Category Archives: New York City

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Episode 012 The History of Gay Liberation in US History

June is Pride Month in the US, so in this episode we examine the history of the gay rights struggle.
subscribe-buttonHere’s the lineup:
1) a short piece on the notion of “hidden history.”
2) an interview with Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, an organization that has played a key role in getting historical landmark status for the famous Stonewall Inn.
3) an interview with historian Jim Downs about his extraordinary new book, Stand By Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation (Basic Books, 2016).

Episode 012 notes and credits

Further reading about the history of the Gay Rights Movement in US History

Jim Downs Stand by Me bookcoverMichael Bronski, A Queer History of the United States

David Carter, Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution

Jim Downs, Stand By Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation (Basic Books, 2016).

Music for This Episode:

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (courtesy, JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Lee Rosevere, “Going Home” (Free Music Archive)

Andy Cohen, “Trophy Endorphins” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “On The Street” (Free Music Archive)

Jon Luc Hefferman, “Winter Trek” (Free Music Archive)

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Episode 011 Scandal! In American History


subscribe-buttonWho doesn’t love a good scandal (so long as it doesn’t involve them)? This week at In The Past Lane we examine the important — and often positive — role scandals have played in American history. Here’s the lineup:
1) a short segment on the role of scandals in US history
2) an interview with historian Daniel Czitrom about his new book, New York Exposed: The Gilded Age Police Scandal That Launched the Progressive Era (Oxford U Press, 2016). We talk about the famous 1894 Lexow Commission investigation into allegations of widespread corruption involving the political machine Tammany Hall and the New York City Police Dept. Dan also draws important links to key issues confronting American society in 2016 – police violence and the origins of the so-called “blue wall of silence” and voting suppression efforts.
3) a look at the scandal in the meatpacking industry triggered by the publication in 1906 of Upton Sinclair’s famous novel, The Jungle.

Episode 011 notes and credits

Further reading about the history of Scandals in American History

Daniel Czitrom book cover copy: The Gilded Age Police Scandal That Launched the Progressive Era (Oxford U Press, 2016)

Andy Hughes, A History of Political Scandals: Sex, Sleaze and Spin (2014)

George C. Kohn, The New Encyclopedia of American Scandal (2001)

Laton McCartney, The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country (Random House, 2009)

Mitchell Zuckoff, Ponzi’s Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend (Random House, 2006)

Andrew Burt, “The 1826 Kidnapping, Allegedly by a Cabal of Freemasons, That Changed American Politics Forever,” Slate.com May 15, 2015

Music for This Episode:

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (courtesy, JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Lee Rosevere, “Going Home” (Free Music Archive)

Andy Cohen, “Trophy Endorphins” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “On The Street” (Free Music Archive)

Jon Luc Hefferman, “Winter Trek” (Free Music Archive)

The Womb, “I Hope That It Hurts” (Free Music Archive)

 

Hercules mulligan title card

Hercules Mulligan, Patriot Mentor and Spymaster

Who wITPL - Check Out ITPL Podcast image (for blog)as Hercules Mulligan? Well, he certainly was a man with one of the great names in American history. Hercules Mulligan – you can’t make up a name like that. But beyond that great name, Hercules Mulligan has existed as a mere footnote for the last 200+ years of American history. That is, until about a year ago when, “Hamilton, The Musical,” opened on Broadway. The show, which has gone on to become one of the biggest hits in recent Broadway history, chronicles the life of the founding father Alexander Hamilton. It features well-known figures like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, but also people lost to history like Hercules Mulligan. He played a key role in the life of Hamilton, and served as one of Washington’s most important spies during the American Revolution.

Mulligan was born in County Antrim, in northern Ireland in 1740. Six years later, he emigrated with his family to colonial New York City. His father was a wealthy merchant, so Hercules enjoyed a comfortable life and received a very good education. By the mid 1760s, he was himself a prosperous businessman, operating a shop that sold cloth and custom tailored suits.

By the mid 1760s, Hercules Mulligan had also joined the Sons of Liberty. This early Patriot group had formed in 1765 to resist the Stamp Act—you know, the whole, “No taxation without representation” thing. The year 1765 was just the beginning of a decade of turmoil over British policies and Mulligan remained active member of the Sons of Liberty.

