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In 1895, 71-year-old Christopher Fagan was alone in the world. All his family and friends had died and he really had no place to call home.

Newfoundland

So he decided to build a little house along St. Nicholas Terrace somewhere around West 128th Street, right on the grounds of the Academy and Convent of the Sacred Heart. He constructed the shelter using tin sheets and various odds and ends, but everything was carefully soldered together so the shanty kept him fairly warm and dry. Inside, it was neat and clean, and he had plenty of wood fuel for the winter.

Christopher Fagan also had a large Newfoundland named Spruce to keep him company.

Point of Rocks, St. Nicholas Park

The rocky outcropping upon which Christopher Fagan made his home was no doubt part of “Point of Rocks,” which is today near West 128th Street on the upper path at the southeast corner of St. Nicholas Park. It was here that General George Washington positioned himself during the battle of Harlem Heights in 1776.

The kindhearted sisters of the Convent of the Sacred Heart allowed the elderly man to squat on their land, and even provided food for Christopher and Spruce. In return, Chris did odd jobs for the nuns when he wasn’t foraging for wood fuel.

For nine years, he and Spruce led a very simple life in their makeshift home, just a few miles away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Manhattan.

The Academy of the Sacred Heart

Founded in May 1841 by the Society of the Sacred Heart – a Catholic order of nuns — the Academy of the Sacred Heart was a boarding school and day school for girls originally located in a three-story house at 412 Houston Street. Under the charge of Mother Yelizaveta Alexeyevich Golitsyna (aka, Elizabeth Gallitzin), the academy quickly outgrew this building. In 1845, a year after Mother Gallitzin’s death, the school moved to Astoria, Queens.

Academy of the Sacred Heart

The academy quickly outgrew the home on Houston Street, which did not provide enough room for boarders.

On February 17, 1847, Mother Superior Mary Ann Aloysia Hardey finalized a deal to purchase about 62 acres from the estate of tobacco magnate Jacob Lorillard for $50,000. The estate was located just north of West 128th Street in the village of Manhattanville, high on a rocky outcropping with a view of the Harlem and Hudson rivers to the east and west.

As the story goes, the heirs of Jacob Lorillard had put the property up for sale, but at the last minute his widow, Anna Margaretta Kunze, decided she did not want to sell it to the Catholic Church. Mother Hardey ordered all the nuns and pupils to make a novena by repeating the Stations of the Cross for nine days.

Some might call it a miracle, others a fluke, but on the ninth day, Anna Margaretta died, allowing the sale to go through. (As Bishop John Hughes said, “Beware of opposing Mother Hardey, because she will kill you with her novenas.”) The price was even reduced by $20,000 and an extra twelve acres were tossed into the deal.

Manhattanville 1860

In this 1860 photo of Manhattanville, you can see some of the Convent of the Sacred Heart buildings beyond the trees in the background and some shanties and rock outcroppings in the foreground.

Over the years, many girls from well-known families graduated from the Academy of the Sacred Heart in New York, including Rose Fitzgerald (later, Mrs. Joseph Kennedy Sr.), Martha and Lilly Washington (George’s grand-nieces), and Jeanette Bell, the daughter of James Gordon Bennett.

Mary Aloysia Hardey

Mary Aloysia Hardey was a central figure in the expansion of the Society of the Sacred Heart in North America. During her 27 years as Superior, she established 16 houses of the Sacred Heart from Canada to Cuba and throughout the eastern United States. She died in Paris on June 17, 1886, and is buried in Albany, NY.

The Great Fire of 1888

“Tongues of flame leaped up a hundred feet above the doomed buildings, and cast their bright reflections on the Harlem on the north and east.” New York Times, August 15, 1888

On August 13, 1888, at about 8 p.m., flames were spotted on the roof near the cupola of the main convent building. The old building and chapel had been undergoing renovations, and it was thought that one of the tinners who was working on the roof did not extinguish a stove in the attic.

At the time, about 50 students were saying night prayers in the large class hall. There were also about 140 nuns in residence. Everyone escaped without injury; the girls were all escorted to the cottages on Convent Hill and the nuns moved into a large study hall set aside for them at nearby Manhattan College.

