Sunday, October 25, 2015

203. The Next Big Thing

     It bursts upon the scene.  Fans want to attend it, consumers want to buy it, investors want to invest in it before word gets around.  It excites, it maddens, it intoxicates.  Above all, it is something startlingly new, astonishingly different.  And it can make the world better … or worse.

     No,  don’t mean the entrepreneur-led charitable foundation of that name that seeks to empower young entrepreneurs to take on the world, admirable a goal as that is.  Nor do I mean any number of novels and high-tech gadgets and other stuff marketed online as “the next big thing.”  I mean a rich variety of break-through inventions, styles, fashions, and fads that swept New York and the nation, if not the world, changing, or seeming to change, the way we live.  Let’s have a look at some of them.

Fulton’s steamboat, 1807

In 1807 Robert Fulton’s pioneer North River Steamboat, later rechristened the Clermont, made the round trip on the Hudson River from New York to Albany and back in an amazing 32 hours.  Amazing because, prior to this, the Hudson River sloops, sailing upstream against the current and often against wind and tide as well, took as much as three days just to get to Albany.  Steamboats revolutionized traffic on the waterways of America and the world, bringing distant places closer together and, in New York State, letting New York City legislators get to the state capital expeditiously, so they could pursue their legislative schemes and stratagems, and try to keep upstate lawmakers, whom they termed “hayseeds,” from neglecting or abusing their beloved Babylon on the Hudson.

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Steamboats on the Hudson at the Highlands.  A Currier & Ives print of 1874.

Jenny Lind, 1850

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The Castle Garden concert.
Promoted shrewdly and outrageously by P. T. Barnum, the master of humbug, the Swedish coloratura became a sensation in America.  Citizens who knew little or nothing about coloratura sopranos suddenly felt an intense need to hear the Swedish Nightingale warble her magical notes.  Thousands thronged the piers to witness her arrival on September 1, some of them suffering bruises and bloody noses in the process; a fatal crush was narrowly avoided.  To get her through the crowd, Barnum’s coachman had to clear the way with his whip.  As for her first performance on September 11 at Castle Garden on the Battery, she astonished the packed audience with her vocal feats.  All tickets having been sold already at auction, some without tickets hired rowboats and rowed out into the harbor to hear her from there, faintly but distinctly.

The Hoopskirt, 1856

When news reached these shores that Eugénie, the Empress of the French, had adopted a new style of dress, the hoopskirt, averaging some three yards in width, the fashionable women of New York and the nation simply had to add this marvel of  technology to their wardrobe, and the factories of New York bustled and hummed accordingly, turning out up to four thousand a day.  For the next ten years or so, the ladies labored to maneuver through narrow doorways, and to sit gently and comfortably, in these cagelike monstrosities of fashion, until word came that the Empress of the French now favored quite another style, the bustle, which spelled the end of the hoopskirt.

An 1856 cutaway view from Punch.

The Black Crook, 1866

It opened on September 12 at Niblo’s Garden, a huge theater on Broadway, and ran for a record 474 performances: a heady brew of a melodrama with a scheming villain who contracted to sell souls to the devil in exchange for magical powers.  An extravaganza of extravaganzas with a hodgepodge of a plot, it featured a kidnapped heroine to be rescued by a hero; a fairy queen who appeared as a dove and was rescued from a serpent; a grotto with swans, nymphs, and sea gods that rose magically out of the floor; a devil appearing and disappearing in bursts of red light; fairies lolling on silver couches in a silver rain; angels dropping from the clouds in gilded chariots; a “baby ballet” with children; a fife and drum corps; the raucous explosion of a cancan with two hundred shapely legs kicking high, then exposing their frothy underthings and gauze-clad derrieres.  When, at the end of the five-hour spectacle, the cast took their curtain calls before a wildly applauding audience, they were cheered by leering old men in the three front rows who pelted them with roses.  Denounced from pulpits as “devilish heathen orgies” and “sins of Babylon,” it was a long-time smashing success, revived often on Broadway and touring the country for years.  Some see it as the origin of both the Broadway musical and burlesque.

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 An 1866 poster.  For spectacle, even the Met Opera today couldn't match it.

Edison’s incandescent light, 1882

At 3:00 p.m. on September 4, 1882, Thomas Edison flicked a switch at his Pearl Street power plant in downtown Manhattan, suddenly illuminating the Stock Exchange, the offices of the nation’s largest newspapers, and certain private residences, including that of financial mogul J.P. Morgan.  “I have accomplished all that I promised,” announced the Wizard of Menlo Park.

