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.

Photo Courtesy Carnegie Hall ArchivesWell, 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
Past President

[This article originally appeared in the Northeast Journal of Antiques & Art.] Photo courtesy of Carnegie Hall Archives

   © 2011 The Ephemera Society of America