History Detectives

Blast from the Past: Lincoln and the Jews

By Liz Stern

In Jerusalem, there is a beautiful street near the King David Hotel named for Abraham Lincoln. There is a similar one in Tel Aviv and a memorial statue of Lincoln in Ramat Gan. Why is there devotion in Israel to the 16th President of the United States?

Abraham Lincoln was a man with complicated religious beliefs. He did not grow up attending church and was even said to be critical of religious teachings. But as he matured and moved into a more public realm, Lincoln increasingly expressed himself using Biblical references. The deaths of his two sons and the painful reality of the Civil War further drove him to look to religion for solace and answers.

President Lincoln also respected the religious beliefs of others, most strikingly of the Jewish people. On March 20 the exhibition Lincoln and the Jews opens at the New-York Historical Society, taking an in-depth look at his relationship to and interactions with American Jews.

Photograph of Lincoln by Samuel Alschuler wearing Alschuler's velvet trimmed coat for this photo. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Photograph of Lincoln by Samuel Alschuler wearing Alschuler’s velvet
trimmed coat for this photo. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Visit the exhibition and meet Abraham Jonas, one of Abraham Lincoln’s early presidential bid supporters. This exhibition will include a letter from Jonas warning Lincoln of an assassination attempt before his first inauguration. More on this story in a future post when I delve further into the Pinkerton National Detective Agency!

Abraham Jonas to Abraham Lincoln, December 30, 1860. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Abraham Jonas had sons living in the South, from whom he learned rumors of a plot to kill Lincoln. The warnings did not go unheeded: Lincoln was smuggled into Washington, arriving safely in the dead of night ten days before the inauguration.

Abraham Jonas to Abraham Lincoln, December 30, 1860. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Abraham Jonas had sons living in the South, from whom he learned rumors of a plot to kill Lincoln. The warnings did not go unheeded: Lincoln was smuggled into Washington, arriving safely in the dead of night ten days before the inauguration.

In Lincoln and the Jews, you’ll also meet the interesting character Isachar Zacharie, an English-born chiropodist who healed Lincoln’s feet but also traveled behind enemy lines to seek peace with the Confederacy. He became Lincoln’s closest friend.

Carte-de-visite of Issachar Zacharie. The Shapell Manuscript Collection

Carte-de-visite of Issachar Zacharie. The Shapell Manuscript Collection

The president is credited with changing the law that required all military chaplains to be “regularly ordained ministers of some denomination,” removing the word “Christian” from the decree. Lincoln appointed Rabbi Jacob Frankel of Philadelphia as the nation’s first Jewish American Military Chaplain.

Possibly Abraham Lincoln’s most tangible legacy in American Jewish anti-discriminatory history is when he overruled General Ulysses S. Grant. On December 17, 1862, General Grant issued an order expelling all Jews from his territory, which covered the area between northern Mississippi to southern Illinois. It was called General Order No. 11 and it remains the only explicitly anti-Semitic official action of the U.S. government. Lincoln ordered its reversal two and a half weeks later saying he did not “like a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.” The original document by Grant will be on view in Lincoln and the Jews.

As we mark the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Lincoln, it is fitting to look at his legacy with regard to Jewish Americans. He died, after all, in the middle of Passover, a time when Jews revisit the story of the Exodus from Egypt in search of freedom. At the end of the traditional Seder the words “next year in Jerusalem” are recited by all who celebrate.

“There is no place I so much desire to see as Jerusalem,” said President Lincoln to his wife Mary in the balcony of Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865. These would be the last words he uttered, according to a family pastor who sat with Mary later. Perhaps he was inspired by Secretary of State Seward’s 1859 trip to Jerusalem? Perhaps the end of the Civil War was driving his interest in exploration? Lincoln was talking to his wife about their future—but he would never visit Jerusalem. Lincoln was shot in that balcony. In the wake of Lincoln’s death, synagogues across the country draped their altars in black and chanted prayers of mourning.