     A young inventor already credited with the invention of the phonograph, Edison had demonstrated his new incandescent light bulb to potential backers in December 1879, and subsequently to the public.  “When I am through,” he told the press, “only the rich will be able to afford candles.”  Impressed, wealthy patrons such as Morgan and the Vanderbilts had invested in the enterprise.  At his research laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, Edison and his team worked diligently to develop and patent the basic equipment needed, including six steam-powered dynamos, 27-ton “Jumbos,” the largest ever built.  The dynamos at the Pearl Street plant were then connected by copper wires running underground to other buildings whose owners had contracted with Edison for illumination.

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Laying Mr. Edison's electrical wires in the streets, 1882.
     The miracle of lighting by electricity had been demonstrated in New York, but throughout the nation the public held back, having heard reports of horses being shocked and workmen electrocuted.  Insisting that electric light was clean, healthy, and efficient, not requiring the sprawling, foul-smelling facilities needed to provide gas for gas lighting, Edison staged an Electric Torch Light Parade where 4,000 men marched through Manhattan, their heads adorned with illuminated light bulbs  connected to a horse-drawn, steam-powered generator.  The marchers weren’t electrocuted, proving that electricity was safe, and the public was slowly won over.  Hotels, restaurants, shops, and brothels soon became radiant with light.  Darkness was banished and urban life transformed, and pickpockets could work in the evening.

First U.S. auto fatality, 1899

On September 13, 1899, Henry Hale Bliss, a real estate dealer, was struck by an electric-powered taxi while getting off a streetcar at West 74th Street and Central Park West, and knocked to the ground; rushed to a hospital, he died the following morning, the first such fatality in the nation.  The taxi driver was arrested and charged with manslaughter, but was acquitted on the grounds of having exhibited no malice or negligence.  All of which is a reminder that the Next Big Thing can bring perils as well as benefits.  Installed on the centennial of the accident, a plaque commemorating his death now marks the spot.

The Armory Show, 1913

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A 1913 button.
The International Exhibition of Modern Art, held at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets, introduced avant-garde European art to Americans who were primarily used to realism, shocking them with a heavy dose of Fauvism, Cubism, and Futurism.  Especially jolting to their eyeballs was Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, which expressed motion through a succession of superimposed images not of human limbs, but of conical and cylindrical abstractions in brown, a double blast of Cubism and Futurism.  Organized by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, this assemblage of 1300 works, including a fair number of nudes, was more than some could take.  Accusations of quackery, insanity, immorality, and anarchy multiplied, parodies and cartoons mocked the show, and former president Theodore Roosevelt declared, “That’s not art!”  But the civil authorities declined to close the exhibition down, and Americans began adjusting to the startling, radical, nerve-jolting, and precedent-shattering phenomenon that was modern art.

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Duchamp's descending nude.

The Charleston, 1923

It burst upon the nation when a tune called “The Charleston” ended the first act of the Broadway show Runnin’ Wild, and the all-black cast did an exuberant, fast-stepping dance that grabbed the audience, the city, and the nation, and then went on, some say, to become the most popular dance of all time.  (But what about the waltz?)  The song’s African American composer, James P. Johnson, had first seen the then-unnamed dance danced in 1913 in a New York cellar dive frequented by blacks from Charleston, South Carolina, who danced and screamed all night; inspired, Johnson then composed several numbers for the dance, including the one made popular by the musical.  But the dance itself, which made the tango seem tame and the waltz antiquated, has been traced back to the Ashanti tribe of the African Gold Coast.  The dance was brought to this country by slaves, and after emancipation African Americans seeking jobs in the North brought it to Chicago and New York, where Johnson discovered it, and the rest is history. 

The Original Charleston

     The dance spread like fever.  Dance halls and hotels featured Charleston contests; ads in New York papers seeking a black cook, maid, waiter, or gardener insisted, “Must be able to do the Charleston,” so they could teach their employers the dance; hospitals throughout the country began admitting patients complaining of “Charleston knee”; an evangelist in Oregon called it “the first step toward hell”; and the collapse of three floors above a dance club in Boston, killing fifty patrons, was blamed on vibrations of Charleston dancers, causing the mayor to ban the dance from all public dance halls.  But the more the dance was censured or banned, the more popular it became; the whole nation was “Charleston mad.”  (Ragtime, then jazz, then the Charleston: the African American contribution to American pop culture has been phenomenal.)

