Last Friday night’s persistent rain didn’t dampen the excitement of the three busloads of people who joined my mother and me for AAA Ohio Club’s “Holiday Shopping Red Eye” motorcoach tour from Worthington to New York City. When we arrived at Rockefeller Center at 6:30 on Saturday morning, the skies had cleared and our 15-hour sightseeing adventure began.
To make the most of this opportunity, we formulated a three-page plan of attack for the ground we wanted to cover. Would we accomplish it all? Make yourself comfortable and let me walk you through our day!
Spending half an hour with Cardinal Dolan rivaled two other big moments in my recent history: traveling to Salt Lake City to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and attending Mitt Romney’s November 5 rally. Reading A People of Hope: Archbishop Timothy Dolan in Conversation with John L. Allen, Jr., following Cardinal Dolan’s blog and watching Morley Safer’s March 20, 2011 “60 Minutes” interview with him, I’ve wanted to see this jolly, charming, charismatic and reverent man for myself.
Mr. Safer is right. As Cardinal Dolan said Mass, he exuded obvious joy in his calling, beaming broadly as he frequently wiped his brow. Gesticulating meaningfully during his homily, he described how a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s art restoration department enhanced his appreciation for those people who take such pride in their work restoring tarnished and damaged great works of art to their original condition, just as God the Divine Restorer tries to restore us, His creation, and all His creatures to the priceless, radiant work of art He intended at the beginning. Well-chosen seats allowed us to receive Holy Communion from Cardinal Dolan, for which he flashed me a big, welcoming grin. Leaving the altar after Mass, he jovially slapped the backs of the other clergy who accompanied him, pointing out favorite features of the cathedral to a visiting auxiliary bishop from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Following that was going to be a tall order. We filled it by walking up Fifth Avenue to admire the charming holiday windows at Tiffany & Co. This year, the windows depict holiday festivities at an Upper East Side brownstone, including a Tiffany’s box sitting on the front stoop, a Christmas tree by a spiral staircase, and a snowy New York scene visible through an apartment window.
Across the street at Bergdorf Goodman, this year’s window display was inspired by the Ziegfeld Follies, Busby Berkeley’s Hollywood musicals and novelty acts of the Jazz Age. Called “The BG Follies of 2012,” the classic Art Deco windows use a bird’s-eye perspective to create a sideways glance at an all-girl orchestra, complete with a silver ukulele, just like in “Some Like It Hot.” Thousands of white feathers pay homage to the fan dances of burlesque performers, 24 plaster dogs perform tricks, and a giant mirrored, rotating kaleidoscope recalls the Footlight Parade.
Those stunning windows were rivaled by more beautiful sights at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where we went to see the Christmas tree and 18th century Neapolitan Baroque crèche that we loved so much last December.
This year, the main point of visiting the Met was to take in Gems of European Lace, ca. 1600–1920, an exhibition presenting a variety of styles and techniques of lace made by hand either with needles, where a single thread is looped in stitches, or bobbins, on which multiple threads are braided.
Tucked away in a tiny gallery outside the Antonio Ratti Textile Center, the exhibition includes an example of Venetian gros point lace made at an Austrian school under Empress Elisabeth’s patronage; a point de neige lace collar; a circa-1920 lace dress; an English 19th-century handkerchief; an 18th-century Flemish Mechlin bobbin lace cap crown depicting Orpheus playing a lyre to charm birds and animals; a bobbin-lace handkerchief made at the Notre Dame de Visitation convent in Ghent that celebrated Leopold II’s ascent to the throne in 1865; a Brussels handkerchief commemorating the 1853 marriage of Leopold and Marie-Henriette; a hunting-themed cravat from 1697; a cravat made for Marie Antoinette; and depictions of lacemaking in 17th-century genre paintings like The Lacemaker, by Nicholaes Maes.
In an exhibition titled Extravagant Inventions: The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens, we saw the innovative designs and mechanical devices for which an 18th-century German cabinetmaking workshop was known. Best of all was David Roentgens’ automaton of Marie Antoinette, known as La Joeuese de Tympanon (The Dulcimer Player), playing one of eight melodies by Christoph Willibald Gluck, the queen’s music teacher in Vienna. You can watch a demonstration of this piece and other videos from the exhibition here, under “Featured Media.”
We also took a quick look at George Bellows, the exhibition surveying the work of the Columbus-born artist known for painting boxing matches, New York City tenement life, seaside scenes, tennis tournaments, city scenes that addressed the issues of his day, and portraits of his wife Emma and their children.
Next, we hopped on the M3 bus and flew all the way down Fifth Avenue to East 4th Street, between Lafayette Street and the Bowery in NoHo, to see the Merchant’s House Museum. The October 2012 issue of Early American Life introduced us to this 1832 Greek Revival brick-and-marble-trimmed town house that’s facing the prospect of structural damage from a proposed hotel to be built next door.