Academy of the Sacred Heart

By the late 1880s, the campus of the Convent of the Sacred Heart included the original building from the old Lorillard estate, a chapel and infirmary wing to the east, a large class hall to the north, a four-story music hall, several cottages, and a mansard-roofed parochial school for neighborhood children, shown here.

As they waited for the fire engines to arrive, four men who worked at the academy tried to put out the flames with a hose. Realizing their efforts to extinguish the fast-moving fire was hopeless, they turned their attention to saving valuable paintings, statues, and relics from the convent and the chapel. As the flames rapidly spread from one building to another, the men threw out whatever linen and furniture they could toss from windows.

Although numerous fire engines responded, the closest fire hydrant was 2,000 feet away, so there was very little water force by the time the hose streams reached the fire. No fuel trucks arrived with extra coal, so the firemen had to break down fences to use as fuel for the steam engines.

Academy of Sacred Heart ruins

All that was left of the Academy of the Sacred Heart were ruins following the fire in 1888.

Following the fire, classes were moved into cottages on the campus. An elaborate pavilion designed by William Schickel and built in 1879 on the estate of newspaper publisher Oswald Ottendorfer as a garden tea house served as a temporary place of worship for the nuns.

One year later, a new academy, also designed by William Schickel, rose up on the foundations of the former buildings. The school was renamed Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart in 1937 and then shortened to Manhattanville College in 1966.

aerial view of Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart

This aerial view of Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart was taken some time before 1952. The former academy buildings were vacated in 1952 when the college was moved to Purchase, New York. Only a few of the original structures remain standing on what is now part of the southern campus of the City College of New York.

Christopher and Spruce Get the Boot

About two weeks before Christmas 1904, the sisters told Christopher that they were planning on expanding the campus, and that he would have to leave. He didn’t believe this was possible, so he continued living in the shack with Spruce. One week later, an officer from the Charity Organization Society came to take him away. Christopher and Spruce were sitting in front of a bright fire at the time.

Christopher was terribly upset, but not about losing the only home he knew. He was worried about what would happen to his faithful four-footed friend.

Municipal Lodging House

The Municipal Lodging House at First Avenue and 23rd Street opened December 2, 1896, with a bed capacity for 317 male lodgers. A newer building, shown here, was constructed in 1909 to accommodate about 1,000 homeless men and women in six sleeping rooms (one room was set aside for women and children). It featured white enamel beds, shower baths, a dining room, and a laundry.

On December 18, Christopher appeared before Magistrate Hogan in Harlem Court, and was committed to the Charity Organization Society. The society sent him to the Municipal Lodging House at 398 First Avenue, where he would stay until better provisions could be found for him.

Spruce, now 16 years old and too weak to follow his master when he was taken away, stayed behind.

Josephine Shaw Lowell

Josephine Shaw Lowell, one of the founders of the Charity Organization Society, was a social reformer who led many movements in the city, including the separation of charities and corrections, creation of state asylums for women and girls, the abolition of police lodgings in New York, the establishment of municipal lodging-houses for men, and placing matrons in all police stations.

Christopher, now 80 years old, was inconsolable without his dog. A few days later, he found out that the sisters had heard Spruce wailing in the cold shanty during a storm. They brought him into the convent and fed him, and gave him a warm place to sleep in the cellar.

Fagan was glad to hear that Spruce was being cared for, but he begged for his dog to be returned to him as soon as the Society found him a new home. He said he and his dog would soon die unless they were reunited.

I’m sorry to say that I do not know how this story ended, but hopefully man and dog were allowed to spend their final years together.

When you compare this recent aerial view of the CUNY southern campus with that of the former Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, you'll see that some of the buildings are the same, including the Convent Garden Apartments on West 130th Street (bottom right) and a few of the buildings on Convent Avenue (left).

When you compare this recent aerial view of the CUNY southern campus with that of the former Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, you’ll see that some of the buildings are the same, including the Convent Garden Apartments on West 130th Street (bottom right) and a few of the buildings on Convent Avenue (left).