     A personal aside: I discovered the Charleston when I saw The Boyfriend, a frothy 1954 Broadway musical that re-created and spoofed the musicals of the 1920s, while vaulting Julie Andrews into stardom.  Ever since, having been raised on the waltz and the foxtrot, I’ve wanted to do the Charleston, but never found anyone to teach it to me.  I’d like to say that my parents did the dance, but they were in their thirties when it burst upon the scene, and living quietly in and near Chicago, untroubled by Al Capone and his cohorts, and raising one infant son and soon expecting another (guess who).  In my later years, feeling totally uninhibited at last, I did my share of wild dancing, but never the Charleston, for which I feel grievously deprived.  Why the Charleston?  It’s joyous, it’s crazy, it’s wild.  Go check it out on You Tube and you’ll see what I mean.  But I don’t plan to do it now.  If I did, the Daily Drivel, a tabloid published only in my mind, would flash a headline:



(P.S. to the above.  Thanks to a charming young African American teacher on You Tube, I have in fact learned a basic step or two of the Charleston, which I now do wildly in my apartment, humming to myself some jazzy music probably snatched from The Boyfriend.  So far, no mishap.  I urge everyone in the mood for a bit of craziness to learn, at least a little bit, this wild and crazy dance.  It banishes tedium, relieves depression, and incites joy.)

New York World’s Fair, 1939-1940

A view of the Trylon and Perisphere.
Covering 1200 acres in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, it exposed 44 million visitors to “the World of Tomorrow,” as embodied in the Trylon, a soaring 610-foot spire, and the Perisphere, a huge sphere housing a diorama depicting a utopian city of the future.  The fair’s modernistic vision of the future was meant to lift the spirits of the country, which was just barely emerging from the Great Depression, and meant also, of course, to bring business to New York.  (Little did the optimistic planners realize that the world was about to be convulsed by World War II.) 
     Exhibits included the Westinghouse Time Capsule, a tube buried on the fair’s site and containing writings by Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann, copies of Life Magazine, a Mickey Mouse watch, a kewpie doll, a pack of Camel cigarettes, and other goodies meant to convey the essence of twentieth-century American culture.  A Book of Record deposited with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington contains instructions for locating the buried capsule, instructions that will be translated into future languages with the passage of time.  One indeed wonders what future generations, if such there be, will think of us when, if all goes as planned, they locate and open the buried capsule a mere 5,000 years from now.

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The Futurama exhibit, showing a street intersection of the City of Tomorrow.
I'll let residents of New York and our other big cities report to what extent
this has been achieved.
     Also featured at the fair was Westinghouse’s Electro the Moto-Man, a 7-foot robot that talked and even smoked cigarettes; an appearance by Superman; a General Motors pavilion with an astonishing Futurama exhibit of the U.S. of tomorrow; an IBM pavilion with electric typewriters and a fantastic “electric calculator”; a Borden’s exhibit with 150 pedigreed cows, including the original Elsie, on a Rotolactor that bathed and milked them mechanically; Frank Buck’s Jungleland, with three performing elephants and 600 monkeys; a Billy Rose Aquacade with synchronized swimmers; and a Salvador Dalí pavilion with scantily clad performers posing as statues.  This and some neighboring girlie shows prompted complaints, and the New York Vice Squad on occasion raided the Amusement Area, but these tributes to the world of today were never quite shut down.  As for the World of Tomorrow, some of it, such as robots and computers, has come to pass, but a lot has not, showing once again the near impossibility of accurately predicting the future.

The Beatles, 1964

On February 7, 1964, the now legendary foursome, then newly popular in Great Britain, arrived at New York’s Kennedy Airport, where, to their astonishment, they were greeted by 4,000 fans held back by police barriers, and – just as important – 200 journalists.  Intensifying anticipation of their arrival were five million posters distributed throughout the nation to announce their coming, and the phenomenal success of their song “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which had sold a million and a half copies in just three weeks.  Grinning and waving cheerily, the lads from Liverpool were immediately subjected to a chaotic press conference where they played the journalists for straight men.

     “What do you think of Beethoven?” one reporter asked.

     “Great,” replied Ringo Starr.  “Especially his poems.”

