New-York Historical Society Student Historians

This blog will highlight the work of teens participating in our nationally recognized Student Historian Internship Program at the New-York Historical Society. You can follow the Teen Leaders, interns who are in their second round here at New-York Historical, as they explore and research the museum and library collections in order to curate a pop-up exhibition on Governors Island opening July 2014. In addition to posts revealing their curatorial process, this blog will feature updates from our first year interns as well. Stay tuned as our teens share their unique perspective, informed by one of the world’s greatest collections of historical artifacts, works of American art, and other materials that document and illuminate the history of the United States and New York.


The Student Historian High School Internship Program is supported by a generous grant from The New York Life Foundation and through an endowment established by The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation.

The Battle of Spotsylvania

Battle of Spotsylvania

Chapter 17 of Netflix original [RL1] show House of Cards coincided nicely with our preparations for the upcoming Governor’s Island exhibit, as anti-hero Frank Underwood visited Spotsylvania, Virginia, to commemorate a battle of the Civil War campaign.

The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House was the second major battle of the Overland Campaign and was fought by the Union Army of the Potomac under the command of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. Though General Sherman is perhaps the most notorious amongst the Civil War generals, for his infamous March to the Sea, General Grant gained a brutal reputation in his own right, in large part due to the Overland Campaign.

The Overland Campaign began as Grant crossed into Virginia and placed himself between General Robert E. Lee’s forces and Richmond, the capital of Virginia. Lee met Grant in the Battle of the Wilderness, resulting in heavy casualties but no decisive advantage gained by either side. This proved to be a recurrent theme in the campaign, as Grant and Lee struggled for control without any real shift in momentum. One particularly gruesome moment in the conflict was highlighted by the House of Cards episode, as Union and Confederate forces converged on a Southern defensive position nicknamed the Mule Shoe. Over a 24 hour period, the Mule Shoe witnessed over 15,000 casualties confined within a mile and a half stretch of forest, as Confederate forces fought desperately to repel the Union attack. Earlier downpours had ruined stores of gunpowder for both sides, meaning much of the conflict was intense hand to hand combat. Once again, the battle was indecisive.

Ultimately, the Overland Campaign concluded with the Battle of Cold Harbor and the Siege of Petersburg, both of which served the purpose of draining Confederate supply lines and personnel. Union forces suffered particularly horrendous casualties, as Grant was willing to send his troops against well-fortified defensive positions in the hopes of wearing down Confederate manpower. The Overland Campaign proved to be the last major Civil War campaign, with Lee surrendering not long after its conclusion.

History remembers Grant as a brutal general who was willing to expend so many of his own troops that he was nicknamed “the Butcher”. Whatever that may reflect on his character, one cannot fault the effectiveness of his methods. The Union advantage lay in its massive industrial base and overwhelming numerical superiority. As the war ground on, the Confederacy found itself incapable of sustaining the casualties that Grant was forcing upon them. Many would argue that Southern generalship was far superior to that of the Union; the Confederate roster boasted names such as Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, James Longstreet, and the famous Robert E. Lee. But no matter the brilliance of their maneuvers or inspiring presence amongst their own men, they simply could not defeat the manpower advantage that Grant brought to bear. In a larger sense, this raises the question of whether the deaths of soldiers and civilians can be justified as a necessary cost of ending war. Though the Civil War is long ended, upon its anniversary, perhaps these are questions that should be applied to events in the world today.

Seowon Yu

H. L. Hunley: The First Submarine

When it was lost on February 17, 1864, the H. L. Hunley was the first submarine to successfully sink an enemy vessel.  Surprisingly, the Hunley, named after its inventor, Horace Lawson Hunley, would not be raised from its resting spot in 1864 until 2000, nearly a century and a half later. 

Powered by a hand-cranked propeller and shaped from custom parts, the 40-foot submersible was operated by eight crew members.  Seven of the crew worked the crank to turn the propeller while one crew member steered.  The vessel utilized ballast tanks that were flooded by opening valves and then pumped dry with hand pumps.  There were several iron weights attached to the hull for extra ballast which could be removed during an emergency if a crew member unscrewed the bolts from inside the submarine.  The two watertight hatches were located on the forward and aft portions of the ship atop the conning towers, both of which were equipped with small portholes.  The hull totaled around 4 feet 3 inches in height and required the crew members to constantly stoop their heads during use.  After an initial demonstration in Mobile Bay, where the submersible attacked a flatboat, it was deemed ready for military use and was put on a train and sent to Charleston, South Carolina.

Plan of the Hunley showing both conning towers and hand-cranked propeller. 

The submersible was plagued by bad luck from its first missions in the Confederate Navy, in which it was sunk on two separate occasions.  On its first training mission in August of 1863, the submarine’s crew was still learning the procedures for a test dive when the Skipper, Lieutenant John A. Payne of the Confederate Navy, stepped on the lever in control of the diving planes.  The ship dived immediately while its hatches were still open and submerged too rapidly for most of the crew to escape.  Only two crewmen and Payne swam out of the flooded submarine which then was raised by the Navy.  In October of the same year, Horace Hunley wished to command his vessel through another exercise to instill confidence in his invention.  Despite his precautions, the sub dived during the exercise, but did not surface for reasons unknown.  Unfortunately, Hunley died as well as the whole crew and the ship was raised once again.  

