The New York Crystal Palace: The End of an Era
So bursts a bubble rather noteworthy in the annals of New York. To be accurate, the bubble burst some years ago, and this catastrophe merely annihilates the apparatus that generated it.
-George Templeton Strong
It is unfortunate that the wonderful lithographs in our collection which depict the burning of the New York Crystal Palace are not in this online exhibition. They include a color lithograph by Currier & Ives which truly captures the excitement and confusion of that fateful night. However, the bird's eye view of the New York Crystal Palace exhibited here does justice to this amazing structure. The lithograph by Frank Leslie shows the extensive use of glass panes for which both the London and New York Crystal Palaces were given their names. It also shows the throngs of people that must have visited the New York Crystal Palace during the Exhibition, even though they were not numerous enough to make the building profitable for investors.
The lithograph duplicated on this web site is about 20 x 13 inches. One is able to see the details much more clearly by viewing the original itself. As opposed to those lithographs which showed only a building with no background and no people, this image shows not only the city behind the Palace, but also the city within the Palace. In the background, one can see the various modes of transportation that visitors must have used to get to the Exhibition. The railroad runs across the top of the image, with a train in the upper left. Sailboats and steamboats move along the river, and horse-drawn carriages pull up to the front gates, unloading passengers into the crowd. The buildings behind the Palace fade away, but t...
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...nd 2,000 people were in the building, but they were all evacuated in time by a heroic fire department that put saving life ahead of saving merchandise. Having been constructed almost entirely of iron and glass, with only a little wood near its base, and having been called "fireproof" at the time of its construction, the Palace faced the same sort of irony which the "unsinkable" Titanic faced in 1912. The enormous building burnt to the ground in less than half an hour.
The building itself, though no longer standing, remains one of America's first and most interesting examples of glass and iron architecture. The exhibits of industrial and artistic objects, whether huge steam-powered machines, intricately decorated home furnishings, or marble statues, attested to the high degree of invention and skill that characterized the artistic expressions of ante-bellum culture.
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