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From left to right: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.  
Greeting fans at Kennedy Airport.
     After an hour of this banter they were put into limousines, one per Beatle, and driven into the city to the sumptuous Plaza Hotel at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South, where a ten-room suite on the 12th floor had been reserved for “four English gentlemen.”  The sedate Plaza didn’t know what had hit it, as Beatles fans – mostly hysterical young women – ran against traffic to the hotel, eager to get even the barest glimpse of the Fab Four in their collarless sleek mod suits, their young faces topped by pudding-bowl haircuts called “mop tops” that provoked much comment, not all of it positive, from the press.  BEATLES 4 EVER proclaimed an outsized sign that the fans held aloft, as they chanted “We want the Beatles” and screamed and wept, and sometimes fainted from excitement.  Their idols reveled in the hotel’s luxury but felt besieged, their suite guarded by round-the-clock guards.  Two large cartons addressed to the Beatles arrived at the hotel, but proved to contain two female fans who, being detected, never reached their goal.  Another sixty got as far as the 12th-floor stairwell before being caught and expelled.

     Briefly eluding their fans, the boys were soon riding in Central Park in a horse-drawn carriage, staring in wonder at the city, and Ringo was photographed dancing the night away with singer Jeanie Dell at the Headline Club.  But this was mere prelude to their first U.S. TV appearance on the Ed Sullivan show on February 9, which was watched by an estimated 73 million viewers, this blogger among them, though their music was barely heard over the screams of the teenage girls in the audience.  Continuing their ten-day tour, on February 11 they gave a concert at the huge Coliseum in Washington that was attended by 20,000 fans, then the next day gave two back-to-back performances at Carnegie Hall in New York, where fan hysteria caused the police to close off the surrounding streets.  After more concerts, on February 22 they flew back to England, allowing a semblance of normality to return to this city and the whole East Coast. 

     Meanwhile their singles and albums were selling millions of records, and their first feature-length film, A Hard Day’s Night, was released in August 1964, a gentle spoof of the whole scene that this blogger much enjoyed.  And later that month, to capitalize on the Beatlemania now raging in the U.S., the foursome returned for a second tour and played to sold-out houses across the country.  Some critics scoffed and quibbled at their music, but it hardly mattered; by now the foursome had the young audience firmly in their grip.  The renowned conductor Leopold Stokowski, commenting to an audience of his own at Carnegie Hall, complained that the Beatles’ music, which he happened to like, was drowned out by the teen audience’s screaming.  “If you can’t hear them,” he asked, “why are they so great?”  The answer came at once from a red-headed girl in the audience: “Because they’re cuties!”  As for the older set, they were probably relieved, in that age of strident youthful rebellion, to encounter four likable twenty-somethings who didn’t threaten anyone.  And the twenty-somethings raked in millions.

     I shall end this chronicle here, in the turbulent 1960s, because it’s already long enough, and I’m not sure what to mention next.  So what today will be the Next Big Thing?  Driverless cars?  Robot-operated factories?  A cure – a real cure – for cancer?  Life on Mars?  Some crazy new dance?  Your guess is as good as mine.  But this much is certain: sooner or later it will come, and when it does, it will astonish, madden, and excite.

     Coming soon:  People of New York: a Mexican Sunday-night cowboy, a Broadway chorus boy, a man who marries couples on the Brooklyn Bridge, and a retired policeman who looks for Old Masters at yard sales.

     ©  2015  Clifford Browder

Sunday, October 18, 2015

202. Hate

      “I hate Mrs. Brooks!” I announced to several classmates, not in a spirit of bravado or revolt but simply as a statement of fact.  Immediately Daffy Dinwoody, the class tattletale, rushed to inform the lady in question, she being my first-grade teacher and a bit of a battleax.  The result was a fifteen-minute lecture on responsibility and respect, barely half of which my six-year-old mind managed to grasp.  Things quieted down after that, for Mrs. Brooks had her softer moments, albeit few, and she was simply the fire-breathing dragon guarding the entrance to a paradise of learning since, once I got past her, the other teachers were easy to cope with and my grades and spirits soared.  I relate this incident simply because, insofar as I can tell, it was the first time I used “hate” as a verb.

     Toward the end of sixth grade my class was informed that Biff Brady, a much-sought-after school entertainer, would be hosting the sixth-grade graduation party, and lucky we were to get him.  The much-anticipated party took place in the gym, which should have warned me, since for me, a bespectacled bookworm, the gym was a scene more of horrors than accomplishments.  Biff Brady proved to be a meaty hunk of a man with a loud voice that commanded and a manner that effused a hearty and blatant cheer.  Not five minutes into the party he called for quiet and when I babbled on to friends for a moment or two more, he commanded loudly, “Be quiet, Glasses!”

