Friday, May 6, 2016

Ten Fascinating Locations in Old New York, Part One.

One of the joys of writing my novel, A Predator's Game, involved immersing myself in the Manhattan of 1896. With so many exotic locations, I was able to pick the best to set the scenes of my story.


In 1896, Manhattan and New York City were one and the same. The consolidation that would include the five boroughs took place in 1898. This was also several years before construction of the subway system had begun. Although no underground trains existed, there was an extensive system of overhead trains. Most trolleys were pulled by horses, with a single cable car traveling up and down Broadway and one on the Brooklyn Bridge. The latter converted to electric-power that year.

With the invention of the elevator and improvements in construction techniques, a new sort of building, the skyscraper, started going up all over the place and the tallest building one month would soon be overtaken the next.

The Ten Locations.

Location #10: The American Tract Society Building.
Location #9:  The Suicide Curves of the Ninth Avenue El.
Location #8: The American Museum of Natural History.
(to be continued with:)
Location #7. The Bellevue Morgue.
Location #6. Hart Island.
Location #5. The Manhattan State Hospital for the Insane.
Location #4. Tesla's Laboratory on East Houston.
Location #3. The Eden Musée.
Location #2. The Adams Power Station.
Location #1. Goat Island and Terrapin Point, Niagara Falls.

Location #10. The American Tract Society Building.

A background theme of my story is the perils of technology. The appearance of tall buildings were a source of wonderment in the 1890s: evidence of unrelenting progress while at the same time changing the public's concept of the city, suddenly there was such a thing as a vertical landscape. I searched for a building that would describe both the awe and the shock of the new, firmly planted in the 19th century but calling out to the future.

From the book:

  As inventors of the religious pamphlet, the American Tract Society delivered the Good News to the masses. . . . The Society decided to construct their own Tower of Babel nearby City Hall and Newspaper Row and not far from the launching point of the Brooklyn Bridge, perfectly positioned as a prestigious address and guaranteeing them a regular income as landlords. ...

  When completed in August of 1895, the American Tract Society building stood twenty-three floors, its roof higher than any building in the city save those with steeples. Its elevators gave a jolt when they shot the passengers up to the heavens at an alarming speed and made a terrifying drop when they returned them to earth. Or else they simply crashed.

Deaths in elevators and deaths in falling from man-made heights were new and exotic fears and the Tract Society received bad publicity from both with articles published in the local papers, The Engineering News and The Scientific American. The builders had installed the wrong type of elevator hydraulics for so tall a building. Thus the owners had trouble renting the upper floors and eventually had to sell the building at foreclosure. It still stands today, albeit with better elevator brakes.

The American Tract Building (in back), 1890s.

Location #9. Suicide Curve.

Nothing better defined the progress of the 1890s with its wonder, its convenience, and its hell, than the elevated trains. Not needing to stop for pedestrian nor horse, these trains invented commuting and expanded  the city, so that houses and buildings crowded out the cornfields and open lands of northern Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. They also blotted out the sky for those who worked and lived below. Their coal engines belched sulfurous clouds as they passed.

One of the Spidery Monsters that Made Up the Elevated Train System.

Along the Ninth Avenue El, at 110th Street, the train tracks rose to perilous heights and took a pair of sharp turns. These were called the Suicide Curves. In my novel, a runaway train approaches the turn.

  Tesla stared up the line. “Changing direction while maintaining velocity is a form of acceleration with the additional force directed outwards from the curve.”

  “What does the hell does that mean?” Conan Doyle asked.

  “When we hit the curve that velocity will be directed toward tossing the train from its tracks and over the edge of the railway. To execute the turn with a margin of safety, we need to cut our speed in half.”

  The track sloped upward atop spindly metal legs, ascending to over one hundred feet above the streets below, seemingly suspended in midair, higher than the roofs of the nearby tenements.

Suicide Curve on the 9th Avenue El at 110th
A Satirical View of the Oppressive, Belching Elevated Trains

#8. The American Museum of Natural History.

Having opened in 1877, the American Museum of Natural History underwent a period of rapid expansion in the mid-1890s. From the novel:

  The American Museum of Natural History filled the five floors of a long main building and an eastern wing. Scaffolding surrounded the stub of a west wing. A pair of rounded towers bracketed the main entrance, where a stairhead platform spread out in front of a series of six tall arches. From here, a cement staircase divided in two and toppled down to the street level.

American Museum of Natural History, an 1898 drawing showing its West Wing complete.

  Immediately upon entering the museum, they were greeted by a monstrous elephant, its head bowed for the charge, its glass eyes gleaming. Its tusks twisted inwards and nearly touched, like a pair of filaments with a narrow spark gap.

Tip, the Killer Elephant at the Public Entrance to the Museum. After having gored and killed seven people at the zoo, Tip was given a trial and then executed and stuffed.



Nikola Tesla, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Henry H. Holmes are all characters in my thriller, A Predator's Game.

A Predator's Game is available in soft-cover and ebook through Amazon and other online retailers.

A Predator's Game, now available, Rook's Page Publishing.


Back page blurb.

Manhattan, 1896.

When the author Arthur Conan Doyle meets Nikola Tesla he finds a tall, thin genius with a photographic memory and a keen eye, and recognizes in the eccentric inventor the embodiment of his creation, Sherlock. Together, they team up to take on an "evil Holmes." Multi-murderer Dr. Henry H. Holmes has escaped execution and is unleashing a reign of terror upon the metropolis. Set in the late nineteenth century in a world of modern marvels, danger and invention, Conan Doyle and Tesla engage the madman in a deadly game of wits.

Martin Hill Ortiz, also writing under the name, Martin Hill, is the author of A Predatory Mind. Its sequel, set in 1890s Manhattan and titled A Predator's Game, features Nikola Tesla as detective.


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