff, the worthy secretary, the preliminary pecuniary arrangements regarding the entrance fee and the first annual subscription—the ensuing payments I shall leave to my worthy nephew. You were elected, sir, with but two black-balls; and every other man who was put up for ballot had four, with the exception of Tom Harico, who had more black balls than white. Do not, however, be puffed up by this victory, and fancy yourself more popular than other men. Indeed, I don't mind telling you (but of course I do not wish it to go any farther) that Captain Slyboots and I, having suspicions of the meeting, popped a couple of adverse balls into the other candidates' boxes; so that, at least, you should, in case of mishap, not be unaccompanied in ill-fortune."—Thackeray's "Mr. Brown the Elder takes Mr. Brown the Younger to a Club."
Very likely there are a few thousand New Yorkers, who like the present writer, not having considered the subject very deeply, have held to the vague idea that the club was an invention of a certain Dr. Samuel Johnson. Also that it came about in some such way as this. The Doctor had grown weary of bullying the patient Boswell, and browbeating the acquaintance met by chance in Fleet Street or the Strand did not entirely satisfy him. So one day, storming out of the Cheshire Cheese, after roundly abusing the larkpie of which he had consumed an enormous quantity, he founded the first club, with the object of gathering together a number of his fellow-mortals in one place, and upon them pouring out the vials of his pompous and splenetic wrath.
One day, however, the "De Senectute" that had been long forgotten was recalled by a passage in Mr. James W. Alexander's "History of the University Club of New York." There it was pointed out, that as far back as 200 B.C., Cicero represented Cato as saying: "To begin with, I have always remained a member of a 'Club.' Clubs, as you know, were established in my quaestorship on the reception of the Magna Mater from Ida. So I used to dine at their feast with members of my club—on the whole with moderation." But, except as a point of historical interest, whether stern Cato or voluble Johnson was the inventor does not matter greatly to the New York club member who is airing his weekly grievance by drawing up a petition, or writing a scorching letter a day to the House Committee.
If you will listen to the Manhattanite of the older generation, you are likely to derive the impression that club life in New York is a matter of the last half-century at most. He is rather inclined to fleer at any pretension to American club life of earlier date. In one sense he is right. The club as we know it now is essentially a British institution modelled on British lines. More and more is the British idea being carried to the extreme, until we are associating club life with the vast club-house of spacious lounges and marble swimming pools, and a cuisine rivalling that of one of the great new hotels. The Fifth Avenue club of half a century ago had little magnificence as we now understand the word. It was a simpler and more limited hospitality that was offered to the friend or the distinguished stranger from overseas. Yet that hospitality must have had a rare flavour and atmosphere. There must have been something about it that went far to make up for mere material deficiencies, if we are to credit the verdicts of those who were in a position to compare American club life with club life in England and on the Continent. Thackeray was as fine a judge of the matter as any man who ever strutted through St. James's Park and scowled back at the Barnes Newcomeses and Captain Heavysideses in the club windows along Pall Mall, and there was what he said and wrote about the Century.
It was in the middle of the sixth decade of the last century that the clubs began to find their way into Fifth Avenue. One of the first was the Union Club. Writing of that organization in 1906, M. Charles Huard, in "New York comme je l'ai vu," volunteered the puzzling information that it was "fonde en 1836 par les descendants de Knickerbocker, le plus vieux donc des grand clubs de New York." If the Frenchman was to be taken literally he apparently regarded the offspring of Washington Irving's creation as an exceedingly prolific race. The Union, in 1855, moved from Broadway near Fourth Street into a house on the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and Twenty-first Street. That home, which the Union occupied until fifteen or twenty years ago, was described as "a superb structure which cost three hundred thousand dollars." It was the first building erected in the city solely for club purposes. Almost to the day of its demolition, although the neighbourhood about it was changing rapidly, the old house wore an aspect of dignity. To the corner the habitues of other years seldom come today. Instead, at the noon hour, the sidewalks swarm with foreign faces and there is excited babble in an alien tongue. The cloak and suit firm of Potash and Perlmutter is as much at home here now as it was in its East Broadway—or was it Division Street?—loft when the present century was coming into being.
There is an old volume, bearing the date 1871, called "The Clubs of New York." The author was a Francis Gerry Fairfield, and the chapters that make up the book were originally contributed to the columns of the "Home Journal." There is a perceptible smile on Mr. Fairfield's face as he writes of the town of thirty years before. To the present generation that smile is irresistibly funny. He recalls the year 1836, when the Union was founded as one of meteorological oddities. "Tradition preserves the record of the season under the designation of the cold summer. Weird auroras did not forbear to lift themselves in mountains of fire along the north, even in July; and more than once the canopy-aurora hung like a mock sun in the very centre of the heavens. People predicted strange things; but the strange things did not happen. The hyena of pestilence, the wolf of want, and the red death of war were conjured, but emerged not, nevertheless, from the vasty deep supposed by Shakespeare to be inhabited by their spirits." But Mr. Fairfield disclaims any suggestion that "the gestation of the Union Club, then in progress, had any material influence in the evolution of these omens, or that the weather was affected by the parturition of the great social event." With the metropolitan sophistication of 1871 he pats 1836 on the head as a year when New York was a bit of a village, of rather more than three hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants. Houston, then North Street, Bleecker, and Bond Streets were particularly uptown, and thoroughfares of fashion and aristocracy. The old regime was still in its glory; and real counts, in plaid pantaloons, were sensational occurrences to be petted, set up as lions, and finally entrapped into matrimony, just by way of improving the blood of the first families. He tells of "the little white-faced hotel now termed the Tremont" as having been kept by a real count, expatriated for political reasons, but afterwards restored to titles and estates. There are those of the Year of Grace 1918 who recall the "little white-faced Tremont." But its soul has long since passed to t'other side of Styx.