Find Matilda the Cat – And The Best Company In The World – At The Algonquin Hotel

When he was growing up, John Fitzgerald Kennedy had three wishes. He wanted to be a hero like aviator Charles Lindbergh, to learn Chinese and to become a member of the Algonquin Round Table, a legendary literary landmark that made a hotel at 59 W. 44th St. in New York City famous.

Algonquin HotelThe Algonquin Hotel opened in 1902 and was so named because the land on which it stands is said to have been inhabited by Algonquin Indians. Ever since, its oak-paneled lobby has been the place to be to watch the comings-and-goings of famous actors, musicians and writers.

Famous guests of the Algonquin have included J.D. Salinger, the Irish dramatist Lady Augusta Gregory, and William Faulkner, who wrote his 1950 Nobel Peace Prize speech in his hotel suite. Gertrude Stein, H.L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis all lived at the hotel for a time. Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford honeymooned at the Algonquin; while promoting Robin Hood in 1922, Fairbanks showed off for reporters by shooting arrows from the hotel’s roof. Orson Welles wrote his book, Everybody’s Shakespeare, there, then returned to propose to his future wife; the couple had their honeymoon dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. In 1956, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe composed My Fair Lady in Suite 908, working 24 hours while writing “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Maya Angelou began to write the screenplay of her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, on Algonquin stationery.

Actor John Barrymore often stayed at the Algonquin while performing at the neighboring Hippodrome Theater, the largest theater in the world. Often, Barrymore breakfasted with Frank Case, who bought the hotel in 1927 and owned and managed it until his death in 1946. He also frequently borrowed Case’s shirts, since they wore the same size. When Prohibition ended, Case reopened the hotel’s bar, located in an annex that began in 1878 as a carriage house and stable for trotting horses owned by William H. Vanderbilt and John D. and William Rockefeller. Recognizing that people look more attractive under blue lighting, Barrymore persuaded Case to place blue gels over the lights in the bar. The Blue Bar has been a popular feature of the hotel ever since.

Algonquin Hotel

“All my life I have wanted an enormous house far beyond my means in which there was one wing reserved for myself, while the rest of the house was kept filled with excellent company,” wrote Louis Bromfield, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author who owned Malabar Farm in Mansfield, Ohio. “I shall never own such a house because in these times it is impossible, but the Algonquin is just as good. At noon, at cocktail time, at dinner, or late in the evening one only has to go downstairs to find the best and most stimulating company in the world….For me the Algonquin supplies virtually everything I ask in life….”

Algonquin Hotel

The Algonquin is equally famous for its feline mascot. Its first cat was named Billy and was followed by Rusty, who was eventually renamed Hamlet when John Barrymore suggested the cat needed a more dignified name. Ever since, male hotel cats have been named Hamlet, and female cats are called Matilda. The current cat, Matilda, presides in the lobby, resting on her personal chaise longue, behind the computer on the front desk, on a baggage cart, or in her very own Pet Tree House, made especially for her.

Algonquin Hotel

One day in the summer of 1919, a group of struggling writers who worked nearby came to the Algonquin for lunch because it was inexpensive and convenient. To keep the group coming back, Case seated them at a large round table in the center of the dining room and provided complimentary popovers and celery. For the next 10 years, they returned for lunch every day, and the group came to be known as the Algonquin Round Table. The ideas and opinions that they shared during those lunches would eventually influence writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Visitors can still dine at that very same round table.Algonquin Hotel

The original Algonquin Round Table members included Franklin Adams, who contributed to the New York Tribune, New York World and New York Evening Post and was best-known for his columns,“Always in Good Humor” and “The Conning Tower.” Robert Benchley, the first managing editor of Vanity Fair, went on to work for Life and then became an actor. His short film, How to Sleep, won the Academy Award for Best Short Subject in 1935. Robert Sherwood first worked as editor at Vanity Fair and Life, then as a Pulitzer Prize- and Oscar-winning playwright. Alexander Woollcott, theater critic for The New York Times, wrote his reviews in a third-floor room at the Algonquin. George Kaufman was a columnist before becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. Heywood Broun was a sports writer for the New York Tribune and the New York World.Algonquin Hotel

But it is Dorothy Parker who may be the most well-known member of the Round Table. She began her career as a theater critic for Vogue and Vanity Fair; then, she wrote for Life, becoming known for the witty phrases that she incorporated into her short stories, poems and screenplays. If terms like “birdbrain,” “pain in the neck,” “scaredy-cat,” “wisecrack” and the expletive, “Shoot!,” are in your vocabulary, thank Dorothy Parker for introducing them into the American vernacular.

Many of the Algonquin Round Table’s members helped launch the career of a caricaturist named Al Hirschfeld. We arrived just in time to see “The Hirschfeld Century,” an exhibit of artwork in the hotel’s lobby based on The Hirschfeld Century: A Portrait of an Artist and His Age, a book by David Leopold. The exhibit included Hirschfeld’s drawings of Mary Martin in Peter Pan (1954); Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding (1951); Zero Mostel in Fiddler on the Roof (1964), Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! (1964), and other Broadway and Hollywood stars drawn by Hirschfeld during his nearly century-long career.

