Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Hotel Knickerbocker on Broadway and 42nd Street.

The Knickerbocker Hotel was built by the legendary millionaire John Jacob Astor the forth (1864-1912) in 1904. It was one of his many hotels in New York City. He built many and would have kept building, but he was on the Titanic and was not one of the survivors.
This was built in the heart of the theater district and home to many great singers and performers. This place was home to the great George M. Cohan (1878-1942) of Broadway fame.
It was also the home to the immortal operatic tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921). Another of the greats who lived there was the theatrical producer Charles Frohman (1860-1915). Sadly he would be lost in the Lusitania.
It was a hangout for many in theater. The bar downstairs was famous for not only coming up with the martini cocktail, but for having some of the finest foods ever.

The great operatic Contralto Ernestine Schumann Heink (1861-1936) She was 350 pounds of contralto and often ate her meals in the Knickerbocker. There is a great story about Caruso walking into the restaurant of the Knickerbocker and seeing Heink with a massive steak before her. He yelled "Madamme Heink are you going to eat that steak all alone?" She responded in her German-English, "No, mit potatos!"

Caruso ate most of his meals at the Knickerbocker till he and Cohan were moved out when the building was sold. It was made into an office building and all of its hotel items were moved elsewhere. One of the most famous pieces was moved to another hotel in NYC. But that will be another story.
Caruso sang from his suite in the Knickerbocker to everyone on Broadway to celebrate the end of WWI. I got to meet two people who saw that event. Helen Hayes who was there said it was the highlight of her life. It must have been something!

Today the Knickerbocker building is condos and stores. It has recently been sold, so perhaps by 2020 there will be another hotel Knickerbocker. Just like a century ago.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Remembering my friend Ray Stone on the 65th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima

It was my honor to know Ray. He was a gentleman, singer, actor, and a survivor of the battle of Iwo Jima. Ray rarely talked about the event, but one day over some stingers, he let go of a little bit of his memory. Ray had been born on Dec 6, 1925. His father had a mandolin orchestra and Ray was surrounded with music from his childhood. That would play a part in his later life. But the war interrupted that.

Once Ray turned 18 in December of 1943, his path was like millions of other young men of the time. That was to join the military as the world was at war. He joined the marines in 1944. He then went through the months of indoctrination and basic training. Then he and hundreds of thousands of raw green troops went on their way. Of course none of them knew where they were going. The war in Europe was closing down, but the war in the Pacific was steaming. The Japanese were entrenched on many islands and were known to fight to the last man. So it was known that fighting them would be a living hell.

Ray said that in late 1944 he was on his way to the Pacific. He was transferred from ship to ship. Finally they knew something was up in early 1945, as he and a few hundred other very unlucky souls were loaded onto a large landing craft and sailed across the ocean. There were hundreds of these massive landing crafts that were loaded with soldiers. These ships were all flat bottomed and rode the water terribly. Everyone was seasick on board. This ship and it's very sick passengers were on their way to Iwo Jima.

He said they landed and the front gate opened and all of them were feeling awful. but soon they were under a hail of bullets and everyone of them to a man forgot about being seasick. Now they were in a battle, not only to take this small island, but for their very survival. He said he saw so many of his comrades shot down. As he used to joke years later "They were trying to kill me!" It was no laughing matter as thousands of men on both sides were killed.

He recalled the two flag raising's on the mountains. He said there were big cheers each time. I had never been aware of that till he told me about the flags. The photo I had always known was of the second flag raising. Each was important, but the first flag raising and those who were involved seemed to have been overshadowed by the second. Ray was eventually shot and crawled under a tank and was in great pain. His Sargent told him to get out from there but as he was barking his order he was shot and killed.
Ray was finally taken in and recovered from his wounds. He returned to the marines and even served again as a Drill Sargent in the Korean war. The marine flag always flew at his house.

Ray had a spectacular career after this. He worked on Broadway, toured in Summer stock. Sang with the Easternaires in the Music man all over the country. In later years he married his lovely bride Mickie. It was my pleasure to know and perform with this man for many years.
Mickie told me of a incident that happened in 1995. She and Ray were touring in Washington and Virginia. They were on a bus doing tours. They found themselves in Arlington and in the shadow of the monument honoring the second flag raising of Iwo Jima. Everyone filed by, but Ray, who had never seen it before was transfixed. It had been 50 years since he saw that scene.
The bus driver started honking the horn and yelled out his window "hey get in the bus old man". Mickie glared at the driver and said "Shut up....he was there"
There was just a silence after that, and a feeling of respect. Then Ray got on the bus with the quiet dignity that always was his and was left with his thoughts.

It was my joy to know him many years and learn a lot from him. He was always concerned about Mickie as he knew that she would survive him. But this was not case. Mickie sadly left this world in 2000. Ray existed six more years.

I recall my last conversation with him. I was to meet him in March of 2006. In December of 2005 I called Ray to wish him the best on his 80th birthday. In his typical humor he said to me..."Jack, you want to know something....80 sucks!" We laughed and then he died 2 weeks later. Never got to see him that coming March. But today as I read about Iwo Jima, I think of my friend, and remember.....

