September 16, 2008

Strolling the Museum Mile (and a Half) and Contemplating the Current Financial Crisis (Slideshow)

Writing about Edith Wharton and New York in 1900 necessarily involves a discussion of wealth and social class, so strolling down Fifth Avenue from E. 104th Street to E. 70th (an area that encompasses Museum Mile, plus another 12 blocks to the Frick Collection) affords an opportunity to examine the manifestations of this wealth. Here's the world of the Carnegies, Huntingtons, Vanderbilts, the Dukes and the Fricks, with their material aspirations on display. Their money came from a variety of sources - steel, stocks, tobacco, or oil, and their wealth was often procured through inhumane means and ill-gotten ways, but along the way, their philanthropic pursuits built many of the finest institutions of the city, or for that matter, across the nation. Think of the Carnegie libraries. Many of the era's industrialists and financiers, such as Henry Clay Frick, J.P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. collected the finest art in the world.

My recent posts on the New York of 1900 have eerily coincided with the current crisis on Wall Street, and so the worlds have existed side-by-side for me, calling to one another as if in an echo chamber. I can't look at the images shown here without thinking about the storied firms of Wall Street and what's happening to them now. In 1900-1909, Lehman Brothers, according to their website's timeline (hurry to see this one), "was a founding financier of emerging retailers, including Sears, Roebuck & Company, F.W. Woolworth Company, May Department Stores Company, Gimbel Brothers, Inc. and R.H. Macy & Company." That's an enormous part of New York history right there. And according to the timeline on the Merrill Lynch site (hurry also), the firm traces its origins to 1907 when Charles Merrill met Edmund Lynch at the 23rd Street YMCA (near Edith Wharton's birthplace, by the way) and asked him if he wanted to share his room at the boarding house.

Images above by Walking Off the Big Apple from Saturday, September 13. I have provided captions. To properly understand the passions of the former workers at Lehman Brothers, please enjoy this video link. For mobile viewers, follow this link to view images. Additional images of Museum Mile at Flickr WOTBA.

See New York 1900: Edith Wharton and The House of Mirth, A Walk and a Map for the several related posts.

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