Tuesday, November 15, 2016

GINGER ROGERS auto-bio brings back Memories of working with Ginger Rogers at Radio City Music Hall


Biographies and auto-biographies of famous people are always good reading...inspiring sometimes and sometimes just "junk-food" for the mind. I picked up an old copy of movie star Ginger Rogers autobiography GINGER-- MY STORY and it was fun to read, especially since I had worked with Miss Rogers years ago at age 21. Ginger Rogers was starring in a show at Radio City Music Hall called THE ROCKETTE SPECTACULAR starring GINGER ROGERS and I was a fresh-faced kid working backstage.
Apparently Miss Rogers never forgot that she was a kid from Texas who was a good Charleston dancer, and OK singer and turned a Broadway career into a movie contract-- she minded her manners, did what she was told and consequently, was rewarded with stardom. Legendary status came later.
In those days of the movie studio "star system" stars like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford protested by refusing to perform if a role didn't suit them. Ginger, on the other hand, asserted that she kept her mouth shut and did the movies as they were handed to her, rewarded by the studio with more than her fair share of plum roles and a few clunkers.


The one thing that really impressed me about the legendary Ginger Rogers In those days of the "star system", stars like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, protested by refusing to perform if a role didn't suit them. Ginger, on the other hand, asserted that she kept her mouth shut and did the movies as they were handed to her, rewarded by the studio with more than her fair share of plum roles and also a few clunkers.She told me once that she and Fred Astaire were not good friends, but she had enormous respect for his abilities as a dancer and choreographer and she gave him full credit for turning her from a good dancer into a legendary dancer.
"That man was a perfectionist," she said, "many times my feet were bloody after hours of rehearsal. But if the dance wasn't perfect, he insisted we keep dancing until it was." One tidbit Ginger mentioned which I found quite amusing: "The Fred & Ginger dance routines were always worked out in advance by Fred, dancing with another man, usually Hermes Pan or an assistant choreographer. After I watched them together a few times, I would learn the routine and step in."
One morning during rehearsals I was riding in the backstage elevator with Miss Rogers and told her that I'd seen one of her movie with Fred on TV the night before. "Oh, which movie was it?" she asked...I told her I missed the beginning but she was dancing with Fred on a ship. "What was I wearing? Feathers?" I nodded and she said "Let me tell you about that number..." and she launched into a big story about how difficult that number was to learn and suddenly we were just chatting like colleagues backstage. I asked her about how she made the transition from working on Broadway at 19 to working in Hollywood and she told me talent scouts were always looking at the new Broadway talent and scooped her up. Her Mom Lela Rogers had been an employee (writer) at RKO so Ginger favored RKO in signing a 5-year contract. She was devoted to her mother and she told us about her mother at Radio City.

Friday, August 19, 2016

RIO DISTRICT- theatre, hotel, apartments and shops located where Fort Washington Ave meets Broadway at W. 159th Street

The elegantly curved Rio Vista Hotel on lower Fort Washington Avenue has been reclaimed from its status as an abandoned, boarded up building and will now provide apartments for 100 homeless and low-income people.
Once a boarded up eyesore in the neighborhood, the Rio’s handsome façade of yellow brick, stone and terra cotta ornamentation have been scrubbed clean, causing it to stand out in a neighborhood of graffitied apartment buildings.  Inside,  the gutted building has been transformed into a bright and cheerful environment of apartments, community rooms, support services and even a penthouse.  The 82 units in the building cost approximately $37,000 each to build, according to Harriette Epstein, a spokesperson for the CSS (Community Service Society).  The Rio, a 4-floor building located where Fort Washington Avenue curves to join Broadway at W. 159th Street,  was built in 1920 by Loew’s movie company which built and owned many movie palaces before the 1950s.
Behind the hotel on Broadway was the Loew’s RIO THEATRE (W. 160th), a 2600 seat vaudeville and silent movie palace. Many vaudeville performers would stay in the hotel Rio Vista, just behind the Rio Theatre for convenience. When talking pictures came in, the Rio Theatre installed  sound equipment in 1930 but gradually it’s business fell off because of other theatres opening in the Heights area.
The theatre closed in March 1957 and the hotel closed soon after. The theatre was gutted and became a supermarket and other retail stores for 50 years.  It is currently being renovated for a new supermarket in the theatre space and the upstairs offices and dressing rooms have been renovated and are available for rent. I went by yesterday and even the old brick façade is being covered to give it a more “modern” appearance. This little corner of Broadway/Fort Washington between W. 159 & W. 160th was known as the Rio. One can only imagine vaudevillians who performed at the Rio, dashing back to the hotel between shows for a quick break while the movies were playing.