In 1773, the same year as the Bostonhamilton logo Tea Party, Mulligan met a 16-year-old orphan from the British West Indies. His name was Alexander Hamilton. Mulligan offered to rent him a room while he studied at Kings College (the forerunner to Columbia University). When Hamilton wasn’t studying, he hung around Mulligan’s store and listened to him talk with his friends, many of them fellow Sons of Liberty, about British abuses and the need to resist them. Not surprisingly, Hamilton soon joined the Sons of Liberty.

In 1775 Hamilton penned a widely read article highly critical of Great Britain’s increasingly harsh treatment of the colonies. Two months later, the first shots of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord. Sixteen months after that, the British invaded New York with a massive army and armada of 300 ships. In the ensuing Battle of Long Island in August 1776, George Washington and his Continental Army barely escaped capture and destruction. From that point until the end of the war, New York City remained under British occupation and it became a key center of military planning for the British.

As the war progressed, George Washington recognized the importance of establishing an intelligence network in New York to acquire information on British military plans. Accordingly, he put in place a network of spies that came to be known as the Culper Ring. And one of its most important members was Hercules Mulligan. In all likelihood, it was Hamilton—now an officer in Washington’s army—who recommended him.

Now, it’s important to point out that spying was dangerous business. In September 1776, the British caught Nathan Hale spying in the New York area and hanged him in Manhattan, not far from Mulligan’s home. So Mulligan and the other Culper Ring spies had to be very careful.

Fortunately for Hercules Mulligan, his business put him in an ideal position to gather information without arousing suspicion. His shop had to become very popular among colonial elites before the war, and during the military occupation it proved equally popular among British officers who were convinced that Mulligan was a Loyalist. In those days, tailoring shops were kind of like barbershops or coffee shops where customers hung out and talked freely about news and gossip. So while Mulligan went about his business of selling cloth and measuring, tailoring, and fitting British officers into their new suits, he listened for loose talk of military plans. Whenever he obtained important information about troop movements or changes in overall strategy, he passed it on to George Washington.

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Hercules Mulligan (second from left) in “Hamilton, The Musical”

As Hercules Mulligan in “Hamilton” puts it:

A tailor spyin’ on the British government!
I take their measurements, information and then I smuggle it…
To my brother’s revolutionary covenant
I’m runnin’ with the Sons of Liberty and I am lovin’ it!
See, that’s what happens when you up against the ruffians
We in the shit now, somebody gotta shovel it!
Hercules Mulligan, I need no introduction
When you knock me down I get the fuck back up again!

In one crucial instance, Mulligan heard of a British plot to capture George Washington. He passed on the information, allowing Washington to change his plans and foil the plot. Needless to say, had Washington been captured, the Patriot cause would have been doomed.

Mulligan played his role of tailor/spy perfectly for the whole war. But as the conflict came to an end, he had a big problem. He had performed so convincingly as a Loyalist, that most New Yorkers were convinced that he WAS a Loyalist. This was not a good position in which to be in the early 1780s. Loyalists were being driven from the colonies by angry Patriots. Some were tarred and feathered and a few were even killed.

General George Washington arrives with Governor Clinton and troops in New York on November 26, 1783 as the defeated British evacuated the city.

General George Washington arrives with Governor Clinton and troops in New York on November 26, 1783 as the defeated British evacuated the city.

Fortunately for Mulligan, none other than George Washington came to his aid. On November 26, 1783, General Washington triumphantly processed into New York City as the last British ships departed. As he reached Lower Manhattan, he stopped at the home of Hercules Mulligan. The two enjoyed a breakfast together after which Washington publicly praised Mulligan as, “A true friend of liberty.” No one threatened Hercules Mulligan again after that!

Mulligan, unlike the ill-fated Hamilton, went on to enjoy a long and prosperous life in the years that followed. He died in New York in 1825 at the age of 85. Then he faded into historical obscurity—but not permanently.

Ron Chernow's biography of Hamilton helped rescue Hercules Mulligan from historical obscurity.

Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton helped rescue Hercules Mulligan from historical obscurity.

In 2004, Ron Chernow published a best-selling biography of Alexander Hamilton. In it, he related the role Mulligan played in Hamilton’s early life and his role as a spy in the Revolutionary War. And this is the book Lin-Manuel Miranda read that inspired him to create, “Hamilton, the Musical.” Miranda has said in interviews that he was drawn to Mulligan both for his unique name and for the important role he played in Hamilton’s life.

So there you have it. The incredible story of the great Irish spy helped win the American Revolution. Who knew?