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I was clueless as to what this was all about.
     I hated him.  I loathed and detested him, for I had been called “Four-Eyes” all too often, and in him I sensed a forerunner of the seventh- and eighth-grade coaches who would torment me, whether by their attention or their total indifference: beefy, obtuse types with thick necks and hairy armpits whose physical education classes were physical but hardly educational, since the coaches spent most of their time doing paperwork in their office.  Occasionally they emerged from their sanctum to inflict, without preparation of any kind, some new species of torment such as gymnastics or boxing or wrestling, rather than the usual touch football (where I could lose myself in the scrimmage, clueless as to what it was all about) or baseball (all eyes on me as I struck lamentably out or fumbled a ball in the field).  With hindsight I would say that the hate I felt for these clumsy oafs was not intense; perhaps it should dismissed as mild but persistent dislike.  But they taught me a valuable lesson: Know who the enemy is.  From then on, I did.

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This I could manage.

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This was a horror.

     An enemy of a different species was Miss Kraus, the junior high music teacher whose depredations to my psyche were dire.  A tight little woman with an acid sense of humor, she put the weaker pupils in the front rows and the better ones in back (I was well toward the front), then patrolled the aisles, listening to each pupil in turn as we chorused lustily together.  Not knowing how to read music and being incapable of singing on key, I dreaded her approach.  If she detected an off note, she had the culprit – often me – sing the passage alone, subjecting errors to her dry, mordant wit.  She never used my first name, called me “Browder” or “boy.”  Tuesdays and Thursdays were an ordeal for me, since I had gym and music back-to-back, but it was Miss Kraus who inspired the keenest fear.  Did I hate her?  No, but I should have.  Fear is the first step toward hate, since what we fear we inevitably hate.  But I kept my fear to myself, let it stew in my murky depths.  I had other bad teachers – a few – but only Miss Kraus incites my resentment today.  She once told us of getting caught in quicksand where she grew up in Texas, and ever since I have wondered why, when God put it there for a purpose, that quicksand didn’t do its job.

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If only …
Peter O'Connor
     One other individual from my childhood whom I should have hated was Hector Stevenson, who, playing tough to mask his own vulnerabilities, constantly challenged me to fight and called me “Sissy!” when, being a bespectacled wimp of a bookworm, I refused.  At these moments he had a surly look, his upper lip drawn tight, that I came to recognize in bullies.  He achieved the ultimate in meanness one afternoon when, on his way home from school in the company of his little brother, he socked Billy Simpson in the eye.  I came on the scene just after the incident, with Billy weeping, other pupils denouncing Hector, and the assailant sauntering off in triumph, having proven his toughness to his kid brother.  If there was anyone in our class more vulnerable than me, it was Billy Simpson, a likable and absolutely harmless kid, but an easy mark for Hector, who was careful never to take on the tougher boys of the class.  Hector instilled in me a lifelong hate of bullies.

     The bully whom I encountered daily was my brother, three years older than me, who once, without provocation, bounced a brick off my forehead.  Probably he meant to miss me and scare me, but he yielded to an impulse and his aim was far too good.  I ran home screaming, with a huge swollen lump on my forehead, and they rushed me off for X-rays to see if there was a fracture (there wasn’t); what my parents did to my brother I don’t know, but it must have been severe. 

     Once, just once, I fought back to the point of frightening my brother.  One afternoon at home, having been constantly harassed, I snatched up a letter opener and flung it at him.  I’d like to say that it missed him narrowly and lodged itself deep in the wall but a inch or two from his dear face, but in fact it wasn’t thrown with much force, missed him widely, and clattered harmlessly to the floor.  But years later, when we were older and calmer, he confessed that it had scared him at the time.  Did I hate him?  No, I was leery of him and made sure not to provoke him, but for some reason my feelings never achieved the level and intensity of hate.

     So much for the hates and travails of my childhood, no different, I suspect, from the childhood hates and travails of most of us.  So what today,  in my wiser golden years, do I hate?  Lots of things:

·      Bullies
·      Junk mail
·      Telemarketing phone calls
·      Lists of things to do
·      Noise (especially jack hammers)
·      Monsanto (above all because of GMO’s)
·      Big Pharma (their foul marketing practices, for which they are constantly paying hefty fines)
·      My computer (when it misbehaves)

In short, all the things that harass my daily living, with bullies, Monsanto, and Big Pharma thrown in.  As for telemarketing phone calls, I especially hate the endlessly repeated recorded messages, several of which I have received up to 40 or 50 times to date; I hate them for their mindlessness, their sheer stupidity.