Across from the former hotel’s front entrance are two apartment buildings in a charming cul-de-sac a la Paris, built on the elegant “Curve” where 33-block long Fort Washington Avenue branches off of Broadway as a separate boulevard. The style of all the buildings is very much the same…1920’s Spanish renaissance…one apartment building has the name “Rio Vista” and the other has the name “Rio Grande.” Both have recently been bought and renovated….one is now a co-op apartment building. They are located next to the Paradise Baptist Church on the “Curve.”





Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Myrna Loy's First Visit to Manhattan



From Myrna Loy's autobiography on her FIRST visit to Manhattan:"We landed in New Jersey, as you had to then, and Leland gave me the tour. He was something of a raconteur, so he enhanced my first awed entry into Manhattan. I was this girl from Montana who moved to LA as a teen and had played these elegant New York women in movies but it was the fake Hollywood backlot New York! I suddenly felt authentic...We drove through the Holland Tunnel, headed east, and came out on Park Avenue. And Park Avenue was really something in those days. It still is, but in the spring of 1935, to a wide-eyed newcomer, it just looked fantastic. In fact, the whole city struck me that way-- vast and vivid, alive! I fell in love with Manhattan then and there, and the romance has lasted more than 50 years.- Myrna Loy, movie star



NOTE: I met Myrna Loy years ago at a screening of one of her old movies. I was just a kid in my 20s and was invited by my friend Lisa DiGiovine. I told her she was my favorite actress and she said "How old are you? Most people your age don't even know who I am."
So I told her that I loved old movies and named a few of my favorite Myrna Loy films. She smiled and said "You've made an old lady very happy! For that you get a kiss."

I haven't washed my cheek since!  :)

