Top of the Rock – a history

Top of the Rock – a history

On a recent trip to NYC, one of the first attractions I visited in NYC was Top of the Rock. I’d already been on the Empire State Building, so now it was time to experience something new. I hadn’t bargained that I’d learn a hell of a lot more about the circumstances of the construction of 30 Rock Plaza as part of the process. In fact, if the 1929 Wall Street Crash hadn’t happened, it’s possible that the iconic building might not exist at all.

Rockefeller Center

For those of you that don’t know, Top of the Rock is a building in the Rockefeller Center complex, which has no fewer than 19 commercial buildings. Situated just off the famous 5th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, the complex consists of 14 iconoic Art Deco buildings (and a private street called Rockefeller Plaza). Five more buildings were later added, bringing the total to 19.IMG_20170113_174059

Rockefeller Family

And the name? Yep, you guessed it, named after the eminent investor John D. Rockefeller (Jr). In 1928, the site was owned by Columbia University. They leased the land to Rockefeller, envisioning that it would be the site for the new Metropolitan Opera Building. But things didn’t go quite according to plan…

The Great Depression

The site (which was originally a botanical garden in the early 1800s) was cited from 1926 as a potential place for the new Met Opera Building. In 1928, Benjamin Wistar Morris and Joseph Urban were hired to come up with blueprints for the Opera Building. When it became clear that the Met couldn’t fund their plans itself, John D. Rockefeller Jr was recruited as an investor (though his father John D. Sr was not involved). New designers were hired, and Columbia agreed an 87 year lease for the plot to Rockefeller.

The principal architect was Raymond Hood, a student of the Art Deco movement which was gaining pace in the late 1920s. By December 1928, was all-systems-go, but two factors were to trouble the plans…

The Great Depression

The first of these factors was the fact that Met was becoming increasingly worried. It didn’t think the proposed site for it’s new opera house was going to be profitable.

And 10 months later, everything came to a halt with the 1929 stock market crash. A few weeks later, on December 6, 1929, the Met confirmed it could not afford a new opera house afterall. Plans were halted. The era of the Great Depression had begun. 

It was a dilemma for Rockefeller, however, who had signed an 87-year lease on the site. He needed to act quickly. Within a month, he had devised new plans to make the site profitable. He entered into talks with Radio Corporation of America, to build a mass-media entertainment complex on the site. Radio City was born. 

And thus, building began – well, that was, after a few plans fell by the wayside, mainly due to the public giving negative feedback. Four small retail buildings and a 41-story tower earmarked the beginning of Rockefeller Plaza in 1931. This was despite the fact that Rockefeller initially did not want the Rockefeller family name associated with the commercial project, but was persuaded on the grounds that the name would attract far more tenants.

After more plan changes, the plan for the building that was to become 30 Rockefeller Plaza opened in 1933.

Building the Tower

Lunch Atop A Skyscraper

(Photo from https://www.rockefellercenter.com/blog/2014/03/12/rock-history/)

“Lunchtime Atop a Skyscraper” is on the of the most famous photographs ever taken in New York City. It was taken on September 20, 1932, showing The Rock construction workers having their lunch with no regard for Health and Safety! According to the Rockefeller Website, the photo was taken 840-feet above the ground – about the 69th floor, during the final months of construction in 1932. And the website confirms that these men are not actors – they are genuine construction workers. Whether or not the photo was staged is another debate!

The website gives a very accurate description of what this photo represents historically:

“Regardless of the specifics, this image came to represent a specific time in modern New York’s history. There’s a nod toward the Depression, when workers were happy to have a job (despite the lack of safety harnesses), as well as a strong representation of the exciting period when New York City grew vertically at a rapid rate. A 2012 film called Men at Lunch explores the immigrant backgrounds of the men in the photo, identifying some as Irish and Swedish.”

‘Men at Lunch’ – documentary

In 2010, two Irish brothers happened upon the photo in a pub in Co. Galway. Upon learning that two men from the region were claimed to be in the photograph, the brothers began researching a documentary on the origins of the men, discovering that they were mainly Irish and Swedish. In 2012, their documentary ‘Men at Lunch’ was released. 

