Tag Archives: nyc

The Diaries: January 1914

In 2005, I came across three diaries belonging to Raymond Enders, a resident of New York City. In these diaries (from 1914, 1921, & 1923) he meticulously recorded his daily life. In 2011, I will retrace his steps and share some of the highlights.

January, 1914

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Saturday, January 3rd: Cloudy. Rain.

“To business. To Wanamaker’s …

Wanamaker’s was a department store located on Broadway between 9th, 10th streets and 4th avenue. The building has withstood the test of time and a fire that resulted in near ruin to the interior and the subway beneath it. Today, 770 Broadway itself doesn’t look much different, though the street itself is crammed end-to-end with buildings. Wanamaker’s is now home to my local Kmart. Pretty fancy exterior for a discount store.

——

Wednesday, January 21st

Cloudy in the Am. Then Clear & cold Pm. To office, then to courthouse. NY State supreme Court. Pt. 1 J. Davis. To Serve on Hans Schmidt Trial. Examined by Di– Att Whit–yan* & excused by council for Schmidt. Saw Schmidt…

Hans Schmidt was a priest who was affiliated with St. Joseph’s Church on W. 125th street. He confessed to killing Anna Aumuller, dismembering her body, and sinking it in the North River. The NY Times has the story.

* — used whenever I cannot make out the handwriting

—–

Saturday, January 24th: Rain. Mild

To office – to Home – to Harlem. Had dinner at Hotel Theresa with Billie…


The Hotel Theresa was built at 125th street and 7th avenue in 1913. First opened as an “apartment hotel,” it boasted 300 rooms and a style that the NY Times noted could look Islamic or Art Deco. Ironically, the “Wonder of Harlem,” was only open to white people until 1940. By 1941, it was the the place for African-American athletes, musicians, writers, and the likes of Malcolm X. (and even Fidel Castro), passed through the hotel.

—–

Sunday, January 25th: Clear. Cold.

To Criterion theatre. Show charming …

Located at 1514-16 Broadway, the Criterion was an entertainment complex opened by Oscar Hammerstein. From the Internet Broadway Database:

“In 1895, Oscar Hammerstein opened an entertainment complex for which one fifty-cent ticket admitted you to two main auditoriums (Lyric, Music Hall), two small theatres (Concert Hall, Roof Garden), an Oriental cafe, bowling, and billiards. On June 29, 1898, the debt-laden Olympia was auctioned. Charles Frohman leased the Lyric and renamed it the Criterion. In 1914, it showed movies as the Vitagraph, but soon returned to live theatre.”

On January 25th, the show Raymond would have seen is was a comedy called “Young Wisdom” by the playwright Rachel Crothers, who was one of the few female playwrights whose plays were running on Broadway. In her lifetime, she had 37 plays produced, most of which revolved around the themes of women, society and gender politics. All were comedies. The NY Times gave “Young Wisdom” a highly favorable review.

Despite the daily records of Raymond’s life, there are many details I’m missing. The general information either leads me in too many different directions or down a dead-end. Passing references to restaurants that have been lost with time. The addresses of buildings no longer in existence. I sense I’ll be left with many questions. I might never find out if Raymond gets married to one of the many women he consistently spends his evenings with or what becomes of him after 1923, but the journey is part of the fun.  I never knew about the Hotel Theresa in Harlem; or the fantastic entertainment complexes that populated the Times Square neighborhood. It was also a pleasant surprise to discover the existence of a prolific female playwright — one who seemed to be writing about what she wanted and was successful at it to boot. I’m learning a lot, but mostly I’m learning to be patient; to deal with not knowing every detail and being ok with that. It’s the happy accidents and little gems of old New York , a glimpse of what it once was, that thrill me the most.






Life List #43

If you check out my life list, you’ll see it’s a work (life) in-progress. This year, my goal is to cross five big things off my list. #43, Follow the Diaries, has been 93 years in the making. Here is the story.

In 2005, I was wandering through an antique store in Nyack, New York when I came cross three diaries …

One is from 1914, then 1921, and lastly, 1923. The diaries belonged to Raymond Enders of 27177 Washington Ave, Bronx, New York (and later of 254 East 184th Street). He was an employed by the Italian Discount & Trust Company, a bank, located at 399 Broadway, New York City. The New York Times announced the bank’s establishment in July of 1918. Further history on the bank can be found here and here.