Jim Dykes interviews Dr. Ruth Westheimer, famous sex therapist

Dr. Ruth Westheimer interview by Jim Dykes
(published 1996 in the New York Citizen News) Edited down
from the original interview.
The Little, Big-Hearted Woman Who Became a Celebrity Because she Wasn’t Afraid to Talk About Sex.
One of Washington Heights’ Foremost Citizens Discusses her Eventful & Inspiring Life in a Personal Interview with Jim Dykes.
“Write your name down…I’ll give you a plug,” whispered Dr. Ruth from the kitchen, waiting for WOR Radio’s Joan Hamburg to put her on the air from home in an impromptu interview within MY interview! Barefoot and dressed in a powder blue housecoat, Dr. Ruth Westheimer answered the front door of her 12th floor Cabrini Blvd. apartment looking more like the little Jewish grandmother (which she is) that the world’s most famous sex therapist. It is instantly apparent (even though she professes not to be a “morning person”) that from the minute this 4’ 7’ dynamo gets up in the morning, it is go-go-go all day with meetings, phone calls and interviews. Greeting her guest (me) with a smile and a nod, and armed with her trusty cordless receiver tucked under her chin, she gestured that her telephone conversation with her rabbi (who had set up our interview) was coming to an end and she would soon be available to start the interview. The second the phone was down, however, it rang again with the call from radio host Joan Hamburg who requested “only 3 minutes” to discuss Dr. Ruth’s new book.
This was the apartment where Dr. Ruth and her husband of many years Fred Westheimer had lived for many years and where they had raised their family. The spacious apartment was made extraordinary by the spectacular views of the Hudson River and Fort Tryon Park’s Cloisters. The apartment is full of piles of colorful clutter reflecting an incredibly busy, diverse life for this former Lehman and Brooklyn College professor who only became famous at age 53 because a friend—the famous sex therapist Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan-- asked her to speak at a luncheon at the Waldorf for radio & TV executives. Strewn around on every available surface are contracts from publishers, letters, documents and speaking invitations.
Dr. Ruth is a lecturer, therapist, author and media personality but in her moving and highly readable autobiography ALL IN A LIFETIME, an entirely different personal perspective emerges. Born Karola Ruth Siegel, in Frankfort, Germany, she was the only child of a notions salesman and his wife. They lived in a small apartment and her grandmother also lived with them, sleeping in the living room.
In 1939, at the age of 10, she was sent to Switzerland to a boarding school for Jewish children to escape what became known as The Holocaust. The book is made even more interesting due to the fact that as a child she kept copious diaries and notes and saved all letters.  She said that one day, her letters (and checks) from her parents just stopped coming and years later she discovered their fate in the camps. After the war, she emigrated to Israel, became a soldier and a teacher and lived on a kibbutz. Later on she moved to Paris with her first husband to study at the Sorbonne. The marriage ended and in the 1950’s Ruth arrived in New York to continue her studies first at the New School and later at Columbia Teacher’s College.
J.Dykes: What was the year you arrived in New York?
Dr. RUTH- 1956
J.D.- And you immediately moved to Washington Heights where you have lived ever since. At that time, hadn’t Washington Heights earned a reputation for being a bastion of German intellectual refugees?
D.R.- I would say not only the intellectuals like Kissinger and others, I would say of German Jews because there are very many German Jews here who come from villages and moved to the bigger cities in Germany, then just before the war, were fortunate enough to move here so it is in terms of German Judaism, very much of a cross section that lives in Washington Heights. Rabbi Lehman can recommend some books about this migration.
NOTE: Rabbi Robert Lehman is the rabbi of the 800-member Hebrew Tabernacle on Fort Washington Avenue, of which Dr. Ruth is an active member. Dr. Lehman is mentioned in the acknowledgments of all Dr. Ruth’s books and is known as a long-time friend and advisor.
J.D- Washington Heights has changed a lot since 1956. Then it had one of the lowest crime rates in the city, and today it’s got one of the highest. Does that bother you and what can be done?
D.R.- Of course it bothers me…but it doesn’t only bother me on a personal level, it bothers me on a city-wide level. I love the city of New York, and the escalating crime rate bothers me. The police are trying to do their best, and what I think has to happen here if you ask me with my life experience, coming out of Nazi Germany, having lived in Israel, I do believe we have to reinstitute citizen patrols. I’d be the first one to volunteer once a month to walk the streets of this neighborhood.
J.D.-Another issue…some New York parents seem to be opposed to condom distribution in public schools. Do free condoms, in your opinion, contribute to promiscuity?
D.R.-The chancellor knows where I stand because I said it publicly and I said it to him in Washington. I do not want to see sex clinics in our junior high or high schools…I want to see comprehensive health clinics. We have a terrible time with AIDS, Hepatitis B and other diseases not to mention the problem of unwanted pregnancies. It is not true what some of the critics say that it would mean that we are saying to young people, “Go out and do it.” No one knew about AIDS when my first book:  “Dr. Ruth’s Guide to Good Sex” came out.
J.D.- How would you have felt if your children, Miriam and Joel, were given condoms in school?
D.R.-First of all, I am a Jewish Mother, so for me anything under 17 is too young anyhow, so let’s put that on the table, and now I am a Jewish grandmother. Having said that, when a youngster, I can’t say which age, decides to be sexually active, then I want contraception to be available including for my own children.
J.D.- How do you reconcile your sexual therapy business and your beliefs in contraception with your Orthodox Jewish upbringing?
D.R.- In the Orthodox Jewish tradition, a person is only supposed to be sexually active after the marriage ceremony. Strict Catholics also believe this.  In the Jewish tradition, there is nothing against contraception, and I am doing a book on that for next year. The only definite thing the Jewish tradition says is that you need to and you ought to have children. Also, I am not Orthodox now. I come from the Orthodox Jewish tradition and I am very Jewish, but I do not adhere to the religious cult any longer. By the way, Jim, I must stop and tell you that you are one of the best prepared reporters I have ever had the pleasure of being interviewed by. The last time I was interviewed by such a good reporter was when Diane Sawyer interviewed me for 60 MINUTES.
J.D.-Thanks Dr. Ruth…I’m also from Kentucky like Diane Sawyer, so maybe it’s a “Kentucky” thing.

