Mary Walsh James Faces the Panic of 1837

June 26th, 2008 Posted in Meet the Jameses

“Before the Panic, the view from the big front windows of her drawing room had provided young Mary Walsh with welcome distraction.  With her needlework in her lap, she could sit for hours and watch Manhattan’s well-tailored society pass by.  Mary’s home, fittingly situated on the north side of Washington Square Park, stood near the base of Fifth Avenue, where she could enjoy the greenery of the square and keep track of passing carriages, laundry carts, and neighbors out for a stroll.  Beyond the trees, she could see redbrick mansions with identical fanlights, and farther south, the shingled rooftops of less fashionable townhouses.

“But by the spring of 1837, the big jewel box of Washington Square which had thoroughly encased Miss Walsh in the velvet of middle-class security, had come a little unhinged.  This showpiece of New York City had fallen deadly quiet, though knots of rough, hatless men occasionally passed through the square and hackneys raked along the cobbles at breakneck speed.  Mostly, though, the sidewalks remained deserted, with no young couples out roving to admire the clusters of the acacia trees or take in the peppery smell of the blooming ailanthus.  Mary and her mother and sister hardly dared leave the house.  Throughout the spring, the city had plunged ever deeper into a new and frightening financial crisis, the worst the United States had yet encountered.  During this, the so-called Panic of 1837, New York banks and trading companies toppled like dominoes.  Investments plummeted, flattening the city’s newfound wealth and raising the fear of mobs.”

(c) Paul Fisher 2008 – All Rights Reserved

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