Welcome to the Hell’s Kitchen Museum of Curious Deaths! Or, at least, to the online version of it. In fact, the HKMoCD initially existed in the real world, in our fair apartment at 360 W. 51st St., New York City. It was located there for just one evening, as the backdrop of our Halloween shindig, the Hell’s Kitchen Museum of Curious Deaths All Hallows Eve Tour and Punch Party. We went full out for the event, repainting walls, removing all the furniture, tweaking every detail possible for the most complete transformation.
The following afternoon, as we slowly sobered up, we began to realize that, at some point, we’d probably need to put back our couches, beds and bookshelves. Having expended too much time and energy to simply scrap the Museum’s content altogether, however, we decided to recreate the experience online. That’s what’s going on here.
Even More Introduction
The Museum was in large part modeled after the New York Tenement Museum, so it depended significantly on the atmosphere of the apartment itself, rather than simply upon the exhibits presented. Sadly, given the limitations of the web medium, we can’t recreate that here. We have, however, as a bare minimum, included below the floor plan of the Museum, as posted near the Museum’s entrance:
In the real world, the Museum’s exhibits were broken down by room, with each representing a major inhabitant in the apartment’s history: first the McGuinn family (from 1856-1906), then Joseph Leibenz (1907-1954), and finally “Gay Johnny” in the modern era. Online, mainly due to laziness, we’ve lumped the exhibits together as one unmanageably long page of text.
None the less, we hope you’ll enjoy the show.
McGuinn Family; The Builder of 360 W. 51st St., 1856-1906
Seamus McGuinn was born in 1810 on the southeastern coast of Ireland in the small town of Kinsdale, near Cork. McGuinn first came to the states in 1830 as a deckhand on board the Caelan Kavanaugh, a merchant ship that regularly sailed the north Atlantic route. In 1834, he married a woman in Newton, Massachusetts, though she died just seven months after their marriage, in the cholera epidemic that swept through Boston that year. McGuinn later joined the Royal Steam Packet Company of Dublin and was promoted to boatswain, sailing the charter voyage of a new route to New London and New York.In 1846, McGuinn became captain of the Fiona Iverna, a clipper with regular service between Dublin and New York. At that time he was nationalized as an American citizen, and moved into a shared townhouse on the corner of Bethune and Washington in the far West Village. He was a popular fixture of the neighborhood, as his name was listed on the register of several private drinking establishments, one of which, on the corner of Perry and Bleeker, was known to be a brothel.In 1852, a disagreement over a cockfight sent McGuinn looking for housing in the area outside of what was then the city. He built a large wood-frame structure on a parcel of land on the current 50th street and 10th avenue block. The area was still being used as farmland at the time, but as the streets were laid out, businessmen bought up parcels of the land. McGuinn settled there with a group of seamen who were eager to purchase land and establish homes away from their work. They purchased a small farm from a Dutchman named Dekker and subdivided the property. McGuinn lived in a wood frame structure he built there, until it burned in 1855.During that time, McGuinn fell in love with Dekker’s daughter, and on his 45th birthday, he married the 17 year old girl, Wilhemina Dekker, known as Winnie. He wrote of her often in his diary and bought her fine items of clothing.
1856: Movin’ on Up
When, in 1855, their home was destroyed by fire, Seamus and Winnie decided to build a multi-family dwelling for upper-class Irish nationals. They constructed the building currently located at 360 West 51st Street and moved into the first floor apartment. Winnie soon insisted that they move into an apartment further from the street noise, but not so high that they would have to walk up many flights of stairs.Soon after the building was completed, Winnie gave birth to two twin girls, both of whom were stillborn. Seamus insisted on a male heir, and though he believed his wife to be hysterical with grief over the deaths of the twins, he insisted on a male heir. Subsequently, Winnie gave birth to two daughters, Rhiannon and Treasa and a boy, Hamish.In 1867, Seamus was murdered under unusual circumstances. Suspects were numerous, as many in the community resented his wealth and prosperity, rare for an Irishman at the time. Among the suspects were his own wife, who resented both her servitude to him and the age difference between them, and his son Hamish, who cared deeply for his mother Winnie, and loathed his father’s tyrannical dealings with her. Seamus was murdered with the spindle of a spinning wheel, gouged through his skull, between the eyes
1878: Movin’ on Out
Following his father’s death, Hamish took ownership of the apartment, where he looked after his aging mother. His sisters moved into a residence nearby, and Hamish purchased a dry-goods store with part of his inheritance that all three children helped run. Hamish began taking classes at Columbia College, preparing for a degree as an accountantAfter a torrid affair with a Barnard student, who later committed suicide, Hamish dropped out of classes. He subsequently squandered his inheritance in the bars by the port, seeing his sisters increasingly infrequently. In 1874, his mother Winnie died of neglect. Hamish became a drifter, finding his way to the American/Canadian border, then vanishing completely.
Caoilainn and Fionna McGuinn, 1857
p align=”left”>The twin daughters of Seamus and Wilhemina McGuin were stillborn in 1857. Wilhemina insisted on naming the infants Caoilainn and Fionna, claiming that