Regional Meeting in New York City: Part I
It is said that someone visiting New York City once
asked a passerby who was walking on the sidewalk: "How do
you get to Carnegie Hall?" "Practice, practice, practice"
was the reply.
not exactly. If you were a member of the Ephemera Society all
you had to do was get to West 57th Street in New York City on
Saturday November 16 and Carnegie Hall and its history were all
yours. Following the success of a regional meeting in Beverly
Hills, California in September, the society scheduled another
one a continent away where Gino Francesconi, Carnegie Hall's archivist,
treated members to a marvelous afternoon program, including his
personal reminiscences about building the archives and a look
at the current archives exhibition.
Carnegie Hall was largely paid for by industrialist
Andrew Carnegie whose wife cemented the cornerstone in place,
using a trowel from Tiffany's. Opening on May 5, 1891, the hall's
first concert featured a performance of Beethoven's Leonore
Overture No. 3 by the Symphony Society and an appearance by
Tchaikovsky, who conducted his Marche Solennelle. Critical reviews
were unanimously positive. One newspaper reported: "Tonight,
the most beautiful Music Hall in the world was consecrated to
the loveliest of the arts. Possession of such a hall is in itself
an incentive for culture."
Over the years such classical music luminaries as
Rachmaninoff, Horowitz, and Van Cliburn have played there. In
1917, as the Russian revolution was transforming his native country,
sixteen year old violinist Jascha Heifetz debuted. The list of
performers continues, including Pablo Casals, Mstislav Rostropovich,
and Isaac Stern, who would eventually lead an effort to save Carnegie
Hall from demolition.
But the hall was not only a venue for classical
music. Jazz, folk, and pop also found a welcome home. Count Basie,
Fats Waller, and Louis Armstrong; Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger,
and Joan Baez; The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Doors-all
were there. Benny Goodman popularized swing at Carnegie Hall,
Groucho Marx made his audience laugh, Leonard Bernstein organized
his famous concerts for children, Winston Churchill lectured about
the Boer War, and Mark Twain and Booker T. Washington took part
in a Lincoln Memorial Meeting at the hall.
Imagine having an archive that recorded these activities
and so much more over the years. Also, imagine that until 1986
there was no archive. As the hall's web site notes: "Since
no central repository for archival material existed prior to that
time, a significant portion of Carnegie Hall's documented history
had been lost, discarded, or otherwise forgotten." Thanks
to Gino's tireless efforts, today the archive consists of 2,500
square feet of documents, including 12,000 programs, again as
many photographs, music manuscripts, architectural drawings, paintings,
2,000 fliers and posters, audio and video recordings, and artifacts.
Of course, much of what is now in the Carnegie Hall archive is
ephemera. The items were created for a specific purpose and then
discarded-transient documents, to be sure-but now they have been
gathered back together where they started out.
Not content just to store Carnegie Hall memorabilia,
Gino has curated regular exhibitions on the hall at the Rose Museum,
funded by the Susan and Elihu Rose Foundation and located on an
upper floor in Carnegie Hall. Since the museum opened to the public
in 1990 there have been ten special shows, including "Remembering
the Art of Marian Anderson," "George and Ira Gershwin,"
"150 Years of the Vienna Philharmonic," and "Gustav
Mahler's Last Years." The museum is free of charge and is
open Thursday through Tuesday, 11:00 AM-4:30 PM, and to concert
patrons in the evening. As well, there is a permanent exhibit
offering a chronological look at hall events, items relating to
the notable individuals who have appeared on stage, and the history
of the building.
Among the items on display for the Ephemera Society
meeting on November 16 were debut fliers for Antonin Dvork, Louis
Armstrong, Thelonious Monk; items about lectures by Richard Byrd
and Robert Peary; records of debates by Samuel Gompers and Clarence
Darrow; memorials for Grover Cleveland and Mark Twain; and several
other items. An online exhibition of Carnegie Hall memorabilia
is located at the hall's web site at http://www.carnegiehall.org.
Gino asks that anyone who has Carnegie Hall related
items be in touch; he would like to hear from you. He is especially
interested in adding to the archives holdings of programs, posters,
photographs, and tenant information.
E. Richard McKinstry