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New York City

The Twin Bed

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Victorian interior design was characterized by three words: gaudy, ornate and formidable. Following fashion, private and public rooms were stuffed with objets d’art, bric-a-brac, heavy velvet drapery, tables, chairs, paneled walls, Oriental rugs, potted plants, gilded reproductions of Louis XVI furniture—intricately carved, fragile sofas and chairs—Chinese ivory figures, German porcelain vases, ormolu clocks, and miniatures lined the fireplace mantle, the mantle itself shaded by heavy, ornamental fire-shades, and all was overlooked by wall to wall portraits and priceless paintings, richly framed in gold. Rooms in the same house could run the gamut from the “Louis” style so popular with Americans, to the Moorish and Oriental decor transported West by fashionable drapers like Liberty & Co.

Everything and every room were subject to the new tastes in fashion, with housewives frequently gutting their boudoirs, parlors and drawing rooms to redecorate–nothing was sacrosanct when it came to fashion. But one change did come, a change that rocked the foundations of society and sent clergymen flocking to their pulpits to condemn the new development: the twin bedstead.

When interior decorators made twin beds popular in the 1890’s, some commentators called them a social menace, while others saw them as therapy for an insomniac age. Many were outraged that the firms hired to furbish the homes of the fashionable had dared to breach the bedroom, and proposed to abolish the sacramental double bed and replace it with the new “twin beds” which manufacturers were beginning to introduce. Clergymen and family physicians were drawn into the rapidly bitter domestic controversy, many of the former predicting the breakdown of the holy bonds of marriage by the separation of husband and wife.

Gibson affection However, some physicians asserted that the old-fashioned double bed was unsanitary, and medical journals condemned them vociferously, one writer claiming that injury to one or the other of two people sleeping in this way was sure to result in time: “By the use of the twin bed a married couple could occupy the same room and sleep side by side without harm to either.” The younger generation couldn’t understand the fuss and quickly adopted the new bed, surmising that two steps across the carpeted floor needn’t be an obstacle to bliss.

The twin bed was so designed that when placed side by side, the effect was that of one wide bedstead, with separate spring mattress and bed clothing provided for each one. Many of them were made of costly woods, rich with carving, though a few simpler versions were provided in brass. So ubiquitous was the twin bed, it inspired a number of theatrical and literary farces, and the controversial piece of furniture was soon to be found in college dormitories across the nations. Because of the relative comfort of the bed, and its convenient size, social reformers soon pleaded for employers to grant their servants the use of twin beds; in one home, five servants were all obliged to sleep in one large room in the basement. By the use of single beds two members of the family who occupied separate rooms could be moved into in one, thus providing an extra room to be given up to the servants.

The twin bed found its place in the Code Era of Hollywood, where the Production Code of the 1930s required married couples to sleep in separate beds to uphold the moral codes of the time. Directors got around this with the “one foot” loophole: both stars had to be dressed, and one character had to keep one foot on the floor (check out the bedroom scene in the first Hepburn/Tracy vehicle, Woman of the Year). Ironically, even though people today consider separate beds to be old-fashioned, when physicians recently promoted the benefits of them, it caused just as much furor and controversy as the topic did in the 1890s!

Times Square

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metropolitan-opera-house New York City at the turn of the century was a time of transformation. From a sleepy collection of boroughs along the Hudson to a bustling, frenetic city of millions, New York was a city on the verge of tremendous changes. Not surprisingly, many of them were created to meet the needs of the thronged streets and avenues.

By the end of the 19th century, society both fashionable and wealthy, as well as the entertainment world, moved up the island. Broadway was lined with electric streetlights and packed around the clock with theatergoers, club patrons, chorus girls and tourists. But the glamorous limelight was at this time focused on 42nd Street and points south, in the district then known as the Upper Rialto. This scene marked the birth of Times Square.

times-square Originally called Longacre Square after a similar London district, this intersection of 42nd Street, Bloomingdale Road and Seventh Avenue was made of the nexus of important roads to the north of the island. With the shift north, New York Times publisher Adolph S. Ochs moved his operations to the newly-built Times Tower. Marooned on a tiny triangle of land at the intersection of 7th Avenue, Broadway and 42nd Street, it was at the time Manhattan’s second-tallest building. Having persuaded the mayor to build a subway station there, the area was also renamed “Times Square” on April 8, 1904. Three weeks later, the first electrified advertisement appeared on the side of a bank at the corner of 46th Street and Broadway.

To inaugurate the move, Ochs hosted a massive celebration in the square for New Year’s Eve. Over 200,000 people attended the all-day street festival, which culminated in a fireworks display set off from the base of the tower, and at midnight the joyful sound of cheering, rattles and noisemakers from the attendees could be heard, it was said, from as far away as Croton-on-Hudson, thirty miles north along the Hudson River. While there was no ball, the popularity of the party paved the way for the first dropping of a time ball in Times Square to ring in the New Year on December 31, 1907.

times-square-ball The first New Year’s Eve Ball was built by a young immigrant metalworker named Jacob Starr, and for most of the twentieth century the company he founded, sign maker Artkraft Strauss, was responsible for lowering the ball. Constructed with iron and wood materials with 100 25-watt bulbs weighing 700 pounds (318 kg) and measuring 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter, it was affixed to the flagpole at 1 Times Square to drop 1 second after midnight. To ring in 1908, waiters in lobster palaces and fine restaurants in the hotels surrounding Times Square were supplied with battery-operated top hats emblazoned with the numbers “1908” fashioned of tiny light bulbs. At the stroke of midnight, they all “flipped their lids” and the year on their foreheads lit up – conjunction with the numbers “1908” on the parapet of the Times Tower lighting up to signal the arrival of the new year.

new-years-1908 One can only imagine how chaotic the celebration must have been, based on the report given by the Times:

“…100,000 people supped at midnight. The storm center was the new Hotel Plaza, at 5th avenue and the Plaza. Between 11 and midnight, more than 6000 people stormed the doors. Crowds filled the lobbies and almost fought their way into the three large dining rooms and tea room. People who had reserved tables couldn’t get in for all the rush…Mrs Stuyvesant Fish got no further than the entry until a gentleman used his girth to force his way through the crowd for her to follow…Visiting from place to place was very much the vogue. Many who began at the Plaza went to Cafe Martin later. Each hotel and restaurant was filled with celebrities culled from the stage and opera–Lina Cavalieri, Caruso, John Barrymore–society and the very rich…The Waldorf-Astoria was a social scene. Venetian fete on the eighth floor of the Hotel Astor…The proprietor of Cafe Martin gave permission for ladies to smoke that night, but none did…From to midnight, Broadway from Canal to the Battery, was crowded with merrymakers. Just before the ringing of the chimes in the tower of Trinity Church the crowd surged onto Broadway, and from Vesey Street south, passage was impossible for cars and carriages…”

A testament to New York’s rapid change, Times Square went from simple area known for its horses and carriages to the dazzling, billboard advertisement square you see today in a period of less than ten years. Despite its complete transformation, there remains one constant link with the past: the New Year’s Eve celebration.