New Haven gems

Today, I ventured to the College Book Arts Association meeting at Yale and had my first introduction to New Haven beyond the art museums.

We got to go on three rare book collection tours at Yale, and I’ll give you a taste of each.  Many more images are available in the image browser below.

I started my day at the Sterling Memorial Library, and oh my goodness, what a library.  It really is a cathedral of books.

Sterling Memorial Library 2


This is the long corridor you walk down until you arrive at the circulation desk.




Sterling Memorial Library 4




Yes, this is the circulation desk.


When you get up off your knees, I guess you can check out a book.




Sterling Scrimshaw Maps


While there, I got to tour the rare maps collection.  While each map, print, globe, and atlas was a true treasure, my faSterling Map 16th century reproduction of a Roman map of the worldvorite were the walrus tusk scrimshaw maps of the Alaska coast–just the perfect blend of material and function working in total harmony.

And I did love the 16th century reproduction of a Roman map of the world, squashed down to fit on a very long scroll.

The curator Abe also showed us maps he had created for books using Global Information Systems, or GIS software.  So as a curator, he’s a cartographer himself.  Inspiring, his delight in the treasures from history and his passion for creating maps digitally today.

Well, Beineke Library is inspiring, too, in a different way.  Designed in 1963, this is the 50th anniversary of this Gordon Bunshaft building.  He innovated the visible stacks, which extend up six stories, although most of the 250 million books are stored underground.  He also used a local mBeineke, its marble and lightarble that lets light through (as academics do for their students), a lovely metaphor for a library building.

Here’s my demonstration with a small piece of marble in front of a desk lamp.  And here’s what it looks like as the interior walls of the building.


The exterior is very much of its day.  Note the column support in the corner.  That actually doesn’t support the building.  It’s simply for aesthetics.  And I can tell you from walking under it, the faux columns do lend a bit of security to the overriding feeling that the building is going to fall on your head.


We were treated to some artist books and historic books with art in them, including books by Le Corbusier and Picasso (which also includes his poetry).  But with my passion for American art, you knowBeineke, Indian Ledger Book 2 I was all over the Indian ledger art by Howling Wolf made in the 1870s while he was in prison.  These are famous images and fantastic to see in person.





But my two absolute favorites on this tour were the 15th century Latin exercise book complete with doodles of castles, horses, and deer, oh my, and the “Blow Book.”  This is  like the first book of magicBeineke, Latin Exercise Book with doodles, where you can open it 16 different ways to see 16 different series of images.  Like a magic flipbook, the magician ‘blows’ on it, while opening it to reveal something completely different.  Fun, eh?Beineke, Blow Book



Here’s Elizabeth demonstrating how the Blow Book works.

And by the way, the miniature book on how to make miniature books was pretty postmodern cute, too.  Check it out on the slideshow below.

After Beineke, I got a neighborhood tour of New Haven by a realtor.  The downtown is really fun, lively, and much nicer than I expected–the home of several theaters, Yale’s two art museums, and of course, the bulk of the campus and the Green.  There are condos downtown, and the neighborhoods that I saw are quite lovely.

Returning to the tours, I went to the British Art Museum’s rare book room, where the curator is working on an exhibit for 2014, drawing side by side comparisons of historic “artist books,” mostly the work of girls and women in 19th century England, and contemporary artist books.

I liked the contemporary book of butterflies, where they are made from maps of where they come from.  British Artist Books 4 butterflies contempMuch better than your typical insect specimen book, which I find pretty creepy.

I won’t soon forget being the one who got to turn the pages of a Plant Specimen and Bestiary book from 1500.  Nowhere at Yale did I see anyone touch the rare objects with gloves.  Bare hands.  Bare hands, they insisted.  Things have changed since I was in library science school.  Anyway, touching a treasure like this gave me the shivers–the privilege of direct contact with something that someone labored lovingly over 500 years ago.

