Thursday, January 14, 2010

History Resources at the Library

Around here, we love the New York Public Library for many reasons - free books, cool digital archive, ferocious mascot. But mostly the Library is a tremendous resource for anyone doing research about the city. Recently I found a great list of sites relating to "Manhattan history on the web" on their own new-and-improved website. Check it out here.

Naturally, we make the cut, but there are lots of other great links about 19th century history, housing, and life. Check out an excerpt from William Dean Howells' "An East Side Ramble," 1896:
[The East Side] is said to be more densely populated than any other area in the world, or at least in Christendom, for within a square mile there are more than three hundred and fifty thousand men, women and children. One can imagine from this fact alone how they are housed and what their chances of the comforts and decencies of life may be...
What the place must be in summer I had not the heart to think, and on the wintry day of my visit I could not feel the fury of the skies which my guide said would have been evident to me if I had seen it in August. I could better fancy this when I climbed the rickety stairs within one of the houses and found myself in a typical New York tenement. Then I almost choked at the thought of what a hot day, what a hot night, must be in such a place, with the two small windows inhaling the putrid breath of the court and transmitting it, twice fouled by the passage through the living-room, to the black hole in the rear, where the whole family lay on the heap of rags that passed for a bed...

My friend asked me if I would like to go into any other tenements, but I thought that if what I had seen was typical, I had seen enough in that quarter. The truth is, I had not yet accustomed myself to going in upon people in that way, though they seemed accustomed to being gone in upon without any ceremony but the robust "Good-morning!" my companion gave them by way of accounting for our presence, and I wanted a little interval to prepare myself for further forays. The people seemed quite ready to be questioned, and answered us as persons in authority. They may have taken us for detectives, or agents of benevolent societies, or journalists in search of copy. In any case, they had nothing to lose and they might have something to gain; so they received us kindly and made us much at home among them as they knew how. It may have been that in some instances they supposed that we were members of the Board of Health and were their natural allies against their landlords.
- posted by Kate

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