Conclusion

So that’s how a supposedly panoramic view of the city I’m calling home for the next three months left me realising there is always a much bigger story behind such iconic buildings. Who knows what might be on the Rockefeller Center site today if the 1929 Crash hadn’t happened? 

 

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Harvard’s Glass Flowers and the story of the father and son who made them

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants (known as the Glass Flowers) at Harvard Museum of Natural History, and was blown away by its story!

Yep, you read it right – GLASS Flowers. Over 4,300 of them to be exact, and all made by a father-and-son team – Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. Over 827 life-size models of glass flowers, as well as over 3,000 models of enlarged parts-of-flowers, representing nearly 800 different species of plants.

But here’s the twist – Leopold and Rudolf were not botanists (how’s that’s possible considering their attention to detail, I’ll never know).

This collection is unique, the only known collection of it’s kind in the world. Commissioned in 1886 by Professor George Lincoln Goodale, the first director of Harvard’s Botanical Museum, the aim of the exhibition was as teaching mechanisms for teaching, botany and also serve as an exhibit it what was the Museum (forerunner of the Harvard Museum of Natural History).

Back to the bit on glass. At first glance, you would never believe these flowers were glass. How could they be? I had to be told before I believed it. Goodale wanted to have a collection of teaching tools that were nothing but the best and of a standard deemed acceptable for Harvard. Up to then, botany was taught using pressed and carefully labelled specimens, which presented problems: pressed plants were 2D and tended to lose their colour. So Goodale wanted to find a method of teaching botany that involved 3D specimens that were durable.

Enter the experts. Leopold (1822-1895) and Rudolf Blaschka (1857-1939), were glass artists who lived and worked in Hosterwitz, Germany, near Dresden. They had previously produced several glass marine invertebrates for Harvard. Goodale then had the brainwave to commission his specimens out of glass.

Now for the next challenge – the age-old chestnut of funding. Before sending samples, an advance payment of 200 marks was required. When the Blaschkas sent their sample glass models (which all got damaged at Customs), it was enough still to convince Goodale that he needed to proceed with the commission. So he approached his former student Mary Lee Ware and her mother with the idea. Enchanted by the (damaged) sample models, Mary and her mother agreed to funded the project.

Initially the contract was part-time, but after 3 years, in 1890, the Blaschkas agreed to a new contract. Now they worked full-time on the Harvard glass flowers collection, fully funded by the Wares. The collection still carries the name of its funders today. After the death of Leopold in 1895, Rudolf carried on making the collection up until 1936, amounting to over 4,300 pieces covering over 800 species in immense detail.

The Glass Flowers are now on permanent display in the Harvard Museum of Natural History where they draw nearly 200,000 visitors each year.

Amy Post: Abolitionist; advocate for women’s rights

If you’ve read my article on the amazing story of Harriet Jacobs, then you’ll be interested to know about one of the influential women who encouraged her to write her memoirs: Amy Post. 

Born Amy Kirby to a Quaker family on Long Island in 1802, in 1828 she married her deceased sister Hannah’s husband – Isaac Post. Isaac was a Hicksite, and after a number of years Amy converted. Hicksite’s were a more radical form of Quakerism, a seperatist group to Orthodox Quakers. Formed after the ‘Great Separation’, Hicksite’s were in fact more true to the beliefs of Quakerism from times gone by, not wanting to take on some of the influence of Protestantism that had occured in North America in the 18th century. Amy and Isaac had four children, Jacob, Joseph, Matilda and Willet, and moved to Rochester in 1836. It was there that Amy’s true calling was to emerge.

Abolitionism

Isaac and Amy Post were to become abolitionist activists. This began with them sheltering numerous freedom seekers as part of the Underground Railroad. They hired free African-Americans to be their servants, and made acquaintance with a number of famous abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass, Abby Kelley, and William Lloyd Garrison.

As the years went on, Amy founded the Ladies Anti-Slavery Society (LASS). LASS was a perfectionist group, known for it’s involvement in churches and it’s desire to do kind gestures for people in society. However, as time went on many of Amy’s activities with LASS stopped, mainly because she was an ultraist, keen to make changes in society rather than benevolent gestures. Amy then became more involved in the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society (WNYASS). The WNYASS was a society that had both Quaker and non-Quaker members, something considered radical by other Quakers. 

