Archive for March, 2013

The arches at Fort Tryon Park

The 154-foot-long gallery at Tryon Hall is visible from the Henry Hudson Parkway. It was constructed in 1913 of rock quarried from the property.

If you’ve ever driven along the Henry Hudson Parkway, you may have wondered about the enormous, vine-covered granite arches on the steep slope of Fort Tryon Park at the northern end of Manhattan. What appears to be the remnants of an old Roman aqueduct, like the Pont du Gard in southern France, is actually part of the most elaborate and most expensive private driveway in New York City.

In 1907, Cornelius Kingsley Garrison Billings, the multi-millionaire equestrian renowned for his celebrated “Horseback Dinner” of 1903, moved into his lavish new residence situated 250 feet above the Hudson River. He shared the huge Louis XIV château, which was called Tryon Hall, with his wife Blanche E. MacLeish Billings, two children, and 23 servants. The estate was considered among the most lavish private houses in Manhattan, and featured several large towers, a bathhouse with a 75-foot marble swimming pool (heated), squash courts, a “fumed oak” bowling alley, and a yacht landing on the Hudson at Dyckman Street.

CKG Billings Estate

Tryon Hall was located near site of the former Fort Washington, which was lost during the Revolutionary War when the British and Hessians mounted a joint attack on November 16, 1776. The British renamed the fortifications Fort Tryon, after Sir William Tryon, who was last British colonial governor of New York.

One of Billings’ favorite pastimes was driving his four-in-hand (a carriage with four horses) along the newly paved Riverside Drive below his estate. On a whim, he decided that it would be wonderful to be able to enter his estate by carriage via Riverside Drive rather than from Fort Washington Road, which was a much easier access.

The only problem with this idea was that a driveway would have to ascend 100 feet within a section of property that was 200 feet wide by 500 feet long – and it would require an easy grade to accommodate the horses and carriages.

Billings Estate Tryon Hall

This view of Tyron Hall shows the elaborate driveway leading up to the hillside estate.

According to a report in The New York Times in September 1912, Billings’ neighbor, W.C. Muschenheim of the Hotel Astor, came up with an idea for mapping out the driveway. His advice:

“You aren’t in any great hurry, so why don’t you have it done right? Put one of your cows on that land and give her time to lay out a path up that hill. Trust her to find the easiest and most comfortable grade.”

Sure enough, over time, the cow traced out the easiest and best way to her barn at the top of the hill. The result: A 1600-foot double-switch-back drive built to follow her tracks.

Billings proceeded to hire the architects Buchman & Fox to design this extravagant driveway to his estate. They laid out the roadway and proposed a great arched stone gallery to accommodate a portion of the roadway that would leave the face of the ridge. By creating this 50-foot-high gallery, or bridge, the architects were able to create a driveway with a 6 percent grade.

Take a Look Inside Tryon Hall

Fortunately for us, there was a publishing fad among the rich and famous at the turn of the century in which the privileged showcased their wealth in leather-bound books. These books were printed in limited, private runs, and are highly prized colletibles today. Billings commissioned a book in 1910 that offers a glimpse inside his private realm. You can view the volume here at the blog My Inwood.

Fountain Room Tryon Hall Billings

The Fountain Room was just one of the many lavish rooms in Tryon Hall.

CKG Billings driveway

Billings’ 18-foot-wide driveway was covered with macadam and specially made paving bricks that were designed like those in New York City firehouses, so the horses could get a good foothold.

Get an Eagle-Eye View of the Billings Driveway

If you want a great view of the switch-back driveway, go to Google Earth and type in Fort Tryon Park. Although Tryon Hall burned in a spectacular fire in 1926, the famous driveway and the old gatehouse (now near the entrance to the 67-acre Fort Tryon Park) still exist on the property.

1915: The “Farnsworth” Estate

In 1915, Billings hired architect Guy Lowell to design a new estate on Long Island, near what is now the intersection of Chicken Valley Road and Oyster Bay Road in Locust Valley. The mansion and caretaker’s cottage were demolished in the late 1960s, and the land was subdivided into smaller lots. Today, the garages and stables from the former estate are private residences.

Farnsworth Billings Estate

The driveway of Billings’ Farnsworth estate on Long Island was not quite as elaborate as his driveway at Tryon Hall.