In February of 1864, the salvaged Hunley set out once more on what would be its last voyage.  It had one mission in mind: to ram the Union Navy blockading Charleston’s harbor.  Its victim would be the Union sloop, the USS Housatonic, guarding the entrance to Charleston’s harbor.  The Hunley completed its mission ramming and sinking the USS Housatonic with its spar torpedo, a copper container filled with 90 pounds of black powder and attached to a wooden spar approximately 22 feet long.  While it is still a mystery as to why the Hunley sank, its legacy lives on as the first submersible to destroy a ship. 

 

Sketch of the Hunley

-Andrew Sobelsohn

New York at War

In 1860, the Democratic nature of the large immigrant community & the City’s mercantile interests were pro-Southern and even pro-slavery. Historian Leslie M. Harris, associate professor of history at Emory University, noted: “From the time of Lincoln’s election in 1860, the Democratic Party had warned New York’s Irish and German residents to prepare for the emancipation of slaves and the resultant labor competition when southern blacks would supposedly flee North.” New York seemed opposed to the war.

Despite the reservations of some elements of society New York served with zeal. After the first three months of the firing on Fort Sumter 30,000 volunteers rushed to join the war effort. Several famous New York regiments earned their stripes fighting for the union, the 69th “Fighting Irish” and the 11th “New York Fire Zouaves.” These soldiers joined nearly 400,000 men from the Empire State, 45,000 more than the next highest state, Pennsylvania. The military contribution in manpower was a key element in Union victory & New York was an instrumental player.

                                     The 69th are still active today

New York was far from the front lines, but that did not mean it was far from action.  The draft riots of 1863 have already been touched on as the largest civil uprising in our nation’s history, leading to scores of people dead and racial humiliation & looting.  In addition confederate saboteurs were active in the city, planning to light a string of fires on election day in 1864. They were unsuccessful. The Brooklyn Navy Yard constructed the first Ironclad, the USS Monitor, and contributed greatly to wartime manufacturing.

                                Lincoln’s passing was felt by the city

Near the wars end New York honored Lincoln’s death, as New Yorkers flocked to see the President’s procession. The State has come to terms with the conflicted role it has played in the war, and in the end New York was changed as much as the rest of the nation.

Adam Hamilton

To read more see the following

http://www.mrlincolnandnewyork.org/inside.asp?ID=81&subjectID=4

http://www.civilwardata.com/dbstatus.html

Why History?

     Having worked at the New-York Historical Society since my sophomore year, I have been asked multiple times in various contexts, why do I love history? There is the standard answer of not repeating mistakes and placing current events in a greater context, but for this blog post I thought I might try and answer this question in greater depth.

      In various sciences, there is a phenomenon known as emergence theory which states that simple interactions give rise to complex patterns and systems that may exceed the sum of their parts. A commonly given example is that of water: hydrogen and oxygen are flammable agents that, when combined, suddenly gain the ability to put out fire. Crucially, water exhibits properties that are absent in its constituent elements.

     Within the study of history, we can often observe this trend unfold. Religion, art, civilization, and all other great and powerful developments find their origins in the multiplied actions of ordinary men and women. Once set in motion, however, they exhibit a life and momentum of their own that influence us as well. The greater trends of history can be distilled to reveal what is essential to us as individuals. Consider why we place importance on the Declaration of the Rights of Man, or the Wonders of the World. They are representatives of certain principles that hold enduring value, such as liberty, self-expression, artistry, etc. By studying what we honor and remember, we discover the values and accomplishments that hold weight to us as people. This remains true in the present day, and as we decide what should be recalled in textbooks, museums, and other recordings of human history, we influence what will be taught and considered important to future generations as well. History is thought of as a study of the past, but through it we understand the present and determine the future.

     So within the context of my work at the New-York Historical Society, there is a definite sense of connection to an ongoing process. The N-YHS was founded in 1804, and though it has undoubtedly gone through multiple iterations, the objective of the institution remains to bring people together through NYC’s history. Over the academic year of 2012- 2013, I and my fellow Teen Leaders were given the task of designing the Governor’s Island exhibition on World War II Photography and Propaganda. World War II holds special significance in the collective memory of the United States. It was the beginning of America as a global superpower, pushing us up onto the global stage and setting us up for the role we occupy in the world today. On a more personal level, we remember it as a fight for freedom and self-determination: a crucial battle in an ongoing struggle to help make the world a better place. As I assist in creating exhibitions, doing research, giving tours, etc, I feel that I am one part of a greater whole dedicated to preserving these ideals and connecting us to these principles that continue to matter.

Seowon Yu

The Fort, Opera House, and Aquarium: Castle Garden

Castle Garden was constructed between 1808 and 1811 to serve as a fort on the tip of Manhattan.  Originally dubbed West Battery, the fort protected New York from possible invasions by European nations and was manned throughout the war of 1812.  However, West Battery and its twenty-eight guns never saw action; its presence alone was enough to persuade British forces not to attack New York.  Three years later, it was renamed Castle Clinton after the mayor of New York City, Dewitt Clinton and still officially holds that name to this day.  Leased to the city by the United States Army in 1821, the fort underwent renovations and reopened as Castle Garden in 1824. 