The Hirschfeld Century, Algonquin Hotel

After a big win in a Round Table poker game, Harold Ross used his earnings to create a magazine called The New Yorker in 1925. Its first office was located at 25 W. 45th St., from 1925 to 1935; that year, it moved a block away to 28 W. 44th St. and stayed there for almost 60 years, until 1991.

The New Yorker’s first office, at 25 W. 45th St.

The New Yorker’s first office, at 25 W. 45th St.

For more on the Algonquin Hotel and the Round Table, see Tales of a Wayward Inn; Do Not Disturb; and Feeding the Lions: An Algonquin Cookbook, all by Frank Case; Algonquin Cat: A Story, by Val Schaffner, with drawings by Hilary Knight of Eloise fame; A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York, by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick; The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide, by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick; and Bon Mots, Wisecracks and Gags: The Wit of Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, edited by Robert E. Drennan. A Friendly Game of Murder; You Might As Well Die; and Murder Your Darlings are all “Algonquin Round Table Mysteries” by J.J. Murphy.

The grandfather clock in the Algonquin’s oak-paneled lobby is as old as the hotel and is wound by hand daily.

The grandfather clock in the Algonquin’s oak-paneled lobby is as old as the hotel and is wound by hand daily.

Gloria Dumler, a professor at Bakersfield College, has even developed a punctuation exercise based on the Algonquin Hotel. Click here for the quiz and here for the answer key.

For more on the New Yorker, check out The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker, by Janet Groth; Cast of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, James Thurber, and the Golden Age of the New Yorker, by Thomas J. Vinciguerra; Covering the New Yorker: Cutting-edge Covers From A Literary Institution; About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made, by Ben Yagoda; Ross and the New Yorker, by Dale Kramer; and The Years With Ross, by James Thurber. E.B. White, who started his writing career in New York during the 1920s, returned to the city during the summer of 1948 to lend a hand at the short-handed New Yorker. While he was there, he wrote Here Is New York, which captures the essence of the city at that time.

Mary Norris, a copy editor at the New Yorker, talked about her book, Between You And Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, on All Sides with Ann Fisher on March 31, 2016. Click here to listen to it.

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Seeing The Grolier Club Was Like Landing On 63

If I were as adventurous as my friends Elkin and Judy, one thing would make me consider moving to New York City — being able to attend Royal Oak Foundation programs held at some of the city’s best cultural institutions.

This spring, this partner of the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland is offering 15 programs for New Yorkers to learn about historically and naturally significant places throughout the United Kingdom. For example, if I were in the city on May 23, I’d be first in line at Bonhams to hear the Duchess of Rutland present “Capability Brown and Belvoir Castle: Discovering a Lost Landscape,” a program about the famed 18th-century landscape designer’s plans for Belvoir’s garden that were recently discovered hidden in the castle’s archives.

Grolier ClubIn previous years, programs on the Art Deco in Britain and Kim Wilson’s At Home with Jane Austen have been held at a tantalizing place called the Grolier Club. I might have missed those lectures, but I was determined to see this landmark of the rare book world for myself.

In 1884, nine New York bibliophiles founded a club devoted to the book arts through studying, collecting and appreciating the art, history, production and business of books. They christened the club after Jean Grolier de Servières (1489-1565), treasurer of France, who began amassing a library during his tenure as ambassador to the court of Rome. Grolier selected the best copies of different works, sometimes having several copies of a book printed especially for him with colored frontispieces, fine bindings and covers featuring gilded ornaments that he designed. Grolier bindings can be found in the Bibliothèque Nationale, the British Museum, the New York Public Library, private collections and of course, the Grolier Club.

Originally located on Madison Avenue, the club moved first to East 32nd Street in 1890, then in 1917 to its present location, a six-story Georgian-style townhouse on East 60th Street in Midtown Manhattan.  Today, the Grolier is the oldest existing bibliophilic club in North America, with about 800 members, all who have been nominated for membership on the basis of their accomplishments as collectors, scholars, librarians, printers or in some other “bookish pursuit.”

Open only to members, the club’s library contains 100,000 volumes about the book arts, from histories of printing to a teaching collection of illuminated manuscripts and private press books. Its core is a 60,000-volume reference collection of bookseller and book auction catalogues spanning four centuries, a treasure trove for research on the antiquarian book trade and book collecting.

Occasionally, tGrolier Clubhe club publishes books that describe and promote the book arts. It is best known for its “Grolier Hundred” catalogues, bibliographical roundups of 100 important books on specific topics. More frequently, it sponsors four exhibitions a year on topics like modern fine presses and Victorian publishers’ bookbindings, all open to the public free of charge. Two of those exhibitions were on display during my visit.

In honor of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, Brush Up Your Shakespeare: Miniature Designer Bindings from the Collection of Neale and Margaret Albert presents designer bindings of miniature editions of plays, sonnets, and books inspired by Shakespeare. On view through May 28, the exhibition includes almost 100 miniature books, all no more than three inches tall. 

Sonnet Truck, Grolier ClubContemporary artists were commissioned to create bindings for miniature versions of several Shakespearean plays, such as The Tempest; King Henry IV, Part I; King Lear; The Comedy of Errors; Macbeth; King Henry VI, Parts II and III; and Hamlet.

