New York rose to prominence in the Age of Sail. The docks and piers of that age have since been replaced by parks and luxury condos. It is one more shift in a city of constant changes.
But there’s a new way to get a glimpse into the bygone age of sail in New York—at the American Folk Art Museum, which currently has an exhibition of the marine landscapes of Thomas Chambers.
Thomas Chambers's “Packet Ship Passing Castle Williams, New York Harbor” is in the American Folk Art Museum show.
The enthralling exhibition of 50 paintings covers the entire career of the mysterious British artist, who worked from 1834-1866 in New York, Boston, and New Orleans. While considered a Hudson River school painter, the bold colors and clean lines of his works stand out from other paintings of the era. It was for this reason that he is regarded by some as the first truly “modern painter”.
'Delaware Water Gap' painted by Thomas Chambers circa 1840-50. Currently on exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum.
So why isn’t his work to be found next door, in the Museum of Modern Art?
The American Folk Art Museum generally focuses on the work of naïve, untrained artists. Although the subjects of Chamber’s are formal, the folk art connection is clear. While his older brother George was a more respected painter of marine landscapes, Thomas was more of a craftsman and a salesman than fine artist, painting popular subjects (shipwrecks, landmarks, and famous ships and battles) and copying other paintings—whatever he thought would sell best. So the amazing landscapes he painted would be more likely found in a home than in any museum.
You can read more about the exhibition in the NY Times review. But make sure you see it, too! Chambers art was a joy for me to come upon, I highly recommend that you check it out as well.
Tip for a Friday night: If you are out on a Friday night, the American Folk Art Museum has free Fridays like the MOMA next door. You might even enjoy it more. Not only do they have live music and a lively café/bar, but this smaller museum is less crowded, with no line for coat check! This blog post was contributed by Adam Schwartz, who regularly leads tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. You can find out more about him and his work for Urban Oyster here, or write him directly at email@example.com.
October is almost over, but there are still plenty of Oktoberfest events going on around the city. Here are a few places where you can still down some lovely amber lager and a few wursts before winter settles in.
On Sunday, October 25, Six Point Craft Ales will be having a party to launch its new Oktoberfest lager - this is just the third lager the brewery has ever produced. The celebration will be from 2pm to 6pm at Sycamore in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn - for $15 you can get a monstrous 3-pint stein, and the first 75 people will get a complimentary plate of bratwurst, sauerkraut and potatoes.
Killmeyer's of Staten Island will be serving up a double dose of its house Oom-Pah band, the Happy Tones (pictured above, with Cindy filling in on the tambourine), for Oktoberfest. Through October 31, you can check them out - as well as the gorgeous interiors of this historic German beer hall - on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. They're located at
4254 Arthur Kill Road, Staten Island.
If you want to prove your Oktoberfest bona fides, try downing the 2-liter boot of beer
at the Heidelberg Restaurant
in the former Germantown neighborhood of Yorkville on the Upper East Side. You can also go next store to Schaller and Weber
for a wide selection of German groceries to prepare your own Oktoberfest celebration at home.
Oktoberfest isn't just a German institution; most of the beer-drinking of cultures of Central and Eastern Europe celebrate the autumn harvest with a few pints. For a staggering selection of beers and a decent menu, check out the Hungarian-themed Draft Barn
in Gowanus, Brooklyn.Out on Long Island, the Schuhplattler Vergnuegungs Verein Original Enzian, a Bavarian cultural club founded in 1922, will be hosting its 87th annual Bauernball, a festival of beer, music and dancing. The event will be on Saturday, Nov. 7 at 7pm at 1132 Hempstead Turnpike, Franklin Square, Long Island. Tickets are $40-$42, and they recommend booking in advance by calling 516-482-6417 or 718-591-6972.
After all of this, if you are still feeling starved for German culture, check out the website of Germany in NYC
, which provides listings of German cultural events going on around town.
And don't forget that you can celebrate German culture, Brooklyn history, and beer every weekend on the Brewed in Brooklyn tour. We will be running tours through December (there are plenty of places to stop and warm up along the walking tour route, even when we get into the winter months), so book your tickets
in advance. You will also get a chance to sample the Brooklyn Brewery's own Oktoberfest offering, as well as many other beers, on the tour.
