Monday, March 27, 2017

WESTFIELD - The "Watcher" House

I just finished reading a short article on the BBC's website about a New Jersey couple and their mysterious stalker, The Watcher, who claims to be "in control" of their house.  I won't waste time regurgitating what I just read.  You can read it by clicking this link.

Naturally (if you've been following my blog, this will be clear to you), I just had to look into the history of the house.

It's very normal.  Apart from this:

On February 2, 1919, a man named Sidney Aaron, of Hoboken, was knocked down on Broad Street by a car driven by a young man named William B. Elliot Jr. in a hit-and-run accident.  Another man, Robert K. Davies, of 657 Boulevard (the "Watcher" house) was in the car when it happened; he was called as a witness.  Elliot denied that he had struck anyone with his car, and further stated that he wasn't even driving when the incident happened.  He and Davies did admit to having a few drinks that night before driving, but Elliot said that he was completely sober before he got behind the wheel. Elliot was convicted of manslaughter in the Essex County Court.  He was sentenced to a year in the Essex County Penitentiary and fined $1,000.00, but he obtained a complete pardon from the Court of Pardons and did not serve a day in prison.  
(The Courier News (Bridgewater, New Jersey), February 3, 20, 16, and 26, 1919 and August 27, 1920)

None of this explains why a series of deranged people should be surveilling all of the families that have lived at 657 Boulevard since the 1920s.  If anything, it shows why a mentally unstable descendant of Sidney Aaron might want to spy on the people at 256 West Dudley Avenue (Elliot's address).  Or could this descendant with a grudge have his addresses confused?

Or is this just a big hoax?

I'm inclined to think the latter.

If you like this blog... may like my newest blog, Strange Miscellany From a Harlem Walk-up.  It puts my mind for minutiae to further use.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

MANHATTAN - Chinatown: People, Places and Things


Note: Most of the Chinese names in this article seem to be nicknames or titles rather than actual given names and surnames. One common southern Chinese method of creating nicknames is prefixing "Ah" (阿) to the surname or the second character of the given name.  We'll never know the full names of these people.

The First Chinese in New York?--
Ah Ken 
(阿肯--according to Wikipedia in Chinese)
ah 阿 = prefix used to express familiarity, sometimes translated "Mr."
ken 肯 = to be eager, to consent
Name possibly also rendered as Ah Kam or Ah Kim in records.
b. ?
d. between 1870-1896
Qing Chinese men enjoying a meal
Late 19th, early 20th century

Cantonese merchant, said to be the first Chinese in New York City. Lived on Mott Street and opened a cigar stand on Chatham Square in 1858. Later founded a cigar store on Park Row.  Known as "Ah Ken the Wise" among fellow Chinese. "He stuck to his native dress and encouraged other Chinamen to be strictly Chinese."  (The Democrat and Chronicle [Rochester], September 27, 1896)  

