Which Two Presidents Were Sworn in in New York City?

123 Lexington Avenue
123 Lexington Avenue, where the United States’ 21st president was sworn in in his second-floor parlor. (Almost all pictures on this site are my own; this one, however, I borrowed from Google.)

Do you know the answer to this one? I almost stumped a history-know-it-all-with this question.

Those who know me know that I spend most Friday nights at Lee’s tavern, a decades-old bar and pizzeria by the Dongan Hills train station in Staten Island (more on Lee’s in a later post). Among the regulars at the bar is an older eccentric fellow whom we’ll call BW.

I had never had a conversation with BW prior to last Friday, but I had heard from others that he has a Rain Man-like knack for remembering dates and other trivia. He also has a reputation for annoying people with odd selections on the Internet juke box, like Old McDonald Had A Farm (to be fair, I’ll add that last week he played one of my favorite Frank Sinatra songs, “That’s Life.”)

Last Friday, he was at the end of the bar, chatting with a husband and wife. The wife turned around in disbelief and said to no one in particular, “It’s Friday night and they’re talking about Martin van Buren! Martin van Buren!”

As long as they were talking about a president from our state, I seized the opportunity to challenge them with some recently acquired New York City presidential trivia. I jumped up from my table, put my hands on their shoulders and asked them, “Which two presidents were sworn in in New York City?

Immediately BW spoke up: “Washington and …. and … Theodore Roosevelt?”

“Right on Washington, wrong on Roosevelt, but you’re on the right track.” (Both Roosevelt and the correct president, Chester Arthur, were from New York and took office in the state of New York after an assassination.)

With my hint and some more time to think, he finally guessed correctly—and for a bonus, without my prompting, he added the street where the swearing in took place: Lexington Avenue.

And there you have it. If you ever want to stump a history-know-it-all, you now have a good trivia question. And if you want to know more …

  • George Washington was sworn in at Federal Hall, 26 Wall Street, on April 30, 1789. The original building was demolished in 1812. The building that stands there now, once the United States Custom House, is now Federal Hall National Memorial.
  • And Chester Arthur was sworn in in the front parlor of his home, on the second floor at 123 Lexington Avenue (between 28th and 29th streets) by New York Supreme Court Judge John R Brady. The building is now home to Kalustyan’s, a specialty Indian food store.

In her fascinating account of James Garfield’s assassination, “The Destiny of the Republic,” (which I am now reading) Candice Millard describes the swearing in:

That morning, Arthur had received a telegram from Washington warning him that Garfield’s condition was perilous. Still, he had not been prepared when a messenger had knocked on his door late that night. Just a few hours later, he found himself standing in his parlor, its green blinds closed to the newsmen gathered outside, with a New York state judge standing before him, swearing him into office. By 2:15 a.m. on September 20, Arthur had become the twenty-first president of the United States.

Lee's Tavern, Staten Island, NY
My Sam Adams (in a Heineken glass) at Table 6 at Lee’s Tavern, Staten Island, last Friday night, just before my conversation with BW.
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Finding Family Roots in a Carroll Gardens Church

Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen's, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s sits on Hicks Street in Carroll Gardens, just above the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

On my first real visit to New York, some 10 years ago, a leisurely walk through Brooklyn Heights and its surrounding neighborhoods brought me to Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Carroll Gardens. Designed by Patrick Charles Keely in the late 19th Century, this Gothic revival church  suffered a devastating fire in 1951. By then, the parish was largely Italian American—as evidenced by the names on the stained-glass windows.

One of the stained-glass windows, however, stopped me in my tracks.

The name inscribed in the window is Crescenzo Orlando. My mother’s maiden name is Di Crescenzo. And her paternal grandmother’s maiden name is Orlando. Both names are common in the town my grandfather was born in, Guardiagrele, in Abruzzo, not far from the Adriatic Sea.

