Archive for the Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons Category

Stars of Vaudeville #1015: Klondike Kate

Posted in AMERICANA, Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Singers, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2016 by travsd


Klondike Kate (Kathleen Eloise Rockwell, 1873-1957) was a real person! She was the toast of Dawson, Yukon during the Gold Rush, performing in saloons, the Savoy Theatrical Company, and the Palace Grande Theatre, where her famous “Flame Dance” earned her as much as $750 a night in the boom town economy (the equivalent of over $21,000 in today’s money). She got involved romantically with Alexander Pantages, and helped bankroll his Seattle-based vaudeville circuit. Pantages proceeded to throw her over and marry another woman. Kate continued to perform in west coast vaudeville for a time in the early years of the 20th century, eventually retiring to Oregon.

Born in Junction City, Kansas, Kate grew up in North Dakota; Spokane, Washington; and Valparaiso, Chile. She moved to New York City at age 18, which is where she got her first experience as a chorus girl and dancer in Coney Island, and vaudeville houses throughout the city.

Ann Savage played a fictionalized version of her in the 1943 movie Klondike Kate. Mae West paid her homage in the title of Klondike Annie (1936), although her character’s story is quite different in that picture.

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

1895: Muller, the German Clown Cat That Brought Down the House in New York City

Posted in Animal Acts, Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Dime Museum and Side Show, German with tags , , on December 11, 2016 by travsd

“His collection of tabbies is the only show made up entirely of feline soubrettes that was ever organized in the world. Everything they do is performed with the upmost grace. They are as clever as …

Source: 1895: Muller, the German Clown Cat That Brought Down the House in New York City

Remembering William Cullen Bryant

Posted in AMERICANA, BOOKS & AUTHORS, Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Travel/ Tourism with tags , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2016 by travsd



Today is the birthday of William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878). 19th century America would be astounded to know that a man of his standing and eminence could be so swallowed up by time — to such an extent that millions of people could walk in, around, and through the park that is named after him and located right in the heart of New York City and still have no idea whom it is named after nor even have any curiosity about it. Or that those same millions could pass by the great monument to him that is in that park, a monument that could answer the question they never thought to ask, and never look at it or read its inscription. (There it is above. I snapped it a few months ago as I strolled around Bryant Park with my son Charlie).

The significance of William Cullent Bryant is multifold; this might one reason why he is not well remembered. His complex career does not boil down to a trivia question. He was both one of 19th century America’s most important poets and one of its most important journalists and newspaper editors. So was Whitman though of course. And it might be argued that Bryant was more important on both scores, so I guess that won’t explain his present obscurity. Like Irving and Cooper, Bryant was one of America’s first literary figures of international importance. Like Longfellow, he was one of our first poets. He was born and raised in Western Massachusetts, the same area where Melville would later meet Hawthorne, and where the cloistered Emily Dickinson would later toil, but he would come to be associated primarily with New York City, like Irving, Cooper, Melville and Whitman. And, he became one of that city’s most influential newspaper editors, casting a shadow not unlike that of Horace Greeley. 

There are two most important things you need to know about William Cullen Bryant:

One is that from 1829 until his death (thus for nearly half a century) he was the editor of the New York Evening Post (the same paper as today’s New York Post). Under his direction, the paper had quite a different tone and philosophy from the one it inherited from its founder Alexander Hamilton, and of course a very different one from today. Despite the fact that he had begun his political life as a Federalist, and had first gained notoriety by writing an anti-Jefferson satirical  poem, the Post was not a “conservative” paper under Bryant. Events (and probably New York) changed him. Bryant’s Post was a pro-Jacksonian Democratic one. In time, it evolved. Bryant took an Abolitionist stance, which caused him to drift away from the Democrats to the Free Soilers, who later evolved into the Republicans. Truth be known, it was his longtime editorship of the Post that got him a monument and a park. People and politicians may pay lip service to poetry, but in the modern age they seldom move mountains to honor it.

The other important thing you should know about Bryant is his most famous poem, “Thanatopsis”. Time was when it was learned by every American schoolchild and when it was one of America’s proudest (and only) literary exports. If you only know one thing he wrote (and most people who know anything do only know this one thing) this is the thing. To this day, “Thanatopsis” is widely anthologized, and it’s been my experience that it’s the only Bryant poem (out of many volumes of poetry he wrote during his lifetime) that you will see so represented.

