Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Jefferson Market Books

At the Jefferson Market Library, down the spiral staircase, in the basement where prisoners once were held for trial, you'll find the Greenwich Village Collection. It is an amazing collection of books, mostly on the Village and all on New York City, that you won't find anywhere else. It's a great place to spend an afternoon or to kill an hour in between other obligations. A brief sampling...

Nooks and Crannies, by Yeadon, 1979

A guide to New York City of the time. In the East Village chapter, the author begins: "'Surely you're not doing the East Village,' asked a dear friend. 'That neighborhood's gone, it's finished.' His sentiments are shared, I'm sure, by thousands who associate the district with Bowery bums, beatniks, hippies, and a braggadocio lifestyle that rejects societal norms with the singlemindedness of a mainlining addict."

The author walks down St. Mark's to 1st Avenue, past George Proko's Pipe and Tobacco store, through scattered parts of the Italian district, Giuffre's Fish Store, a pierogi maker's shop, Tron's Meat & Poultry, a bread bakery, and Kurowycky Meats. He spends some time at Theatre 80, admiring the miniature Grauman's Chinese display of famous handprints on the sidewalk.

New York Unexpurgated, by Petronius, 1966

An amoral guide, says the cover, for the jaded, tired, evil, non-conforming, corrupt, etc., etc. Writes the author, known only as Petronius, "Yesterday's hot spot is tomorrow's well of loneliness; today's hangover is tonight's shuttered gaiety; and the next Miss Teen America's virginity is anyone's guess."

The book tells you where to find an orgy and how to throw one, how to get admitted into an organized sex cult, and which bars are the best for showing up in drag. Who knew that the men's room at the Harris Theatre on 42nd boasted an award-winning glory hole? It received more citations than any other, including "the always popular Shamrock chain." (Any idea what that means?) The author also provides quite a description of "The New York Dyke" and her hangouts, including the ultra-butch "Sea Colony" bar. (Click the photo to enlarge.)

The Bowery Man, by Bendiner, 1961

An exploration of the typical man who made the Bowery his home in 1961: "Psychologists agree that the Bowery men need a place where an effortless going to hell is the accepted way of life. They need a place where no one requires anything of them, where no one ever says 'You can do better.' The institution the Bowery men need is one where everyone agrees: 'Mac, you can't do better.'"

My Life and Loves in Greenwich Village, Bodenheim, 1954

Stories of Village life by the infamous bohemian Max Bodenheim. He introduces us to nymphomaniacs, "confirmed homosexuals," eccentric landlords, offbeat undertakers, gypsies, and many others. In one story, he meets an artist who carries a mysterious black suitcase wherever he goes. Inside are broken pieces of glass--believed to be the shattered remains of his model, "a psychopathic girl...who thought she was made of shatter-proof glass." He carries the suitcase due to "the compulsion neurosis. I can't do it without falling deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of guilt. As long as I have the suitcase with me I feel relieved."

The author visits Hubert's Cafeteria, "the nerve-center of the neurotic Village," and there's a little song that goes along with it, played on a cigar-box ukulele: "In Hubert's Cafeteria -- the girls all suffer from sex-hysteria -- they drink a glass of gin or wine -- and make a dash for Bodenheim."

Poor Hubert's, he writes, was "torn down in the Thirties to make room for a bank building--a prophetic reminder that the Village was fated to go bourgeois and bow to the god of Real Estate." Yes, it happened even then, but less so.

Greenwich Village: Yesterday and Today, with photos by Berenice Abbott, 1949

Plenty of Abbott's great photographs, all in the Village, including shots of the old Whitney Museum on 8th Street, artists in alleys, Edward Hopper in his studio, young dancers and writers, Italian restaurants with white tablecloths and men dining alone. I especially liked this sign in the window of a bookshop.


  1. Delicious. And melancholy. Pure Jeremiah. Thank you!

  2. The "New York Unexpurgated" book is incredible. You mentioned some of the categories. Others include "The best places to find a corpse" (doorways along the Bowery in late afternoons) ... and where to buy an eye-patch after midnight.

  3. What an incomparable find - how I wish I'd explored this during my years in NYC! I hunger for books like these, ecstatic when I have the good fortune to stumble upon them... even more of a treasure when they are about the City's wonderful social history. These books are fearlessly outspoken, an all-too rare quality nowadays...

  4. what would Petronius write about today? not many places left to find corpses and eye patches, etc.

    "pure Jeremiah," i like that. no additives or preservatives.

  5. Absolutely one of the best posts ever. I would have never known this library contained such treasures. I plan on spending all day there on Thursday.

  6. Another book that should be looked into is Edward Field's The Villagers, it was at Jefferson Library at one time, don't know about now. And he still lives near by to the library, even had readings therein. Some years ago he won the Lambda Literary Award, as did I some years later, but who remembers us now, hardly anyone.


  7. Fantastic. There are quite a few copies of NY Unexpurgated on sale at Amazon for less than ten dollars. Perhaps not the best way to buy it, but it's there if you want to take a look.

  8. as usual, i want to know the new place. where can we find this kind eccentric glamour? either NYC is over, & theres a hidden secret? what a far cry from sports bars, dormatories, & internet coffee places. maybe we were born too soon.

  9. Jefferson Market LibraryJanuary 29, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    Thank you so much for recognizing this amazing collection! We love your blog posts!

  10. thank you, Jefferson Market Library, for maintaining and making this collection available. it's been a great resource, and source of pleasure, over the years.

  11. ayloct 164"Psychologists agree that the Bowery men need a place where an effortless going to hell is the accepted way of life." Ha, me, too!

    I've never been to the JL basement, but definitely want to check it out now. Fantastic!

  12. How cool is that -- the Jefferson Market branch follows "Vanishing New York!" (That post was for real, right? Had to ask.)

  13. i'm assuming it's for real--because i think it's cool, too.

  14. No, no, no. Now you've let the yunnies,and hipsters know this place and now they'll be parking their assess there with their ipads and macs whilst they wait for mommy and daddy's check to arrive without even appreciating that library. Just another thing for them to consume and be entitled to. Great piece, though.

  15. no fear. yunnies hate the smell of books. it reminds them of their own denied mortality.

    however, everyone down in that basement is looking at either laptops or newspapers. no one reads the books. so you can go and feel very superior, as i have, when you actually open the books.

  16. Thanks so much for this post - what great reading!

  17. they go there w/a lap top?? do they want coffee too? @least they have good taste, & like to sit there.

  18. Oh, I don't feel superior reading paper books. It's those laptop wielding smug me generation that makes me feel like I'm the dread of society. This library, or the library, is a place where I can feel human. And hoping that you're right about the sight and smell of books being the water to the witch to the yunnies.

  19. Back in the very late 80s, I bought a copy of "New York Unexpurgated" from some guy at Astor Place with his wares displayed on a blanket. Still have it. It is a roar. An incredible glance of New York in the 60s.


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