William Niblo and His Pleasure Garden of Yore
Taught by Ben Feldman
Benjamin Feldman has lived and worked in New York City for the past forty-four years. His essays and book reviews about New York City and American history and about Yiddish culture have appeared on-line and in print in CUNY’s Gotham History Blotter, The New Partisan Review, Ducts literary magazine, and in his blog, The New York Wanderer, which appears at www.newyorkwanderer.com. Ben’s first book, Butchery on Bond Street – Sexual Politics and the Burdell-Cunningham Case in Ante-bellum New York, appeared in May, 2007, about an infamous unsolved murder case from the 19th century, which, in the words of The New Yorker, is told by the author "like a gaslight-era episode of "Law & Order."
His second book, Call Me Daddy - Babes and Bathos in Edward West Browning’s Jazz-Age New York, appeared in June, 2009. The retelling of a notorious tabloid scandal "captures in delicious fashion the philandering real estate magnate in all his buffoonery" according to Sam Roberts in The New York Times.
Feldman’s ongoing projects involve a biographical work about Henry Knight Dyer, the first non-family member to be president of the Dennison Manufacturing Company, a biography in the works about William Niblo, the pre-eminent theater promoter of mid-19th century New York, and an investigation into the life of an early 20th century New York City Jewish saloon-keeper named Sol Goldberg, whose efforts to forestall economic ruin at the advent of Prohibition ended up as a Broadway show.
William Niblo, an Irish immigrant to New York City at the end of the 18th century, rose from his initial position in the hostelry and tavern business in Lower Manhattan to found an immensely popular “coffee house,” and then opened an enormous pleasure garden in the London tradition at the northern limits of the populated City in 1828.
Initially mostly an outdoor place of leisurely entertainment and recreation of middle class New Yorkers who eschewed the use of few crowded and noisy public parks, Niblo’s Garden expanded and improved many times over its 66-year existence, always under the name of its founder. Niblo’s name and good will were known all over the United States, and his stages were sought after by performers of all ills for opera, circus acrobatics, equeststrian displays and grand private celebrations. The story of this devout Episcopalian’s rise in New York through the 19th century with his wife Martha King Niblo at his side forms a remarkable chapter in the story of public, genteel, urban entertainment in Victorian times.