Yorkville

Copyright Leifern

Yorkville is a neighborhood within Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Its boundaries are E. 96th St. (north), E. 79th St. (south), Third Ave. (west), and the East River (east). Part of Carnegie Hill used to be within Yorkville.

In August 1776, about half of Gen. Washington’s troops were stationed in Manhattan, many of them in Yorkville. They were strategically positioned along the East River to protect the other half of their brothers-in-arms if they retreated from Brooklyn, and to counter any attacks from either land or sea.

Gracie Mansion

Copyright Limulus

After a terrible defeat by the Battle of Long Island on 27 August, Gen. Washington’s Continental Army retreated from Yorkville. During the retreat, the British piped the song “Fly Away,” about a fox fleeing from hounds.

Instead of giving in to this musical taunt to fight, the Continental troops retreated in a very orderly fashion. This prepared them for their success next month in the Battle of Harlem Heights.

St. Monica Catholic Church, Copyright Limulus

Carl Schurz Park

Slowly but steadily, Yorkville evolved from farmland and gardens to a modern, industrialized, commercial area. One of America’s first railroads, the New York and Harlem Railroad, went through the neighborhood. The Boston Post Road, a mail delivery route, also went through Yorkville.

The current street grid was lay out from 1839–44. By 1850, a large portion of the population were German and Irish.

After the Civil War, slums were replaced by mansions.

The Marx Brothers’ old tenement, 179 E. 93rd St. (now in Carnegie Hill), Copyright Ephemeral New York; Source

Yorkville was a working-class and bourgeois neighborhood for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. In addition to the big German and Irish sections, there were also many Slovaks, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, and Lebanese.

Yorkville was one of the most common destinations for German immigrants by 1880. After the General Slocum ship caught fire in the East River, off Yorkville’s shores, on 15 June 1904, many Germans moved to Yorkville from the Lower East Side’s Kleindeutschland (Little Germany). Most of the passengers had been German, and people already in New York wanted to be closer to their affected relatives.

There were many ethnic bakeries, shops, groceries, churches, cultural associations, bakeries, butcher shops, restaurants, and imported gift shops.

Sidewalk clock, 1501 3rd Ave. between E. 84th and 85th Sts., Copyright Beyond My Ken

Disgracefully, Yorkville was home to the openly pro-Nazi German American Bund. There were frequent protests and demonstrations against the Bund, including street fights.

Thankfully, its founder, Fritz Julius Kuhn, got busted for tax evasion and embezzling $14,000 from the Bund, and spent 43 months behind bars.

While he was in jail, his U.S. citizenship was cancelled. After his release, he was re-arrested as an enemy alien, and sent to an interment camp in Texas. Kuhn was interred on Ellis Island after the war, and deported to Germany on 15 September 1945. He died in 1951 in München.

146–156 E. 89th St. between Lexington and Third Aves., Copyright Beyond My Ken

On a happier note, Yorkville was a haven for people fleeing from Nazi Germany and occupied Europe, and from behind the Iron Curtain.

Today, Yorkville is one of Manhattan’s richest neighborhoods.

Landmarks include Lycée Français de New York, Carl Schurz Park, Gracie Mansion (the mayor’s official home), the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, the Municipal Asphalt Plant, the Rhinelander Children’s Center, Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Monica Church, Holy Trinity Church, St. Joseph’s Church, and Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Copyright Ephemeral New York; Source

Besides the Marx Brothers, other famous residents of Yorkville include Lou Gehrig (born in the neighborhood) and James Cagney (grew up on E. 96th St.).

My characters Vera and Natalya Lebedeva move to a cellar apartment in Yorkville in spring 1929, after their father finally lets them live on their own. After Natalya’s marriage to Rostislav Smirnov, she stays in the neighborhood.

Vera finds a job teaching second grade in Yorkville after she graduates Hunter, and moves back to the Lower East Side after marrying Rostislav’s brother Vsevolod. She and Vsevolod later return to Yorkville and move into a brownstone a short distance from Natalya and Rostislav.

Novomira Kutuzova-Tvardovskaya, the daughter of old family friends, lives with Vera and Vsevolod while she attends Barnard.

