ANNE KENNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Anne Kenney, the Karl A. Kroch University librarian, and it's a pleasure to welcome many of you back on campus. Before I begin the my introductory remarks, I'm to remind you to silence your cell phones and to note where your nearest exit is. So in case you've somehow missed it, Cornell is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year-- that's the 150th.
And we have an exhibit called 150 Ways to Say Cornell, which tells the story of our university through a series of objects. I hope you'll be able to join us after the talk for a reception and a tour of the exhibit. We're displaying a fantastic array of objects and memorabilia, photographs, posters, buttons, letters, class rings, beanies, even a piece of the first insulated electric light cable laid on campus.
And we have great sports paraphernalia as well, including a megaphone used to cheer Cornell to victory in the 1897 regatta. And the ball that David Fletcher Hoy threw out as the inaugural pitch at Hoy Field in 1922. He may be familiar to you from the fight song, Give My Regards to Davy. We also have on display Samuel Morse's 1884 telegraph receiver.
This was the telegraph receiver that received the first telegraph message sent by Samuel Morse-- the "what hath God wrought" message. Ezra Cornell helped to develop the telegraph along with Hiram Sibley, one of Cornell's original trustees and early benefactors. And to book end it, we have and 3D printed version of the receiver created by the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in 2009. And it works.
During the reception this afternoon-- I think around six o'clock-- engineering professor cliff Pollock will demonstrate how the original telegraph receiver works. I'm even wearing a historical object here. How many of you had a class blazer? Very good-- how many of you still have your class blazer?
Excellent-- well, we have about a dozen of them in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. This one belonged to Claire [? Widemire, ?] class of '60. So she would be celebrating her 55th anniversary this year reunion. How do I know this? Well, she sold her name in the back of the jacket.
Claire grew up in a small town, Watertown, Connecticut. And she says that some of the New York girls in her dorm seemed impossibly cosmopolitan, but she made lifelong friendships here, and after graduation, went on to medical school. And she now lives Encinitas, California. It's not hard to imagine that back in the late 1950s when Claire was a student, this expensive blazer must have felt like an equalizer.
The country kids, the city kids, they all were wearing matching outfits. Such blazers are proudly on display in dozens of photographs in the yearbooks through the 1950s and 1960s. And speaking of the Cornelians, you're welcome to page through them when you come down to see the exhibit and the reception. We have yearbooks dating back to the 1880s.
Looking through them, you can see that by the early 1970s-- just a decade after Claire graduated-- there isn't a blazer to be found. Instead, it was polyester leisure suits, bell bottoms, and peasant blouses for miles. I suspect a few of you may have owned bell bottoms. I know I did.
This blazer, along with those bell bottoms and the objects in the exhibit, offer a window into Cornell's history. As we advance farther and farther into the virtual age, archivists have the unique and daunting challenge of capturing these kinds of archetypes. For example, we recently celebrated the millionth paper uploaded to Archive, our online repository that allows scientists to share their research before it's formally published. It began in 1991.
The library provides stewardship for Archive. And it's been a game changer in physics, mathematics, and more. It has revolutionized the way researchers interact with each other and get the most up to date information. So how do we capture other digital milestones and the essence of their importance? They can't be wrapped up in an object.
The whole point is that they are trenchant and ephemeral. I'm going to leave the specifics of how to do that to our capable archivists, but I find it inspiring that we can go from dealing with blazers to dealing with bits and bytes and back again. We recognize the importance of both the concrete and the fleeting. And we can work with that duality. Before I wrap up and introduce our speaker, I'd like to acknowledge and thank Elaine Engst, our university archivist, who is retiring.
Elaine is retiring July 1. I would also like to announce the well-deserved promotion of Evan Earle, who will assume her role as the Dr. Peter J. Thaler class of '56 Cornell University archivist. We want to thank the Thalers, who are underwriting the university archivist position, as well as the [? Milmans, ?] who have provided funding Elaine's work here. The Thaler gift has been given in recognition of Elaine's truly extraordinary career at Cornell.
She joined the library in 1979, barely out of grade school, serving in multiple positions until becoming the director of the Division of Rare and Manuscript collections. For the past, 18 months or so she has spearheaded our efforts around the sesquicentennial, and she's been instrumental in almost everything that happens in the division for the past 36 years. Elaine helped shape the archival vision for this institution and was among the very early pioneers introducing automation into archives. You remember SPINDEX I and II. And I will miss her counsel tremendously.
Finally, it's my pleasure to introduce Sam Roberts, class of 1968, who recently wrote a fascinating book, A History of New York in 101 Objects, which was featured in the alumni magazine last fall. A Cornellian who received his bachelor's degree in government, Sam was managing editor of the Cornell Daily Sun and worked as a stringer for the Times, the Associated Press, and Time, Inc.