  • There are several mentions of Chinese in New York before 1858. "FANNING HIMSELF.--We noticed a chinaman perambulating Broadway yesterday on the sunny side, and fanning himself as quietly as a Mexican senorita in her parlor.  His pig-tail was coiled like a rattle snake on top of his head, and his breeches, which looked like two balloons, caused quite a sensation among the crowd of men and boys following him.  Not a smile or turn of the head wrinkled his celestial visage, but he must have fancied himself a rare show.  The stolidity of the Chinese is equal to that of our Indians, and it is only when they come to "chop sticks" and birds nest dinners, that they betray the five senses in full."  (The Brooklyn Evening Star, July 24, 1847)   
  • A man named Ching-Ching was rescued from drowning in the East River at Pier 17.  He was one of Barnum's Chinese Family and had just returned from the World's Fair.  (The Brooklyn Evening Star, December 29, 1851)
  • From an article titled "People on the Streets": "Here lounges a queer, flat-faced, brown-skinned poor fellow, from whose long, narrow eyes either sorrow or home-sickness looks sadly out.  He is clad in loose blue garments, and comes from the Flowery Land.  To look at his listless attitude, one would scarce believe that he was the chief tumbler in the Tong Hook Company, who lately performed in this City, and were suddenly arrested by pecuniary difficulties.  One looks with interest at this poor Chinaman.  He may have tumbled before the Brother of the Sun and the Cousin of the Moon...."  (The New York Times, July 19, 1853)   
  • "IDOL WORSHIP IN NEW YORK.--A gentleman in this city, while visiting Cherry street for an Industrial school, went into a room where were a little company of Chinese offering sacrifice to an idol. A Chinaman was kneeling in front of the idol, burning some sweet smelling substance, floating in water in a little cup.  The gentleman apologized for the intrusion, but they did not seem much troubled buy it."  (The Buffalo Commercial, April 29, 1854
  • "John Cronan, an Irishman, and Wm. Thompson, a Chinaman, got into a fracas in Oak-street, on Saturday last...."  (The New York Times, December 4, 1855)  Note the Chinese man's American sounding name.  It is possible that he was the son of an Irish mother.
  • Most of the Chinamen in town are the remains of the Tong Hook Dramatic Company, originally numbering about 30, which came to this city from San Francisco about three or four years ago under the charge of Beach & Co., for giving exhibitions."  Upon arriving, they couldn't pay the $5,000.00 fare for getting here, and through some twists and turns were stranded.  (The New York Times, April 15, 1856)   Many of the Chinese at this time became beggars.
(There is more to read.  This is just a page break.)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

NEW YORK FOOD HISTORY - Ruby Foo's Den, Original Chop Suey and the Chowmeiniacs

Best Chinese food on the Dawn Patrol!

Ruby Foo's Den opened at 240 West 52nd Street in October 1936.  It's name was lent to it by Ruby Foo Wong, one of the first female Chinese-American restauranteurs.  In its time, this place was a big deal.  Much bigger than the recently opened (and closed) Ruby Foo's Dim Sum and Sushi Palace, which had two locations, one at 2182 Broadway at 77th Street and the other on the corner of Broadway and 49th Street.

How about some recipes?  Or facts?  Oh, how about both?  In that order?  OK.  


Ruby Foo's recipes from The Brooklyn Eagle,
September 13, 1938

Peanut butter?
The Times Record (Troy), August 14, 1947
This and the following two Ruby Foo's recipes are from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 28, 1938


  • "Ruby Foo's Den washes all dishes with strictly kosher powder."  Showing that the Jewish love of Chinese food goes way back. :)  Orthodox people would be turned off by the shrimp and ham served on those dishes, however....(The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 22, 1937)
  • "A squat, gold Buddha is the only concession to the occult arts at Ruby Foo's Den.  The story goes that whoever kisses the feet of the idol will marry within a year.  So far it has accomodated two hat-check girls and a waiter.  Patrons prefer to work out their destinies on a less rigid schedule."  (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 22, 1939
  • According to Ruby Foo, chop suey means "mixed together."  (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 5, 1940) Chop suey is actually an old romanization of 杂碎 (Cantonese zaap coi), meaning "mixed vegetables/food."
Chop suey: Tea Leaf Chicken
But probably an ancient Chinese secret that will stay secret.
(Another thought origin is with a Chinese dish washer in San Francisco.)

  • Patrons of Ruby Foo's referred to by the funny name "chowmeiniacs." 1941
  • The 2,000,000 dish of chow mein was served at Ruby Foo's on July 30, 1942 (Brooklyn Daily Eagle)
  • "General Hsiung Shi Fei, Chief of the Chinese Military Mission, dropped into Ruby Foo's Den for some native delicacies the other night and ordered --ham and eggs."  (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 7, 1942)
  • "A Ruby Foo waiter has seen [the film] "Spellbound" 63 times and now offers free psycho advice to his co-workers."  (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 19, 1946)
  • It was noted with curiosity in 1947 that the younger waiters were becoming Americanized, prefering forks to chopsticks and coffee to tea.
  • Head waiter Billy Gwan introduced patrons to ginseng tea with lemon.  (The Post-Standard [Syracuse], January 1, 1949)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

NEW YORK FOOD HISTORY - Lum Fong's and the Original Egg Roll?

