History Detectives

Blast from the Past: Tiny Incubator Babies: The Coney Island Attraction

Like many children growing up in busy families, sometimes I had to go into work with my dad. I loved it! My dad worked in a big city hospital and when we got there, he would guide me through the labyrinth of hallways to the neonatal intensive care unit where he parked me in front of a big window while he went off to do his work.

I pressed my nose to the glass and didn’t take my eyes off the nurses caring for the tiny babies, born too small, inside their incubators. “Tiny” is an understatement…these babies easily fit into the hands of the caregivers as they were gently monitored, cleaned and massaged. I learned from my father that the neonatal intensive care unit at his hospital was one of the very best in the country and that these babies did very well because of the incubator technology that was there.

But incubators are relatively new in the world of medicine. A basic warming incubator was developed in France in the 1880s, but it took a much more entrepreneurial mind to develop the incubator into something that would not only warm the babies but help their premature lungs develop.

This person was Dr. Martin Couney. He worked with doctors in Europe and brought this new technology over to America. But it wasn’t that simple. At the time, most babies were born at home and so hospitals did not want or need the expensive equipment. So, like in Europe, Dr. Couney began to set up incubator “shows” in places like the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 in Buffalo, NY. He was reluctant to charge fees for people to come “watch” the premature babies, but he had no choice.                                                                                                                                  

Eventually Dr. Couney set up permanent incubator exhibits at Coney Island, one at Luna Park from 1903 to 1943 and the other at Dreamland from 1904 until the fire of 1911 (all the babies were rescued). He rationalized the public nature of these exhibits by being able to prove to a dubious public that this new technology actually worked, by being able to continue to afford the staff and machinery through ticket sales, and most importantly, by being able to save the lives of more than 6,500 of the 8,000 babies that stayed there as premature infants. He even cared for his own daughter who had been born weighing only three pounds! (She later worked as one of the baby attendants.) None of the parents of the babies were ever charged for this care — most would not have been able to afford it and so were extremely grateful.


Infant Incubators at Coney Island, New-York Historical Society

In a New York Times article on August 1, 1904, it was reported that a reunion of babies who were “graduates” of Dr. Couney’s incubator exhibits was held at Dreamland, Coney Island. Dr. Couney was very interested to see how the children were doing. The reporter writes, “It would be hard to find a finer set of infants anywhere than those which cooed in their mothers’ arms while their photographs were being taken yesterday afternoon, or a more satisfied set of paters and maters.”


Incubator babies at Coney Island, New-York Historical Society

After 40 years, Dr. Couney finally shut down the incubator exhibits, citing the expense of maintaining the high cost. But he said that his goal had been reached — to convince doctors, hospitals and the public that the use of incubators for premature infants is an invaluable technology. By the time he retired, many hospitals around the country had created neonatal units using his incubator technology.

I was not born prematurely, but one of my daughters was, and she spent some time in one of the modern incubators, thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of people like Dr. Couney and his caring staff.


Luna Park, 1911, New-York Historical Society




“The Incubator and the Medical Discovery of the Premature Infant,” Jeffrey P. Baker, MD, PhD, Journal of Perinatology 2000; 5:321-328, © Nature America Inc.

“Incubator Graduates Hold a Reunion: Forty Healthy Babies Meet at Coney Island,” The New York Times, August 1, 1904.


Celebrating Independence Day and Madeline at the New-York Historical Society

Earlier this month, on the 4th of July, the New-York Historical Society threw a supersized family day to celebrate both Independence Day and the opening of our special exhibition Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans.  And, the photos are finally in – check them out below!

That day, we made tricorner hats…


performed with the Hudson River Ramblers…


created our own silly Madeline stories…


got Madeline tattoos…


made Madeline, Pepito, and Genevieve finger puppets…


built the Eiffel Tower…


and even met Madeline!


If you missed all the excitement on the 4th of July and love Madeline, no need to worry. Join us on Sundays at 11:30 a.m. for Story Time – we’ll be reading Madeline books all summer long!

Step By Step: Make Your Own Madeline Hat!

Here at Little New-Yorkers, July marks Madeline month. So far we’ve been introduced to the wonderful fearsome character and her nemesis Pepito. We have many exciting craft projects based on the illustrations in the book to create, including the wonderful iconic yellow hat complete with black ribbon. Last week we read Madeline and the Bad Hat, and took our inspiration from the books’ title to create a hat craft project. It was really important that children be able to wear the hat, quite tricky when dealing with paper! However with a little cunning we came up with this template that can be adapted to create any number of hat accessories for the future.