Elephant is the first ever to come to America

The first elephant in America

A summary of the travels of the elephant can be traced through newspaper reports and public notices. The first account of the elephant in the U.S. appeared in The Argus and Green Leaf Advertiser, which on April 23, 1796, advertised the elephant’s exhibition in New York at the corner of Beaver Street and Broadway.

On April 3, 1793, John Bill Ricketts, an English equestrian rider, introduced America to the circus in Philadelphia. Ricketts’ circus featured horses, acrobats, a rope walker, and a clown — but it didn’t have an elephant. As of that date, no elephant had ever stepped foot on U.S. soil.

John Bill Ricketts, first circus

John Bill Ricketts brought the first modern circus to the U.S. He has been identified as the subject of this unfinished portrait by Gilbert Stuart.

Exactly three years later, on April 12, 1796, Captain Jacob Crowninshield arrived in New York Harbor on a trading ship called the America. On board was a two-year-old female elephant the captain had purchased in India for $450. She was the first elephant to ever come to America.

Captain Jacob Crowninshield

Captain Jacob Crowninshield

Jacob Crowninshield (1770-1808) was a ship captain and a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts. In 1805, President Thomas Jefferson offered him the position of U.S. Secretary of the Navy, but due to health issues, he never filled this position.

Jacob Crowninshield came from a family of shippers that ran the firm of George Crowninshield and Sons of Salem, Massachusetts. Jacob was one of five brothers, all in command of ships in trade with India. One brother, Benjamin Williams Crowninshield, was U.S. Secretary of the Navy under Presidents James Madison and James Monroe.

Details of Captain Crowninshield’s pachyderm purchase come from a pile of letters and sea journals kept in an old chest of his father, John C. Crowninshield (nee Johannes Caspar Richter von Kronenschieldt). Writing to his brothers from India on November 2, 1795, Jacob wrote:

“We take home a fine young elephant two years old, at $450.00. It is almost as large as a very large ox, and I dare say we shall get it home safe, if so it will bring at least $5000.00. We shall at first be obliged to keep it in the southern states until it becomes hardened to the climate.
I suppose you will laugh at this scheme, but I do not mind that, will turn elephant driver. We have plenty of water at the Cape and St. Helena. This was my plan. Ben did not come into it, so if it succeeds, I ought to have the whole credit and honor too; of course you know it will be a great thing to carry the first elephant to America.”

Privateer America warship War of 1812

Originally built as a ship for East India trade, the America served as a swift commerce destroyer during the War of 1812. Armed with 20 guns and 150 crew members, the privateer completed five cruises during the war, capturing 27 British vessels and valuable cargo.

Officer Nathaniel Hawthorne

Details of the historic voyage come from the ship’s logbook pages written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, an officer on the ship, and yes, the father of the famous American novelist, who was born eight years after this event.

According to the logbook, the America set sail from Calcutta for New York on December 3, 1795. Two months later, from Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean, Hawthorne wrote, “This day begins with moderate breezes . . . latter part employed in landing 23 sacks of coffee . . . took on board several pumpkins and cabbages, some fresh fish for ship’s use, and greens for the elephant.” Below this entry and written in large letters: “ELEPHANT ON BOARD.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sr. ship captain

This is a drawing of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sr., son of Daniel and Rachel Hawthorne.
(photo: Peabody Essex Museum, Salem)

The last page in Hawthorne’s logbook records the sighting of Long Island at 7:00 p.m. on April 11. From the times and distances, it is estimated that the elephant arrived in New York on April 13, 1796.

The elephant was exhibited in New York at the corner of Beaver Street and Broadway beginning April 23, 1796. A clipping from a New York paper dated April 1796 reads: “The Ship America, Captain Jacob Crowninshield of Salem, Massachusetts, Commander and owner, has brought home an elephant from Bengal in perfect health. It is the first ever seen in America and is a great curiosity. It is a female, two years old.”

Sometime during that exhibition, a Welshman named Owen offered to buy the elephant for $10,000. From there, it seems the elephant went on tour for about a dozen years, primarily in New England, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas. The elephant even made an appearance at the 1796 Harvard Commencement exercises.

Nathaniel Hawthorne documented the elephant's journey from India to New York in his logbook. Notice the large "Elephant on board."

Nathaniel Hawtorne documented the elephant’s journey from India to New York in his logbook. Notice the large “Elephant on board” toward the bottom.

