Sunday, August 14, 2011

Eden Musee

Following my great-grandfather's landing as a penniless German immigrant, his upward trajectory was a steep one.[1] Within a dozen years of his arrival in New York in 1853 this man, Louis Windmuller, had established himself as merchant and money manager. In the next dozen had become prosperous and well-connected and by the end of the century he had become a prominent reformer, philanthropist, and public-spirited author. He served on corporate boards with the heads of the city's great financiers and businessmen: Vanderbilt, Astor, Sloane, Choate, and Whitney. He developed friendships with the city's reform mayor and other civic activists. Although he was grandson of a famous rabbi, he helped to found and served as vestryman for an Episcopal church.[2]

Windmuller might seem to have been self-made in the classic sense: one who creates a new identity for himself, ascends from poverty, and achieves social recognition. He might. Except that his education in Germany had been excellent (although a reversal in family fortunes did force him to leave school before graduating). Except that he was known for his big heart and open hand, not in the least uncomfortable to be sharing a humble meal with New York's unwashed poor in a soup kitchen.[3] And except that — having married into a family of Old New York patricians — he never gave himself nativist airs. He never stopped being a German-American and his closest friends and associates were other German-Americans, like Carl Schurz, William Steinway, Adolph Sutro, Jacob Schiff, Abraham Jacobi, Henry Villard, Ashbel Fitch, Gustav Schwab, Oswald Ottendorfer, John Roebling, and Charles Hauselt. That many of these men retained a commitment to Judaism while he did not was (so far as I can tell) of no concern to them or him.

He was also known for his devotion to high culture. A self-made man might purchase expensive works of art, but would probably not be accepted as a connoisseur. Windmuller bought art and literature, but not haphazardly. He carefully assembled what was thought to be an excellent collection and he was considered to be enough of an art expert to be named arbiter in a suit by a well-known artist for non-payment of a commission.[4]

There was nothing of the snob in him. His neighbors knew him as a benevolent and kindly man. With his German-born friends, he delighted in the festivities of the Liederkranz singing society (where his cousin Jacob Windmuller often presided) and of the city's German beer halls.[5]

Two views of German beer halls in New York.

{On left: The Atlantic Garden, 1872, from Lights and shadows of New York life, or, The sights and sensations of the great city, by James Dabney McCabe (Philadelphia, National Publishing Co., 1872); on right: A German beer garden in New York City on Sunday evening by Alfred Fredericks, 1859, written on border: Oct. 15, 1859, printed on image: 'The audience is requested not to stand on the chairs & tables', from Harper's weekly: a journal of civilization. (New York : Harper's Weekly Co., 1857-1916); source: NYPL Digital Gallery)}

His association with the Eden Musee shows both the exalted and chummy sides of his engagement with New York's cultural institutions. The Eden Musee was patterned after European wax-works, such as Madame Tussaud's, but it offered considerably more than views of life-like and often grisly wax tableaux. It boasted of a "winter garden" in which daytime patrons could eat and drink while being entertained by European orchestras and where, in the evening, they would see exotic dancers, lady fencers, conjurers, illusionists, and even some of the very first motion picture shows.

The Eden Musee in 1900.

{This photo appears on numerous web sites, including Facebook.}

Opening in 1884, the place quickly became a New York institution that visitors from within the US and abroad put on their "must see" lists, as they did the new Statue of Liberty and other famous sites.[6] From the first it carefully straddled the barriers separating rich from poor, educated from ignorant, and tenement dwellers from householders. Its name was usually given with plebeian lack of accent, Musee (pronounced musey or moosey) not Musée, but the institution had European roots and its stage held European acts. Local newspapers' society reporters frequently mentioned the presence of celebrated, well-connected, and aristocratic personages among the vast numbers who made there way there. It made itself attractive to the thousands of women who were brought to the neighborhood by the presence of large dry goods emporia and the new department stores that were beginning to crop up. Women, often with children in tow, would stop by to snack, listen to Prince Paul Esterhazy's Hungarian Orchestra, and look at the ever-changing wax installations.

