We are ugly but we have the music

 

 

“Dylan Thomas lived and wrote at the Chelsea hotel and from here he sailed out to die.”

~ written on a plaque by the front entrance of the Chelsea.

 

Chelsea2

 

 

I first became aware of the Hotel Chelsea while still a relative youngster back home in Australia.

In, I guess, November of 1978, I was watching the evening news with my parents when a story came on about Sid Vicious having killed his girlfriend Nancy in a Hotel in New York. If memory serves, there was footage of Nancy’s bagged body being taken out on a gurney and some shots of the hotel exterior.

The visuals didn’t make much of an impression, nothing ever looked particularly interesting in the grainy, dim TV footage of the time. The story, however, stuck because it was such a surprise to me to discover that famous people could behave in that way. This was all pre-O.J. of course.

Some years later, I went and saw the movie Sid and Nancy in the cinema and I think that may have been the event that cemented the Chelsea in my consciousness. Over the years I stumbled upon more and more stories about the hotel and the colourful people who had and did inhabit it.

By the time I’d read about Patti Smith, Andy Warhol, and Arthur Miller living and working within its bohemian environs, I’d become a bit of a bohemian myself.  I considered myself a working musician in an art-rock band and had begun to read far more widely than the SF novels of my youth. To me at this time, the Chelsea had begun to feel like a counter-culture hub and I was frustrated that nothing like it existed in my part of the World.

I was drawn to the images I’d see of some of my musical and literary heroes photographed standing atop the wrought iron balconies that bedeck the hotel facade; the grimy streets of New York laid out beneath them.

I never, however, believed for a second that one day I would have the opportunity to see the Chelsea with my own eyes. It seemed a very unlikely eventuality but, hey,  never say never.

I’m aware that there are some readers who may not be as familiar with the Hotel Chelsea as others and so here is a bit of a potted history to get you up to speed, as it were.

Completed in 1885 (though, it was opened to residents the previous year), the building now known as the Hotel Chelsea was originally one of New York’s first private apartment cooperatives. The red-brick building was designed by Philip Hubert in the Queen Anne Revival style (some say Victorian Gothic).

Amazingly, at the time of its completion, the Chelsea would have dominated the skyline. At just twelve stories, the hotel was then the tallest building in New York.

Sadly, a confluence of social and financial shifts in and around Manhattan led to the Chelsea going bust and closing its doors. It reopened in 1909 as the Hotel Chelsea under the management of one A. R. Walty.

After the hotel also went bankrupt, it was purchased in 1939 by Joseph Gross, Julius Krauss, and David Bard, who, as partners managed the hotel together until the early 1970s. After Joseph Gross and Julius Krauss both died, the management fell to the famously eccentric Stanley Bard, son of David.

It was under the guiding hand of Stanley that the hotel began its metamorphosis into the bohemian sanctum sanctorum of artists, musicians, and writers that was to build its fame.

It has been said that reading through the list of Chelsea Hotel residents is like watching a highlight reel of 20th century American culture.
It includes writers such as Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, Dylan Thomas (who wrote the final draft of ‘Under Milkwood’ at the Chelsea – and shortly thereafter, was carted off to hospital to die, allegedly, of alcohol poisoning), Brendan Behan (who would also die of the drink), Arthur Miller (who wrote ‘After the Fall’ there), Jack Kerouac (who worked on ‘On the Road’ there), Gore Vidal, O. Henry, Allen Ginsberg, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Thomas Wolfe, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs (who wrote ‘The Naked Lunch’ there), and Arthur C. Clarke who wrote ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ there).

The list of artists is also impressive; Larry Rivers, Christo and Jeanne-Claude (Christo wrapped Jeanne-Claude, his wife, there), Jackson Pollock, Doris Chase, Bernard Childs, Claudio Edinger, Australian painter Brett Whiteley, Yves Klein (who wrote his Manifeste de l’hôtel Chelsea there in April 1961), Ching Ho Cheng, and Robert Mapplethorpe all resided there for a time. Sculptor René Shapshak and his wife lived here; his bust of Harry Truman displayed in the lobby. Andy Warhol shot his film Chelsea girls in the hotel.