According to reports, the price of admission to see the elephant ranged from a quarter to fifty cents. One must wonder if this could be the origin of the clapping game and jump rope rhyme, “Miss Mary Mack”:

Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack
All dressed in black, black, black
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons
All down her back, back, back.
She asked her mother, mother, mother
For fifty cents, cents, cents
To see the elephant, elephant, elephant
Climb up the fence, fence, fence.

The Elephant Lived on Beer

Cheers Elephant, a psychedelic pop rock quartet from Philadelphia, based the name of their band on the story of the elephant. They even wrote a song called Captain Crowninshield, which they recorded on their album, “Man Is Nature.”

Cheers Elephant, a psychedelic pop rock quartet from Philadelphia, based the name of their band on the story of the elephant. They even wrote a song called Captain Crowninshield, which they recorded on their album, “Man Is Nature.”

As the story goes, the America was reportedly understaffed and under-stocked. Halfway through their trip, Crowninshield and his crew ran out of clean drinking water and were forced to give the elephant a dark ale, or porter, which is a heavy liquor made with browned malt.

Other stories report that Crowninshield charged his New York spectators 25 cents to watch the elephant uncork and drink the dark beer. According to Robert W.G. Vail, librarian of the American Antiquarian Society, the elephant uncorked the bottles with her trunk and would consume 30 bottles of porter a day.

The last recorded exhibition of the elephant is was in York, Pennsylvania, on July 25 and 25, 1818.

A true story of pampered pets and Titanic survivors

The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on 5th Avenue in New York

The original Waldorf-Astoria was located on the Fifth Avenue site of the Empire State Building. It started as two hotels: one owned by William Waldorf Astor, opened in 1893, and the other owned by his cousin, John Jacob Astor IV, called the Astoria Hotel, which opened in 1897. John Jacob Astor died on the Titanic in 1912; incidentally, the investigation into the sinking of the Titanic was held at Waldorf-Astoria.

In the late 19th century and early 1900s, New York City’s acclaimed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was the site of numerous pedigree dog shows. The first French Bulldog show took place at the luxury hotel in 1898, which, according to the French Bulldog Club of America, secured the breed’s reputation as “a high-society dog.”

The Toy Spaniel Club of America also hosted its annual shows at the Waldorf, which attracted dog fanciers from such celebrated kennels as the Nellcote, Dreamwold, Ashton, and Crestwood.

James Mortimer, a renowned dog show judge and bench show superintendent, was often the judge at these lavish events.

Following the Toy Spaniel Club of America’s second annual show at the Waldorf in 1904, The New York Times wrote: “These pampered pets are the real aristocrats of the world of dogs…the display is enough to put an ordinary dog to shame and cause it to become green with envy.

James Mortimer, dog show judge, Best in Show trophy

James Mortimer (1842-1915), was prominent in the kennel circles of the United States and Canada. The James Mortimer Memorial Sterling Silver Trophy first went into competition in 1917. This trophy is awarded by the Westminster Kennel Club for Best in Show, American bred; for permanent possession, one must win Best in Show five times.


According to the article, the show dogs dined from silver cups elaborately engraved with their initials, rested on Roman silk cushions in elaborate French-plate glass kennels, and dined on specially prepared meals.

The New York Daily Tribune also covered the event, noting that the show owed its success to Mrs. Goldenberg, the kennel club’s secretary. Mrs. Goldenberg, the paper reported, “was on hand in a black cloth dress with pleated skirt, the bodice cut away at the neck to show a Val guimpe and a line of pale nasturtiums.”

Mrs. Goldenberg told the reporter, “The popular response has been very cordial, and of course, I am greatly pleased at it.”

Kennel club secretary and her husband survive the Titanic

Samuel L. Goldenberg, Titanic survivor

Samuel L. Goldenberg, an international dog show judge, survived the Titanic with his wife Nella, who was secretary of the Toy Spaniel Club of America.

I originally intended this story to focus on the elaborate dog shows at the Waldorf…but then I started digging into the history of the Toy Spaniel Club of America.

It turns out that Nella Goldenberg (nee Wiggins), was one of the survivors of the Titanic in April 1912. Her husband, Samuel, who was a director for Goldenberg Brothers & Co. on Fifth Avenue and an international dog show judge, also survived.

Mr. and Mrs. Goldenberg lived in Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York, where they had a kennel, Nellcote Kennels. They moved to Paris in 1905, but continued to attend dog shows in New York and crossed the Atlantic about three times a year.