Castle Garden quickly became a great cultural center and a place of public entertainment.  It was used as a restaurant, opera house, exhibition hall, and in 1896 was remodeled as the New York Aquarium.  Throughout the 19th century, the fort saw many great American and international figures.  Revolutionary War General Marquis de Lafayette’s triumphant return to America began in Castle Garden, where he was greeted by a major general’s salute.  In 1833, President Andrew Jackson landed at the Castle and was welcomed by hundreds of New Yorkers along the waterfront edge.  Two years later, the Castle hosted Samuel Morse, who used it as a venue to display the use of his telegraph to the public.  Despite its walls bearing witness too many famous historical figures, the Castle saw the emigration of millions of other figures, not quite as famous as Presidents or Generals.  

More than eight million immigrants traveled through Castle Garden from its opening day as New York’s Emigrant Landing Depot on August 1st, 1855, to its closure in 1890, when it was superseded by Ellis Island.  In the mid-1900s, Castle Garden was ordered to be demolished by Robert Moses as part of his Brooklyn to Battery Bridge plan.  Fortunately, his plans were too costly and while the aquarium was destroyed, the fort remained standing.  Castle Garden became a national monument on July 18th, 1950 and still stands today in Battery Park, operated by the National Park Service.  The Castle has been restored much to its former glory; with its open ceiling and replica guns the fort resembles its former self in the early 1800s.  There is also a museum located within the fort and great views of the waterfront and the statue of liberty from its location at the Southern tip of Manhattan.

-Andrew Sobelsohn

Brother Against Brother: Did New York Really Want to Secede During the American Civil War?

     The answer to this question in short, yes. During the American Civil War many New Yorkers were inclined to allow the Southern States to continue practicing slavery in order to increase total output of the largest American cash crop at the time: cotton. New York was, and has been the epicenter of the U.S.A., and with the onset of a Civil War New Yorkers were not happy. Well, many people were not happy - the nation was about to dive into a horrible conflict, nevertheless cotton provided so much to the New York economy that many people did not see the chance to let it slip away. An estimated $180 billion dollars was defaulted on by Southern industries, infuriating many New York businessmen, and furthering the calls to remain neutral and leave the South alone. 

                                       

     Citizens’ calls for neutrality were fueled by the fear of increased job competition in an already deflated economy. Wealthier citizens were able to pay approximately $300 in order to have a substitute take their place in the war, causing anger to reverberate throughout the city, particularly among its robust Irish population – who could not afford to have substitutes. Additionally, racial tensions existed between the Irish, and Free Blacks over competition for jobs. Following the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, many felt that the next stop for Free Blacks would be New York. This fear led to the onset of the New York City Draft Riots – the largest civil uprising in American history. Many New Yorkers, predominantly Irish citizens attacked the city’s black population, destroying buildings such as the Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue. Reinforcement from the U.S. Government did not arrive until a day later, however the riots continued. The aftermath of this insurrection altered the city’s dynamic. Many Blacks, fearing for their lives fled the city for protection, and the Union gained support from the people of New York. 

                         

     New York was divided even more so on the principles of continuing war with our own. Peace Democrats, fueled by their own intentions of job preservation, and maintenance of the South’s slave status quo, encompassed the city, compromising a significant portion of the general population. Known colloquially as Copperheads, Peace Democrats were found predominantly throughout the Northeast. Many Republicans used this moniker to compare the intentions of the faction to that of a venomous snake, representative of wanting to ruin the nation by opposing the war. Copperheads adamantly argued to end the conflict through diplomacy, and not violence – a viewpoint that many saw as futile and weak. Ultimately this faction acquiesced after the Confederate capture of Atlanta, prompting the Union to become predominantly pro-war. Another faction existed within the Democratic Party – War Democrats – who called for war and supported the efforts of President Lincoln. As you can see, The City of New York was not entirely supportive of the American Civil War, and for the most part did not even want it to take place, no matter what the cause was for. Through conflict, and diplomacy, New Yorkers finally supported the efforts of the country, providing unity behind the Union’s cause, and rejoiced when the Union had finally won the ideological conflict. 

- Charles Kyle O’Rourke 

7 Women Who have Rocked Major US History Era’s

March is Woman’s History Month, a whole month dedicated to celebrating the amazing women in history; their accomplishments, their inventions, and their revolutionary attitudes.  Although there are thousands of women who are noteworthy, I’ve selected one woman to represent each era discussed in the forthcoming article. These selected women (I believe) represent and capture the sentiments of the era they are coupled with.

Revolutionary War – Molly Pincher

Molly Pitcher is a nickname that was given to a very brave woman who is said to have fought in the Battle of Monmouth.  Historians believe her to be Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, there is no official documentation of who this woman was but one of the most important things about her is that she became a symbol of the many women who carried water to men on the battlefield.  

Civil War – Clara Barton

Clara Barton was the founder of the Red Cross; she was a pioneer nurse and voiced the importance of nursing and medical aid.  She was also a teacher, patent clerk, and a humanitarian.  She devoted her life to helping others – in a time when most women were expected to occupy their role as home-makers Clara Barton defied societal norms and followed her natural altruism.