Moses did not reach Israel either.


Holzer, Harold, Lincoln and the Jews, essay reprinted on Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City, jhsgw.org.

Mansfield, Stephen, “Lincoln’s Surprising Last Words: Excerpt from Lincoln’s Battle with God,” December 10, 2012, www.thenervousbreakdown.com.



Reading into History: An Interview with Author of One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia

By Rachel Walman

How did the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s affect Americans in different parts of the country? That’s the question we’ll tackle this Sunday, March 8 from 2–4pm during our Reading into History family book club meeting.

Photo courtesy of the author

Photo courtesy of the author

Join us here at the New-York Historical Society with author Rita Williams-Garcia to discuss her book, One Crazy Summer, the Reading into History family book club pick of the month. This decorated children’s book follows three sisters on a funny, poignant, and historical journey to visit their estranged mother in Oakland, California, in 1968. After discussion, we’ll all visit the exhibition Freedom Journey 1965: Photographs of the Selma to Montgomery March by Stephen SomersteinThrough the book and the exhibition, we’ll compare and contrast Selma and Oakland, Dr. Martin Luther King and the Black Panthers, civil disobedience and armed action.

We’re exploring different aspects of the struggle for African Americans’ civil rights at a crucial moment. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches—  historic, non-violent protests against policies and practices that kept African Americans from voting. The first day of the march, March 7, 1965, was later dubbed “Bloody Sunday” for the tragic turn it took. As 600 marchers approached  the Edmund Pettus Bridge, just six blocks from their starting point, all-white local and state police forces brutally attacked them with nightsticks and tear gas. After another symbolic march to the bridge two days later, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in federal troops for protection, allowing the now 3,200 marchers to recommence their five-day, 54-mile journey on March 21, 1965. We’ll get to see images from the final day of the historic march currently on view.

LEFT marchers making their way from Selma to Montgomery, 1965. Photograph by Stephen Somerstein.  RIGHT Black Panthers at the Free Huey rally in Oakland, CA, August 25, 1968. Photo taken by Ruth-Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones for their photo essay “The Vanguard,” a copy of which is held in the N-YHS collection.

LEFT marchers making their way from Selma to Montgomery, 1965. Photograph by Stephen Somerstein. RIGHT Black Panthers at the Free Huey rally in Oakland, CA, August 25, 1968. Photo taken by Ruth-Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones for their photo essay “The Vanguard,” a copy of which is held in the N-YHS collection.

Before heading to the gallery, we’ll discuss the approach the Black Panther Party took to fighting for racial equality. The Black Panther Party’s principles conflicted with the non-violent, civil disobedience-focused activism of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a leader of  Selma protest. They were a major force in California and across the U.S., were influenced by Socialism, and believed in armed self-defense. They garnered support by establishing community programs in cities across the country, including free breakfasts for youths in need, and also garnered a lot of criticism and sometimes violent resistance. If you know more, or want to, come share your thoughts at Sunday’s meeting!

We asked Rita Williams-Garcia to share her thoughts on her life and her book before we all get together. Read her wonderful words and join us for Sunday’s event.

What made you want to write One Crazy Summer?

I wrote One Crazy Summer because I wanted to share the times I lived through with my readers.  I didn’t attend a Black Panther summer program, but I did get a sickle cell anemia testing, courtesy of the Black Panthers and had a free breakfast or two as well. The Black Panthers were militant, but who would have thought they also served children in their communities? I found that interesting and wanted to share that through three characters I hoped would be memorable to readers.

 What were you like between the ages of 9 and 12?

I was part nerd, tomboy, and daydreamer.  I was that kid who couldn’t keep her hand down when the teacher asked a question.  I grew up on army bases and their surrounding towns where the great outdoors was a big part of an army brat’s life.  There was always dodge ball, baseball, kickball, tetherball, relay races, and so many other physical activities.  I played my heart out, and when I got tired I went off to daydream. I kept a diary and still have my very first lock and key diary. I was always reading and writing.

