Friday, August 12, 2011

Coffeehouses and politics

While preparing for my History of the American City course, I came across this stunningly beautiful historic painting of the Tontine Coffeehouse in lower Manhattan. It was painted by Francis Guy in 1795 and shows the hustle and bustle of NYC at the turn of the nineteenth century. If you were a mover and shaker and you moved or shook anything, you did it at the Tontine Coffeehouse (on the left of this painting). Unlike today's middle- and upper-class Starbucks, this was a truly class-less (not tasteless) institution where anyone could and did go. It functioned like CNN, eBay, the Iowa caucuses, the currently bonkers stock exchange, and one central blog spot. People went to the Tontine to get the latest news, buy or sell things, talk politics, buy stocks or wheel and deal.

Don't you just wish you could be transported back to this scene to see what was going on?  (I'll assume the answer as a yes, but I would also wish for you a twentieth century gas mask to take along: remember, nobody had deodorant, there was no garbage collection, and people used outhouses...)

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