Lum Fong's opened at its Lexington Avenue at 59th Street location in May 1933.  The owner, Lum Fong, had previously been running "the most colorful of the Chinese spots, on Canal St." (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 14, 1934)

As the journalist went on to say, in his quaintly racist to modern eyes way, "When a Celestial* does himself proud, it seems that the menu runs as follows..."

Yen War Gai Gang (燕窩雞羹) Swallow's Nest Soup with Chicken Lum Har Chun Guen (龍蝦春捲) Lobster Egg Roll* 
Hop Tao Gai Ding (合桃雞丁) Diced Chicken with Walnuts 
Sarn Choy Chow Fon (生菜炒飯) Lettuce Fried Rice? Hm, that one isn't so common these days, is it? Cooked lettuce? (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 14, 1934--I translated the dish names just to make sure that the writer knew what he was talking about. He did. ;) 
* As racial epithets go, this one is a rather pretty one. It was used to denote those who came from what was then known as the Celestial Empire. 
** Chun guen, or according to the current romanization, cuon gyun, literally means "spring roll" in Cantonese. Lum Fong is said to have invented the egg roll as we know it in his restaurant on Canal Street. (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 24, 1939) But then again, so is Henry Low from the Port Arthur restaurant in Chinatown. Here is an interesting article I found about the origin of the egg roll. So, who knows who invented the egg roll. My guess is, if it already existed in some form, it was perfected in New York City. Did I get lazy here? I just don't feel like rewriting what has already been written. I'm more interested in long-forgotten trivia.

  • Lum Fong installed a junk in the East River for summer partying. It was joke...The Swingapore. (This may hint at Lum Fong's origins.) (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 6, 1938) 
  • Lum Fong's was very popular with cartoonists, and, in 1939, a Cartoonist's Corner was created and decorated with sketches by well-known cartoonists of the day. (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 10, 1939) 
  • The celebrities who dined at Lum Fong's Canal Street restaurant had their own personal chopsticks, which they autographed. (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 1, 1939) 
  • Lum Fong's Canal Street restaurant opened in December of 1925. (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 15, 1939) 
  • Lum Fong opened the restaurant on 52nd Street in 1940. Chopsticks lessons were given every day at lunch. Crysanthemum tea was introduced to patrons as a soothing beverage with the benefit of relieving laryngitis. (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 19, 1940) 
  • "An exotic new cocktail, the Ho-Sai-Guy" was introduced at the Canal Street restaurant. (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 8, 1940)
  • Lum Fong's stayed open till 5:00AM.  Party goers dining at that time were known as the Dawn Patrol.
  • A new dish called "Hop-to-Har Gurng" was introduced.  I think this may actually be Hap Tou Haa Gyun, or "walnut shrimp roll."  (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 17, 1940)
  • Lum Fong's walnut shrimp rolls were even more popular than his egg rolls for a time.
  • A Chinese manufacturer made noodles in the shapes of Chinese characters especially for the alphabet soup served at Lum Fong's.  (The Times Herald [Olean], November 3, 1941)
  • There was a Lum Fong's on 66th Street in 1945.
  • Instead of fortune cookies, Lum Fong's served "fortune cakes." 1946

NEW YORK FOOD HISTORY - The Russian Tea Room: The Dessert Vanishes

CREME A LA RUSSE This dessert item could be found on the menu at The Russian Tea Room c. 1936* until at least the 1970s.  It has been replaced over the years by such non-Russian items as "Traditional Cheesecake" and "Tiramisu."  What was Creme a la Russe, or Russian Cream, as it was later called?