Since 2005, he has been the New York Times urban affairs correspondent and before that was deputy editor of the New York Times Week in Review section, and urban affairs columnist, writing the column Metro Matters. He serves as the host of the New York Times Close Up, an hour-long weekly news and interview program on cable channel, which he inaugurated in 1992.
He's won numerous awards, including the New York Press Award and the Peter Kihss Award, and his articles have appeared in many, many publications. And he's the author or editor of nine books, including the edition of The Brother: The Untold Story of the Rosenberg atomic spy case, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
His new book, A History of New York in 101 Objects, explores the mysteries and hidden artifacts that define the city's amazing past. We'd expect, perhaps, the checkered cab or King Kong or the bagel, but a mastodon tusk? An artichoke? An elevator break? You'll have to read about them in the book.
In many ways, our exhibit echoes Sam's book, and I'm eager to hear what he has to say. And after his talk, I'd like to invite you over to Kroch Library to take a look at the exhibit and to join us at the reception. You can cross to Stimson Hall and into the library. We open up the elevator a couple of times a year, and this is one of those special days.
So please join me in welcoming Sam Roberts.
SAM ROBERTS: Thank you, Anne, and thank you, Elaine. And thanks to all of you for coming on such a beautiful day.
I would urge you to visit that exhibit. One of the things I noticed, when you look at the telegraph and you look at the accompanying document that Samuel Morse left for Ezra Cornell, you can see how texting started, because he gives the instructions of how to understand all those dots and dashes and that's what texting is all about.
Now, speaking of objects, can anyone identify that yellow orb in the sky that I saw this afternoon, which I don't think I ever saw in four years at Cornell? Of course, it was the sun.
A few years ago, after agreeing to write a book celebrating the centennial of Grand Central Terminal, I casually suggested a audacious, but catchy, subtitle, which was How a Train Station Transformed America, but almost immediately, I was struck by second thoughts.
Individuals events can shape history but could a single building? Well, luckily, in my research, I discovered that Grand Central's 100-year imprint on commerce, on culture, its pivotal role in urban development in codifying the landmarks law, air rights law, in shifting Manhattan's center of gravity from downtown to Midtown-- to its very doorstep-- validated the subtitle, after all.
But, OK, a building-- even a monumental one-- was one thing. Could a single object be transformative? And that question arose after the British Museum came out with its book A History of the World in 100 Objects. That inspired a spate of imitations on everything from birdwatching to cricket to the Beatles to Shakespeare, the Civil War. Religion in a modest 5 and 1/2 objects, believe it or not, the Civil War in 50 objects, Cornell, appropriately enough, in 150 for the sesquicentennial. The Smithsonian gamely professed that the history of America could be told in 101, and it's now produced a History of the World in 1,000 Objects.
The question was, do objects really make a difference? Well, think of the marks that objects have made. Think of the wheel, the crucifix, the credit card, the computer chip. Think of the impact that they have had on civilization. Richard Kurin, who is the editor of the Smithsonian's book, said, "Objects provide us with the means to reconsider our past in the light of what we value today."
Now, what about the objects in your own life? What was your Rosebud moment, if you will? Was it a favorite doll? Was it some childhood totem? Was it a game-winning college football? Beatles concert ticket stub? A fraternity pin from you-know-who? A grandchild's first tooth? Imagine having to choose a single object that defined your life. What was your Rosebud moment?
And what about Rosebud itself, from the film Citizen Kane? Well, I did some research into that. Forget the sled, Rosebud. I discovered that before Charles Foster Kane mumbled that enigmatic secret to Citizen Kane on his deathbed, the sled had actually mutated from a two-wheeler bicycle of the same name. It was stolen one day from outside a library where little Herman Mankiewicz had parked it. The bike was his Rosebud, his abiding heartbreak over the consequences of a juvenile indulgence. His punishment for leaving the bike unattended, so the story goes, his parents refused to buy him a new one. Mankiewicz, of course, was the screenwriter who wrote Citizen Kane with Orson Welles.
Now Kane's own metamorphic Rosebud moment was subliminal. "He was snatched from his mother's arms in his childhood," Orson Welles later wrote, "His parents were a bank." He was brought up by bankers. In his waking hours Kane had certainly forgotten the sled, the name that was painted on it, but in his subconscious it represented the simplicity, the comfort, the lack of responsibility in his home, and, above all, it stood for his mother's love.
Now, how as a filmmaker do you rekindle a dying man's subconscious, holding a snow globe on his death bed to conjure up a little boy's sled, last seen at the very beginning of the film? Well, Welles and Mankiewicz cast Citizen Kane as an incurable collector, a collector, a hoarder of objects. Objects of art, objects of sentiment, just plain objects. Objects, Welles said, that "represent the very dust heap of a man's life."
