Greater Astoria to host activities celebrating the 1800s

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Steam power and corsets are making a comeback in New York City, at least for a weekend.

On April 27-29, the New York chapter of the Nineteenth Century Society will be hosting its first Nineteenth Century Extravaganza, giving visitors a chance to experience how people dressed, ate and even played baseball a dozen or so decades ago.

The Extravaganza begins Friday evening at Think Coffee, at 248 Mercer St. in Greenwich Village, where visitors will be taken on a “Timeline of Taste” from 1800 to 1900. Guests will smell and sample the spices and ingredients commonly used at different points in the century as transportation and preservation practices evolved.

A number of Saturday’s activities will take place at the Greater Astoria Historical Society, at 35-20 Broadway, on the fourth floor. These will include a hand-sewing class on stitching techniques prior to the advent of the sewing machine in 1854, as well as a talk on “Victorian Unmentiona­bles,” in which costume historian Christine Scott will demonstrate both the literal and figurative hoops that Victorian ladies had to jump through to stay fashionable.

Historian Bob Diamond will give a lecture about Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, which was built over seven months in 1844, making it the world’s oldest subway tunnel — and which he has been pushing to have reopened after it was recently closed to the public.

Full details about the Queens events and the extravaganza’s other activities can be found at

Saturday will also include an Oscar Wilde walk and a guided pub crawl around the South Street Seaport area in Manhattan, beginning at Fraunces Tavern, at 54 Pearl St.

“There are a lot of 19th century-themed bars — vintage cocktail speakeasies where the bartenders wear suspenders and handlebar mustaches — but this is about the actual historical bars of that time,” said Rachel Klingberg, member of the Nineteenth Century Society Steering Committee, who will be guiding the crawl.

The weekend will culminate on Sunday at Brooklyn’s Old Stone House, 336 3rd St. in Park Slope. Visitors can play 19th-century baseball throughout the day, take part in an open-air figure drawing course or get an on-the-spot portrait with large format equipment and “hot” lighting that was cutting edge in the 1890s.

Klingberg will also be instructing visitors on the martial art of “Bartitsu,” which incorporates walking sticks, parasols and other accessories, and whose most famous practitioner was none other than Sherlock Holmes.

“We wanted it to be open to all levels of interest and participation, whether just sitting in on a casual lecture to hear about the Atlantic Avenue tunnel, or dress up and participate in a Victorian cooking class,” said Samuel Sobek, a member of the steering committee and the main planner behind the extravaganza.

Sobek added that the timing of the event comes as the 19th century is enjoying a growing interest in a range of areas, from the box office success of the “Sherlock Holmes” films to the Occupy Wall Street movement looking to the period for historical analogies to today’s struggles.

“It gets the political activist, the armchair historian, steampunks,” said Sobek, referring to the style that draws on Victorian fashion and technology. “There is a lot of people who have an interest in the history and are looking back.”

Updated 10:28 am, April 19, 2012
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