Mirror for Gotham: New York as Seen by Contemporaries from Dutch Days to the Present

By Bayrd Still | Go to book overview
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7. NEW YORK IN THE SIXTIES

COMMENTATORS OF MANY NATIONALITIES described the emerging metropolis in the decade during which it felt the intensifying impact of the Civil War. On the eve of the conflict there were such distinguished visitors as the first official emissaries from Japan; England's Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII; and the party of Prince Napoleon, a cousin of Napoleon III. The war brought a spate of correspondents--William H. Russell of the London Times, Edward Dicey of the Spectator, George Sala of the Daily Telegraph, and John Skinner of the Daily News, as well as the French writer and political figure Ernest Duvergier de Hauranne. To portray the city upon the return of peace there was such a varied group, among others, as England's Charles Dickens and Sir Charles Dilke; the Argentinian educator, statesman, and journalist Domingo Sarmiento; Friedrich Gerstäcker, the German travel writer; and America's Mark Twain, viewing the "overgrown" metropolis after an absence of thirteen years. Meanwhile, New Yorkers like George Templeton Strong and Walt Whitman continued their perceptive comment on the changing urban scene. 1

The "Great White Way" was still a development of the future when New York was host to the members of the initial Japanese mission in May and June of 1860. Nevertheless, it was the illumination of the gaslit city which most impressed the visitors "from Niphon come," as Whitman wrote in describing the pageantry of Manhattan's welcome to the Orientals. "There is a street light in front of each door which when lighted at night makes the street seem as bright as day," one of the Japanese reported. "Some of the buildings have as many as a hundred gas lights over the entrance. The light in the rooms of the houses shining through the glass windows at night is so wonderful and is such a surprise to us that I cannot describe it." The arrival of the Prince of Wales in the following October brought a "week of excitement . . . pervading all classes" which was beyond that of any event which that ubiquitous

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