Miniature Shakespeare binding, Grolier Club

My favorite was a binding for Cassal & Co.’s 1906 edition of Flowers from Shakespeare’s Garden featuring beautiful needlework.

Miniature Shakespeare binding, Grolier Club

Another exhibition features more than 70 different versions of The Royal Game of the Goose, one of the earliest printed board games, on view through May 14. Players roll the dice and move along a spiral track, hoping to land like a lucky goose on the winning space numbered 63 and avoid “death” by landing on space 58.

Beside the Broad Ocean (circa 1890) includes charming illustrations of the bathing machines and Punch and Judy shows that were characteristic of the Victorian seaside.

Board game, Grolier Club

Visitors can try their hands at playing the Mansion of Happiness, the first board game published in the United States, in 1843, and its British predecessor. Players race around the game track, hoping to land on virtuous spaces like “Honesty” and “Temperance” and bypass spaces like “Poverty” and “Perjury” in their quest to be the first player to reach the Mansion of Happiness, the result of virtuous Christian living, in the center of the board.

Board game, Grolier Club

By the 1880s, board games celebrated materialism rather than morality, with the most competitive players being the most successful ones. The Game of the Errand Boy (1891) tests how well players can rise through the ranks from humble messenger boy to successful bank president.Board game, Grolier Club

Jules Verne, author of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in Eighty Days, loved to play The Game of the Goose with his uncle. In 1898, that inspired him to write The Will of an Eccentric, a serialized adventure story in which people compete for a Chicago millionaire’s fortune.  To win the prize, the players had to visit places across the United States by moving across a game board that represented a map of the country. The Noble Game of the United States was the board game developed to accompany the book.

By a very lucky coincidence, Verne’s book and game were the subjects of “Cast Aside into the Public Domain: The Resurrection of an Esoteric Jules Verne Adventure Novel,” an April 7 webinar sponsored by the Northern Ohio regional chapter of the Association for Information Science and Technology. Jared Bendis, the creative new media officer for Case Western Reserve University’s Kelvin Smith Library and game designer for the Cleveland Museum of Art, described how he resurrected this out-of-print rare book by making a derivative copy of it. Now, he’s working on a board game based on The Noble Game of the United States; two different versions of the game will be released.

Grolier Club bookplate, from the cover of the Spring 1985 issue of The Journal of Library HistoryThe Grolier Club’s 1894 copperplate-engraved bookplate was featured on the cover of the Spring 1985 issue of The Journal of Library History; an article by Robert Nikerk, librarian of the Grolier Club at the time, describes it on pages 196-199. Measuring just over 5 by 2 inches, the elaborate Baroque design is packed with iconography like Grolier bindings; Grolier’s coat of arms; a miniature version of Grolier in the House of Aldus, a painting that still hangs in the club; and book arts-related scenes adapted from woodcuts depicting the papermaker, printer, designer and binder in Jost Amman’s 1568 Book of Trades.

For more on games, see The Games We Played: The Golden Age of Board & Table Games, by Margaret K. Hofer, featuring examples of historic board and table games from the New-York Historical Society’s Liman Collection. “Curious Bible Questions: Discovering Connections in Special Collections,” my article in the Summer 2009 issue of AASLH History News, describes how an 1868 card game that presented a six-question lesson taught religion and helped players com­mit scriptural passages to mem­ory.

Click here to play an online version of Mark Twain’s Memory Builder: A Game for Acquiring and Retaining All Sorts of Facts and Dates, a game that Twain designed and patented in 1885 to help people keep historical facts straight.

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Start Your Charm String Under The Sign Of The Golden Button

When Apple’s iPhone was released, its sleek look set it apart from the competition. Gone was the traditional keypad, in favor of a touch-sensing flat screen. It was another example of the minimalism that Steve Jobs, the company’s co-founder, favored.  

A 2007 Wall Street Journal article revealed a contributing factor to these preferences: Mr. Jobs had an aversion to buttons. Koumpounophobia, or the fear of buttons, is a surprisingly common phobia.

Mr. Jobs probably wouldn’t hTender Buttonsave hoofed his way around the Upper East Side of Manhattan like we did, in search of a big golden button hanging over the door of a little townhouse that’s home to a nifty store called Tender Buttons. Whether your personality is best described as unbuttoned or buttoned-down, you’ll find a button there that’s perfectly matched to your style.

Millicent Safro and Diana Epstein opened Tender Buttons in an old button store in 1964. They have been at their current East 62nd Street address since 1968. Gertrude Stein’s 1914 collection of short poems about everyday objects, Tender Buttons, provided the inspiration for the name. Julie Andrews, Joan Collins and Nora Ephron purchased buttons fashioned from pearls, rhinestones and Bakelite there.

The front window of the 12-feet-wide townhouse displays a tantalizing preview of things to come.Tender Buttons

Epstein and Safro travel the world in search of beautiful buttons dating from the 18th century to the present day. Valuable collectible buttons are displayed in cabinets or in frames. Buttons crafted from mother-of-pearl, enamel, passementerie, ivory, mosaics, porcelain, brass, silver, fabric, tortoiseshell, horn, plastic and more are organized in neat, tidy rows of small cardboard boxes that line one wall of the shop. 

Tender Buttons

Handwritten labels reveal the contents of the boxes.  