You will need:

  • 2 Sheets yellow construction paper 12”x18”
  • Scissors
  • Stapler
  • Black ribbon
  • Glue stick
  • Pencil

What you'll need



Here’s how to make the hat:

1. Take one sheet of construction paper and cut into long strips. Do this along the longest side of the paper.
2. Take the second sheet and fold it in half lengthways.
3.  Use a pencil to draw the template below along the folded edge.
Image 3
4. You should have one semi-circle along the bottom and two curves along the edges. It should look like the picture above.

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5. Cut this out so that you end up with an arch shape.

Image 6
6. Then along the inner circle cut slits into the paper.

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7. Open it up, and gently fold back the slits. This will be the brim of your hat.

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8. Meanwhile take two strips of cardstock and measure it on your child’s head to create a band. A loser fit is better. Staple it into place.

Image 9
9. Place the band over the hole in the in the brim of the hat. All of the slits should sit nicely within your band.

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10. Without forcing the shape of the band, fold back the strips and staple them into place. The trick is to keep the circular shape.

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11. Take the ribbon and tie onto the hat with the bow falling at the back.

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12. For extra shape cut a strip on either side of your hat.

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13. Apply a bit of glue to the edge.

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14. Pull the paper over and place onto the glue. This will cause the hat to tilt up slightly creating more of a bowler hat look.



Example 2

Example 1

Walter Dean Myers’ Legacy

Image courtesy of walterdeanmyers.net

Image courtesy of walterdeanmyers.net

In August, 2012, our Reading into History family book club read Walter Dean Myers’ Harlem Summer. At the time, Mr. Myers was serving as national ambassador for young people’s literature, and he was kind enough to appear here at the DiMenna Children’s History Museum at a meeting to discuss his book. Now, we are deeply saddened by his passing and want to take a moment to reflect on his legacy as an author who not only wrote beautiful, complicated, imaginative books for young people, but also added unmeasurable value to our society by telling stories that rarely get told.

Walter Dean Myers touched our community of family readers briefly, but powerfully.  During his visit, Mr. Myers not only answered questions, but asked participants questions in return. He also talked about his mission to represent the lives of African American youth in literature. In his New York Times Sunday Review essay “Where are the People of Color in Children’s Books?”  that ran this past March, Mr. Myers called attention to the shameful reality that of the 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, only 93 prominently featured a black main or supporting character. That figure is shameful because while African Americans make up roughly 13.1% of the US population (US Census Bureau, 2012), they only make up 2.9% of the featured characters in children’s books. Mr. Myers dedicated his writing career to changing this. Here’s why he did so, in his own words, from his New York Times essay:

TODAY I am a writer, but I also see myself as something of a landscape artist. I paint pictures of scenes for inner-city youth that are familiar, and I people the scenes with brothers and aunts and friends they all have met. Thousands of young people have come to me saying that they love my books for some reason or the other…They have been struck by the recognition of themselves in the story, a validation of their existence as human beings, an acknowledgment of their value by someone who understands who they are.

WDM_IMG_1265-1024x682We honor Walter Dean Myers’ commitment to validating the existences of kids like Mark Purvis, the main character in Harlem Summer, who  in the beginning of the novel ponders his neighbor’s claim that “some folks were upper-crust, and some were plain old crumbs. I was more crumby than crusty.” Mr. Myers’ stories chip away at the “crumby” feeling too many children of color have. Here at the New-York Historical Society and DiMenna Children’s History Museum, we hope to be a part of carrying on his legacy by reading books about, as Mr. Myers put it “the mosaic” of American experiences, offering all children a chance to see their lives validated in literature.

In preparation for his visit with our book club, Mr. Myers answered some interview questions about his life and Harlem Summer. We are reprinting the interview here to pay tribute to a remarkable man and a remarkable life. Our hearts go out to Mr. Myers’ family and friends, and we hope it gives them comfort to know that we are a small part of the mosaic of lives he impacted.

DiMenna Children’s History Museum: What were you like between the ages of 9 and 12?HarlemSummer

Walter Dean Myers: I was a confident, but aggressive, kid, from the age of nine to my twelfth birthday.   My uncle, who had finally been released from jail after being there some seventeen years or so, was murdered on my birthday.   This started a downward spiral for my family which would involve alcoholism and a major depression.

