The Headless Horseman Bridge

“Over a deep part of the stream, not far from the church, was formerly thrown a wooden bridge; the road that led to it, and the bridge itself, were thickly shaded by over-hanging trees, which cast a gloom about it even in the day time, but occasioned a fearful darkness at night. Such was one of the favourite haunts of the headless horseman, and the place where he was most frequently encountered.” — Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

See also: At the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow.

At the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow

This year is the bicentennial of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The story first appeared in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, which was published in serial between 1819 and 1820.

To mark the occasion, I attended a dramatic reading of the story at The Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow, New York. The church itself features prominently in the story. It was an old feature on the landscape when Irving lived nearby in Tarrytown. Built in 1685 by Frederick Philipse, the Lord of Philipse Manor, whose vast patroonship extended south all the way to Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx, the building is still owned by the Dutch Reformed parish in Tarrytown.

Prosperine at Auction

Two very important Pre-Raphaelite paintings go up for auction at Christie’s in New York later this month. An 1878 version of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Prosperine and John William Waterhouse’s The Soul of the Rose will be offered at European Art Part I on October 28.

I have written about the models Jane Morris and Muriel Foster who are depicted in the paintings on this blog and in my book Victoriana.

Both works are expected to sell for between three and five million dollars—a far cry from mere decades ago, when the Pre-Raphaelites were out of favor, and David Lloyd Webber saw Leighton’s Flaming June for sale in a London shop for £50.

London Windows in New York

The London glaziers firm James Powell and Sons of Whitefriars, commonly called Whitefriars Glass, produced windows for Anglican churches on both sides of the Atlantic during the interwar period. James Humphries Hogan, who was chief designer at the time, devised windows for the cathedrals of Hereford, Rochester, Exeter, Carlisle and Winchester.

In the 1920s Hogan traveled extensively in the United States, setting up a satellite office in New York. Among other commissions, he designed windows for Saint Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue, arguably the finest stained glass in the city. These windows recently underwent complete restoration from the lead cames to the nine million individual pieces of glass.

An example below features the Powell and Sons “white friar” maker’s mark.

Fifth Avenue Heraldry

The choir of Saint Thomas Episcopal Church in New York is the premier Anglican choir in America, our answer to King’s College, Cambridge. This is reflected in the parish heraldry.

The College of Arms in the United Kingdom granted arms to Saint Thomas in 1975. Below is a blazon from the grant, which hangs in the Parish House.

Arms: Or on a Cross formy throughout Azure between four closed Books saltirewise Gules garnished and each charged with a Long Cross a Spear Or headed Argent.

Crest: On a Wreath Argent and Gules Issuant from a Celestial Crown Or five Trumpets fanwise Argent garnished Or Mantled Azure doubled Argent.

Supporters: On either side a Chorister vested in Red Cassock with White Surplice and Ruff proper holding in the exterior hand a Book also proper bound Sable.

Manhattan in Better Days

Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer writing in The Century Magazine (May, 1897):

There have been times when the word “suburban” rang pleasantly in the ears of the citizen of New York. Such must have been the times, long ago, when Greenwich village and Chelsea village were the summer resorts of local magnates, and when Harlem village (legend affirms it) was a health-resort so placidly umbrageous, Dutch, and small that people who could not sleep in town were sent out there, assured of a week of unbroken slumber. And such, again, were the nearer times when all the isle was still suburban north of Washington Square, covered with farms, and dotted with country mansions that were often set in forest-like domains, and often fronted on the East or the North or the Harlem River.

Rebuild Penn Station

“One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.” That was the judgement of Yale historian Vincent Scully on Penn Station in New York after it was buried under Madison Square Garden.

The demolition of the original McKim, Mead & White-designed station in 1963 was an act of architectural philistinism unmatched in American history. It is often said to have galvanized the historic preservation movement but that movement has been on the defensive ever since. Year by year the immense stock of beautiful architecture in New York is whittled away at, and the number of ugly ill-considered developments increase.

It would be nice to reclaim some lost territory in the name of beauty and culture. Where better to start than Penn Station itself?

The National Civic Art Society is campaigning to reconstruct the original 1910 edifice. Visit the NCAS’s Rebuild Penn Station website for more information on the project and how to support it.

