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21 November 2011 @ 11:56 am
photos from "Oscar Wilde in NYC" walking tour, November 13  
These photos are only a scattering of the many places we visited during the tour of "Oscar Wilde's New York City," a walking tour of Gilded Age NYC led by Oscar Wilde scholar John Cooper. If you'd like to learn more, we hope to repeat this event in 2012; visit nineteenthcenturysociety.org for updates.

Here are the tour-goers after the conclusion of our exploration of the places and people Oscar Wilded visited in Gilded Age New York. Eleanor, kneeling at right, holds a copy of The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. I am in the center with my green carnation, standing next to our illustrious tour guide. We are posing in front of 14 West 10th Street, where Mark Twain once lived.

Our distinguished tour guide John Cooper has spent decades researching Oscar Wilde with particular focus on his time in New York City. John is a long-standing member of the Oscar Wilde Society in London, a prominent member of the Oscar Wilde Society of America, the former Business Manager of the Victorian Society In America, the moderator of the Oscar Wilde Internet discussion group at Yahoo, and a contributor to Oscholars, the Oscar Wilde academic journal. Here he is standing in front of 18 West 10th Street, where where lived poet Emma Lazarus, who wrote "The New Colossus", the welcome sonnet that appears on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. He read us a letter of hers - she had not heard Wilde speak, but seemed to appreciate his literary talent, referring to some of his "charming and manly verse" but thought him frivolous and "a consummate ass."

In Madison Square Park, John began the tour with a bit of background about Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience, a satire on the Aesthetic movement. Since the play was so well-known (and widely pirated in the States), Oscar Wilde's 1882 American lecture tour maximized the publicity opportunities for the young poet. John also asked us if we knew who was president in 1882 and I'm sorry to say that none of us did know! He cornered me specifically, bringing back memories of being called upon in grade-school. I was tempted to answer "Roosevelt," except that I knew that that Wilde had met his uncle socially in 1882, while the future president was still in Congress. It turned out that answer staring us in the face. We were standing in front of his statue, namely that of President Arthur, who had taken office when President Garfield died of wounds from an assassination attempt. John also explained that Wilde's famous quip, that he had nothing to declare except his genius reputedly made at Customs on his arrival in New York, may, in fact, be apocryphal.

"Our boy" as John endearingly referred to him, in 1882, photographed by famous portraitist Napoleon Sarony at his Union Square studio. Sarony often paid celebrities steep fees for the privilege of photographing them (reportedly $1,500 for Sarah Bernhardt), but Wilde and his manager reportedly waived the fee and 27 photographs were produced. From of these photographs, Wilde is forever remembered as the young Aesthete he was in 1882. He was 27 when these photos were taken, and it's easy to see why he was so popular with American society ladies. Not only was he a poet and marvelous conversationalist, but he was also tall and handsome, with romantically long hair, clad in knee breeches and clocked silk stockings showing off his shapely legs, much like a fashionable gentleman of the 18th or early 19th century.

At 32-36 West 23rd Street, now a Home Depot, but in Wilde's time this magnificent cast-iron building was the Stern Brothers Department store.
John referred to a contemporary advertisement for the play that named Stern's as the manufacturer of the set decoration for Wilde's first play Vera, or the Nihilists, which was produced in New York City in 1883 at the Union Square Theatre. Wilde returned to New York City briefly to oversee the production, and while there's no evidence that he visited Stern's, it's not unlikely.

It really is a gorgeous building in the Renaissance Revival style. Stern's, along with Abraham & Straus, Alexander's, Marshall Field's and many other department stores, faded away or were consumed by Macy's and Bloomingdales.

Here we are looking at 29 West 23rd Street, directly across from the former Stern's Department store. Why we were looking at this location? I should have taken notes - I've forgotten!

Scribner and Company published some of Wilde's works in the States. The Scribner Building at 153-157 Fifth Avenue is a Beaux-Artes landmark. It was built in 1893. During Wilde's 1882 visit, Scribner's was apparently located at 743-745 Broadway.

Here we are at the southwest corner of Madison Square Park, looking diagonally back across the park at where stood the original Madison Square Garden.

This is the brownstone Calvary Church (1846). It is a protestant Episcopal church designed by the architect of St. Patrick's Cathedral, James Renwick, Jr. located at 273 Park Avenue South, near to Gramercy Park. It is contemporary with Wilde, and is where Chester Arthur was married.

