Records From the Municipal Archives

Like many records I went through at the Municipal Archives, these records are upsetting. If the City was getting involved, that generally meant that something had gone wrong. That said, they also stepped in to do wonderful things, like Central Park. These are snippets from a file of records about the dog pound and dog catchers.

The whole number of dogs received at the dog pound from June 17 to June 24 [1867] was as follows … 1599.

Of which were drowned … 1532
Of which were redeemed … 32
Balance on hand … 30
Unaccounted for … 5

From the papers of Mayor John T. Hoffman, Roll 13.

Jesus. They drowned them! The numbers get a lot worse ten years later. Look at them. What the hell was going on?? Wait a minute. This is from a four month period. How can these numbers be possible?

Statement of Dogs Captured killed and redeemed from June 11 to October 9, 187[7] both dates inclusive.

Number of dogs received 7877
No. of dogs killed 6987
No. of dogs redeemed 890

From the papers of Mayor Smith Ely, Jr., Roll 13.

There were also piles of complaints about the dog catchers, which make it look like it was a bit of a racket back then.

July 3 Dog Officer McLaughlin – Complaint by C. W. Kolter – 86 Second Street. That dog officer took dog with license and muzzle on from complainants premises.

Appeared July 9 Dog Officer No. 13 William Ross – Complaint by H. [Gotleib] 422 Seventh Ave. That dog officer took dog while complainant was leading him with string.

Dog Officer Pat J. Hughes No. 9 Complaint by Mrs. Wood No. 123 West 26th Street. Complains that officer took $5 not to capture dog.

From the papers of Mayor Smith Ely, Jr., Roll 13.

Over one hundred years later and we’re still killing animals, although New York is very slowly moving towards operating a no-kill shelter. I read that the numbers of animals euthanized are down, but I don’t want to look them up. I’ll get too upset. I’m still traumatized by my last visit to Animal Care and Control, when I walked out without adopting a cat. Every cat I saw that day was most likely killed. I got Bleecker from the next place I went to, the Humane Society. Here’s a picture of the little devil, who looks like such an angel when he sleeps.

Bleecker with his Tongue out

Where have I been?

I got hit with some weird, but not horrible virus. I feel better now so I’m off to see Selma. I haven’t been doing much except watching tv, and there wasn’t a lot on. Watched West Side Story for the millionth, billionth time. It still amazes me how that movie contains one great song after another. I can’t imagine writing just one, imagine writing so many. What must it feel like? Although, maybe for the person (Bernstein in this case), since they know no other way, they just feel normal about the whole thing.

Imagine if all hugely talented people had to endure a period of being without their gifts, and less talented people got to experience what it was like to be able to create something so great. No. The hugely talented people might benefit from it, but it would be just too cruel to everyone else. Or maybe not. Being that accomplished must be a wonderful thing, but it’s certainly not the only wonderful thing to experience in life. Also, although there are exceptions, even hugely talented people are not productive their whole lives.

Then there are the people who are great channelers of great art. I watch that movie and I want to sing like Marni Nixon and dance through the city streets in my sneakers like George Chakiris. Just thinking about that made my heart beat faster!

This is a picture from my 2014 Christmas series. I just wasn’t as drawn to taking pictures of windows on 5th Avenue. I preferred the more modest displays, like these red and green twinkling lights next to this barbershop sign. (It has an urban, slightly West Side Story feel.)

Lana's Barber Shop

“It is every artist’s secret …”

I loved this line from the end of Willa Cather’s novel The Song of the Lark. It’s about a singer, in fact a friend of mine summed up the novel perfectly. She called it: The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman. In the book someone asks one of the main character’s singing teachers what the secret is to her great voice.

“It is every artist’s secret … passion. That is all. It is an open secret, and perfectly safe.”

I feel so supremely lucky that I’m going to get to do a book about Blackwell’s Island. It’s just the kind of subject I can immerse myself in. I want to say that the process of digging in and finding the stories is like feeding a hunger but that’s not quite it, but that kind of captures it. I have to make myself stop working at night and go to bed when I am working on a book like this.

I’ve been running around doing errands so I can relax and celebrate my good news today. One nice side effect of the cold weather I’ve found, is steam. It’s so comforting. The inside of the laundromat was wonderfully foggy and warm (see the picture below). I felt so cosy sitting in there reading while all the machines around me rumbled.

But swimming last night was especially lovely. There was only three of us left during the last half hour so we all got a lane to ourselves. It felt so luxurious and serene, going back and forth and back and forth at exactly the pace I wanted. The water was heated to the most absolutely perfect temperature, the room was cloudy and enveloping, almost tropical. I wish I could have gotten a picture, or a movie of that.

A fog inside the laundry, New York City

My Next Book – Blackwell’s Island

It’s official. I’m going to be doing a book about Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island) for my most fabulous publisher, Algonquin Books! I am beyond belief excited. Those who know me know that this is so, so, SO my kind of book. I’ll have much more to say about this later, but word got out so I wanted to make a quick announcement.

The picture below is of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, Roosevelt Island, which was designed by Frederic Clark Withers and dedicated in 1889. I love this one fact I learned about the Chapel from their website. A quick backstory: the City bought the island in 1828, and then proceeded to build a penitentiary, a lunatic asylum, a workhouse, an Almshouse for the poor, and various hospitals for the poor, (and other hospitals and buildings). The point is, if you ended up on Blackwell’s Island in the 19th century it meant your life was not going well. According to the Chapel’s website the architect was instructed to design “the most beautiful church in the city for it’s most neglected class of humanity.” Nice. But sad.

It was also paid for by George Bliss, a vestryman of Grace Church, it turns out. His name came up a lot when I was researching my last book, about the history and science of singing. (I sing with the Choral Society of Grace Church and I used the Choral Society to demonstrate the rewards and benefits of group singing.)

Chapel of the Good Shepherd, Roosevelt Island

The much neglected organ inside the Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

Chapel of the Good Shepherd, Roosevelt Island