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Guide to the William E. Light Collection of New York City Photographs
 PR 37

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Rebecca Dean

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on December 13, 2011
Description is in English.

Scope and Content Note

The William E. Light Collection of New York City Photographs spans the period from ca 1880-1889 and primarily contains photographs relating to street life in the neighborhood around Union Square. The collection contains 65 black and white photographic prints on 46 cardboard mounts. The prints are 8.5 x 6.5 or smaller. Some prints have brief explanatory notes written in pencil on the back or titles written in ink under the photograph, but the majority of the prints do not include any written indication of when or where they were taken.

Photographs are arranged by subject: Animals; Carriages and Coaches; Harbor Views; Leisure Activities; Parades and Funerals; People at Work; and Snow Scenes and the Blizzard of 1888. Some photographs fall into more than one subject area; in such cases, the photograph is included under its major topic and the content notes include details of the other subjects areas it covers.

"Animals" contains six approximately 4 x 4.5 in. photographs mounted on three boards. Two horses in harnesses wait on a city street. A man walks a massive dog near a park (probably Madison Square Park or Union Square Park) as horse-drawn carriages pass in the background. Two men chat on the street as a small white dog on a leash stands on its hind legs; one of the men holds a small black dog in his right hand. The same white dog is carried and petted by his owner as a different man in a top hat looks on; a second small dog stands at attention on a basket. The man carrying the small black dog appears in another photograph with a man and two more black dogs. The sixth photograph in this folder contains no animals (it is in this folder because it is mounted on the same board); it shows a man in tall boots and a hat who has a giant bag slung over his shoulder, resting on a fire hydrant. Other animal photographs also appear in the Carriages and Coaches folder (horses and an elk) and the Leisure Activities folder (people are walking dogs in some of the street scenes).

"Coaches and Carriages" contains three approximately 6 x 8 in. photographs and two 4 x 4.5 in. photographs mounted on four boards. Men in long coats with brass buttons and belts accompany a fancy carriage down Broadway. Grace Episcopal Church at Broadway and East 10th Street appears in the background. Two white horses pulling a carriage with a single driver trot by what appears to be Madison Square. This photograph is an interesting early documentation of horses in motion (their legs are blurry and clearly off the ground). Other carriages are stopped in the background. Several carriages drive up and down Fifth Avenue in a photograph that also shows Chickering Hall at Fifth Avenue and 17th Street. The small photographs show two horses drawing a carriage (possibly near Madison Square) and what looks like an elk or a reindeer in a fenced-in enclosure.

"Harbor Views" contains two approximately 6 x 8 in. photographs mounted on two boards. One shows a man resting his foot on a chain and looking out at the harbor; a sailboat passes by in the foreground and several other boats are visible in the distance. The second photograph shows a collection of steamboats, sailboats, and barges in either the harbor or the East River. The Brooklyn Bridge is partially visible in the background.

"Leisure Activities" contains eighteen approximately 4 x 4.5 in. photographs and five 6 x 8 in. photographs mounted on 15 boards. Many of these photographs document the busy street scene in Union Square and on 14th Street and Fifth Avenue. Well-dressed women wait to cross a busy street. Young girls walk in Union Square with their families and nuns. Two nuns in full habits carry handbags and walk through Union Square; streetcars and carriages are visible in the background. A large poster advertises "The Finest Illustrated Lectures" on topics like Mexico, Utah, Yellowstone, and Morroco; another sign reads, "New York Philharmonic Club Ticket Office." This whole sequence of photographs contains excellent details of 1880s clothing for women and children. Many Union Square buildings also appear in these photographs (including the Century Building and the Everett Hotel). Groups of boys lounge against buildings and fences and play near City Hall Park. Two young girls push a baby carriage with a child in it across East 11th Street (the street name is written on the glass of the lamppost). Large family groups relax on a crowded beach. One beach photograph foregrounds an older lady in a rocking chair, small children playing in the sand, a fancy baby carriage, and a woman reading. The second beach photograph features a boardwalk in the background, a group of men and women standing and talking, and a woman and a child sitting in the foreground. These photographs are especially interesting because they document how dressed up one needed to be for an afternoon at the beach: the only person not wearing a hat in these photographs is the baby.

