Eliza Jumel's home appeared on the front page of the travel section of the New York Times this Sunday. But her mansion has long been a New York City tourist attraction. In 1924 it appeared on an advertising poster for the Interborough Rapid Transit Company—of course, with the notation that it could be "conveniently reached" by the "West Side Subway" (today's 1 line) and the (long-vanished) 6th and 9th Avenue elevated trains. The selling points were much the same as they are today: the mansion's status as Washington's headquarters in 1776 and the dinner attended at the house in 1790 by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams. You can admire the poster, owned by Princeton University, here.
Eliza Jumel is not the only one to have found a comfortable home at the Morris-Jumel Mansion. A colony of paper wasps settled in this summer, building a snug nest beneath the cornice on the east façade. Their apartments are now vacant, as wasps don't winter over in the Northeast and don't reuse nests from year to year. The abandoned dwelling remains.
As those who have visited New York's Morris-Jumel Mansion are aware, a wallpaper decorated with morning glory vines hung in the house during Eliza and Stephen Jumel's tenure, and an exact copy adorns the front parlor today. The reproduction was printed from wooden blocks carved specially for the mansion by H. Birge & Sons of Buffalo, New York, in 1916. But here's the kicker: I just discovered that Birge must have printed additional sheets. The same paper can be seen hanging in the William L. Brown House in Providence, Rhode Island—the city where Eliza was born—in a photograph from 1958. Perhaps the choice of paper made by the then-owner of the house stemmed from one of Jumel's early fictions. As a young woman with the maiden name of Bowen, she gave her surname as Brown instead, possibly to suggest an association with a family of wealthy Providence merchants named Brown.
Whether the Madame Jumel paper is still in the Brown House, I do not know. But it may hang on other walls yet to be discovered. Birge printed a fresh edition of the wallpaper for the mansion just in time for the bicentennial in 1976. At the same time, the pattern was made available for sale to the general public as well by Reed Ltd, which had just acquired Birge. Anyone have the wallpaper hanging in their home, perchance?
The visible seam in the paper makes clear that this wallpaper in the Brown House is the twentieth-century reproduction by H. Birge & Sons, rather than an early nineteenth-century original. It was clearly made in long strips rather than smaller rectangles that were pieced together (the latter being a distinguishing characteristic of wallpaper printed and hung in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries).
In 1858 Eliza Jumel rented and then purchased two adjacent lots on the northwest corner of 41st St. and Seventh Avenue—just south of today's Times Square. Initially a house on one of the lots housed Madame Jumel's great-niece and namesake, Eliza Jumel Pery, and Pery's husband and young daughter. But a year later the little family moved, first to W. 45th St. near Fifth Avenue and then further north to the East Sixties. This 1855 view of Midtown shows the northward march of the city that doubtless inspired their relocation to quieter surroundings.
The reservoir at 42nd St. and Fifth Avenue, in the left foreground of the image, stored water brought to the city by the Croton Aqueduct (which crossed Eliza Jumel's uptown land). The reservoir was decommissioned in the 1890s—replaced by underground water pipes—and then demolished. The site became the home of the New York Public Library.
The iron and glass structure next to the reservoir, an exhibition space known as the Crystal Palace, sadly burned down in 1858. Forty-second Street runs in front of it, across the lower edge of the print. The avenues zooming towards us are Fifth Avenue to the left of the reservoir, Sixth Avenue to the right of the Crystal Palace, and Broadway to the right of Sixth. The image is not quite wide enough to encompass Eliza’s properties at 41st St. and Seventh Avenue, which would be just beyond the right edge of the print.
I couldn't resist sharing with you this appropriate theme song for Madame Eliza Jumel, titled "Sleep Peaceful, Mr. Used-to-Be." It's from the 1946 musical St. Louis Woman, but could equally be a eulogy for Aaron Burr. Sung over a corpse, it ends with the triumphant words "But you’re never in the world going to get the best of anybody anymore."
There is an enchanted weekend to come at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, with the last three performances of Vincent Carbone's adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. In this version of the well-known tale, the grounds of the mansion become Wonderland and the familiar characters take on American Revolutionary alter egos—the sleepy dormouse doubles as John Adams, for example. Visit the Morris-Jumel Mansion website for tickets. Performances are scheduled for tonight, Friday, and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday, October 2, at 3 PM.
Today, September 14, 2016, is the 180th anniversary of the death of Eliza Jumel's second husband, Aaron Burr. A death mask was made the same day for of New York City phrenology firm of Fowler and Wells. Burr's skull revealed marked "destructiveness, combativeness, firmness, and self-esteem," as well as excessive "amativeness," said Fowler (quoted by Laurence Hutton in Harpers New Monthly Magazine, Nov. 1892, p. 912).
A An image of Burr circa 1801 confirms the identification of the death mask's subject. The abbreviation "Esq." (i.e., esquire) after Burr's name in the caption is a reminder that he had a long career as a lawyer.
The fragment was found during an archaeological dig at Morrisania, the estate of Roger Morris's contemporary (but not relation) Lewis Morris. Most of Lewis's estate was located in what is now the Bronx—where the glass remnant is located today. It is on exhibit at the Valentine-Varian House (1758), home of the Bronx Historical Society. This set of opaque-twist wineglasses, made about 1760, gives you an idea of what the vessel might have looked like in its prime.
These beautiful last days of summer are the perfect time to admire the garden at the Morris-Jumel Mansion and step inside to view a thought-provoking exhibition of textile art. Titled The Fabric of Emancipation, the juried show was produced by the mansion in partnership with Harlem Needle Arts, an organization that promotes fabric and needle arts made by artists of the African Diaspora. The works on exhibit highlight the historical and contemporary experience of blacks in the United States. In this pointedly topical piece, for example, Laura R. Gadson juxtaposes the divergent treatment of blacks and whites who attract the attention of the police.
Michael Wolf, a member of the stellar Morris-Jumel Mansion docent crew, alerted me recently to a potentially significant episode in the pre-Revolutionary history of the house. I say "potentially significant," because there may be a fly in the ointment: it is not yet clear whether the episode took place in the real world or only in someone's imagination. I hope to be able to answer that question eventually, but for the moment let me give you what information I have found.
The story begins with a calendar page on display this summer at Fraunces Tavern Museum in downtown Manhattan. On the page is a reproduction of a painting by John Ward Dunsmore (1856–1945). Its subject is said to be a reception at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, held on Thursday afternoon, September 1, 1768. The guest of honor was New Jersey governor William Franklin, who was on his way to treaty negotiations with the Six Nations at Fort Stanwix in the Mohawk Valley. (Click "Read More"—just far enough to the right below this paragraph to be difficult to spot—to continue.)