Category Archives: Love, Fiercely

Flaps and Clips

Yesterday at the White Plains Library, after I had the excitement of meeting the Mayor, there were about 25 books that the local Barnes & Noble wanted me and the other author, Karen Engelmann, to sign. Then they put a sticker on the cover and apparently that drives business.

Gil was nice enough to flap the books for me. A term that means taking each book in turn and turning to the title page and inserting the left-hand cover flap there, making it easy and faster for the author to grab the book and turn to the right spot and just sign. No fumbling, no muss no fuss. It’s common when you come in to a book store for an event to be introduced to a staff like this: Here’s Bob, he’s going to flap the books for you.

Speaking of which, I learned yesterday about a subset of the Flappers of the ’20s called the Shifters, a group that identified themselves by the paper clips on their lapels and were renowned for a short time petting parties and other indicators of loose morals. They took up terms such as “ankling along” for taking a walk and “tomato” for a girl who likes to dance but has no brains, and some less known today, like the “destroyer,” one who dances on your feet.

Sidebar: When I trolled through the Stokes archives at the New York Public Library to research Love, Fiercely, I found that most of the pages, dating to the beginning of the 20th century, were bound together by straight pins, now somewhat rusty. I assumed that paper clips had yet to be invented, or popularized. Now I discover that paper clips had been invented in the 19th century and were in use by the 1890s — and certainly by the ’20s, the Flapper Era. Perhaps in the ’20s they represented, for the Shifters, the newest, coolest thing going.

Old-fangled Clip

Old-fangled Clip

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Continuing Care

Today I’ll be speaking at Kendal on Hudson, in Sleepy Hollow, New York. It’s a continuing care retirement community, which means, if my prior experience visiting one is any guide, that it’s filled with older yet peppy people who are fairly avid readers. Like many of us they prefer to check books out from the library rather than go ahead and purchase a copy. Still, I know I will have gracious and intent faces in the crowd at Kendal, and an abundance of questions. I hope that they will appreciate hearing a story so few people know — that of I.N. Phelps Stokes and Edith Minturn, their intellect, eccentricity, altruism and love of beauty, among other traits.

Here they are as young marrieds, a picture in my slide show.

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Coming Events-Late Fall 2012

I’m updating my coming events, which are available elsewhere on the site, but just in case: this is an interesting array of venues, from the very exclusive Union Club in New York City, which holds a book-selling charity event every year, to the fun and funky Spotty Dog, up the river in Hudson and one of the best-liked bookstores in the Hudson Valley. A few of these you can’t go to unless you’re a member — perhaps a reason for joining the Women’s Club of Larchmont?

Saturday, November 10, 1:30 pm: Ossining Public Library, Ossining, NY

Sunday, Nov. 18, 12 pm panel: Miami Book Fair, Miami, Florida

Monday, November 26, 7:30 pm: Kendal on Hudson, Sleepy Hollow, NY

Sunday, December 2, 2 pm: White Plains Library, White Plains, NY

Wednesday, December 5, 7:30 pm: The Spotty Dog Books & Ale, Hudson, NY

Thursday, December 6: The Union League Club, New York, NY

Wednesday, December 12, 6:30-8:30pm: New Amsterdam History Center at the Down Town Association, 60 Pine Street, NYC

Friday, December 14, 11:30 am: Larchmont Women’s Club, Orienta Beach Club, NY

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New Books in Biography

Check out my New Books in Biography interview with Oline Eaton about Love, Fiercely.

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New York Times on University Settlement

James Barron of The New York Times wrote a good story about the University Settlement celebration I spoke at the other day.

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A Window Into a New Life

The event last night at University Settlement was just fabulous… a nice big screen to show my pictures of Newton and Edith and their world, a big crowd, lots of attentive faces. They even got my jokes.

Before my talk I got a tour of the premises, including the original 1898 boardroom upstairs, a space now given over to preschoolers, where the grand old mantelpiece imported from Europe still stands, buried in the necessary detritus of the classroom. Wonder what old Stokes would make of it. I bet he’d be pleased to see that the building he put so much heart and love into (it was his first commission as an architect) has found continued life serving the underprivileged of New York City.