At the private gated Gramercy Park, we peered at the lucky key-holders and speculated on whether Wilde might have strolled here. John is pointing to The Players Club across the street.

John reading us accounts of Wilde dining at the home of the Mr. and Mrs. John Bigelow at 21 Gramercy Park in January 1882. From John's notes: "John Bigelow was a stalwart individualist and not an easy person to live with. There is a picture of him bewhiskered in front of his fireplace over which there is a photograph of Benjamin Franklin. But don't expect any coal in the fireplace! He disapproved of coal burning and the family was taught to take cold baths every morning as he did. He also had a horror of stimulants such as tea and coffee and even vanilla; compared to the lavish dinner parties given next door by the Stuyvesant Fishes his dinner party guests seldom varied and the menu never did. So it is perhaps surprising that he invited Oscar to dinner. However, not surprising that the New York Times reported Oscar appeared "in plain evening dress with no aesthetic adornment." The fact is that it was his Mrs. Bigelow, a socialite, who arranged it - as Wilde was extremely popular with the ladies in society."

The Players Club was founded by Edwin Booth in 1888 as a social club for theatrical people. It was housed in a mansion at 16 Gramercy Park designed by Stanford White. At the time of Wilde's American lecture tour, it was a private residence.

Next door to the Players Club is the National Arts Club, a private social club established in 1906. The exterior is embellished with depictions of great authors - Shakespeare, Dante, Milton, Goethe, and Ben Franklin. During Wilde's visit, this was the private residence of Samuel J. Tilden.

Attractive row houses at 3 and 4 Gramercy Park West with historically significant cast iron verandas. James Harper, the publisher and former mayor of New York, lived at number 4.

Eleanor looking contemplative on East 18th Street

I attempted to get an Abbey Road-style shot as we left Gramercy Park via Irving Place.

Tour-goers looking at a point of interest.

I idly mentioned that Pete's Tavern is one of the oldest pubs in NYC, at which point John stopped to describe to us the food and drink Wilde enjoyed in New York City. Evidently Wilde seemed to enjoy a good meal, tucking into large quantities of meats and seafoods, particularly oysters, not to mention rather impressive amounts of alcohol. In Colorado and in NYC, reporters noted that he was never the worse for drink, and often held up far better than his dining companions.

We paused on Irving Place, where Washington Irving was rumoured to have lived, but actually did not reside there. John mentioned that a person with the surname "Irving" resided there and may have been related to the famous writer, but there's no conclusive evidence that Irving himself lived on Irving Place. Nevertheless, we are standing in front of Washington Irving High School and a bust of the writer (whose podium could do with a touch-up). Wilde's American agent, Elisabeth Marbury, lived on this block.

Across the street from Irving High School are two low brick houses, the leftmost one, 47 Irving Place, one of several residences in which Wilde resided during his time in NYC. The New York Tribune reported that "Oscar Wilde, the poet and apostle of aestheticism, is at present living in a private house so that he may secure the quiet and freedom from interruption which his work demands. He occupies two rooms furnished in matter-of-fact style, and has his meals sent in from a neighboring restaurant."

John referring to his impressive book of historical documents, photographs, newspaper clippings, and other notes.

Wilde was feted at The Century Club at 111 East 15th Street, now the Trinity Broadcasting Network Theatre. One member of The Century Club - "a venerable poet" - purportedly refused to attend the reception, referring to Wilde as "she" and saying something like, "Why not 'she'? I heard she's a Charlotte-Ann," according to an account in the New York Tribune (newspaper accounts of this era are not necessary trustworthy). We speculated on whether this person was merely playing on the term "charlatan" or intentionally using 19th-century slang for an effete man, particularly a homosexual. Effeteness and homosexuality weren't necessarily the same sort of deragotory remark in 1882. Although "Charlotte-Ann" was a slang term, it was not as widely known as other slang such "Mary-Ann," "Nancy," or "Molly." I believe this anonmyous objector, if he existed, was referring to Wilde's Aesthetic attire and not perceived homosexuality. (Wilde toured America before he met Robbie Ross or Alfred Douglas, and whether he himself knew of his sexual orientation at this time is unknown.)

This is 11 East Sixteenth Street, a former location of the Napoleon Sarony studios, built in the 1890s. John noted how period store buildings were often more elaborate on the second floor - the level of the elevated railroad.

