Sunday, November 23, 2008

That Daring Young Man

An events calendar for Autumn of 1830 in Manhattan

© 2006 David Minor / Eagles Byte

There were a few events in the New York area in the autumn of 1830 that Scots visitor James Stuart did not take notice of. However former mayor Philip Hone provides us some of the details.

On October 14th the city’s Masonic Hall on lower Broadway played host to the third annual industrial fair sponsored by the American Institute. While the exhibition itself seems to have made a favorable impression, “. . . every object which the versatility of invention and the industry of our artisans and manufacturers could produce.”, Hone was less than enthusiastic about the evening’s entertainment, which consisted of a speech on the American tariff system by Tristram Burgess, a Rhode Island congressman, during which, “I had the misfortune to be one of the audience.” Must have been a philosophical or political disagreement with the lecturer; what one of us would not have given much to have been there for such an scintillating topic?

Five days later Hone reported a Vermont death notice with a local connection. Back on March 1, 1785, printer Francis Childs, a protege of Benjamin Franklin, had founded the New York Daily Advertiser, with its motto “THE HOLIEST MOTIVE IS THE PUBLIC GOOD”, publishing it down on Water Street for the next five years before selling it to Philip Freneau. Childs, the publisher of papers in New York and Philadelphia, had passed away at the age of 67.

Somehow Hone must have missed a piece of aviation history that occurred on September 9th, less than a mile down Broadway from his residence. (Stuart was apparently somewhere else that day, as well).

There are various estimates as to the numbers, but somewhere between twenty and thirty thousand people had gathered at Castle Garden that sunny Thursday afternoon. They watched as a young astronomer, poet and inventor climbed into the wicker gondola of a hot air balloon he’d built and cast off the ropes connecting him to the soil of New York’s Battery. As the crowd shaded their eyes with their palms and their parasols, the young aeronaut ascended into the clear sky and drifted slowly toward the west bank of the Hudson. But not before he’d dropped a good supply of leaflets, containing his poem on the joys of flight, into the crowd. He soon disappeared from sight.

Two hours later his craft set him gently down thirty miles away, on a farm near South Amboy, New Jersey. Just five years after the completion of the Erie Canal, Charles Ferson Durant became the first American to fly in the Western Hemisphere.

In November Hone referred briefly to an event taking place on the southern end of Brooklyn. It had actually begun exactly two months after Durant’s flight. The brig Vineyard left New Orleans that day, heading for Philadelphia with a cargo that included sugar, cotton, and molasses. And $54,000 in Mexican coins, destined for Stephen Girard, Esq. The wealthy 81-year-old banker would never collect his shipment.

And now is the time for practicing patience. Until next time.

1 comment:


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