Thursday, June 24, 2010

Josephine Selvaggio: Hastings Commuter

After last week’s post, it seems appropriate to introduce you to one of the Hastings commuters who brought the floors of Grand Central Station to such a state of disrepair. Her name is Josephine Selvaggio of 22 Main Street, Hastings-on-Hudson, and she is 25 years old. It is 1926, and Josephine works as a secretary for Commercial Investment Trust (now CIT) of Manhattan.

Josephine was born in Palermo, Italy, in 1901, and arrived in Hastings with her parents when she was nine. Her father was a shoemaker and opened a shoe store on Main Street. In 1921 she received a card in a handy holder, certifying to her expertise on the Remington typewriter (see below). It notes that she is a student at Hasting High School.

But Josephine left school before graduation so she could help her parents with expenses. Graduating from high school, as she would later write in her short memoire Reminiscing Hastings, was a luxury that not everyone could afford in the 1920s. And so she went to work for Commercial Investment Trust.

Certificate of Efficiency awarded by the Remington Typewriter Company to Josephine Selvaggio, a student in the Hastings-on-Hudson High School, on Nov. 14, 1921. The certificate notes that she "has written on a Remington typewriter at a net speed of 49 words per minute for ten consecutive minutes."
But it is not her job, but her train ticket (see below) that certifies Josephine as a genuine commuter. Like all the best things, the commuter is an American invention, brought about by the expansion of the railway system. In 1848 passengers on the New Jersey train were offered a convenient 8-trip ticket that was cheaper than 8 individual tickets would have been. It was called a commutation ticket, taking its name from the verb “commute,” meaning to exchange something for something else, in this case eight tickets for a single ticket.

By 1926, when Josephine was traveling back and forth to New York City, you could buy a “monthly commutation ticket”—in this case for the month of October. Why might Josephine have preserved this one particular train pass? The answer might lie in the date. On November 21 of 1926, Josephine Selvaggio married Joaquim Dos Santos at Saint Stanislaus Koska Church in Hastings. Just before their marriage, she took Joaquim to work with her.

“When I got married, I took my husband to meet everyone at work," she later told a local reporter. "They asked him ‘Why don’t you let Josephine stay here?’ But he said ‘No, she’s worked enough. She can be at home now.’ I came home and I cried.”

When Josephine was much older, she went into business for herself doing typing and typesetting under the name of the Hastings Letter Service. But throughout her life she preserved this, her last commuter train pass. This ticket and the typing certificate were donated to the Historical Society by her son Louis in 2009.

Monthly Commutation Ticket for J. Selvaggio for October of 1926 with holder including her photograph. The ticket was good only for travel between New York and Hastings-on-Hudson, and cost $8.31.
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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Watch Where You Step!

Now we all know, of course, that the fabulous figures of Mercury flanked by Minerva and Hercules that frame the Grand Central clock were carved by Hastings sculptor John Donnelly. This week on the blog, however, we ask you to look not up, but down. We recently read this little article about the flooring of Grand Central Station in the “Mileposts” newsletter published by the MTA Metro-North Railroad. Wondering what this has to do with Hastings? Well, next time you are in Grand Central, think about how much pressure your feet put on the floor—and ask yourself how many Hastings commuters have been walking the same path since Grand Central opened in 1913!

At Grand Central, our five-year program to restore and repair the broken and cracked marble tiles and terrazzo sections of the Terminal’s floor continues. We’ve just finished the second year of this program; we are repairing about 5% a year to minimize disruption to the 700,000 people who pass through the Terminal each day. (We expect this rehabilitation project to be completed in 2012.)

Depending on the area of the Terminal that needs repairs, we have been replacing broken tiles with either newly quarried Tennessee pink marble ones or with custom terrazzo panels (a type of flooring consisting of marble chips set in cement or epoxy resin that is poured and ground smooth when dry). (About 25% of the floor needs replacement – we’re talking about some 45,000 square feet of Tennessee pink marble and 67,000 square feet of terrazzo that will be installed.) The very process of chiseling out the broken floor sections and then setting in new ones is difficult enough, but the hardest task is the acquisition, selection, and emplacement of the marble and terrazzo so that it is indistinguishable from the original, adjacent sections.

New sections of Tennessee pink marble in the center of Grand Central Station’s Main Concourse.

To acquire an exact match of the Tennessee pink marble, we went to the quarry from which the original stone was cut. It had been closed since the late 1980s, but the owners agreed to reopen it so that Grand Central Terminal could attain identical marble to that of the original. The original slabs of marble were placed just 1/16th of an inch apart. This tight fit, however, left little room for “give” when the building vibrates due to trains traveling on the Terminal’s loop tracks (which actually run behind the famous Oyster Bar). The replacement slabs are placed with double the space between them. The 1/8th inch separation that is now the standard is invisible to the casual eye and will prevent cracking.