Film stars and directors like James Dean, Stanley Kubrick, Uma Thurman, Mitch Hedberg,  Eddie Izzard, Miloš Forman, Ethan Hawke, Dennis Hopper, Squat Theatre Company,  Elliott Gould, Elaine Stritch, Shirley Clarke, Michael Imperioli, Jane Fonda, Dave Hill, Russell Brand, Lillie Langtry, the Warhol film star Viva and her daughter Gaby Hoffman, and Edie Sedgwick either called the Chelsea home or were frequent visitors over the years.

And various music icons including Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan (who penned the ‘Blonde on Blonde’ album there), Leonard Cohen (who wrote about his tryst with Joplin there in his songs ‘Chelsea Hotel #1 and ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’), Dee Dee Ramone, Joni Mitchell, Madonna, Nico, Cher, Graham Nash, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, John Cale, Édith Piaf, Jimi Hendrix, Alice Cooper, Rufus Wainwright, Jim Morrison, Pink Floyd, Canned Heat, The Grateful Dead, and, last (and least) Sid Vicious were all also either residents or very familiar faces at the hotel.

Most of these multi-various celebs, along with a collection of failed artists, musicians, junkies, and poets were presided (and fawned) over by the much loved – if somewhat confounding – figure of Stanley Bard.

Arthur Miller, who had christened the Chelsea “the high spot of the surreal”, reminisced (in an article he penned) about a time when the grit in his hotel room carpet had gotten so deep that he erupted in a rage over the phone.
“For Christ’s sake, Stanley,” he recalled shouting, “don’t you have a vacuum cleaner in the house?!”
“Of course! We have lots of them,” Stanley replied.
“Then why aren’t they ever used?”
“They’re not used?”
“Stanley! You know goddamned well they don’t use them!”
“I never heard of such a thing! Why don’t they use them?”
“You’re asking me why they don’t use them?”
“Well, you’re the one who brought it up.”
“Look, just get a vacuum cleaner up here and let’s forget this conversation.”
“Fine. How are you otherwise?”
“Truthfully, there is no otherwise — all I am is a man waiting desperately for a vacuum cleaner.”
“And he would laugh,” Mr. Miller wrote, “grateful for another happy tenant.”

He would later write, “This hotel does not belong to America,” he wrote. “There are no vacuum cleaners, no rules, and no shame.”

Chelsea1

But the hotel’s unique culture was also self-nurturing. The sheer number of creatives all living in such close proximity allowed for a kind of cross-pollination of ideas. Robert Mapplethorpe, for example, was turned on to photography while a resident (he shared the hotel’s smallest apartment with Patti Smith) after one of their neighbours, artist Sandy Daley, lent him her Polaroid camera.

Bob Dylan, who lived in room 211 during the 1960s, was inspired by fellow Chelsea guest Dylan Thomas to change his surname from Zimmerman, or so the mythology has it. A Dylan tale that is certainly true is that in his 1976 song to his first wife, Sara Lownds, “Sara” he references the Chelsea with the lyric: “Staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel/ writing ‘ Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ for you.”

Bard was extremely tolerant of the burgeoning drug culture in the hotel. He was especially accommodating with the Beat poets and their coterie, “I knew Timothy Leary, Allen ­[Ginsberg] and that whole beat generation,” Bard once said. “I thought that each person had their own right to do what they wanted as long as it wasn’t destructive to the hotel”.

William Burroughs was one of that group of beat poets which also included Jack Kerouac who took up residence in the hotel in the late 50s and, as mentioned above, much of Burroughs’ novel, Naked Lunch, was written there.