 

 

 

Further reading:

Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (2004)

Michael O’Brien, Hercules Mulligan: Confidential Correspondent of General Washington (1937)

 

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Episode 008 – How America Got Cool


This week In The Past Lane looks into the little know and yet hugely significant development of the ice and refrigeration industries in US history. 1) first we tell the story of the Frederick Tudor, The “Ice King,” who single-handedly invented the ice industry way back in 1806. This development radically redefined the American life, especially the American diet. 2) Then we check in with historian Jonathan Rees, the subscribe-buttonnation’s leading authority on all things related refrigeration, to learn how mechanical refrigeration and machine-made ice accelerated this transformation of everyday life. 3) Finally, we take just a few minutes to visit a unique bar in New York City. It’s called Minus 5 and with the exception of the floor and ceiling, it’s made entirely of ice and kept at a temperature of Minus 5 centigrade (minus 19 F). Yeah, I know …

Episode 008 notes and credits

Further Reading about the history of ice and refrigerationRees - RefrigerationNation copy

Oscar Edward Anderson, Jr. Refrigeration in America: A History of a New Technology and Its Impact (Princeton University Press, 1953).

Mariana Gosnell, Ice: The Nature, the History, and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance (Knopf, 2005)

Jonathan Rees, Refrigeration Nation: A History of Ice, Appliances, and Enterprise in America (John Hopkins University Press, 2013)

Jonathan Rees, Refrigerator (Bloomsbury, 2015)

Carl Seaburg and Stanley Paterson, The Ice King: Frederic Tudor and His Circle (Massachusetts Historical Society and Mystic Seaport, 2003).

Gavin Weightman, The Frozen-Water Trade: A True Story (Hyperion, 2003)

Music:

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (courtesy, JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Lee Rosevere, “Going Home” (Free Music Archive)

Andy Cohen, “Trophy Endorphins” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “On The Street” (Free Music Archive)

Jason Shaw, “Jenny’s Theme (Free Music Archive)

N. Calyo's painting, "Ice Wagon," depicts an ice man in the 1840s.

America’s Last Ice Age (more recent than you think)

Headlines warning of an impending “ice famine” were common in the 19th and early 20th century during warm winters (NYT Feb 2, 1906)

ITPL - Check Out ITPL Podcast image (for blog)What on earth is an “ice famine”? Well, if you were alive in the nineteenth century and the U.S. was experiencing winter as mild as this one in 2012-2013, the newspapers would be full of stories about a potential “ice famine.” The problem was not a shortage of ice in January and February, but rather in the coming summer because Americans, especially city dwellers, had come to depend on massive winter harvests of natural ice from ponds, lakes, and rivers to cope with summer heat and preserve their food. The creation of this ice industry is one of the more fascinating stories of American entrepreneurship. It’s also a story of a remarkable transformation of the American diet.

In an age of ubiquitous air-conditioning and refrigeration, it’s hard to comprehend just how much 19th-century Americans depended on ice. By the 18th century, icehouses were standard features on most estates in Europe and even Colonial America, but for the common man and woman, especially in cities, ice in warm weather was as rare and expensive a commodity as caviar.

Frederic Tudor, the man known as the “Ice King” for his role in creating the American commercial ice industry.

That began to change in 1806, when an ambitious Massachusetts man named Frederick Tudor set out to single-handedly create the world’s commercial ice industry. After a trip to the tropics he became convinced that people in warm climates, whether Charleston, SC or the Caribbean, would pay good money for New England ice. And New England had a lot of ice. And it was free. The only costs – and the biggest challenges for this would-be business – was harvesting, transporting, and storing it.

Tudor was the charismatic son of a wealthy family. He was 23 years old and possessed an almost evangelical commitment to the enterprise. “People believe me not when I tell them I am going to carry ice to the West Indies,” he confided in his diary.

Actually, people greeted the idea not only with incredulity, but also laughter. As Tudor wrote, his plan “excited the derision of the whole town as a mad project.” Even his father called the scheme “wild and ruinous.”

But Tudor remained undaunted. He bought a ship, filled its hold with 130 tons of ice cut from a Massachusetts pond, set sail for the Caribbean island of Martinique.  The snickering now spread from his home town to Boston. The Boston Gazette reported with glee: “No joke. A vessel with a cargo of ice has cleared out from this port for Martinique. We hope this will not prove to be a slippery speculation.”

Tudor’s first foray into the ice industry brought mixed results.  The good news was that most of the ice survived the voyage. The bad news was that there were no ice houses in Martinique. So Tudor lost more than $4000 – a huge sum at the time.