To duplicate the original terrazzo’s unique color and make-up is more challenging, as the original “mixture recipe” was lost to history. So a laborious and exacting process of trial and error ensued with multiple mixtures, combinations, and processes until, finally, a perfect color match was achieved. (Like Kentucky Fried Chicken, we keep the new written recipe for this perfect mixture a secret, and in a secure, locked drawer within Grand Central.)

The terrazzo slabs, which are actually softer and more prone to wear and cracking than the Tennessee pink marble, now have an almost imperceptible brass border on all sides. This stops any cracks that have developed in one slab, from transferring to the next slab … and then the next.

You can try looking for the new and shiny sections of the Terminal’s floor, but you won’t find them, thanks to the meticulous work of a our master stone masons.

(Reprinted with permission of Metro-North Railroad)

New sections of terrazzo in two different shades with brass border, set into the areas on the east and west sides of Grand Central Station’s Main Concourse.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mark Your Calendars! Moonwatch Friday, June 18, in Draper Park

Photograph of the moon highlighting the Mare Imbrium. The small white circle underneath the center of the Mare Imbrium is the Capricorn crater.

The Hastings Historical Society in conjunction with a group of local amateur astronomers presents a sky viewing for the whole family at 9PM on Friday, June 18th, in Draper Park. Draper Park is accessible via the Historical Society driveway at 407 Broadway, just south of Washington Avenue. Telescopes will be available, along with knowledgeable astronomers, but you are welcome to bring your own telescope, too. There are no lights in Draper Park, which makes looking at the heavens easier. But we do recommend that you bring a flashlight with you so you can see your way. The event is free and open to the public. If it is raining on Friday, the Moonwatch will take place at the same time on Saturday. For more information, call the Historical Society at 478-2249.

We are told by astronomers in the know that the conditions on Friday will be perfect for viewing the Draper crater, named after Henry Draper, whose observatory in Draper Park is the Historical Society’s home. (For more about Henry Draper and his landmark pictures of the moon, click here.) There are actually two Draper craters, referred to as “Draper” and “Draper C”. They are next to each other and of similar size and are called twin craters. These two cup-shaped depressions on the surface of the moon were made by the impact of an asteroid or some similar celestial projectile. Each of these craters is about five miles in diameter and one mile deep, so if we ever decide to move Hastings and Dobbs Ferry lunarside, we could probably squeeze them both into the Draper crater.

These two “small” craters are at the very southern edge of the Mare Imbrium, which, translated from the Latin, means “Sea of Showers.” The moon has many “maria”, inappropriately named by early astronomers who thought they were real seas full of water. They are, in fact, huge, dark basalt planes made by the eruption of lava onto the moon’s surface. The Mare Imbrium’s circular shape is the result of an object hitting the moon’s surface and leaving behind a crater, which was later filled with lava. This “sea” is almost 700 miles in diameter. On the Earth, a crater this size would encompass New York state, Pennsylvania, most of Virginia, and all of New England except the northern tip of Maine. The impact of this huge object on the moon created several ridges of 4-mile-high mountains along the edge of the crater, and is thought to have caused a series of faults across the entire surface of the moon. In 1971, Apollo 15 landed in the Mare Imbrium and, based on rock samples it collected, scientists have dated the original impact that created the “sea” to 3.85 billion years ago.

If you want to get a good look at the Mare Imbrium, the Draper craters, and other lunar features, join us for the Moonwatch next Friday!

Photograph of the moon showing the Copernicus crater, the “Carpathian Mountains” that mark the southern edge of the Mare Imbrium, and, at the very top of the photograph, the twin Draper craters. (Image used with permission of the Regional Planetary Image Facility, Lunar and Planetary Institute, University Space Research Association, Houston, TX.)

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Slideshow this Sunday: A Voyage up the Hudson in Historic Photographs

Palisades from Englewood Landing (repairing shad net), ca. 1870

The Historical Society’s annual meetings are important but painless affairs, generally lasting from 5 to 10 minutes. Then we get to sit back and relax and enjoy a great lecture or concert, which is always free and open to the public.

This year we are combining our efforts with the Friends of the Hastings Public Library, and we will both have our annual meetings at the Library this Sunday, June 6th, at 2PM. Our program will be a lecture by local author Tony Peluso, who will guide us up the Hudson River from Manhattan to Lake Luzerne using some of the many fabulous items in his personal collection of old photographs, stereo views, and ephemera, some as old as 1850 and as “modern” as 1930.

Tony, who lives in Yonkers, has been writing for the Maine Antique Digest for the last thirty years. Last year he lent us several items for our 1909 Hudson-Fulton Celebration exhibition, including two fabulous miniature replicas of Robert Fulton’s ship, the “Clermont.” And then, a few months ago, Tony showed us a PowerPoint slideshow he had put together on the Hudson River. Well, we were bowled over, both by Tony’s collection and by the fascinating information on the history of our river that he had pulled together. We know you will enjoy his presentation as much as we did.

The lecture will take place at the Library in the Orr Room. If you have any questions about the program, you can call the Library at 914-478-3307.

Breakneck from Cornwall (Sunday), ca. 1870

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