Tender Buttons

For more on Tender Buttons, see Cure for the Lost Button,” an article about Tender Buttons from the March 23, 2016 issue of the New York Times.

Buttons, the 1991 book by Diana Epstein and Millicent Safro, includes a preface by Tom Wolfe, who wrote, “Tender Buttons is not a shop but a button museum that happens to de-accession daily in order to keep going.”

Martha Stewart first introduced us to this unique store in a segment on her television show long ago.   During Martha’s field trip there, Tender Buttons staff demonstrated how to display a button collectionhow to make a button collector boxand how to make a Victorian charm string out of buttons – something I’ll be doing with my own collection of special buttons.

Other interesting button-related resources are On the Button: The Significance of an Ordinary Item, by Nina Edwards, and “On the Button” from the March 9, 2016 issueTender Buttons of Country Life. “A Dorset Crosswheel Button to Make,” an article from the July/August 2010 issue of PieceWork, shares the history of and instructions for making a traditional English Dorset button, created by repeatedly wrapping thread over a ring.

The Great Depression gave rise to button collecting as a hobby. Since 1938, the National Button Society has emphasized the preservation and study of clothing buttons by providing a resource where collectors can exchange information and share finds. The society created an organization and classification system, as well as a vocabulary for describing buttons that is based on a button’s origin, period, construction and decoration.

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See Albertine And You’ll Say, “C’est Magnifique!”

The Lady in Gold at was calling us so insistently from her home at the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 86th Street that all I could manage was a quick glimpse of a sign reading “Albertine.”Albertine

I made a mental note to add this curious place at 972 Fifth Avenue, between East 78th and 79th Streets, to my list of places to see in New York City when we returned in April. It turned out to be far more enchanting than I expected.

Albertine is a bookstore that offers the country’s largest selection of books written in French, English translations of French works and French translations of English works. Its inventory numbers over 14,000 volumes, including fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels and children’s books. Shoppers will find reasonably priced selections, but there is no pressure to buy. Browsers can linger as long as they like.

Not long ago, the Cultural Services division of the French Embassy decided to create a bookstore at its headquarters that would show how important literature and the humanities are to increasing understanding and friendship between cultures. It also wanted to provide a peaceful place where book lovers could escape the intensity of the city, relax in inviting nooks furnished with comfortable sofas and chairs and immerse themselves in fine literature.

Named after the dark-haired love interest in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, a seven-volume novel that was published in France between 1913 and 1927, Albertine opened to the public in September 2014.

Albertine’s home began life as the Payne Whitney mansion. In 1902, former Standard Oil Company treasurer Oliver Hazard Payne commissioned architect Stanford White to design an Italian Renaissance mansion as a wedding gift to his nephew, Payne Whitney, and it was completed in 1906. The Whitney family lived there for thirty years, then sold it to a German actress. In 1952, Claude Lévi-Strauss, the first cultural counselor to the United States, convinced the French government to buy the building for the embassy’s headquarters. 

For decades, a statue called Young Archer stood inside the Fifth Avenue entrance to the building. In 2009, it was determined that it was the work of Michelangelo — in fact, it is thought to be the only Michelangelo statue in America. The original was moved, on loan, up the street to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a replica now stands in its place. (For more on the statue, click here.)Albertine

Just beyond this lovely marble-columned rotunda with its pastel handpainted decorated ceiling, you’ll find Albertine. French interior designer Jacques Garcia created a ravishing interior for the bookstore in the style of a private French library.

Amber silk-shaded lamps hang suspended over elegant wooden tables strewn with titles.


Busts of notable French and American cultural figures — such as Voltaire, Diderot, Alexis de Tocqueville, René Descartes, the Marquis de Lafayette, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin — perch atop celadon-and silver-trimmed painted bookshelves divided by narrow wooden panels fitted with sconces, also shaded in amber silk.


Upstairs, the ceiling features a hand-painted mural of constellations, stars, planets and zodiacs against a cobalt-blue background, modeled after the ceiling of the music room at the Villa Stuck in Munich, Germany.


Emerald velvet sofas and chairs provide a comfortable place to scan French books by Proust, Colette, Montaigne, Flaubert, Honoré de Balzac and Simone de Beauvoir; French translations of selections by Henry James, Herman Melville, William Shakespeare and Jane Austen; and titles on art, fashion and food. A child-sized nook with a plush seat appliqued with the likeness of Babar, the famous elephant character in Jean de Brunhoff’s books, is an inviting place for youngsters to page through children’s books.

Albertine also hosts discussions about politics, economics, art, literature and the sciences. The afternoon we were there, a dramatic reading of Oh Boy!, Marie-Aude Murail’s children’s novel about siblings who unexpectedly land in the lap of an unprepared young man, was about to take place.

Albertine makes French literature available to American readers in other parts of the country.  Its “French Corners” program offers independent booksellers like Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon a hand-curated selection of either 80 French books in translation or in French on consignment.

For more on

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Central Park’s Sheep Had A Swanky Home

When Vera Bradley fans shopped for additions to their collection between July 1990 and January 1997, one of their pattern choices featured squirrels, rabbits, deer, roosters and unicorns scampering through a colorful bed of flowers on a black field. It was called Tavern on the Green.Vera Bradley's Tavern on the Green

My mother carried her Tavern on the Green tote bag until it gave out and she refashioned the fabric into a missal holder; my handbag and sash are still going strong. As a tribute to our favorite Vera Bradley pattern, we decided to see the real Tavern on the Green during our day in New York City.