Seabury Tredwell, a wealthy merchant, bought the house in 1835, and it stayed in the family until his 93-year-old daughter, Gertrude, died in 1933. Today, the museum is a time capsule of how a 19th century New York merchant would have lived. Described as the best-preserved Federal house in Manhattan, it includes more than 3,000 objects belonging to the Tredwells, such as a suite of 12 mahogany side chairs attributed to Duncan Phyfe and a pair of matching six-globe gas chandeliers. Upstairs on the fourth floor, you can see a recently restored room where the family’s Irish servant girls slept. Black-and-gold marble mantels in the parlor and dining room, plaster ceiling moldings, mahogany pocket doors and an entry hall newel post carved with acanthus leaves are some of the architectural features you’ll see inside. The Pompeiian-patterned carpet was reproduced from a swatch found in the parlor. Bedhangings were made from yards of original red silk damask that were found in the attic.
Henry James is said to have based his novel, Washington Square, on Gertrude Tredwell. When the 1949 film adaptation of the novel, “The Heiress,” was made, the filmmakers used the Merchant’s House as research for designing the movie’s interior sets. The set designs for the 1947 Broadway production of “The Heiress” and the current revival of the play (starring Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew Crawley in “Downton Abbey”) are also based on the Merchant’s House.
This holiday season, the Merchant’s House Museum is decorated in the style of the 1950s, with an authentic tinsel tree trimmed with bubble lights and vintage ornaments, Lefton “Holly” china, Christmas cards, lighted plastic Santas, red cellophane wreaths and a record player that plays Gene Autry’s recording of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
Hopping back on the bus to Madison Avenue and 41st Street, we visited the Library Hotel, a 60-room haven for book-lovers that I’ve wanted to see ever since reading about it in the November 2001 issue of American Libraries.
Book-filled mahogany shelves and a floor-to-ceiling faux library card catalog in the reception area set the tone. I caught my breath when I spotted Dubliner’s Twin standing behind the reception desk. He offered to show us around the hotel.
Each floor and room of the hotel is classified by a Dewey Decimal system category. For example, the sixth floor is Technology. Dubliner’s Twin took us to “Computers 600.005,” a room equipped with a “Book Lovers Never Go To Bed Alone” pillow and a small collection of books and art relating to computers, the room’s specific Dewey Decimal theme. He also showed us the second-floor Reading Room, a comfortable place where guests can enjoy complimentary refreshments, and he encouraged us to come back later to see the Bookmarks Lounge on the 14th floor. Every evening, the Writer’s Den, a mahogany-paneled sitting room, and its Poetry Garden and terrace are transformed into a trendy place that offers literary-inspired cocktails.
Walking along 41st Street between Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue, we noticed a series of brass plaques embedded in the sidewalks that feature quotations from poets and novelists. Christened “Library Way,” this unique two-block promenade ends at the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.
Following a tip from a well-dressed New York gentleman we met during a Harney & Sons “Paris” afternoon tea break, we stopped by the library where “Patience” and “Fortitude” stand guard to see Lunch Hour NYC. This fascinating exhibition looks at how New York changed the concept of lunch from a main meal to a snack, initiating traditions as the “power lunch,” the three-cent school lunch and ethnic lunchtime staples like oysters, pastrami and bagels. Best of all was the section on Horn & Hardart, the company that ran the first food service Automats in New York City. Here, we admired a reconstructed wall of Automat machines (including a look at the back, where restaurant workers put the food) and the Automat’s signature dolphin-shaped coffee spout. We watched clips from movies and television shows in which Automats were featured, such as “Sadie McKee” with Joan Crawford and “That Touch of Mink,” starring Doris Day. Take-home cards with Horn & Hardart’s recipes for pumpkin pie, baked macaroni and cheese, creamed spinach, burgundy sauce with beef and noodles, and baked beans made for perfect souvenirs to share with those at home.
While the exhibition continues until February 17, 2013, you can view highlights online. You can also try your hand at transcribing historic restaurant menus from the library’s collection by participating in the What’s on the Menu? online database project.
The very best stop of all was the Morgan Library & Museum. Besides being a successful banker, Pierpont Morgan accumulated a significant collection of rare manuscripts, books and artwork. After a decade of collecting, Morgan needed his own library to house his finds. Located on 36th Street between Madison and Park Avenues, the palazzo-style building was designed by McKim, Mead & White and was completed in 1906. As the collections grew, the library expanded into an adjacent annex; the complex later included the next-door brownstone home of Morgan’s son, J.P. Morgan, Jr.
