No. 557
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
May 26, 2022

First Automobile in Manhattan.

August 5, 2013
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Via Newspapers.comIt’s time for Mystery Lights!  The “Montreal Gazette,” November 29, 1938:Esterhazy, Sask., November 28. Tabor Cemetery's mysterious light which threatens to give Esterhazy folk the jitters, tonight still challenged efforts to find its source. An attempt to unravel the mystery Saturday night failed because the eerie beam did not maintain its usual midnight schedule. During the
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Strange Company - 5/25/2022
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'SOAPY' SMITH AND TWO COLLEAGUESObject ID 2017.6.350Courtesy of Salvation Army Museum of the West(Click image to enlarge) New photograph of "Soapy" Smith?NOT EVEN CLOSE.      A B & W photograph, said to be of Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith, and two colleagues. Soapy is in the middle, marked with an "X." The photo was taken in Alaska,
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 4/11/2022
What’s in the stars for the Borden clan? Join Kimbra and Shelley with special guest, astrologist Mat Gleason, at 7p.m. on June 12 as we examine the charts of Lizzie and the family.
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 5/24/2022
An article I recently wrote for the British online magazine, New Politic, is now available online. The article, “The Criminal Origins of the United States of America,” is about British convict transportation to America, which took place between the years 1718 and 1775, and is the subject of my book, Bound with an Iron Chain: […]
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Early American Crime - 12/17/2021
National Police Gazette, June 5, 1886.A young woman attempted to flirt with Hugh Brooks (alias Walter Maxwell) at his 1886 murder trial in St. Louis, Missouri. She was barking up the wrong tree—Brooks was accused of murdering his male lover and stuffing his corpse in a trunk.Read the full story here: The St. Louis Trunk Tragedy.
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Murder By Gaslight - 5/21/2022
These days, the traffic-packed intersection at Lexington Avenue and 60th Street is a modern tower mecca of street-level retail shops topped by floor after floor of office space and luxury residences. But steps away from this busy urban crossroads is a curious anachronism: a four-story brownstone. Number 134 East 60th Street has been stripped of […]
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Ephemeral New York - 5/23/2022
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately engaged as a carrier of wine, because he and his brother, with the help of […]
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
She Had a High Old Time. | Cuban Beauty Emporium.

First Automobile in Manhattan.

Electric BroughamAn 1890s Electric Brougham

The first automobile in Manhattan was a Woods Electric Brougham owned by Diamond Jim Brady. After its maiden voyage down Fifth Avenue the NYPD put a ban on horseless carriages.

Diamond Jim BradyDiamond Jim Brady.

James Buchanan Brady, better known as “Diamond Jim,” was the most flamboyant of all the Gilded Age millionaires. Even in those extravagant times, Diamond Jim Brady was the undisputed master of conspicuous consumption. His nickname derived from his well-known love of diamonds which adorned everything he owned, from his underwear to the spokes of his bicycle wheels. Equally famous was his gargantuan appetite which he satisfied with several multi-course meals a day. A typical dinner might include a dozen oysters, six crabs, bowls of turtle soup, followed by a main course of two whole ducks or six or seven lobsters, a sirloin steak, and one or two whole pies for dessert. 

Lillian RussellLillian Russell.

Diamond Jim’s life and career included a number of notable milestones. He invented the modern notion of the expense account, proving that wining, dining and otherwise entertaining prospective clients could sell more railroad equipment than any product demonstrations. His forty-year relationship (mostly platonic) with Lillian Russell, the most celebrated actress of the day, was the longest of her life, outlasting all four of her marriages. And Diamond Jim owned the first automobile in Manhattan.

The vehicle was a custom built electric brougham  manufactured by A. H. Woods of Chicago. The automobile arrived accompanied by a mechanic named William Johnson—an African American man who knew how to run it and fix it. Brady immediately hired Johnson away from Woods, dressed him in a bottle-green uniform and gave him the title of chauffeur.

Brady had Johnson drive him around the city on five consecutive mornings between three and four o’clock, when no one was watching, so he could be confident that the automobile would not break down. Then he alerted the press before debuting his horseless carriage in the daylight. On a Saturday afternoon in the spring of 1895, William Johnson in his uniform and Diamond Jim Brady in a top hat, drove down Fifth Avenue to Madison Square. Crowds gathered along the way to view the spectacle and cheer them on. The new machine delighted the spectators, but horses on the road were much less welcoming. When the brougham reached the busy thoroughfare of Forty-Second Street at least five teams of horses bolted in surprise and ran away. After several trips around Madison Square they stopped at the Hoffman House and Diamond Jim went inside and ordered a lemon soda at the bar (he did not drink alcohol.)

The trip had caused so much disruption that the New York City Police Department ordered Brady not to bring the contraption out again during the day. This prohibition was short lived; within a year automobiles powered by gasoline as well as electricity were a common sight in New York City.


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