“This is a novel importation; but if the experiment should prove successful, it may become one of some importance to the improvement of the growth of wool on this continent.” New York Herald, December 16, 1857

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On December 15, 1857, 42 llamas arrived in New York City on the Panama Railroad Company’s brig E. Drummond under the command of Captain Crippen Chapman (try saying that fast). The llamas (they were probably alpacas, but the New York press called them llamas) were owned by French naturalist Eugene Roehn and consigned to James I. Fisher & Son of Baltimore.

Llamas

Their journey began in the mountains of Ecuador, and from there they traveled to Panama. When they reached Panama, the llamas had to go by railroad to Aspinwall (today’s Colón), which was then the Atlantic terminal of the Panama Railroad (the canal would not open until 1914). From Aspinwall the herd sailed by ship on board the E. Drummond to New York via Key West.

By the time the llamas arrived in New York, they were extremely thin. The herd itself had also thinned out: Although the expedition began with 71 llamas, 29 died during the long journey.

Eugene Roehn’s plan was to introduce the llamas into wool-growing districts in the northeastern United States. Because they produced the finest kind of alpaca wool – worth 60 cents a pound as an export – Roehn thought they would become more valuable than sheep.

Aspinwall Panama

In 1857, the average passage from Aspinwall to New York would have been 25 days. Pictured here is La Floride in the port of Aspinwall in 1865.

The First Stop: Allerton’s Bull’s Head Hotel

Upon their arrival in New York, the llamas were taken to the stables of the Bull’s Head Hotel near the northeast corner of 44th Street and Fifth Avenue. This hotel, owned by the Allerton brothers, was the resort of the drovers and butchers who did business at the cattle yards just east of the hotel.

In the 19th century, the Allertons of Amenia, New York (Dutchess County) were to livestock what the Kardashians are to reality TV. Between 1800 and 1876, the Allerton family built a livestock empire that stretched from Illinois to New York City. By the late 1870s, they controlled the shipment of livestock into New York City on all the major railroads, including the Pennsylvania, the New York Central, and the Erie.

The first documented drover (one who moves livestock) in the family was Archibald Montgomery Allerton, who was born in Amenia in 1780. Shortly after his marriage to Rebecca Chamberlain in 1803, A.M. Allerton moved to New York City. There, he operated a drove yard and cattle market known as the Upper Bull’s Head on land once part of the Thomas Buchanan Farm.

Bull's Head Hotel 45th and Fifth

The Bull’s Head, depicted here in 1830, was located on present-day 45th Street and Fifth Avenue, on land that was once part of the Thomas Buchannan farm. This farm was located between today’s Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue from 41st to 49th streets.

Except for a break to serve as a lieutenant in the War of 1812, A.M. Allerton continued to operate the Bull’s Head until the 1830s. When he retired to Broome County, New York, to resume farming, Allerton turned over the drove yards and hotel — alternately called Allerton’s Bull’s Head, Upper Bull’s Head, Washington Drove Yards, and Allerton Stock Yards — to his sons, George Washington, David, and Archibald M. Jr.

Sometime around 1849, David and Archibald Jr. left the cattle business to get on the California Gold Rush bandwagon. They returned to New York City with $31,000 and resumed their livestock business with several Manhattan drove yards.

In July 1862 – two months after their father died – the Allerton brothers lost the Bull’s Head hotel and stockyards during the New York City Draft Riots. According to published reports, the mob set the hotel and tavern on fire after David Allerton had refused to serve them alcohol. In 1866, Archibald and his partners in the National Stock Yard Company entered into a contract with the Erie Railroad to operate new stockyards on 11th Avenue and 40th Street.

Sherwood House

In October 1875, the Fifth Avenue Bank of New York opened in the basement of the Sherwood House on the northeast corner of 45th Street and Fifth Avenue, pictured here in 1889.

John H.Sherwood, a prominent builder known for his high-class residences on Fifth Avenue north of 42nd Street, bought the former Allerton site after the Civil War ended and erected the Sherwood House, a popular family hotel. Sherwood and others later founded the Fifth Avenue Bank of New York, which opened for business in October 1875 in the basement of the Sherwood House.