NOTE FROM JIM: The interview goes on for another two pages but it mostly is dated now, since it was first published 20 years ago and deals with issues that are passe now as well as her latest book at the time about Ethiopian Jews….Surviving Salvation.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Queen of Carrot Cake was One Tough Cookie

This article is a tribute to my friend, Rene Mancino, owner of CARROT TOP Bakery on Broadway in Upper Manhattan. Rene died this past year as a victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound....inside the business in her office. As her husband, friends and customers mourn her, I remembered that I had written this article years ago for a local New York publication and thought (as a tribute to her memory) it might be a good idea to post pieces of the interview.

As a child, the only times Renee Allen Mancino was sure to be at her Cleveland, Ohio home was when her mother was baking.
A self-described little hellion for most of her childhood, constantly at odds with her mother and six siblings and eluding her grandmother's strap, a sweet tooth for her mother's chocolate fudge, breakfast rings, cakes, pies and cookies was her only taming influence.
The memory of these occasions may have ultimately saved Mancino's life, and was the genesis of her thriving CARROT TOP restaurants, and what NY Times food critic Molly O'Neill described as the "best carrot cake in the world."
"O'Neill had heard about my cake and came here for the recipe," Mancino recounted. "In order to get in the food editor's section of the Times, you give them a good recipe, she tests it and if she likes it, they print it."
Not only did O'Neill print her carrot cake recipe in her column, but Mancino graces the cover of a cookbook O'Neill authored entitled "New York Cookbook" a compilation and history of current and legendary New York recipes which includes Le Cirque's spaghetti primavera, Lindy's cheesecake and Sylvia's barbecue ribs.
"I was honored to be selected for the book because New York food is so unique. Tourists come from all over the world to sample the different dishes here. I've gotten calls from all over the United States."
CARROT TOP's two bakery/restaurants employ 20 and their state-of-the-art ovens from Paris turn out over 150 cakes and pastries. Baking begins at 3am. Cakes have been shipped all over the country to such celebrities as Oprah, Stevie Wonder, various movie actors & rock stars and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Rene's story is the stuff of a good movie-of-the-week.  After her mother's and grandmother's "good Christian efforts" failed to keep her at home and out of trouble, at 14 she was sentenced to a year's residency in reform school for truancy. "I went in that school a tough juvenile delinquent and came out a straight-A student," she remembers.
Educated during the early 60's when integration and busing laws were being enacted, Mancino took advantage of every opportunity that came her way. At 16, she became one of NASA's youngest employees, rising at 5am and travelling two hours to her job in a Cleveland suburb. She received a scholorship to Howard University in Washington D.C. to study forensic medicine, but instead moved to New York and began an internship at St. Luke's Hospital morgue. She became a Black Muslim, married badly ("and dangerously" she adds) and within two years found herself a widow with a baby girl to support.
A Muslim minister asked her to bake a cake and liked it so much that he passed her name to the Muslim inmate population. She began baking and selling carrot cakes to pay for her daughter's tuition and within a year she was baking 1,200 cakes a week.
"I began baking under the name CARROT TOP with $200 of my rent money. When I wasn't baking, I was travelling downtown taking cake and pastry samples to restaurants. Balducci's was one of my first commercial accounts."
In 1977 after 4 years of baking in her apartment, she received a scholarship to Columbia University's medical school. Instead of attending medical school, she met Robert Mancino, a New York City police officer at the 34th precinct in Washington Heights. "He was the first man who believed in me," she said. "He bought me a mixer!" Two years later the couple were married. While he was on patrol, he found her a place for a store at Broadway & 214th Street and CARROT TOP BAKERY hit the street.
In 1983, they leased an additional space at 165th St where Robert introduced entrees and sandwiches and additional menu items.
The success of the CARROT TOP restaurants and bakery comes despite much advice to the contrary and legal battles with landlords, the telephone company but kept pressing ahead to make the business a success.
In an impish understatement, the Queen of Carrot Cake said that despite the ups and downs of life and running a business, "I do know what a good cake is supposed to taste like."