British Artist Books, 1500 Plant Specimen and Bestiary Book 4





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Roll out the red carpet

My friend Penny gives “good tour”!  She’s added Grand Central Terminal to her repertoire, and if you’re interested in going on one of her Municipal Arts Society tours, let me know, and I’ll connect you two.

Grand Central, well, it’s just grand.  Mr. Vanderbilt, as with everything he built, didn’t skimp.  This Beaux Arts building is full of his symbol, the acorn–from little seeds, grow big trees–and secrets, according to Penny.  She shared some of those secrets:  the dirtiest place in New York, the two most romantic places in New York, Track 61 as FDR’s supposedly private track in the adjoining Wadlorf-Astoria, the secret staircase in the information booth, and and Grand Central’s space age connection.

Did you know that the information desk clock where we all meet all the time, that clock is worth $10-20 million?  It’s made out of solid opal!

All those light bulbs, some 35,000 exposed bulbs, celebrate electricity.  I’m sure ConEd is thrilled, too!  See more pictures in the slide show below.

I loved that Penny talked about the less obvious aspects of the architecture.  Sure, there’s that magnificent statue of Mercury, Hercules, and Minerva atop the station, and the eagle perched off to the side.  And there’s the carved sculptural program both inside and out.  But I loved the explanation of the inclines (the station has no stairs).

Coming in, we’re on top of the world, as if a queen on a pedestal, then the incline down helps us hurry to our train.  On the way out of the station, the incline up encourages us to slow down before entering the bustle of New York City.

Everyone loves the Whispering Gallery, and on this tour, I got to try it out.  I turned into the corner of the barrel-vaulted space and said my name to the woman way on the other said of the space.  Our conversation was muffled, but understandable.  Sort of like talking cell phone to cell phone.  Weird and amazing and delightful.

Apparently, a marriage proposal happens there everyday, so if your partner takes you there and tells you to face the corner, you can probably anticipate what comes next.  This photo is of the vaulted tiling in the Whispering Gallery which I think is exquisite.







The old shoe shine stand is still set up, not far from where the Twentieth Century Train came in to the Terminal.  The red carpet was rolled out for its Hollywood stars and other train-riding celebrities.

In 1913, Grand Central opened, so in just a few short weeks, we can celebrate the centennial of this grand old place, by rolling out the red carpet for Grand Central!




P.S. Kudos to Penny for keeping her cool as a “Free Tibet” protest parade marched from the Chinese Embassy at 42nd and 12th, all the way to Grand Central, right past us, and beyond.

Dimly Lit Charm

After being closed for code updates, the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, a wee national park, has reopened, and I have finally gotten there for a tour.  The guide was not a park ranger, but a very knowledgeable volunteer guide.

What I loved about the house also makes it hard to show you what it’s like.  It’s as dimly lit as it was in 1865, with no electricity or running water.  Typical of New York, the original house was converted to industrial and commercial use, then rentals, before being torn down.  The house is a re-creation., although happily, it is furnished with Roosevelt family furniture and objects, with moldings, wallpaper, and carpeting replicated based on family memories and photos.  So it is worth a trip.

Besides the obvious stories, like where the Teddy Bear comes from, you know I love the trivia.  Did you know that TDR did taxidermy as a child, grossing out the servants, and later wrote a book on it?  Bully!

Did you know that TDR went west for the first time, after his wife and mother died on the same day?

Theodate Pope Riddle

And the architect for the house was Theodate Pope Riddle, the first woman architect in the state of New York and a survivor of the Lusitania.

I guess TDR was surrounded by strong women, not only his beloved niece Eleanor and outspoken daughter Alice, but also his maternal grandmother, who instilled the sense of societal obligation in her family.  She did quite a job!

TDR Birthplace Pocket Door



The family made its money in land speculation, banking, and interestingly, imported glass.  This door gives you a sense of how glorious that glass was.

And those Roosevelt’s trace their arrival in New York to the Dutch in the 1650s.  Roosevelt means ‘field of roses’ in Dutch and so appears on their family crest, as you can sorta see in this original plate.