Coming across “Thanatopsis” from time to time is one way I came to know about Bryant. The other is my years at the New-York Historical Society. Bryant spoke there many times in the 19th century. If you visit their Luce Center on the top floor, you will find this bust of him by the sculptor John Rogers:


And closer to home nowadays, at the Brooklyn Museum, I always stop and look at this portrait of him done in his last months by the painter Wyatt Eaton: 


I have a stake in promoting him; Bryant and I share many of the same Pilgrim ancestors. There is some irony to be found in the fact that this dead poet’s poem about death, with its meditation on immortality, has proved all too mortal in the popular memory. Yet there are so many good reasons to know it and remember it. It is an incredible fulcrum, a torch-passing, full of the English influence of the Graveyard Poets and nature-loving Wordsworth, but also having much in common with the Transcendentalists and the upbeat optimism of Whitman. I don’t find it dated or stuffy or irrelevant. All young people should be exposed to “Thanatopsis”. I can’t imagine that most of them couldn’t be taught to appreciate it. Bryant was essentially a Goth teenager when he wrote it, but there is a touching, naive hopefulness to it that I also relate to and associate with youth.


     To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around—
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—
Comes a still voice—
                                       Yet a few days, and thee
The all-beholding sun shall see no more
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
Thine individual being, shalt thou go
To mix for ever with the elements,
To be a brother to the insensible rock
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.
     Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings,
The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good,
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulchre.   The hills
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales
Stretching in pensive quietness between;
The venerable woods—rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,
Old Ocean’s gray and melancholy waste,—
Are but the solemn decorations all
Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,
Save his own dashings—yet the dead are there:
And millions in those solitudes, since first
The flight of years began, have laid them down
In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.
So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living, and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
Plod on, and each one as before will chase
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train
Of ages glide away, the sons of men,
The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man—
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,
By those, who in their turn shall follow them.
     So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

I’m in America’s First Play — Having Its World Premiere This Friday!

Posted in AMERICANA, Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Indie Theatre, ME, My Shows, PLUGS with tags , , , , on November 2, 2016 by travsd

I am extremely excited to be taking part in this special theatrical event by Peculiar Works Project. It’s a production of Androboros the first play written and published in America (and ’til now, unproduced). It was written by New York Colonial Governor Robert Hunter in 1714 — it’s a political satire, and it’s quite funny! Furthermore, director Ralph Lewis is staging it in a boxing ring! Just in time for the national box that is the presidential election. I’m told the three night run is very close to selling out already so get your tickets now! See below for more details:

Patriotic Boxing Gloves with Democratic                             and Repubican Mascots on Them
We’ve added more seats for Friday, Saturday and Sunday

Peculiar Works Project presents


Adapted by S.M. DALE from the play by GOVERNOR ROBERT HUNTER (1666–1734)
Directed by RALPH LEWIS

Running time: 1 hour – Please note unique show times!

Take a break from the current election and vent with us at
OVERTHROW Boxing Club, 9 Bleecker St, NYC

Special Pre-Election FREE Event (Donations accepted) – Reserve Your Place at

Original Music SPENCER KATZMAN • Music performed by CLYDE DALEY, ROB MITZNER

When they go low, we go lower!

Windows on the Bowery, Part Two

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, ME, My Shows, SOCIAL EVENTS with tags , , , , , , on September 23, 2016 by travsd


An excellent time was had by all assembled (I decree it) at last night’s celebration for the Windows on the Bowery exhibition at the historic HSBC bank on the lower Bowery in Chinatown. You may recall our coverage of Part One, the Cooper Union opening, from my earlier blog post.  As you may recall, because you are paying strict and close attention to every aspect of my life, I wrote two the panels, included in the show, and these are them:



But frankly all of the panels are terific and they really made me wish for a way-back machine so I could visit all the theatres, museums, and such like that used to thrive on the Bowery back in the day.  You want a clearer picture? You want to see the rest of them? GO THERE. I told you where it is at the top of the post.

Here are some candids I took at the event:

David Mulkins of the Bowery Residents Committee, principle mover, shaker and chief bottle washer of the project talks to Ralph Lewis of Peculiar Works Project (whom I learned last night lives in one of the historic buildings!)