I stopped to think of what my Rosebud was-- and I guess we all have one, as contrived as they may be-- and I sort of landed on a frumpy old Teddy bear. The prototype, it turned out, was created in 1902, not far from where I grew up in Brooklyn. Some Russian Jewish proprietors of a candy store modeled it after the one that Teddy Roosevelt saved because he thought it was unfair to shoot it because it had been cornered in a tree by his handlers. Unfortunately, I later learned that they killed it anyway.
My Teddy bear, which I admit I still have, is wearing the flannel suit that my grandfather, an immigrant tailor, made for it. And when I was in the first grade I wrote a poem about him, and it was published in the East New York Savings Bank School Bank News. And it was my first byline, and I liked getting a byline, so who knows? Maybe that's why I became a journalist instead of, say, a big game hunter.
So that was my Rosebud, and we all have one in some sense. So an object actually means something, and it means something, I think, these days more than ever. In a materialistic world, one advantage of focusing on an artifact when we explore history is demonstrating that just plain objects have a value beyond money. Richard Kurin of the Smithsonian says they have a certain kind of worth, and not just because someone is willing to pay a zillion dollars for it.
Now a footnote here. That Rosebud sled, not the one that was thrown into the oven at the end of the movie, but the one we see the little boy playing with in the snow at the beginning of the movie, it was won by Arthur Bauer, a 12-year-old kid at a elementary school in Brooklyn, who was a member of a film club. And he kept it for 54 years. He died. His heirs decided to sell it off. It was sold at auction for $233,000. So, so much for lack of materialism.
In a virtual world objects also revive the relevance of authenticity. They mean something. When we look at computer screens, an object is something that is tangible. You can hold it. You can feel it. You can touch it. And I think they also provide another way of looking at history. It's not just a chronological timeline of events. There's a need for something. There was a need for something to be invented that might not necessarily have been obvious, that might not necessarily have been over determined. Why did that thing come into being?
So inspired by the British, I decided to come up with my own list of historical objects. I started it in The New York Times. We came up with 50, because that's all there was room for. And then I expanded it into a book, and the conceit was maybe you could do a history of the world in 100, New York you could do in less than 101.
The criteria, OK, they had to be transformative, or emblematic of some sort of transformation. They had to exist. There was only one that I couldn't find, and that was a home run ball that clinched the National League pennant for the New York Giants back in the early '50s. Supposedly, it was caught by a nun at the Polo Grounds from Buffalo who wasn't supposed to be at the ball game that day. She retired to Arizona and eventually died, and the ball was thrown out with her belongings. Imagine what that would be worth on eBay today.
They couldn't be too much bigger than a breadbox. OK, I cheated on some things. But I didn't want things like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, things that were really too obvious. They couldn't be human. That ruled out Ed Koch, for one. A lot of people suggested human beings.
They could be iconic, but I wanted things that were a little more provocative, more quirky. Why is there an artichoke on the list? Why is there a mechanical cotton picker? Try to find one of those in New York. Why is there an 1803 missing persons notice? What could that possibly have to do with the history of New York?
And they could not all be about food. So many food items were suggested by Times readers-- every variety of pizza, egg cream, snow cones, empanadas-- that I finally said that, given the fact that New York's crime rate was declining, maybe the city's official motto should be, leave the gun, take the cannoli.
The challenge wasn't in finding transformative objects. It was really winnowing them down to 101. And, most of all, deconstructing history like this was fun, and that's what I wanted to do. I wanted people to have a good time and realize that history can be fun. It enables you to embrace the past in an interesting way, to allow you to endow history with a unique dimension. Objects let you tell a narrative that encompasses everybody in a way that texts don't necessarily do.
And when you pick a finite number, as contrived as it may be, it makes something a little more comprehensible. And as Richard Kurin at the Smithsonian said, it sort of makes us all like Simon Cowell, where we're playing American Idol. We're picking a finite number of making this all more digestible.
And we want the objects to represent a broad spectrum of the human experience, not to be politically correct but to be inclusive. Now consider this caveat from Russell Baker, the former Times columnist. He said, "Objects can be classified scientifically into three major categories," he said, "those that don't work, those that break down, and those that get lost." Well, OK, that's one explanation.
Jill Lepore points out another characteristic of objects that is very important to remember when you're looking at them as the prism of history. "History is only written from what remains." So we are seeing history through the objects that still exist, and therefore you have to choose carefully.
Jeremy Hill of the British Museum says, there's a limit to how many stone axes and Buddhas you can include on the list, so you want to be more representative.