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

WDM: The period right after the Revolutionary War when the young nation was trying to find its path through the intellectual concepts it wanted to embrace and the pragmatic needs of its diverse citizenry is my favorite time period.  How elevated the tone of those conversations, many mirrored in the Federalist Papers, must have been!

DCHM: What is the coolest thing you’ve ever seen at the New-York Historical Society?

WDM: What always interests me at the N-YHS are the everyday artifacts of ordinary lives.  I’ve always wanted to think of the past as vaguely esoteric, but these people, solders, patriots, house wives, workers, also had to manage the tasks of day to day living.  Tres cool.

DCHM: What is your favorite place in New York City? Why?

WDM: Harlem, of course, was my childhood home.  But it also represents a growing New York as it extended the idea of ‘uptown’ and represented a style, and a cultural concept that promoted growth.

DCHM: What made you want to write Harlem Summer?

WDM: Langston Hughes did readings at my church when I was a child, and promoted my writing when I was a young struggling artist.   I was published early on in The Crisis, the magazine started by DuBois.  My parents went to rent parties at which Fats Waller played. How could I not write Harlem Summer?

DCHM: What 3 words best describe Harlem Summer?

WDM: Truth. Legend. Fun.

Little New-Yorkers Explore Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans

Our recent adventures in our Little New-Yorkers program has seen us experimenting with the format quite a bit. We’ve continued our foray into the galleries and have now got into a regular routine, exploring as much as possible.

Feedback from parents suggested that they particularly wanted to explore our new temporary exhibitions. This was a fantastic idea, allowing for our Little New-Yorkers to be introduced to the history of the city through themes set out in the exhibitions. We’ve also been experimenting with themed months. This has allowed our regular visitors to interact with the program on a deeper level while not alienating our newcomers.

In July, we’re bringing these two ideas together and delivering a Madeline-themed month in celebration of our new exhibition Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans, which opens on Friday July 4th. With so many wonderful books in this series, we couldn’t possibly chose just one and so decided to take the whole month to fully explore the character.

So who is Madeline? These rhyming books will introduce us to little a girl who goes to a Catholic boarding school in Paris. With each adventure we will find out more about this brave little girl, her many traits and all her friends.

Families will have ample opportunities to fully immerse themselves into Madeline’s world. The exhibition will be full of family-friendly activities including a reading space within the gallery to sit and browse through the iconic books.

For deeper exploration of the exhibition a wonderful family audio guide will be on offer, narrated by Broadway actor Terrence Mann. The audio guide will take children through the exhibits encouraging close observation and aiding in the discovery of other characters such as Madeline’s friend Pepito and Noodle the dog.

And the programs do not stop there. Families will be able to sample European-style dining complete with teas and crumpets with our Madeline Tea Parties.  These events are available on Wednesday afternoons during July, August and September.

In our Little New-Yorkers program each week we will read a different Madeline book and create a Madeline-inspired craft project. There will be an element of surprise in the program, only revealing our craft projects after we’ve finished reading the book. Our participants love trying to guess what they’ll be from the clues in the stories.

While I really don’t want to give away the surprise, I have included a few sneaky pictures for you to enjoy. Can you figure out what we’ll be making?

1 2 3

Waffles in the City

I just texted my teenagers to send me their photos of the waffles they’ve eaten — a strange request, but within minutes I got these:


Even today, in the modern world of cooking shows, celebrity chefs, and international foods on every block, the waffle remains such a delight that people feel the need to document them on their phones.

Where did this waffle craze come from?

The early Dutch residents in New York made similar treats using irons like these, called wafer irons. These were thin and crispy and served beautifully rolled up.

Wafer iron, ca. 1720-1820

Wafer iron, ca. 1720-1820, from the Folk Art Collection of Elie Nadelman, New-York Historical Society.

But the waffles we gobble up from the street carts today are deliciously thick, with a slight crunch on the outside, served with all kinds of yummy toppings. When did they become so popular?

The answer is 50 years ago, right here at the 1964 New York World’s Fair in Queens! Part of the World’s Fair was dedicated to showing visitors different cultures. It was in Belgian Village that Maurice and Rose Vermersch and their daughter MariePaule set up one of their waffle stands. They called their product “Brussels waffles” until realizing that people didn’t know Brussels as the capital of Belgium…so they changed the name to “Bel-Gem” waffles, which quickly became “Belgian waffles” to the world.