TDR Birthplace, Family Crest











Pertinent to nothing, I just liked this little lamp and its charming shade.  You can see how dark the room is, and I was on the 11 a.m. tour!  Hard on the eyes of the reader Teddy Roosevelt, but evocative for us visitors.

TDR Birthplace, Charming Lampshade


Heroines of the Lower East Side, a walking tour with the LES Jewish Conservancy, comes right out of Joyce Mendelsohn’s book.  Joyce inspired us with stories  of women you know–Emma Goldman, Louise Nevelson, Lillian D. Wald, and Belle Moskowitz–and those you probably don’t.

Of the latter, my favorite was “The Red Yiddish Cinderella,” Rose Pastor Stokes.  Rose was so poor that as a child, she was sent to work in a cigar factory.  Writing about working conditions, she became a journalist, and then interviewed one of the Phelps-Stokes who was working in a settlement house, so called because the volunteers settled in the neighborhood or building they were serving.  The two fell in love, overcame family prejudices of their inter-religious marriage, and enjoyed their wedding gift of an island off Connecticut.  Yes, seriously.  They divorced after 20 years, but it was a real life Cinderella story, and she continued to serve the LES all her life.

My favorite building was the “Forward” Building, where the Yiddish socialist paper was published for over 40 years.  Perhaps one of the most memorable parts of the paper, which advocated for workers’ rights, social reform, and the importance of education, was the Letters to the Editor section called A Bintel Brief.  Joyce told us ethical conundrums and heart-wrenching dilemmas of those asking for advice.  The response generally was to rally the community to support the their struggling neighbors–an ongoing theme on the LES.  I look forward to reading the book of letters.

The ‘Forward’ building is now luxury condos, of course, and we all wondered if residents would get the irony each day as they exit and enter their building.  Just overhead, on the protected facade of the building, are the carved faces of Marx and Engels.

Right across from the building is Strauss Square, originally Rutgers Square, where we stood on the ubiquitous Belgian blocks (not cobblestones, which are rounded), the site of soapbox mass meetings.  Here, the 1917 riot of housewives took place.  That year, the pushcart sellers raised the price of onions, a symbol of good luck, from 3 cents per pound to 10 cents per pound.  One housewife became irate, and because the peddler couldn’t hit a woman, he instead enlisted his wife, who wasn’t shy.

The riot ensued, and then housewives met at Rutgers Square and organized.  They decided to boycott all food except for milk, bread, eggs, and butter, and then marched to City Hall.  Guess what?  They won!  Heroines indeed.

One other special stop was the Henry Street Settlement House.  Image, we got to sit in the dining room, a beautiful Federal style room with a piano, where Lillian Wald and others worked to introduce just the most basic sanitary and health care needs of LES residents.

I didn’t know that the Settlement House still operates, serving about 60,000 people per year, in all five boroughs.  They’ve expanded beyond health care and early Wald  innovations like advocating for the first playground in New York, revolutionizing public schools with special education and school nurses, and creating the Visiting Nurses concept.  Now they also provide counseling, day care, elder care, college counseling, and even music, art, and dance lessons.

What was so good about Joyce’s tour was her stories of how ordinary women become heroines, with compassionate hearts and courage to enact their beliefs–a timely reminder in this time of ongoing challenges.  Everywhere on the tour were signs of Hurricane Sandy.  Volunteers were clearing away debris and broken tree limbs, as life limps back to normal.  There are heroines, and heroes, everywhere we look.

Ghostly Sightings

Halloween apparitions will most likely be stirred by Hurricane Sandy this year.  She seems to be a very angry spirit.  So yesterday, it was time to go meet a few ghosts.

With its loveliness, one wouldn’t think that Washington Square would be a vortex of Halloween energy.  But it was built on the graves of 15,000 yellow fever victims, and some say you can see the saffron yellow, linen-wrapped bodies, if you know where to look.

The Hanging Tree, last used in 1819
Click on this image to see its creepiness

But you don’t have to look hard to see the last Hanging Tree in New York, where Lafayette in his triumphal return to the U.S. was proudly taken to witness such justice.