On the western edge of Central Park, at West 67th Street, a brick-and-stone building stands that began life as a sheepfold — a shelter for the scores of grey-faced South Down sheep that grazed in the park’s Sheep Meadow from 1864 until 1934, as well as the full-time shepherd and his pack of sheepdogs who held up traffic as they attended the flock.Tavern on the Green

Built in 1870 by order of William “Boss” Tweed, New York City’s commissioner of public works, the 23,000-square-foot, U-shaped building was designed by Jacob Wrey Mould for Calvert Vaux, who partnered with fellow landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design Central Park. The fanciful building is one of the finest examples of Ruskinian Gothic architecture in the city.

Named in tribute to John Ruskin, this style of High Victorian Gothic architecture is characterized by very elaborate decorative details, such as multicolored bands of masonry and brickwork and use of various texturesTavern on the Green.

By the turn of the 20th century, Mould’s creation sat amid an unkempt Central Park. In 1934, the park was rehabilitated, the sheep moved to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, the shepherd was reassigned to the Central Park Zoo’s lion house, and the sheepfold was converted into a restaurant known as the Tavern on the Green. Tables were placed beside terrazzo dance floors, while a flagstone courtyard was outfitted with 19 hitching posts and lined with London plane trees.

When the restaurant opened on October 20, 1936, it served my kind of food: shrimp cocktail, prime rib, mashed potatoes, Manhattan clam chowder, Southern-style baked ham, creamed spinach, coconut cream pie, and pineapple cheese cake. With its moderately priced menu and suppertime dancing, it became a popular part of New York City’s social scene. Ever since, famous writers, politicians, professional athletes, stage and screen actors to the city — even Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show competitors — have been regular customers. Fannie Hurst, the Hamilton, Ohio native who is best known for writing Imitation of Life, is said to have called it “the heartbeat of the asphalt city.”

In the 1970s, Tavern on the Green was purchased and renovated by Warner LeRoy, the son of film producer and director Mervyn LeRoy and the grandson of Harry Warner, one of the founders of the Warner Bros. film studio. When the restaurant reopened in 1976, it had been transformed into a beautiful, lavish showplace adorned with crystal chandeliers, Tavern on the Greenstained glass, etched mirrors, antique prints and wall-to-wall cabbage-rose carpeting.

Tavern on the Green: 125 Recipes for Good Times, a 2009 book by Jennifer Oz LeRoy and Kay LeRoy that I checked out to prepare for our visit, described the restaurant in tantalizing detail.

The book said that the Crystal Room was ablaze with Baccarat and Waterford crystal chandeliers, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a hand-painted mural of flowers, castles and winged horses. The Terrace Room had a hand-carved plaster ceiling and two Waterford chandeliers.  The Rafters Room, named for its eight two-foot-thick, hand-hewn girders and steep-pitched ceiling, was illuminated by crystal and mirrored sconces and four tiered, colored-crystal chandeliers. LeRoy designed stained-glass panels to decorate the wormy chestnut walls. In the Park Room, a pair of Baccarat chandeliers illuminated a 52-foot mural depicting turn-of-the-20th-century Central Park.  Another mural in a room called Maximilian’s Pavilion was the artist’s rendition of what Central Park would look like if all the foliage was in full bloom, with landmarks like the park’s antique carousel and trees repositioned to show them at their best advantage.

What I couldn’t wait to see was a room with four eight-foot-high, five-tiered copper and brass chandeliers. Mirrors reflecting several copper stags depicted scenes from the 1949 version of Little Women, a Mervyn LeRoy film starring June Allyson, Margaret O’Brien, Elizabeth Taylor and Janet Leigh — one of my favorite movies.

The restaurant was also known for its tablecloths, some custom-made from fabrics designed specifically for it. LeRoy even had suits and ties made from his favorite tablecloth fabrics.

Tavern on the GreenThe restaurant’s surroundings sounded equally magnificent. The trees twinkled, wrapped from the tips of their branches to the base of their trunks in more than 10 miles of tiny white lights, the LeRoys described. Its five gardens, considered to be some of the finest in New York City, changed seasonally. Summer’s colorful annuals and perennials gave way to purple, orange, ivory and gold mums, purple and white kale and purple asters in the fall, followed by cypress, holly and evergreen trees for winter. Our springtime visit promised a spectacular spring display of 9,000 daffodils and 50,000 tulips.

The book went on to describe how in 1990, LeRoy was so taken by the movie Edward Scissorhands that he commissioned the film’s greensman to create seven one-of-a-kind topiaries for Tavern on the Green, including a bear, swans, a rabbit, a horse, a stag and an elephant — the inspiration for the Vera Bradley print. A few years later, he added a 14-foot replica of King Kong, which was unveiled by Fay Wray, the star of the 1933 movie.

In Tavern on the Green’s gift shop, you could buy a bottled version of the restaurant’s popular olive-caper sauce, called Central Park Dipping Oil, the book said. I resolved to bring one home as a souvenir.