Industrialization/Progressive Era – Ida Tarbell

Ida Tarbell is one of the most memorable Muckrakers of the Progressive Era – she is most well known for her book “The History of Standard Oil,” which exposed the evils and corrupt nature of John D. Rockefeller (who was depicted as “money-grabbing” and miserly.  A muckraker could be considered an early form of an investigative journalist. These men and women worked to expose political corruption and “social ill.”  Similarly, Tarbell helped expose the corrupt ways of the Era (specifically the corrupt nature of Standard Oil) and will forever be remembered.

WWI – Georgia O’Keefe

Georgia O’Keefe is very well known for her paintings of enlarged blossoms, she is said to be the mother of American Modernism. American Modernism is the ideological belief that humans have the power to change and influence their surrounding environment.  The Modernist movement began in the early 20th century as industrialization was booming due to WWI; it was a response to the impersonal atmosphere that came with industrialization.  Modernists aimed to bring back individualism – and post-WWI, inspire citizens to “pick up the pieces” and use their influence to change the world they were living in.   

Great Depression – Eleanor Roosevelt 

Eleanor Roosevelt is known as the longest serving first-lady of United States History.  She is known as a very controversial first lady because of her outspoken nature; she is specifically known for her voiced opinions on racial issues. Most importantly she oversaw the drafting of the “Declaration of Human Rights.” This stated that there were rights that all humans were entitled to, regardless of race, religion, sex, geographical location, etc.  The declaration of these rights was appropriate post WWII; but the involvement of Eleanor Roosevelt with the publication of these rights speaks to the changing nature of the US at that point. The Declaration of Human Rights highlighted the need for change in the United States – something that Eleanor Roosevelt deeply supported. 

WWII – Rosie the Riveter

“Rosie the Riveter” became a national symbol of hard work, a nationalistic mindset, and a “we can do it” attitude.  Rosie became very popular during the WWII-era where women on the home front began to fill the positions of men that were off at war.  Rosie motivated women to help their country by working in factories, grow their own victory gardens, or become nurses.  Rosie made the “Home-front” as important as it became – but she did so much more than this.  She involved the 2nd half of the population in the war, she made women feel empowered, and she made women feel like equal participants – for, she clarified that helping to win the war did not have to include fighting overseas.

Civil Rights Movement – Rosa Parks 

Moving on to the Civil Rights movement era – Rosa Parks is most famous for her bus boycott.  This memorable boycott included her refusal to stand up and move to the back of the bus for a white male.  Although this is what she is most well-known for Rosa Parks was a Civil Rights activist for the rest of her life.  This may have been one action on one day, but this single action stands for the Civil Rights movement ideologically as a whole – the refusal to accept the label of second class citizenry. 

All of these women are phenomenal role models, but they are all different and special in their own ways. The major thing that they have in common is that they were all very influential; each of them not only lived incredible and noteworthy lives; they all changed and affected many people’s lives. There of course, many more women that I could have chosen – this made choosing even more difficult. You also might have noticed that I stopped after the Civil Rights Era; this is because as women’s rights have increased even more monumental/influential women have developed. It has just become too difficult for me to just pick one woman to represent an era as the dawn of the 21st century has come. Woman’s History Month is meant for just what this article has done; it is meant to remember the wonderful, motivational, and memorable women that have populated our rich history.      

-Lienne Harrington 

Ulysses S. Grant: The Man Behind The American Hero

Ulysses S. Grant, the famous Union Civil War General and the 18th President of the United States, was born in Ohio to Jesse Grant, a tanner.  He attended the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York and surveyed the western frontier alongside many other young officers who would become military leaders in the coming Civil War.  However, beyond our knowledge of his achievements before and throughout the Civil War or during his time as President, can we attest to the character of the man behind the larger-than-life figure we constantly see in history books and television programs? 

 

Ulysses S. Grant at Cold Harbor, 1864.

Grant was not always portrayed as kindly as he is today. A little known fact about Ulysses’ family is, while they were well off, his parents did not always give him the affection a child deserves.  His mother never visited him in the White House during his presidency and he had a troublesome relationship with his father for most of his life. Even his name conceals hidden facts.  Hiram Ulysses Grant became Ulysses S. Grant after Congressman Thomas Hamer made a mistake while writing Grant’s name down for a nomination to West Point. At the age of 17 Grant adopted his new name and embarked on a journey into the military that would change his life. As a Cadet Grant did not enjoy the military lifestyle and was very casual when concerning his studies.  He preferred horseback riding and quickly established himself as an expert. Grant, as it turned out, wanted above all to pursue teaching and hoped that his military career would come to an end. 

 

Ulysses Simpson Grant 

Unfortunately, a few years after his graduation from West Point in 1843, the Mexican-American war began. Grant was opposed to the war, but duty called and he was engaged in the front lines. He believed the war was unjust and would just spread slavery through the newly gained territory—a sentiment against slavery that would be echoed later in 1859 when he freed a slave given to him by his wife’s father.  Moreover, throughout his victories in the Civil War Grant kept a level head not letting his success get the better of him. 

