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Villager Expat

Former renter in Greenwich Village, waiting out the turnaround in Manhattan's midtown. Working on a blog-to-book project about my NYC/NJ ancestors. Everyday I'm amazed by what I find with Ancestry and in old newspapers.

April 24, 2022

1912, Asbury Park, part 2: Undertaker Burtis goes for a drive in his new Haynes touring car

Photo: Norah Magrini of Avon Historical Society

"Another unfortunate event," the young reporter said. "But the Haynes got it good this time."

Ralph tipped back his bowler hat and waited. 

"I'm Fredus White from the Press. I wrote about your last accident, on Sylvania Avenue in Avon, in front of Mayor Thomson's garage? I live a block away, at Woodland and Main."

Asbury Park Press, 3 May 1912

"I remember you," Ralph said, annoyed that a reporter who looked the same age acted like he had something. 
             
"And here you are again, in the Highlands," the elder Burtis said. "Do you have a house here too?" 

"No, no. Shame about Doc Bryan's Flanders getting bashed up."

Asbury Park Press, 16 Jan 1912

White went on. "Good little machine for in-town trips but practically collapsed on impact. Shouldn't have. But when a big car crashes into a littler car--"

"He turned into my path," Ralph said. 

"And the roads were oiled," Burtis said.

"I felt terrible about it," Ralph said, "but Dr Bryan took it well. He was worried if I was all right, and since I was he started talking about his glee club. Pretty soon the town cop showed up and his son Joseph who worked right there at Thomson's garage and a small crowd of folks and shopkeepers gathered round, one was Harry Estelle, the electrician who rigged his fence for cats who try to get at his chickens. Yeah, yeah! 

Asbury Park Press, 26 Jul 1912

Well, all these people had heard the crash and were quite concerned about the doc and his car. He was truly a gentleman, upset that we had new cars. He invited me to sit in with his quartet as tenor because Walter Hubbard just died, you know, the militia captain who served in the Spanish-American War and led minstrels going all the way back to the Schuberts. He led all the shows at the Elks, the YMCA and other groups too all over the county. Even though I'm a baritone the doc knows I can sing falsetto. He wants more young people to take an interest in quartets and asked me for a song they might like so I said "Moonlight Bay." You know it? It's a new song that's great for quartets. I gave him the sheet music from our store. The Savoy is booking amateur groups now. Wouldn't it be swell if we got a booking there?"


All alone, unknown they find me
Memories like these remind me
Of the girl I left behind me,
Down on Moonlight Bay.

[Chorus]
We were sailing along On Moonlight Bay,
We could hear the voices ringing,
They seemed to say
“You have stolen her heart,
Now don’t go ‘way!”
As we sang Love’s Old Sweet Song,
On Moonlight Bay


"Yep. Music's his passion," said White.

"My brother Elvin was in Schubert's Minstrels with him," Burtis said. "You know Elvin, the game warden?"

"I know who he is," White said. "So what brings you here today?"

Burtis paused. "Enjoying a Sunday drive, like everybody else." He was a little annoyed at having to explain himself to a kid reporter. "You know County Commissioner Howard Leroy, fire chief, president of the Asbury Park Wheelman? And our lovely wives."

White nodded.

"You hear about Doc's new chauffeur?" White asked. "Drove his Torpedo into a coupe. Doc only got it in January. Thank God the car's all right. It's a beaut. Dark blue with light gray tires. 

1912 Ford Model T Torpedo 

Asbury Park Press, 19 Jun 1912

"There's growing talk you know against young people driving by themselves. What'd you think about that?" White asked.

Asbury Park Press, 20 Jul 1912

"I hope you'll learn to drive more carefully, Ralph," his mother said.

"It wasn't my fault, mother."

"I was with him this time," Burtis said, "and the other driver had his father next to him too. That car ran into us."

"Hm. And drove off--" White said.

"That's a sign of guilt," Leroy's wife said. 

"Lizzie." Howard took his wife's hand to silence her, which was hard to do.

Ralph was back in the car looking out thoughtfully through the windshield. "Do you know what Doc Bryan said? He said, 'I had a feeling this might happen.' Now what do you think he meant that?"

"Who knows? He's a kook," Burtis said. 

Howard was frowning and Burtis wished he hadn't called Doc Bryan a kook. Howard didn't like name-calling. As a leader of clubs, the fire department and county government for years he could rise to national office someday. The guy just had it. He was beloved. They admired his conduct at big meetings, his athletic ability, his knack for saying the right thing, and he stuck up for his friends. What a sport! Burtis loved him and would be devastated if his friend thought ill of him.