And when you appeal to the public for suggestions, as I did when I came up with the list for the Times, a lot of those lists get skewed by nostalgia. The Smithsonian, for instance, asked people, what is the most iconic American object in its entire collection? The winner was one year old, the giant baby panda born in 2013. The runners up included the Star Spangled Banner that flew over Fort McHenry and that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem, a original 78 RPM recording of Woody Guthrie's song that became a anthem of America, and the original Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington.
Now, let's take a look at some of the ones I picked, and keep in mind this is not "the" list of 101 objects. This is my list. It is totally subjective. And what I invited readers to do, and what I invite you to do-- and I'm going to try to leave some time for questions before we have a chance to walk over and see the exhibit-- is suggest some of your own, because some of the best things on this list are things that readers suggested to me.
So this one is bigger than a breadbox. OK. And not only that, since this is across the river from Columbia, we can characterize it as graffiti. It is the Columbia C at Spuyten Duyvil, across the Harlem River, and that is Fordham Gneiss, G-N-E-I-S-S. And I figured that was a good place to start the list of 101 objects. It is the oldest object in New York City, 1.2 billion years old, the rock formation that predates just about anything in New York.
Now, there are some older things. There is star dust at the Museum of Natural History, but I didn't really think that was a New York object. That didn't really come from New York. And there are man-made objects that are old. The oldest man-made object is Cleopatra's Needle behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but that, again, not a New York object. So I figured that was a good place to start the book, with a New York object.
This is a painting. Forgive me. It happens to be in New Jersey, but it is an event in New York. When I was covering for the Times the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's voyage, I was reading the log of the voyage by the first mate, and what I discovered-- and one of the great things about being here and seeing this exhibit is I deal, as a reporter, with lots of people who don't want to talk to me about various things.
Two of the categories who are in this room who do want to talk to me are librarians and archivists, so I learned from them of the existence of the log of the first mate of Henry Hudson's ship. And in this log is an account of what I realized was the first recorded murder in New York City. And in reading about that I also discovered it was the first case of racial profiling in New York City, because-- guess what-- they blamed it on the Indians.
Now, admittedly, chances are it was an Indian who shot a member of Hudson's crew, but the fact is I took the evidence to a bunch of forensic experts and said, what do you make of all this? And they said wait a minute. This guy was an Englishman. The Dutch crew hated him. Where's the evidence? Where are the eyewitnesses? And it wound up as a front page story in The New York Times, taking a 400-year-old new look at racial profiling. And the goal was, frankly, to make people think about history in a new way.
And there is a picture of what supposedly was the Indian shooting a member of Henry Hudson's crew back in 1609.
This is probably the closest thing that exists to New York City's birth certificate. I spent many days in the Netherlands trying to learn how to pronounce it. It is more or less the Schaghen Brief, because it was written by Peter Schaghen, a merchant who was coming back to the Netherlands on a ship from New Amsterdam, reporting on what happened in the summer of 1625. And he said, we're bringing back some beaver pelts. We had a pretty good summer growing crops. A couple of babies were born. And, by the way, we bought Manhattan Island.
Now the Indians weren't so sure they had sold Manhattan Island, because they had a different concept of property rights. But according to the Dutch they had bought it for the famous 60 guilders, which someone later guessed was the equivalent of $24. And that document, which is in the Hague in the Netherlands, is probably the closest thing that exists to the birth certificate of New York City.
This is called the Flushing Remonstrance. Remonstrance is just such a wonderful word. And these were the people in Flushing, Queens who were complaining to Peter Stuyvesant, who was the director general of New Amsterdam, because he was mistreating the Quakers.
Now, it's very interesting. When you think of New York, and you think of New York as a settlement, as a colony-- I'm not sure how many of you are from New York, but if you are, you can feel very chauvinistic about being so, because what distinguished New York from every other colony and settlement in this country was that it was founded by the Dutch. And they came here not to proselytize, not to escape religious persecution, but to make money. And if you didn't get in their way, then you were pretty much accepted.
We like to think of that as tolerance. You can be a little more cynical and say it was indifference, but that's pretty much the way things were. Not all the time. There were some Jews who were not always welcome. In this case, Quakers were not. But that was a view that was exported from New York to the rest of the country and defined America to the rest of the world. And for 40 years, the Dutch ran New York, and that defined New York, that distinguished New York from almost every other colony in the country.
And here the people in Flushing, Queens petitioned the Dutch West India Company, and said Peter Stuyvesant is mistreating the Quakers. You can't do that. It's not fair. And the Dutch West India Company said to Peter Stuyvesant, you cannot do that. You can't get away with that. And when the British came in 1664, the colony surrendered without firing a shot because they were so fed up with Peter Stuyvesant, they welcomed the British.