It possessed the mysterious Ajeeb, supposedly a chess automaton, but in reality a dummy manipulated by a live chess master.[7] It was known for its floral displays and was the first place in New York where people could see orchids in bloom.[8] As wax-works it resembled predecessors such as the Friedle museum, mentioned in my last post, and Barnum's American Museum (which was successor to Gardiner Baker's American Museum, also mentioned in that post). The number of resources on the Eden Musee is quite large. I've put a few of them in my list of sources.

The Eden Musee was founded by a French syndicate headed by Adolf Wilhelm Kessler, a wealthy German who made his home in Paris.[9] Kessler had made himself useful during the Franco-Prussian war and been made a Count for his services. Most of the early investors and members of the board of directors were German-Americans and Windmuller was one of them. He was elected a director in 1888 and became corporate treasurer in 1890.

{At left: NY Daily Graphic, March 1, 1888; at right: entry in Trow's City Directory of 1890}

The location of the Eden Musee was ideal. At 55 W. 23rd Street, it was close to upper-crust Madison Park with its prestigious hotels, galleries, restaurants, and theaters. It was also close to the 23rd St. station of the 6th Avenue elevated train and other public transit.[10] As you can see from this detail of a 1897 atlas of Manhattan, Stern's very large dry goods store stood across the street, as did a department store which had been reconstructed from theater run by the famous actor, Edwin Booth (brother to the notorious John Wilkes). During the lifespan of the Eden Musee, the Flatiron Building would rise on the triangle of land half a block east at 5th and Broadway. In pictures of the Eden Musee you can sometimes also see the Castro Building, an architectural landmark built in 1893.

{Plate 17: Bounded by W. 36th Street, E. 36th Street, Lexington Avenue, E. 25th Street, Madison Avenue, E. 26th Street, Fifth Avenue, W. 25th Street and Eighth Avenue; source: NYPL Digital Gallery, Atlas of the city of New York, Manhattan Island. From actual surveys and official plans by George W. and Walter S. Bromley. 1897}

The Eden Musee was also near a music hall called Koster & Bial's. Located on the other side of 6th Avenue, at 115 W. 23rd, it had moved farther north by 1897 when the following map was made (and thus is labeled "Trocadero Music Hall" on the map. Koster & Bial's did not aim for family entertainment, but was rather a variety house where men went to smoke, drink, and relax.

In time the fancy hotels, restaurants, galleries, and stores moved north to Broadway and 34th and the theaters moved up to Broadway at 42nd. Places like Koster & Bial's moved with them, but the Musee did not and, having lost its customers, declared bankruptcy in 1915. Things might have turned out differently. Like Koster & Bial's, the Musee was one of the first places New Yorkers could see moving pictures. But it appears the management wasn't interested either in moving north or in becoming a movie palace.

The Eden Musee building was demolished in 1915 and the commercial building that replaced it still stands.[11] Some of the other buildings that were the museum's neighbors are still standing.

You can rotate this Google street view to see the Castro Building (now Huffman Koos Furniture) east of the museum's location at 43 w 23rd and R. J. Horner & Co. (also a furniture store) to the west at 61 w. 23rd. Across the street at 34w. 23rd, the large building that was Stern's is now a Home Depot.[12]

Windmuller was associated with places just off the map. He was a founding member of the Reform Club which was then located at 5th and 27th. He didn't belong to the Marble Church up the way a bit, but his wife was brought up in the Reformed Dutch faith of which it was a component and her siblings were educated at the Reformed Dutch Church Collegiate School. The church is at 29th and 5th, next to Holland House. He was an art collector and knew the owner of Goupil's Gallery, located at 5th and 21st.

This page from an advertising brochure shows the lobby of the musee. You can see that the featured moving picture in the "Passion Play."[13] Most of the figures are wax dummies, including the boy pickpocket and his mark, the erect policeman, and the officious looking gentleman by the poster.

{Lobby at the Eden Musée; source: NYPL Digital Gallery }

{Catalogue of the Eden Musée (Mayer, Merkel & Ottmann, 1884)}

{Pasteur Group, 1886 advertising card of the Eden Musée; source:}


Some sources:

A. About the Eden Musee

PASSING OF THE EDEN MUSEE; Picturesque Old Place of Entertainment by James Huneker, New York Times, June 20, 1915

EDEN MUSEE SITE SOLD.; The Museum Will Seek a New Home Near Times Square. New York Times, April 30, 1910. Extract: "The museum was erected about 1882 by a French syndicate, and a few years later it was taken over by the Eden Musée American Company."