Saturday, March 26, 2016

LAUREN BACALL'S Apartment sells for $21million


Bacall's fabulous 9-room apartment in the legendary 1884 landmark DAKOTA Building sold recently for $21million. Bacall passed away peacefully in her bedroom at the age of 89 in August 2014, one month shy of her 90th birthday. Three months later her apartment hit the market, listed by her 3 children from Humphrey Bogart and Jason Robards, who were her co-executors: her sons Stephen Bogart and Sam Robards and daughter Leslie Bogart.
Bacall had moved into the apartment with seond husband Robards in 1961 and reportedly paid approx. $28,000 for it. This was around the time the Dakota turned from rental apartments into co-ops which saved it from any further discussion of tearing it down. It was built in 1880-84 by millionaire investor Edward Clark, according to Stephen Birmingham's wonderful book LIFE AT THE DAKOTA. It was designed by famed architect Henry Janeway Hardnburgh (the Plaza Hotel) in the German Renaissance style...sort of like a German palace, including a place courtyard. It is reported to be haunted and now with Bacall's death, has another ghost in residence. Birmingham's book details various ghost sightings in the famous building with Central Park views.
Dozens of famous residents in the Dakota over the years include Roberta Flack, Boris Karloff, Judy Garland, Rudolf Nureyev, Judy Holiday, Tschaikovsky, and of course it's where John Lennon lived with his wife Yoko Ono and was murdered in 1980 on his way into the building.
Apartments are very palatial in the Dakota and some are very large and span multiple floors (like Yoko Ono's)...Bacall had one of the "smaller" units: a 3-bedroom, 3 1/2 bath co-op unit, Apt. #43 (4th floor). Located on Central Park West it had been on the market since 2014 (originally priced too high at $26million), then reduced to $23million. Wow, that's a listing I wish I had! :) Here's the killer: buildings like the Dakota don't accept mortgages so all-cash is required, plus board approval (the other tenants must O.K. you) plus the monthly maintenance fee is over $13,000 per month!!
The Dakota was built for wealthy people to "lure" them out of townhouse living and promising hotel-quality services including providing servants, always a big problem in the 19th century.
The pre-war (WWI) apartment has classic old-world charm including 13-foot ceilings and very large windows, unusual for buildings from 1884. The 4,000 square foot residence is entered through a private mahogany-trimmed vestibule that yields to an 18-foot foyer with one of five wood-burning fireplaces and a 70-foot long gallery that connects to the large living room, a stately dining room and a library, spaces which can be opened up for lavish entertaining. Many 19th century details remain such as the pocket doors, plaster molding, hardwood floors and wood trim throughout. The master bedroom suite includes two walk-in closets and each of the other bedrooms has an in-suite bath.
Ms. Bacall's bedroom had windows just looking over the treetops of Central Park and I actually saw her looking out one day and down at my tour group before abruptly turning away from the window, probably in disgust. Even though she was a two-time Tony winner, her nickname, after all, around the Broadway community was "the Beast of Broadway" for her impatience and attitude with anyone and everyone she deemed inferior to herself. Her son Sam Robards and I once worked together on a TV show and he told me some funny things about her attitude and Broadway reputation. I will save this gossip for a future item!

More pics of Bacall's apartment with furnishings from a real estate website:
http://ny.curbed.com/2015/3/9/9983106/first-look-inside-lauren-bacalls-dakota-apartment-of-53-years


Monday, May 26, 2014

Social Schemes & Dark Deeds Attributed to Morris-Jumel Mansion

The story reads like a plot line from a TV soap opera like ALL MY CHILDREN or DYNASTY but it was true to life. By virtue of a deathbed wedding ceremony, the daughter of a prostitute became the richest woman in America.  Her name wasn't Erica Kane or Alexis Carrington, but Eliza Bowen Jumel and she lived at 160th Street and Edgecombe Avenue where Harlem meets Washington Heights.