Back in the days when we performed together. From left to right Me, Bill Farrazanno (top) John Murray, and Ray
The monument

Monday, February 15, 2010

Postage Currency from the Civil War 1862-1863 . All produced in New York City

This early issue was produced in the North (In NYC) during the civil war sometime between August 1862 through May of 1863. They were to use as money and designed to allow people to buy stamps as coinage was scarce at the time.

Fractional Currency notes were produced from August 21, 1862 through February 15, 1876. Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase proposed to authorize postage stamps of some type as a new currency. Congress and President Lincoln approved the Postage Currency Act on July 17, 1862, which authorized an issue of the notes. I will be talking about the first issues not those of the post civil war period.

The first Issues became known as Postage Stamp Currency because they bore facsimiles of the then current 5 and 10 cent postage stamps. Postage Currency (first Issues) were never legal tender but could be exchanged for United States Notes (money) in $5 lots and receivable in payment of all dues to the United States, up to $5.

In the first few months of production, the sheets were perforated like stamps. These sheets were sold to banks and the public in sheets and you could tear off the notes needed with ease. The perforating machine could not keep up with the heavy demand. Therefore, the stamps were printed on plain sheets that were cut with scissors. This made for some badly sized notes.
All of these notes were produced and printed in New York City, at the National Bank Note Company. This company was located at The Merchant's Exchange Building at 55 Wall Street. The building in which they were located still stands.

This style and those of the first production run were changed in 1863 to a more colorful and better designed style to prevent counterfeit designs. As there were many problems with the size and style of these early notes. The one stamp/bill shown here is from that early period and shows Thomas Jefferson on the front on a five cent stamp of the time.
They are a rather odd and rare part of Civil war history and the early days of bill making in the United States, or what was existing of the United States at that time. One of the more unusual styles of a form of currency. And it all happened in New York.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The other President that was buried in NYC. James Monroe (1758-1831) 5th President of the United States. Removed from NYC's Marble Cemetery in 1858

Today in New York City, there is but one Presidental grave, that of President Grant. But in the past, New York has been the resting place for another President, that is James Monroe. In this article we will share with you in story, the removal of the remains of our 5th President.

Removing the coffin from the vault
Monroe's coffin on display at New York's City hall on July 3, 1858. Before the body was taken to Virginia for burial...It must of had a rather musty smell after being in a vault for 27 years...But there seems to be no mention of it. The smell I guess was not too strong as the inner coffin was switched to a new one. The inner coffin was made of lead, and it was placed inside a new mahogany casket. But he was the only President that was laid out for public view long after his death.

President James Monroe of Virginia. The last President who was a Revolutionary War Vet

New York City's Marble Cemetery. Where Monroe was buried. Monroe was placed in a vault here after his death on July 4th 1831. He was totally broke and so it was with support that he was buried in New York.

In 1858 he was exhumed and moved to Virginia where he rests. His wife and family were reburied in the graveyard near his tomb.

A closer look at his sarcophagus in Virginia.

James Monroe, our fifth President died basically a pauper. He was living with is daughter in New York as his money situation was in terrible shape. He finally died of heart failure on July 4th 1831. 55 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and five years after Jefferson and Adams.

His Presidency was known as the "Era of good feeling".In his Presidency was perhaps the greatest Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams who wrote the Monroe Doctrine.

Sadly after his Presidency his money situation grew awful. He sold his home in which his wife was buried and moved to New York with his daughter.

His funeral was of great pomp and he was laid to rest in Marble Cemetery in New York City in the Gouverneur family Vault. There he rested till 1858. When a petition from Virginia was settled and his remains were to be brought to state of his birth and most of his life. His coffin was exhumed and brought to New York's City hall where it was on display for the public to see once again the coffin, not the President. He was then put on to a barge a taken to Virginia.

There were a number of storms and it looked like what was left of Monroe was to be lost...But they made it. It is an odd thing that one of Alexander Hamilton's grand sons was part of the honor guard and was sadly washed over board during one of these storms.

Then in July of 1858 he was interred in a rather bizarre Cast Iron tomb. His wife and family were buried near to him. But his tomb was made for only one. There he rests to this day...Now in company with John Tyler, who would be buried there at Hollywood, but not honored till many years later with a marker for his tomb.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Original menu for dining in New York's Greenwich Village hot spot ..The Pepper Pot 1929

New York's Greenwich Village was a place to be in the later days of the 1920's. The Pepper Pot was one of those places to see and to be seen.
It was a restaurant, jazz and dance hall. party house, and also a place where the bohemian life of the Village could be enjoyed and expressed.

It was not cheap to dine there, but it was known for its excellent foods and atmosphere. In fact if you look at some of the prices here you will see they were quite high. Most places you could get a sandwich for twenty five cents, here it was fifty or more! It was as I mentioned before the place to be, and the place to have a heck of a good time. Of course this was in the height of prohibition, although things could be found there too to help you along too in your quest for a drink.

This menu is from 1929, just before the crash. It is a wonderful reminder of the days that used to be in old New York. The building still stands ad in a later posting we will show you what the old Pepper Pot looks like now.