So Justin Ferate told us on our tour of Haunted Greenwich Village.

As is typical of any tour with Justin, we went off on interesting tangents.  Do you know why walk-ups rarely go higher than 6 stories?  Because water pressure won’t go push water higher than that.  Savvy builders constructed new apartment houses to 15 stories using water pump technology.  Did you know that the best kind of water tower to have on the roof of your building is made of wood?  Justin wants to lead a tour of New York’s water towers.  I’ll be there!

And although not at all ghostly, those professional chess players in the park can get their supplies on nearby Thompson Street.

3rd and Thompson








So many places in the Washington Square vicinity are haunted, you’ll have to check out the slide show below.  Here are some tidy tidbits.  You know the phrase “getting sent up the river”?  That comes from moving the prison in Greenwich Village up the Hudson River to Sing-Sing (a popular tourist stop on a daytrip out of Manhattan in the early 1800s, per my New York Historical Society connections).

We saw NYU’s Brown Building, where the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire horrified all.  The 146 unfortunate women, locked in the workroom, who died on March 25, 1911, had work because of R.H. Macy who invented the pricetag.  A set price on a shirtwaist and black skirt allowed the Working Girl to afford the ‘uniform’ of her day.

In the myriad ways to detect a house of the wealthy is the type of column.  In this case a full, that is a complete, rounded column, was more expensive than a partial column or pilaster.  Makes sense.

Gertrude Drick supposedly haunts the small doorway she introduced to artist John Sloan and other ‘hoodies, when they climbed the 110 stairs inside the arch to go to the top and party.

Aaron Burr bought the carriage house at 17 Barrow Street, stabling his and George Washington’s horses there.  Now the famous restaurant One If By Land, Two If By Sea, Burr and his daughter Theodosia haunt the place.  She likes earrings, so be careful what you wear when you go there.

Anyone want to join me?


Washington Square is way too haunted to relay all the tales here, but check out this slide show:


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Then I rode the C train up to 163rd Street to visit the Morris-Jumel Mansion.  Eliza Jumel’s spirit, which regularly haunts the place along with other ghosts, was apparently so restless that she morphed into 7 manifestations, each haunting a separate room or place on the grounds.

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To read more about Eliza, you can zoom to read the text on page 2 or click open the pdf.

Eliza was abandoned as a young girl by her parents and so turned to prostitution, before becoming an actress.  She married for money, perhaps killed that husband, and then her second husband Aaron Burr conveniently died on the day their divorce was finalized.

Eliza as an abandoned girl, in the kitchen

Eliza as a widow, with the pitchfork that killed Stephen Jumel










In her mad, doddering elderhood, she was a scary gal, and I have to admit that I jumped a bit when I exited the house to be screamed at by Eliza’s ghost from the balcony, “Get Out of My House!”  Okay, okay already.  So that’s when I went on the grounds to encounter the Eliza who may have neglected to care for her husband Stephen, after he was pierced by a pitchfork.  Hmmm.

Edith Wharton wrote in the introduction to her autobiography A Backward Glance, “To all the friends who every year on All Souls’ Night come and sit with me by the fire” (thank you, Justin for sharing this quote).  Since Sandy seems to be keeping us at home for the next few days, join me by my proverbial fireplace…well, everyone maybe except Eliza!

City Island and Pelham


Fall is here.  The air is crisp.  The sky is that deep blue of autumn.  Lexington Avenue is showing off its colors.





A perfect day to venture up to City Island, with some stops in Pelham Bay Park and Pelham Manor along the way.  My first time to travel with the Victorian Society.

Our first stop was Grace Church in Pelham Manor.  Very classy, as you can see.

Christ Church, Pelham Manor


It dates to 1843, featuring windows by the Bolton brothers, who were credited with creating the first figured stained glass in the U.S.  Their father was the minister, and they were self-taught, with this church as an experimental palette.



We moved quickly on to the 1842 Bartow-Pell Mansion in the northeast Bronx.