                                                                  


The lady of the house is long gone, but the Morris-Jumel Mansion in which the brilliant and beautiful Madame Jumel pursued her social climbing agenda is still there, the oldest remaining Colonial-era house remaining in New York City located near the C train stop.

 British Colonel Roger Morris and his American bride Mary (Polly) Phillipse (Phillipsburg Manor), daughter of the Squire of Yonkers (owner of most of current Westchester County) and their 4 children lived with servants in a grand home in New-York (still hyphenated) at Stone & Whitehall Streets near Bowling Green, then a very fashionable neighborhood. New York was a bustling seaport town while most of Manhattan was still tangled wilderness with only occasional clearings for farms and villages such as Greenwich Village and Harlem. Upper Manhattan was truly the country, more comfortably approached by river boats than roadway and was a breezy summer get-away for early New Yorkers of wealth, much like the Hamptons today. New-York summers were oppressive and anyone with the means to get away did so. As a seaport, New-York was susceptible to disease...every day brought boatloads of people from everywhere and every couple years a plague would hit the city: yellow fever, smallpox and God forbid cholera, etc. Summer's heat and humidity exaggerated the unhealthy conditions.

                                                                     
           
                                                          

Mount Morris, as Col. Morris called his 130-acre hilltop estate, was designed in the classic Georgian Palladian style featuring the first octagonal wing on a house in this country and large rooms obviously designed for an active family's country lifestyle. Big rooms, unusually large halls and broad doors create a generous and open atmosphere. The big front portico with it's balcony above, all supported by Tuscan columns, provided the house with a majestic entrance. Facing south, the house originally had a spectacular view of the Harlem and Hudson Rivers on both sides of Manhattan as well as New-York and the great harbor beyond, now obscured by bulky apartment buildings and skycrapers. It's said that George Washington, who used the house as his headquarters during planning for the Battle of Harlem, watched the giant bonfire of the burning of New-York way downtown from the house's upper front balcony on Sept. 21, 1776. A little-known historical tidbit: a young George Washington had dated Polly Phillipse in his search for a wealthy wife. Her father forbid her seeing him further saying: "Washington's a fortune-hunter! He's only after MY money!" Mary, the children and servants had fled Manhattan during the war to stay with family in Westchester.

Many surviving colonial houses of the period, such as George Washington's beloved Mount Vernon, give the appearance of being quite large from  a distance, but once the visitor is actually inside, the illusion is evident and the spaces appear disappointingly small and often claustrophobic. Such is NOT the case with the Morris-Jumel Mansion, where the luxury of spaciousness is everywhere. The front door is normally kept open (as it would have been during colonial summers) in pleasant weather, which enhances the feeling of a comfortable country home, even in the middle of New York City today. There is a crumbling ancient stone street marker (now in the house's back herb garden) that says: "New-York City:= 11 Miles".

The octagonal drawing room on the first floor became a Council Chamber where Court-Martials were held, while the upper octagonal floor was Washington's private quarters. Washington occupied the house with a cook, a personal valet, a maid and several officers from Sept. 14 to Oct. 18, 1776, viewing the burning of New-York from the front portico. Washington had said in a letter to Martha in Virginia: "I would rather burn my beloved New-York than see it taken by the crown..." but as it turns out the city burned anyway. Later the house was occupied by the British troops as a vantage point and for the next seven years various troops were in residence including German Hessians.