The museum is located on the corner of Mulberry and Grand streets in the former home of the Stabile Bank, founded in 1885 by Francesco Stablie, an Italian native who came to the United States following Italy’s wars of unification. Though the bank is no longer operating, the Stablie family does still hold real estate in the neighborhood, including the Stabile Annex building across Mulberry Street - Angelo’s restaurant
is on the bottom floor. The museum’s website says this about the bank’s history, and its links to the museum’s current mission:"It was a link for the Immigrants in the United States with their relatives in Italy. In addition to a full range of banking services, it also provided the following services: telegraph, travel via steam ships, import-export, notary public, and post office; a kind of all in one immigrant community service center. It has been restored and preserved, and is now open to the public. It now serves as the cornerstone of the Italian American Museum from which we will tell our story in America."
Currently the museum only occupies the first floor of the bank, but what it lacks in space it more than makes up for with its personal, intimate approach. The museum’s founder and president, Dr. Joseph C. Scelsa, keeps his office right on the exhibit floor and is happy to speak with visitors about the museum’s founding and future and is enthusiastic about attracting new visitors to this labor of love. The exhibits largely feature artifacts recovered from the bank itself, and the pay stubs, steam ship tickets and telegrams tell a fascinating story of this turn-of-the-century community.
The museum’s current exhibit is on Italian-Americans in law enforcement. The centerpiece of this exhibit is the story of Joseph Petrosino, a New York City police lietuenant who was assassinated while on a mission to Palermo, Sicily in pursuit of New York Mafia kingpin Don Vito Cascio Ferro. When he departed New York in March 1909, his mission had been announced to the press, and the Sicilian mafia was waiting for him, murdering him soon after his arrival on March 12. Petrosino had already gained notoriety for his investigations of the mafia and the anarchist organization the Black Hand. He was a celebrated figure for becoming the highest-ranking Italian-American on the police force, and after he was killed, 250,000 attended his funeral in New York. In 1912, his story was made into a film, The Adventures of Lieutenant Petrosino
, one of the first feature-length films made in the United States. The film was directed by Sidney M. Goldin, a prominent director of Yiddish theater on the Lower East Side who would go on to direct several Yiddish features, including Uncle Moses
and The Cantor’s Son
Frank Serpico, the New York City police officer immortalized by Al Pacino, is also featured in the exhibit. Serpico rose to fame by publicizing widespread corruption within the police department in 1970. In February 1971, he was shot in the face during a routine drug bust, which may have been a set up, as none of the other officers on the scene followed him or radioed for help after he had been shot. Serpico survived the incident and went on to testify before the Knapp Commission to Investigate Alleged Police Corruption later that year, which ushered in huge reforms in the department. For the exhibition, Serpico was kind enough to donate several of his personal effects from his time on the force, including several of his service weapons.
So, the next time you are in the Little Italy, stop by the Italian-American Museum so that they can continue to grow and contribute to the rich history of the Lower East Side.-- Andrew Gustafson
Though they are largely unknown to beer drinkers in the northeast, Michigan is blessed with a vast array
of quality craft breweries and brew pubs. One such brewery is the New Holland Brewing Company
, and we stopped in for a tour on a recent trip to Michigan.
Founded in 1996 by Brett VanderKamp and Jason Spaulding, New Holland is best known for its high-gravity and barrel-aged beers. In addition to their signature beers like Mad Hatter IPA and Dragon’s Milk stout, they have a great stable of seasonals and rotating brews. Several of these beers are offered in versions aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels. Most of this beer is bottled or kegged before being shipped off, but while touring the factory, we saw several of the casks shrink-wrapped on palettes, meaning some lucky bars will soon be serving their beer straight from the wooden barrels. We also saw the company’s bottling line, which has a rich brewing history all its own. First installed in the Latrobe Brewing Company
(of Rolling Rock fame) in Pennsylvania, the line was sold to Summit Brewing
of St. Paul, and then sold again to Sierra Nevada
in Chico, California before finally arriving at New Holland.
Unfortunately, if you are looking for New Holland beers in New York City, your options are limited. The brewery only distributes as far east as Pennsylvania, but Barcade
in Williamsburg does have their Mad Hatter on tap.
