Fine Books Magazine Cover Story

The cover of the summer 2021 issue of Fine Books Magazine features my story on Lewis Hine and his photographs of American labor, particularly child labor in the early 1900s. The story is available in print:

Hine spent 16 years traveling throughout the country, to the sardine canneries in Maine where children cut fish with sharp knives, the coal mines in West Virginia where they crawled into tight spaces to light explosives, and the cotton mills in South Carolina where they worked on colossal cotton-spinning machinery. He portrayed the children there with empathy but also objectivity as he wanted to be “double-sure that my photo data was 100% pure—no retouching or fakery of any kind.” That way no one could deny what they were seeing.

Read about the story on Fine Books.

Essay in Wildflowers of New York

I contributed an essay to Andrew Garden’s new book Wildflowers of New York City. It explores over 2,000 wildflowers that flourish around the five boroughs. These wildflowers are often overlooked and I love the way that Garn has captured their beauty with his photographs. The book is available from Cornell University Press and the New York Times feature on it highlighted my writing: “Others came as stowaways, as the writer Allison C. Meier notes in the book’s introduction. In the 19th century, the botanist Addison Brown scoured the heaps of discarded ballast — earth and stones that weighed down ships — by city docks for unfamiliar blossoms, as he noted in an 1880 issue of the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club.”

Here’s the beginning of my essay on “Nature as a Living Map of New York City”:

New York City’s nature is a living map of its history. While pockets of old growth forest endure in places like Inwood Hill Park in Manhattan with its towering tulip trees and red oaks and the 50-acre Thain Family Forest with its 17th-century woodlands protected in the New York Botanic Garden in the Bronx, much of the landscape in the five boroughs has been disrupted and changed over the past centuries. Greenspace was fractured into islands of land like parks, community gardens, and cemeteries. Concrete, glass, and steel now dominate the city.

Out Now: Great Trees of New York Map!

Great Trees of New York Map

I’m thrilled to share that the Great Trees of New York Map that I authored and edited for Blue Crow Media is now available. It includes 50 of the oldest, rarest, strangest, and most historic trees across New York City’s five boroughs, from beloved street trees to over 300-year-old giants. I’ve been researching New York trees since 2015 when I started The Greatest Trees of NYC project to visit some of the city’s most magnificent examples. (You can read about my journey in my 2017 “One Writer’s Quest to Find NYC’s Greatest Trees” for CityLab.) As a fan of maps, New York history, and trees, it’s a dream to bring those three passions together.

This is my third map to collaborate on with Blue Crow Media, following the Concrete New York Map and Art Deco New York Map (you can now collect them all as a set). I hope they encourage exploration of local nature and design no matter where you are in the world.

Pet Cemetery Expert in New York Times

While I’ve spent a lot of time writing about cemeteries and interviewing other people about them, I don’t get interviewed too much myself so it was fun to share my pet cemetery expertise with the New York Times for “The Most Popular Pet Name of the Century (Maybe).” I find the places where people memorialize their pets to be fascinating. (I shared some favorite epitaph sightings at Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in 2014 on Atlas Obscura.) It’s a choice to bury your pet in a pet cemetery and each grave is designed with such emotion and care:

According to Allison C. Meier, a writer and licensed New York City sightseeing guide who gives tours of the city’s cemeteries, including Hartsdale, pet cemeteries provide a historical record of wider cultural shifts around our relationship to pets.

“The way that people refer to their pets changes,” Ms. Meier said in an interview. “On a lot of old dog graves, they call them a gentleman — like, ‘He’s a great gentleman. He lived like a gentleman.’”

The Mystical Drawings of George M. Silsbee (1840 – 1900)

The Mystical Drawings of George M. Silsbee (1840 - 1900)

I had the opportunity to write an essay on the really extraordinary charts by 19th-century Masonic artist George M. Silsbee for their first public exhibition at Ricco/Maresca in Chelsea. They are dense with symbolism and ciphers and were likely intended for some Masonic rite or ritual. There’s not much known about Silsbee except that he was an  artist, miner, engineer, and organ builder, and very little of his work is known, so it was a challenge but rewarding to examine this handful of facts against the incredibly elaborate charts:

Even without understanding the exact intentions behind each element of these works, it is easy to get pulled in by the repeating of phrases and characters that Silsbee used to build these pathways to knowledge of something ancient and spiritual. Moving through the scripts of “Explanatory Marks of Jehovah’s Private Teacher’s,” where black curls of ink and ciphers add to its aura of deep meaning, the phrase “I am” emerges again and again like a mantra: “Christ Jesus Son Of God Three In One I Am That I Am I Am I Am I Am I God Jehovah … I Am God I Am I Am One Of Three 3 In One.” It goes on and on, letters interrupted by numbers, symbols, and combinations that resemble equations. A textural pattern of tiny dots joins it all so you can almost hear the meditative tap of Silsbee’s hand reverberating through each line, trying to find a way to communicate sublime mysteries whose complexity could not be expressed by terrestrial images.
Read more…

The Public Domain Review: Selected Essays

My essay on the 19th-century photographs taken by Félix Nadar in the Paris photographs is included in The Public Domain Review: Selected Essays, Vol. VII! The new book features 12 essays (including one by Philip Pullman!) along with over 100 illustrations. Read all about how the catacombs were a solution to burial overcrowding, became an unexpected tourist attraction, and were captured in startling images—with innovative techniques—by the eccentric photographer Nadar:

Nadar succeeded in creating the first photographic documentation of this realm of the dead. The geometry of the walls of skulls is revealed in stark contrasts; long shots down tunnels give the viewer a sense of claustrophobic unease, with their framing of the low ceilings and seemingly endless bones. There are even photographs that highlight the grim labor of hauling and stacking the skeletal remains in this space. Because the exposure time could be as long as eighteen minutes, Nadar used a mannequin instead of a live worker.

Odd Salon Fellowship

I joined the virtual October Odd Salon, themed on “Shock & Art,” to share the story of Georgiana Houghton and her spirt-guided artwork. (You can read all about her enigmatic art in my 2019 story for the data visualization publication Nightingale.) As this was my third talk with Odd Salon, following ones on the Paris catacombs and the magician Adelaide Hermann for two of their New York events, I was honored to be named an Odd Salon Fellow. You can watch my “Shock & Art” talk on YouTube and find a playlist of the whole evening of lecture shorts.

JSTOR Daily: How Cremation Lost Its Stigma

In a short history post for JSTOR Daily, I wrote about how the 19th-century pro-cremation movement battled religious tradition as well as the specter of mass graves during epidemics:

The cost and simplicity of cremation led to its rise in popularity through the twentieth century, supported in large part by its cultural acceptability. Now, as epidemics and pandemics continue to challenge our funerary systems, the history of cremation and its relationship to our understanding of disease show how every health crisis has required a rethinking of our infrastructures for death.