TTavern on the Greenhe thought of all of this in store kept us going as we braved rain and thousands of runners en route to our destination. When we arrived at this legendary place, I told the hostess that we had come all the way from Ohio to see what I had read about in such tantalizing detail.

I was crestfallen by what she told me. In 2009, the LeRoys filed for bankruptcy and Tavern on the Green was closed for almost five years. During a $38 million renovation by new owners, the Little Women scenes, the topiaries, the murals – everything we had come to see — had been auctioned off. The restaurant reopened in 2014, still lovely, but decorated very differently from the “old gaudy touches” that had brought me there.  On the left, you’ll see what one of Tavern on the Green’s dining rooms looks like today.Tavern on the Green

No more Central Park Dipping Oil in the gift shop, but there were pretty decorated Easter eggs and clever logo merchandise for sale.

Lesson learned: My research for this stop led me a little astray from the fold, but it was still nice to see those South Down sheep’s swanky home.

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After A Nine-Mile Walk in New York City, Where’s The Windex When You Need It?

She isn’t much for movies, but I knew a swarthy six-year-old with sideburns, a grandmother sleeping with a knife under her pillow, a twin discovered inside a neck lump and some ailment-curing sprays of Windex would win her over.

My fellow “hard-core traveler” and I were so engrossed in My Big Fat Greek Wedding that before we knew it, we were well into our overnight ride on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Armed with an ambitious sightseeing list and a map filled with strategically placed dots marking our plan of attack, we were on our fifth iteration of an adventure that has assumed legendary status among our family and friends — our red-eye motorcoach trip to New York City.

During the next 14 hours, we methodically made our way up, across and down the east, west and midtown sections of Manhattan. Soon, I’ll be posting about the big attractions: the Algonquin Hotel and theEaster display, Rockefeller Center New Yorker magazine; Tavern on the Green; the American Museum of Natural History and our very own Theodore Roosevelt walking tour; the Albertine; the Grolier Club; and Tender Buttons. In the meantime, here’s a roundup of a few other places we visited.

When we landed at Rockefeller Center at dawn, we were greeted by a display of Faberge-style Easter eggs, hundreds of Easter lilies and azaleas, and a twirling topiary rabbit balancing a colorful egg fashioned from daisies on his nose.

As we walked to our first stop, we mentally replayed a scene from one of our favorite movies: Rear Window.

“What would you think of starting off with dinner at ‘21’?,” Grace Kelly asks housebound James Stewart. She reaches for the doorknob, turns it and swings open the door. Framed in the doorway is a man wearing a white jacket with a red collar, carrying a portable warming oven, an ice bucket and a bottle of wine. Enter Carl, a waiter from one of the most famous restaurants in the United States: The 21 Club.21 Club

Arriving at 21 W. 52nd St., we saw the iconic exterior of The 21 Club. In the 1930s, some patrons of “21” presented the club with cast iron lawn jockey statues painted with the racing colors of the stables they owned. Today, 33 recently restored jockeys are lined up along the wrought-iron balcony railing above the entrance. Inside the former Prohibition-era speakeasy, white-coated bartenders and waiters like Carl serve drinks and meals in a room decorated with 1930s-era toys, sporting goods and other period memorabilia.

New York may be the city that never sleeps, but 8,000 of its earliest risers jump-started their day to the sound of a bagpipe that started the 13th annual Scotland Run, held to celebrate Scotland Week. Some donned kilts, carried Scottish flags and even painted their faces blue and white to resemble Saint Andrew’s Cross, then raced their way through Central Park in pursuit of prizes like Harris Tweed products, Barbour dog jackets, a round of golf at St. Andrews, whiskey and oatcakes. We found ourselves in their midst near the finish line of the Tartan 10K, where a little rain couldn’t dampen their spirits.

Our quest for special souvenirs brought us first to the New-York Historical Society, on the Upper West Side. Dating from 1804, the oldest museum in New York City holds Hudson River School paintings, including works by Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church; paintings by Eastman Johnson, Rembrandt Peale and Gilbert Stuart; glass creations by Louis Comfort Tiffany’s studios; and all 435 of John James Audubon’s preparatory watercolors for his Birds of America.

Frederick Douglass statue, New-York Historical SocietyLife-size bronze figures of Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass stand outside at both entrances to the building. New Yorkers were responsible for Lincoln’s rise to the top of the Republican party in the 1860 election, while Douglass became a free man in New York in 1838. “After an anxious and most perilous but safe journey, I found myself in the big city of New York, a free man—one more added to the mighty throng which, like the confused waves of the troubled sea, surged to and fro between the lofty walls of Broadway,” Douglass wrote in his autobiography about his first experience of freedom.

The gift shop’s first customers emerged with a reproduction of a calico kerchief depicting George Washington thought to have been commissioned by Martha Washington in 1775, as well as two pairs of socks featuring the images of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Crossing Central Park to our next stops on the Upper East Side, we arrived at the place where Santa had called last November to buy a couple of cashmere-and-silk scarves printed with drawings of New York landmarks. There, at Lilly Pulitzer’s Madison Avenue store, we admired window displays and dressing rooms painted with New York scenes in Lilly’s signature style.Lilly Pulitzer store Madison Avenue

Ever since we saw fashion designer Ralph Lauren’s daughter, Dylan, make a candy topiary on the Martha Stewart Show, we’ve wanted to visit Dylan’s Candy Bar. Inspired by Roald Dahl’s book, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Dylan opened her flagship store at 60th Street and 3rd Avenue in 2001. Stocking 7,000 different kinds of candies, it’s said to be the largest unique candy store in the world.