In 2010, Pierpont Morgan’s original 1906 library was restored. The Rotunda, or the entrance foyer to the library, has marble columns, mosaic panels, ceiling paintings and a marble floor that is modeled on the floor in Villa Pia in the Vatican gardens. The West Room, Morgan’s study, is a lush room with red silk damask wall coverings, Renaissance-style furniture, a 15th-century mantelpiece, a Florentine wooden ceiling, stained glass panels from Swiss churches and monasteries, bookshelves housing rare printed volumes, and a vault architect Charles McKim designed to house Morgan’s most valuable works. The North Room served as the office for Morgan’s librarian, Belle da Costa Greene. The walls of the magnificent East Room are lined from floor to ceiling with triple tiers of bookcases, murals depicting historical figures and signs of the zodiac. More than 300 of the Morgan’s objects are on view in this area, including one of Morgan’s three copies of the Gutenberg Bible and St. Elizabeth Holding a Book, a 16th-century statue carved from lindenwood in Ulm, Germany that Morgan purchased in 1911.
Upstairs in the museum, we saw Beatrix Potter: The Picture Letters, an exhibition featuring 20 of the original manuscript picture letters that Beatrix wrote to children. Other objects on view include her original sketch of the scenario developed in a board game called The Game of Peter Rabbit, a circa-1910 Jemima Puddleduck doll complete with a paisley shawl and a chambray bonnet, a German Peterchen Hase doll from 1909, painted dinner-party doilies with scenes from Beatrix’s favorite stories, a photograph album from 1874-1890 documenting the Potter family’s holidays in Wales and Scotland, toy mailboxes Beatrix used for posting miniature letters, some of her scientific nature and animal studies, and her original watercolor of “Mouse Knitting” for Appley Dapply’s Nursery Rhymes, from the collection of Maurice Sendak.
The exhibition is on view through January 27, 2013. You can also see highlights in the accompanying online exhibition. You might even be inspired to try a clever blogger’s recreation of Beatrix’s recipe for gingerbread cookies, which includes ale, that she created after seeing the exhibition.
Every year, The Morgan celebrates the holidays by exhibiting Charles Dickens’ original manuscript of A Christmas Carol. Its “Holiday Americana” display includes an early printing of Clement Clark Moore’s poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas; an 1857 journal entry by Henry David Thoreau describing the appearance of frost on a store window displaying holiday gifts; A Christmas Story, written by 11-year-old Truman Capote; and original sheet music of Christmas standards like Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” and Meredith Wilson’s “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.”
After doing some Christmas shopping at Scandinavia House, we arrived at Grand Central Terminal to see the New York Transit Museum’s annual holiday train show. In a two-level “O” gauge layout built by Lionel, model Metro-North and New York Central trains depart from a miniature Grand Central. Vintage model trains and New York Central railroad posters from the museum’s collection are also on display.
With a half-hour to go before we met the bus near the Empire State Building for the overnight drive home to Columbus, we walked over to see Lord & Taylor’s holiday windows along Fifth Avenue. Recognizing the 75th anniversary of this tradition, the animated windows celebrate Christmas traditions around the world. A lantern-festooned bridge in Asia, a German Christmas market, and holiday festivities in Central Park are just some of the places Santa stops by on his travels around the world.
Our last stop was Herald Square, where “The Magic of Christmas” is the theme of Macy’s animated holiday windows. New York traditions like the Radio City Rockettes and the Thanksgiving Day Parade are framed like open books.
We boarded the bus, fell into our seats, kicked off our shoes and checked our pedometer. We had walked 19,246 steps during our 15-hour day in New York City! Going to the Cloisters was the only thing we didn’t accomplish on our list.
It’s no surprise that I have a long follow-up reading list. The “Christmas in NYC” category includes: The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree, by David Rubel; The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree: The History & Lore of the World’s Most Famous Evergreen, by Nancy Armstrong; and The Christmas Tugboat: How the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Came to New York City, by George Matteson and Adele Ursone. For “Museums & Libraries,” it’s Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Danny Danziger; An Old Merchant’s House: Life at Home in New York City, 1835-1865, by Mary L. Knapp; The Morgan Library: An American Masterpiece, with a foreword by Charles E. Pierce, Jr. and an introduction by Jean Strouse; In August Company: The Collections of the Pierpont Morgan Library; and An Illuminated Life: Belle da Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege, by Heidi Ardizzone. Thanks to Lunch Hour NYC’s suggested reading list, I’ll be checking out Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York, by William Grimes; Gastropolis: Food and New York City, edited by Annie Hauck-Lawson and Jonathan Deutsch; Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century, by Laura Shapiro; and The Automat: The History, Recipes, and Allure of Horn & Hardart’s Masterpiece, by Lorraine B. Diehl and Marianne Hardart. And, in preparation for my next trip to New York City, I’ll reread Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf Goodman, by Sara James Mnookin.