John Nicholas Genin (1819-1878) was probably the best known hatter in New York in the mid nineteenth century. Genin was chiefly known for his hats, but Genin's Bazaar, located at 513 Broadway (between Broome and Spring Streets), in the St. Nicholas Hotel, sold not only hats but clothing for men, women and children. In the late 1850s he added a hat emporium, also at the St. Nicholas, at 214 Broadway.
Also known as Genin the Hatter, his fame spread beyond New York City in the fall of 1850, when Jenny Lind came to America and gave her famous concert at Castle Garden. Several New York business men bid at auction for the privilege of buying the very first ticket. John Genin won with a bid of $225. This was reported in papers "throughout the United States" and people asked "Who is Genin, the Hatter?" According to the New York Mercury (as quoted in the Geneva [NY] Gazette), "Every man involuntarily examined his hat, to see if it was made by Genin; and an Iowa editor declared that one of his neighbors discovered the name Genin in his old hat, and immediately announced it...in front of the Post Office." The man then sold his Genin hat at auction for the princely sum of $14.
|1855 portrait of John N. Genin [eBay and NYPL]|
permission to construct an oriental, single arch bridge over Broadway, from St. Paul's Church to opposite his store, at his own expense for the accomodation of pedestrians: dimensions 16 feet from lower part of the bridge to the ground, width of bridge 5 feet 6 inches, do [ditto] of stairs 3 feet 9 inches.
The petition was approved and the bridge built. Genin's bridge was completed by early 1852. The Morning Courier noted in February 1852, that it was very useful on a wet winter day:
Yesterday, the pavement that fronts the block in which GENIN'S store is situated was as clean as if it had been newly scoured, while the rest of the street - thanks to the proverbial neglect of the Street Commissioners - was encrusted with half-crisped mud to the depth of several inches. We pay some $200,000 a year for public street-cleaning, and yet the only passible portion of Broadway, during the late muddy weather, was "Genin's bridge."
Unfortunately in 1859 business setbacks forced Genin to close the hat store; the bazaar closed soon after that. The trouble was the high rents charged by "Broadway landlords...an unscrupulous and unconscionable set of harpies." The Troy Daily Whig noted that Genin's rent at the St. Nicholas for the two stores was "not a cent less than $18,600 per annum" - an incredible amount in the 1850s, especially in the aftermath of the 1857 economic panic.
|Museum of the City of New York|
There's plenty more that we could talk about - other pedestrian bridges in New York, the poem written by Mary Tucker in the 1860s about Loew's Bridge (at the Wired New York link there's a good discussion of this). But instead, I'd like to end with a hat. One of Genin's hats, that is. I was delighted to see that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has one of his hats in the Costume Institute (jolly Mr. Genin would be pleased, too). And what a magnificent thing it is - a jaunt, café au lait colored stovepipe hat with attitude to spare. At the link you can see an image of the hat label, too - probably very similar to the one the Iowa gentleman showed to all his friends in front of the local Post Office back when Jenny Lind sang at Castle Garden in 1850.
Image of 1852 bridge from Museum of the City of New York; Genin's Bazaar ad from The Jewish Messenger, ca 1857, at Fulton History (which is also the source of the other newspapers).