As those who have visited New York's Morris-Jumel Mansion are aware, a wallpaper decorated with morning glory vines hung in the house during Eliza and Stephen Jumel's tenure, and an exact copy adorns the front parlor today. The reproduction was printed from wooden blocks carved specially for the mansion by H. Birge & Sons of Buffalo, New York, in 1916. But here's the kicker: I just discovered that Birge must have printed additional sheets. The same paper can be seen hanging in the William L. Brown House in Providence, Rhode Island—the city where Eliza was born—in a photograph from 1958. Perhaps the choice of paper made by the then-owner of the house stemmed from one of Jumel's early fictions. As a young woman with the maiden name of Bowen, she gave her surname as Brown instead, possibly to suggest an association with a family of wealthy Providence merchants named Brown.
Whether the Madame Jumel paper is still in the Brown House, I do not know. But it may hang on other walls yet to be discovered. Birge printed a fresh edition of the wallpaper for the mansion just in time for the bicentennial in 1976. At the same time, the pattern was made available for sale to the general public as well by Reed Ltd, which had just acquired Birge. Anyone have the wallpaper hanging in their home, perchance?
The visible seam in the paper makes clear that this wallpaper in the Brown House is the twentieth-century reproduction by H. Birge & Sons, rather than an early nineteenth-century original. It was clearly made in long strips rather than smaller rectangles that were pieced together (the latter being a distinguishing characteristic of wallpaper printed and hung in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries).
In 1858 Eliza Jumel rented and then purchased two adjacent lots on the northwest corner of 41st St. and Seventh Avenue—just south of today's Times Square. Initially a house on one of the lots housed Madame Jumel's great-niece and namesake, Eliza Jumel Pery, and Pery's husband and young daughter. But a year later the little family moved, first to W. 45th St. near Fifth Avenue and then further north to the East Sixties. This 1855 view of Midtown shows the northward march of the city that doubtless inspired their relocation to quieter surroundings.
The reservoir at 42nd St. and Fifth Avenue, in the left foreground of the image, stored water brought to the city by the Croton Aqueduct (which crossed Eliza Jumel's uptown land). The reservoir was decommissioned in the 1890s—replaced by underground water pipes—and then demolished. The site became the home of the New York Public Library.
The iron and glass structure next to the reservoir, an exhibition space known as the Crystal Palace, sadly burned down in 1858. Forty-second Street runs in front of it, across the lower edge of the print. The avenues zooming towards us are Fifth Avenue to the left of the reservoir, Sixth Avenue to the right of the Crystal Palace, and Broadway to the right of Sixth. The image is not quite wide enough to encompass Eliza’s properties at 41st St. and Seventh Avenue, which would be just beyond the right edge of the print.
Today, September 14, 2016, is the 180th anniversary of the death of Eliza Jumel's second husband, Aaron Burr. A death mask was made the same day for of New York City phrenology firm of Fowler and Wells. Burr's skull revealed marked "destructiveness, combativeness, firmness, and self-esteem," as well as excessive "amativeness," said Fowler (quoted by Laurence Hutton in Harpers New Monthly Magazine, Nov. 1892, p. 912).
A An image of Burr circa 1801 confirms the identification of the death mask's subject. The abbreviation "Esq." (i.e., esquire) after Burr's name in the caption is a reminder that he had a long career as a lawyer.
Today is the 151st anniversary of the death of Madame Eliza B. Jumel (April 2, 1775–July 16, 2016). Her house, the Morris-Jumel Mansion, preserves her memory—as do I. Requiescat in pace, dearest Madame.
The Manhattan end of the High Bridge was built on land purchased from Eliza Jumel. She also owned the land bordering the Harlem River all the way south to what is now 159th Street. These two pictures show what the area looked like in the 1840s and today.
Margaret Oppenheimer, View of High Bridge and the Harlem River, 2016. Dredging and landfill in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries altered the irregular contours of the river. Five of the stone piers of the High Bridge were replaced by a steel arch in 1923 to allow larger ships to navigate the waterway.
Many relics of Eliza and Stephen Jumel survive, from personal letters to the wallpaper that decorated their home. The fact that the letters and wall hangings were made from rag paper—used in Europe and and the United States until the mid-nineteenth century—was a big key to their longevity. Richard Campbell, writing in 1747, provides a very clear description of how paper was made during the centuries when it was manufactured from cotton or linen rags rather than wood pulp:
"The Rags are picked, separated into Parcels, according to their Fineness, washed and whited; then they are carried to the Paper-Mill, where they are pounded amongst Water till they are reduced to a Pulp. When they are beat to a due Consistence, they are poured into a Working-Tub, where there is a Frame of Wire, commonly called the Paper-Mould, which is composed of so many Wires laid close to one another, equal to the Dimensions of the Sheet of Paper designed to be made; and some of them disposed in the Shape of the Figure which is discovered in the Paper, when you hold it up betwixt you and the Light. [Campbell's "Figure . . . discovered in the Paper" is what we call a watermark today.]
I was bicycling past Silver Lake Golf Course on the way to Historic Richmond Town when I did a double take and came to a screeching halt. Grape vines? On a Staten Island golf course? Had Stephen and Eliza Jumel, who planted and tended one of New York City's earliest vineyards in Washington Heights, come to haunt Staten Island in an unusually constructive way?
I have been immersed lately in all things wallpaper—specifically, in researching the wallpapers that once hung in the Morris-Jumel Mansion. Those who read my online article about the wallpaper that hung in the octagon room of the mansion in Eliza Jumel's day may be interested in this two-and-a-half-minute video from the Victoria & Albert Museum. It shows how wallpaper was hand-printed in the nineteenth century using carved wooden blocks. Inspiration for a craft project, anyone?