David Mulkins of the Bowery Residents Committee, principle mover, shaker and chief bottle washer of the project talks to Ralph Lewis of Peculiar Works Project (whom I learned last night lives in one of the historic buildings!)

Mulkins addresses the adoring throngs

Mulkins addresses the adoring throngs

HSBC Bowery Branch staff, who have every reason to be proud of this civic minded project

HSBC Bowery Branch staff, who have every reason to be proud of this civic minded project

The word in the circle is "Success". Ain't it the truth, ain't it the truth?

The word in the circle is “Success”. Ain’t it the truth, ain’t it the truth?

My New York Maritime Connection (A Sea Cap’n in My Past)

Posted in AMERICANA, Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, ME, My Family History with tags , , , , , on September 16, 2016 by travsd


It’s taken me a little while to post on this subject because I wanted to nail it down a bit and get my ducks in a row. But I had a revelation the other day that made things click into place for me, and so now we explore it.

Of my eight great grandparents, the lineage of one is particularly anomalous. When I first hit certain details about this family line, I didn’t trust them, for they are rather unlike most of my mom’s side of the family, especially to occur so recently. But it all seems to prove out, and it’s rather interesting.

Before I bury the lede any further, let me put it here: my great-great-great grandfather Morris Jackson (1827-1915) was a sea captain. This gives me unbounded joy. The period when he was active, roughly 1850-1900 was an exciting era in seafaring, and I’ve spent so much time with my nose buried in books by Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad, Jack London, the early “Sea Plays” of Eugene O’Neill and so forth, that it truly captures my imagination. I’d found numerous seafarers in my family’s distant past, nine or ten generations back, but to have one this recent is cool.


The trajectory that leads up to Capt. Jackson is not the usual one for my New England family. Most of my New England ancestors touched ground in Plymouth, Salem or Boston and either worked their way directly west, or south into Rhode Island and then west, all of them converging eventually in Wyndham County, Connecticut. My (10th) great grandfather Henry Jackson (1606-1686) took a different path. Like the others, he arrived in Massachusetts in the 1630s. But by 1639 he headed very far west for that time, becoming one of the founders of Fairfield, Connecticut. This is in the opposite corner of the state, the portion closest to New York City. (When I crowed loudly several months ago about being related to P.T. Barnum, this is how. Barnum’s ancestry was in the same area). Henry appears to have been a substantial man — he had a lot of land, he owned many books (a rare luxury for the time), and arms and armor (also expensive). His descendants remained in Fairfield County (principally the areas that are now the towns of Fairfield, Redding, Bridgeport, and Stratford) for generations, presumably as farmers. I have little information on their lives thus far beyond names, dates, and locations. One of them, my (5th) great grandfather Daniel Jackson (1763-1841) served in the American Revolution under a Lt. Nathan Beers in the 3rd Connecticut Regiment.

A random anonymous tin type. I have no idea what he played or in what setting, but it would be kind of cool if I'd been unconsciously channeling him for the past 20 years.

A random anonymous tin type. I have no idea what Samuel played or in what setting, but it would be kind of cool if I’d been unconsciously channeling him for the past 20 years.


is son But it’s with Daniel’s son Samuel (1786-1867) that things start to get intriguing in a concrete way. In the 1860 census, the earliest one I can find so far with a mention of him, Samuel’s occupation is given, quite clearly, as “musician”. This is such a weird outlier that I’ve gone back and looked at the scan of the original census-taker’s tabulation repeatedly, but it couldn’t be clearer. It says “musician”. What muddies things however, is that Samuel was 74 years old at the time. “Musician” sounds very much like an activity a working man might take up as a second career when he’s too old to perform manual labor. Was he a semi-amateur, picking up a few coppers playing in waterfront taverns for sailors? Or was he a professional man of the theatre, was he even a minstrel performer, the prevailing style of the day? I haven’t been able to ascertain anything about his life prior to 1860. And that’s particularly vexing because it may provide some clue about the transition to his son Morris, the sea captain. But I’ll keep at it.

