Saturday, January 17, 2015

Where the Millionaires Lived

Every city pushes its seams and expands outward, gobbling up land to satisfy its growing population. So it was with New York City in the 1880's. Manhattan is an island with obvious boundaries. So the initial settlements on its southern tip could only move north. The neighborhoods that started as places for the wealthy to live (around the place that's now the Lower East Side) were a bit boggy and so were abandoned for dryer land up north. After the Civil War the wealthy chose the area around 5th Avenue and the Thirties to build their mansions. This is where the rich live in my novel Masquerade

I always enjoy basing a house on a real house, and chose the A.T. Stewart mansion that sat on the northwest corner of 5th Avenue and Thirty-fourth. It took over five years to build and when it was finished in 1869 it had cost $1.5 million. In today's money that's about $37.5 million. Pretty much beyond comprehension!

Doesn't it looks like a library? It was the first residential showplace in NYC and was deemed "palatial". This is the foyer and one of the bedrooms. All rooms shown here were figured into scenes in my novel.

Mrs. Stewart also had her own art gallery. She had a huge collection of artwork—that she mostly kept to herself. The art room was 70' x 30' x 50' tall. She and Mr. Stewart had no children yet lived in this 55-room house. He (like my patriarch, Martin Tremaine) earned his fortune by starting a department store: Stewart's Dry Goods. I'll go through details of stores of the time in a separate post.

An interesting thing about the Stewart mansion is that their neighbor to the south was William B. Astor II and his wife, Caroline, or THE Mrs. Astor. She was the head of New York society and her approval or disdain had the power to make or break people. And yet her house was a fairly simple brownstone. Here's a picture of it in 1897. It's the small building on the right. On the left is the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. It was built by William Waldorf Astor on the site of his family home after he decided to move to England permanently in 1891. It was built in great part to annoy his Aunt Lina who lived next door. A family feud over who was the head of society and all that.

As early as the 1870's, the encroaching commercialization of the area led the social set to move north to Fifth Avenue and the "Fifties" to build their houses. The bigger the better. The upstart Vanderbilt family created mansions that made the Stewart house look like a guest house. Some of these mansions remain--with new uses, but the Stewart mansion was demolished in 1902. Progress, you know.

And what now sits where the Astor brownstone and the old Waldorf-Astoria sat? The Empire State Building.

If you'd like to read more of my Gilded Age novels, try the sequel to Masquerade, called An Unlikely Suitor,  and A Bridal Quilt, which is in the novella anthology A Patchwork Christmas//Nancy Moser

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Shopping: Paper or Plastic?

In this season of Christmas shopping we are faced with the question: Paper or plastic? Believe it or not, that familiar line has only been around since 1977. But what about when there were no shopping bags. Can you even fathom it?

When I was writing Masquerade which is set in 1886, the story involves a department store. I needed to find out how shoppers got their goods from store to home. Turns out they often had the purchases delivered. In New York City, millions of packages a year. Free delivery became a marketing tool. And small goods were often wrapped in paper and tied. Women had trouble enough getting around town in bustled dresses and intricate hats, much less carrying around a myriad of bags.

So when was the shopping bag invented? Let’s back up. The paper bag was invented in 1852 by Francis Wolle. He and his brother started the Union Paper Bag Machine Company after the Civil War. Yet paper bags were flawed. They were often shaped like envelopes, were made of flimsy paper, had to be pasted together by hand, didn’t collapse and store easily, and their V-shaped bottoms prevented them from standing up on their own. The next improvement came in 1870 when Margaret Knight invented a machine to cut, fold, and paste paper bag bottoms. 

In 1883 Charles Stilwell developed the square-bottom paper bag with another improvement: pleated sides. It was named the S.O.S., or Self-Opening Sack. Hey, I used one of those the other day at the grocery store.

I’m going to digress about Margaret Knight a bit, because she was quite the woman. Over her lifetime Margaret had 90 inventions and 22 patents. She developed her bag-making machine when she was only 33, while working at the paper factory. The first one was out of wood, but then she developed one out of iron. But Charles Annan, a man who was visiting the factory, stole her idea and tried to get a patent on it. Instead of backing down, Margaret filed a patent interference suit against him. She spent $100 a day plus expenses for sixteen days of depositions from herself and other witnesses. Annan’s defense? He claimed that because Margaret was a woman she wasn’t capable of understanding such a complex machine. Margaret’s offense? Her detailed notes, diary entries, and trial and error samples validated her creative process. The court ruled in her favor. "I'm not surprised at what I've done. I'm only sorry I couldn't have had as good a chance as a boy, and have been put to my trade regularly." Margaret Knight was inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.
Back to the shopping bag—the real ones with handles. You see, people were restricted in how much they could buy because they were limited by what they could carry in a bag held in their arms. In 1912, Minnesota grocer Walter H. Deubner, created a paper bag with a cord running through it for strength. His bag could hold 75 pounds of groceries. He sold the bag for five cents and within three years was selling a million bags a year. That’s a lot of groceries.

Only in the 1930’s were bags given away, and in 1933 they finally—finally—added a handle.  The Smithsonian has 1000 in their collection.  As we all know, bags became a status symbol and a means of advertising.  Who wouldn’t like to carry around a shopping bag from Neiman Marcus or Tiffany? In the latter’s case, a small bag is a good bag.//Nancy Moser

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Symbol of our Freedom for Veterans' Day

*  A Note from Nancy  *

On this Veterans Day we thank all our veterans who have served to protect and defend our country.  My family has had a long line of veterans, from my dad in World War II, to a grandfather in World War I, to two great-grandfathers in the Civil War, and another "great" fighting in the Revolutionary War.  God bless America!

Thinking of Veterans ignites a swell of patriotism in my breast.  And the symbol of what our country stands for is the Statue of Liberty.

A month ago she celebrated her 128th birthday...

October 1886.  As we all learned in grammar school, the Statue was a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States, to celebrate the friendship between the two countries that was started during the American Revolution. Basically, if it weren’t for France sending ships and men to help our cause, we all might be talking with a British accent.

The Statue was supposed to come about in 1876, to commemorate the centennial of the Declaration of Independence, but funding issues—on both sides of the Atlantic—made for an ten year delay. The deal was, France would give us the statue and assemble it, and we would build the base to put it on. 

Note the hand on its side
Assembled in France

Reassembled in America

To spur Americans to donate, Joseph Pulitzer (of the Pulitzer Prize) used his newspaper, “The World” to shame people into giving. He got after the rich for not giving more, and got after the middle class for relying on the rich to do the giving. It worked.

A foot bigger than mine!

 The sculptor was Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, who asked Gustave Eiffel (the designer of the Eiffel Tower) to figure out the iron framework underneath the copper plating—which was only 3/32” thick.
The torch on display in Paris
The Statue was put together in Paris, dismantled into 350 pieces, and packed into 214 crates. Parts of the statue were displayed in Paris during the construction. It took four months to put it all back together.

The presence of the Statue in the harbor--Lady Liberty greeting the influx of millions of immigrants--made her evolve into a symbol of freedom and hope. In 1883, Emily Lazarus wrote the poem “The New Colossus” for an auction to raise money for the pedestal. Only after her death was the poem married with the Statue. Since 1903 the poem has been on a plaque at the foot of the statue.

C.W. Jefferys painting

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Enjoy the photos, and remember all she stood for—and has come to stand for.//Nancy