Though family members on both the Di Crescenzo and Orlando sides of the family tell me that relatives of ours worked on sewers and aqueducts in New York City around the turn of the 20th century, I have no evidence that anyone from the family settled in New York City. The Orlandos moved to Putnam Valley, N.Y., while the Di Crescenzos settled on the south side of Chicago.

Surely, however, there has to be some family connection, or at least a connection to Guardiagrele. A local historian suggested I look at neighborhood census records around the time the church was restored after its fire. But thus far I have not undertaken that task.

Only two years ago did our side of the family learn that my great great grandparents are buried in Putnam Valley. It was good to learn that I had a family connection to the state of New York. I’d love to find out whether I also have a family connection to Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen's
Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s stained-glass window

Turnstile Tour of Williamsburg’s Most Holy Trinity Church

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Though most known for its weekend tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Turnstile Tours also offers a tour of Williamsburg’s Most Holy Trinity Church in December and January. The tour benefits Trinity Service Center, a social outreach program of the parish.

This past December, I joined the Christmastime church tour, led by Turnstile founder Cindy VandenBosch and Most Holy Trinity’s Parochial Vicar, Father Tim Dore. Starting outside with an overview of the once-German neighborhood, the tour brought us inside to the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine beside the altar, down to the crypt under the church, where the parish’s founding pastors are buried, and then all the way up to the dizzying tower (with an opportunity to step outside and take in the view of the Manhattan skyline in the distance).

The next tour won’t be until the end of the year. But in the meantime, check out the parish’s website. It is full of historic information about the parish and the surrounding neighborhood (including stories about tunnels, ghosts and an 1897 murder inside the church!).

Finally, though not part of the tour, Turnstile’s website tells us that this church is mentioned as a “miniature cathedral” in the 1943 novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:

“Francie thought it was the most beautiful church in Brooklyn. It was made of old gray stone and had twin spires that rose cleanly into the sky, high above the tallest tenements. Inside, the high vaulted ceilings, narrow deep-set stained-glass windows and elaborately carved altars made it a miniature cathedral.”
– Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, published in 1943

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Staten Island’s boardwalk and Hurricane Sandy

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Dedicated in 1939 and renovated in the late 1990s, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Boardwalk in Staten Island’s South Beach neighborhood has been one of my favorite places to run for the last several years. But since Hurricane Sandy, which damaged many boardwalks in New York and New Jersey, the boardwalk has been closed.

As far as I can tell, the boardwalk itself is in good shape, but the storm pulled many of the ramps away from the boardwalk, twisted the guardrails that run under the boardwalk, and pushed a lot of sand inland.

The area has an interesting history that precedes the building of the current boardwalk. From the city’s website:

On June 30, 1906 the Happyland Amusement Park opened its boardwalk doors. Taking full advantage of the summer closings of most Broadway theaters, Happyland’s amusements, stage productions, and vaudeville shows attracted thirty-thousand visitors on opening day. The amusement park continued to draw summer crowds for many years with attractions like the Japanese Tea Gardens, the Carnival of Venice, and the shooting gallery. Though the boardwalk resort thrived throughout the 1910s and 20s, fires, water pollution, and The Great Depression (1929-1939) took their toll on the beachfront resort area and the crowds eventually disappeared.

In 1935 the beachfront property was vested to the City and underwent renovations as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (1882-1945) Works Progress Administration (WPA). Providing jobs for Depression era workers, the WPA also revived the community of Midland Beach. By removing the deteriorating music halls, carousels, and shooting galleries, the project made way for the present two and a half-mile long boardwalk. In 1939 it was dedicated to the former New York governor and president and has since continued to undergo periodic renovations and neighborhood improvements.

I asked some parks department workers today when the boardwalk might reopen, and they said Memorial Day. That’s a long way away, and I know many of us runners will miss the boardwalk between now and then, especially as the weather warms up in May and June. And it’s not just runners who will miss the boardwalk, but also walkers, cyclists and the fishermen who fish off the end of the pier in Ocean Breeze.

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