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.

WeWriWa—Kroshka comforts Fyodora

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, and concludes the scene where Mr. Lebedev reunites with his three youngest daughters in February 1921.

Littlest sister Fyodora has asked where her mother is, and Mr. Lebedev doesn’t have the heart to tell her the ugly truth. Instead he told her her mother went to a place where there’s no more suffering, a magical place with things like harps, golden water, and eternal youth. Eighth-born sister Vera tries to distract Fyodora by pointing out little Kroshka, the Pomeranian who belonged to sixth-born sister Svetlana.

Copyright José Reynaldo da Fonseca

“Look, Dora, here’s Kroshka,” Vera quickly jumps in. “Dogs are like elephants, they never forget.”

Mr. Lebedev carries Fyodora back to her mattress and tucks her in.  Almost as soon as she’s been tucked in, Fyodora starts violently coughing again.  Kroshka jumps onto the bed and snuggles against Fyodora, frantically wagging her tail and licking Fyodora’s face.  Though Fyodora is still racked by whooping cough spasms, she manages to put her little arms around Kroshka, and the severity of the coughing gradually subsides.

“She’s so young to have gone through this,” Mr. Lebedev muses. “God willing, her heart will start to heal and she’ll have a chance to enjoy a normal, happy childhood now.”

Copyright José Reynaldo da Fonseca

Kroshka means “crumb,” in reference to her tiny size. She lives until age 25, which is 120 in human years. I got really emotional writing Chapter 8, “A Modern-Day Argos,” in my third Russian historical, Journey Through a Dark Forest. Just like the loyal Argos, Kroshka too held out so long because she knew some of her people were still out there. When the last, Mr. Lebedev’s niece Nadezhda, came to America in 1933, Kroshka knew her mission was fulfilled.

WeWriWa—Dr. Scholl

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. Today’s excerpt comes from Chapter 37, “Storm Before the Calm,” of my current WIP. Inessa, her children, her youngest cousin, and her youngest adoptive sister have finally arrived in America in August of 1937, and moved into the now rather crowded old family apartment above the restaurant where two of her cousins have been working since they came to America in 1934.

At her old friends’ insistence, Inessa has invited over both longtime community midwife Mrs. Kuzmitch and a very progressive doctor who now does much of his work underground. Her old friend Vera serves as her translator. Given her traumatic injuries, and the morphine, Prontosil (an early antibiotic), and codeine she’s had, she’s considering using a hospital for the third child she’s expecting. But before the consultation can begin, Dr. Scholl, who also appeared in my second Russian novel, wants to see her leg wound. This has been tweaked a bit to fit 8 sentences.

I gave Dr. Scholl that name in honor of Sophie and Hans Scholl of the anti-Nazi White Rose movement.

***

“How are you today, Mrs. Zyuganova?” Dr. Scholl asks, extending his hand. “As I’m a doctor first and a specialist in women’s reproductive health second, I’d like to get a look at this wounded leg before asking any questions about this pregnancy.”

“Tell him to remove those damn bullet shards,” Inéssa says as she rolls over. “They’re probably what’s causing me so much extended pain.”

Dr. Scholl opens one of his bags and removes several bottles, gauze, medical tape, long tweezers, cotton swabs, saline solution, and a small flashlight.  Véra explains to Inéssa that some of the bullet fragments are poking through the still-healing wound, and that Dr. Scholl can see a number of others inside the wound.  Inéssa closes her eyes as she feels Dr. Scholl rubbing a numbing agent on and around the wound, followed by the vague sensation of tweezers entering her skin over and over.  After the wound has been washed out with saline and the blood rubbed off, Dr. Scholl wraps it in dressing and tapes it in place.

Sweet Saturday Samples—Lyuba Meets Lyolya

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is the conclusion of Chapter 39 of The Twelfth Time. Lyuba meets her new stepsister Lyolya after she comes home from Minnesota, and then everyone has a welcoming party for Lyolya at the Lebedev home in Greenwich Village. Little Kroshka is especially delighted to see this missing member of their family. (Zaychik, Darya’s nickname, is Russian for bunny.)

***

When Lyuba and Dárya get off at Penn Station, Mr. Lebedev, Mrs. Lebedeva, Katrin, and a strange woman are waiting.  Dárya looks uncertainly at her mother as they draw closer to the welcoming party.

“I’m sure she’s a good person.  You can’t distrust all strangers, záychik.”

“Welcome home,” Mr. Lebedev says. “This is your stepsister Lyolya.  We’re going right home to my house for her welcoming party.”

Lyolya hugs Lyuba. “So this is the stepsister I’ve been told I have.  I guess it’s a bit late to welcome you to my family, since our parents have been married for six years.”

“Are you my new aunt?” Dárya asks.

“Yes I am, darling.  What a cute little girl you are.”