General Ulysses S. Grant Memorial Medal


Also a man of morals and civil rights, Grant championed Black and Indian rights after the war and most notably during his presidency when he pushed for congress to pass the 15th amendment.  This amendment prohibited any federal or state government from denying the right to vote based on a citizen’s race, color or previous condition of servitude.  Grant championed Indian rights during his presidency and appointed a Seneca Indian as Commissioner of Indian Affairs.  In addition, he started reversing the federal governments past policies of removing Indians in favor of policies that benefitted the Indians and set up relationships between the United States and various tribes.  As Grant fought to maintain domestic peace he avoided conflict abroad.  He wisely directed the nation away from wars with both Great Britain and Spain, preserving international peace. Grant took economic steps as well to ensure America’s prosperity backing the paper currency with gold.  Sadly, this venture led to many corruption scandals within his administration and when Grant left office he was remembered by some as a hero and others as another dishonest political figure. 

 

The Funeral of Ulysses Grant

Today we recognize Grant as one of the America’s great national heroes, but just as with any of our other heroes we should take the time to learn a little bit about the person’s personality and beliefs, not just their overwhelmingly famous feats before we judge their place in history. 

To check out more about Grant’s life and his relationship with other famous Civil War figures go to our online exhibition: Grant and Lee in War and Peace

https://www.nyhistory.org/web/grantandlee/

-Andrew Sobelsohn

Black History Month

As far back as I can remember February has been Black History Month. In school we always learnt about Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglas and George Washington Carver and other black figures who left an impact on our society. Invariably one student would ask “Why is there a Black History Month, but no White History Month?”  There is no one sentence answer to that question, but the best way I have heard it explained was through the history of Black History Month. This February will be the thirty-eighth black history month since President Gerald Ford decided to commemorate the month as part of America’s bicentennial celebration. On February 10th 1974 black history month became a yearly tradition.

Ford’s decision to make black history month didn’t just come out of thin air. The precursor to the month long celebration of black culture was originally called “Negro History week”. In 1915 Carter Woodson, a graduate of the University of Chicago returned to his home state of Illinois to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation. After experiencing the popular state sponsored exhibits on slavery and reconstruction he and a friend, A. L. Jackson, formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) to promote the study of black culture. In 1916 they began to publish The Journal of Negro History.

Mr.Woodson looking quite dapper.

Woodson and the ASNLH were upset by the lack of support their movement was receiving, and, in an effort to popularize the study they announced the creation of Negro History Week in February 1926. The second week of February was intended to encompass the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederik Douglas, both celebrated annually to some degree by the black community. Since the inception of Negro History Week it slowly began to grow, gaining acceptance as more and more Americans, regardless of race accepted the celebration. Woodson died in 1950, wanting the celebration to be more than a one week affair and hoping to bring black history into the normal curriculum. Twenty six years after his death, during the fiftieth Negro History Week President Ford made his proclamation, making Black History month part of American Life.

 Now whenever I am asked, “Why is there a Black History Month, but no White History Month?”  I respond that Black History Month is intended to bring black history into the classroom rather than usurp the time from “White” history, but to remind us that Black history is American history, and they should be taught together.

The Journal for Negro History has been renamed The Journal for African American History and can be found here:

http://www.jaah.org/

President Ford’s declaration of Black History Month can be found here:

 http://www.ford.utexas.edu/library/speeches/760074.htm

To learn more about Black History Month check out:

http://www.asalh.org/blackhistorymonthorigins.html

-Adam Hamilton

Solomon Northup & the Civil War

For the past few years it’s seemed like everywhere we look we’re seeing a new book or  movie (or N-YHS satellite exhibit) about the Civil War, and as the 150th anniversary of the end of the war approaches, it definitely seems like we have found a new history hot-topic. In light of all the Oscar attention it’s been receiving, I finally went to the movie theater and saw 12 Years a Slave. If you haven’t yet, run out this minute and get a ticket, you won’t be disappointed. 12 Years a Slave tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free man and respected musician born in New York. He is lured into going to Washington, D.C. with the prospect of giving a concert, and is drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery.

             

             A sign commemorating Solomon Northup in his home of Saratoga, NY 

What is known as the “Reverse Underground Railroad” doesn’t get half as much attention as it should. During the first half of the nineteenth-century it was not uncommon for escaped slaves to be caught and either returned to their masters or resold, but the kidnapping of African American’s that were born free was unknown to most of the population.

What was most disturbing to the people being transported, and to those of us now learning about it, is that the hub of these illegal sales was right in Washington, D.C., literally under the shadow of the Capitol Building on Independence Avenue. The most notorious of these ‘slave pens’ was the one run by William Williams, and is the very place that Solomon Northup was held in. Williams’ pen was nicknamed ‘The Yellow House” because of its pleasing and cheery outside that masked the misery on the inside. It was situated right on the National Mall and hundreds of people walked by it everyday, completely unaware of what was going on inside.

After the Civil War began, kidnappings and internal trading came to a halt, and this particular thread faded into the broader tapestry of slavery in America, immortalized only in diaries like Northup’s.

Here’s the trailer for 12 Years a Slave- Go and see it, it’s an amazing story with an amazing background!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z02Ie8wKKRg

And for more interesting takes on slavery check out these great books:

The House Girl, by Tara Conklin

http://www.amazon.com/The-House-Girl-A-Novel/dp/0062207393

Beloved, by Toni Morrison

http://www.amazon.com/Beloved-Toni-Morrison/dp/1400033411

And don’t forget to come visit us this summer on Governor’s Island to learn more about slavery right here in New York City!