But the next year he was back at it, sending in 240 tons of ice to Havana, Cuba in 1807. He managed to break even on this venture, but he would have to find a way to earn a profit – and soon.

The next few years saw more voyages and some success. But then bad luck and a theft by a corrupt business partner plunged Tudor into poverty and two stints in debtor’s prison in 1812 and 1813.

As soon as Tudor was released, however, he was back at his ice venture. He convinced partners in southern US cities and the tropics to build icehouses. This ensured that his cargo would not melt upon arrival.  Tudor also experimented with different forms of insulation to reduce melting in icehouses and on board ships. He eventually discovered sawdust from saw mills. Sawdust was plentiful and practically free – and it was a terrific insulator for ice.

By the early 1820s, Tudor was enjoying modest success. But the market for ice remained small.

Ice cutting devices like this allowed for the harvesting of uniform blocks of ice. It was much easier than the earlier method of cutting blocks with saws.

Ice cutting devices like this allowed for the harvesting of uniform blocks of ice. It was much easier than the earlier method of cutting blocks with saws.

Then in 1825 he teamed up with Nathaniel Wyeth, one of his ice suppliers, who had invented dual blade ice cutter pulled by horses across ponds, lakes, and rivers. This device – a kind of mechanical reaper for the ice industry — cut a grid of uniform grooves in the ice. Then workers using iron bars pried loose identical blocks of ice. This method proved far more efficient than the traditional method of cutting irregular ice blocks with saws. And the harvested blocks could be stacked neatly for more efficient transportation and far less melting. Soon Tudor had tripled his production and profits rose accordingly.

In 1833 Tudor sent 180 tons of ice 16,000 miles from Boston to Calcutta, India. Very little ice melted en route and the ship’s arrival touched off a frenzy for ice. Soon a group of investors constructed an icehouse to receive future shipments of Tudor’s ice. In the coming years Tudor – now known as “The Ice King” – sold ice harvested in Massachusetts all over the world. By 1856 ships leaving Boston carried 150,000 tons of ice to US ports and 43 nations around the world.

Here’s an amazing statistic that you can use to win a bar bet:  What product (by weight) was the #2 US export in the 1850s? Cotton was #1 and ice was #2!

But no people in the world fell in love with ice more than Tudor’s fellow Americans.  The tonnage of ice sold by Tudor and a growing number of competitors soared in the 1840s and 1850s. The greatest demand came from American cities. English novelist and travel writer Fanny Trollope toured the US in the early 1830s and later wrote in her book, Domestic Manners of the Americas, “I do not imagine there is a home without the luxury of a piece of ice to cool the water and harden the butter.” Demand for ice grew so rapidly that by 1855 residents of New York City were consuming 285,000 tons annually.

Where did this ice come from? By the 1850s the ice industry in New England and New York employed thousands of men – many of them farm hands and

Ice harvesting in the mid-19th century required new technology and lots of horse-power and human labor.But no people in the world fell in love with ice more than Tudor’s fellow Americans.

lumberjacks looking for work in the winter months – to harvest vast quantities of ice from ponds, lakes, and rivers. Some ice was floated on barges to big icehouses in cities, but by the 1850s more and more ice was moved in railroad cars.

No body of water was off limits to the icemen, not even Henry David Thoreau’s famed Walden Pond. In 1846 Thoreau noted in his journal that a team of burly Irish immigrants had descended on the pond to harvest as much as 1000 tons of ice per day. Thoreau was irked by the noise, but he was also impressed by its implications: “The sweltering inhabitants of Charleston and New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta drink at my well.”

Frederick Tudor, “The Ice King,” died a very wealthy man in 1864. By this time it was clear that his efforts to make ice cheap and plentiful meant more than simply providing Americans with cool drinks in the summer. Ice had begun to change Americans’ basic diet. Whereas before 1830 much of the typical Americans’ diet consisted mainly of bread and dried or salted meat, after 1830 it included increasing amounts of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, and dairy products. This improvement in the variety and quality of food benefited public health and extended life expectancy. Ice also led to the popularity of products like ice cream. Once the rarest of treats, ice cream became so popular that in 1850 a leading women’s magazine declared it a basic necessity of life.

No body of water was off limits to the icemen, not even Henry David Thoreau’s famed Walden Pond. In 1846 Thoreau noted in his journal that a team of burly Irish immigrants had descended on the pond to harvest as much as 1000 tons of ice per day. Thoreau was irked by the noise, but he was also impressed by its implications: “The sweltering inhabitants of Charleston and New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta drink at my well.”