     These are significant annoyances, but do they deserve to be hated, as opposed to disliked or resented?  Perhaps not. 

     Of course there are lots of things to be hated with a robust, positive hate: injustice, racism, brutality, intolerance – the list goes on and on.  But these are abstractions, and hating them costs us nothing.  How about people?  Is there anyone living that I hate?  But first, what do I mean by “hate”?  Upon reflection I would say that hate is a settled and persistent enmity that risks becoming vicious and obsessive.  Do I hate with that kind of hate, the kind that Hitler felt for the Jews, or that Osama Bin Laden felt, and whose followers still feel, for Americans?  No, not that I can think of.  And when I put the same question to my friend John, he pondered a moment and then said the same.  It takes a lot of energy to really, truly hate.

File:Dick Cheney.jpg     I can’t hate public figures with whom I disagree; I can dislike them intensely, but it doesn’t achieve the status of hate.  The one who comes closest to inciting hate in me isn’t Baby Bush, whose foreign policies I deplored, for on a personal level he struck me as rather likable.  The one whom I can almost hate – almost -- is Dick Cheney, the former vice-president under Bush.  Why him?  Because he’s always managed to have his finger in every pie, public or private, and in the process reaped a fortune.  Bush Junior has had the good grace to admit that a few of his actions were mistaken, but not Mr. Cheney, who is defiantly unrepentant.  The sly smile of his official portraits says it all: you can have your cake – a huge big cake with oodles of icing – and ravenously eat it, too.

     And now for a glance at local history to see who has been motivated by hate, real hate.  Let’s consider some famous New York shootings. 

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton

     On July 11, 1804, Vice President Aaron Burr shot former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in a duel at Weehawken, New Jersey.  The wounded Hamilton was taken back to New York, where he died the next day.  Some historians assert that Burr fired only in self-defense, thinking that his opponent meant to kill him, but most are of the opinion that Burr really meant to kill Hamilton.  Who is right, and did Burr truly hate Hamilton?


     The duel was the culmination of a long vendetta between the two.  They were on opposite sides politically, Hamilton being a Federalist and Burr a Democratic Republican, but much more than that was involved.  Hamilton viewed Burr as an unscrupulous opportunist solely out for no. 1 and tried constantly to thwart him in his career.  In the 1800 presidential election, when Burr and Thomas Jefferson were tied in the Electoral College and the election was thrown into the House of Representatives, Hamilton did all he could to swing the election to Jefferson, who in fact did become President, with Burr as Vice.  And Burr did not relish being no. 2.

     The last straw for Burr came in 1804, when he ran as an independent in the New York State governor’s race.  Hamilton lobbied his fellow  Federalists not to support Burr in his fight against the Democratic Republican candidate, who overwhelmed Burr in the election.  Learning from a press account of Hamilton’s denunciation of him at a dinner party, Burr accused Hamilton of slander and demanded that he apologize or accept his challenge to a duel.  Unwilling to apologize, Hamilton felt compelled by the code of honor to accept the challenge.

               Was Burr’s challenge primarily a political maneuver to redeem his honor and revive his flagging political career, as some have suggested, or behind it was there hate?  Given Burr and Hamilton’s prolonged antipathy, I come down on the side of hate: Burr meant to kill Hamilton and succeeded.  But at a cost: the duel was denounced by all and ended Burr's political career.  (For a fuller account of the duel, see post #121, April 6, 2014.)

Edward S. Stokes and James Fisk, Jr.

    On January 6, 1872, Edward S. Stokes, a dapper but impecunious young man about town, shot the controversial impresario and Wall Street operator Jim Fisk in a midtown hotel.  Stokes had stolen away Fisk’s lady friend, Helen Josephine Mansfield, following which he and Josie had attempted to extract money from Fisk through a series of lawsuits.  Cross-examination by Fisk’s lawyers on the day of the shooting had demolished what little reputation Stokes and Josie had left, revealing him as a scheming fancy man and her as woman of loose morals, in consequence of which Stokes’s lawyer told him the suit must be dropped.  Following this humiliation, Stokes learned that a grand jury had just indicted him and Josie for attempting to blackmail Fisk.  Frustrated and angry, Stokes confronted Fisk on the stairway of a Broadway hotel and shot him twice.  Fisk was carried to an empty hotel room where he died the next day, and Stokes was immediately arrested.

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Worth a shooting?  Well, tastes change.
Back then "buxom" was in.

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The elegant Mr. Stokes.  The girls really
went for him.
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He had money, Stokes had the looks.