There was one problem with welcoming the British. The British knew a good thing when they saw it. This colony was fairly prosperous. But the Dutch couldn't speak English and the English couldn't speak Dutch, so this was sort of a Rosetta Stone, a Dutch-English dictionary. And it became most important, actually, in the formation of the jury system. Because most of the other laws were kept on the books, the most important one was the British allowed the Dutch to keep their taverns open. They also allowed the Dutch to bear arms. And this allowed them to communicate with each other. Sounds pretty elementary, but it was very important.
And let me-- I just forgot to point out something about the Flushing Remonstrance. That document was submitted and acted upon by the Dutch more than a hundred years before the Bill of Rights was signed.
And, by the way, where was the Bill of Rights passed? Anyone know? New York. New York. Not Philadelphia. Not Boston. Not Jamestown. Not Plymouth. New York.
New York was the first capital of the country, for 18 months. George Washington was inaugurated here. The First Congress met here. The First Congress transformed the 4,500-word Constitution from a framework into the nuts and bolts of the government. And you ask people where that took place, and virtually nobody knows that that history happened here.
I mentioned the missing persons notice. Distressing! Some guy named Knickerbocker leaves a manuscript in a hotel room, and the hotel proprietor takes out ads in the front page of every New York newspaper and says he's going to have to sell off the manuscript to pay this guy's hotel bill. And, PS, "printers of newspapers would be aiding the cause of humanity in giving an insertion to the above." Well, forget humanity. They were aiding the cause of Washington Irving, who took out this ad to sell his book, A History of New York.
We talk about literary hype! This was born in New York. Washington Irving was not related to Clifford Irving, as far as I know. But this is where it all began back in 1803. It was a literary hoax, believe it or not.
This is the kind of thing you can trip over in Central Park. And if you do without knowing what it is, you'd be making a big mistake, because this shows how wise the city fathers-- and they were mostly fathers then-- were in the beginning of the 19th century. 1811 North Street-- I'm not sure how many of you are familiar with Manhattan. Houston Street was called North Street, because there wasn't much beyond it. There were fields, pastures. Greenwich Village was a little thing. Chelsea was. Harlem way uptown, but beyond that, there was pretty much nothing.
The city commissioners hired a man named John Randall, Jr. to map the rest of Manhattan, and he went ahead and mapped Manhattan all the way to what became 155th Street from North Street. And what he did was put wooden stakes where the intersections were, and where there were stones in the intersections, he put iron bolts like this one. This is the last, or one of the last, left. And it is in Central Park, there for people to trip over, no marker saying what it really is. But it shows the prescience of the city officials who, in 1811, mapped all of Manhattan, allowing for a rational development, if you will, block by block over the 19th century all the way up to 155th Street.
This is one of my favorites, a ticket from the Third Avenue Railway Company, not "the" ticket, but a ticket. In 1851, a woman named Elizabeth Jennings, a black woman, got on the Third Avenue trolley in Lower Manhattan. Sunday morning, she was going to church to play the organ. She got kicked off the trolley because she was black. She was supposed to take the next trolley that was reserved for blacks. She sued. She hired a young lawyer named Chester Arthur, who would go on to become president of the United States, and she won. She won her case. 1851, a hundred years before Rosa Parks. Another history story that nobody knows, happened in Lower Manhattan in New York.
1860. $0.25, this cost. This ticket was worth a lot more when it was bought by a collector in the Midwest. It is the last known ticket to Abe Lincoln's Cooper Union speech, the Right Makes Might speech that also made Abe Lincoln the Republican candidate for president. He went to Plymouth Church to talk. He went to Mathew Brady's studio on lower Broadway, took what was the first campaign poster photograph, and delivered the speech at Cooper Union that evening that was reprinted in every New York paper regardless of its political affiliation, was reproduced in pamphlet form and went all over the country.
What is that? Looks sort of strange. It is Elisha Otis's plan for the elevator safety brake. Elevators go back probably thousands of years, but there was one problem with them. They tended to fall. Elisha Otis developed one that, if it fell, would stop after a couple of inches.
Well, he had to demonstrate it in a profound, very public way, so he and PT Barnum-- what better person to draw publicity to something-- went to the Crystal Palace, which used to be behind the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. Otis was hoisted to the top of the Crystal Palace in an elevator, and he took a giant pair of pruning shears and cut the cable. And the crowd gasped, and the elevator fell, but just a couple of inches, and he said, it's OK, it's all right. And then the elevator stopped. And he demonstrated that his safety brake worked.
What that meant was New York, and other cities around the country, could build skyscrapers. And that was the birth of the vertical city.
Another Civil War object that's in the New York Historical Society collection. A blind man was recruited, a certified blind man was recruited to operate this. The names, addresses, occupations of people eligible for the draft were put into this wheel, this drum. The drum was spun around and the unlucky ones whose names were pulled out were drafted for the Union Army in the Civil War, the unlucky ones who could not afford to pay $300, which meant the poor Irish immigrants.
