Following The Footsteps of Dr. Kreizler: A Travel Blog – Part One

View Part One and Part Two of Following The Footsteps of Dr. Kreizler: A Travel Blog.

Coinciding with our author’s 60th birthday today (many happy returns, Mr. Carr!), I have something a little different to offer for 17th Street’s visitors this week. For the past three months, I have been away from my Australian home and hearth for work-related travel in Canada. Given my close proximity to New York during this trip, I decided to take the opportunity to add on two weeks of pleasure-related travel at the end of the trip for a holiday in New York City — my first ever visit to the city! The following two-part blog series documents the Alienist-related components of my travel. Although I have tried to focus these blogs on locations visited during the books, I have also included a few other historical attractions that might be of interest to readers of the Alienist books even though they are not directly relevant to the books. So, without further ado, I invite you to join me as I follow the footsteps of Dr. Kreizler and the rest of the team on my holiday in Canada and New York.

The Bata Shoe Museum

The first attraction that I want to document might be the only one not located in New York state, but it is also the only one that quite literally involves following the footsteps of Dr. Kreizler — or, at least, Sara Howard. Those of you who have ever visited the History section of 17th Street will know that I have long adored historical clothing, particularly 19th century clothing, so you can imagine my excitement when I saw, on my final day in Toronto, that the Bata Shoe Museum was featuring an exhibition (until June of 2016) on “the pleasures and perils of dress in the 19th century.” The “Fashion Victims” exhibition showcases the Bata Shoe Museum’s collection of 19th century footwear along with a smaller but no less stunning array of matching dresses and under garments, including a pair of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s impossibly narrow shoes and gloves, and a beautiful but deadly Emerald green ball gown containing arsenic.

Although the exhibition featured footwear and clothing from as early as 1820, the photos I have shown here are a small selection of my favourite footwear exhibited from the late 19th century, not unlike those Sara would have kept in her wardrobe for more formal occasions; she presumably would have also kept a wide selection of more practical footwear for her day to day and sporting activities — not to mention the nail-studded climber’s boots we see her don in Chapter 2 of The Angel of Darkness. From left to right, the photos shown below include: a pair of elegant embroidered boots created by the firm of the most famous French shoe manufacturer of the late 19th century, Jean-Louis Francois Pinet, from approximately 1885; a pair of calf-hugging handmade, bespoke Swedish or German boots designed to look like a stockinged leg from the 1890s; a pair of button boots made with brocaded fabric (an alternative to the embroidery seen on the other boots in these photos) from the 1870s; a mass-produced boot made by the Parisian shoe manufacturer L. P. Perchellet with its original shoe box from 1875; and a stunning embroidered boot also created by Jean-Louis Francois Pinet from the 1880s.

In addition to the Fashion Victims exhibition (worth the price of admission alone), while I was there the museum also featured exhibitions of footwear through the ages, “the curious history of men in heels,” footwear of famous individuals donated to the museum, and something that probably would have been of great interest to Franz Boas and Clark Wissler: an exhibition of native North American footwear. As enjoyable as those exhibitions all were, as they weren’t relevant to the Alienist books I haven’t included any photos here. However, if you happen to be in Toronto at any stage in the future and have an interest in historical clothing, I can highly recommend that you allocate half a day to visit the museum. It was, without question, one of the highlights of my three month trip.

A Journey Down The Hudson River

After departing Toronto, I travelled by train down to Niagara Falls where I spent a day and night (an amazing experience that I would highly recommend if you ever get the chance) before embarking on a nine hour rail journey via Amtrak’s Empire Line down through New York state to New York City. While the first half of the journey took us through several hours worth of pretty if somewhat unremarkable farming scenery along with the occasional (mostly industrial) view of cities like Buffalo and Syracuse, the second half of the journey — from Albany onwards — saw the train snake alongside the Hudson River until we reached New York City, and this was unquestionably another of the highlights of my trip. I had been utterly unprepared for the size and beauty of the Hudson and mountains that lay beyond, bringing to mind my all-time favourite quote from either of the two Alienist books, spoken by the ever insightful Stevie Taggert.

