A Proposed Tee-pee for Central Park

On April 28, 1858, Olmsted and Vaux’s took first place in a design contest for Central Park. In the 1870’s and 1880’s, New Yorkers took great delight in sprinkling monuments and buildings about the Park, like a tree at Christmas. Cleopatra’s Needle was erected in 1877, the American Museum of Natural History was founded in 1868,  the statue of Alexander Hamilton appeared 1880, and that of Fitz-Greene Halleck popped up in 1877, unveiled by none other than Rutherford B. Hayes himself. (We didn’t know who Halleck was either. Go ahead and wiki him. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitz-Greene_Halleck We’ll still be here when you get back.)

George Catlin noted the propensity to New Yorkers to decorate their Park. He also knew that he possessed a large collection of American Indian art, developed over years of tramping around the Great Plains sketching and painting the various tribes. It was pretty good art too, Charles Baudelaire stated “Catlin has captured the proud, free character and noble expression of these splendid fellows in a masterful way.” Finally, Catlin was a perennial debtor, and if he could interest New York City in purchasing his pictures, erecting a suitable monument, and hiring him to give lectures,  it would solve his most pressing problems.

And so, Catlin came up with a plan. A gigantic, 75 feet tall teepee would be constructed by the Crow Tribe, and transported to New York by Catlin himself. The upper portion would be painted red, and the lower part yellow, featuring characteristic scenes of life among the tribes “such as buffalo-hunting, dancing, and scalping parties. Beneath this will be a broad band of scalp locks and porcumpine quills. This, as well as an upper and lower band, will be painted red, and furnished with circular windows of ground glass, so colored that their object will not be discovered from without.” Inside, Catlin would place his six hundred paintings of Indian life, to be thoughtfully purchased by New York City.

Perhaps fortunately, the teepee never got built. Catlin’s drawings however did find a home at the Smithsonian, in private collections, and many of his sketches are in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History.

Oh, and here is a painting by Catlin, and Catlin himself:


The Latest in Ballot Box Stuffing Technology

From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper of July 19, 1856, comes the latest in malfeasance. No longer are the political insiders’ sole option be to ram a few extra votes in the ballot box and hope that suffices. Technology is on the march, and the call for advances in political chicanery has been answered. And thus we have the latest in ballot box stuffing technology.

Here’s how it works. Your chosen candidate for dog catcher is sure to lose if the people have their way., and we wouldn’t want that. Merely line the side and bottom underneath panels b and d with a few extra ballots marked with your candidate’s name, seal the box after the election, pull out the panels, turn the box upside down, reinsert the panels, turn the box upright and presto, a new dog catcher.


Dictograph in Local Hotel Nabs Crook – Guy Downing Makes His Living Falling Off Trains

Tacoma, Washington, January 24, 1914 – Today Guy Downing, alias James Murray, was sentenced to from one to 15 years for grand larceny. Downing, recently employed as a brakeman on the Northern Pacific Railroad, allegedly fell from a freight car earlier this month, and demanded $750 in compensation.

Although Downing appeared on crutches, Company doctors’ suspicions were aroused when they were unable to find any injuries upon Downing’s person. They reported their concerns to Chief Attorney Quick of the Railroad, who suspected that he had a “personal injury shark” on his hands.  Quick, true to his name, arranged to have a dictograph placed in Downing’s room in a downtown hotel while railroad company agents transcribed any conversation taking place inside the room.

Downing and a companion were caught laughing at his scheme to bilk the company, and to prove that he was suffering no injury, Downing threw down his crutches and put on a boxing demonstration for his friend.

Quick reported the matter to Deputy Prosecutor Askren, who had Downing arrested. Confronted with the evidence against him, Downing confessed to prying the iron handhold loose and throwing himself to the ground. Downing was hauled before Judge Clifford where he pled guilty, and sentenced to the Walla Walla penitentiary, all within a few hours of his arrest.

Said Chief Attorney Quick; “Downing might have gotten away with his claim all right, but he made too much noise. He overplayed his part, and we became suspicious. From my evidence, I am certain he is a professional at this fake claim business, and has worked the same game all over the country.”

True to the end, Downing kept up his act by walking out of the courtroom on crutches.

Robbing Brooklyn Blind[s]

From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper of July 26, 1856 we learn of a fantastic little swindle. It seems that the residents at 73 Hicks Street, Brooklyn rented the house from Mr. John Taylor. Around noon, a man drove up in an express wagon, told the residents that Mr. Taylor had sent him over pick up the window blinds, so that they could be repainted. Much pleased with the generosity of their landlord, the tenants helped load up the wagon with every set of blinds in the house. Neither the blinds nor the wagon driver were seen again.

America’s first same sex marriage?

From the Syracuse Standard of May, 1856 we get the story of Albert Guelph, formerly of England. Aged 30, Guelph rented a room from a local Syracuse family named Lewis. When Guelph arrived at the Lewis’ house, he was attired in a dress, but a few days after renting the room changed clothes into blue coat, blue shirt, dark vest and buff colored pantaloons. According to the Standard, the probability is that the family supposed…the’ dress was a disguise, and that [Guelph] was resuming the proper habiliments of her sex.”

Guelph and the Lewis daughter fell in love, engaged in a brief courtship, and were married in the town’s Episcopal Church by the family minister, Rev. Mr. Gregor. It was not until after the marriage that the bride’s father began to suspect that his new son-in-law was really a daughter-in-law; the dress having not quite have done the trick. Mr. Lewis, pere, complained to the police and Guelph was arrested, upon what charge it is not known. As the Standard tells us,  “the bride still clings to her woman husband, and claims that the arrest is a conspiracy against them. They were allowed to meet in one of the ante-rooms of the police office, and embraced each other with the greatest marks of affection.

One wonders what happened to couple.

Machine Guns in the Financial District

New Yorkers had a troublesome habit of rioting every so often.  They rioted over the price of flour in 1837, over upper class snobbery in 1849, and the draft in 1863.  Just to keep in practice, the police rioted amongst themselves in 1857, in the great New York City Police Riot.  All these riots made the U.S. Government a bit nervous; after all, there were all sorts of money stored in the New York Sub-Treasury building at 26 Wall Street.  So what did Uncle Sam do? He put turrets on the roof, threw a couple of Gatling Guns inside.  To make doubly sure no pesky rioters got close to all that gold, iron shutters were installed, complete with loop holes, through which loyal troops could pick off the masses.

By the way, the Subtreasury building is still there. It is now Federal Hall, with the big statue of Washington out front. Next time you’re there, ask ‘em to let you have a try with the Gatling Guns.

Images from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 08, 1881


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