The larger photographs in this folder contain many scenes of women and families strolling and window shopping. A view of 14th Street shows large store windows displaying clothing and pianos. Several photographs taken on Broadway near 19th Street show women in sumptuous dresses and fur-lined coats walking and talking together. A passing man ogles two well-dressed women; a man wearing a sandwich-board advertisement stands in the background. These photos provide especially good close-up views of women's hats, dresses, and coats. The final large photograph shows a number of men rounding a corner on a dirt track; an inscription on the back of the board notes that this is the "880 yard run" at the "N.Y. Athletic Club" on "June 12, '86."

"Parades and Funerals" contains nine approximately 6 x 8 in. photographs and four approximately 4 x 4.5 in. photographs mounted on eleven boards. A photograph of Union Square shows rows of uniformed soldiers marching; an inscription on the back notes that this is part of the procession for Ulysses S. Grant's funeral, which took place on August 8, 1885 and included more than one million spectators and a procession that stretched for seven miles. Many streetcars and carriages are visible in the distance in this photograph, as well as Union Square buildings (Hotel Hungaria, Union Square Hall). Another photograph shows Union Square during the Washington Inaugural Centennial Parade on April 30, 1889. Union Square is cleared of carriage traffic and a large number of people sit on bleachers or stand in the park to watch horse-drawn floats and uniformed groups pass by. A large crowd watches a parade from 14th Street (Wheelock Pianos and the European Bond and Exchange Company are visible in the building behind the crowd). A smaller parade (whose participants look like they are wearing tartan) passes through a sparse crowd in Union Square. A marching band and military group moves down 14th Street in front of numerous piano stores (Arion Pianofortes, Steck Pianos) and Demorest's Monthly (15-17 E. 14th Street). Many of these parade photographs also show American flags hanging from the windows of buildings. A parade near Bowling Green features rows of men wearing bearskin caps (similar to the ones worn by British guards). The smaller photographs show horse-drawn floats (with views from above and from the crowd). One unrelated small photograph shows a boat in the harbor.

"People at Work" contains eight approximately 4 x 4.5 in. photographs mounted on five boards. A wizened old woman sorts through rubbish at the side of a street. A salesman with a briefcase of goods (some scarves are visible) strapped to him stands outside a window near a sign for "Railroad and Steamship Tickets to All Parts of the World A.E. Johnson & Co." A man lifts a basket onto his back using a metal drum and a crate to raise it; a sign behind him for B.L. Solomon & Sons places the photograph in Union Square. A young boy transports two white sculptures of figures with parasols by attaching them to his person with rope; two well-dressed women walk behind him. Shoeshine boys congregate near City Hall Park; they carry the boxes and brushes of their trade. Two boys (who also appear in the Leisure Activities folder) sell goods from wooden boxes attached to their fronts. An older boy pulls two horses that appear to be hauling something heavy.

"Snow Scenes; Blizzard of 1888" contains four approximately 6 x 8 in. photographs and four 4 x 4.5 in. photographs mounted on six boards. A photograph of East 14th Street documents the Blizzard of 1888, which took place on March 13th. People shovel snow from their stoops; some pedestrians walk on the south side of the street that has already been shoveled. Signs are visible for Estey (5 E. 14th Street), Steck Pianos (11 E. 14th Street), and Demorest's Monthly (15-17 E. 14th Street). A night view of snow in Union Square Park bears the ink inscription, "Midnight, Union Square." Another photograph shows rooftops with a dusting of snow. A view of 14th Street taken from a high window shows snow falling; an ink inscription reads, "Snow squall." In addition to Steck Pianos and Demorest's Monthly, this photograph also shows signs for the New York German Conservatory of Music, Billings & Co. Burdett Organs, and Mathushek Pianos. This block of 14th Street (between Fifth Avenue and Union Square) was a popular location for piano stores and music organizations. The small photographs show three men setting up a tripod and camera in the snow in Union Square; men picking their way through snow in Union Square Park (with signs for Rose and Bonnet and Domestic Sewing Machine Co. - at 853 Broadway - in the background); and groups of men shoveling snow on 14th Street. A man stands on top of a large mound of snow while pedestrians walk by on the cleared sidewalk. A group of shovelers takes a break to chat, possibly on Fifth Avenue.


Photographs are organized alphabetically by subject.