The Angel of Darkness, Chapter 13:

“But it wasn’t any attempt at being rational that finally mended my spirits; no, it was the sight of the river itself, which always made me feel, somehow, like there was hope. She has that quality, does the Hudson, as I imagine all great rivers do: the deep, abiding sense that those activities what take place on shore among human beings are of the moment, passing, and aren’t the stories by way of which the greater tale of this planet will, in the end, be told…”

Nevertheless, those of you who have read The Angel of Darkness will know that the majestic Hudson River plays far bigger role in the novel than the scene in which Stevie makes that observation. Indeed, during The Angel of Darkness the team are are drawn from their usual haunts around Manhattan to the small town of Ballston Spa in upstate New York where they stay for at least half the novel; and to get to Ballston Spa, Dr. Kreizler decides to travel up the Hudson River on a steamer, the Mary Powell, as far as Troy (a town near Albany), before taking the train to their final destination. On this scenic interlude in the novel, the book’s narrator, Stevie Taggert, spends a considerable portion of his time smoking on the promenade deck with various other characters, first taking in the beauty of the Palisades and then at the “manor houses of the old Dutch and English river families” that dotted the hillsides further upstream. However, for Stevie, as for me, it was the untamed beauty of the Catskills and other mountains on the route that struck most profoundly. | Continue reading →

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Early Films of New York (1898-1906)

As I am currently hard at work on the new addition to 17th Street that I intend to upload at the end of next week in time for the 20th anniversary of The Alienist, I have decided to feature a few short historical film playlists related to the Alienist books in the meantime that were created by the Library of Congress. Today’s playlist, The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898–1906, was described by Library of Congress as follows:

This collection contains films of New York dating from 1898 to 1906 from the Paper Print Collection of the Library of Congress. Of these, twenty-five were made by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, while the remaining films are Edison Company productions. This collection contains forty-three rare, actuality motion pictures made between 1898 and 1906 in New York City. Actuality films capture real, day-to-day events of the time. Two early film companies produced these motion pictures which were viewed by the public in nickelodeons. The collection also contains two films that use actors and a contrived plot; the novelty “What Happened on Twenty-Third Street, New York City,” and the melodrama “The Skyscrapers of New York.” The dramatic motion pictures were included in the collection because they contain some actuality footage. The collection highlights the urbanization of New York City at the turn-of-the-century. Some films document the start of the construction boom that would last thirty years in the city.

You can view all the films in the playlist by clicking “Play”. Alternatively, you can view individual films by clicking the word “Playlist” in the top left hand corner of the film box and selecting a specific film after clicking the “Play” button. Check back in a few days to see another playlist related to the Alienist books.

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New Locations: Grand Central Depot & Madison Square Garden

In the Big City Book Club chat with Caleb Carr this time last year, one reader commented that they had not been aware that the Grand Central Depot had been the precursor to the Grand Central Terminal as New York’s primary railway station. As I thought other readers may be interested to learn a little more of the history of this lost piece of New York history, I have now added a brief history of this early depot to the New York City locations page of the site, along with a venue visited by John More and Mary Palmer in the novel that also had railroad ties, Madison Square Garden (and was the site of a sensational murder in the early 20th century). A copy of the depot’s entry from the locations page has been included below.

Grand Central Depot

Address: 42nd Street and Park Avenue, New York, NY
Featured in The Alienist (see map)

1880_Grand_CentralWithin The Alienist, Dr. Kreizler and John Moore take a brief trip to Washington D.C. via a train departing from the Grand Central Depot to search for further clues about John Beecham’s life prior to his arrival in New York City. The precursor to New York’s current Grand Central Terminal, the Grand Central Depot was the largest train station in the country at the time it was built in 1871 by Cornelius Vanderbilt, and covered an area of 37 acres stretching between 42nd and 48th Streets, and from Lexington to Madison Avenues.1,2 At the time of the depot’s opening, 42nd Street was the northernmost edge of the city and took 45 minutes by trolley to travel to from the central business district.2 With rural homesteads and grazing animals visible across the street from the depot, critics complained that the new station was “neither grand nor central”.1 Nevertheless, 42nd Street was the closest point that the depot could be constructed due to a law passed in the mid-1850s forbidding passenger trains to pass any further into the city.1,2

The station proper, an attractive French Second Empire style building designed by John B. Snook, serviced the three major rail lines in New York at the time — the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, the New York and Harlem Railroad, and the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad — with each maintaining their own waiting, baggage, and ticketing facilities in three separate towers of the building. Mansard caps topped each tower and displayed the name of the train line on their upper facades.2 Located behind the L-shaped station proper was an immense train shed more than 652 feet long that became the second most popular tourist attraction in the United States. Inspired by London’s Paddington Station, this engineering marvel, with an arched glass and wrought iron ceiling 112 feet high, contained 12 tracks separated by raised platforms. At night the glass ceiling was illuminated by gas lamps, giving the structure an otherworldly glow.1,2