My most favorite room was the Orangerie.  Glorious on this beautiful day.







We then crossed the bridge onto City Island.

The island was originally part of Pelham and was intended to rival New York Harbor.  But the island was devastated by the British during the Revolutionary War, and those ambitious plans were never realized.  They then attempted to build the island up based on Salt Works.  But without a bridge (not built until the 1870s), the industry failed, and they turned to oystering.  City Island oysters were even served in Paris.

Pollution put an end to that business after making many fishermen rich.  So the island reinvented itself again around shipbuilding.  Those fortunes built up the island with its mansions and churches constructed by shipbuilding carpenters.  Tourists rode ferries to the island for its beaches and casinos.  With the demise of shipbuilding in the 1980s, the island has become residential.

This is the view from Barbara Dolensek’s house on the west side of the island on Easthaven Bay.

Their wonderful 1900 house was a wreck when they bought in 1979, the dark days of the Bronx, and they were the first owners to live in the house since 1906.  Barbara called it “Mildew Manor.”  They worked on the exterior first, restoring its beauty.  The filmmakers of Long Day’s Journey into Night helped, too, by rebuilding their porch for the first 15 minutes of the film.


See the slide show below for interior pictures and more views from Barbara’s house.




By the way, she edited the Met Museum’s publications, commuting into Manhattan everyday from her beloved City Island. Her husband was the vet for the Bronx Zoo.  One wonderful story she told was that her husband was caring for some lion cubs, and they really needed a lot of attention.  So rather than stay with them over the weekend at the zoo, he brought them home to City Island, where the neighborhood children got to play with them.  Imagine.


Barbara escorted us to her church, Grace Church, which also has a Bolton stained glass window.  But I was enchanted by the boats at the altar–one faces east and the other west.




The church was built in 1862 by local shipwrights.






After visiting the Revolutionary War era Pelham Cemetery, where the dearly departed have the best views into perpetuity, we went on the Inn run by Michele French.









This house was built by an oysterman, Captain Pell, in 1867, and is truly Victorian inside, with weird little cubbyholes in rooms, narrow staircases, and delightful double bay windows on the first two floors.





I loved a couple of other houses nearby, which never let us forget the sea.  One had a masthead and the other a two-story widow’s walk.  Close ups are in the slide show.







And City Island has charming little finds, like this doorway — too fun.







I had wanted to go to City Island for awhile, and that itch has been scratched.  I’m not moving there anytime soon, but will enjoy looking at this slideshow to remember the enchanting day there.



Usonian houses in Westchester

It’s been over a week since I joined the Usonian tour in Westchester County, led by Justin Ferrate, an amazingly knowledgeable, resourceful, and personable guide.

Going into the two houses, plus walking the neighborhood, lingers as a highlight of my New York touring adventures.

Roland Reisley’s home.

He is an original owner who worked directly with Frank Lloyd Wright to build his home.  Roland told me that Wright was easy to work with and even raised the ceilings 3 inches to accommodate Roland’s height.  Roland was in his 20s when he worked with Wright, who was in his 80s.  Talking with Roland today, now age 86, means connecting to over 150 years of American history.

More about Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses in Westchester County, NY.

The neighborhood is a cooperative, and just like a New York City coop, prospective residents have to make an application.  Check out this application page Justin gave us:

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How would you answer these questions?

The rain doesn’t stop anyone

Despite the rain, about 30 people showed up for the Grand Concourse tour in the Bronx, part of Open House New York.  Sam Goodman, an Urban Planner for the Bronx Borough, led the tour.  About midway, as we stood before a much-storied, internationally traveling Beaux Arts Sculpture in Joyce Kilmer Park (part of the slide show below), he challenged us to examine our prejudices: “who says a working class neighborhood can’t be beautiful?”

He got us into the lobby of several doorman buildings and the courtyards of others on a stretch of Grand Concourse not too far from Yankee Stadium.  Classic Art Deco and Beaux Arts detailing.  Murals in two on the buildings.  Elevators, oh my.  Check them out.