Sweet Saturday Samples—Reunion with Lyolya

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples continues where last week’s left off. After the ballet, Mr. Lebedev is allowed backstage to see a dancer he suspects to be his missing daughter Yelena (Lyolya), whom he hasn’t seen since 1917 and has given up for dead along with his other missing daughter Serafima. Lyolya recognizes him because of his heterochromia, one blue eye and one brown eye.

Króshka is the family dog, a little Pomeranian. Her name means “crumb” in Russian, since she was as tiny as a little crumb when she was a puppy.

***

“Papa?” she whispers. “Ilya Nikoláyevich Lebedev of Pskov and Moskvá, husband of Yevgéniya Yermoláyevna, father of ten daughters?”

He nods, tears welling up in his eyes and his face contorted by a mixture of grief, joy, and relief.  He puts his hands over his face and starts sobbing uncontrollably, falling onto his knees.

“My father is still alive!” Lyolya shrieks. “My father still lives!”

Mr. Lebedev slowly pulls himself back up to his feet and stumbles towards Lyolya, his eyes so clouded he can barely see straight.  Lyolya throws her arms around him and feels him violently shaking.

“Thank God you’re alive,” she sobs. “I thought I was the only one left.  Praise God.  Praise God.  I thought I wouldn’t be reunited with anyone till the next life.”

“We’re not the only ones,” he chokes out. “Eight of your sisters are here, and you have five beautiful little nieces now, and a little brother.  Even little Króshka is still alive.”

Lyolya feels as though she’s dreaming. “God has been good to me.  This is an even bigger miracle than learning to walk and dance again.”

“You’ll be the guest of honor at my house as soon as your stepsister comes back from Minnesota next week.  You’re going to love your stepsister and stepmother.  I’ve known my stepdaughter for nine years, long before I ever dreamt I’d remarry her mother.  She’ll be like another sister to you.  Thank God nine of my daughters are still on this earth.  I’d given up hope for all of you to be found.”

Lyolya leads him over to a spare chair and helps him sit down. “If I make nine, then who’s the only one left missing?”

“Serafima.  I don’t suppose you know anything about her whereabouts.”

“No, I don’t.  I haven’t seen anyone from our family for nine years.  Are they all here in the city?  When can I see them again?”

“Yes, they all live here.  Gálya, Mótya, Dína, and Állochka are married now, Vérushka has graduated from college, and Natáshka will graduate college soon.  Fyodora is in high school now, and Svéta is an infant nurse.  They’re all going to be so happy to see you’re alive.  Your little brother is named Ósip, after your uncle.  He’s five and a half, and starting school in the fall.”

“I wish I could cancel the rest of my shows and spend the next week and a half getting reacquainted with everyone!”

“No, don’t do that.  This was your dream since childhood, and you’re not going to do anything to jeopardize it.  You should do whatever you can to earn money and build your name.”

Lyolya goes over to get the door and finds Rostislav with two people she doesn’t recognize. “Rostik, my father is alive!  Can you believe my good luck?”

“My girlfriend and I figured it out yesterday.  This is one of your sisters, Natálya Ilyínichna Lebedeva.  The other woman is your stepmother, Yekaterína Iósifovna.”

Mr. Lebedev sizes up Rostislav. “So you’re the young man my Natálya has been seeing and not bothered to introduce to me.”

Rostislav puts out his hand. “I am very honored to meet you, Ilya Nikoláyevich.  I’m Rostislav Vlásiyevich Smírnov, and I’m from Bulun, Siberia.  My brother and sisters and I found Lyolya unconscious on top of some rocks in the Léna River nine years ago and carried her back to our house.  She’s been my big sister ever since.  We live together in the city.  I had to come with her when the ballet talent scout took her to America.  She needed a reminder of home and a male escort.”

Mr. Lebedev shakes his hand. “You and your family are angels for rescuing my daughter and taking care of her as your own for so long.  Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you as a reward for your righteousness.  No price is too high to express my gratitude for saving the life of my child.”

“Could I have Natásha’s hand in marriage?”

“What!” Natálya gasps. “We haven’t even been going out for two months!”