Pictured below, Pennsylvania Station as it was…

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…versus Madison Square Garden, erected in its place…

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…with “new” Penn Station in the basement…

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renderings of the NCAS plan

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…and a hopeful outlook for 2024…

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New Year’s Day in Old New York

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It is lamented in the January 1916 issue of The Lotus Magazine that, “[i]t may be a matter of thirty-five long years ago—possibly longer—that the custom of New Year’s calls was abandoned in New York.”

As part of the social season around Christmastide the hosting (and visiting) of open houses on the first of the year “came down from the time when New York was a Dutch colony.”

According to The Lotus:

From old Dutch times to about 1880 New Year’s Day in New York was devoted to the universal interchange of visits. Every door was thrown wide open. It was a breach of etiquette to omit any acquaintance in these annual calls, when old friendships were renewed and family differences were amicably settled. A hearty welcome was extended even to strangers of presentable appearance.

Everywhere “the traditions of tremendous Dutch eating and drinking were faithfully observed.” Certain houses were noted for their specialities: “At one it was eggnog; at another, rum punch; at this one, pickled oysters; at that, boned turkey, or marvellous chocolate, or perfect Mocha coffee, or, for the connoisseur a drop of old Madeira, as soft as rainwater and as delicate in flavor as the texture of the glass from which it was sipped.” Everyone served New Year’s cakes, “in the form of an Egyptian cartouch.” Matthew Wills writes in JSTOR Daily that, “No explanation of that particular design is given, so we may surmise that Egyptomania, born of Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign of 1798-1801 and subsequently fostered by the Victorians, was still going strong.”

At the height of the tradition, when New York society was still a small world of friends, the open houses were merry, informal gatherings. For the young they must have been looked forward to with much excitement. Wills writes, “By the mid-1800s, these calls were also a chance for single young men to meet single young women. It was a good way to scout out the possibilities on both sides of the marriage market.”

But by the 1880s the city had become too populous and anonymous for such a civilized tradition. The writers of The Lotus conclude that, “The gradual breaking down of all the lines of conventionality into a wild and unseemly riot of visits led to the finish of the custom.” More’s the pity.

Frankenstein at 200

Portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, by Richard Rothwell, 1840

The definitive exhibition on the Byron-Shelley circle was hosted by the New York Public Library in 2012. Shelley’s Ghost brought together materials from the Bodleian and the NYPL’s own Pforzheimer Collection, including the manuscript of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Byron’s love letters, a necklace made from Percy Shelley’s hair, the water-damaged copy of Sophocles’s Tragedies that had been on his person when he drowned, as well as fragments of his skull taken from the funeral pyre, among other artifacts.

A new exhibition at the Morgan Library celebrates the bicentennial of FrankensteinIt’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200 collects many of the same items as Shelley’s Ghost. It is a much bigger exhibition with a narrower scope, focusing on the inspiration, creation, and legacy of the classic novel, which was published in 1818. In it’s own way Frankenstein at 200 is the equal of Shelley’s Ghost.

Pages from the manuscript are on display, loaned by the Bodleian. The curators provide a cultural context with eighteenth century galvanic equipment and surgical tools, a number of important Gothic paintings, including Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781) and Philip James de Loutherbourg’s Visitor to a Moonlit Churchyard (1790). The lives of the Shelleys are presented through letters and portraits, including the well-known Richard Rothwell painting of Mary, on loan from the National Portrait Gallery in London. The aforementioned fragments of Percy’s skull (calvariae disjecta?) are present, as is the manuscript of a love poem he was carrying when he drown, the ink washed to a blur. (I have written about the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Shelley’s death in an earlier post.)

All of these items are on display in a single gallery, which is worth the price of admission alone. A light but cheerful second gallery contains a collection of advertising posters from the various film adaptations of the novel, and modern illustrations, including those by Lynd Ward and Bernie Wrightson. The highlight of this gallery is an original six-sheet poster for the 1931 film starring Boris Karloff.

A page from the manuscript of Frankenstein

The Nightmare, by Henry Fuseli, 1781

Visitor to a Moonlit Churchyard, Philip James de Loutherbourg, 1790

Fragments of the skull of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Manuscript of a poem retrieved from the body of Percy Bysshe Shelley

It’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200 runs through January 27, 2019 at the Morgan Library in New York.