New Holland has had some challenges putting down its roots in southwest Michigan. While cities like Paris, Texas or Moscow, Idaho may have little connection to their eponymous European counterparts, Holland, Michigan cleaves close to its Dutch roots. In addition to being home to multiple wooden shoe factories, a tulip festival and a large Dutch costume industry, Holland and the surrounding communities have long maintained restrictions on alcohol introduced by their Dutch Protestant founders.
The owners of New Holland worked in concert with other local businesses to overturn Holland’s ban on alcohol sales on Sunday, a goal they accomplished last year; the brewery’s downtown brew pub is now open seven days a week. In the neighboring town of Zeeland, voters overturned a ban on alcohol sales in 2007
. The measure passed by only 40 votes, but the town’s lone establishment with a liquor license, Vitale’s Pizza, is packed to the gills most nights of the week. Three weeks ago, the town held its annual Pumpkinfest; this year’s event was notable because it was the first to serve beer
(some people were not enthusiastic about this idea
Thanks to the work people like Rex and Mary Halfpenny, the founders of the Michigan Beer Guide
, and a network of dedicated homebrewers
, the quality and reach of Michigan brewers will continue to grow.
I would be amiss if I did not mention some of the other highlights of our trip to Holland. Veldheer's
is your one-stop shop for everything Dutch - they have tulip bulbs, traditional ceramic tiles, and a wide selection of clogs. You can even see how the wooden shoes are made, from billet to footwear (surprisingly, they are not totally uncomfortable). But their small shoemaking operation cannot meet the voracious local demand for the shoes; Veldheer's imports more than 5,000 pairs from the Netherlands each year, while they fashion only 1,000 on site. Once you’re decked out in your wooden shoes, you can clatter on down to Fabiano’s Peanut Store
, an old-time family-owned candy shop best known for its peanut paddle pops - a chocolate-covered ice cream popsicle rolled in fresh Spanish peanuts.
With quality craft beer, ungainly Dutch footwear, and delicious salty-sweet treats, why wouldn’t you visit Holland? -- Andrew Gustafson
Ellis Island is one of the most popular tourist attractions in New York City, yet most visitors only get to see a small portion of the island. The entire south side is closed to the public, and the buildings stand empty and deteriorating, unused since the island closed in the 1950s. Thanks to Open House New York
, we got a chance to tour many of the buildings in this area and explore a new dimension of the island's history. The tour was sponsored by Save Ellis Island
, which is working towards restoring and interpreting the neglected spaces of the island.
The entire south side of the island was dedicated to medical care. Any visitors or immigrants who exhibited signs of illness were treated here - 1.2 million of the 12 million people who passed through Ellis Island were inspected or treated in the medical facilities, and a quarter-million were admitted to the hospital. All this care was at the expense of the American government, but Ellis Island was hardly a loss-making operation. Despite providing state-of-the-art medical care to thousands of indigent people each year, the immigration station generated revenue for the government. Between 1905 and 1907, the island had rough annual revenues of $6 million, yet it only cost $2.5 million to operate.
The first building we entered was the Ferry Building, a beautifully restored WPA-era structure that now houses an exhibit on medical care and the history of the island's south side (the Park Service offers regular tours of the Ferry Building
, but it is not open to general visitors to the museum). Immediately across the ferry slip from the island's visitor's center stands a 450-bed hospital; unfortunately, we were not able to enter it because it is undergoing restoration, but we were able to visit a number of the other wards. In order to contain infectious diseases and keep patients quarantined, all of the buildings were connected by a corridor that snaked around the island. There were two surgical wards, a psychiatric ward, and several quarantine wards for various ailments that they tried to keep off America's shores (the map identifies them all as "Measles Wards," but this was just a generic term for any contagious disease). Connected to the wards were houses for the medical staff, many of whom resided on the island. During the island's heyday at the beginning of the 20th century, there were 12 full-time doctors and 52 nurses to care for patients.
Click to enlarge map.
The south side sheds light on other little known aspects of the island's history. Following the 1924 Immigration Act, which severely curtailed entry into the country, Ellis Island was transformed from an entry to an exit, as it was used primarily as a detention and deportation center - the enclosed wards used to contain disease could be easily adapted to contain undesirables as well. The island also served a number of military functions. Wounded soldiers were treated in the wards, and buildings were converted for housing and training. The island was also used during wartime to hold enemy aliens and citizens suspected of spying or sabotage - 7,000 Germans, Italians and Japanese were detained on the island during World War II.
