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The Secret Cave in Central Park—And Why It Was Sealed

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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and completed in the 1860s, Central Park was constructed to feel like a natural landscape. The area features waterfalls, tree, ponds, and rocks arranged to look like they had always been there.

One of the most woodland-like areas is the Ramble, more than 30 acres of trees, paths, and gardens, designed to take visitors completely out of the hustle and bustle of the city and into a nature wonderland. Olmsted deemed the Ramble “a wild garden,” though it was a carefully made one—nearly all of the area, minus the bedrock foundation, was fabricated by the famous landscape architect.

When they were excavating the area, however, workmen discovered at least one naturally occurring element that Olmsted and Vaux decided to work into their plans: a narrow little cave, apparently carved out in part by humans. Some speculated that Native Americans had once used the cranny for shelter, though no evidence was found to back the theory.

To help it blend into the landscape they had meticulously planned, large rocks were arranged around the cave to make it look as if they had naturally settled there. They also arranged flat stones into a staircase leading down into the hidden room. The man-made lake was altered to allow adventurous boaters to row right into the cave.

As you might imagine, the Tom Sawyer-esque hideout was a big hit with children. It was also a hit with adults—particularly couples who liked to steal away for some private time in the secluded cave.

But the cave also seemed to attract more nefarious activity. In 1904, a man attempted suicide (not the first to take place in the Ramble) on the stone steps—though some believed it was actually attempted murder. Whatever happened, it wasn’t the only negative press for the cave.

In 1922, artist Alexander MacArthur was sentenced to three months in a workhouse for “behaving improperly” inside the cave, and in 1929, about 335 men were arrested in Central Park for “annoying women”—and the Ramble Cave was one of the preferred spots to do so.

Wikimedia Commons // CC0

Apparently fed up with the complaints, park authorities had the cave sealed off sometime in the 1920s. Though it can no longer be entered, intrepid explorers can still discover the old stone steps that lead down to the cave—they're located on the east side of the Ramble Stone Arch (pictured above).

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Courtesy of Freeman's
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History
For Sale: More Than 150 Items of Victorian Mourning Art, Clothing, and Jewelry
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Courtesy of Freeman's

Funeral fashion hasn't always been reserved for memorial services, judging from a massive memento mori auction that's being billed as perhaps the largest collection of mourning art ever offered for sale. Spotted by Atlas Obscura and sponsored by Philadelphia-based Freeman’s auction house, the online sale—which kicks off on Wednesday, November 15—features more than 150 works from a renowned private collection, ranging from clothing and jewelry to artworks.

During the Victorian era, people paid tribute to their loved ones by wearing black mourning garb and symbolic accessories. (The latter often featured jet or real locks of hair, according to a 2008 article published in the academic journal Omega.) They also commissioned death-themed artworks and objects, including paintings, as exhibited by Angus Trumble's 2007 book Love & Death: Art in the Age of Queen Victoria.

These items have long since fallen out of fashion, but some historic preservationists amassed their own macabre private collections. Anita Schorsch, who’s arguably the most famous collector of memento mori, used her historic treasures to launch the Museum of Mourning Art back in 1990. Located in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, the museum is—as its name suggests—the only institution in the nation devoted exclusively to mourning art. The museum has been closed since Schorsch's death in 2015, and the items featured in Freeman's auction are from her collection.

Check out some of its memento mori below, or view the online catalogue here.

Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Courtesy OF Freeman's


Hairwork shroud pin, 19th century, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's


18th century iron and brass cemetery padlock from London, England, part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017
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History
Abraham Lincoln Letter About Slavery Could Fetch $700,000 at Auction
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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, in which future president Abraham Lincoln spent seven debates discussing the issue of slavery with incumbent U.S. senator Stephen Douglas, paved the way for Lincoln’s eventual ascent to the presidency. Now part of that history can be yours, as the AP reports.

A signed letter from Lincoln to his friend Henry Asbury dated July 31, 1858 explores the “Freeport Question” he would later pose to Douglas during the debates, forcing the senator to publicly choose between two contrasting views related to slavery’s expansion in U.S. territories: whether it should be up to the people or the courts to decide where slavery was legal. (Douglas supported the popular choice argument, but that position was directly counter to the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.)

The first page of a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry Asbury
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

In the letter, Lincoln was responding to advice Asbury had sent him on preparing for his next debate with Douglas. Asbury essentially framed the Freeport Question for the politician. In his reply, Lincoln wrote that it was a great question, but would be difficult to get Douglas to answer:

"You shall have hard work to get him directly to the point whether a territorial Legislature has or has not the power to exclude slavery. But if you succeed in bringing him to it, though he will be compelled to say it possesses no such power; he will instantly take ground that slavery can not actually exist in the territories, unless the people desire it, and so give it protective territorial legislation."

Asbury's influence didn't end with the debates. A founder of Illinois's Republican Party, he was the first to suggest that Lincoln should run for president in 1860, and secured him the support of the local party.

The letter, valued at $500,000 to $700,000, is up for sale as part of a books and manuscripts auction that Christie’s will hold on December 5.

[h/t Associated Press]

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