I arrived at my discovery of Morris coming from the other direction of course, via my grandmother Ruth Cady, to her mother Margaret Jackson (my great-grandmother after whom, I’m assuming, my mother was named), to Margaret’s father Edward Andrew Jackson (1852-1901). What threw me for a loop is that Edward is listed in many records as having been born in NEW YORK. That struck me as so strange and unlikely that I regarded it with skepticism for a long time. To add to my confusion, Edward has a younger sibling who was born in the family stronghold of Bridgeport, and a still younger one who was born in Providence. And the family seems to live in Providence in later years. Edward was a “laborer”, he got married young, and settled in Wyndham County, rejoining the rest of my lineages in a rather roundabout way, geographically.

And, again, some added pieces: when Edward’s father Morris was young his occupation was given as “sailor”, when  he’s older it’s “sea captain” and he seems to finish out his old age at the Aged Seaman’s Home at Sailors Snug Harbor, Staten Island! I’ve actually been there several times!

This plaque may have provided a key to the puzzle

This plaque may have provided a key to the puzzle

But I got the biggest thunderbolt of all the other day when I was walking on the east side waterfront on the way to visit the Liberty Ship John W. Brown. I encountered this historical plaque that talks about a ferry line called the “Daily Line” that operated between Bridgeport and New York and opened in the 1820s. Ferry service connected all the major points up and down the East coast (including Providence), in the days before large bridges and railways. Bridgeport’s harbor was expanded during these years, creating more work in that field than had existed in the town before. I am envisioning a scenario wherein Morris (and possibly his father Samuel) got involved in this thriving new line as it expanded, hauling freight and passengers between the eastern ports. It will take more research to confirm the details, though again those broader facts are there. It looks like Morris began sailing out of Bridgeport, started his family at the New York end of his route, moved the family to Bridgeport, and finally moved them to Providence. And he himself was probably constantly on the water, away from home. Further research than I’ve done will await some future incentive, like a project that will require it, or access to a maritime database, or something like it. At any rate, as I make my occasional maritime ramblings, as I often do, now I will invariably think of Captain Jackson.

Tomorrow: The Annual German-American Steuben Parade (2016)

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, German, ME, My Family History, PLUGS, Steuben Day with tags , , , on September 16, 2016 by travsd

Much like New York’s  German American community itself, the German American Steuben Parade maintains kind of a low, dignified profile. As compared with, say, the St. Patrick’s and Columbus Day parades, the Steuben Day parade (which is just as big, I might add) doesn’t get a lot of airplay. In fact, you may never even have heard of it — or New York’s German community, for that matter.

In the 19th century, Germans were second only to the Irish in terms of ethnic presence here. And they’re STILL here; they merely assimilated. Two World Wars had something to do with that. The irony? America got millions of desirable Germans, starting with the ones who fled the backlash after the Revolution of 1848 and the increasing militarism and oppression in Germany in the late 19th and early-to-mid twentieth century. With them came some of the world’s best music, food…and beer. Need I say more? Well, I will. Here are some vaudeville-related facts about the Germans in the U.S.:

  • The Germans brought that wonderful institution the beer garden with them. Its civilized family atmosphere (in contrast with the rowdier saloons) became a model for what came to be known as Polite Vaudeville.
  • The Germans brought their music with them, including marches, which when played with syncopation by African Americans, gave birth to ragtime and jazz.
  • The Germans (Austrians especially) brought light comic opera (operetta) with them, which rapidly morphed into the American theatrical form known as musical comedy.

This year I’ll have an enhanced appreciation of the celebration, having gotten a firmer grasp of the Germans in my background. Like all Anglo-Saxons, I naturally have early Medieval ancestors from North Germany (the Angles, Saxons and Jutes) and many Frankish ancestors besides. I’ve discovered Medieval ancestors from all parts of Germany, Cologne, Cleves, Bavaria,Thuringia, Westphalia, Rügen and the Palatinate. In comparison with my English, Scottish, Irish, French and Dutch ancestry, my RECENT (modern) German ancestry is quite small. I’ve found a small handful as late as the late 1500s. My most recent full-German ancestor is my (7th) great grandmother Margaret Cypert (1716-1799), whose parents moved to Pennsylvania from Strasburg, I’m assuming for religious reasons (Margaret was a Quaker).

Come celebrate their contributions today. The parade marches up Fifth Avenue from 68th to 86th Street today from 12 to 3pm.  More details here.


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