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Archive for November 5th, 2010

The Chumleys

While researching various speakeasies throughout Greenwich Village I realized that many of the owners were very colorful characters. One of the most interesting speakeasy owners is Leland Stanford Chumley. Leland, or “Lee,” as people called him was a man of many trades. The New York Times stated that he was a “Laborer, stage-coach driver, artist, waiter, newspaper cartoonist and editorial writer.” Lee was also an active member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). One of his pamphlets written for the IWW,  titled “Hotel, restaurant and domestic workers,” can be found in Tamiment Library.

It is believed that Lee purchased property on 86 Bedford St, once a blacksmith shop, in 1926 to use it as a place for IWW meetings. Eventually though, Lee used this property to open up a speakeasy known as Chumley’s. In order to subvert the authorities, Chumley’s was equipped with hidden passages, multiple exits and a door disguised as a bookcase.

Chumley’s is perhaps most famous for its clientele though. This speakeasy became a literary hot spot. E. E Cummings, William Faulkner, Eugene O’Neill and F. Scott Fitzgerald to name a few, used to frequent the place . The dust jackets from their books hang on the wall. Chumley’s is even considered a literary landmark.

One of the more scandalous aspects of Lee’s life concerns his wife, Henrietta. Apparently, nobody knew that Lee was married, nor did she know that he owned Chumley’s until 1935 when he passed away from a heart attack. Lee was known as a swinging bachelor, so people were shocked to find out that Henrietta existed. Even more shocking was Henrietta’s inheritance of the bar. Following his death she owned the bar and ran it from 1935, until her death in 1960. People claim that Henrietta used to sit at a table drinking Manhattan’s all night until she passed out. Apparently one night people found her dead in her chair. It is rumored that her ghost haunts Chumley’s and because of this it is considered one of the most haunted places in New York City.

Chumleys is undergoing renovation at the moment, but should reopen in 2011. .

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Remembering Stonewall is the first documentary about the 1969 riots that began at the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village gay bar.  Produced for NPR in 1989, this radio program features the oral histories of participants in the conflict and other who were affected by it.  David Isay, the reporter, give some background information, but mostly the voices of the informants guide the narrative.  I like that the piece doesn’t treat Stonewall as an isolated incident; it situates the event within a historical and social context.  The background noise that is meant to reconstruct the atmosphere f a riot–breaking bottles, shouting, whistles–is a little silly, but isn’t overly distracting from the content of the interviews.

The website features both audio and a transcript.  This is very important for oral histories (although it could be argued that this is more of a radio documentary than strictly an oral history) because the content of the interviews is searchable, but you also get the benefit of hearing the informants’ voices.  Hearing someone’s voice break when she describes the way her fellow lesbians were treated by the NYPD is much more powerful than just reading the words.  I would’ve liked to have access to the full interviews with each person, but this is not a scholarly oral history archive.  As it is, Remembering Stonewall is a wonderful resource for understanding a recent historical moment.

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Ruth Sergel, the Triangle Fire Coalition’s director, was speaking about the 100th Commemoration in March of 2011 and mentioned a performance piece that was going to be conducted by Lulu Lolo; a name I was under the impression I should know, but had never heard of. Curiously I did some research and discovered an artist with a dynamic personality, an extremely diversified resume, and a combined passion for her Italian heritage and for history.

Lolo is a self-declared playwright, actor, performance artist and traditional artist working in installation, sculpture, photography, and collage. One of her most successful performance pieces has been her “14th Street NewsBoy”, inspired by the newsboys of the 1900s who sold their papers on the street. One day a week for four weeks in October of 2009, LoLo stood outside in newsboy garb with 350 copies of “The Fourteenth Street Tribune, Art in Odd Places Edition”, which LoLo wrote. The paper features the “famous, notorious, and tumultuous events of the history of 14th Street”.

Lolo has also written and performed six one-person plays, which includes Soliloquy for a Seamstress: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, a tragedy that happened in Washington Square Park nearly a century ago. Lolo deems herself passionate about social justice and the struggle of women in New York. Performing about the Triangle Fire was a combination of these artistic influences and her love for her own Italian heritage; many of the Triangle Fire victims were also Italian.

Soliloquy for a Seamstress: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire is a drama in which Lo Lo plays three characters, a teenage seamstress at the Triangle, Sara Saracino, who dreams of a better life, an Italian immigrant mother and the young reporter William Gunn Shepard whose career will be made on the reporting he did on the day of the Triangle Fire. It has been performed most notably at the Teaching the Triangle Factory Fire Forum at Adelphi University and on the 99th Anniversary of the Fire commemoration ceremonies at Judson Church. She will perform at the Commemoration events this year, but you’ll have to attend to see what the Fabulous Lulu Lolo will do.

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Jason Scott Smith’s article, “The Strange History of the Decade: Modernity, Nostalgia, and the Perils of Periodization” provoked me to ask myself some new, tough questions about how I understand my research. As a historian, I’ve been trained to spot issues of reliability, objectivity and authentication, but never have I really questioned our very structuring of time. In fact, I’ve even found it convenient to be able to refer to entire years of human experience through numbers. But Scott argues how historians’ reliance on compounding individual dates into “meaningful” decades needs to be problematized. By showing how universal time in the United States was largely a product of the country’s rapid industrialization in the nineteenth-century, Scott suggests how arbitrary our conception of time is. It is critical to acknowledge that Scott doesn’t advocate the abandonment of timeframes, but rather asks for historians to be conscious of their true complexities, “scholars must eschew the convenience –and more importantly, the intellectual implications– of the decade and define carefully the periodization boundaries of their research projects” (278). Who knows what new issues, themes, and continuities can be discovered once historians break free from the limitations of the all-encompassing decade model.

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Securing rights

My digital archive & exhibit are about the Chico Mendez Mural Garden which was located on the Lower East Side from 1992 – 1997. The collection I’m getting material from is from the Fales Library & Special Collection.

Appears courtesy of Finetooth.

Because the collection is so recent, being in touch with the rights holder has been a valuable source of information. I am sure it isn’t like this in all cases, but it seems like promoting the information contained in a collection probably excites the donors of that collection.  After all, that was probably their intention in donating a collection to an archive in the first place, for users! Anyway, my contact with the rights holder has been very positive. He’s suggested the names and contact information for other people who may have resources I’d like to use, invited me to participate in community events regarding garden activism, wants to link our site to his site, and pointed me in the direction of other web resources to use as well.  This information really enriches my research.  Not just that but I feel I could contact him with questions about the collection and the events it records.  I am categorizing this post as how-to because it is definitely a great way to extend your research possibilities.

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