Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Finger Tip #7: Bill Finger at the convergence of history, part 3 of 3

Part 1 and part 2.

I was in New York City standing in a former apartment of Bill Finger’s.

The current resident had told me that the apartment had even more formerly belonged to Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth.

Then his neighbor across the hall, who’d lived there some 40 years, told me it had also once belonged to Syd Koff, a woman who had won four gold medals at the first Maccabean games in 1932 and qualified for the 1936 Olympics. However, because the games were held in Nazi-controlled Berlin, the Jewish Koff refused to go—and in doing so, forfeited what ended up being her only chance to win an Olympic gold.

Syd hosting a seder, circa 1970. Bill's desk sat where that lamp in the background is. For orientation, note the edge of the fireplace on the right and compare with the two photos in Part 2. Photo courtesy Steve Cooper.

Syd passed away in 1999, but the neighbor across the hall put me in touch with her son Steve. From Steve I learned that Syd had moved to the apartment in 1955 (the last time Bill appeared at the address in the phone book was 1950). Steve said a boxer had lived there just prior to his mother but couldn’t remember the boxer’s name or if he was well known.

Steve also said that yet another prominent person had lived in the apartment, though not someone I’d heard of before: Hart Crane, a poet who committed suicide in 1932 by throwing himself from a ship into the ocean. I didn't ask how Steve knew that Crane lived in that exact apartment, but he seemed sure, and it is for certain that Crane lived in the building.

Steve said the PBS series History Detectives did a show on the building. That saved me time because otherwise I might’ve been tempted to suggest it.

When I got home, I looked up the building. It turns out that John Wilkes Booth did not live there...but his friend and fellow actor Samuel K. Chester did. And Booth apparently did go to Chester’s place to try to rope his friend into helping kill the president, though it seems that they were not in the apartment but rather on a walk precisely when Booth proposed the plot. (Chester said no thanks.)

Still, Booth
had been there.

The address is 45 Grove Street, New York. On top of being notable for all of the above, the building is also apparently one of the oldest in Greenwich Village.

Here’s a New York Times article about the building.

Here’s the transcript of the History Detectives episode that examined the building’s connection to Lincoln’s assassination.

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