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Summer Sightseeing in New York City: The 1881 Edition

The summer season, with its relatively slower pace, tends to be the time we venture out to see new sights in the city or to cool off on the beaches. This summer season, many residents and visitors have put on the top of their sightseeing list a visit to the High Line, the repurposed rail line turned into a park. Also, Governors Island remains a novel attraction, affording a quick ferry trip to its shoreline and campus-like setting.

In perusing vintage New York sightseeing guides, many of which are available as Google eBooks and in the public domain, I came across a fascinating, informed, and often humorous guide written by a Philadelphia native named Joel Cook. The book, Brief summer rambles near Philadelphia: Described in a series of letters written for the Public ledger during the summer of 1881, was published the following year. Readers today may enjoy Cook's observations, especially for an insight on how Cook reacted to new and future sights of the city.

As Cook's book does not include pictures, excerpts are illustrated here with images dating from 1881, all from the collection of the Library of Congress.

And now, I present -

Excerpts from Brief summer rambles near Philadelphia: Described in a series of letters written for the Public ledger during the summer of 1881

• File this item under future projects - "the French want to erect the great statue of America." Also, a new bridge is under construction across the East River.




New York City - view of the East River Bridge and the approaches, taken from the Hall of Records, City Hall Park.
Illus. in: Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, (1881 Jan. 29), p. 364.

Coney Island is a marvel to behold, a festive place of clams and fireworks, not to mention "Fat woman, and big snake exhibitions":


...


• Downtown, on Broadway, the traffic is bothersome, and there are "human spiders":



[Statue of Liberty. Framework. Elevations], drawing. ca. 1881.
From LOC records: "Original architectural drawing sent from the office of engineer Eiffel to the office of R. M. Hunt, designer of the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, showing the iron framework that Eiffel designed for the statue."

• Still, he's not really sure if this Parisian thing is happening in the harbor. "Sarah Bernhardt did not like it.":



• Jay Gould runs everything from his place on Fifth Avenue and 47th Street by means of telegraph-wires, including inflicting woes on the bulls and the bears:



• The relatively new Central Park is much better than the "ash-heaps" of twenty years ago:



[Events related to the assassination of President Garfield] wood engraving.
From LOC records: "Prints show Alexander Graham Bell using his induction-balance device to locate the bullet in President Garfield's body; fireworks at Fort Greene in Brooklyn, New York; and an evening service at Asbury Park, New Jersey." Illus. in: Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, v. 52, no. 1351 (1881 August 20), pp. 412-413.
Note: After President Garfied died from his injuries, Chester A. Arthur assumed the Presidency, taking the first oath
of office at his New York residence on Lexington Avenue (present-day Kalustyan's food shop.) 

• Things to do in Brooklyn, although some places are "not very pleasant to get at":




There's much more, of course, to Cook's observations, so bookmark this post for the next heat wave.

Illustrations, circa 1881, from The Library of Congress online.

1. New York City - view of the East River Bridge and the approaches, taken from the Hall of Records, City Hall Park. Illus. in: Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, (1881 Jan. 29), p. 364. Source page.

2. [Statue of Liberty. Framework. Elevations], drawing. ca. 1881.
From LOC records: "Original architectural drawing sent from the office of engineer Eiffel to the office of R. M. Hunt, designer of the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, showing the iron framework that Eiffel designed for the statue." Source page.

3. [Events related to the assassination of President Garfield] wood engraving.
From LOC records: "Prints show Alexander Graham Bell using his induction-balance device to locate the bullet in President Garfield's body; fireworks at Fort Greene in Brooklyn, New York; and an evening service at Asbury Park, New Jersey." Illus. in: Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, v. 52, no. 1351 (1881 August 20), pp. 412-413. Source page.

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