There are numerous other Chelsea anecdotes, from Gore Vidal famously sleeping with Kerouac to the fact that several survivors of the Titanic stayed at the hotel (which is a short distance from Pier 54) Or The painter Alphaeus Philemon Cole living there for 35 years until his death in 1988, aged 112 (he was to that point, the oldest verified man alive) but I guess it’s fitting to close on the incident that first made me aware of the Chelsea.

This was the hotel’s most notorious scandal – Nancy Spungen’s death was arguably the lowest point in the Chelsea’s chequered history. Her drug-fueled trip with nominal Sex Pistol, Sid Vicious, came to its inevitable, pathetic end in November 1978 when her body was found in their filthy bed in room 100; a solitary stab wound had pierced her abdomen. The knife was Sid’s and he was duly arrested for the killing but never made it to trial; dying just four months later from a heroin overdose.

Though it was this rather dark and tragic event that was my introduction to the Chelsea, My fascination for the legendary position it holds within the American, and indeed global, counter-culture and Avantgarde made me want to seek it out when I eventually had the opportunity to visit NYC.

chelsea3

Unfortunately, it took another four visits for me to finally get there, only to discover that it was under renovation (and in fact still is at time of writing). Though I could not enter, It was still a real thrill to stand and look up at that famous and familiar facade, imagining all those who had imbued the very walls with their unique otherness.

I’ve revisited several times since and am always struck by the building’s strange, stately grandeur and ceaseless sense of mystery and promise.

 

 

Words and images are my own.

 

©2018

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Starman

 

 

main_st_1950s
Main Street High Bridge in the 1950’s…
IMG_7936.jpg
…and today.

 

In 1950’s America an interesting phenomenon occurred. Hot on the heels of the ‘flying saucer flaps’ (as they were then known) which had been occurring since 1947*, a small group of people went public with claims that they had both met and travelled with men and women from outer space.

These ‘contactees’, as they came to be called, began going public with prophetic messages and dire warnings about mankind’s future which they claimed originated with the men from Venus.

The first and most famous of these was George Adamski who went from dishwasher in a burger joint to millionaire after the publication of his book about his ‘encounters’ with space people but he was not the last. There was at least a score of others peddling pretty much the same line in space dust.

 

Howard Menger bl.jpg
Menger.

 

One of those who became almost as famous as Adamski was Howard Menger of High Bridge New Jersey. Menger claimed that when he was a young boy back in the 30’s he encountered a beautiful woman sitting upon a rock in the woods outside of town. The woman revealed herself to be from Venus and told Howard that he would meet her again at some point in the future.

Menger, in his book From Outer Space to You, claimed that this proved to be the case when, in the 50’s, he witnessed a spacecraft which landed in a field outside High Bridge. Menger alleged that one of the three figures that emerged from the craft was the very woman he had met 20 years before. Furthermore, he claimed she had not aged a day in the intervening years.

It seems amazing to think that people bought into Howard Menger’s tales of encounters with Venusian amazon women but many did. Howard claimed that many beside himself also witnessed the craft he frequently saw and filmed. However, even a cursory examination of his images leaves the modern viewer more than a little unconvinced and wondering what his so-called witnesses thought they were seeing.

Among Mengers more outrageous claims is that he was taken by the Venusians to Earth’s moon and that it had an atmosphere and horticulture. He even claimed to have brought back a ‘moon potato’.

If this all seems rediculous, it’s worth noting that Howard often spoke to very large gatherings of devoted believers (some of which took place right here in High Bridge) and he appeared often on the radio where he waxed lyrical about the teachings delivered by the Venusians**.

There are still people living in High Bridge today who claim that Howard was a hardworking and honest local businessman who was well liked and respected within the community. His own wife, Connie, met Howard when, as a local journalist, she came to interview him about his experiences with the Space Brothers. Connie was so impressed by him that she married him, quit her job, and started preaching the message too (something she continued to do even after Howard’s death in 2009).

The contactee movement has been chalked up largely to the extreme paranoia of the ‘A-Bomb Generation’. Many people (intellectuals among them) were convinced that mankind was on a fast track to annihilation and the thought of benevolent and technologically advanced beings intervening in our affairs like protective parents must have held a lot of appeal for those traumatised by their fear of the bomb.