1964-1965 World’s Fair, New York, N.Y. Belgian Village

1964-1965 World’s Fair, New York, N.Y. Belgian Village, New-York Historical Society

The Vermersch family served more than 2,500 waffles each day, topped with whipped cream, powdered sugar and sliced strawberries. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the World’s Fair here in New York so there are many people reminiscing about their experience at the fair. Plenty recall eating the amazing waffles!

“There was absolutely no polite way to eat it,” said Richard Post, 54, of Lawrence, L.I., who organizes World’s Fair conventions. “If you bit into it, you’d be wiping cream out of your nose.”

October 1964 photo provided by worldsfairphotos.com, four girls eat Belgian Waffles on the Grounds of the World’s Fair

In this October 1964 photo provided by worldsfairphotos.com, four girls eat Belgian Waffles on the Grounds of the World’s Fair in the Queens Borough of New York. (AP Photo/Bill Cotter)

If you visit us at the New-York Historical Society this summer, stop by the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library on the second floor to see It’s a Small World’ of Tomorrow: Remembering the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. This small case of memorabilia will be on exhibit through the summer from Tuesday through Friday until 3 pm.

Oh! And in case you want to make these at home…here’s the original recipe thanks to some sleuthing by Queens Tribune reporter William Brent.

Belgian waffle recipe

Information gathered from www.bigstory.ap.org and www.worldsfaircommunity.org.

Adults Playing Dress-Up – Bill Cunningham: Facades

So, you think kids are the only ones allowed to play dress-up? Renowned fashion photographer Bill Cunningham would disagree. The exhibition Bill Cunningham: Facades , currently on view at the New-York Historical Society through June 15, showcases a stunning series of photographs taken by Cunningham of models in period costumes all around New York City.

To dress his models, Cunningham shopped flea markets, thrift stores, and auction houses and collected over five hundred different outfits. The dream dress-up wardrobe he curated was then put to good use. Over the course of eight years (1968-1976), he photographed models in a variety of historic fashions in more than two thousand New York City locations.

His favorite model, muse really, was his good friend and fellow photographer Editta Sherman. She’s featured in the photographs below.

Blog photo 1

Grand Central Terminal, New York City by Bill Cunningham, ca. 1968-1976, New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bill Cunningham

(Do you recognize the building in the background?)

Blog Photo 2

Editta Sherman on the Subway by Bill Cunningham, ca. 1968-1976, New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bill Cunningham

(Do you often see ladies dressed like this riding with you on the train?)

Apart from being a diverting project – filled with friends, dress-up, and jaunts throughout the city – Cunningham’s photographic essay (eventually entitled Facades) played an important role in documenting the architecture and fashion history of New York City. During a time of great change in the urban landscape, Cunningham’s photographs captured not only the distant past (which his models’ costumes evoked), but also the historical perspective of the time in which they were taken.

If history told through the art of photography is something you’d like to learn more about (and you are a rising 4th-8th grader), join us for Camp History in August! This year we’ll be exploring the Civil War and campers will get the chance to pose for their very own authentic, tin-type photo!

N-YHS Children’s History Book Prize Winner – The Lions of Little Rock!

K Levine Author Photo

Kristin Levine

Congratulations to the winner of our first annual Children’s History Book Prize, Kristin Levine! Last year we dug into middle-reader history books from 2012 – both non-fiction and fiction. The DiMenna Children’s History Museum staff read dozens and dozens of terrific books, and then we shared four finalists with our book prize jury. This jury was made up historians, librarians, educators, and families from our Reading into History book club. It was important to us to have kids on the jury who were middle readers themselves! Through our conversation a winner emerged, and we were thrilled to award Kristin Levine’s The Lions of Little Rock the prize.

The Lions of Little Rock, Kristin Levine’s second book, tells the story of two 12-year-old girls—one black and one white—who form an unbreakable bond during the tumultuous integration of Little Rock schools in 1958, and face dangers their friendship could bring to both their families. The girls attend a junior high school in the same district as the Little Rock Nine—a group of African-American students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957, who were initially prevented from entering the racially-segregated school by the Governor of Arkansas. They were able to attend only after President Eisenhower intervened.

penguin02Kristin Levine will join us June 1 for our Reading into History book club, and in the meanwhile we asked her questions about her inspiration for the book, the time period, and about her own favorite books.

What made you want to write The Lions of Little Rock?