At the end of the war, Mount Morris was confiscated, the land eventually leased for farming, and the house converted into a tavern called Calumet Hall which was the first stop on the Albany Post Road (St. Nicholas Avenue). By this time, the house was fairly run down and the tavern considered a rather "low" place. They specialized in "Turtle Soup" parties which were all the rage at the time.
There was a brief return to glory on July 10, 1790, when President Washington, for old time's sake, attended dinner with his cabinet members, including Vice-President Adams, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and their wives. Ironically, Hamilton's future killer Aaron Burr, would come to be master of the house.
JUMELS OCCUPY HOUSE
Nearly 50 years had elapsed since the house was erected when the estate was sold in 1810 to Napoleon's former wine merchant Stephen Jumel. With Napoleon's capture and his reign over, Jumel had left France bringing his vast fortune with him. But it was his wife, the fascinating Madame Jumel, who is the best remembered resident of the mansion.
Born to a prostitute and madam in Providence, Rhode Island, and raised in humble surroundings (her family was once arrested for living on the street) the former Betsy Bowen dreamed of a better life. She caught on quickly to the mannerisms of well-brought up young ladies and soon became mistress to a number of prominent gentlemen. Further research reveals that as a young woman of questionable social status, she fell in love with the dashing Aaron Burr, but was rejected as unfit to be a wife for someone of Burr's family and status.
DEATHBED CEREMONY
Eventually she met Mr. Jumel, who became her companion for some years. He purchased the estate in 1810, completely redecorating the dilapidated house in the Federal design. Since marriage was considered the only respectable occupation for a woman, Eliza resolved to marry Jumel to gain security and social acceptance. Feigning illness one day, Eliza collapsed and appeared near death, begging her lover, as a last request, to marry her. The clergyman summoned to deliver last rites found himself performing a wedding ceremony as well. Within minutes of exchanging vows, she experienced a "miraculous" recovery and began planning a party for her official "launch" into New-York society as the new Madame Jumel.
DICKENS INSPIRATION
To this end, the Jumels planned a sumptuous feast inviting all of New-York's  foremost families. To the complete humiliation and embarrassment of Madame Jumel, not one person showed up for the dinner party. Too proud to admit that she had been so publicly snubbed, Madame Jumel left the dinner exactly where it had been laid out in the dining room, and immediately began planning an extended trip to Europe. The story of this event became so well known among locals that even Charles Dickens heard it some years later on a visit to America and presumably based the character of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations on Madame Jumel.
TOAST OF FRENCH SOCIETY
During many trips to France, the Jumels hobnobbed with royalty and even became quite friendly with Napoleon, whom Madame Jumel offered to help transport out of the country after Waterloo.  It is whispered that the Little Emperor was her paramour. An indecisive Napoleon ultimately did not avail himself of her offer to help him escape, but not until after Madame Jumel had attempted to pack off his furniture to her New-York mansion for safe-keeping. Napoleon's actual bed, bought at auction in Paris, remains in Madam Jumel's bedroom.
The museum director dismisses  the negative perspective of Madam Jumel's life as mostly hearsay, handed down by local families such as the Dyckmans as told to early Jumel biographer Henry Shelton, the mansion's first curator.
Madame Jumel loved the attention of society in Europe, where her past life was not considered a liability. Indeed, some of the most influential and respected women in Europe, and even a few queens, had been courtesans or mistresses. Eliza was admired for her beauty, her style, and above all, her extreme wealth...they returned to New-York in 1826.
Some say Madame Jumel had many affairs as she grew tired of her husband, and was rumored (by the servants) to have had a hand in his death in 1832. Servants and neighbors were suspicious of the way Stephen fell from a wagon one day, landing on a pitchfork, causing profuse bleeding. The doctor was summoned and bandaged Stephen's wounds tightly so they would heal.  He said Stephen should be kept tightly bandaged at all times and not be moved for ANY reason from his second floor bedroom.  Stories say that Madame Jumel "hastened his death" by loosening his bandages and his body was discovered in a bedroom on the mansion's THIRD floor.
One year later Madame Jumel, now 78, achieved her dream of marrying Aaron Burr and obtaining social status of the former Vice-President of Thomas Jefferson. Burr was now disgraced and nearly broke after having murdered Alexander Hamilton in the duel in 1804. The marriage lasted barely six months and when Burr began spending Madame Jumel's money, she filed for divorce, but as she travelled the world, she insisted on being called the "Vice-Queen of America". She died in 1865 and is buried in nearby Trinity Cemetery at W. 155th Street. Supposedly, her ghost haunts the mansion which has been a museum since 1903. The house is on the National Register of Historic Haunted Places."

-- Jim Dykes is a writer and New York City tour guide of walking tours and bus tours and step on tours