Museum Holiday Schedule

The New-York Historical Society Museum will be open Wednesday, December 24, 10am-3pm and will reopen Friday, December 26, 10am-8pm. For details, please visit our calendar.

The U.S. Marshal Service has been providing protection for federal judges since 1789. In 2010, Marshals investigated about 1,400 threats and inappropriate communications to the federal judiciary, and provided protection for more than 2,000 federal judges. Although there has been a noted increase in recent years, threatening federal judges is hardly a new phenomenon.

When he was appointed in 1805, Matthias B. Tallmadge was the fifth judge of the (then) District of New York. During his tenure on the bench, Tallmadge heard a large number of cases among which was the notable case U.S. v. Smith and Ogden, which concerned the Miranda Affair in Venezuela and violation of the Neutrality Act of 1794, which provided that no U.S. citizen should agitate against a country with whom the U.S. was at peace.  

Tallmadge's papers indicate that in 1809, he received a number of threats, varied in their aggressiveness. One reminds Tallmadge that judges are not infallible and will be judged themselves by a higher power.

Citation: Matthias B. Tallmadge Papers, MS 612, Box 1, Folder 4

The second threat was is far more disturbing. Within it, Tallmadge is told “Sir,

This is just to inform you that if you keep condemning property as you have done under the [embargo?] law as you have done we will have your life if it is 20 years after, burn your house also murder your children you have robbed us & you or yours shall pay us who can bear the […] of property.”

Citation: Matthias B. Tallmadge Papers, MS 612, Box 1, Folder 4

In the threat against his life, children, and house the writer makes a direct reference to the fact that Tallmadge foreclosed on property, indicating that it was in response to a judgment (or judgments) Tallmadge handed down. This threat, as jarring in 2011 as it was in 1809, proves the old judge’s adage: with every ruling, you make one temporary friend and one permanent enemy.

-Christine George

Belle Livingstone, a former showgirl “with poetic legs”, was one of the best-known speakeasy owners in New York. She ran the Fifty-Eighth Street Country Club, which offered its patrons $40 champagne and a miniature golf course. After it was raided in late 1930, she spent a month in prison.

Milk White Flag

Poster for Hoyt’s A Milk White Flag, the show that made Belle Livingstone famous (PR 055, Strobridge)

Undaunted, Belle transplanted her operations to Reno, and eventually made her way back to New York, this time to East Hampton, Long Island.  More recently, Belle resurfaced in our collections with the discovery of this typewritten press release in N-YHS’s copy of the 1933 Social directory of Southampton.

Press release, found in Social Directory of Southampton (F127.L8B65 1933A)

Dated for release on June 30th, 1933, it announces the opening night of Belle Livingstone’s Hampton Country Club, in East Hampton.   This event would “find prominent members of the stage and screen joining the social elite of Long Island”, with entertainment by “Dimitri, tango instructor to the Infantas of Spain”, and Princess Alexandria de Tolly Weymar Semijradow, interpreting “native Tatar dances”. The club featured an English tap room, with furniture imported from “a famous old inn in the south of Essex”, and “another amusing room … the beach room, which is decorated in the same manner as the Club’s cabanas on the beach so that guests lunching in the beach room may later adjoin [sic] to the shore for a dip with no change in atmosphere”.  Sadly, the “dream of a transplanted Deauville”, as she describes the Hampton Country Club in her memoir, Belle out of order (also held by N-YHS), did not restore Belle’s fortunes.  Gangsters moved in, set up a gambling operation, and stole the club’s furniture at the end of the season; there was no opportunity to set up a new club before the end of Prohibition, in December 1933.

Belle Livingstone’s memoirs, titled Belle out of order (CT.L7913A3)
Detail of capsized ships (broadside SY1792 no. 29)

This city and vicinity were exceedingly alarmed, last Sabbath, about four o’clock, P.M. by a tremendous westerly tornado, which continued about 20 minutes, twisting off limbs of trees, unroofing houses, and tumbling down chimnies [sic] …  Terrible was the havoc on the water….

Sound familiar? Except for the unorthodox spelling, this newspaper account of wild weather reads like any published in recent months, but it ran originally on July 4, 1792: “last Sabbath” was July 1st — 219 years ago today — and “this city,” surprisingly, was New York.

The storm’s fury is recounted by a broadside with a long, chilling title beneath a row of twenty black coffins: A True and Particular Narrative of the late Tremendous TORNADO, or HURRICANE, at Philadelphia and New-York, on Sabbath-Day, July 1, 1792: When several Pleasure-Boats were lost in the Harbor of the latter, and Thirty Men, Women and Children, (taking their Pleasure on that Sacred Day) were unhappily drowned in Neptune’s raging and tempestous [sic] Element!!!!!!! (Boston: Ezekiel Russell, 1792).

Black mourning borders frame this woeful tale (broadside SY1792 no. 29)

The terminology applied to this ferocious event — tornado vs. hurricane — was typically imprecise for the time. According to David M. Ludlum, author of Early American Tornadoes, 1586-1870, it was likely neither a tornado nor a hurricane, but, rather, a squall line, or an assemblage of severe thunderstorms that sometimes forms ahead of a cold front, bringing heavy rains, lightning, hail, and excessive winds. Squall lines can produce tornadoes and waterspouts, but it seems no contemporary description included a funnel cloud, hence Ludlum’s reluctance.

Whatever its name, the 1792 storm was deadly. Thirty boaters drowned when their vessels capsized (note the broadside’s woodcut ships, printed upside-down). A whole family perished off Yellow Hook (present-day Bay Ridge), and a sloop carrying sixteen passengers lost all but one to the depths. They tempted fate by sailing on Sunday, or so clucked the anonymous poet of the maudlin “New-York Tragedy” that rounds out the broadside:

A warning great and solemn call / To keep GOD’s Sabbaths one and all; / As on that sacred Day they fell, / And did ascend to Heaven or Hell.

Detail of Grim Reaper (broadside SY1792 no. 29)
Creative: Tronvig Group