The availability of cheap and plentiful ice meant more than cool drinks in the summer; it changed Americans’ basic diet. Butchers, fishmongers and dairymen began to use ice to preserve their stocks, leading to significant improvement in food quality and public health. Ice also greatly increased the diversity of culinary offerings available to Americans as importers found ways to preserve previously exotic delights like freshwater fish. Ice cream, once the rarest of treats, became so popular that in 1850 a leading women’s magazine declared it a basic necessity. Ice likewise made possible cold beer and other alcoholic drinks. Temperance advocates, however, countered with “Moderation Fountains” during heat waves that provided free ice water as an alternative to the offerings of a city’s countless saloons.

Ice also delivered an impressive array of medical benefits. Doctors at hospitals soon discovered that ice could save lives and began prescribing it as a means of lowering the body temperature of fever victims, especially the young. During the summer, city hospitals issued free ice tickets to the poor, and crowds often grew so anxious outside free ice depots during heat waves that free-for-alls known as ice riots erupted. According to an account in The New York Times of one incident in July 1906, “a woman pulled a man’s mustache and another woman hit a man with a dishpan,” and within minutes, “the ice was scattered on the sidewalk and hundreds were engaged in a rough-and-tumble fight.”

N. Calyo’s painting, “Ice Wagon,” depicts an ice man in the 1840s.

By the 1880’s, about 1,500 ice wagons plied the streets of New York City every day. The burly, typically Italian iceman, a huge block of ice slung over his back and gripped with a pair of tongs, became as familiar a fixture on the urban landscape as the Irish beat cop.

During a typical week in the 1880’s, an iceman might deliver as much as 80 tons of ice, much of it carted up multiple flights of narrow and rickety stairs. The iceman’s daily interactions with housewives gave rise to countless bawdy jokes, an occurrence immortalized in Eugene O’Neill’s drama “The Iceman Cometh,” set in 1912.

While urban Americans clearly loved their ice—Manhattan and Brooklyn consumed 1.3 million tons in 1879 (more than a quarter of the national market)—they often loathed the companies that provided it, and in the 1880’s and 1890’s, a rising chorus of critics charged firms with price gouging and monopolistic practices. Ice companies tried to blamed summer price increases on mild winters that produced insufficient stocks–the aforementioned “ice famines.”

That claim didn’t work in 1896 when in New York City the city’s ice firms were absorbed into a massive national ice trust called the Consolidated Ice Company. Prices jumped 33 percent that spring, and more than doubled by midsummer. Hardest hit were the poor, who could afford to buy their ice, like their winter coal, only in small quantities.

Anger against ice companies persisted after 1901. Here an ice baron sits in an ice house wearing a hat labeled “Ice Trust” and writing, “Owing to the mild winter, we regret to say that ice next summer will be dearer than ever.”

Popular outrage reached new heights four years later in 1901 when investigative journalists revealed that Mayor Robert Van Wyck and other city officials had conspired to create a virtual monopoly for Consolidated. As the price of ice doubled, new revelations showed that the mayor and his brother had been given $1.7 million in Consolidated stock. The investigations produced no convictions, but the mayor, hounded by catcalls of “Ice! Ice! Ice!” whenever he appeared in public, was soundly defeated by a reform ticket in the election of 1901.

America’s ice age, however, was brought to a close not by reformers but by inventors who developed refrigeration and ice-making machinery. As early as the 1870s large brewers had begun to rely on mechanical refrigeration. Soon the meatpacking industry joined them. By 1900 refrigeration machinery was widely available. So, too, was ice making machinery. The final step came with the introduction of electric home refrigerators. By 1950 the iceman had been become as much a relic of a long-ago age as the blacksmith and the lamplighter.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter    @InThePastLane

Sources and Further Reading:

Oscar Edward Anderson, Jr. Refrigeration in America: A History of a New Technology and Its Impact (Princeton University Press, 1953).

Mariana Gosnell, Ice: The Nature, the History, and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance (Knopf, 2005)

Jonathan Rees, The Cold Chain: A History of Ice and Refrigeration in America and the World, forthcoming, John Hopkins University Press.

Carl Seaburg and Stanley Paterson, The Ice King: Frederic Tudor and His Circle (Massachusetts Historical Society and Mystic Seaport, 2003).

Gavin Weightman, The Frozen-Water Trade: A True Story (Hyperion, 2003)