Mr. Lebedev smiles at him. “At least some young men know how to ask a girl’s father for permission.  I’d be glad to give you my blessing, but Natálya herself has to agree or nothing can happen.”

“I don’t want to be married at my age.  I just want to continue dating.  But it’s nice to know Rostik thinks so highly of me.  Maybe I’ll say yes if he asks again in a year or so.”

Sweet Saturday Samples—At the Ballet

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples also come from Chapter 39 of The Twelfth Time. Though the reader has known since the first book what exactly happened to Yelena (Lyolya) Lebedeva and that she was discovered by a visiting émigré ballet talent scout and taken to America by a circuitous route through Eastern Siberia and Alaska Territory in the second book, her father has no idea she’s still alive and well. To his great joy, he discovers nine of the ten daughters he had with his late first wife are still alive.

***

On Friday at 7:00, Rostislav and Natálya take their seats just before the curtain rises.  Natálya looks around and sees her father and stepmother sitting a number of rows behind them and to their right.

“They’ve got programs,” she reports. “I’m sure my father will see the name and start to wonder.  I really hope your adoptive sister is my sister.  Then we’ll only have one missing sister left to find.  Perhaps all ten of us really are still alive.”

All during the ballet, Mr. Lebedev’s eyes are riveted to the green-eyed dancer playing the lead.  He wonders how long she’s been dancing to achieve such effortless-looking grace, poise, and realistic emotion.  He’s also struck by how Russian she looks, perhaps one of the émigrée dancers who came from France in recent years.

“I was unsure when Natálya gave us the tickets and said we had to go tonight, but now I’m glad we came,” Mrs. Lebedeva whispers during the intermission. “It’s been quite awhile since we’ve been to the ballet or opera.”

“She says her gentleman friend has an older adoptive sister in the ballet, so she was able to get a pair of free tickets for us.  I wish she’d introduce this young man to us.  It’s been a month and a half.  In our day, decent people always involved their parents in their courting decisions.”

“Well, Lyuba was off doing all those things with all those men while I was away in America.  I don’t know if she still would’ve done so many scandalous things had she had parental control.”

“That was all your first husband’s doing, not your fault.  And we all know he had you under his spell for quite some time too.  Now let’s enjoy the rest of the show.”

As the curtain rises, Mr. Lebedev continues staring at the lead.  The more he looks at her, the more he thinks he’s seen her somewhere before, a long time ago.  One of his former boarders?  A neighbor from Pskov?  Someone he’d bumped elbows with on the ship?  He glances down at the program and his eyes almost fall out of his head.

“What’s wrong, Ilyushka?” Mrs. Lebedeva asks. “You look like you’re seeing a ghost.”

“The lead ballerina.  I thought she looked familiar, and then I looked at her name.  Do you think it’s possible my missing Lyolya is one and the same as this Yeléna I. Lebedeva playing Giselle?”

“Oh, what an imagination.  That’s not such a rare name combination.  And it’s been almost nine years now that anyone we know has seen her.  Lyolya and Serafima probably died long ago.  It’s just a coincidence that this Yeléna I. Lebedeva and yours are both ballerinas.”

Mr. Lebedev continues to closely watch her for the remainder of the show.  As soon as the final encore is over and the curtain is down, he gets up and rushes towards the dressing rooms.  He scans the group of dancers heading backstage to try to make her out.

“May I help you, Sir?  We don’t normally have meet and greets with the dancers and the audience.  If you know one of the dancers, I can give her a message.”

“Za lead dancer, Yeléna Lebedeva.  I zink she may be my daughter.  May I please have a chance to see her?  I had ten daughters in my first marriage, and two are still missing.  My Lyolya vas also a ballerina.  Can you please tell her a Mr. Ilya Nikoláyevich Lebedev vants to see her?”

“You’re probably just imagining things, but I guess I don’t see the harm.  You do share the same name, so it might not just be wishful thinking or a coincidence.”

Lyolya is taking her hair down and removing her makeup when a knock sounds on her door.  She slowly gets up and goes to the door of her private dressing room, half-expecting it to be a fellow dancer wanting to borrow something.  Instead she finds one of the backstage workers.