I was able to find a recipe for it in a French cookbook called "Twenty Four Little French Dinners and How to Cook and Serve Them", by Cora Moore which was originally published in 1919.  It is as follows:

Probably not really Russian, per se....Perhaps invented by a French chef in Russia,
as was Russia's most famous salad, the Salad Olivie--which also used to be on the menu.
Later recipes call for layering the cream with brandied cherries.  Bring it back, I say, along with the original Russian waiters in "Russian costume".

This recent French recipe for Creme a la Russe, advertised by Lipton tea, calls for tea.  How perfect for a Russian tea house!

Click image to enlarge

What else is missing from The Russian Tea Room?  Several items, notably the following:

BOYAR a cocktail made of vodka and cherry liqueur.  Thought by one journalist to resemble a Manhattan.  

BOYAR IMPERIAL was a coctail containing vodka and Cherry Heering.  It now contains sour cherry preserves, SKYY vodka and Chambord, a raspberry flavored liqeur.  For goodness sakes, though, SKYY isn't even Russian...and they call themselves The Russian Tea Room!  (Maybe only the tea is Russian?)  If one country is known for its vodka, I'd say its...RUSSIA! :)  So, to sum up, the Boyar Imperial isn't missing, but it is missing its Russian vodka and has a couple other tweaks. 

EGGPLANT A LA RUSSE, AU GRATIN This just sounds really yummy to me right now!  It's 2:30AM, though, so no cooking/eating this late.

KATINKA a coctkail made made with vodka, lemon juice and apricot liqueur.  Said at the time to resemble a daiquiri.  This cocktail was on the menu c. 1930s-1970s.   

SHASHLIK are basically, shish kebabs.  Especially popular in the Caucasus region. 

All of these recipes can be found in Faith Stewart-Gordon and Nika Hazelton's 1981 cookbook, "The Russian Tea Room Cookbook", which I do not own but would like to.

Finally, the title of this post was inspired by one of my favorite picture books, "The Commissar Vanishes", by David King.  "King looks at how Stalin manipulated the science of photography to further his own political career and to erase the memory of his victims. In each case, the juxtaposition of original and doctored images reveals how easily history can be distorted." Really sinister stuff in the days long before Photoshop. 
It wouldn't be "This City is Haunted" without something creepy! 

I hope my handful of readers are enjoying these latest food posts. CMT xx, maker of awesome red borscht with seasonal vegetables and Salad Olivie. 

I may as well plug my favorite Russian grocery store in NYC. Moscow on the Hudson, located on 181st Street in Washington Heights.  They deliver.  Russian Food Direct

Friday, March 17, 2017

NEW YORK FOOD HISTORY - Delmonico Steak & Potatoes...& Terrapin

DELMONICO STEAK Wikipedia says that "controversy exists about the specific cut of steak that Delmonico's originally used...The Delmonico Steak served by the current iteration of Delmonico's in New York is a boneless ribeye."

According to the following excerpt, the Delmonico was apparently "the porterhouse with the bit of tenderloin cut out of it" in 1900.

The New York Times, September 27, 1900
Volume 54 of The National Provisioner (January 1-March 25, 1916) agrees with the above article. See below:

This description, however, comes about fifty years after the original Delmonico steak was created.

DELMONICO POTATOES The traditional accompaniment for a Delmonico steak is a creation called Delmonico potatoes.

I've found several variations of this dish published in newspapers from 1890 to 1900.  Here are the ingredients of a few, showing subtle changes.

1890 - potatoes, cream, butter, salt, pepper, nutmeg (The Evening Star [D.C.], August 30, 1890)
1895 - potatoes, flour, milk, butter, salt, pepper, bread crumbs (pictured below)
1897 - potatoes, flour, milk, butter, "parmazan" cheese (The Weekly Columbia Herald [TN], January 1, 1897)
1898 - potatoes, cream, butter, salt, pepper (The Vermont Watchman, November 2, 1898)
1899 - potatoes, flour, milk, butter, salt, pepper, bread crumbs, grated cheese--not specific (The Vermont Watchman, November 22, 1899)

The World (New York), March 19, 1895
The following is an undated article about a hot weather menu at Delmonico's restaurant.