NOTES OF THE STAGE., New York Times, July 1, 1894.

EDEN MUSEE FACES BANKRUPTCY COURT, Owners File a Petition for Purposes of Liquidation -- Doors Still Open. LANDMARK OF 23D STREET Northward Movement of Stores and Moving-Picture Craze Hurts Wax Works. New York Times, June 8, 1915

TO COVER SITE OF EDEN MUSEE, New York Times, July 11, 1915

Adolf Wilhelm Kessler

Obituary, Count Kessler, New York Times, May 23, 1895. "A cablegram was received yesterday from Paris, announcing the death in that city, yesterday morning, of Count Kessler, the head of one of the largest importing houses in the world, one of the founders of the Eden Musée in this city, and a large stockholder and Director. The flag was placed at half mast on the Musée, and a meeting of the Directors called for this afternoon, when appropriate action will be taken. Count Kessler's residence was in Paris, but nearly half his time was spent in this country, and he had a large circle of acquaintances in this city. It is supposed he was many times a millionaire. He left for Paris only a few weeks ago, and the particulars of his death have not been received."

The Eden Musee by Harry Buschman. Extract:
I worked at the Eden Musee. A house of waxwork figures frozen forever in moments of agony and ecstasy. The original Eden Musee in midtown Manhattan, (until it burned down) was a major attraction for nearly fifty years. ... Wax figures consist of little more than a head and hands. When you're dealing with an image of Lincoln, the head must look like Lincoln, but the hands can be anyone's; no one cares what Lincoln's hands looked like. The artist must search for someone who has a superficial resemblance to Lincoln, make a facial plaster cast of him and then pour in flesh colored molten wax. From then on it's glass eyes, a wig, stage make-up and costuming fitted on a show window dummy. Other than his hapless victims, no one ever saw Jack-the-Ripper and nobody could pick Lizzie Borden out of a police line-up either.
"The Eden Musee" in A history of the New York stage from the first performance in 1732 to 1901, Vol. 3, by Thomas Allston Brown (Dodd, Mead and company, 1903) "THE EDEN MUSEE -- THE Eden Musee is situated at 55 West Twenty-third Street, north side, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. Not until the opening of The Eden Musee did New York have a house devoted exclusively to wax-work exhibitions. It was opened March 29, 1884. Caroline Otero, Spanish character dancer, made her American debut here Oct. 1, 1898. Mlle. Valti, an eccentric singer from Paris, made her debut Sept. 24, 1891; De Kolta, a magician, Dec. 22, 1891; M. Delprade, a French illusionist and bird imitator, made his American d^but April 18, 1893. 'A Dresden Shepherdess,' a pantomime, was produced here Dec 24, 1892, by Vance Thompson, music by Aime Lachaume: Pierrot, Mlle. Pilar-Morin."

Eden Musee Wax Museum 1906

The Eden Musée

The Lost Eden Musee -- "The Wonders of the World in Wax", The Mirror of the Stage; Old Eden Musee a Pioneer in Hungarian Bands, Russian Ballet, and Moving Pictures — First Photo-play Produced There. New York Evening Post, August 19, 1922

The Pride of the Eden Musée, The New Yorker, Nov. 30, 1943

Ajeeb (Automaton) at the Eden Musee

The mysterious Ajeeb. Extract: "The mysterious Ajeeb was the pride of the Eden Musée wax museum on West 23rd Street in NYC which opened to the public in 1884. It drew scores of thousands of spectators to its games, which President Grover Cleveland played in 1885, and other opponents for which included Harry Houdini, Theodore Roosevelt and O. Henry."

The Eden Musee by Harry Buschman, The Writers Voice

Silent Film: The Passion Play of Oberammergau, (1898) American, B&W, 2100 feet, directed by Henry C. Vincent, cast: Frank Russell, Frank Gaylor, Fred Strongl; Eden Musée production

Archive for Eden Musee

Richard G. Hollaman, President of the Eden Musée, an article on

Show Time at the Eden Musée by Joseph Atmore

A sampling of some news reports in the New York Times:

September 15, 1884: Sitting Bull and some of the braves of his tribe will be at the Eden Musee throughout the present week.