Amy would later have a falling out with Frederick Douglass over her committment to the WYNASS as opposed to the LASS. This largely due to Amy’s anti-slavery fairs, which he felt served little good for the abolitionist cause and he lost faith in Amy as a result. 

Women’s Rights

A keen advocate of women’s rights, In 1848, attended the Seneca Falls Convention in  in Seneca Falls, NY. It was the first women’s rights convention, and she and Mary Post, her stepdaughter, were among the one hundred women and men who signed the Declaration of Sentiments, which was first presented there. Two weeks later, she and several other women who had participated in the Seneca Falls Convention organized the Rochester Women’s Rights Convention in the Post’s hometown of Rochester, New York

After Isaac’s death in 1872, Amy attempted to vote. Despite being registered, she was turned away, but that didn’t deter her from trying again a year later. She devoted much of her life after the Civil War to womens’ rights. Before his death, Isaac had become a medium thanks to the influence of sisters Kate and Margaret Fox, and Amy remained friends with them until her own death. 

Amy Post died in 1889, aged 86, and leaving behind her a major moral legacy. 

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100 years since the first female MP was elected to Westminster

28 December 2018 marks the centenary of the election of the first female MP to the British Parliament. Countess_MarkiewiczImprisoned at Holloway Prison upon the time of her election, she didn’t take her seat in parliament…but her imprisonment was not the reason…

1918 was a revolutionary year in many respects. In November, the First World War finally came to an end, and almost immediately, the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George called a General Election. And it was a revolutionary election. Women over 30 were allowed to vote. But more than that – women could now stand for election.

Miles away from the Western Front, it had been a turbulent few years in Ireland. The long-running struggle for independence was reaching a head. The 1916 Easter Rising failed, but the nationalists were not ready to give up yet.

Most Irish nationalist were members of a party called ‘Sinn Féin’ – who had a policy of ‘abstentionism’. This meant that they took their seats in the Irish Parliament – Dáil Éireann in Dublin.

So when Markievicz was elected, she didn’t take her seat in Westminster. When the Irish Parliament first met in January 1919, she was still in Holloway Prison. When her name was called out at the meeting of the Dáil, she was described, like many of those elected, as being “imprisoned by the foreign enemy”.

The first women to take her seat was Nancy Astor (Viscountess Astor), after a by-election in December 1919.

Remembering Cheiro, the Dublin man who became an infamous member of the Occult

82 years ago today, a man from Dublin passed away in Hollywood, California, having been one of the most famous figures of astrology of his time. Born in 1866, and also going by the name of Count Louis Hamon, ‘Cheiro’, as he is best known, was to become a symbol of the occult, a self-described clairvoyant and a world-renowned fortune-telling expert. Known for his ability to foresee world events, his clients are claimed to have included Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt and even Joseph Chamberlain. So how did a man from Dublin become arguably THE symbol of the occult in the early 20th century?Cheiroy

BACKGROUND

It was while travelling in India as a teenager that Cheiro met the Indian Brahmans, who was to become his Guru. Cheiro wrote in his memoirs that he was permitted by Brahmans to study an ancient book that has many studies on hands. After studying thoroughly for two years, he moved to London and started his career as a palmist, becoming popularly known as ‘Cheiro’ (taken from ‘chirology’ meaning studying the hands to tell fortunes).

PREDICTIONS

Some of the phenomenons Cheiro is purported to have predicted include the Boer War and the death of Queen Victoria. In 1925, he is alleged to have predicted the future partition of India. And he also claimed to have predicted the sinking of the Titanic, 13 years before it sank, while reading the palm of Harland and Wolff chairman William Pirrie. His office in the West End of London famously always had a queue of people waiting to hear about their future.

HIGH SOCIETY

But Cheiro’s unusual gift for the occult was not his only talent. He also befriended and read the palms some of the most eminent people of the day. Some of his clients included King Edward VII), General Kitchener, William Gladstone, Joseph Chamberlain as well as other leading military, judicial and political figures from both sides of the Atlantic.

He also read the hands of many literary and artistic figures such as Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde -and is alleged to have been a major source of inspiration along the way. Mark Twain included references to fingerprint identification in his novel Puddin’ Head Wilson, and Oscar Wilde is believed to have written the short story Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime based on his encounter with Cheiro. Mark Twain said of his visit: “Cheiro has exposed my character to me with humiliating accuracy. I ought not to confess this accuracy, still I am moved to do so.”