An important aspect of America's immigration history that is often omitted from the popular narrative is the role of shipping companies in bringing people to this country. We all know the stories about people being subjected to invasive and demeaning examinations and having the spelling of their names changed once they arrived at Ellis Island. In fact, the companies providing passage often subjected their passengers to rigorous medical and background checks before they left port in Europe. They checked them for any infectious diseases, mental disorders or disabilities, checked that they possessed the skills they claimed, and made sure they did not have links to anarchist organizations - all things that could cause American immigration officials to bar them entry. The reason was simple - if one of their passengers was deemed unfit to enter the country, the company that brought them would be responsible for their passage back and had to pay a hefty fine.
Another interesting sight on the tour was the Ellis Island ferry, though we could not see very much of it. Most passengers had to disembark from their ships in order to be vetted and inspected at Ellis Island, and the island's docks were too small for most ocean-going vessels. So passengers were brought to the island by launches and ferries, and once they received approval to enter the United States, the ferry Ellis Island would take them to Manhattan. Between 1904 and 1954, the vessel logged over one million miles, valuable service that made it undeserving of its fate. When it was no longer needed, the ferry was moored in the island's slip in 1954. Years of neglect and the elements took their toll, and in 1968, the ferry sank. It soon became a hazard to navigation, so the top deck was removed, leaving the hull in the water. At low tide, you can still see some timbers from the ferry poking out of the water, but not for much longer - next week, a dredging crew will remove the last remnants of the Ellis Island, and with it a valuable connection to the island's past.
The tour offered a new perspective on Ellis Island and the people who passed through it. While the immigrants of 100 years ago did have harrowing experiences being prodded and interrogated during their first hours in a new country, the medical care that they received was competent and compassionate. We also saw that an iconic symbol of this country's history is still in dire need of attention and repair. Just a few steps away from the hall where millions of visitors stop every year stand dilapidated buildings with equally important stories to tell. Luckily, Save Ellis Island is working to recover those stories, so we encourage you to visit their website
and learn more about their projects.
But Five Seasons isn't the only brewer with an environmental conscience. Right here in New York City, Brooklyn Brewery
produces all of its beer at its Williamsburg brewery with renewable wind energy, and it was actually the first manufacturer in the city to source all of its power from wind. Many craft brewers across the country have invested in sustainable technology. Colorado's New Belgium Brewery
(of Fat Tire fame) has its own bio-gas plant, recycles 98% of its waste, and uses about half the water of a traditional brewery; Vermont's Wolaver's Certified Organic Ales
, a division of Otter Creek Brewing
, sources a large portion of their ingredients within just 15 miles of the brewery. GreenDaily has a rundown
of a number of craft brewers and their eco-friendly practices.
So drink up to sustainability by supporting your local brewers!
New York City has hosted some of the world's most famous boxing matches. Madison Square Garden has been dubbed “The World's Most Famous Arena,” but it did not earn that nickname thanks to basketball or hockey. It was boxing that made The Garden famous; in its various incarnations, the building has hosted title fights since 1882, including such legendary bouts as Ali-Frasier in 1971. Baseball may be the national pastime, but boxing has also drawn enormous crowds to Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds; there is even talk that boxing may return to the new Yankee Stadium next year
The Manassa Mauler, Jack Dempsey, a figure who eclipsed even Babe Ruth as the most famous sporting star of the 1920's, fought in all three of these venues. One of his biggest fights, however, was fought just across the Hudson River in Jersey City, New Jersey. When in 1921 Dempsey, the reigning heavyweight champion, signed a contract to fight the European champ, Frenchman Georges Carpentier, it was originally planned to be held in New York, but temperance and anti-gambling activists drove the fight from the state. Few stadiums of the day could hold the throngs that clamored to see the heavyweight legend, so when promoter Tex Rickard settled on Jersey City, he decided to build his own stadium. Built on a plot of land known as Boyle's Thirty Acres, the arena took two months to construct and cost more than $250,000
. The mammoth complex spread over 300,000 square feet and was meant to accommodate 91,000 spectators.