Interior-of-Grand-Central-DepotEven though the impressive depot had cost $6.4 million to build2, the design was not without its problems. The large number trains that used the station (up to 85 per day) could only exit in reverse, and the open tracks that ran northward from the depot were a death trap for anyone attempting to cross them. Even when footbridges were built, the steam from the trains made the area noisy, chaotic, and dangerous.1 Given the problems with its original design, the decision was made to lower many of the tracks below street level, first with a deeply cut roofed over and then with a multistory tunnel that ran from 96th Street and fanned into 41 tracks on the upper level at 57th Street, and 26 tracks on the lower level.3 The station proper also underwent renovations in 1898 to accommodate the now 1.5 million commuters using the depot daily. Three floors were added to the 42nd Street frontage, and the three towers were changed from Second Empire style mansard caps to a French Renaissance style design.2

Even with the 1898 renovation, the facilities offered by depot were considered inadequate to the demands of the ever-expanding city. Customer service was poor and crime within the station was high.4 Moreover, although the lowering of the tracks had eliminated the problems associated with the original open tracks, they had created an even deadlier problem: the smoke-filled tunnels had extremely poor visibility.1,2 In 1891, the first head-on collision of commuter trains took place, resulting in passengers being trapped and burnt alive under the wreckage.4 When the tragedy was repeated in 1902, with a passenger train from New Rochelle crashing full-speed into a stopped train from Connecticut, the city put forth a requirement that all tracks become electrified.1,2 This was the final straw for the outdated depot, and a proposal to build a new $35 million station in the depot’s place was advanced that completely separated pedestrian, train, subway, and automobile traffic.1,3

Eleven years later, New York’s current Grand Central Terminal was opened in the original depot’s place. Although Cornelius Vanderbilt did not live to see the new magnificent Beaux Arts station, the Vanderbilt family retained control over the railroad until the 1950s when preservationists prevented the family from demolishing the terminal.2

References

1. Reiss, Marcia, “Lost New York” 2011.
2. Miller, Tom, “Daytonian in Manhattan: The Lost 1871 Grand Central Depot — 42nd Street” 4 Feb. 2013. Link.
3. Jackson, Kenneth T., “The Encyclopedia of New York City” 1995.

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Two More Maps, Newsletter Release, & Author Article

I am pleased to report that two maps of key locations featured in The Angel of Darkness have now been added to the Alienist maps section of the site. As with the maps of key locations featured in The Alienist that I released late last week, the first Angel of Darkness map includes 26 key locations around New York City while the second map includes 15 key locations outside the city. As with the preceding maps, full lists of all the locations marked on the maps can be found below each map, and these can be ordered according to location name, location category, address, or description by clicking on the appropriate column heading. You can also search the list of locations via the search field included immediately below the maps.

In addition, the first 17th Street newsletter has been sent out to subscribers. For those who haven’t signed up and may be interested, the newsletter will be released on a monthly basis to provide a summary of the preceding month’s book and website news, a summary of the topics covered during the preceding month’s history blogs, and an author spotlight section containing an excerpt from an author interview/article that might be of interest to visitors. You can view the July newsletter here. If you think you would be interested in receiving the monthly newsletter, you can sign up via the site’s side menu. Your email address will not be shared with any third parties and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Finally, I thought it might be of interest to visitors that Caleb Carr was recently asked to comment on a long and elaborate New York Times piece from 1852 about a heatwave that hit the city during July of that year. The piece’s unusual length, subject matter, and purplish prose drew varying interpretations from the other eminent historians and writers who were asked to comment on the piece, with Mr. Carr focusing his comments on the attitude expressed by the journalist in the piece.

“The more dramatic he makes it sound, the more he makes himself and his readers feel that they are surviving a great struggle,” Mr. Carr said, “that just by getting through the average day in New York, they are validating what in nearly all cases are anonymous — and all too often, in their own minds, meaningless or at least futile — existences.”

“Maybe life in New York now,” he added, “so clean, so crime-free, so law abiding and safe, is a better place. I don’t know. But personally, I preferred the town that made each citizen feel that kind of validation in mere survival.”

The full article can be read at the New York Times website.

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