What is your favorite time period in American history? Why?

There was nothing like the 1960s! I knew I’d write about that period because I grew up during that time and remember so many historical events. It was a time of constant change.  I was in the first grade when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I remember the Gemini space missions. Shortly after he returned from Vietnam, my father took us to Monterey Airport to hear Senator Robert F. Kennedy when he was campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. I remember seeing the Black Panthers take center stage with their strong, militant talk. My mother even claimed to have been a Black Panther, although that wasn’t true! She was a Joan Baez loving hippie! The music of the 1960s is still good today.

What 3 words best describe One Crazy Summer?

Sisters, Mother, Power!

The Reading into History family book club is supported by a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post and/or in Reading into History programs do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Learn the Chinese Art of Fan Dancing

By Shana Fung

As part of our ongoing exhibition Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion, we invite families to come learn a unique traditional Chinese art form: fan dancing. Through our learning series Ancient Chinese Arts Today, an expert here at the New-York Historical Society will teach the centuries-old dance style on March 15. Click here to learn more and sign up! 

In the meantime, check out some photos from our first two classes in the series: ribbon dancing and martial arts!










新年快樂! Happy Chinese Lunar New Year!

By Shana Fung

To celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year, we’ll be hosting a variety of events—from paper cutting demonstrations, to martial  arts and dance performances. Join us Thursday (the official start of the Lunar New Year) to see students of the National Dance Institute perform both traditional and modern dances inspired by their 2013—2014 curricular theme, “China!” While you’re here, don’t miss our on-going exhibition Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion,which explores the centuries-long history of trade and immigration between China and the United States and raises the question: “What does it mean to be an American?”

Here’s a recap of Monday’s exciting performances showcasing traditional Chinese dances!


dancing in DCHM

A New Year parade through DCHM


Lion Dancers from the Chinatown Community Young Lions dancing through the galleries

Lion Dancers from the Chinatown Community Young Lions parading through the galleries


A young visitor chasing away evil spirits and bad luck

A young visitor chasing away evil spirits and bad luck


Handkerchief Dance (performed by professional dancers from the NYCCC)

Professional dancers from New York Chinese Cultural Center (NYCCC) performing a handkerchief dance


Student dancers from NYCCC perform a Tibetan folk dance

Student dancers from NYCCC performing a Tibetan folk dance


NYCCC Students perform a double fan dance

NYCCC Students performing a double fan dance


NYCCC professional dancers performing a ribbon dance (performed by professional dancers from the NYCCC)

NYCCC professional dancers performing a ribbon dance




Part I: The History Behind The Pinkertonian Mystery

By Liz Stern

Do you love solving mysteries? Join us here on February 15 at 3 pm, for the interactive theatrical experience: The Pinkertonian Mystery. Families travel throughout the Museum, engaging with actors to solve a whodunit inspired by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. This immersive theater experience was created and produced exclusively for our audience, so don’t miss out! Tickets are limited and can be purchased here for February 15, March 8, April 12, and April 26 performances.

Rule number one: “accept no bribes.” Rule number two: “Never compromise with criminals.” These are just two commandments of the famous Pinkerton Code that set the Pinkerton Detective Agency apart. However, the agency’s founders—brothers Allan and Robert—weren’t destine for a life of fighting crime.

The place: Chicago. The date: 1842. Allan Pinkerton, a Scottish immigrant, first arrived in the United States. Allan worked in a local factory as a cooper (a barrel-maker), but soon opened a workshop of his own outside of the Windy City. His brother, Robert, also left Scotland to find success in the U.S. as a railroad man.