When I opened the well-worn diaries, I found every page filled with tiny, black-inked handwritting. It’s cramped and sometimes hard to read, but every day is carefully accounted for, right down to the weather report.

I purchased the three diaries for $20, took them home and began to read. Raymond’s life was ordinary. He went to work, he went home, he sometimes went out on dates or to the theater or bowling. I never finished reading the diaries, but they’ve always sat on a shelf in my secretary desk waiting for me to open them.

This past November I began looking through them again. New details caught my eye. Buildings in Manhattan I never knew existed (and are no longer around today), walks through Central Park on the same date I had walked through it, 92 years later. The ghosts of Raymond’s footsteps mingling with my solid, present ones.

I began to wonder more about Raymond Enders and the New York in which he lived — so very different and yet similar to the one I inhabit today. Where did he come from? How did he get to where he was? Did he ever fall in love? Get married? Move out of New York? I also wondered about our shared city. New York is filled with beautiful old buildings, most of which managed to stand the test of time and prime real estate, but other brick and mortar structures weren’t so lucky. I began to Google some of the places Raymond wrote about and discovered a New York I never knew, one that only exists in books, the archives of the New York Times or in the memories of the city’s oldest residents.

Just as Raymond spent time documenting his life on paper, I spend mine typing words into the ether of the internet. Both methods of our documentation might eventually disintegrate, but for now, I want to breathe some new, virtual life into Raymond’s words. I want to see New York through his eyes and his footsteps.

Every two weeks (or one month, depending on how active he was), I’ll document two weeks (or a month) in the life of Raymond Enders, either by visiting specific locations he mentions in his diaries or researching the ones that no longer exist, and writing about them. I’m hoping some friends or New York experts might be able to assist me with filling in the blanks … or at least help me read his handwriting. Whatever happens, the journey will be fun and a life will be relived, as I live out my own.

Monday’s Watch, Listen, Read

An ongoing series where I share what I’m watching, listening to, and reading. Here are this Monday’s picks:

Watch

As someone who loves to take pictures, and is a big fan of street photography, this story really touched me. It’s nothing short of amazing and is absolutely inspiring.

Listen

It felt appropriate to introduce this week’s Read pick with a song by the author. Especially this song.

Read

I must confess, it took me a while to get into the rhythm of this book. There’s something different about reading poets who turn to novel/non-fiction writing. Their language is laden with a beautiful density. It’s like the breath of their sentences is deeper than that of book writers because they typically have so much less space to work with. Their words are more carefully chosen and layered with meaning. Novelists have that, too, but not in the same capacity as poets. Patti Smith is a poet. Once I let her voice take over, I dove into the depths of words and language. “Just Kids” is about art, sacrifice, and most importantly, love. There were moments where I entirely identified with Smith’s thoughts, feelings and actions. Other moments, the more brutal ones, made me think about art and its place in my life: How much would I be willing to sacrifice for my passion? It also brought to mind this Carl Jung quote:

“The artist’s life cannot be otherwise than full of conflicts, for two forces are at war within him—on the one hand, the common longing for happiness, satisfaction and security in life, and on the other a ruthless passion for creation which may go so far as to override every personal desire. There are hardly any exceptions to the rule that a person must pay dearly for the divine gift of creative fire.”

There’s a ruthless passion in both Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, but I wondered if Smith ever wanted or needed the force of security. She makes clear Robert Mapplethorpe wanted it, but, during the time period the book covers, I wasn’t so sure about her. They sacrificed themselves physically, mentally and emotionally for the “divine gift of creative fire” and, through their sacrifice, changed the world(s) of art/music/photography/poetry — all of this while they were still just kids.

P.S. It always excites me to read books that take place literally outside my front stoop. There’s inspiration in stepping in the invisible footprints of the world’s great adventurers. While reading this book, there were a few times I stopped, walked out my door and over to the Hotel Chelsea just to read about that very building while standing in the lobby. I drank sangria in El Quijote while Smith’s words took me back to what it was like there in the 1969/1970. New York is a place full of ghosts and magic. Luckily, there are poets like Patti Smith who lead the exploration and became cartographers to the generations of young New York artists who will follow their paths.