     Did Stokes hate Jim Fisk?  I’m inclined to say no; the shooting was more an impulsive act provoked by his humiliation in court, followed by the news of his indictment.  I don’t sense in Stokes the deep, prolonged hate that Burr felt for Hamilton.  But if the shooting wasn’t planned in advance, one can ask why Stokes was carrying a revolver.  (For a fuller account of the Fisk/Stokes/Mansfield triangle, and what became of Stokes and Josie afterward, see posts #67 and 69, June 28 and July 3, 2013.)

Harry Thaw and Stanford White

     On the evening of June 25, 1906, during a musical comedy performance at the rooftop theater of Madison Square Garden, the renowned architect Stanford White was shot and killed by Pittsburgh millionaire Harry Thaw, who was arrested at once.

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Here she is, on a souvenir card.  Hardly
an innocent.  But you can see what the
fuss was all about
     This murder too resulted from a love triangle.  Long before marrying Thaw, Thaw’s wife, Evelyn Nesbit, a hauntingly beautiful woman, had caught the eye of Stanford White while appearing at age 16 in the popular musical Floradora.  She later told how White drugged her with champagne and then deflowered her, for which she professed to hate him.  But in another version she described herself as a young innocent from the provinces who, dazzled by the attentions of this suave, sophisticated older man, allowed herself to be seduced.  What is certain is that she became his mistress for a while, until White, a free-living philanderer, lost interest in her and moved on to other conquests.

     Meanwhile Harry Thaw had declared his love for Nesbit, showered her with gifts, and finally got her to marry him.  Learning of her prior relationship with White, he became morbidly jealous, repeatedly pressing her for details about her affair with White.  Intensifying Thaw’s resentment was his feeling that White had prevented him, an outsider from Pittsburgh, from being accepted into the city’s elite men’s clubs.

     Did Harry Thaw hate Stanford White?  I think so, given his ungovernable rage, his jealousy, his envy of White’s social position and life style, and his obsession with the details of his wife’s relationship with the older man.  Contributing to his mental instability was his use of cocaine and morphine.  (For a fuller account of the story, and to learn what then became of Nesbit and Thaw – an account that contains some surprises --  see post #107, January 5, 2014.)

Valerie Solanas and Andy Warhol

     On June 3, 1968, radical feminist Valerie Solanas shot Pop artist Andy Warhol in his studio at 33 Union Square in Manhattan.  Hospitalized with an almost fatal wound, Warhol slowly recovered, but his studio, dubbed the Factory, did not.  Fearing another attack by Solanas, from then on Warhol lived in fear and controlled the Factory more tightly, so that it was never quite again a wide-open meeting place for avant-garde artists, writers, musicians, and assorted weirdos and crazies.  Arrested, Solanas pleaded guilty to reckless assault and was sentenced to three years in prison.

The Mad Woman's Troubles: Valerie Solanas and Her SCUM Manifesto

     Everyone then and now has heard of Andy Warhol, the Prince of Pop, whose works sell for as much as a million, but who was Valerie Solanas?  Born in New Jersey in 1936, she became estranged from her divorced parents and was abused by her alcoholic grandfather, to escape whom she ran away and for a while became homeless.  Coming out as a lesbian in the 1950s, when such things were not done, she got a degree in psychology from the University of Maryland, and in 1966 moved to New York City, where she supported herself by begging and prostitution.  Andy Warhol agreed to read a play of hers with the endearing title “Up Your Ass,” but found it too pornographic to produce.  When he admitted that he had lost her script, she demanded money in compensation, but instead accepted bit roles in two of his movies.

     In 1967 Solanas self-published the SCUM Manifesto, “SCUM” being an acronym for “Society for Cutting Up Men.”  It begins cheerily enough:

“Life" in this "society" being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect
of "society" being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and eliminate the male sex.

The manifesto then asserts that, since men have ruined the world, women must fix it by creating an organization named SCUM to overthrow society and eliminate the male sex.  To achieve this, violence must be used.  “If SCUM ever strikes, it will be in the dark with a six-inch blade.”  Though some have seen the manifesto as satire, Solanas insisted at the time that she meant every word of it.  But the SCUM organization had only one member: Solanas.

