Saturday, August 11, 2012
Today if you go to the Morris Jumel Mansion on 160th street in Harlem you will be in for a pleasant surprise. You will see a house that is the oldest in Manhattan. Built in 1765 and has had a series of owners. Perhaps none more colorful than Madame Eliza Jumel . Born in 1775 she started life as a prostitute and worked her way up to marrying a wealthy win merchant named Jumel. They bought this house in 1810 and started their lives there.
Within a few years they were in France and very friendly, especially she with Napoleon. So much so that when she left in 1816 at the request of the King, Louis the XVIII she left with many pieces of furniture that was given to her by Napoleon. She said she offered to take him to New York City but he declined. But in 1816 she came to the house and set up her new furnishings.
Interestingly she left without her husband, but continued to spend his money lavishly. So in her bed room on the second floor of the house she set up her Napoleonic furnishings and would have them throughout her life. In fact dying in Napoleons bed in 1865.
The Napoleon-Jumel bed in its rightful place in her bedroom in Harlem
The house went to family who in turn sold it who in turn another family member bought it. In 1903 it became a historic site for the state of New York. It was after this that the bed was sold in 1915-16. In 1946 there was a massive hunt for Napoleons bed and it was found and returned to the historic mansion. So today you can see the bed that Napoleon slept in, and Eliza Jumel slept in, and perhaps they did in it together a few times too.
But all in all you need not go to France to see Napoleons bed, but a subway ride up to Harlem.