The people living in the buildings seemed more interested in getting on with their day than admiring the beauty of their surroundings.  I get it.  We live such busy, harried lives.  But to take a moment and see, really see.  That’s sweet.  Sam talked about what makes a building inviting.  It’s why I chose my building, which has a really pretty lobby, small floors, and clean, non-smelly halls.  What about you?

Riding the D train up to my volunteer assignment at the NY Botanical Gardens, I wondered how many people would venture all the way up there on a rainy day.  I met Bob and Jenny on the train, members of the Gardens, not aware that OHNY was there today, too.  We walked the 8 blocks over to the Gardens, and through their generosity, I joined them as “members” who could go into the Monet Giverny installations.

For those of you who saw the Giverny exhibit this spring, as I did with Helen and Al, or in the summer, I’m not sure the autumn plantings are different enough to warrant the long trip, unless you have a car.  Of course, if you haven’t seen it, it is lushly gorgeous.

In this slide show, you’ll also see the Fountain of Life and the neo-Renaissance building that houses the library and the Monet paintings that are on exhibit.  I also was blown away with the sculpture installations on the grounds, definitely new since my spring visit.

Even on a rainy day, this is a place of great solace and beauty.  The quiet, too.  And there was added fall beauty, although no leaf color yet, all over the grounds.


Going home on the 4 included a surprise treat–art in the subway.  One of thousands of OHNY tours I missed this year was the subway art tour.  There’s always next year…

Abundance of riches

There are 4 conferences in New York this weekend I wanted to go to, but I am only managing two.  Such is the life in New York.  While I’ll be missing the landscape conference and the Historic House Tours, today, I managed to make it to both JASNA in Brooklyn and Open House New York (OHNY) in Manhattan.

The day started with Cornel West, who is a Jane Austen fanatic, along with the 750 conference goers.  His style of delivery and even his point of view made for a fascinating point-counterpoint with Anna Quindlen.  While she focused on Austen as a miniaturist, who with that in-depth study models for writers a kind of greatness in the detail, he placed Austen as “the daughter of Shakespeare” in a Humanist tradition going back to the Greeks.  What does it mean to be human?  What is it affected by acknowledging our inevitable death?  We accomplish wisdom only through self-knowledge.  West argues that Jane Austen writes compellingly about each.

While Quindlen spoke from the heart, with tears in her voice, West leaned over his podium, spoke without notes, reference philosophy and literature through the ages, and impassioned his audience with preacher-like reverence.  He compared Austen with Checkov who said “I am a sad soul with a cheerful disposition,” then compared both authors in their quest to reveal, understand, and grow from suffering.  In a similar spirit to Quindlen, West said, “Jane Austen’s accomplishments go beyond our ability to keep up with them.”

Cornel West dancing all around the podium

Having first met West’s work while in graduate school, in writing filled with anger at patriarchal power structures and the oppression of African Americans, I was a bit amazed to see him leap to the stage, personally acknowledge many coordinators and scholars in the audience, and hug everyone within a few feet.  Perhaps, like all of us, age has brought a softening, a gentleness, a Jane Austen-ness that inevitably comes from the suffering of daily life.

After a rousing session on Georgian jewelry, I made my way back to Manhattan to the West Village.  With an hour to spare, I visited a Tibetan shop and stopped in to look at some fun antique clocks next door.

American clock, c1910s

Then I followed this guy for awhile, with his orange wheel.  I have no idea what he was doing or where he was ultimately going.

I sat in a pretty park with a nice fountain, until it was time to make my way to the OHNY tour.

Manhole Covers.  Yes, really.  Quite wonderful.

The tour was led to the artist Michele Brody who has a passion for manhole covers, designed one that was temporarily situated on Wall Street, and recently has sold manhole cover inspired lighting.  You’ll see her picture in this slide show, along with some of the highlights.  I love how important the feet and shoes became in this venture of looking down at the minutiae of life.  I bet Jane Austen would have loved this tour.