Twenty years later, the old hotel was replaced by Delmonico’s restaurant (demolished in 1923). Today, 551 Fifth Avenue is the Fred F. French Building, a 38-story skyscraper erected in 1927.

Although most of the llamas remained on exhibit at Allerton’s, about a dozen appeared at the American Institute’s Fat Cattle Show at the Crystal Palace, an annual event that brought cattle men and breeders together to sell livestock and compete for the fattest cattle. The llamas, although quite thin under their thick wool coats, were quite popular with the men’s wives and children.

The Fat Cattle Show at the Crystal Palace

The Crystal Palace, New York

Completed in 1853, the New York Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and steel structure designed by architects Georg J. B. Carstensen and Charles Gildermeister. The domed building was shaped like a Greek cross and was reported to be fireproof (the Titanic was once reported to be unsinkable…).

In July 1852, the Association of the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations received permission from city authorities to erect a large exhibition hall on Reservoir Square, along Sixth Avenue between 40th and 42nd streets — what is today Bryant Park and the main branch of the New York Public Library.

Once a field occupied by small hills and streams, and later a potter’s field following the Revolutionary War, this part of Manhattan was far outside the city limits and still rural with dirt roads in the 1850s.

Crystal Palace New York

Adjoining the Crystal Palace was the Latting Observatory, a 315-foot iron and wood tower that was the tallest structure in New York City from the time it was constructed in 1853 until it burned down on August 30, 1856. From the top, visitors could see Queens, Staten Island, and New Jersey.

The Crystal Palace was built to house what is often thought of as the first United States world’s fair, known as the “Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations.” The exhibition was inspired by similar events featuring agricultural products and industrial innovations that took place in London in 1851 and Dublin in 1852. In New York, the exhibit opened on July 14, 1853, with newly sworn President Franklin Pierce in attendance.

The exhibition closed on November 1, 1854, but the Crystal Palace continued to host the Fair of the American Institute, including the Fat Cattle Show, for the next few years.

Elisha Otis elevator demonstration, Crystal Palace

Elisha Otis first obtained widespread attention for his elevator at the Crystal Palace in 1854. It was here that he demonstrated an elevator equipped with a device called a safety, which would engage if the hoisting rope broke. The safety addressed a major concern people had with elevators.

On October 5, 1858, a fire broke out in the Crystal Palace lumber room during the American Institute Fair. Nearly 2,000 people were inside when the fire broke out, but no one was injured. One man was reportedly rescued only seconds before the dome collapsed.

During the Civil War, Reservoir Square was used as an encampment for Union Army troops. Twenty years later, in 1884, the square was renamed Bryant Park in honor of William Cullen Bryant, the recently deceased poet, civic reformer, and longtime editor of the New York Evening Post. The city also approved designs for the New York Public Library, which was completed in 1911.

Only five years after it opened, the Crystal Palace burned to the ground in a spectacular, fast-burning fire.

Only five years after it opened, the Crystal Palace burned to the ground in a spectacular, fast-burning fire.

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In the spring of 1893, 27-year-old Frank C. Bostock and his wife, Susannah Ethel Bailey, sold their shares of the Bostock, Wombell, and Bailey Circus (yes, that Bailey) and sailed from Liverpool to New York aboard the Bovic, a White Star Line steamship that specialized in the shipment of livestock.

The couple didn’t travel alone; their traveling companions included three lions, a kangaroo, and several other large animals from the family’s traveling menagerie.

Boxing Kangaroo

With the introduction of the boxing kangaroo in America, marsupials were in high demand. Circuses and vaudeville houses sent cables to agents and ship captains in Australia requesting as many as they could find, but there were just not enough to go around. Some places resorted to putting a man in a kangaroo suit. The boxing kangaroo craze continued through the 1940s.

Upon arrival in New York, Frank set up his first exhibition stand near 5th Avenue and Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. A showman described the set-up this way: “The Bostock family lived in one wagon and the other two wagons housed four monkeys, five parrots, three lions, a sheep, and a boxing kangaroo.”

The kangaroo pugilist, whom Frank Bostock called Big Frank, had earned his fame in London at the Royal Aquarium. News of the British boxing kangaroo had generated much curiosity in the United States, so Bostock decided to introduce the act to New York.