Joe Louis takes on Germany's Max Schmelling at Yankee Stadium in 1936.
The fight was a gargantuan media event. The promoters issued more than 700 press passes, and reporters came from as far away as California and Europe, including seven from Carpentier's home country. Radios were still not in wide use, but the technology was available to broadcast accounts of the fight. The Committee on Devastated France and the Navy Club, two charitable organizations, both set up 70 halls equipped with special wireless feeds in cities across the northeast. Even airplanes would be employed to get the photographs of the fight to cities nationwide, as the New York Times reported
:“A Chicago paper, anxious to beat all its contemporaries in getting pictures of the happenings inside or near the ring, has made a big offer to an aviator to rush plates westward as soon as possible.”
The citizens of Benton Harbor, Michigan probably had the best access to news about the fight, with the exception of those actually in attendance, of course. Spectators gathered in a local arena to watch lightweight title holder Benny Leonard and his brother Charley re-enact the bout punch by punch
just moments after each blow was delivered in Jersey City. A special telegraph line was set up to deliver every detail of the fight directly to Benton Harbor, and the fighters were told which punches to deliver.
Dempsey and Carpentier before the fight. Courtesy Library of Congress.
The fight was condemned by temperance activists and other moral crusaders. New York Governor Nathan Miller outlawed prizefighting to prevent the bout from being held at Manhattan's Polo Grounds. Following the fight, the International Reform Bureau demanded Dempsey's arrest for engaging in boxing. Their spokesman, Dr. Wilbur Crafts, decried the moral degradation
caused by movies, dances, automobiles, and boxing.“You may ask what all this has to do with prizefighting, but there is a distinct connection. These Frenchy dances, sex movies and joy rides are a form of animalism that is akin to the animal instincts brought forth by pugilism. What we want is a return to American moral normalcy. Back from Spanish bullfights to American clean boxing. Back from German beer to – er – er – American habits of sobriety.”
The fight itself was a mismatch. Dempsey battered Carpentier throughout, finally knocking him out in the fourth round. But the gate receipts totaled $1.6 million, the first time a boxing match had ever passed the million-dollar mark, and the victory cemented Dempsey's position as the biggest box office draw of the day. You can watch video footage of the fight below:
This was not the first time, nor the last, that Dempsey's promoters would build an entire stadium just to showcase their punching star. When he captured the heavyweight title from Jess Willard in 1919, more than 80,000 people jammed into a temporary stadium in Toledo, Ohio
– at the time, it was the world's largest arena.
Two years after the Carpentier fight, Dempsey was lured to Shelby, Montana
, a small town in the state's remote Hi-Line region
. In an attempt to attract investment, the town offered to pay Dempsey a $300,000 purse and to erect a 42,000-seat stadium at their own expense. Unfortunately, when the town was late with part of the payment, Dempsey's manager leaked to the press that the fight was off; by the time word got out that the fight was back on, there was no time to get enough people out to the remote town. Around 4,000 people, most of whom crashed the gate without paying, watched a fantastic fight with Tommy Gibbons, and the town was left broke.
Drawing of the 80,000-seat octagon in Toledo, OH where Dempsey fought Willard in 1919.
The stadium on Boyle's Thirty Acres would survive nearly as long as Dempsey's boxing career. Rickard continued to promote fights there, and the following summer Benny Leonard would get to fight for real instead of just pantomiming the action a thousand miles away. In 1923, Jess Willard would fall to Luis Angel Firpo, setting up a title fight with Dempsey at the Polo Grounds later that same year. The last fight at Boyle's would be staged on August 27, 1926, a forgettable four-fight card. As most prizefights had moved to Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds, Rickard sold the arena for $6,000 to a wrecking company, which began dismantling it in June 1927. Dempsey's last fight, a loss to Gene Tunney in Chicago, came in September.
Today, boxing's popularity has waned, and big prizefights are mostly held in Las Vegas and broadcast on Pay-Per-View. But there was a time when New York's sporting temples were thronged with boxing fans, and even the giant stadiums couldn't hold the talents of fighters like Dempsey.
Jack Dempsey's boyhood home in Manassa, Colorado, now a museum.