Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Night Tourist

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The Night Tourist

by Katherine Marsh

The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2008, 256 pages

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Katherine Marsh, who grew up in New York but now lives in Washington where she is the managing editor of The New Republic magazine, takes readers on a gorgeous tour of New York City with a particular emphasis on Grand Central Station - from its well known ceiling to lesser known features such as the whispering gallery and the secret passages below the station.

Key to the story is a copy of Viele's map of Manhattan. Col. Egbert L. Viele (1825-1902) published his "Topographical Atlas of the City of New York" in 1874 which shows the city's natural springs, marshes and meadowlands - a map still used by engineers and architects today.

Colonel Viele (pronounced variously, VEE-el, VEE-lay or VEEL-ee) took part in the contest to design Central Park, but lost out to Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. However, he was the park's chief engineer and also developed plans for what would become the subway system; he also designed and built Prospect Park in Brooklyn. According to the Biographical Annals of the Civil Government of the United States, he was born in Saratoga County, New York and was educated at Albany Academy and West Point. he served in the Mexican War and in campaigns against the Indians in the Southwest until 1853 when he resigned and settled in New York City as a civil engineer. In 1861 he was appointed Brigadier-General of United States Volunteers and, after leading the advance which resulted in the surrender of Norfolk, he was briefly appointed military governor of Virginia.

"Clubber" Williams was a Police Captain, later Inspector, in late-19th century New York. Witnesses before an 1894 investigation into police corruption claimed the Clubber was receiving $30,000 a year in protection money from one brothel alone. When asked to explain his 17-room Connecticut mansion and 53-foot yacht, Williams claimed he had made his fortune through real estate speculation in Japan. Apparently, Williams was responsible for naming the once seedy Midtown Manhattan neighborhood between 23rd and 42nd Street as the Tenderloin (now known as Chelsea).

This article was originally published in November 2007, and has been updated for the September 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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