Something about the light of the building strikes me as particularly wonderful. Stokes obviously knew what a commodity ample natural light was for people of the slums, like those Jacob Riis portrayed in dank, dark tenements. To come to the University Settlement with its soaring windows must have been a correlative for the worlds opening up to immigrants there.

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Settling In

A reminder for anyone on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that I will be giving a talk tomorrow at 6:30 about the background for Love, Fiercely, I.N. Phelps Stokes and Edith Minturn, and the University Settlement Society whose new headquarters was the first building Stokes designed in 1898. Here is more information about the event and the Society.

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University Settlement Celebrates

On October 11th I’ll take part in an interesting event, at the University Settlement in Manhattan. This is the organization’s 125th birthday; it has worked for over a century to help integrate and educate immigrants on New York’s Lower East Side. My involvement? I.N. Phelps Stokes designed the brick-and-limestone University Settlement building at 184 Eldridge Street. It was his first architectural commission, when he returned to the States with Edith Minturn after their extended honeymoon in Paris.

Newton and Edith

A clean and classical creation, still extant, the building at 184 Eldridge rose grandly, and improbably, above the swirl of street life below. On the Lower East Side at the time, Russian and Polish pedestrians jostled speakers of Italian and Yiddish; narrow, cobbled streets teemed with horse-drawn wagons, electric cars and horse cars; and pushcarts hawked everything from tomatoes to tin cups.

In this dingy neighborhood, among jumbled, decrepit tenements, there now stood a fresh, elegant new structure, Newton’s debut architectural contribution. What made it even more amazing than its appearance, though, was its function. It had been commissioned by people who intended to improve, if not revolutionize, the conditions all around it. —Love, Fiercely, p. 165

It was a different era. While local denizens streamed into the building to use the baths or take English lessons, well-heeled volunteers resided in elegant top-floor digs — it was a badge of honor among certain young aristocratic idealists to put in time at University Settlement.

University Settlement Building

To celebrate the birthday, the group is getting together descendants of the original donors to the cause, with names like Rockefeller, Warburg and Huntington, for a portrait and champagne. Here is the original document listing names and amounts.

University Settlement Building Donors 1899

If you want to know more about the event, go to the New York Social Diary for September 26 and scroll down. If you are a descendant or know one, let me know and I’ll pass the name along!

For a review of Love, Fiercely, in which I describe the story of building the Settlement House, click on the Social Diary for Monday, September 24 and scroll down.

Rich philanthropists putting their hearts into fixing the slums. Now there’s an idea.

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House of Mirth

Spicy chocolate ice cream wasn’t my only reward for visiting with the folks at Ventfort Hall in Lenox, Massachusetts (50 people attended, and they seemed enthusiastic about my picture-talk on Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance).

Today I visited The Mount, Edith Wharton’s gem of a home nearby. I’ve been there before but it has been seriously spruced up in the meantime and most of her library has been reclaimed at auction (at grave financial risk to the organization that owned the house, but it all turned out okay), so the experience wowed me all the more. Gil and Maud fell under the place’s spell as well.  The house is all clean lines and airiness and balance, designed by Wharton in conjunction with two different architects, and there is nary a Victorian wallpaper in the joint. It is as if all that 19th century fustiness simply blew away when the dial hit 1900 (The Mount went up in 1902).

Fans of  The House of Mirth (like me) will foam at the mouth when they see the early pages of the novel spread out over the bed in Wharton’s sunlit bedroom.

House of Mirth Draft

Yes, Wharton wrote propped up in bed every morning, casually casting aside her finished pages as she went. She actually had photos posed with her sitting at a desk with inkwell and paper, thinking it more dignified, but the truth is she stayed prone, warmed by the little dogs she loved.

The Wharton Dogs

To enter her room and be able to get that close to genius! People were looking so I couldn’t lie down on the bed.