-Emma van Lent

Hidden Treasures at N-YHS

While our Teen Leader group is curating our Civil War satellite exhibit, we are also creating tours for the Rubin Museum of Art teen interns to go on when they visit the New-York Historical Society! While these tours will cover some of the main attractions here, like the Armory Show, I have decided to pull together a slightly more off-beat tour that focuses on some of the many hidden treasures scattered throughout the Museum. Inspired by Museum Hack, a company that gives unconventional tours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, here are some of my unexpected finds:


1. George Washington’s Camp Bed

While you might think you need to travel to Mount Vernon to see where George Washington slept, you actually don’t need to go farther than 77th Street! This camp bed was used by George Washington at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War. The blistering cold winter spent at Valley Forge in 1777 is pointed to as one of the lowest dips in morale for the Continental Army, and one of Washington’s most difficult situations in his military career as he struggled to obtain supplies for his battered army.

2. Keith Haring Adidas

In 2006, Jeremy Scott worked in conjunction with Adidas and the Keith Haring Foundation to design these special edition Adicolor Hi BK2 sneakers. Scott was able to use original Keith Haring artwork on the sneakers, along with his signature on the tops. These Adidas can be seen among other Keith Haring artwork in the rotating collection in the Luce Center.

3. Double Eagle Coin

                                 

This twenty dollar coin, minted in 1933, is one of the most valuable coins in the world. While originally worth $20, it was auctioned in 2002 for $7,590,020. Once the United States departed from the Gold Standard during the Great Depression, these coins became illegal to own. While most of the Double Eagles minted were later melted down, ten of these coins were stolen from the U.S. Mint in 1937. Nine coins were recovered, but the tenth was owned by King Farouk of Egypt. This coin made its way to auction in 2002, and remains the only Double Eagle that can be privately owned.

4. Tiffany Studios Mosaic

This fragment comes from the mosaic sign outside the Tiffany Studios Building located on Fourth Avenue and 25th Street. In 1905, Tiffany Studios moved from that location to Madison Avenue and 45th Street. This mosaic originally read 335·TIFFANY STUDIOS·347. The part of the mosaic displayed in the upper level of Luce has the remnants of the 335 building number. It is made out of favrile glass, stone, and concrete, and was mostly likely created by the Tiffany Studios’ Women’s Glasscutting Department. Many of the lamps on display below the mosaic in Luce were also created by this department.


This is just a small sample of the many often-overlooked objects on display at the New-York Historical Society. It isn’t possible to see every wonderful object in the Museum’s vast collection, so I hope this post gave you a taste of some of the less well-known ones. Each collection and every object at the Museum has a fascinating back story, so I hope you will keep a look out of the rest of the Teen Leaders’ posts throughout the year!

-Rebecca Ennis

Draft Riots of NYC

Hello from the Governor’s Island curating squad of 2014! This year we are working on some really cool material and we would love to share it with you! Since we have started our internship/curatorial work we have been doing a lot of research – about… the Civil War! Yes – it is confirmed that our satellite exhibit this summer will be about the Civil War and New York City!

We have broken down into groups and begun to research different topics – but to get inspiration we took a look through the Luce center. Take a look at one of the coolest and most interesting objects that we found…

Hmmm so what is this? It looks like some sort of sideways barrel with a handle thing on it – maybe a wooden version of the barrel at bingo night. Very close, it is a draft wheel that was used during the Civil War. Although this wheel did not cause rioting (because it is obviously an inanimate object) it certainly stood for a tumultuous and tense time of history.

In the year of 1863 a draft was issued which stated that all male citizens between the ages of twenty and forty-five were “subject to military duty.” Those who could afford to could pay a fee of three hundred dollars and have their names taken out of the lottery.  This “loop-hole” to the draft created many internal problems.  Upper class males were able to avoid the draft while poorer, typically Irish immigrants, were forced to populate the army.

The working class was forced to shoulder the burden of the war; and the draft was just enough to push them over the edge.  Not only were they angered that the wealthy men of the time were able to avoid the draft, but their main source of anger was the lack of blacks being forced into the draft.  At the time blacks were not citizens, therefore they were not able to be drafted. For five days they rioted in the streets of New York City.  What had initially started as a group of citizens expressing anger and resentment towards the government quickly turned into a race riot.  

Ultimately the vicious Draft Riots of New York has become one of the most notable events of the Civil War, the five days of rioting is considered the largest internal insurrection during the war.

It is with artifacts like this that we can connect to history.  Something tangible, such as this wheel brings history to life, and the meaning behind the artifact is essential to understanding history.  Although the Draft Wheel will not be able to physically be at Governor’s Island this summer, there will certainly be depictions of essential artifacts like this.  Stay tuned for our weekly blog!    

- Lienne 

How to Look at a Civil War Painting

Civil War paintings have unique characteristics that make them distinct from other works of art. Understanding that they are historical objects and works of art at the same time, I have a few suggested steps that you could take when looking at a Civil War Painting.