And, ultimately, that produced the draft riots of 1863, one of the bloodiest civil disturbances in American history. Troops had to be called back from Gettysburg to quell those riots. And Boss Tweed, who was a brilliant politician, floated a bond issue to pay the $300 to get Irish immigrants out of the draft and, of course, forever endeared Tammany Hall to those new and potential voters.
This, anyone who has ever been to Manhattan, of course, recognizes, the wooden water tower. New York had a horrible water system, thanks to Aaron Burr. Aaron Burr created the water system, not because he cared about water, but he wanted to create a bank to compete with Alexander Hamilton. The way he did that was he got a charter through the legislature in Albany in a sneaky way-- some things don't change-- and it said whatever profits this water company made, he could invest in anything he wanted. So he started a bank.
Meanwhile, the water company went down the proverbial tubes. So the Croton water system was created, which was a terrific system. It flowed on the basis of gravity. For the most part, that meant it could feed anything up to about six stories high. Beyond that, the water had to be pumped up, and it was pumped up to water tanks like this and, for the most part, still is.
It turns out these wooden tanks, which could be quickly assembled and disassembled in one day-- the wood swells when it gets wet. It doesn't impart any odor. It lasts 20 or 30 years, still seems to be the best way to store water on the top of buildings in Manhattan. Not absolutely unique to New York, but thousands of them do exist in New York.
The Statue of Liberty. We think of it as a symbol of immigration, but look at the dedication of the Statue of Liberty and you will not find immigration mentioned at all. You will find French noblemen mentioned but nothing about poor immigrants, nothing about wretched masses, huddled, yearning to breathe free until Emma Lazarus writes her poem, and until that poem is affixed to the base of the Statue of Liberty. She made it a symbol of immigration, single-handedly. It was not that until that poem really became famous.
That's one of my favorites. She is standing on top of the Municipal Building, statue Civic Fame. And the model for that statue is a face that is all over New York, Audrey Munson. She was a model for Saint-Gaudens, for Stanford White. She was a porn star, she was almost arrested for murder, and she died in an insane asylum, upstate New York at the age of 101. Somehow I can't think of a better face for New York than that.
OK. What's that? It looks like something you would use if you were a plumber, but it isn't. It is the silver Tiffany throttle that Mayor McClellan used when the subway system started. And there was one problem with that. The mayor was supposed to pose with the throttle, but the mayor wouldn't let go of the throttle. He drove the subway all the way uptown. Fortunately, it arrived safely. And fortunately, they wrested the throttle from him, and a certified motorman drove the subway back. But there is the silver Tiffany throttle that is now in the collection of the New York Historical Society.
All right. I promised you the artichoke. Why an artichoke? All right, because I was looking for quirky things. But if you think people were living in the nanny state under Rudy Giuliani or Mike Bloomberg, go back to Mayor LaGuardia.
Mayor LaGuardia banned the sale of artichokes in New York. Why did he do that? Because Ciro Terranova was the Artichoke King, and LaGuardia thought if he banned the sale of artichokes, he would eliminate the influence of organized crime. That worked about as well as banning the Big Slurp.
So it just seemed like a good totem to show the limits of mayoral power and also to talk about the succession of ethnic organized crime in New York, which has gone through every incarnation from Irish to Italian to Jewish to every other form over the years.
Queens likes to think of itself as the forgotten borough. So does Staten Island. To me, this is the ultimate diss. I found the original manuscript of This Land is Your Land. This was written at a Manhattan hotel in 1940. And I'm not sure if you could read it carefully, but it says, "This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the Staten Island." Staten Island is crossed out, and it was replaced with the New York Island. Well, don't tell anyone on Staten Island that. But boy, talk about a slap in the face. And that was the original manuscript of what the song was, the lyrics were, and no more Staten Island to that.
I made a big mistake when I did the List of 50 in The New York Times. I thought it was so obvious, that I left out the subway token. I put in the MetroCard. I got hundreds of complaints from Times readers all over the world, not just the country. So here, I put both faces of the token in, just to make sure. And there it is, the original token. The token only dates back from the mid-20th century. People think it was there forever. But the fare was originally $0.05 or $0.10, and the token was introduced when the fare went to $0.15. But people think it was there forever and have lots of nostalgia for that old token.
You couldn't have an episode of Law and Order without this. It was a Hungarian Jewish Holocaust survivor working for a paper cup company in Connecticut who came up with what he called the Anthora, which, of course, is a corruption of amphora, like Spauldeen is a corruption of Spaulding. But there it is, the Greek coffee cup that is as familiar as anything in New York. Now maybe replaced by Starbucks a little bit, but you can still find it in any coffee shop you go to.