Ghosts have been glimpsed in the house. The only sign I saw of one was in the bathroom adjoining the bedroom where Wharton’s single houseguests found accommodation. Henry James, who occupies the apex of literary achievement, for me, visited frequently when he came over from Europe. Here is the bathtub into which the Master would have lowered his robust, aristocratic frame. I think I saw a wisp of something ghostly, but maybe it was some stray moisture from the faucet…

The Henry James Honorary Bathtub

The veranda offers an exquisite view of the grounds (as well as iced tea and salad), and might well have been the location for James’ comment as remembered by Wharton: “Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

And while that is one of the most beautiful statements ever made, James was so full of wordly wisdom I might as well offer another:

“We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”

 

 

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Love, Fiercely Chocolate

Lake Mahkeenac, aka Stockbridge Bowl, lies down a long slope of woods from the Kripalu Institute, aka the site of the fabled Shadowbrook, the 100 room Stokes mansion completed here in Lenox in 1893. On the Lake, the Mahkeenac Boat Club is basically unchanged since that earlier era and reached only via a discreet driveway and a walk through pine-fragranced woods. The little sailboats have names like Moth, Hermes and Sprite.

Another relic of the Gilded Age offered me a podium and a slide projector this afternoon for what they call a talk and tea. Ventfort Hall, ever more shored up and scrubbed, held a crowd with a very serious interest in the Stokes clan and whatever local associations with the Minturn family could be dug up. There were even some Stokes descendants who could proudly say Well, when great grandfather built that house…

There were cucumber sandwiches out on the sweeping veranda. I was glad we had decided not to invite Oliver on this jaunt. He detests cucumber.

I ended the evening at the ice cream parlor with an experience that would have caused the Victorians to keel over. Chocolate ice cream with a kick of cayenne, causing my tongue to melt just a bit as I gobbled it down. Hot and icy, sweet and savory at once, that’s a prescription for poetry.

Tomorrow, toes in the Stockbridge Bowl– then another bowl of some surprising ice cream. Lavendar and honey? Parfumiers would approve.

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Chimes of Freedom

Plowing through puddles on I94 with lightning electrifying the morning sky, en route from Milwaukee to Wausau. Listening to Lucinda Live, Change the Locks.
From The Last Tycoon; There are a lot of ways through the mountains, one of them optimal, others less so, but the important thing is that someone has to choose how the tracks are laid.
Last night, Boswell’s, enthusiasm for Fiercely as well as Orphanmaster. Newton and Edith thank you.
On to Janke’s in Wausau at 5:00, last event on this tour but scattered gigs back east in the Fall.
For now, a stop to pick up 10 year old cheddar at the Maus Haus.

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Iconography/Orphanmaster

Watchung Booksellers in Montclair last night was cool, with a crack of thunder and streaks of lightning out the window just as I was reading a scary passage from the book.

A lot of people wanted to know where I did the research for The Orphanmaster. The easy answer is: The Iconography of Manhattan Island, the brilliant compendium of all maps, views and information about New York from long before it was called New York. Published in 1926 and still available in research libraries (and my home library, I’m happy to say), it is a Manhattan history lover’s dream. And did I mention that the huge tome’s creator was I.N. Phelps Stokes, subject along with his beautiful wife Edith Minturn of my recent book Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance. Theirs was a charmed, fabulously wealthy life that had impossible highs and ultimately spiraled down into difficulty and poverty, largely because of Stokes’ obsessive love affair with The Iconography. The fact remains that without The Iconography there would be no Orphanmaster. I obtained so much period detail from this masterful, 30-pound set of volumes.

An Original Set, circa 1926

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University Settlement

The staircase of Kingston bluestone showed most of its steps worn to a gentle concavity by the tens of thousands of people who have come through the building’s portals in the 125 years since it went up. University Settlement House represented  I.N. Phelps Stokes’ debut architectural effort. Carefully renovated and restored over the years to be useful in the present and yet respectful of the past, the structure still hums with activity. When I toured the place, preschoolers were eating a hot lunch, passing chili and rice around their knee-high table with utmost mannerliness.