Portrait of Allan Pinkerton from The Spy of the Rebellion, New-York Historical Society

Portrait of Allan Pinkerton from The Spy of the Rebellion, New-York Historical Society

Allan got his first taste of detective work while on a routine search for lumber for his booming barrel-making business. He stumbled upon what he suspected to be a gang’s hideout. After alerting authorities, Allan returned to the criminals’ lair along with the local sheriff. Together, they captured the bandits, and Allan was immediately hooked. His knack for bringing crooks to justice landed him the job of County Deputy Sheriff. And, in 1850, he became Chicago’s first Police Detective—his barrel company was history.

He and Robert joined forces the next year, establishing the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in Chicago. As the urban populations boomed, so did crime. Intricate and organized networks of criminals required professional police work. And the Pinkerton Detective Agency was just that. In its early years, the agency mostly provided security for railroad passengers, solving track-side stick-ups and uncovering counterfeiting operations. The Pinkertons commanded respect—striking fear into the hearts of outlaws. Soon, the agency expanded its services so that both businesses and government offices turned to the brothers for their crime-solving needs. At its peak, the agency would become the world’s largest private law enforcement organization and still remains today.

unnamedPinkerton’s National Detective Agency letterhead, from The Spy of the Rebellion, The New-York Historical Society

As historians, we are lucky. Allen Pinkerton was a prolific writer and recorded every detail of his company’s investigations in volumes of journals. He published books of his cases, sometimes embellishing them so that they read like detective stories. At the New-York Historical Society, we have a rich collection of Pinkerton’s accounts in our own library. So come watch the Pinkertons back in action during our live theatrical performance!

And be sure to check out our next installment of Pinkerton history when the brothers discover a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln!




By Neysela DaSilva-Reed

As we move into 2015 we have two big aims for our Little New-Yorkers program. First, we want to get them upstairs into the galleries more often. Second, we are going to use the objects in our collections to make connections beyond New York.

This program is all about exploring this amazing city, but I also believe that this includes all the influences that come from abroad. This is at the very heart of what it is to be a New Yorker.

New York is known as a cultural melting pot, and we should be learning via New York and not just about New York. Whether exploring historic immigration to New York with stories such as Laundry Day by Maurie J. Manning, or modern-day diversity within the city with stories such as Abulela by Arthur Dorros.

Our first international adventure came courtesy of the artist Edwin Lord Weeks who took us to the shores of India. Next week we turn to Annie Leibovitz, who will take us to the mythological days of ancient Greece.

In the new exhibition Pilgrimage, the Leibovitz shows a very different body of work from the her usual association as photographer to the stars. This series of photographs charts the artist’s natural curiosity. They were taken simply because she found the subject matter to be interesting. They show dramatic landscapes, living interiors, and other miscellaneous objects, which seemingly present quite the challenge for our Little New Yorkers program.


© ANNIE LEIBOVITZ. FROM “PILGRIMAGE” (RANDOM HOUSE, 2011) Image courtesy of bostonglobe.com

© ANNIE LEIBOVITZ. FROM “PILGRIMAGE” (RANDOM HOUSE, 2011) Image courtesy of bostonglobe.com

One of the interiors is a photograph of the childhood bedroom of Louisa May Alcott at Orchard House. Alcott was quite the artist and took to sketching on the walls in her bedroom. One of these illustrations shows a series of robed people beside a man in a chariot led by galloping horses. They are all led by a beautiful, young maiden. The drawing in this photograph is of the sun god Helios being lead by his sister the goddess of dawn, Aurora.

Join us next week (on Tuesday or Friday at 3:30 pm) to find out about Helios’s role, why the sun scorched the earth and how the sun rises and sets every day. For our craft project we’ll be making our own fiery golden chariots. Please drop by!



At the Kids Table: Food, Art, and Molecular Gastronomy

By Rachel Walman

law sakes alive.JPG

Charles Cole Markham , Law Sakes Alive! What Are You Doing, Baby, ca. 1872, Collection of the New-York Historical Society, 1985.22

This past Saturday, a group of families gathered in the DiMenna Children’s History Museum to explore the intersection of food and art from the nineteenth century to today. We discussed the market scene painting above, did a multi-sensory experiment from the 1932 Futurist Cookbook, and experimented with artistic plating and molecular gastronomy.