I’ve watched some of Menger’s filmed interviews and there’s no denying he was charismatic and seemingly sincere. Perhaps he actually believed what he was saying or perhaps he just needed to believe it was true.

 

 

 

*It’s probably not a coincidence that these ‘flaps’ occurred as the paranoia of Cold War was gearing up.

**In later years (once space exploration had proven that the other planets in our Solar System were hostile to humanoid life) Menger and the other contactees claimed that they had misunderstood their Space Brothers as to their point of origin.

Menger claimed he now believed they merely had a base on Venus (or maybe Mars) and actually came from outside of our system.

 

©2018

Iron men: Part 4

 

 

Part 3

 

The town my family are now living in is named for a bridge that cannot be seen. Despite its considerable height (34m) and length (400m), the iron trestle bridge is invisible to the eye.

It was built across the South Branch of the Raritan River by the Central Railway Company of New Jersey in the 1850s but saw almost no use in its originally intended form.

The official reason given for this was that the bridge was too ‘costly to maintain’ but the truth was that the bridge swayed whenever a train crossed and people were simply reluctant to use it.

This was a scandalous state of affairs but the solution chosen had a touch of genius about it. The railway simply buried the bridge supports under rail-truck loads of earth (and indeed even the rail-trucks themselves were dumped over the side to add anchorage to the mound).

 

 

lrv-7670.jpg
For scale, the painted flag adorns a full sized shipping container.

 

lrv-7671.jpg

lrv-7675.jpg
Another scale comparison.

 

 

It took five years to complete the job but by 1864 the bridge had been replaced by a massive embankment. The only visible structure that now remains is a double tunnel through which a road and the river pass beneath the embankment. However, the bridge in some form still exists at the core of the mound.

 

LRV -7672

LRV -7679

 

High Bridge was originally incorporated as a township by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on March 29, 1871, ironically, named for a bridge which technically no longer existed as such.

 

Words and images are my own.

 

©2018

Charlotte sometimes (sometimes Lolotte)

 

In my last post, I mentioned that I had written previously about Napoleon’s niece visiting New Jersey. This turned out to be incorrect. I had researched it (based on a story I’d been told about her making a sketch of Lebanon, NJ) but never actually got around to writing a post. Situation rectified.

 

 

Charlotte-Bonaparte-David-1821
Lolotte.

 

 

Charlotte Bonaparte (known to her family as Lolotte) was the daughter of Napoleon’s brother, Joseph. After the Emperor’s fall from grace, Joseph, who at the height of his brother’s power had been crowned King of Naples and Spain, fled to America and settled for a time in, of all places, Bordentown, New Jersey.

After a while, his young daughter joined him there. Below, is an eyewitness account of the Princess’ arrival in Philadelphia.

The path to the carriage that awaited the princess was covered with a carpet. The dock was full of people anxious to see a princess in the flesh. She was very young, vivacious and, I believe, feeling free from the strict surveillance of her governess and of her devoted physician, Dr. Stokoe, exalted at the sight of the crowd. She took off the fur hat that she had worn during the crossing, to respond to the many greetings, and it fell out of her hands into the Delaware. She immediately took the captain’s from the bulwark and waved it. Then she put it on her head, where she kept it until arriving at the hotel.

The next day she returned to the ship…with a new hat for the captain, which she attempted herself to place on his head, telling him she would keep his as a souvenir of the cordial reception that the inhabitants of Philadelphia had given her, and of the incident that had deprived her of her own.

Life on her father’s New Jersey estate must have seemed a little dull to a girl who had visited some of Europe’s grandest cities but Charlotte was a gifted artist who travelled about the state with her easel, painting and drawing whatever caught her eye.

And one of the subjects that did catch the Princesses eye was the tiny village of Lebanon in Hunterdon County (which is where our family were living until our recent move to High Bridge).