University Settlement began in 1886 with six boys gathering two times a week in a Forsyth Street basement. At the time, more than 3,000 people lived in the typical Lower East Side block.  Immigrants poured into the neighborhood, most desperately in need of basic services. About ten years later a competition determined who would design an urgently needed new structure. Reformers like Stokes and some of his peers took a serious interest in changing conditions, their interest piqued by the galvanizing photography of Jacob Riis. In the new building, limestone and brick and five stories tall, a local could get a bath, take an English lesson, enroll in a kindergarten class (then a radical notion, when it was considered normal for children  to work in sweat shops). There was also the adventure of the Metropolitan Museum of Art sponsoring an exhibit of some of its finest works at the Settlement and, moved by the widespread interest evinced by locals in art, to finally open the its doors on Sunday to accommodate people who labored six days a week.

Jacob Riis Documented Tenement Dwellers

If you ever happen to enter the building (at Rivington and Eldridge Streets), you see the tall ceilings, the gracious dimensions, the intricate stone mosaic work underfoot. Huge sash windows admit copious amounts of light, something we take for granted but that for Lower East residents of the turn of the last century would be a blessing after the cramped, sunless tenements in which they resided.  I’m planning to come to the Settlement House some time in the Fall to give a talk about I.N. Phelps Stokes and Edith Minturn Stokes, their commitment to philanthropy, and what led a white shoe guy like Stokes to throw himself into designing the Settlement House. I hope people will come, if only to see those bluestone steps, worn by the tread of all those the Settlement has served over the years.

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A College Try

Participated in an annual benefit event called Authors on Stage for the Wellesley College Library alongside fellow authors Howard Frank Mosher and Chris Tilghman. Two hundred ladies made a gracious and attentive audience for our remarks — I presented on Love, Fiercely. A lot of people took signed books with them; I hope they saw as I do that the book makes a perfect Mother’s Day gift!

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Fine Books& Collections Review

An extremely nice review today of Love, Fiercely in Fine Books & Collections, by Rebecca Rego Barry, who told my publicist, “What a fabulous book. (Wish I had written it!)”  Below is the review, and here’s the link:

A Romance for Collectors

BY REBECCA REGO BARRY ON APRIL 23, 2012 8:48 AM
Love, Fiercely is a fantastic new book by Jean Zimmerman. Its subtitle, A Gilded Age Romance, is exactly the kind of thing that stops me from browsing any further at the bookshop. Zimmerman chronicles the true story of a beautiful heiress and a wealthy young architect in turn-of-the-century New York. Yes, theirs was a life filled with mansions, balls, and summer cottages, but these two were a bit different, too: Edith (whose face was used as the basis for a colossal Daniel Chester French sculpture) lobbied for women’s suffrage and kindergarten programs in the U.S., while Newton strove for social reform and worked on tenement renovation. On their two-year honeymoon in Paris, they were painted by John Singer Sargent. The painting, Mr. and Mrs. I.N. Phelps Stokes, 1897, is pictured on the book’s cover. Now at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, it is considered one of the artist’s bests and–with a flushed Edith in ‘everyday’ clothes–a ringing in of the modern world.For collectors, there is an incredible sub-narrative to savor in this book — around the mid-point of his life, I.N. Phelps Stokes became a manic collector of prints and maps of New York City. Trying to preserve the bucolic past of his youth, he bought everything he could get his hands on and spent his entire fortune doing so. Zimmerman writes of Stokes’ goal: “Collect every map, every view, every fact, every detail about Old New York. Research the city’s beginnings. Bind it all together in a book of exquisite quality.”

Which is what he did. Titled The Iconography of Manhattan Island, the massive, six-volume set was his life’s passion. In it are reproductions of everything Stokes could get his hands on, plus histories, chronologies; it took a team of researchers and more than a dozen years to complete. The edition was 402 copies, and those, Zimmerman tells us, are scarce (and expensive) today. (Christie’s sold an inscribed one last year for $5,625, a steal! They tend to go for double that retail, and even the reprint editions aren’t cheap.) She adds, “None of the classic or contemporary histories of New York could have been written without the Iconography as a source.”

Love, Fiercely is an engaging and erudite biography of this incredible couple and their passions. I heartily recommend it.

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