Molecular gastronomy is a new movement in food that embraces the science behind cooking. All cooking involves science: for example, water must reach a certain temperature to boil, and chemical reactions take place when food is heated.  Molecular gastronomists celebrate the science behind food, finding new ways to cook that seem more like lab experiments than recipes. We tried two molecular gastronomy techniques: gelification and spherification.

First, we turned carrot puree into “caviar” by mixing the puree with sodium alginate and then plunging drops of the mixture into a water bath mixed with calcium chloride. After a minute, the surface of the drops became gelified and the inside was still liquid. This is spherification.

Gelification is when you make something completely transform into a gel. We did that by heating a mix of bananas and blueberries with agar agar. After the mix boiled, we sucked it into a plastic tube with a syringe, then plunged the tube into a cold water bath to let it set. After three minutes, we pushed the mix out of the tube and voilá- noodles!

The final step was for families to make artistic presentations of their caviar and spaghetti. Boy did they rise to the challenge! Check out their beautiful creations below.atktfoodart1





Would you like to join us for another culinary adventure through history? Check out our March 21 program on Chinese American food and purchase tickets here. We look forward to seeing you then!


Dining Cars during the Golden Age of Railroading

By Leyla Hamedi

The Golden Age of Railroading refers to the late 1800s when the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad led to easier, more comfortable, and quite dignified train travel. Travelers used to have to leave trains at designated water stops if they wanted to get something to eat and more often than not, they were greeted with meager selections that were often spoiled. Because it was so hard to get a good meal on the road, most people didn’t travel much. In 1868, when Pullman Co. introduced the Delmonico – a dining car named after the famed New York restaurant – it set off the trend of the dining car. As more and more railroads started offering meals on board trains, competition grew which led to elegant dining cars, each boasting better food and more amenities than the other.

<em>Elegant dining car from the Chicago and North Western Transportation Company. Photo courtesy of Western Railway, public domain.</em>

Elegant dining car from the Chicago and North Western Transportation Company. Photo courtesy of Western Railway, public domain.

While trains did not rely on the dining car to earn much money, their existence would encourage ridership from which they could make their profits. The Super Chief was one of the named passenger trains of the Santa Fe Railway and introduced the concept of private lounge cars in 1951. These cars, named the Pleasure Domes, boasted the only private dining room in the world on rails called the Turquoise Room. It could be reserved for private dinners or cocktail parties or any special events and as celebrities and dignitaries used it often, its reputation spread.

<em>The Super Chief’s dining car photo courtesy of http://www.outpostusa.org/Grandcanyonbyrail.html</em>

The Super Chief’s dining car photo courtesy of http://www.outpostusa.org/Grandcanyonbyrail.html

Besides being opulent and comfortable, with impeccably dressed waiters and good service, these dining cars boasted delicious meals. Fresh ingredients and chef-made dishes were the standard. Some examples of meals served onboard were Curry of Lamb Madras, Braised Duck Cumberland, Hungarian Beef Goulash, and even lobster.

<em>Menu from Rock Island Pullman Palace Dining Car, circa 1885. Photo courtesy of John Nelson via http://www.rits.org/www/histories/menu/menu.html</em>

Menu from Rock Island Pullman Palace Dining Car, circa 1885. Photo courtesy of John Nelson via http://www.rits.org/www/histories/menu/menu.html

A dining car is set up so that one end contains the galley, the area where the food is cooked and prepared, with an aisle passengers can walk by to get to the other cars. The other end usually contained tables or booth seating book-ending a middle aisle for service.

Though most train services no longer include such lavish dining spaces, vintage dining cars have been set up as stationary restaurants people can visit and enjoy. They can eat off menus from long ago and imagine what they were like back in the days of elegant and luxurious train travel.