This is now considered art. It was considered graffiti. To me, it was a sign of the city out of control. The flip side of that, in my view, was the pooper scooper, I think, which sort of was the restoration of the social contract, if you will. But this was a city run amok.
And this, to me, is the flip side of the Ford to City: Drop Dead headline. Milton Glaser was asked to come up with a symbol of a New York campaign for the Commerce Department, and he did. And then he was riding back in a cab, and he called the commerce commissioner and he said, you know, I've got a better idea. And the commissioner said, please, Milton, no. You know what it's been to get this idea approved to [AUDIO OUT]. And he said, please, let me just show it to you. And he went back and he showed him this scrap of paper, which is now in the Museum of Modern Art, and it is probably the most copied graphic design anywhere in the world, I Love New York.
The hardest job I had was finding objects that represented the 21st century, because what's going to be important 25 or 50 years from now? How do you figure that? And how do you memorialize 9/11? What symbolizes that? So what I landed on was something that is admittedly a little creepy, and I'm not even sure, frankly, what it is. But it's a jar of dust that was collected in lower Manhattan on that very day. I don't know what's in it. I don't want to know what's in it. But it seemed like a fitting symbol of the enigma of the horror of the mystery of that day.
And this may be a little hard to see, but it's a sign of the city's resilience. It is a concrete Madonna that survived the fire and the storm of Hurricane Sandy, Superstorm Sandy, in Breezy Point in Queens. And, somehow, the city has gone through a lot in 400 years. A lot of times people have said it would not make it for one reason or another, and yet it always has.
Just two decades ago, Francis Fukuyama audaciously declared the end of history, and a decade later-- I'm not sure how many of you saw it, but one of the students in Alan Bennett's play The History Boys was asked to define history, to which he sort of indifferently replied, more or less, it's one damn thing after another. Well, my goal was to come up with a book for people who love New York, or love to hate it, to prove that history is kind of like a time machine, something we can all enjoy playing with, for people who can't get enough of the things that make us New Yorkers-- some of us-- or Gothamites.
Remember, Gotham was that fabled English village whose name Washington Irving first applied to New York. Its ingenious inhabitants behaved so bizarrely in the early 12th century that, rather than expropriate the townspeople's property, King John's tax collectors bypassed the place entirely. It was no reflection on out-of-towners, but the town inspired this immortal truth, which was more fools pass through Gotham than remain in it.
My book has already prompted a clamor of, well, objections, if you will, including the things I left out. Where was Bella Abzug's hat, a pigeon, a stickball bat? One of my favorite, the inflatable rat that you see at non-union sites. I love that one, because it sort of shows the air going out of organized labor. A stone pestle that a Bangladeshi woman might have given her immigrant daughter so she could keep grinding curry when she moved to America.
But I think what we have demonstrated, I hope, is that objects can be transformative. Which ones were, that's up to you. Offer your suggestions and let the parlor game begin. Thank you.
I'll be happy to answer any questions, if you have, on what I left out, what I picked, what you suggest. Someone must have a suggestion. Unless I got it all right. Yes, sir.
AUDIENCE: Broadway and sports.
SAM ROBERTS: Broadway and sports.
AUDIENCE: And the opera.
SAM ROBERTS: Broadway, there is the Phantom's mask, for one thing. Don't expect me to remember all 101, but the Phantom's mask. There is the baseball bat from the pennant game, the Dodgers versus the Giants. Not the ball, which I couldn't find. There are a couple of other mementos from sports, too.
AUDIENCE: And the opera?
SAM ROBERTS: Opera. Well, the Phantom of the Opera. Not the opera, though. Yes, sir.
AUDIENCE: As we move forward into the 21st century, do you think maybe the 101 objects that are [INAUDIBLE] from now might be more technological innovations than they are the sentimental objects that we kind of stress here?
SAM ROBERTS: Well, one of the objects that really is-- the question was, would there be more technical objects from the 21st century? The answer is absolutely. One of the technical objects, which actually is the end of the 20th century, is the Bloomberg machine, the Bloomberg Terminal, which I included both because it was a big technical advance and, secondly, because it made Michael Bloomberg the richest man in New York and the mayor. So it sort of served-- it was a twofer. It served a double purpose. It showed the advance of technology, and the fact that, by making him so rich, it allowed him to enter politics and have enormous unprecedented political power as well. Yes.
AUDIENCE: Is there anything in the book from the two World's Fairs?
SAM ROBERTS: Anything from the two World's Fairs? Yes, there is. From the 1939-- I believe the time capsule from the 1939 World's Fair is in there. And let me point out-- if anyone suggests one-- people have said, why didn't you include so-and-so, and every time they do, I say, you know, that was the 102nd.
