One of my favorite parts of writing the Magic in Manhattan series has been diving into American history–not just what I was taught in school, but the history that would have impacted Rory, Arthur, and their friends. Although works of fiction, the books are still set in “real” historical New York, and I try to weave these real historical details in alongside the magic and romance.
I’ve written some about my historical research already, but with Starcrossed’s audiobook now here after Covid-19 delayed production for months, I wanted to share a little bit more–including some pictures of my own!
(All images copyright as noted or otherwise mine.)
Upstate New York
Hyde Park, West Park, Poughkeepsie
Some readers may have recognized the inspiration behind Harry Kenzie’s Hyde Park mansion as the real-life Vanderbilt Mansion. Built between 1896 and 1899, this mansion is now a National Historic Site. Harry’s library was inspired by the den and study/office, and Rory’s basement quarters were inspired by the mansion’s staff quarters.
From the mansion, you can walk down to the edge of the Hudson River, and look across the water to see Holy Cross Monastery, which has stood in that spot since 1902. When I was drafting Starcrossed and discovered that there was a historical monastery exactly where Arthur and Rory would be stranded, I emailed my editor and asked, “Would this be too unbelievable??” While a monastery is historically accurate, St. Francis–the Catholic monastery in Starcrossed–is completely fictional.
Just south of Hyde Park is the Walkway over the Hudson, which in 1925 was still the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge. At just over one mile long, you can walk out over the Hudson River and take in the beautiful views. It let me get a feel for Rory standing out on the Hudson’s ice–and how far he’d have to run after he made a questionable decision.
A few famous New York landmarks still celebrated today make an appearance in the book: Grand Central Station, the flagship New York Public Library and its stone lions, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Arthur’s building isn’t explicitly named in the books, but he lives in the Dakota.
I hit a historical snag at City Hall, when I discovered that the 1800s fountain that decorates the park had actually been moved to the Bronx for several decades before it was returned to its original City Hall spot. I had already drafted a scene with Arthur and his alderman brother, John, and had to edit to take the fountain out.
As the small domed tower of City Hall loomed in front of them, John suddenly stopped. “So you do dream of the war.”
Arthur glanced around. They were completely alone in the small park where the Victorian fountain had stood before it’d been shipped off to the Bronx.Starcrossed
Other parts of New York’s history that appear in Starcrossed have been lost or changed through time. I reference the NYPL’s Digital Collections quite a bit to find these details. Arthur’s ex, Lord Fine, arrived at the North River piers along the Hudson (postcard on left), and he stays in the original Waldorf-Astoria at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 33rd (middle), which was torn down in 1929 to make way for the Empire State Building. Arthur drives over the Brooklyn Bridge and sees the ships below (postcard on right).
From Grand Central, the “Prohibition Scooby Gang,” as my editor calls them, take the subway. And because American laws have historically been racist and terrible, I needed to check if they could ride together or whether the New York subway was segregated in 1925. My history education should have included Elizabeth Jennings Graham, who in 1855 successfully sued Third Avenue Railway Company for evicting her from a streetcar on the basis of race, and set a precedent for transit desegregation in New York.
(Unlike the subway, baseball was segregated in America in the 1920s, and there were more teams in New York City than the Yankees.)
“[Rory] may not have known much about football, but it turned out he had plenty to say about the coming baseball season and the Yankees, Robins, and the Lincolns, Royals, and New York Giants.”Starcrossed
Part of Starcrossed takes place in Philadelphia, and I had a ton of fun digging into Philly’s food history. Arthur and Rory just missed having Philly’s famous cheesesteaks, which didn’t hit the scene until the 1930s, but World War I-era Italians were creating what became known as hoagies. Arthur buys Peanut Chews, a Philadelphia-made candy that he might have eaten as a ration during his time as a WWI soldier, and Rory’s scrapple breakfast dates to at least the 1800s in Philadelphia.
Advertisement from the evening world, Jan. 29, 1920, p.8
Source: NYS Historic Newspapers
I also found this Inboard Profile S.S. Leviathan from the National Archives Catalog to be helpful in crafting an ocean liner for the book’s climax. (Which also involved me reading up on ship boiler conversion from coal to oil burning, although none of that made it into the final version.)
NOTE: If this kind of historical stuff is your jam, you can find more details in this Archives Appreciation post I wrote for Queer Books Unbound, which shouts out some of the amazing resources I was able to use in my research. I also wrote a blog post for Harlequin on some of the real history behind the Spellbound.