WRITER

And Cheiro was also a writer himself. He wrote numerous books on fortune-telling, some of which are still in print today. His books reveal something about his abilities. Although he undoubtedly had a gift for the occult, Cheiro was known to have ‘premonitions’ more so that actual reading things from people’s hands. In Confessions – Memoirs of a Modern Seer, it’s clear that Cheiro saw himself more as psychic than a palmist.

DEATH AND LEGACY

Moving to America is his later years, he read the palms of the Hollywood elite as the infamous neighbourhood was gathering pace. He is also alleged to have tried his hand at screenwriting. Upon his death on October 8, 1936, his widow claimed that he predicted his own death to the hour, the day before he died. Later that month, Time Magazine wrote: “On the night he died, said his nurse, the clock outside his room struck the hour of one thrice.”

CLICK ON THE LINKS BELOW TO READ MORE ABOUT CHEIRO:


The Irishwoman hanged for Witchcraft – Ann “Goody” Glover

 

Salem Witch TrialsNovember 16, 2018 this year will mark 30 years since Boston City Council announced a new remembrance day – Goody Glover Day, marking 400 years since the last person was hanged in Boston for supposed witchcraft. Her name? Ann Glover (known as ‘Goody’ Glover), born in Ireland earlier in the century. Four years before the infamous 1692 Salem Witch Trials, what circumstances led to this woman being hanged?

EARLY LIFE
Not much is known about Ann’s early life in Ireland. It’s known from her trial records that she was Irish, and a Roman Catholic. It’s understood that she was transported to Barbados, initially to work on a sugar plantation, probably as part of Oliver Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland the subsequent transportation of thousands of Irish people to the Caribbean to work as slaves. It is also alleged that her husband was executed in Barbados, allegedly for refusing to give us his Catholic faith. While this is doubtful (the authorities in the colonies, despite being anti-Catholic, were unlikely to execute a good worker for his faith alone), it wasn’t uncommon for Irish female slaves to go to New England from Barbados. And another allegation – it is rumoured that just before he died, Mr Glover declared that his wife Ann was a witch.

Records are thin, but we know from that by 1680s, Ann and her daughter Mary were living in Boston, working as housekeepers for a man named John Goodwin. In 1688, Goodwin’s 13 year-old daughter Martha accused Ann of stealing laundry, causing Ann to have an argument with Martha and the rest of the Glover children. Ann was arrested and her trial date arranged. The children are said to have then become unwell, and began to start acting strangely. Their doctor concluded that “nothing but hellish Witchcraft could be the origin of their maladies”. The medical diagnosis was that the Irish woman had “bewitched” the children of John Goodwin.

EVIDENCE
New England was a hotbed of religious conflict in the 1600s, and the witchcraft hysteria grew out that. Initially settled by Puritans from England looking to practice their faith free from persecution, by the 1680s various other denominations were found to be living in the region, causing a lot of religious hostile.

Cotton Mather was an infamous Puritan Boston prosecutor at the time (who would go on the work at the Salem Witch Trials). He led prosecuting Ann at her trial. The son of a Harvard president, Mather would later publish a book on the case of Ann Glover. When Cotton Mather visited her in prison before the trial, he claimed that she was engaged in night-time trysts with the Devil. To ensure she wasn’t mentally ill, a panel of physicians were engaged to examine her. Five of the six physicians who examined her had found her to be competent and her trial date set.

THE TRIAL
Initially, her answers could not be understood because she spoke Irish (although it was alleged that she was speaking the language of the devil). She did understand English, but apparently had lost all ability to speak it. An interpreter was found for her and the trial proceeded. Her inability to recite the Lord’s prayer would later be used as evidence against her.

Some small, doll-like images were found in a search of Ann’s house, which were used in the trial. Significance? When Mather was interrogating her she supposedly said that she prayed to a host of spirits and Mather took this to mean that these spirits were demons. Yet two male witnesses, allegedly Irish speakers, are said to have told the trial that Ann had previously confessed to them that she used the spirits for witchcraft. The identity of these two men is unknown, but it was later suggested that Ann may actually have been referring to Catholic saints.