 

lebanon2
A view of Lebanon by Charlotte Bonepart.

 

Charlotte’s idle in the green pastures of New Jersey would be short-lived, however. After three years she returned to Brussels to be married.

Perversely, the instructions in Napoleon’s will stated his nieces and nephews should marry amongst themselves to “conserve the Bonaparte wealth”. Therefore, Charlotte’s sister Zénaïde married her cousin Charles and on July 24, 1826, Charlotte married their cousin Napoleon-Louis.

This marriage too was to be a short-lived affair. On the 17th March 1831, after just five years together, Napoleon-Louis died while fighting with the insurgents who were trying to drive the Austrians out of Italy.

Later Charlotte would fall pregnant to a married Polish Count, with whom she was having an affair. In February 1839 Charlotte set out by ship from Rome for Genoa with her physician, intending to have the baby away from the shameful scrutiny of her own society (her chief concern seems to have been keeping the pregnancy a secret from her mother).

However, a storm at sea forced them to travel overland and the rough roads caused Charlotte to begin to haemorrhage. She gave birth to her child in Sarzana via caesarean section but the baby did not survive. On March 2, 1839, Charlotte herself died from loss of blood; just 36 years old.

And so that is the story (somewhat truncated) of how members of what was once the most powerful family in Europe came to bide a while in Jersey.

 

 

 

Words but not images are my own.

 

©2018

 

 

 

Brave New Jersey

 

4aa951d83e57299c1d11b32b1877019b

 

8 factoids about New Jersey of which you may not be aware

Factoid 1. The first near-complete dinosaur skeleton to be discovered and mounted for display anywhere in the world was found in New Jersey. It was uncovered in a field outside the Town of Haddonfield and was named the Hadrosaurus foulkii in that town’s honour.

 

Haddy

 

Factoid 2. The oldest bridge in the US is located in New Jersey. The Kingston Bridge, in Somerset County, dates back to the Revolution when it was built to replace an older bridge that had stood at the same spot and which had been destroyed during the hostilities.

The stone arch bridge is no longer in use but has been preserved for its historical significance.

 

Kingston_Bridge,_Kingston,_NJ_-_south_view
Kingston Bridge (image: Wikipedia)

 

Interestingly, both Haddonfield and Kingston are situated along the stretch of road known as the King’s Highway Historic District. This forms part of the oldest road in the US which was built between 1650 and 1735 by order of Charles II and stretches from Charleston, South Carolina, to Boston, Massachusetts.

Factoid 3. Dr. Humphry Osmond (who coined the word “psychedelic” and guided Aldous Huxley on the mescaline trip featured in “The Doors of Perception,”) also inspired a group of CIA doctors working through Princeton University and the New Jersey Neuro-Psychiatric Institute’s Bureau of Research to carry out MKUltra style mind control experiments on unsuspecting subjects in the late 60’s.

In subject, Paul Jeffrey Davids’, own words; “We knew we had volunteered for hypnosis and LSD research but the fact that it was being funded by the CIA and that the doctors we trusted … were working for the CIA — we didn’t know about [until] 10 years later, when MKUltra was exposed.”

Weirdly enough, Princeton is also situated on the King’s Highway.

Factoid 4. For fans of the original 1968 classic Planet of the Apes, you may be interested to learn that the city of the Apes known rather creatively as Ape City will be situated somewhere in New Jersey come the year 3955 AD. That’s right, Dr Zira’s a Jersey girl.

 

385e4a3dfb5fbfcff68553a8871e8cff
It’s the high hair that gives her away. (image: 20th Century Fox)

 

How could I possibly know this? Simple deduction really. When Charlton Heston’s character, Astronaut George Taylor (presumably named for the Civil War General* who was also from Jersey) leaves the Apes and strikes out on his own, he follows the shore (that’s the Jersey shore) north and discovers the Statue of Liberty. It logically follows, therefore, that he’s spent the entire movie in post-apocalyptic Jersey.

