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

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

As regular visitors would be aware, I took a slightly different approach with the 17th Street blog last week by posting up an account of my recent Alienist-related travels that took me from Toronto, down through New York state following the Hudson River, before finally arriving on the Upper West Side of New York City. This week, I conclude my travel blog with an account of the second half of my holiday in New York, predominantly spent in the historic districts around Union Square where I was finally able to visit the locations that make up the heart of the Alienist novels. Enjoy!

The Inn At Irving Place

Following my short walk in Central Park with thunder rolling in the distance and storm clouds threatening, I moved from my hotel on the Upper West Side to my second hotel in the East 17th Street/Irving Place Historic District where I stayed for my final five nights in the city. When I had originally decided that I wanted to spend at least a portion of my trip down in the Union Square area, I looked at a number of different hotel options but ultimately couldn’t go past The Inn at Irving Place.

Ideally situated, the boutique hotel offered an experience I would not get anywhere else: an opportunity to get a taste of my favourite characters’ lifestyles by staying in a restored New York brownstone located only two blocks from Gramercy Park to the north, two blocks from Stuyvesant Square to the east, and one block from Union Square to the west. After checking in with the manager whose desk was located in the front parlor (see photos 3-4 below), I stayed in the “O Henry room” (see photos 6-12 below) which was tastefully appointed with genuine antiques and was well-proportioned, quiet, and had an unexpectedly large bathroom (for New York City). Located at the back of the brownstone on the second floor, the room had a pleasant view of the terrace and surrounding buildings (see photo 13 below). My regular breakfast spot in the tea room on the first floor also offered a delightful view, both inside and out (see photos 14-15 below).

All in all, I couldn’t have been happier with my choice of hotel and highly recommend it for any Alienist readers or lovers of history who want to experience life from an earlier time in a restored New York brownstone. Watch the steps, though — they are steep! (Something I experienced later on at the Merchant’s House Museum, too.)

Given the storm that had moved in, I decided to stay close to the hotel for the rest of the day by getting a spot of lunch at Barnes & Noble on Union Square before going for a wander across to a very wet Stuyvesant Square where I saw an astonishing number of squirrels — a novelty for this Australian, and the most I had seen in any one spot during my entire trip! — until I finally admitted defeat and retreated back to The Inn. I couldn’t help feeling on this first afternoon as I listened to the thunder overhead and saw the trees outside my window being blown around that I had been transported into the summer storm described in Chapter 53 of The Angel of Darkness which the characters quietly wait out in the safety of Dr. Kreizler’s home, watching the wind-tossed trees in Stuyvesant Square across the road. | Continue reading →

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Did Dr. Kreizler really live at 283 East 17th Street? Part Three

View Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four of the Did Dr. Kreizler really live at 283 East 17th Street? series.

Welcome to Part Three of the “Did Dr. Kreizler really live at 283 East 17th Street?” series. In Part One, we overviewed the early development of Stuyvesant Square from its rural origins to the start of construction in the district in the 1840s. In Part Two, we overviewed the greatest periods of growth in the district, the 1850s to early 1880s, and learnt about the first owner-occupants of the houses in the neighborhood, many of whom were successful merchants, along with the tenants of the district’s first apartment houses who were predominantly writers and theater people. In Part Three, we will learn more about Stuyvesant Square as it was during the critical periods for Alienist books, the 1880s and 1890s, and will focus our attention on some of the most prominent characters that contributed to the shaping of the district’s character during this period.

Stuyvesant Square’s fall from grace in the early 1880s

Even though the architectural charm of Stuyvesant Square had been established thirty years earlier with the building of handsome residential and religious buildings around the district’s attractively landscaped public park, by the early 1880s the district was becoming a shadow of its former self. Tenement populations were now encroaching on the neighborhood, and the district’s wealthier residents had begun to move further uptown in response. Although the park itself was still frequented by neighborhood children, the neglected park’s grass was no longer receiving any maintenance, its flowers had all but disappeared, and its two large fountains were filled with rubbish from the streets rather than water. One contemporary even recalled seeing “dead cats and empty tomato cans” piled in the fountain basins.

At the same time, the district’s iconic St. George’s Episcopal Church that had once drawn some of the largest congregation numbers of any religious institution in New York was also in the process of an equally sharp decline. Congregation numbers had started to fall while under the pastorship of the aging Rev. Dr. Tying in the early 1870s, and numbers had dropped still further following his death. During this period, St. George’s was funded by pew holders, of which there were few remaining due to the wealthy parishioners migrating uptown, and had accumulated $35,000 in floating debt. The financial situation had reached such a precarious point by the late 1870s that there were even reports that the Roman Catholic Church had been approached by members of the vestry to take the church over as a mission. Although members of St. George’s had tried on several occasions to build their numbers up through outreach to the poor, all attempts had been unsuccessful and were eventually abandoned.

When St. George’s attendance numbers reached their bleakest point in the early 1880s, the extremely conservative wardens and vestrymen of the church made a radical decision to approach the passionate reformer, the Rev. Dr. William S. Rainsford, to take over pastorship of the church. Although a surprising choice for an old-fashioned church, this decision would prove to not only turn around the fortune of the failing church but would help to shape the character of the district as a whole in the years to come. | Continue reading →

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