“I hope you weren’t postponing your party till I got back,” Lyuba says. “You didn’t have to put yourselves out like that.”

“I was committed to finishing the run of my show before I had much free time.  And then my father just wanted to wait a few more days for you to be here.  We’re all going to enjoy a nice supper at his house.”

“Don’t even think of going home first to unpack and settle in,” Mr. Lebedev says. “There will be plenty of time for that later.”

“We just got a new Model A while you were away,” Mrs. Lebedeva says proudly as they walk away from the station. “Unlike Iván, your stepfather actually spends his time making sales instead of making friends.  It’s so nice to have your own car.”

“I think it’s so touching how you changed your patronymic to Ilyínichna,” Lyolya says. “Even if Serafima is never found, my father gained a new daughter in you.  He still has ten daughters, even if one of them isn’t blood.”

“He’s been more of a father to me in the last nine years than my blood father ever was,” Lyuba says. “Though my evil parents-in-law are always calling me by my old patronymic.  I think they’re doing it on purpose.”

“We see them sometimes,” Mrs. Lebedeva says. “Várya is rather cute.  It’s too bad she has those two for parents.”

During the ride down to Greenwich Village, Lyuba tells her company about her second visit to Minnesota and how nice life is there.  As she’s narrating, she watches the tall buildings and busy streets going by, and can’t help feeling she’ll miss big city life.  Even if the long-term reality is anything but idyllic, it’s nice to at least be located in such a metropolis and have access to so many things.  In a small Minnesota farming town, she won’t have the option of regularly going to the movies, museums, the ballet, a large library, or anything Manhattan has to offer.

“It’s only a one-story house?” Lyolya asks. “Our houses back in Russia had two stories and were bigger.”

“We’re lucky we even found a real house,” Mr. Lebedev says. “Most people here, even the rich ones, live in apartments.  I was living in Lyuba’s tenement with five of your sisters till I remarried.  Then your stepmother and I moved with your youngest sisters to our own house and let her sister’s family keep the first house.”

Ósyenka gets the door and stands back shyly at the sight of the stranger.  Fyodora gently pushes him forward.

“Is this little one really Fyodora?” Lyolya asks. “She’s so big!”

“I don’t recognize you,” Fyodora says. “I haven’t seen you since I was three.”

“This is your brother, Ósip,” Mr. Lebedev says. “He’s got heterochromia just like I do.  Your oldest blood niece Zhényushka also has it.”

In the living room, twenty-one-year-old Króshka starts barking hysterically and leaps off of Svetlána’s lap, running into the entryway.  She jumps at Lyolya’s feet and continues barking and panting until Lyolya picks her up.  Once she’s in her arms, she starts licking Lyolya’s face.

“Welcome home,” Svetlána says. “Thank God you’re alive.  As you can see, my dog is alive and well too.  She hasn’t been so animated for awhile.  I think she recognized your smell and wanted to welcome you home.  She gave me a similar reception too, when we were reunited after five years.”

“She must be an old lady by now,” Lyolya says. “Wasn’t she born in 1908?”

“She’s very old in dog years.  I always thought she was holding on longer than most Pomeranians because she knew you were alive somewhere.  She wanted to see you one last time before God took her to the other world.”

“Does this mean Króshka will be going away soon?” Ósyenka asks. “I don’t want to lose her.”

“Dogs age a lot faster than people,” Véra says. “She’s a hundred in people years.  I think if she could talk, she’d ask you why you were gone for so long.”

“Now only Serafima and our cousin Nádya have to come to America, and our family will be complete!  I can’t wait to meet them too!” Ósyenka goes back to playing with a model aeroplane.

“Yes, it’s nice to have a completed family,” Lyuba says. “One day my own little family will be back in the same place too.”

“Be thankful you know everyone in your own family is alive,” Svetlána whispers. “There’s no guarantee Serafima and Nádya are still out there.”

“You never know.  Nobody thought Lyolya could still be alive, and here she is.  Miracles happen to those who deserve them.”

Horny Hump Day—Vera and Vsevolod

Warning: Not safe for work or appropriate for those under 18!

My snippet for Horny Hump Day this week takes place a few chapters after last week’s. This is now Vera and Vsevolod’s wedding night, 1 October 1933, which is also Vsevolod’s 27th birthday. He formally proposed to her after their first time and had wanted to marry her since they met, but the wedding date was moved up slightly after Vera discovered she was pregnant. Now they’re finally able to spend the night together again without worrying about a potential scandal.

***

Véra shivers with anticipation at the touch of her new husband’s hands under her slip and camisole as he slides them off of her.  There’s something reverential about the way he touches her, like he still can’t believe he’s lucky enough to get to touch a naked woman and be this close to her.  She closes her eyes and focuses on the sensations as she responds in kind.