110 Fifth Avenue, the former headquarters of Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, which, as its name implies, was a popular illustrated weekly newspaper that often featured satirical drawings of Oscar Wilde. It was run by Mrs. Leslie after her husband Frank's death in 1880. Coicidentally Willie Wilde, Oscar's brother, married Mrs. Leslie in 1891, but the marriage was dissolved two years later.

48 West 11th Street, one of several places where Wilde stayed during his time in New York City. He wrote a letter from this address inviting an unidentified person to dinner. He was also interviewed here, and John described the reports of him languidly lounging in an interior strewn with Japanese parasols and other Aesthetic decor. We also walked past 18 West 11th Street, the townhouse famously destroyed in a lethal explosion by the radical group The Weatherman in 1970. We also visited 58-1/2 West 10th Street, once the headquarters of the Aesthetic artists' collective The Tile Club.

John reading us a rather beautifully-written letter of Wilde's while we were on West 11th Street. He certainly did have a way with words, and I think his short prose, poems, and letters especially reflect that distinctive eloquence.

The tour-goers examining some of the many satirical illustrations of Wilde in various publications. Wilde seemed to take these in stride, along with the Aesthetic lampoon of the characters in Patience. In many ways his approach to publicity was suprisingly modern and he achieved a great deal of fame while still relatively young and unknown. Although he's largely remembered for his plays and novel he wrote later, in 1882 he was already a self-made celebrity, although he had only published a single volume of poems that wasn't particularly well-received.

The Salmagundi Club at 47th Fifth Avenue. It is one of the oldest art clubs in the United States. In Wilde's time, it was located at 14 West 12th Street. The photographer Napoleon Sarony helped found The Salmagundi Club as well as The Tile Club.

Here is a close-up of me in my partly-completed Aesthetic Dress attire, inspired by the Sarony photographs. I should have asked someone to photograph me full-length but I'm always reticent about that as I feel I'm not glamourous enough to be photographed. I've made much progress on this ensemble and even have patent-leather bow-trimmed pumps similar to those Wilde wore in the photographs. His velvet doublet, manufactured by a London theatrical costumer, was a dark purple with piped edging; under that he wore a shawl-collar velvet vest, also piped, a pale green silk cravat tied in a bow, and a white shirt with a 'turn-down' collar. The latter was somewhat exotic in Wilde's day; nowadays we know it as an ordinary collared shirt of the type that men wear to the office. Despite his railing against "tight knee breeches" in several of his essays on Dress Reform, his were rather tight in the Sarony photographs. He wore silk 'clocked' stockings with an embroidered design near the calf. I have been wavering between cotton clocked stockings or synthetic ones with a silky sheen. John helped me identify a mysterious ring suspended from Wilde's waist - apparently this was either a glove clip or a serviette clip for a napkin. The next step in my Aesthetic Dress project is to reconstruct this velvet jacket and sew all that piping around the edges - check back in a few years for the completion!

Here are the tour-goers after the conclusion of our exploration of the places and people Oscar Wilded visited in Gilded Age New York. Eleanor, kneeling at right, holds a copy of The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. I am in the center with my green carnation, standing next to our illustrious tour guide. We are posing in front of 14 West 10th Street, where Mark Twain once lived.

vince_moon: Holmes Sherlock profilevince_moon on November 21st, 2011 09:19 pm (UTC)
This looked like it was a lot of fun.
mllevioletmlleviolet on November 21st, 2011 09:35 pm (UTC)
It was! As a Wilde fan, I really got a kick out of listening to our tour guide, who's so knowledgeable about Wilde and about all the places he visited during his 1882 American lecture tour.
oscarwildefanoscarwildefan on July 6th, 2012 03:46 pm (UTC)
looks like fun

do you mind if i add link to it on my website, www.oscarwildefanclub.com?
mllevioletmlleviolet on July 6th, 2012 04:38 pm (UTC)
Sure, link awayt! I wonder if you would consider adding the tour guide's site - his name is John Cooper and he is an expert on Wilde's time in NYC. His site is still under development but there is already a lot on there and he'll probably finish it soon www.oscarwildeinnewyork.com He also has a Facebook page www.facebook.com/OscarWildeInNewYork. Mr. Cooper has twice given this his tour for our organization (The New York Nineteenth Century Society) and each time it was very well-received.
mllevioletmlleviolet on July 6th, 2012 04:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, sure, feel free to use the photos - I'm happy to help promote the tour. (Not entire sure if the ticket price is always $15 - that was what we arranged with him because we know we'd have at least 15 participants so you might want to check with him before promoting that price). Thanks!