"Bryan's a homeopath," Burtis said with emphasis. "Is that a doctor?" Howard's frown went away and Burtis cleared his throat. "I was happy to pay for damages since, well, the accident was no one's fault and, ah, my car was bigger." 

Howard gave him the nod. 

"Today's accident was not our fault and they drove off," Burtis said. "I have a mind to sue."

"That was foolish of them. I got the license plate," White said.

"You find out who they are, and I'll--I'd appreciate it."

"That woman was a New Yorker," Mrs Burtis said.

"Hm," Burtis said. "No one from around here would do a thing like that." 


Contact: Debbie Carter, (212) 925-3721, VillagerExpat@aol.com

March 22, 2022

1912, Asbury Park: Undertaker Burtis goes for a drive in his new Haynes touring car

Atlantic Highlands bridge, early 1900s
Photo: Walt Trevors - Historical Society of Highlands


























It was a year of disasters, around the world and in Asbury Park. In April two summer residents, Mr and Mrs Herbert French, died aboard the Titanic on their voyage back from a winter in Italy; in early July the Dunes hotel in Allenhurst burned to the ground, and a couple weeks later on a Sunday after church when the Burtises of Asbury Park took their dear friends, Mr and Mrs Howard Leroy, for a scenic drive in their new five-passenger Haynes touring car their delightful ride came to an end on their approach to Highlands bridge.

Asbury Park Press, Mon. July 29, 1912
Page One

Did the other driver leave the scene?

The Haynes was undertaker Burtis's first car, and a keeper. With an Eisemann magneto starter, 40 h.p., a speedometer, windshield and five lamps, advanced design elements at the time that were meant to impress . . .   

April 4, 2021

Grandpa Charley, which Foo are you?

 "Why would you want to live on Waverly Place? It's so old."

My realtor wouldn't be getting her commission. I'd found this apartment on my own. I had told her I liked downtown. I missed my quirky tenement apartment in Soho with the exposed brick and pipes, the view of backyard gardens and old houses, but construction drove me out and I ended up in Murray Hill for three years. It was the end of February when I moved there, to 38th Street. A monster wisteria vine in full bloom filled the picture window. It snaked up a tree in the townhouse garden across the way and was nearly as high as the house. But as time went on, life in my building turned into a co-ed dorm with thirty-somethings who didn't belong in Manhattan. Some say "You can do anything in New York." No, you can't. 

I escaped twice a day downtown to bookstores and my favorite restaurant, Caffe Pane e Cioccolato on Waverly Place. Across the street was a massive apartment building, no. 11. It would be convenient to live there but it too was filled students. I learned that the same landlord had a studio available in a West Village walkup a few blocks over and around the bend at Waverly and 10th Street, on a tree-lined lane catty-corner from a bookstore.


August 7, 2020

"A Chinese divorce": my 2nd great aunt's marriage to her wealthy Chinese husband and her influence




"Chinese Divorce Suit," The Mail (Stockton, CA) 24 Jun 1886, p.2

Years ago in a laundry shop in Paterson, when the city was a prosperous manufacturer of textiles and silk, young and pretty Minnie Kiersted stopped by weekly to drop off her employer's laundry. She caught the eye of Chinese owner Wang Sing Bow, better known as Charley Sing.

In reports of their divorce trial the papers called him "the most successful Chinaman in the City of Churches." On Sundays he dressed in a Prince Albert coat, high silk hat and patent-leather boots, and wore "a locomotive-headlight diamond."

In Minnie's testimony . . .

July 18, 2020

In 1923 in Asbury Park, my Brooklyn grandmother's acting career gets sidetracked by a man

Remember our midnight swim? Love, Ralph

"Did you have to send me that postcard?"

"I thought it was romantic."

"My mother saw it!"

"Don't worry. We're getting married. Everything's alright now." 




It was a moonlit night in April as they drove down Ocean Avenue in his Haynes touring car. Exhilarating! but the racket of spring peepers made it impossible to have a conversation. Her thoughts drifted to talks with her sister Evelyn.

He's a good catch, MariaUndertakers always make a living.

He's not an undertaker! He sells pianos and he's musically inclined.

He's in music for now but he'll take over his father's business someday and you'll live in a mansion. He's your ticket out of Brooklyn. You can't be an actress forever.

June 26, 2020

A stonecutter in the family: the Casper monuments business near Green-Wood Cemetery

G Casper Monumental Work,Lettering Jobbing Etc., 24th n. 4th av, Brooklyn, ca. 1880
Photo ©Cathy Tipton, all rights reserved. Used by permission.

