Edward Stratemeyer lived for most of his professional life in Newark, New Jersey. Most of his publishers had offices in nearby New York City. As Horatio Alger Jr. had before him, many of Edward’s stories featured detailed descriptions of the metropolis. Unlike the made-up small towns used in the books, there was a great probability that his readers would know the locations mentioned in New York so it is not surprising that they were accurate. To the reader of today, the stories are a glimpse into the New York of more than a century ago.
His first professional serial story was “Victor Horton’s Idea.” It was published in Golden Days, a Philadelphia weekly story paper in five installments in November 1889. In it, the eponymous hero leaves home in New Jersey to make his fortune in New York City. As shown in the annotated and illustrated edition, several real locations are described and they can be illustrated with maps and old photos and drawings.
In “Nellie Ray, Queen of the Newsboys,” Stratemeyer shows a similar area of New York. City Hall Park, the Post Office, and Newspaper Row and the surrounding streets feature in both of these stories. With a vintage map at hand, one can follow the paths taken by the protagonists and visualize their adventures.
Not only was Stratemeyer a frequent visitor to the metropolis, he also did business there. Several of the publishers of story papers and books could be found in or near this region. For example, Stratemeyer was briefly an associate editor for The Young American in 1889 at the time that his serial “Walter Dunn’s Heroism” was being published there. That story paper was published at 29 Park Row, across from the Post Office and near the intersection with Beekman Street.
With several of his book publishers located in the area, it is not too surprising that Edward would open his first office in New York City in the area. That first office was located in the Pullman Building overlooking Madison Square Park. As construction in the area blocked the important sunlight, he moved his offices to a few different addresses in the same general area.
As illuminating as maps, photos, and drawings can be, an added insight can be gained by the surviving motion pictures of the 1896 to 1905 period. Several of the clips are part of commercial releases and are clearly staged for their entertainment effect. Even when a film seems to be candid, it probably is not since the mere presence of a camera, then as now, affects people’s behavior.
Edward Stratemeyer was interested in both still photography and motion pictures. He engaged in the first as a hobby (as mentioned in the preface of Bob the Photographer) and surely must have seen and been interested in the activities of film crews working in New York and New Jersey. Three Stratemeyer Syndicate series featured boys who took films in exciting locales, girls who acted in front of the cameras, and another group of boys who ran storefront theaters. Series like Tom Swift and Ruth Fielding also tried to capitalize on the interest in motion picture capture and exhibition as a potential career for readers.
This collection of early New York City film clips is enhanced by showing map images on the left and text that identifies the areas and landmarks seen.