Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Forty Second Street

This comes from the collection of Detroit Publishing Company photographs at the Library of Congress. It was taken on a sunny day in the early 1900s. The photographer seems to have been perched high over the southwest corner of 42nd Street and Park Avenue. You can see the corner of a steel-girdered frame in the bottom right hand corner; that seems to be what he's standing upon.

We're looking west down 42nd Street. The sun is coming over our left shoulder and it's casting a short shadow, so it's probably late morning. From attire, it seems to be a temperate day, maybe a bit brisk: spring or fall.

The building to the right is the old Grand Central Terminal. It was about to be replaced by a new building at the same location. The large building just beyond it is Hotel Manhattan, which advertised itself as having a direct connection with the terminal, an 'advanced system of ventilation,' and no interior rooms.

Click image to view full size.

{LC caption: Grand Central Station and Hotel Manhattan, New York; taken between 1900 and 1906.}

Here are some detailed views of the photo.

1. The lamp post dominating the image at left is a gas light. It has climbing pegs on its sides, presumably not used every day but only when the fixture needed attention. Although most of the vehicles are drawn by two horses, a few have only one and there's one with four of them. Of the few pulled by one horse, the one at center seems to be the only two-wheel cart. The four-horse wagon is somewhat behind the cart moving in the same direction.

2. There are shops on the shady south side of the street. One has a pedestal out front on which is a turbaned statue, reminiscent of a cigar store indian. Below it, you can see a young lady wearing a boater and sailor outfit crossing Park Avenue, chatting with a fellow who sports a cloth cap.

3. Above the store fronts, I like the way the half-circle hotel sign lines up with the restaurant sign. It seems to be a breezy day (perhaps it's March?) as there's a wind-blown American flag, now limp. Below it is a clock and to the left you can see part of a recruiting office sign. There are cigar stores on both sides of the street, most prominently the one at bottom of this image.

4. A man walks his bicycle across the street. It's an ordinary bike without the new three-speed hub. From his pack you suspect he might be a courier. The gent on horseback is not a usual sight. Men and women didn't take their horses on city streets. They rode the park for pleasure and used cabs or cars for getting around town. He is seated well and has a handsome steed, altogether dapper I'd say.

5. A barrel wagon is commanded by a drover with lap robe. He's passing a small electric street car, and what looks like a coal cart. You can see some stylish pedestrians crossing Vanderbilt Avenue. They're all walking west, as is most of the other foot traffic in the photo; I wonder why.

6. The larger of these two cars is electric powered. The Metropolitan Street Railway had converted from cable to electric power only a few years earlier. Both cable and electricity were kept underground, below a groove between the tracks. The other car is horse-drawn though it uses the same tracks. A man near the front of the electric car is somewhat less formally dressed than most, white cloth porter's coat and a cloth cap. At top center of the image is a man standing in the middle of the street. The umbrella suggests that he's a vendor, but why would he locate himself there? The sign on the roof of the horsecar says Boulevard.

7. The owner of the goods wagon, C.H. Drake, calls himself "The Peoples Popular [something]. A young woman appears to be reading what's written on the other side. Over her shoulder she has what looks like a sash and on her neck a ruff. I can't tell what she's holding to her mouth. Above her in the shadow is a policeman with hard hat, mustache and brass buttoned coat.

8. Here are men taking their ease on the sunny north side of the street. The guy the bike (no. 4 above) might be headed to the Western Union telegraph office, home of A.D.T. Messengers. The woman with the floral hat seems to be wearing a bustle. At the palings by the telegraph office a man is getting his shoes shined. At bottom you can see a young woman who seems to be fashonably wasp-waisted.

9. This gas lamp over the telegraph office seems to be reflecting the sun. It seems to be intended to help people find the office rather than light the pavement below. The guy with the flat-top hat almost certainly delivers telegrams for a living.

10. This wagon is carrying all kinds of things, including a helper.

11. These hansom cab drivers are pretty elegant: top hatted and wearing double breasted coats with lots of brass buttons. Notice the patient horses politely ignoring one another.

12. This image shows a man selling newspapers and by him I think I see a newsboy with papers on his back. If so, I think he's the only child in the photo.

13. A rather nice American Express delivery wagon. These American Express wagons were the UPS trucks of the time. The white-suited man with matching white pith helmet is a city sanitation worker known as a "white wing."

14. This grand bird perches on the south east corner of Grand Central Station. It's presumably paired with another that we can't see off to right. There's a matching pair on the south east corner.

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