The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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Bohemian Archaeology

September 4th, 2011 · 1 Comment

Step inside.

Some friends who, like me, frequent that bane of productivity, Facebook, alerted me to a piece recently published in the New York Times, about the short-lived Greenwich Village Bookshop and its very special door.

The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas has created a wonderful website for this relic, so that curious types can explore the door in marvelous visual, cultural, and historical detail. That this artifact of Greenwich Village’s long-gone bohemian past resides in Texas and not on native ground seems to me nearly as outrageous as the British Museum’s 200-year exhibition of the Elgin Marbles (although they were better preserved as a result). The Ransom Center purchased this piece in 1960, when the Greenwich Village of the ‘teens and 20s had already become a new-fangled bohemia. It seems nobody here in NYC cared much about an old door back then, and since the iconic-for-us mid-century Greenwich Village has now been converted into a sort of brick-and-boutique Disneyland, and the mid-century bohemians themselves have died or are dying off, what remains of the counter-cultured neighborhood is more ephemeral than ever before. Photographs fade and are lost; old stories, vague memories, and vaguer memories of old stories are bound to change through years of retelling. Occasionally something a little less ephemeral surfaces at a flea market – many items in Doug Skinner’s growing collection of Bobby Edwards relics, for example.*  As historians and collectors are well aware, this pieced-together evidence that preserves (or revises, or suppresses) is the stuff of which “actual” history is made.

Ask any native or long-time New Yorker: few places are as here-today-and-gone-in-a-decade as a New York City neighborhood, and most especially these days. But step inside the archives and dig around, and you’ll find that this is the one story that never changes.

* It seems that Bobby Edwards did not himself grace the bookshop’s door with his signature, which would have kept company with those of his many friends and compatriots. His description of the bookstore, however, is briefly quoted  in the online exhibition.

(Posted by Lisa Hirschfield)

Tags: Ancient History · Books · Ephemera · Literature · Memories · Places

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Doug // Sep 4, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    I’m somewhat saddened that this beautiful artifact of Eternal Villageance is so far away in Texas. But it’s nice that it’s been preserved.

    Actually, the only relic of Bobby Edwards I found at the flea market was a charcoal portrait of him. But I’ll keep looking.

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