When I was in elementary school in the early 1980s, my mainly white neighborhood was paired with a mainly black neighborhood to create two integrated elementary schools, one for grades K-3 and the other for grades 4-6. When I asked my parents why I had to ride the bus to school, instead of just going to the school nearest my house, they told me it was a great opportunity for me to go to school with people who were different from me, by race, social class, religion, etc. They said it was only fair that the busing be shared by both neighborhoods. Their enthusiasm for the pairing of our schools made a huge impression on me.

Because of my personal experience with integration, 1957-1958 Little Rock and the integration of Central High School by the Little Rock Nine seemed like an obvious choice of time and place for my second book. But when I went to Little Rock to do some interviews, I was fascinated by people’s descriptions of 1958-1959, the “lost year,” when public high schools in the city were closed to prevent integration. I was shocked to discover that this had happened in my home state of Virginia as well. Eventually, I decided that rather than revisit the events of 1957-1958 (which have already been written about by those who were there) I would turn my attention to what happened in Little Rock the year after Central High School was integrated.

Can you share a primary source – a photograph or newspaper clipping, etc – that was helpful to you in understanding of the time and place Marlee and Liz live in?

The films of Sandra Hubbard (The Lost Year: The Untold Story of the Year Following the Crisis at Central High School and The Giants Wore White Gloves: The Women’s Emergency Committee to Open our Schools) were really instrumental in giving me a flavor of the era. Warriors Don’t Cry, Melba Pattillo Beals’ account of integrating Central High School, was also a major influence. Finally, I always thought this picture was so interesting. From the boys giving to the thumbs down, to the fact that the sign is really misleading (the federal government was ordering the schools to integrate, not close) to the misspelling of “government,” I felt that this photo really illustrates how history is complicated and full of complex and interesting people.

school closed sign 1958What is your favorite time period in American history? Why?

I’m not sure I have a favorite time period. I love to learn my history through the eyes of individual people, rather than memorize dates and events. In high school, I do remember being fascinated with Ken Burns’ Civil War series because I felt it did a great job of making huge, sweeping events, feel intimate, personal and relevant.

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

Books were HUGELY importantly to be between the ages of 9 and 12. Here’s an example:

When I was eleven years old and in 5th grade, I was having a hard year. I’m not sure exactly why – changing friends, puberty, feeling like I didn’t fit in, etc. At one point during that year I read Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain series (The Book of ThreeThe Black CauldronThe Castle of LlyrTaran WandererThe High King) and I loved them so much, I started carrying around all five of them in a bag with me at all times, just in case I wanted to read part of them again.

It sounds like this would have caused me to be even weirder and more isolated, but it actually had the opposite effect. I started loaning out my books, and pretty soon, everyone in the 5th grade was reading them. Eventually, even the cutest, most popular boy in school came up to me and asked to borrow the first book in the series! So those books have always maintained a special place in my heart.

What were some of your favorite books to read at that age?

In addition to Lloyd Alexander, I also loved Robin McKinkey’s books The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword. As a child I also enjoyed books like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor and The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. In 9th grade I loved long, historical novels like Shogan by James Clavell. More recently, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis is one of my all-time favorites.

Thanks, Kristin!

Families, read The Lions of Little Rock and join us for Reading into History book club with Kristin on Sunday, June 1!

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.

Happy 150th Birthday, Nellie Bly! Celebrating This Courageous Journalist, Feminist, Traveler and Fighter for Justice

One hundred and fifty years ago today, in the western town of Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania, the thirteenth child of Judge Michael Cochran was born. Her given name was Elizabeth Jane.

Nelly Bly [Library of Congress]

Nelly Bly [Library of Congress]

All the other mothers in Cochran’s Mills had the habit of dressing their daughters in muted brown and gray fabrics…but not Mary Jane Cochran. She dressed her daughter in starched pink and white frilly dresses with white stockings (not the usual black). People called the girl Pink for the way she stood out from the crowd of other children.

This little girl would stand out from the crowd for the rest of her life. She began using the name Nellie Bly in 1885 after earning herself a position as a reporter for the Pittsburg Dispatch. She was hired there as a result of a feisty letter and a couple of columns she wrote arguing for women’s rights.

In 1887, Nellie Bly wanted more. The note she left behind in Pittsburgh said this: “I am off for New York. Look out for me. Bly.”

She had her sights set on The World, which had earned a reputation for being the most successful paper in the country under the leadership of Joseph Pulitzer, who had purchased it four years earlier.

Her first bit of investigative reporting for The World took her inside Blackwell’s Island as a patient of a women’s insane asylum. Her stories from the time spent there as an inmate revealed the abuses inflicted on the patients and resulted in further investigation and changes in hospital staff and policy.