Big Frank made his American debut on June 1, 1893, at the Madison Square Garden Amphitheater. As The New York Times described the event, the kangaroo wore a pair of regulation boxing gloves on his forepaws and was over six feet tall when standing on his hind legs. He was escorted into the ring by his opponent, “a burly colored man.” (Yes, this was over 100 years ago.)

Koster and Bial 200 Worth Street

John Koster and Albert Bial owned several restaurants and saloons in New York, including this restaurant at 200 Worth Street, which was where the two men reportedly first met. New York Public Library Digital Collections

As soon as Frank Bostock called “Time!” the kangaroo hopped nimbly on his hind legs to the center of the ring with his paws in correct boxing position. He followed his opponent all about the ring, and used a downward chopping movement with his gloved paws. Every time he took a blow from his opponent, he used his tail to keep his balance.

The event ended with three rounds of sparring between Frank the kangaroo and Frank the circus man. Homosapien Frank won the match by throwing himself on marsupial Frank and toppling him to the ground.

Koster & Bial’s Music Hall

One month after making his rounds at Madison Square Garden, Frank the boxing kangaroo was a headliner at Koster & Bial’s Music Hall, a vaudeville theater and beer garden at the northwest corner of 23rd Street and 6th Avenue. Big Frank was apparently a big hit there, as they kept him on the program until the close of the season at the end of August.

Koster & Bial 23rd Street

The first Koster & Bial Music Hall was located on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 23rd Street. Originally home to Bryant’s Opera House, it featured an open-air garden and an enclosed theater. NYPL Digital Collections

Koster & Bial’s has an interesting history, to say the least.

John Koster and Albert Bial were both born in Germany in the 1840s and immigrated to America in the early 1860s. The two men reportedly met in 1869 when Koster hired Bial to work at his restaurant at 200 Worth Street, on the corner of Park Row. They soon became partners in several restaurants as well as the beer-bottling business.

On May 5, 1879, Koster and Bial purchased a concert hall on 23rd Street near the corner of 6th Avenue. Built in 1870, the theater was originally called Bryant’s Opera House, the home of the popular blackface minstrel troupe, Bryant’s Minstrels. Following the death of Dan Bryant in 1875, the theater was then home to one concert hall after the other, including Darling’s Opera House, 23rd Street, Theatre Francaise, and the St. James.

The Corner, 24th and Sixth Avenue

“The Corner” building was designed by the German architects Herman J. Schwarzmann and Albert Buchman in 1886. It connected to the music hall so theater-goers could enter either through the main entrance at 23rd Street or through The Corner’s ornate entrance of cast iron, stained glass and polished wood on 24th Street, shown in this photograph. NYPL Digital Collections

In 1881 the partners expanded the business with a 1200-seat vaudeville theater at 115-117 West 23rd Street adjoining the older building. The property was owned by Alfred B. Darling, who also owned Proctor’s Theatre and was a senior proprietor of the Fifth-Avenue Hotel.

To circumvent a law against serving alcohol in theaters, Koster and Bial replaced the stage curtain with a folding screen. That way, they could say they were a restaurant that provided entertainment rather than a theater offering food and drink. It was at this theater that Big Frank the boxing kangaroo appeared nightly.

The Koster & Bial complex continued to grow to include an outdoor beer garden stretching along Sixth Avenue. With Koster in charge of the alcohol and Bial in charge of the performers, Koster & Bial’s was a popular boozy and burlesque-y venue.

The Corner, Koster & Bial

The Corner featured a saloon and retail outlet for Koster and Bial’s beer bottling business on the ground floor and sitting rooms on the upper floors. NYPL Digital Collections

In 1886, the partners built an annex called “The Corner” at the southwest corner of 24th Street. The annex had had a saloon and retail outlet for their beer bottling business on the ground floor and sitting rooms on the upper floors.

Trouble began when Koster & Bial’s started offering more than beer and vaudeville (wink wink). According to The New York Times, the concert hall had a notorious “cork room” in which the walls were covered with champagne bottle stoppers. “The affairs that took place in the room in the late hours after show time would have astonished the churchgoers,” the Times noted.