Click image to enlarge

  • Delmonico's restaurant was established by brothers John and Peter A. Delmonico in 1836-1837.
  • The descent of ownership always went from uncle to nephew (finally to sister, nephew and nieces).
  • Ownership from 1842-1843 to 1860 was by Peter and his nephew Lorenzo Delmonico.
  • Lorenzo Delmonico owned the restaurant from 1860 to his death in 1881.
  • Lorenzo's nephew Charles "Charlie" Delmonico was owner from 1881 to his tragic death in 1884.  Details are few, but he died of exposure on Orange Mountain of Essex County, New Jersey.
  • The papers were reporting of Charles Delmonico's illness in September 1883.  "He is nervous and worries constantly about trivial matters.  He has grown quite stout...[and sits] day after day for hours at a time in his Twenty-sixth street cafe with his head sunk on his breast and staring straight before him...absent minded and irritable...suspicion entertained about his sanity...." The writer goes on to say that "his dementia has nothing to do with money matters." (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 16, 1883)  "Every employee in the house...[was] afraid of his crazy times he insulted his oldest friends...All of the Delmonico's have been lazy by nature. Possibly the high feeding has been at the bottom of this...without exception [they] have been men who, when they passed beyond 40 years of age, exhibited a decided tendency toward inertia.  Charles Delmonico's friends urged him before he became quite irrational to take more excercise...but it was found almost impossible to get him out of his chair." (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 13, 1884
  • Charles lost nearly $750,000 in Wall Street speculations during the last two years of his life.
  • Charles disappeared January 5, 1884 (The New York Tribune, January 9, 1884).  The papers theorized that he had been captured by tramps or bunco men, or ran away from home after learning of a plan to put him in an asylum.  The Pinkerton detectives were involved.  One unflattering description of Charles includes the fact (in rhyme) that he "has quite large pimple on right temple, and that "his eyes sometimes have a dazed appearance."  (New York Tribune, January 9, 1884)  His friends had the canal at Newark dragged looking for him.
  • On January 14, 1884, Charles' body was found frozen in a gulch beside an Orange Mountain road; the Northfield road.  (The [New York] Sun, January 15, 1884)
  • The priest presiding at Charles' funeral condemned "the slanderers of the dead man."  (Obituary, The New York Times, January 18, 1884)  By other accounts, Mr. Delmonico was kind, generous, etc.  The usual things that are said of the dead.  He was described as "the popular 'Charlie'".  I'm sure he was that, too, but the other comments do illustrate the dangers of obesity, sedentary lifestyle and wrecklessness with money.  Heed the warning, it doesn't end well.
  • The final owners were Rosa Delmonico (sister of Charlie), Charles Crist Delmonico (nephew), Lorenzo Crist Delmonico (nephew) and Josephine Crist Delmonico (niece).
  • Charles Crist Delmonico was originally Charles Crist.  He legally changed his name to Charles Crist Delmonico in 1884.  (The New York Tribune, March 25, 1884)
  • Lobster Newburg is believed to have been invented at Delmonico's in 1876.  Other dishes said to be Delmonico's creations are Baked Alaska, Chicken à la King, Eggs Benedict, Manhattan clam chowder and the wedge salad.  These dishes are also claimed by other restaurants.
  • Terrapin was a hot menu item!  (Terrapins are turtles.)
  • Delmonico's closed in April of 1893.
  • The current incarnation of Delmonico's has no family connection to the original but serves several of the original's signature dishes, including Delmonico steak and potatoes.  They now serve Lobster Newburg and Crab Flake à la Newburg.     