February 17, 1885: The performance at the Eden Musee, Saturday afternoon, closed with the third act of the "Mountain Queen," in which little Linda Da Costa appeared as the Queen and Julius Witmark as the King. Linda is 10 years old, and Julius not yet 16.

December 7, 1886: The reception given by the Eden Musee last night for the opening concert of Prince Paul Esterhazy's Hungarian Orchestra was attended by a large and fashionable gathering.

October 1, 1887: The New-York Society for the Promotion of Art has arranged a pretty little art gallery in a room admirably adapted to the purpose in the Eden Musee building, over the Musee proper.

October 28, 1887: Once again the Eden Musee blooms like a garden. Palms rear their graceful stems to the ceilings, and the walls are draped with beautiful vines. The central platform is covered with palms and a few choice plants, among them an orchid from the same stem as the famous flower of that variety in the Morgan collection.

October 21, 1888: The concerts at the Eden Musee on Sunday have become a feature of city life and are always largely attended. An excellent programme is provided to-day, in which Erdelyi Nacal and his gypsy orchestra will figure prominently. The Viennese lady fencers continue to astonish the patrons of the Musee with their skill, and the many lesser novelties on exhibition make the establishment a seeming fairyland.

October 13, 1889: A very large crowd went to the Eden Musee last night to see the first performance of some new female fencers and dancers whom the management has just received from Europe.

January 24, 1893: The Eden Musee seems to lose none of its hold on popular favor. On the contrary, the attractions of the pretty little Twenty-third Street resort make new friends for the house each week. Danko Gabor's royal gypsy band at the afternoon concerts, together with the waxworks, draw large crowds of ladies and children.

June 8, 1915: The Eden Musee, which has stood on Twenty-third Street near Sixth Avenue and shown "the wonders of the world in wax" for more than thirty years, has its days numbered, for yesterday the Eden Musee American Company, Which operates it, filed a voluntary petition in bankruptcy.

January 24, 1929: Peter J. Hill, formerly well known as a chess player, who for nine years was the brain of Ajeeb, the automaton chess player in the old Eden Musee on Twenty-third Street, was buried here today, forgotten by his friends of other days, but carried to his grave by friend in St. Francis's Home for Aged Catholics, where he lived for the last year.

B. Other wax-works

Madame Tussaud: And the History of Waxworks by Pamela M. Pilbeam (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006)

Rubens Peale (1784-1865) Extract: "In 1825, Rubens opened his own museum, the New York Museum of Natural History and Science. His museum housed collections of insects and butterflies, stuffed animals (Rubens was also interested in taxidermy), paintings, sculptures, and even a pair of Egyptian mummies. Rubens took his museum very seriously, viewing it as a place for scientific inquiry and examination, and frequently held lectures on various emerging scientific theories. Unfortunately, in the early 1840’s the museum fell into debt, and Rubens was forced to sell his entire collection to P. T. Barnum, circus entrepreneur and owner of the competing American Museum. It seemed that museum-goers wanted freaks of nature rather than just “ordinary” nature, and so, unwilling to condescend to the addition of freaks and curiosities to his displays, Rubens retired from the museum business."

The forgotten museum of Rubens Peale

Rubens Peale. Extract: "He opened his own museum in New York on October 26, 1825, (along with the opening of the Erie Canal). By 1840, Peale would change the name to the New York Museum of Natural History and Science. The Panic of 1837 sent his museum into debt. It competed with the American Museum, of P.T. Barnum. Rubens had to sell his entire collection to Barnum in 1843. He moved to Pottstown, Pennsylvania. In 1837, he retired to his father-in-law, George Patterson's estate near Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, and lived as a country gentleman, at Woodland Farm. He experimented with Mesmerism, and wrote to his brother Rembrandt about it."

Scudder's American Museum

"Scudder's Museum," in Travels through part of the United States and Canada in 1818 and 1819 by John Morison Duncan, Vol 2 (University Press, 1823)

Doesticks on visiting the American Museum


Barnum's American Museum

Barnum's Museum, New York Tribune, June 19, 1850

Barnum on the American Museum, from P.T. Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs, "The American Museum" 1869

P.T. Barnum and the Fire that Destroyed The American Museum

A history of the New York stage from the first performance in 1732 to 1901 by Thomas Allston Brown (Dodd, Mead and company, 1902)

A Word About Museums, The Nation, July 27, 1865.