Louis Lang (1814–1893), Return of the 69th (Irish) Regiment, N.Y.S.M. from the Seat of War, 186

 1.     Let the painting speak for itself

This goes for looking at any painting. Before you consider Civil War Paintings as historical objects, consider them as artwork. When I see a painting, I like to first just stand in front of it and spend a solid amount of time to gaze at it. Instead of immediately trying to understand the historical significance or the meaning of the work, looking at the painting more literally and wholly can actually lead you to notice more details that may be subtle. In Return of the 69th (Irish) Regiment, N.Y.S.M. from the Seat of War (the above painting), there are so many vibrant colors, small people in the back, cracks on the ground, and other wonderful details, which you might just miss if you skip to analyzing before observing. Basic observations can later help uncover the history of Civil War that the painting illustrates.

2.     Spot the flag

Not all Civil War paintings have flags, but a significant amount of them do, so it is worth spotting the flags. You will most likely find at least one of the two types of flags—The Union flag or the Confederate flag. The flag or flags in the painting is one of the most important pieces of information that allows us to figure out what side the people in the painting were on, what side the artist was on, and what is going on in the painting. In the above painting, there is one flag that stands out, the Union flag, but there are numerous flags all of which can be found throughout the painting. You should focus on not only the flag that is present in the painting, but also the flag that is absent in the painting. Why is the Confederate flag missing? Can you make a connection between the portrayed scene and the flags to make an educated guess on what is going on in the painting?

The Union flag                                         

The Confederate flag

3.     Look at the sky

As the Civil War was an event of violence and conflict, many paintings of the event inevitably portray outdoor scenes and battles. This means the sky is incorporated into these paintings. Whether or not the artist intended it, the color of the sky will function to emphasize the atmosphere of the scene. In this painting, the sky is blue and cloudless, giving the sense of calmness and peace. From this, you can assume that this is not a battlefield. Often, battle scenes have gray skies, capturing the dire nature of the moments in the Civil War.

4.     Determine what side the artist was on—Union or Confederate

The painting gives numerous clues to help us determine which side the artist was on. So far, we have noticed the presence of the Union flags, the use of vibrant colors, and the clear sky in the painting. These details do not complete the puzzle, but the fact that the artist painted Union flags in a cheerful, peaceful, and even welcoming scene directs us to believe that the artist was on the Union side.

 5.     Spot the women and the children

As mentioned previously, many Civil War paintings portray battle scenes. Consequently, you will not see too many women and children in these works of art. However, if women and children are in a painting, they can act as powerful hints to the narrative of the piece. We must not forget that women and children were greatly affected by the Civil War although they did not fight actively in the battles as men did. Pay attention to the actions, the clothes, the postures, the placements, and the expressions of the women and the children. You will notice that the painting is telling a story different from that of a painting just with men.

                                                                                        -Seung Hee Kim

Once Upon a Time in Brooklyn..

Though it’s not Times Square or the Statue of Liberty or any other tourist-friendly destinations of that ilk, Brooklyn is a whirlwind of different ethnicities, rich culture and extensive historical background. It’s difficult to find many surviving remnants of bygone eras in Manhattan, a city that is always changing, renovating and rebuilding. However, Brooklyn wears it’s history on its sleeves—or rather, its streets. At every turn there is a building or a plaque or a monument stands tribute to the borough history.

One particular area is brimming with liveliness, and it also happens to be the area in which I spent my childhood in. East Flatbush stretches from East 98th street to New York Avenue, to the LIRR Bay Ridge and is home to 84,498 working class immigrants that come from a variety of different backgrounds.

image

Abandoned Theater on Flatbush Avenue [outside view]

If you happen to be in the area and have finished eating at one of the many delicious Caribbean restaurants that litter the area, take the B41 towards Kings Plaza, sit on the left and you’ll catch an old and rusty yet undeniable architectural beauty. Still standing despite the fact that it was built during the late 1920s, this theater pictured above was abandoned during the 70s and it is one of New York’s first out of  five “Wonder Theaters”.

The theater is not in business anymore (though it’s due for renovations in 2014) and yet it still stands, perhaps a bit awkwardly in the midst of car dealerships and tiny bodegas. Yet it’s still an integral part of the community and an everyday sight for those who live on the avenue.

image

Abandoned theater [inside view]

But the history of Flatbush goes even further back than the twenties: the very neighborhood I grew up in, now a paved criss-cross of roads and residential houses, used to be farmland.  This plaque, which sits on the front lawn of a local church, commemorates figures who had passed through the area, such as General Cornwallis, George Washington, and Native Americans. Despite being a quiet neighborhood in our era, if you stand very still in front the white washed wooden church, you can still hear the clip clops of Washington’s horse as he marches down the street. 

image

Sources: X X X

Written by: Marwah

Uncommon Valor: The Fight for Iwo Jima

"Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue"

—Admiral Chester W. Nimitz  

 

In the final months of World War II, as the war in Europe drew to a close Allied military forces shifted their focus on forcing Japan to surrenderThe Imperial Navy and Army were suffering major defeats across the Pacific and the main island of Japan, Kyushu, was being bombed weekly by the long range B-29 American bombers known as, “Superfortresses”.  However, Japan did “not surrender; bound by a rigid moral code they fought and died by the thousands, seeking an honorable death over a dishonorable life.  The American Marines that had already assaulted islands such as Saipan, Tinian, and Guam were familiar with the die-hard fighting style of the Japanese.  The United States Admiral, Chester W. Nimitz, launched an offensive in which he captured only islands of large strategic value and avoided islands that would be costly in Allied lives and resources.  This strategy of “Island Hopping”, as it was called by Nimitz, led U.S. forces to the Bonin Islands where Iwo Jima is located.