Factoid 6. Speaking of movie classics, the first-ever drive-in was opened in 1933 in Camden New Jersey (which is also my nomination for the possible future location of Ape City).

Factoid 7. As I’ve already mentioned in a past post, Napoleon’s niece once visited New Jersey but she wasn’t the only ‘member’ of the Bonaparte clan to do so, his penis also came to visit and liked it so much it’s still here (if we’re being pedantic, Napoleon’s brother also lived for a time in Jersey).

After being “accidentally” separated from the ex Emperor’s body during his autopsy, it eventually ended up in the possession of a lady from New Jersey who kept it in a suitcase under her bed for 30 years. She still has it and has reputedly turned down an offer of over a hundred thousand dollars for it.

Factoid 8. And finally, for those who enjoy a good board game (or just torturing friends and family members) The original 1929 version of Monopoly was based upon Atlantic City, New Jersey.

original-patent-for-monopoly-board-game-square-edward-fielding

That’s all I have for now but my research continues.

 

*I wrote about General Taylor here and here.

 

The words (but this time not the images) are all mine.

 

©2018

 

Iron men: Part 3

 

Part 2

I mentioned in part one of this series that High Bridge and, specifically, Taylor Iron and Steel had produced a Brigadier General for the Federalist Army during the Great War Between the States.

General Taylor was to die from wounds received at the Battle of Manassas Station and be buried in nearby Clinton, NJ (one town over from High Bridge). At the time of writing that piece, I had not yet had the opportunity to visit Taylor’s tomb but I have since done so and I thought I’d share some images for those who might be interested.

Taylor’s nephew (who was killed in action a year after his illustrious uncle) is buried alongside the General.

 

LRV -753

LRV -752

LRV -751

 

LRV -749
The General’s nephew.

 

I wasn’t expecting to be in Clinton on this particular day and so didn’t have my camera with me. These shots are off my phone and so a little basic.

In the fourth and final instalment, I’ll be exploring how the modern town of High Bridge got its name.

 

Words and images are my own.

 

©2018

 

Iron men: part 2

 

 

taylor_office2a.jpg
The original building before the addition of a third story and the remodeling of the front. (image: Annandale Historical Society)

Part 1

New Jersey has a problematic relationship with her past. Most of the historically significant sites I write about on this blog are in a very poor state of repair and in danger of disappearing altogether. Some, such as the American Hotel, are already gone: lost forever.

Money and corruption seem to be the culprits here. History just doesn’t even seem to come a close third to development and profits.

Here in High Bridge, stands an extremely significant building that is very much in need of some kind of intervention. It can be found on the grounds of the old Taylor Iron and Steel Company. This was the first purpose-built office building in New Jersey and was the administrative centre for the 13th oldest continuously operating business (of any kind) in history.

According to the website of the nearby Annandale Historical Society, “The TISCO Office building dates to around 1725, and pre-dates the incorporation of the Union Iron Works. The structure had always housed the general office of the steel companies and contained the offices of the presidents William and Allen in 1742 through George R. Hanks in 1972.”

 

LRV -7703PSetsy

LRV -7706PSHetsy

LRV -7707PSetsy.jpg

LRV -7708PSetsy

LRV -7711PSetsy

LRV -7718PSHetsy.jpg

LRV -7712PSHetsy

As you can see from my pictures, the building is in a shameful state and, if left so for much longer, will probably need to be demolished.

I’m told by local historians that this is a common situation in New Jersey which is madness as this state (one of the original colonies) played an enormously important part in the history of the Nation.

The American Industrial Revolution was born in New Jersey and Taylor Steel played a very large role in that industrialization. It is to be hoped that, at some point, town and city officials will begin to take seriously the legacy left by their forebears and begin to make moves towards preserving what is left of the country’s rich past.

 

 

Office Building.jpg
The Building immediately after the remodelling in or around 1930. (Image: Unknown)

 

 

Words and images (except where otherwise stated) are my own.

 

©2018