Any other questions? Any other suggestions? Yes, sir.
AUDIENCE: Anything from the Triangle Factory fire?
SAM ROBERTS: Yes. I think the monument from the Triangle Factory fire is there. And it's not there just because that was such a seminal event in New York history, that so many lives were lost, but it was there because that, you could argue, was the beginning in some respects, of the New Deal. That prompted labor law legislation in New York state, that prompted what would be carried on nationally under Roosevelt in the 1930s. That was Al Smith. It was Wagner. It was machine politicians who-- in the enlightened self-interest of the democratic organization, appealing to voters on the lower East Side-- put in that labor legislation that was progressive, that saved many lives, and became the model for a lot of New Deal legislation later on.
These were not great progressives, ordinarily, who sponsored this. These were democratic ward heeler bosses, but they saw an enlightened vision in terms of things that ought to be done, and they saw at the same time that this was helpful to them politically, which taught me the value of enlightened self-interest. Yes, ma'am.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] objects [INAUDIBLE] are things that were suggested to you? And how many were things that you discovered on your own research?
SAM ROBERTS: How many objects were suggested, how many were mine? Of the 101, I'd say about half and half. I came up with a list of things, and then many people suggested. And what was so fascinating was most of the suggestions were not from people in New York. We got suggestions from all over the country and all over the world, and not just expatriate New Yorkers, people who had a familiarity-- or thought they did-- with New York, either from reading things, from movies, from stories their parents or grandparents had told them.
There was such a connection, an attachment, a nostalgia that I just found absolutely fascinating, and people suggested things that had just never occurred to me whatsoever. And some of them were absolutely fascinating. Unfortunately, I couldn't include them all.
I would say easily half of the objects in this book were things that other people had suggested, and I was very thankful for them. Yes, ma'am.
AUDIENCE: Anything from Coney Island?
SAM ROBERTS: Coney Island, yes, the Dreamland Bell, the bell at the end of the pier that announced the arrival of the ferries that came from lower Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn, bringing people to Dreamland, the old amusement park in Coney Island, that they just discovered, fished out of the water a couple of years ago. Yes, sir.
AUDIENCE: Anything connected to Robert Moses?
SAM ROBERTS: Robert Moses. Yes, the Cross Bronx Expressway.
Robert Moses had a wonderful saying that I used in the book. Not the breaking eggs and the omelet saying, but he used to say, if the ends don't justify the means, what does? Yes, sir.
AUDIENCE: Any 1929 ticker tape?
SAM ROBERTS: Yes. The ticker tape, the last ticker tape, which says, good night, that ran about 12 hours behind schedule, which is in the collection of the New York Historical Society is in the book. Good suggestion. Yes, all the way the back.
AUDIENCE: Ellis Island?
SAM ROBERTS: Ellis Island. There is something. I forget exactly what. I'm not sure whether it's the Annie Moore entry from 1892. She was the first immigrant recorded on Ellis Island, a Irish immigrant young lady of about 12 years old. I'm not sure if that is the thing, but there is something from Ellis Island, for sure. Yes, sir.
AUDIENCE: Anything from the Navy Yard?
SAM ROBERTS: Navy Yard?
SAM ROBERTS: No. Good idea. There should be something from the Navy Yard, because the Navy Yard is where so many ships were built, including the Civil War ironclads. Or the good ironclad, the one that won. Yes, ma'am.
AUDIENCE: Radio City?
SAM ROBERTS: Radio City. I think there is something from Rockefeller Center. I'm not sure of Radio City or not. Yes, sir.
SAM ROBERTS: I'm sorry?
SAM ROBERTS: Cemeteries. Huh. I think there is a tombstone, but I'm not sure which. I'll have to go back and read the book. I haven't read it lately. I'll have to buy the book.
Any other questions? Yes, sir. Let's take one more. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Yeah. [INAUDIBLE], here. In reading the title of your presentation, it did not occur to me that you were going to make a history of New York to New York City. Isn't there something to be said for, say, the Erie Canal or Niagara Falls?
SAM ROBERTS: There is a barrel that Governor Clinton took from Lake Erie down to the Atlantic Ocean, filled with Lake Erie water and dumped in the Atlantic Ocean, because the Erie Canal made New York City and made New York State. It was one of the most visionary acts of any public official in the entire 19th century. That is very much in the book. That barrel, which is the "of" in the picture is also in the collection of the New York Historical Society. Very good suggestion.
I thank you all for coming. Go see the exhibit.
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Sam Roberts '68, urban affairs correspondent for the New York Times and author of 'A History of New York in 101 Objects,' recounts his efforts to explore history through objects, and invites the audience to rediscover their own "Rosebud" moments through transformative artifacts from their past. Recorded June 4, 2015 as part of Cornell Reunion.