If you like trains, be sure to stop by the New-York Historical Society to see our special exhibition Holiday Express: Toys and Trains from the Jerni Collection.

<em>The Pacific Dining Car Restaurant in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of The Pacific Dining Car Restaurant.</em>

The Pacific Dining Car Restaurant in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of The Pacific Dining Car Restaurant.






New-York Haunted Society: The Photos Are Finally In!

By Shana Fung

With Thanksgiving behind us and 2015 right around the corner, you might have forgotten all about Halloween, but we haven’t! Photos from our New-York Haunted Society party are finally in – check out the photos below!

Here we are making fuzzy bats…

1 (2)

learning fun facts about historic candy…

2 (1)

getting our fortunes told…

3 (2)

stumbling across zombie founding fathers and mothers (hello Abigail Adams and George Washington!)…

4 (1)

rolling out delicious, home-made candy corn…

5 (1)

making mourning jewelry (with real human hair!)…

6 (1)

and just having a spooky good time!

7 (1)

2015 will be here before you know it – don’t forget to join us at the New-York Historical Society for new and exciting activities next Halloween!


Installing Holiday Express: Toys and Trains from the Jerni Collection

By Cara Cifferelli

The New-York Historical Society has been transformed into a toys and trains wonderland for our newest exhibition, Holiday Express: Toys and Trains from the Jerni Collection. But, it didn’t happen overnight. See how everything came together in this exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the installation of Holiday Express!

For days, Museum staff have been working around the clock to turn the first floor of the Museum into an enormous exhibition chock-full of trains, toys, and history. It takes an army of Museum staff members to install a museum exhibition (big or small) and people from many departments all have to work together to make it happen.

Carpenters have to construct displays (often from scratch!) which lighting experts then add their special touches to. In the photo below, workers attach lighting wires to the roof of the huge circular display case now in the rotunda.

IIWhat could be going in this? I can’t wait to see!

When huge sets are on display, it can be easy to overlook the details, but there are special staff members whose job it is to make sure that even the tiniest detail isn’t overlooked. In the photo below, the miniature wires that will hold artifacts are being painted the exact same color as the objects they’ll hold. That way when you’re looking in the case, you won’t even notice that they’re there.

IIIThese details are what make an exhibition great!

On the tech side of things, members of the IT staff have had their work cut out for them. Throughout the exhibition, there are screens which show high quality images of certain special artifacts. These screens are not just there for decoration. Sometimes, the photos on the screen allow us to see an artifact eve better than we can see by just looking at the object itself! Here you can see an image and date being tested on one of the many screens.

IVI wonder what happens in 1841!

From the photos, you can see that it’s almost time to place the objects. But where do they come from? In some exhibits, artifacts and artworks are sent from other museums and collections. In others, artifacts and artworks are taken out from the museum’s own storage. For Holiday Express, the New-York Historical Society is putting on display objects from its newly acquired Jerni Collection – a treasure trove of historic toy trains and so much more!

VWhat could be in these? They look big!

In the boxes shown above are the artifacts that will be going in the Holiday Express exhibition. And these aren’t just any old boxes – they are museum boxes. Museums have old, fragile, and sensitive materials in their collections. Therefore, their boxes and crates are often custom made to make sure that nothing gets bumped, broken, or damaged. Some boxes used to transport artifacts are even climate controlled! This is to make sure that moisture and hot or cold temperatures don’t affect their fragile cargo, even if they have to travel far distances on trucks or planes.

A peak at the completed winter wonderland (credit: Jon Wallen)

So many people and things go into making an amazing exhibition and Holiday Express is no exception. Now that you’ve seen what it looked like during the installation, stop by the Museum to check out the finished result. Be sure to join us for our Historic Train Weekend, happening from December 13th-14th!



This is a clubhouse blog for kids who love history! It is created by the staff of the DiMenna Children’s History Museum and New-York Historical Society.

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