It’s clear that a lot of the evidence used in the accusations against Ann was spectral. Either way, she was pronounced guilty of practicing witchcraft and sentenced to death by public hanging.

THE DAY OF THE HANGING
November 16, 1688 arrived, and with it, Ann’s execution date. Mocking crowds gathered to watch her life end. There are differing accounts of Ann’s final words. Some say that when she was taken to be hanged, she said that her death would not relieve the children of their “malady”. Others says that she not only said her death would not end the children’s suffering, but also that it would continue because she was not the only witch to have afflicted them. Another account claims that Ann still protested her innocence, and claimed that as a result, her death would have little effect on curing the affected children.

Tellingly, one contemporary writer recorded there having been “a great concourse of people to see if the Papist would relent.” The suggestion of her being Papist suggests some religious prejudice may have come into play. And even more tellingly, another writer, a Boston merchant named Robert Calef who knew Ann, said “Goody Glover was a despised, crazy, poor old woman, an Irish Catholic who was tried for afflicting the Goodwin children. Her behavior at her trial was like that of one distracted. They did her cruel. The proof against her was wholly deficient. The jury brought her guilty. She was hung. She died a Catholic.”

One contemporary writer recorded that, “There was a great concourse of people to see if the Papist would relent, her one cat was there, fearsome to see. They would to destroy the cat, but Mr. Calef would not permit it. Before her executioners she was bold and impudent, making to forgive her accusers and those who put her off. She predicted that her death would not relieve the children saying that it was not she that afflicted them.”

AFTER ANN’S DEATH
Ann was the last person hanged in Boston for witchcraft, but her hanging was part of a much wider fear of witchcraft in New England and Europe, and occurred just four years before the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Today, scientists are still trying to uncover a legitimate reason for the behaviour of those accused of witchcraft in New England.

After her death, Ann’s daughter Mary suffered a mental breakdown, and ended her days “a raving maniac”. However she may have been implicated in the witch trials herself. A “Mary Glover the Irish Catholic Witch” was recorded as being in a Boston jail with three pirates in 1689. We can’t be sure it was the same Mary, but it has been suggested.

Today, in Boston’s South End, there is a plaque to remember Ann “Goody” Glover, the last witch hanged in Salem, at a church on 27 Isabella Street.

 Read more about Ann Goody Glover’s story by clicking on the image here

Harriet Jacobs and the amazing story of her escape from slavery

On a reHarriet Jacobscent trip to New Orleans, I made my second visit in as many years to the Whitney Plantation (http://whitneyplantation.com/) and once again felt compelled to read as many true accounts of slavery as I possibly could. That same day, on a random trip into a cute little second-hand bookstore, I came across the perfect one – Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. And I was hooked.

The book is an account of a former slave’s life under the rigid slavery laws of North Carolina in the 1800s. Born in Edenton, NC in 1813, Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery. She had some white blood in her, and her maternal grandmother (who became her closest family member when she was orphaned) was half-white and had been freed from slavery, and even owned her own house (something slaves were not permitted to do).

Harriet bounced around through various ‘owners’ in her childhood – some kind, some not so. When her owner began making sexual advances towards her as a teenager, coupled with refusing her permission to marry the man she love, she retaliated, becoming pregnant by a local white man and fathering two mixed-race children with him while still in her teens. But soon Harriet’s domestic situation became unbearable, prompting her to make her escape (not seeing her children for many years). She disappeared and living in horrifically isolated, solitary conditions before escaping to the North in 1842, settling in New York where slaves were free.

Reunited with her children years later, Jacobs worked as a nursemaid in New York before beginning a lifelong friendship with the Quaker reformer Amy Post. Upon being officially granted her freedom upon the death of her owner, Harriet was encouraged by Post to write an account of her experiences as a slave – and Incidents was published in 1861.

Harriet’s story is captivating – both in terms of her heroic escape from a life of slavery but also in terms of her stoicism and an insight into how female slaves had to cope with sexual advances among everything else attached to being in slavery. It was largely forgotten about for over 100 years, before being discovered during the civil rights movement.

A highly recommended read: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Incidents-Slave-Dover-Thrift-Editions/dp/0486419312