I was partial to the steps and landings on the staircase. You can see more of the store in this video tour.Dylan's Candy Bar

The elusive “Met in New York” silk neckerchief was finally back in stock at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Rockefeller Center store. In the style of External Affairs Advances where we “celebrate our successes,” we parked for a few minutes in a couple of chairs upstairs and watched skaters take a spin on the rink, still open for its last days for the season.Rockefeller Center skating rink from the Metropolitan Museum of Art store

Our plan to kill a few birds with one stone at St. Patrick’s Cathedral went like clockwork. We attended Mass, saw the place decked out for Easter, and heard Michael Hey, assistant director of music, play the newly restored organ for Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude in C major, BWV 547, “Alleluia! Alleluia! Let the Holy Anthem Rise,” “We Walk by Faith,” “O Sons and Daughters/Aleluya, Aleluya!” and “O Day of Peace” — something we’d been hoping to hear since seeing “Restoring St. Patrick’s Cathedral” on the September 27, 2015 edition of CBS Sunday Morning. All we needed was to have Cardinal Dolan presiding, but Reverend Damian O’Connell’s Irish-themed homily was just fine.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

At Scandinavia House, the center for Nordic culture in the United States, we browsed classic Scandinavian-designed products in the shop, sat beside a twinkling birch tree and had dinner at Smörgås Chef, its restaurant specializing in fine Scandinavian cuisine.

Scandinavia House

Walking back to our meeting place for the trip home, we ticked off 19 of the 21 things we saw on our itinerary. And then we were confronted with a surprise attraction as we passed W. 46th St.

Just before 8:00 PM, police vehicles started coming from all directions. The New York Police Department was evacuating part of Times Square after counter-terrorist officers came upon a suspicious truck. A bomb squad check led to an all-clear just before we left. Read more about it here.

21,931 steps, or 9.2 miles, later, we got back on the motorcoach and drove home overnight through high winds and snow. We wished we could have sprayed some Windex on our feet.

For more, see Dylan’s Candy Bar: Unwrap Your Sweet Life, by Dylan Lauren, and a new book titled St. Patrick’s Cathedral: The Legacy of America’s Parish Church. To read about The 21 Club, check out “21”: The Life and Times of New York’s Favorite Club, by Marilyn Kaytor. Andrew Baseman’s The Scarf details how “21” regulars received collectible silk scarves for Christmas that were decorated with images of the club’s decorative motifs, its jockeys and its famous balcony railing.

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Reader, I Asked Tracy Chevalier A Question

Who met her husband at a tea party, likes to quilt and prefers to spin her stories in longhand?

If you attended the Thurber House’s Evenings with Authors event on March 22, you know that I’m speaking of Tracy Chevalier, the 1984 Oberlin College graduate who moved to England and became a best-selling author.Tracy Chevalier at Thurber House's Evenings with Authors, March 22, 2016

Chevalier stopped in Columbus during her tour to promote her new book, At the Edge of the Orchard. The novel is a story about what happens when a couple plants an orchard of 50 apple trees in the Black Swamp of 1830s Ohio to stake their claim on the property, and the decision their son eventually has to make in the giant sequoia groves of Gold Rush California, working as a plant agent for William Lobb, a British botanist who collected sequoia cones and seedlings to take back to England and be snatched up by wealthy Victorians to plant on their country estates.

From the start, Chevalier captivated the crowd by reading three excerpts from her book. One presented main character James Goodenough, a sensible man with a weakness for eating apples, fostered by his mother giving them to him in childhood as a special, sweet treat (pages 9-12). Another introduced James’s wife, Sadie, a character with a weakness for the hard cider that comes from sour apples and the refuge it offers from frontier life (pages 12-16). A third proclaimed the arrival of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed — a grizzled man with long greasy hair and a tobacco-stained beard who looked like a crazed swamp man, but understood the power of apples and the things that come from them (pages 20-22).

Then, Chevalier described how the book resulted from three things. First, her husband, Jonathan Drori, is on the board of The Woodland Trust, an organization in the United Kingdom that campaigns to protect ancient trees, restores the damaged ones, and fights for those that are threatened. In 2011, requested by the Trust to raise awareness of their cause, Chevalier edited Why Willows Weep: Contemporary Tales from the Woods, a collection of contemporary fables by 19 authors. Contributing a short story called “Why Birches Have Silver Bark” prompted her to realize how much she’d like to write about trees, particularly the apple trees of Ohio and the sequoia trees so prevalent in California.

Second, she read Michael Pollan’s 2001 book, Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, and was fascinated by his chapter on the apple, in which he explained that sweet apples were the result of grafting sweet apple trees, while sour apples were produced by apple trees grown from seed. She was captivated by Pollan’s alternative take on the Johnny Appleseed myth — that John Chapman was a successful businessman welcomed by settlers, not so much because he was promoting a healthy lifestyle through the wholesome apple, but because he was bringing alcohol to the frontier.