C. Other sources:

"The Commercial Progress of Gotham," by Louis Windmuller, in The Progress of the Empire State: New York State and City by Charles Arthur Conant (The Progress of the Empire State Company, 1913).

"THE COLLECTION OF LOUIS WINDMULLER, ESQ., OF WOODSIDE, L. I.", in The Collector and Art Critic, Vol. 2, No. 11 (Apr. 1, 1900). Extract: "The collection of paintings resulting from discriminating acquisitions extending over a number of years is like an art history of that period. Mr. Louis Windmuller was collecting his art works during the period when the Dusseldorf and Munich schools were at their height, his own German extraction leaning him favorably to the work of his erstwhile countrymen. The result of his collecting shows some of the more enduring examples of this school, interspersed with a few canvases which bring the needed variety of landscape art among the anecdotal pictures. Thus combined the collection is an interesting one."

"Louis Windmuller" in History of German immigration in the United States and successful German-Americans and their descendants by George von Skal (New York, F.T. & J.C. Smiley, 1908). Extract: "Of his services in behalf of charity his efforts for the benefit of the German Hospital Fair in 1888 deserve especial mention. In connection with this affair Mr. Windmuller arranged a collection of paintings and a souvenir containing autobiographical contributions from the best American and German authors. He is known as an art connoisseur and collector of paintings and books. He was also treasurer of a fund for the erection of a monument to Goethe and vice-president of the Heine Monument Society."

"American Art Notes," by Arthur Barnett, The Scottish art review, Volume 2 (E. Stock, 1889). Extract: "Thomas Moran, better known to our English cousins as an etcher and prolific illustrator in the magazines than as a painter, has brought a suit against the estate of the late Joseph Drexel of a peculiar nature."

Waxworks, a film by Paul Leni, 1924

Weird and wonderful: the dime museum in America by Andrea Stulman Dennett (NYU Press, 1997)

"Louis Windmüller" in Geschichte des Deutschthums von New York von 1848 bis auf die Gegenwart, Theodor Lemke (T. Lemke, 1891) Extract: "Noch ein anderes Unternehmen, das eine der größten Schenswürdigkeiten für alle New York besuchenden Fremden ist, verdanken wir der Initiative des Herrn Windmüller: das Eden Musée in 23. Straße, nahe 5. Avenue, ans dessen gedeihliche Entmictelung er in seiner Stellung als Direktor und Schatzmeister unausgestzt den regsten und fruchtbarsten Antheil genommen hat." Rendered in English, roughly, as: "Yet another company, one of the most enchanting places for all New York visiting foreigners, we owe to the initiative of Mr. Windmüller: the Eden Musée on 23rd Street, near 5th Avenue, to the prosperous development of which he has constantly put in his position as director and treasurer of the liveliest and most fertile portion."

23rd Street in wikipedia

New York Songlines: 23rd Street on

Ladies' Mile



[1] A news article written after his death says "He came to this country at the age of 18 with less than $18 in his possession. He started life here as an errand boy in a grocery store at a salary of $4 a week. He rose rapidly in position and accumulated wealth until he became a director of many financial institutions." Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 26, 1914. Late in life my great-grandfather wrote of 18-year old immigrants like himself, on their own in New York: "[starting out] as grocery clerks sleeping under the counter, they devoted themselves assiduously to the details of the business, so that many were soon able to establish themselves on their own account." -- "The Commercial Progress of Gotham," by Louis Windmuller, in The Progress of the Empire State: New York State and City by Charles Arthur Conant (The Progress of the Empire State Company, 1913).

[2] I've written frequently about my great-grandfather's experiences in New York during the second half of the 19th century. The tag "Louis Windmuller" at right takes you to 39 blog posts about him; for example: America's best citizens.