TERRAPIN DELMONICO* Prepare terrapin as follows: Drop the terrapin into sufficient tepid water to allow them to swim, and leave thus for half an hour; then change the water several times, and wash well. Scald by plunging them into boiling water, taking them out as quickly as the skin (a small white skin on head and feet) can be removed with a cloth. Then put them to cook in water without any salt or seasoning; or else in a steamer. Let them cook for 30 to 45 minutes, lifting them out as quickly as they are done. To make sure of doneness, press the feet meat between the fingers; if it yields easily under pressure, they are ready. Terrapin which cannot be cooked in 45 minutes are considered of inferior quality and should be rejected as worthless; for although the meat eventually becomes tender, it will be stringy, and not have the delicate flavor of a good terrapin. Let terrapin cool, cut off the nails, then break the shell on the flat side, on both sides near the upper shell. Detach this shell from the meats, empty out all the insides found in this upper shell, and carefully remove the gall bladder from the liver, being very particular not to break it. Also cut away with the tip of a small knife any gall spots to be found on the liver; then place the liver in cold water. Remove the white inside muscles, as well as the head and tail; separate the legs at their joints and divide into 1-inch pieces. The gall bladder should be discarded. Lay the terrapin in a saucepan with the eggs and liver, all cut into thin slices, season with salt, pepper and cayenne, and cover with sufficient water to attain to the height of the terrapin. Let come to a boil, then place in a slow oven and let cooking continue for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and prepare for serving an follows: For each quart of liquid in the pan, add a half pint of cream. Let liquid cook until quantity is reduced to half. Then season with salt and cayenne pepper and thicken with 5 raw egg yolks diluted with a half pint of cream. Add 2 ounces of fresh butter; toss in the terrapin while adding the thickening it must not boil. Finish with half a gill of sherry or Madeira. The sauce should be thick and served very hot.

*PETA would hate this recipe, but I think the Gourmet from the Nintendo DS game Harvest Moon DS (left) might enjoy it.  Or Mr. Creosote from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.


See Wikipedia about Delmonico's restaurant.

Both brothers, along with other family members, are interred at Saint Patrick's Old Cathedral Cemetery on Mulberry Street in Manhattan.


According to Wikipedia, Waldorf Salad was created by maître d'hôtel Oscar Tschirky on March 14, 1893 "for a charity ball given in honor of the St. Mary’s Hospital for Children." This seems to be untrue as the Report of the Fourth Annual Proceedings of the Mississippi Bar Association from January 7, 1892 lists Waldorf Salad on the menu. You may find a reprint of Oscar Tschirky's 1896 Cook Book including a recipe for Waldorf Salad here.

To the right is a recipe from the January 1895 edition of Table Talk magazine.

This is an 1898 recipe by Mrs. Gesine Lemcke, published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 10, 1898:

WALDORF SALAD---Put some nice white celery for several hours in ice water and then cut it very fine.  There should be one pint full.  Cut an equal amount of apples the same way.  Put both ingredients in a salad bowl; set in a bowl of cracked ice, add the yolk of two eggs and half a teaspoon of salt; stir until the yolks are thick, then add drop by drop three-quarter cup of oil, it is best to set the oil for an hour on ice before adding.  Then add a half pint of whipped cream measured before whipping.  Pour half of this mayonnaise over the celery and apples; mix well and then (can't read) over the remaining (can't read) and garnish with celery leaves and red unpeeled apples cut lengthwise in six pieces.

By 1899, people were adding things such as walnuts and grated orange rind (The Buffalo Commercial, November 29, 1899).  Walnuts are common to this day.  One bold recipe calls for paprika and tarragon vinegar (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 20, 1900)!  Cooks in Harlem added "Moraschino" cherries as a little something extra (The New York Age, November 29, 1930).  One Harlem recipe isn't Waldorf Salad at all, but it sounds delicious! 

Malaga grapes, bananas and oranges!
The New York Age, December 15, 1934

I wonder if Oscar is still overseeing operations at the Waldorf-Hotel.  And if so, which would he prefer to haunt?  The one that was razed in 1929 to make way for the Empire State Building, or the one that opened on Park Avenue in 1931?

Oscar of the Waldorf is buried at New Paltz Cemetery in Ulster County, New York.  His headstone is quite generic for such a colorful character.