Soon, Chevalier was thinking about two characters for a book – a married couple who squabble over apples, one of them wanting to plant sweet apples for eating, the other preferring to plant sour ones for making hard cider. 

Then, she remembered a hike that she and her husband took along the border between England and Wales, and a grove of 33 redwood trees from California that were transplanted there in 1857. That led to her fascination with how trees migrate the way people do.

A return trip to Oberlin to receive an honorary doctorate led Chevalier to write The Last Runaway, a novel in which an English Quaker girl who moves to Ohio in the 1850s, marries a farmer and helps move slaves through the Underground Railroad. While doing research for that book, Chevalier visited an Amish farm not far from Oberlin to see the way a 19th century farm would have been run, then thanked Maddie Shetler and her children in the book’s acknowledgments. On her second visit to the Shetlers’ farm, she met a shy nine-year-old boy with bright brown eyes, and bonded with him talking about the kittens that were in the barn. Chevalier knew she had met the boy who would inspire young Robert Goodenough in At the Edge of the Orchard.

The endpapers of At the Edge of the Orchard illustrate the perfect pentagram formed by the lustrous seeds in an apple’s five chambers.

The endpapers of At the Edge of the Orchard illustrate the perfect pentagram formed by the seeds in an apple’s five chambers.

To understand how difficult it was to settle the vast, muddy swampland — swarming with mosquitoes, frogs and a dreaded feverish ague — that spread over parts of 12 northwest Ohio counties and cities like Toledo and Perrysburg, Chevalier read The Great Black Swamp: Historical Tales of 19th-Century Northwest Ohio, by Jim Mollenkopf. She also spent time in the last physical remnants of the swamp, such as Magee Marsh State Nature Reserve in Ottawa County. Also influential was Conrad Richter’s trilogy of novels about Ohio settlers: The Trees (1940), The Fields (1946) and The Town (1950).

Chevalier explained that giving her new book the title she did was a dilemma she wanted to present to her readers. If they were the Goodenoughs, would they stand at the edge of the orchard and decide to stick out such a tough life, or would they pursue the American dream of heading west?

Recalling her fondness for escaping contemporary life for the past through her writing, Chevalier took questions from several members of the audience. Some wondered whether she had visited nearby Dawes Arboretum during her research for At the Edge of the Orchard. Others were curious about Johnny Appleseed. Still more asked about whether writing about science was different than writing about art.

All this was well and good, but I knew that Chevalier was working on a few more big projects this year, and she hadn’t said a word about them. The audience needed to know about them! So I patiently raised my hand, hoping that my sparkling magenta suede limited-edition Swarovski Alibi bracelet would catch her attention. It worked. She called on me.

“There are two big anniversaries being celebrated in the literary world this year, and I know that you’re working on some interesting projects related to them,” I said. “Would you please tell us about them?”

So she did.

She explained that one milestone being celebrated this year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charlotte Brontë, the author of Jane Eyre. She was invited to curate an exhibition at the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire that runs until January 1, 2017. “Charlotte Great and Small” includes a scrap from a dress she wore to a London dinner party hosted by William Makepeace Thackeray, the miniature books she made as a girl, her paintings, a modern-day artistic representation of the letters she wrote to her unrequired love, and a knitted scene from Jane Eyre. Click here to watch Chevalier give a tour of the exhibition.

Chevalier also edited an anthology of contemporary short stories influenced by Charlotte Bronte. Reader, I Married Him — the title inspired by the famous line from Jane Eyre — was released in the United States the day of Chevalier’s Thurber House appearance.

Chevalier shared that Brontë was born April 21, 1816. This year, April 21 also marks Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday.

Two days later, on April 23, 2016, the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death will occur. To commemorate this event, Chevalier was invited to participate in the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, in which writers take a Shakespeare play and craft a new version of it. She has chosen to retell Othello, setting it on a 1970s elementary school playground; all the characters are 11 years old, and the action takes place over one day.

The audience oohed and aahed as Chevalier spoke. As she made her way to the back of the room to sign books, a few people thanked me for asking my question. Mission accomplished!

WOSU’s Christopher Purdy interviewed Chevalier before her visit to Columbus; it aired on the March 18, 2016 edition of All Sides with Ann Fisher. Click here to listen; it starts around 18:00.

In the March 9, 2016 issue of Country Life magazine, Chevalier revealed that her favorite painting is Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. “One day, it occurred to me that her expression reveals how she felt about the painter, and then I knew I wanted to write about that relationship,” she said. Girl with a Pearl Earring, Chevalier’s novel about the girl who modeled for the painting, was the result of wondering what Vermeer did to get her to look that way at him.

To read other books by Chevalier, check out The Virgin Blue; Falling Angels; The Lady and the Unicorn; Burning Bright; and my favorite, Remarkable Creatures, about English fossil hunter Mary Anning. She also contributed “When They Were Needed Most,” a story inspired by the gift boxes Princess Mary gave British soldiers for Christmas 1914, from The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War. “Rosy” and “A Hand on My Shoulder” are two fictional character sketches she wrote that are based on portraits in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, for Imagined Lives: Portraits of Unknown People. Read “Lying to the Optician: The Reading Experience Rated,” in Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times, edited by Kevin Smokler; then, visit her website to see “What I’m Reading,” her list of what she’s read each month.

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