Nellie Bly’s reporting also promoted the idea that women could do more than write for the society pages at newspapers – women could produce hard-hitting, daring investigative pieces just like men.

The story Nellie Bly is perhaps most famous for, and one of the few that did not unveil some sort of social injustice, was her trip around the world. Her idea was to match the fictional trip by Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. The trip was eventful (and deserving of another blog post soon!) and successful! She arrived back in New York City on the 73rd day to cheering crowds. Nellie Bly was a hero in 1890…everyone wanted to read about her and her trip. There was even a board game inspired by her adventure.

nelly bly

Round the World with Nellie Bly, 1890, McLoughlin Brothers, The Liman Collection at the New-York Historical Society.

nelly game

Nellie’s newfound fame did not deter her fight for the rights of the poor, the abused, and the disadvantaged in New York and elsewhere. She would continue to report on social issues, writing more than 600 newspaper and magazine articles during her lifetime.

We are proud to call Nellie Bly a true New York hero.

Here at the DiMenna Children’s History Museum we display the game of Round the World, stock some Nellie Bly children’s books in our library and even created a Nellie Bly birthday party!

Stay tuned for Part II of the Nellie Bly series when Nellie meets an odd, new friend in Singapore…


Bibliography: Kroeger, Brooke, Nellie Bly, 1994, Random House, Inc., New York.

Reading into History: Interview with Phillip Hoose, Author of The Race to Save the Lord God Bird

Birds are everywhere at the New-York Historical Society right now! The second floor of our museum has been taken over by Part II of our tripartite series, Audubon’s Aviary, which features many of John James Audubon’s original watercolors for his revolutionary work, The Birds of America. This year, we are showing works that relate to the peak of Audubon’s career when he began to become concerned about disappearing wildlife and wanted to protect it. Today, we call people like Audubon conservationists.

Credit line: Gordon Chibowski, Portland Newspapers

Gordon Chibowski, Portland Newspapers

Audubon wouldn’t have used the word “conservationist” to describe himself because this word, this idea, did not exist when he was alive (1785-1851). Most Americans in Audubon’s time thought that plant and animal life in this country was so abundant no species could ever disappear; however, through his work, Audubon witnessed habitats being destroyed and shrinking bird populations. He saw the future, and it did not look promising.

To honor Audubon’s work and insight, the Reading into History Family Book Club here at the DiMenna Children’s History Museum has been reading Phillip Hoose’s multi-award-winning book The Race to Save The Lord God Bird this month. This amazing book is about the 200-year struggle to save the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (nicknamed the Lord God Bird) from extinction. Audubon painted this marvelous bird and was an early advocate for its preservation. When the book club meets on Sunday, May 4, Phillip Hoose will join us to discuss the book, and we’ll all visit the exhibition to see a couple of other birds Audubon painted that are now extinct.

lord god bird cover

The image of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker on the cover of the book comes from a painting Audubon made of a family of these birds.

To get everyone in the mood for this exciting family program, we interviewed Phillip Hoose about his life and this book. Check out what he has to say:


DiMenna Children’s History Museum: What is your favorite time period in American history? 

Phillip Hoose: The 20th Century. Why?  I suppose because I’ve been alive to participate in much of it.   I’m familiar with the century’s great struggles.  I remember, for example, that Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring focused on the struggle to halt the loss of species.  I had never really thought about this before reading that book.

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

PH: Private. I lived in my head. I was mouthy enough, but it was all a smokescreen to keep people from penetrating my defenses.

DCHM: What is your favorite place in New York City?

PH: The big sunny upstairs gallery at the NYC Art Students League, on 57th. Why?  I love the feel of the room, its creaky wooden floor (when you’re trying to be quiet) and the chance to see dozens of bright paintings done by art students.  Sometimes six different students will paint one model, which tells you more about the students than the model.

DCHM: What made you want to write The Race to Save the Lord God Bird?  

PH: I worked for The Nature Conservancy, an organization that saves species by protecting habitats.  I wanted to write about my work through the story of a single creature’s struggle to survive—and of efforts by humans to save it.

DCHM: What three words best describe The Race to Save the Lord God Bird

PH: Surprising, frustrating, inspiring.

Do you have your own questions for Phillip Hoose? Come ask them on Sunday May 4 at 3 pm (and get your book signed!). This book club meeting, like all the rest, is free with museum admission and is recommended for families with children ages 9-12.  See you this Sunday!

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.


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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