Albert Bial

This portrait of Albert Bial appeared in Moses King’s Notable New Yorkers of 1896-1899.

Numerous police raids and the scandal they created forced Koster and Bial to close the music hall and annex on August 26, 1893. The Trocadero Vaudevilles were next to move into the music hall, followed by Bon Ton (burlesque) in 1920. The building was torn down in 1924 and replaced by a six-story brick apartment building.

Josiah Belden moved into The Corner in 1894, operating a billiards parlor and grocery on the first floor and lodging rooms above. For many years during the late-20th century the building housed various entertainment venues until Billy’s Topless bar opened in 1970 (later renamed Billy’s Stopless). Mayor Rudolph Giuliani shut down Billy’s in 2001, and today it’s The Corner Cafe.

The new Koster and Bial's Music Hall on 34th Street opened on August 28, 1893, just two days after authorities shut down their 23rd Street venue. Museum of the City of New York Collections

The new Koster & Bial’s Music Hall on 34th Street opened on August 28, 1893, just two days after authorities shut down their 23rd Street venue. Museum of the City of New York Collections

After getting kicked out of 23rd Street, Koster and Bial hooked up with Oscar Hammerstein. Hammerstein owned the Manhattan Opera House, a large theater built in 1892 on 34th Street at Herald Square.

Having failed to succeed with high-class opera, Hammerstein offered Koster and Bial a partnership under which he would manage the vaudeville entertainment and they would manage the food. The new Koster and Bial’s Music Hall opened on August 28, 1893.

Koster & Bial 34th Street

Ticket prices in the new theater ranged from 25¢ for a seat in the gallery to $1.50 for one of the 700 blue satin and silk upholstered, reserved orchestra seats. For that price, one also had a shelf on the back of his or her chair to place alcoholic beverages. The balcony level, reached by marble stairs from the foyer, had 16 exclusive boxes, and the third level refreshment promenade had tables and chairs to accommodate 800 patrons. MCNY Collections

The Kinetoscope at Koster & Bial’s

It was at Koster & Bial’s on 34th Street that inventor Thomas Armat gave the first public demonstration of the projecting kinetoscope movie projector, called the Vitascope, on April 23, 1896. The partners’ plan was to use the Vitascope to reproduce scenes from various successful plays and operas, as well as political speeches, and project them on the 12 x 20 foot screen.

Vitascope

The Vitascope was invented and developed by Thomas Armat, but by mutual agreement Thomas Edison’s Kinetograph company acquired, manufactured, and marketed it, and presented it as having been invented by Edison. Koster & Bial had exclusive rights for exhibiting the projector. A plaque in Macy’s commemorates the Vitascope exhibition.

Although the music hall had some successes, it was more often plagued with financial and management issues. On July 17, 1901, Macy’s announced that it had purchased the property and would be demolishing the theater and other buildings to make way for its flagship store at 34th Street and Broadway.

Three days later, Koster and Bial’s last performance took place on the roof garden. The show ended with a chorus of performers and customers singing “Auld Lang Syne.”

The Kangaroos Keep Kicking

Frank C. Bostock

Frank Charles Bostock, the Animal King, gained notoriety in the U.S. with his publicity stunt with Wallace, the man-eating lion, in New York City. In his later career, he was best known for his animal show at Dreamland at Coney Island.

In the spring of 1894, Frank Bostock brought his animal show to Balmer’s Bathing Pavilion near the New Iron Pier at Coney Island. Ten years later, he opened the Bostock Arena at the brand-new Dreamland amusement park at Coney Island. Throughout these years, he continued to feature a boxing kangaroo.

Bostock died of the flu in England in 1912, about a year after the Dreamland fire (May 27, 1911), in which 60 of his 150 animals died. I don’t know if a boxing kangaroo was among those that perished in the flames.

The Corner

The Corner’s cornice and brownstone street markers are still intact today (see top of photo and lower right brick on the second level). So if you happen to be walking down Sixth Avenue near 24th Street, look up and say, “Hey, I know the story behind this building!”