“Sorry to disturb you, Miss Lebedeva, but some fellow was rather insistent about meeting you.  He’s one of those ‘I knew you when’ types.  He says his name’s Ilya Lebedev.”

“What!  That couldn’t possibly be!”

Mr. Lebedev appears next to the worker and peers into the room.  The worker walks away to give them some privacy.  Lyolya scans him quickly, not sure she’d even recognize any potential friends or relatives after so many years of separation.  Then she looks him over again and her eyes lock on his.  Heterochromia.  One blue eye, one brown eye.  She feels a shortness of breath.

Sweet Saturday Samples—Coincidence or Not?

Happy 20th birthday to The Wedding Album!

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is from Chapter 39, “Second Visit to Minnesota,” of The Twelfth Time. While Lyuba is away visiting Ivan for the second time during their temporary separation, her stepsister Natalya and her new boyfriend Rostislav start realizing that Rostislav’s adoptive sister is no stranger to Natalya. (The symbolism of the surname Lebedeva derives from its root, lebed, which means “swan” in Russian. The title of the first book is You Cannot Kill a Swan, in which the various symbolisms associated with the swan played a big part.)

***

On July Fourth, Rostislav and Natálya take a picnic in Hudson River Park.  Natálya loves having a beau, and being treated so wonderfully by a man, albeit one who’s technically still a teenage boy.  She’s heard stories about American men taking liberties with their girlfriends, expecting certain things by a set number of dates, and treating them like helpless little flowers.  Perhaps Rostislav gets it from his upbringing in a small Siberian town, away from the negative influences of the big city.

“I don’t think you ever told me your last name,” she says as they put jam on their bread. “And you’ve been courting me for about a month and a half.”

“Oh, I guess I didn’t.  Smírnov.  What’s your last name?”

“Lebedeva.  Very symbolic, given what my family went through.”

Rostislav starts choking on his food.  After he stops coughing, he looks at her with wide eyes. “That’s one coincidence I wasn’t expecting.  My big sister Yeléna’s surname is Lebedeva too.”

“Well, it’s a fairly common name.  I doubt we’re related, even if you say your adoptive sister also came from Pskov.  We weren’t the only family by that name in Pskov.”

“So, what’s your patronymic?  Mine is Vlásiyevich.”

“Ilyínichna.”

Rostislav starts choking again.

“Don’t tell me that’s your sister’s patronymic too!”

He nods. “I suppose that’s just a coincidence too.  Ilya isn’t exactly a rare name.”

“You said your sister is a ballerina.  It so happens one of my two missing sisters also was a dancer.  Her dream was to be a famous ballerina and live in California.  But the godless Reds took her and three of my other sisters to Siberia.  My sisters Svetlána and Dinara said she was beaten over her kneecaps very badly.  When her condition was found out, the overseers pushed her off a bridge into an icy river.  That was sometime in 1920, and we haven’t heard anything about her ever since.  My sister Serafima is also still missing.  After so many years, you assume the worst.”

“Are you pulling my leg?  That’s my sister’s same exact story!  But I know you and your sister Véra saw us together at Macy’s, and you didn’t recognize each other.  If this were your actual sister, you would’ve known her on first sight.”

“I didn’t recognize the woman, but Vérushka said she looked vaguely familiar.  She couldn’t place where she’d seen her before.  Véra last saw our missing sister Lyolya when she was only twelve years old, and I was even younger.  Vérochka and I have grown up so much since, I doubt anyone from our old lives would recognize us today.”

“My sister’s nickname is also Lyolya, not Léna.  Dear God, do you really think my adoptive sister and your missing blood sister are one and the same?”

“Well, if she is, she certainly won’t recognize me, and I didn’t recognize her.  My father and much-older sisters would.  When is she next performing?”

“Her next show is tomorrow night, Friday.  Her ballet troupe is breaking today for the holiday, but tomorrow they’re resuming their two-week run of Giselle.  She’s so fantastic as the title role.  She says they only give that role to very graceful, accomplished ballerinas.  It’s even more amazing since she was nearly crippled for so long, and took a long time to fully heal after we found her.”