[3] This comes from an article by my great-grandfather called "Reminiscences Of Financial Problems" appearing in The Forum, Vol. 40, (Forum Pub. Co., 1908): "To relieve the poor, many of whom were out of employment during the winter of 1893 to 1894, the writer joined a citizens' committee, formed under auspices of the "Christian Alliance." Members were expected to purchase tickets at the rate of $5 a hundred and distribute them gratis to applicants for charity. Each ticket entitled the bearer to a square meal in the basement of No. 170 Bleecker Street, New York City. As member of this committee the writer frequently convinced himself of the quality and quantity of the food furnished by Mr. Milbury, the agent. After a visit to kitchen and cellar he sat down on stools in line with other hungry men and women, and he enjoyed with them a large bowl of fragrant steaming stew, a chunk of sweet bread and a cup of good coffee. Some of those supplies were furnished gratis, others at extremely low prices; everybody was glad to help, by timely charity, the starving poor to good food."

[4] One newsman said of him that "He is a distinguished art amateur, and possesses a fine collection of paintings and objects d'art" (NY Daily Graphic, March 1, 1888). For a description of his collection, see "THE COLLECTION OF LOUIS WINDMULLER, ESQ., OF WOODSIDE, L. I.", in The Collector and Art Critic, Vol. 2, No. 11 (Apr. 1, 1900). On his service as arbiter see the description of the suit by Thomas Moran in "American Art Notes," by Arthur Barnett, The Scottish art review, Volume 2 (E. Stock, 1889).

[5] Liederkranz, dancing, beer gardens: Educated Germans comprised the best element of our population. Conscientious in the performance of their duties during the day, they knew how to enjoy their nights. They sang in the 'Liederkranz,' danced in assembly rooms, and drank in 'gemuthliche Kneipen,' where good beer was available. Besides teaching us harmless pleasures, they spread their taste for art and literature. Amongst their foremost citizens were Carl Schurz, Oswald Ottendorfer, and Charles Hauselt." -- "The Commercial Progress of Gotham," by Louis Windmuller, in The Progress of the Empire State: New York State and City by Charles Arthur Conant (The Progress of the Empire State Company, 1913).

[6] Newspapers told of its attractions for domestic and foreign visitors in the appreciations they produced at the time it closed. See for example

{New York Times, June 8 1915}

Extract: "The Eden Musee presented "wonders of the world in wax" and was the latest idea in amusement from Paris. Up-country visitors and foreigners felt as much obligated to go there as they did to see the Statue of Liberty, which was not unveiled until two years later. It was a pioneer in moving pictures: "The Passion Play" opened in 1898 and ran for nine months. The film was more than 2,000 feet in length, and was considered amazing in the day when about 500 feet was the average. Flower shows were a great feature. The Eden Musee held the first orchid exhibition in 1887. It lost its business when the department stores moved uptown and people flocked to the moving-picture shows."

[7] The New Yorker magazine profiled Ajeeb during the war years: The Pride of the Eden Musée, The New Yorker, Nov. 30, 1943.

{source: Hakes and wikimedia commons}


{New York Times, November 11, 1884}

[9] Here's the obituary of Count Kessler in the New York Times.

{New York Sun, 23 May 1895. Extract: "Kessler born in Germany, acquired great wealth, put wounded French and German soldiers up in castle during Franco-Prussian War, lived in Paris, spent much time in NY member Lotos Club, lived at Hoffman House [located on 5th Avenue around the corner from the Eden Musee]."}

[10] I've done some blog posts on tony Madison Square, including: [11] The New York Times gave an artist's impression of the building that replaced the museum:

{TO COVER SITE OF EDEN MUSEE, New York Times, July 11, 1915}

[12] This ad from 1879 shows Stern's when it opened for business in its new 23rd Street store.

{From Harper's bazaar; source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

[13] From the New York World, February 1, 1898: "SACRED DRAMA SHOWN BY MEANS OF THE CINEMATOGRAPH — A series of Passion Play pictures is now being presented at the Eden Musee by the cinematograph. The scenes have been reproduced from sketches at the time of the last presentation of the biblical drama given at Oberammergau. The motion pictures were secured from a representation given in this country by actors garbed in the costume drawn from these designs and drilled in the various tableaux. Twenty-three scenes are shown, beginning with the shepherds watching their flocks and ending with the ascension. The best of them were the flight into Egypt, the raising of Lazarus, the crucifixion and the descent from the cross. The exhibition made a decidedly favorable impression and will doubtless be the means of attracting many visitors to this popular place of amusement."

1 comment:

Deniz said...

Here is a recent post on the makeover of Windmuller Park in Woodside, NY, named after your great-grandfather:

Thought you'd want to know, if you didn't already!