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December2007
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Tweed in New York

Tweed may be the hottest fabric today on New York's Seventh Avenue, but another Tweed ruled the city from 1865 to 1871.

Thomas Nast, artist. Tweed-le-dee and Tilden-dum. Illustration in Harper's Weekly, July 1, 1876 T. Johnson, engraver, from a photograph by James Notman

On Dec. 4, 1875, William Marcy "Boss" Tweed, notorious leader of New York City's Democratic political machine, escaped from prison and fled to Europe. From 1865 to 1871, Boss Tweed and his cronies stole millions of dollars from the city treasury. Convicted of forgery and larceny in 1873, Tweed was released in 1875. Immediately rearrested on civil charges, he was allowed daily visits to his family in the company of his jailor. On one of these trips, Tweed made his escape. You can learn more about what happened to Tweed in the Dec. 4 entry for Today in History.

Not everything that Tweed touched was bad. Under his reign, Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted's masterpiece of urban landscape, was completed. Creating this pastoral setting required shifting nearly 5 million cubic yards of dirt, blasting rock with 260 tons of gunpowder and planting 270,000 trees and shrubs. Completed in 1864, visitors to Central Park still enjoy vistas across the sheep meadow, strolling along wooded paths and people-watching on the terraces and promenades that Olmsted and his collaborator, architect Calvert Vaux, provided. Olmsted was born April 26, 1822.

In 1874 he was commissioned to plan and oversee the renovation of the U.S. Capitol grounds. He had marble terraces constructed on the north, west and south sides of the building to cause it to "gain greatly in the supreme qualities of stability, endurance and repose." He developed an architectural treasure known as the Summer House (on the north side of the Capitol grounds) to give visitors a meditative place to rest, planted more than 7,000 trees and shrubs along with other vegetation and laid curved footpaths and roads across the grounds. He also employed ornamental iron trellises, low stone walls and light stands for functional and decorative purposes. Olmsted retired from supervising the terrace project in 1885 but continued until 1889 to direct work on the grounds


A. Thomas Nast, artist. Tweed-le-dee and Tilden-dum. Illustration in Harper's Weekly, July 1, 1876. Boss Tweed, acting as a policeman, although wearing the uniform of a convict, holds two boys by the collar with one hand and carries a billy club in the other. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-117137 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: Illus. in AP2.H32 1876 Case Y [P&P]

B. T. Johnson, engraver, from a photograph by James Notman. Frederick Law Olmsted, half-length portrait, facing left, [October 1893]. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-36895 DLC (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: Illus. in AP2.C4