“My father and stepmother should go to her next show and see.  I’m sure he’d recognize the name on the playbill.  And if he managed to see her backstage, I know she’d recognize him, if indeed my father and her father are one and the same.  My father has heterochromia, which isn’t very common.  My baby brother has it too.”

“What’s that?”

“Having two different colored eyes.  One is brown and one is blue.”

“That’s certainly unusual.  As far as I know, there are still seats available.  You can go as my guest.  I always get a free front-row seat at all her shows.”

Sweet Saturday Samples—Misunderstanding Straightened Out

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is another excerpt from Chapter 38 of The Twelfth Time. Lyuba’s stepsister Alla has gone into labor, and her husband Daniil has called Lyuba and all her sisters so they can come over to the house. While Natalya is on her way to catch the bus, she runs into the young man she had a crush on till she discovered what she thought was his girlfriend.

***

While Véra goes out to wait for the bus, Natálya locks up their basement apartment and sees her crush across the way as she’s coming up the stairs leading to the street.  He smiles at her again, and she ignores him.  Just days ago she saw him in public with an older woman who didn’t exactly look like his mother.

“Hello,” he says as he catches up with her. “I have seen you a few places.  You are very pretty.  You have green eyes like my sister.”

“I’m sorry, but you have me confused for someone who’s interested in guys who already have girlfriends.  I was raised better than that.”

“Oh, no, you not understand.  The woman you see me with at Macy’s is my big sister Yeléna.  We live here together.  She is not my blood sister, but we are all we have of family now.  She live with my family in Siberia for eight years, since I am young boy.  We move here from San Francisco last month.  My name is Rostislav.  What is your name?”

Natálya looks at him a little more kindly. “You don’t have to speak English to me,” she says in Russian. “I also come from Russia.  I’ve been here since May of ’21.  My name is Natálya.  I live in that building with my sister Véra.  Right now we have to get on a bus to support one of our other sisters.  She’s having a baby.”

“Where are you from?  I’m from a small town called Bulun, by the Léna River.  We lived among a lot of native Siberians.  My adoptive sister and I love America.  I never lived in a civilized place, and she was away from civilization for eleven years.”

“My family is from Pskov, but I was born in Moskvá.  I went through a bunch of orphanages in various places with two of my sisters.  Now we live here.  May I please get going now?”

“My adoptive sister is from Pskov too.  Maybe later you can tell me more about the city?  All I know about Russia is Siberia.  We didn’t even go through civilization on our way out.  We went through the rest of Siberia and had to go through most of Alaska on a dogsled, till we got to the nearest train station.”

“That’s all very interesting, but right now I need to go to my sister Álla’s house.  The bus will be here any minute.”

“Oh, yes.  Sorry I have delayed you on your way.  I hope I get to see you again soon, pretty girl.”

“Natálya.”

“By the way, I like your new haircut.  You look even prettier than when I first saw you.  You look older and taller with short waved hair.  My big sister wears her hair long, but she’s a lot older than I am, and she’s a ballerina besides.  She’s expected to have long hair.  How old are you?”

“I just turned twenty.”

“I am nineteen.  I hope you don’t mind being courted by someone who’s a little younger?”

“No, but I really have to run to my bus now.”

“Of course.  I’ll come by to see you sometime, if you don’t mind.  I’ll remember your address.”

Natálya smiles at him as she rushes off to join Véra.  They get on the bus at the end of the line and have to make do with seats at the very back of the bottom level.

“I think I’ve made a conquest!”

“That guy we’ve seen a few times?  Did he tell you who the other woman was?”

“It’s his adoptive older sister he lives with.  He says they lived in a place in Siberia called Bulun, and they moved here from San Francisco in April.  I didn’t ask how long he’s been in America, but I guessed not very long.  His English wasn’t so perfect, before he realized I’m Russian too.  He says he’ll come by to see me again.  His name’s Rostislav.”

“What a nice Slavic name.  I always liked our own native names more than the ones we got from other cultures and just Russified.  Let’s hope he proves himself worthy of you.”