He came from Germany in 1846 when he was 20 and made headstones for a living. His monuments mark the resting places of families in Green-Wood Cemetery with love and respect, and commemorate their lives forever.

How did he become a stonecutter? . . .

June 19, 2020

Walking in their footsteps: my relatives from Brooklyn, known and unknown

Bond trader Frank Carter on Wall Street in the 1940s
He didn't like to talk about his childhood in Brooklyn. As the first in the family to work on Wall Street in the corporate world, clients and peers in his day made assumptions about you by your ethnic background. He was proud of being from Brooklyn. Flatbush was nice then, but his father, a bookbinder, deserted his mother and him by the time he was 13 and my grandfather had to go to work, first part-time as a bellhop in a hotel, then full time after his first year of high school. A serious person and a reader like his mother, he wanted a better life. But at 16, at the start of WWI, a wave of patriotism was sweeping the city. He tried to sign up for the draft by lying about his age but was sent home when his mother showed up. He was the breadwinner in the family. He couldn't go. Back at work, he befriended the Wall Street businessmen who passed through the hotel, found a mentor, and eventually became a bond trader with his own firm at 111 Broadway. Unlike his father, who divorced and remarried twice more, he was a a rock. After familial setbacks, and seeing what could be lost in stock market crashes and wars, . . .

June 12, 2020

From my mother's manuscripts: a 1940's childhood worshipping a teenage aunt, longing for happier days at Lake Hopatcong

Doris at Lake Hopatcong
I was playing across town at Millie's house, where I had followed my aunt Doris. They were playing at the piano with two other teenage girls when all of a sudden they said, "Bobbie, you have to go home. You can't play here anymore."

I wanted to be with Doris constantly. She was sixteen and I was eight, and while she was my dad's younger sister, we had grown up like sisters next door to each other.

I followed Doris and her friends to school. I acted older, copied the way she dressed. It was more exciting to be with them than with third graders. To watch Doris dress for a date was a thrilling experience, like watching a movie star prepare for the cameras. I helped her put on her makeup but the climax was the anointing with perfume. Carefully holding the pink cut-glass bottle in one hand, she adroitly squished the satin-covered rubber ball with the other--squish, squish, squish. Apple Blossom. Soon her small corner bedroom became more heady than the apple orchards across from the fairgrounds. We couldn't breathe, and ran gasping from the room. Doris only laughed. "Well, that'll last through the movie." Especially at the Palace when the famers came to town on Saturday nights. "That's why it's called the horse-opera, Bobbie."

"Why do I have to go home?" I had asked the girls. . . .

April 7, 2020

Indulging in Ancestry while staying at home: the great-grandmother who left England and put me in the U.S.




"Why did she come here?" I asked.

"She had a fight with her boyfriend," my grandmother said. I had asked about her mother who immigrated to the United States from England. I was in love with England. It was 1964 and I'd just seen Mary Poppins. When my mother told me we were English, I was eager to know more about the woman whose picture was on my grandmother's mantel.

"She was a governess," Grandma said. I was filled with visions of a great-grandmother who was like Mary Poppins and had a boyfriend as handsome as Dick Van Dyke and thought why oh why did she come here only to marry a fireman, have six kids, and live in a small house in New Jersey?

"The English can be mean" was the explanation she gave me, and her cautionary words come back to me whenever I feel myself falling for an English accent or a man in a suit from Savile Row. But they sound like words Beatrice could have said herself. She never went back to England, even to visit relatives.

At a time when many of us are living under stay-at-home orders, I've been on Ancestry everyday marveling at the powerful search engine that instantaneously finds ancestors and official documents about Beatrice.

She came here in 1905 on the Caronia, . . .

March 6, 2020

Mount Adams, painted by my mother in the 1950s when she lived in Cincinnati

Mount Adams, ca. 1956, by Barbara Boyd Carter
casein on board, 15 in. x 20 in.
Followers of the FB page "Greater Cincinnati History Group" have posted 123 likes so far to my mother's picture of Mount Adams. Painted in 1956, my dad had just completed his two years in the service at Fort Bragg, NC, and accepted a spot in GE's management training program. 

My parents lived in an apartment in Glen Meadows. It was two years since my mother had graduated Carnegie Tech's College of Art and  would be two years before she became a mother. 