 

Iwo Jima is an ugly, eight mile square speck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. While its only major feature is a 565-foot peak, known as Mount Surabachi, the island does have two airfields.  As the U.S. conquest in the Pacific continued, Admiral Nimitz saw the importance of capturing the airfields for two reasons.  One reason was to stop Japanese fighters from attacking the U.S. Mariana airfields and harassing B-29 bombers making runs on the Japanese Home Islands.  The second reason was that if the U.S. controlled the airfields they could serve as an emergency landing strip for B-29s returning from sorties over Japan that were damaged or had mechanical problems.  Like their American counterparts the Japanese also saw the importance of the island and its airfields and prepared their defenses accordingly.  Within Mount Surabachi and underneath the rest of the island the Japanese garrison of more than 23,000 men dug out into the volcanic rock a series of elaborate fortifications.  They created miles of tunnels and hundreds of bunkers, machine-gun nests, pillboxes, heavy artillery positions, batteries, and sniper posts.  Thus, the months of preliminary bombardment by the U.S. Air Force and the three day bombardment by the Navy did little damage to the protected Japanese positions, and when the Marines assaulted the island the Japanese were ready and waiting.

 

 

                  Japanese fortifications on Iwo Jima

The invasion occurred on February 19, 1945 and as the Marines from the 5th Amphibious Corps, which was composed of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions. When they landed they met no resistance.  The first wave piled up on the beach and eventually orders were given to move up to make way for incoming waves of Marines.  As Marine Units proceeded slowly inland armed with a false sense of security, the Japanese were watching them through the sights of their guns, waiting for the order to fire.  The order was eventually given by the commanding officer of the Japanese Garrison, Lieutenant General Tadamishi Kuribayashi, allowing Marines to land on the beaches for one hour.  The uneasy quiet that pervaded the island was suddenly broken and the previously routine landings on the beach quickly dissolved into chaos.  In a matter of seconds landing craft were destroyed, tanks were consumed by the explosions of direct hits, and men were obliterated in front of their friends, as a result of enemy mortars, gunfire, and shells.  More and more Marine units piled up onto the beach, pinned by a deadly crossfire of Japanese guns.  They were quickly becoming sitting ducks and were mowed down at the leisure of the defenders.  Despite all confusion and horror in the landing zones, small pockets of Marines started to push onwards, attacking Japanese positions with a combination of grenades, flamethrowers, and unrelenting fire.  To move was tolive and it soon became apparent that those who stayed on the beaches would not be alive for very long.  With this mentality the invasion force made slow progress inland, fighting at night under the waning light of flares and bursts of star shells which illuminated the dead and dying.  In 36 days the island would be declared secure at the cost of almost 7,000 American lives and 28,000 casualties.  The Japanese forces were decimated and of the original 23,000 defenders only around 1,000 were taken alive, the rest were killed in action.                                                      

                  Photograph of the American landings on February 19, 1945                                

                              Wounded Marines being tended to by Corpsmen

Once under U.S. control, the island’s airfields proved their worth, seeing more than 2,400 B-29s perform emergency landings and saving the lives of 24,000 U.S. airmen.  In addition, the island would serve as a base of operations for the last invasion in the Pacific Theatre of War, the invasion of Okinawa.  With the incalculable importance of Iwo Jima in helping to end the War and the legacy of bravery, courage, and uncommon valorleft by the Marines who fought there it is no surprise that one of the world’s most famous icons was created on the island. The icon is a world famous picture taken by an Associated Press Photographer, Joe Rosenthal.  The picture is of five Marines and one Navy Corpsman raising an American flag on the summit Mount Surabachi.  The soldiers’ names are Cpl. Harlon Block, Navy Pharmacist’s Mate John Bradley, Cpl. Rene Gagnon, PFC Franklin Sousley, Sgt. Michael Strank, and Cpl. Ira Hayes.  Tragically before the fight to take Iwo Jima ended three of the men in the picture, Block, Strank, and Sousley would die, but their names and actions would go down in history along with every other man who fought on that island.   Around one quarter of the Medals of Honor (the highest military award for bravery in the U.S.) earned by Marines in World War II were given to men who saw action on Iwo Jima.   Also, the Marine Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery is a sculpture depicting the scene in which the six men raised the American flag over Mount Surabachi honoring their timeless struggle once again.                                                                                                           

                   B-29 after an emergency landing on Iwo Jima                        

                                        U.S. Landing Plans, Invasion of Iwo Jima                                                                                               

Dedicated to all the Marines who fought and to those who died on Iwo Jima; your bravery will never be forgotten.

 

Flag Raising atop Mount Surabachi, February 23 1945. (Photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal, Associated Press)

-Andrew Sobelsohn