On April 10, 1912, the Goldenbergs embarked the Titanic in Cherbourg as first-class passengers and occupied cabin 92 on the C deck. (Mr. and Mrs. John Jacob Astor IV and their dog, an Airedale named Kitty, occupied cabins 62-64 on the C deck). The Goldenbergs were on their way to attend the French Bull Dog Club of America’s show at the Waldorf-Astoria on April 20, where Samuel had agreed to be one of the judges.

On the night the Titanic struck the iceberg, the Goldenbergs boarded lifeboat 5. An article in the “Kennel Gazette” from May 1912 states that Mr. Goldenberg refused to board the lifeboat with his wife, and when the boat was launched she cried out to him to say good-bye. Because there were apparently no other women passengers nearby and the boat wasn’t full, J. Bruce Ismay and one of the officers tossed Samuel into the lifeboat.


 Titanic passengers in Collapsible Boat D, then partially flooded with ice-cold water, approach RMS Carpathia at 7:15 a.m. on April 15, 1912. 

The starboard lifeboat was lowered at approximately 12.45 a.m. with about 34 people — mostly first-class women, a few men and about six crew members, including Titanic’s third officer, Herbert Pitman, the second most senior member of Titanic’s crew to survive. The boat was rowed a safe distance from the ship, and for some time, was tied up to lifeboat 7, as Pitman thought it best for the boats to stay together.

After the ship had sunk, Pitman ordered the boat be rowed back to rescue some of the people still alive in the water; unfortunately, the passengers in the boat discouraged him from doing so, with one passenger said to have said, “Why should we risk our lives in a useless attempt to save those?”

Until the Carpathia arrived in New York on that Thursday night, April 18, Samuel Goldenberg had been listed in all the newspapers as one of the victims of the disaster. On the pier, he was surrounded by friends who congratulated him and his wife on their escape. A New York Times reporter apparently approached him and asked him to tell his story of the disaster. Mr. Goldenberg refused to do so and hurriedly left the pier.

The only baggage to survive the Titanic

Of all the baggage that was on the Titanic, only one piece was reported saved. This was a well-stuffed, brown canvas carry-all, about 3 x 2 feet. It was the only piece of luggage placed in the customs area, under the big wooden “G” sign. It belonged to Samuel L. Goldenberg.

Custom House Special Deputy Surveyor George Smyth said Mr. Goldenberg’s carry-all was the only piece saved from the wrecked liner. No one at the Custom House knew how the carry-all had been saved. When it was brought ashore it was dry and did not appear to have been in the water.

Mr. Goldenberg explains the bag

In a letter to The New York Times dated April 24, 1912, Samuel Goldenberg explained how his baggage survived:

When I left the Titanic I was dressed in my pajamas, coat, trousers, dressing gown, raincoat, and slippers, (not shoes). I had time to take two rugs with me, for my wife and for myself.

On reaching the Carpathia I was told that the barber had some toilet articles and other things to sell. I therefore made the necessary purchases of toothbrushes and other toilet articles, including shirt and collars; for my wife and myself a pair of shoes, &c. I then asked the barber if he had anything to put them into in the shape of a bag, and he sold me a brown canvas kit bag. On reaching New York I put all of the remaining things into this bag, and this is the bag that was mentioned in THE NEW YORK TIMES. I state these facts simply for the purpose of not creating a wrong impression, as, in common with all other passengers, I had no thought of saving any of my luggage at such a moment, and actually did not save any.

Dog survivors of the Titanic

Dogs on the Titanic

Of the 12 confirmed dogs on the Titanic, only three survived. Unfortunately, none of the three pictured here on the ship’s deck survived. Most of the dogs were kept in the ship’s kennel and tended to by crew members, so they were considered more as cargo than as passengers.

There were 12 confirmed dogs on the Titanic. Only three survived: two Pomeranians (one named Lady and bought in France by Miss Margaret Hays) and a Pekinese named Sun Yat-Sen, owned by the Harpers of Harper & Row Publishers (now HarperCollins) fame. The Astor’s dog, Kitty, did not survive.

It has been said that there was a cat with young kittens aboard the Titanic during sea trials, but when the ship arrived in Southampton from Belfast, she was seen disembarking, retrieving one kitten at a time and bringing them down the gangplank to the dock. The cat and the kittens disappeared — some wonder if she had a feline premonition that the voyage would lead to disaster and take away all of the nine lives she had remaining.

If you enjoyed this story, click here for another true animal tale about the Titanic.