No pictures on the wall? My parents
must have just moved in
Free from the distractions of caring for a family, she worked as an artist at Gibson Greeting Card then quit when they didn't give her anything to do, then worked at a glass company where she designed etchings for drinking glasses. She felt frustrated by the workplace after the serious training of Carnegie Tech's fine arts department and gave up on commercial art, but she didn't stop seeing as one, and was inspired by the Mount Adams landscape to render this picture. I hope to find a permanent public space for it in Cincinnati. The enthusiasm of the Facebook group has been heartwarming.

I'd also like to donate the glasses she designed but I don't know the name of the glass company. Someone suggested Sterling Cut Glass and I've sent them a message but I see other glassware companies on Google that could have been part of Cincinnati's Art Hill in the 50s.  Here's my photo of three glasses. They aren't overtly commercial as the etched glasses they're making today but instead illustrate hobbies and businesses in Cincinnati at that time. 

Barbara Boyd Carter original illustrations for a Cincinnati glassware company



Contact: Debbie Carter, VillagerExpat@aol.com, (212) 925-3721


February 27, 2020

Lost artwork: a search to recover my mother's missing paintings

50th Street snow scene, 1986
by Barbara Boyd Carter
Here is a watercolor of a 50th Street snow scene my mother painted from her apartment window on Beekman Place. It's part of her series "Midtown Merchants" which is featured in this week's East Midtown Partnership newsletter. Here is a link to the Midtown Merchant Series on Flickr; a movie appears below.

While this blog began with a search for an apartment in Greenwich Village after I made the mistake of moving away, the need to fix this has evolved into other subplots about what's missing in my life. An even deeper desire to find a permanent home for my mother's artwork has led to a search for missing paintings that were lost in moves. In the mid 80s my father sold their house in Lloyd Harbor, Long Island during real estate boom to buy a company in Palmer, Massachusetts, because he was tired of working for other people. Ten years later they moved again to retire in NYC. My parents thought the city's art museums and restaurants would make New York the perfect place to retire, but a noisy apartment drove them out and they moved back to the tranquility of Lloyd Harbor, Long Island, where my dad could indulge his hobby of caring for a lawn and my mother could paint and garden.


Pictures change in 15-second intervals
"Midtown Merchants" series, 1986-87


January 12, 2020

A Soho moment


Soho, NYC
Soho mesmerizes me. I slow down from my usual fast-paced self, thinking about other things, paying no attention to what's happening around me to stroll and look, really look, through the big gleaming store windows at the nicest clothes, shoes and handbags in the world. Shoppers decked out in leather and spikey heels glide across the lumpy Belgian block streets like there's nothing to it. I look up and admire the cast-iron buildings. It's not cool to look up at buildings in New York but no one's paying attention to me. It's like floating through a lovely dream. I think I would be happy living there again. 

But I'm stuck in a lease in Midtown. It's been almost a year and and it went by quickly and as much as I'd like to get out of here my hair stylist, the voice of reason in my life, said the next year will go by quickly too; stick it out, it would cost too much money to move. 

November 24, 2019

Lingering at the Waverly Diner for its art of the past

Going to diners became a habit when I moved to New York. The urge to get out of my apartment strikes as soon as I wake up, as much to escape a small space as a craving for that first cup of coffee. I don't like Starbucks. I always pick a Greek diner with windows.

Waverly Diner, looking north to the Jefferson Market Library

The Waverly Diner sits on a corner, and from a table on the raised platform I can look out at Sixth Avenue and down Waverly Place towards the park. A few weeks ago I sat by the window and saw Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez come up the subway steps with someone, looking lost. They turned every which way then took off down Sixth Avenue.

October 16, 2019

Psychics and gypsies: a shared fascination by the women in my family

As I walk past psychic storefronts in the Village I'm tempted to go in and make an appointment but I'm wary. I want to talk to my mother again, and things that happened around her passing have made me seek her out. She wrote a story about the day she found her Grandma Annie with a gypsy and that no one would believe her when she ran home to tell. Was this story true? I made a trip to my mother's hometown this week to look for traces.


Annie's Gypsy
by Barbara Carter

On my way home from kindergarten I would always cut through Annie's backyard. The chickadees were at the pedestal birdbath in her garden . . .

October 1, 2019

My tenement apartment in Soho, and how air rights have changed the neighborhood

The view from across the street, 
my former tenement building (Google Maps screenshot)
I wasn't getting my hopes up. I'd seen an apartment in this building three years ago. It was on a high floor and overlooked the small park and tenements with antique stores where I lived 17 years ago. But the home of an old woman who used to emerge from the front door of the house to go sit on the benches with the Italians in the park has been torn down, and a glass tower twice as high as the tenement buildings has taken its place.