The Mad Woman's Troubles: Valerie Solanas and Her SCUM Manifesto

     According to producer Margo Feidan, on June 3, 1968, the day of the shooting, Solanas called on her at home and tried to persuade her to produce her play.  When Feidan refused, Solanas pulled out a gun and announced, “Yes, you will produce the play because I’ll shoot Andy Warhol and that will make me famous and the play famous, and then you’ll produce it.”  When Solanas left, Feidan made frantic phone calls to the police and other authorities, but was told that you can’t arrest someone for simply uttering a threat.  Solanas then went to the Factory, met Warhol, took out a .32 revolver, and fired three shots at him.  The first two missed, but the third pierced his vital organs.  She then also wounded another man present, and tried to shoot a third, but her gun jammed. 

     Later that day Solanas surrendered to the police and confessed to the shooting, claiming that Warhol had “tied me up lock, stock and barrel” and was going to ruin her.  Sent to Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric observation, she was declared incompetent to stand trial and confined in a prison for the criminally insane.  But in June 1969, being deemed fit now to stand trial, she pleaded guilty to reckless assault and got three years in prison.  Famous at last, she was denounced by Norman Mailer, no friend of feminists, as the “Robespierre of feminism,” but was already hailed by some feminists as a heroine of their movement.

     Released in 1971, Solanas threatened Warhol and others over the telephone and was arrested again in November and institutionalized several times.  After that she faded from the scene and reportedly became homeless, while still clinging to her beliefs.  In 1988 she died of pneumonia and emphysema in a welfare hotel in San Francisco at age 52.  Her life inspired a movie and several plays, and her play “Up Your Ass” was produced as a musical in 2000.  Rejected by mainstream feminists, she was hailed by other feminists as a “girl Nietzsche,” “Medusa,” and “Medea,” and recognized as the founder of radical feminism.

     In shooting Warhol, was Solanas motivated by hate?  Absolutely.  She  hated men, and she hated Warhol in particular, thinking that he meant her ill.  Mentally unstable, she has been described as paranoid or schizophrenic.  Her photographs show a woman with a look of meanness and hate.  And what did it get her?  Fifteen minutes of fame, then a sad and pointless life; she ended up penniless and alone.  (For more on Warhol, see post #108, January 12, 2014.)

The Draft Riots of 1863

     So far I have cited examples of personal hate, the hate of one individual for another.  Now I shall present an example of mass hatred, of a whole group of people acting out of hate.  In July 1863 the Irish immigrants of New York erupted in three days of riot provoked by the draft that the federal government had just enacted, hoping to bring more recruits to the army and end the Civil War.  Resentful of authority and wanting no part of the war, the rioters poured out of their workplaces, marched by the thousand in the streets, and sacked the office where the draft was being implemented.  Far outnumbering the police (many of whom were also Irish), for three days the rioters ran wild in the streets, attacking any person or building they thought  connected with the draft.  Blaming blacks for the draft and the war, they lynched every black they could lay their hands on, often hanging them and building a fire under their dangling bodies, around which the women danced savagely. 

File:New York Draft Riots - Harpers - lynching.jpg
A Harper's Weekly print of the time.

     Only when National Guard regiments that had been fighting at the battle of Gettysburg were rushed back to the city did the rioting stop.  The rioters were not drifters and ne’er-do-wells, but men with steady jobs, and their women.  Their savagery – the women even more frenzied than the men – implies not only a resentment of authority nourished by centuries of British rule in Ireland, but also a deep-seated racial hatred that surfaced suddenly when the streets were theirs.  If Irish immigrants were looked down upon by the WASP majority, the blacks were even lower in the social scale.  Many blacks, having fled, never returned to the city, and the stunned WASP middle class, who felt threatened even in their elegantly furnished brownstones, harbored more than ever a profound distrust of what they called the “desperate” or the “dangerous classes,” most of whom were Irish.


     The personal hates chronicled here built slowly over the years, nourished by an accumulation of apparent grievances, and sometimes by mental instability.  The racial hate behind the draft riots emerged suddenly, when chaos took the streets, anarchy ruled, and anything seemed possible; if it built slowly, it was near invisible, hidden in the depths of a collective psyche.  Which makes me wonder what, if anything, is brewing in my depths, and in the depths of all of us.  But maybe it’s better not to know.

     The book:  The Goodreads giveaway ended on October 12.  509 people entered their name; the winner resides in Illinois.  The e-book will soon be available for $3.99.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

     Coming soon:  The Next Big Thing: a Swedish Nightingale, fairies on silver couches in a silver rain,  an Electric Torchlight Parade, why Henry Hale Bliss's death is historic, a kewpie doll buried for 5,000 years, the Fab Four, and a dance that collapsed a building.

     ©  2015 Clifford Browder