New Yorkers with a 19th-Century State of Mind

In the 2001 film, “Kate and Leopold,” Hugh Jackman plays a 19th-century aristocrat who is magically transported to modern day New York. Although time-bending wormholes under the East River don’t exist, many real-life New Yorkers incorporate 19th-century city life into their daily routines. WFUV’s Cityscape spoke to a number of New Yorkers whose hobbies focus on a bygone era.

Listen to WFUV Cityscape’s interview with New York’s 19th century enthusiasts:

The Pugilist

Rachel Klingberg founded a club to train in Bartitsu, a 19th-century martial art that aimed to help city-dwelling men and women fend off street thugs. Photo by George Bodarky.

Name: Rachel Klingberg
19th Century Proclivity: Practicing Bartitsu, the Victorian art of self-defense that focuses on the use of improvised weapons like walking sticks.
In Her Words: “I love Sherlock Holmes and I’m an amateur 19th century historian. I also love martial arts. So it’s sort of the convergence of everything I love in one art.”
Dress to Impress: According to Klingberg, Bartitsu is especially appropriate for those who choose to wear period clothing while they’re out and about: members of the Steampunk subculture or goths who carry walking sticks. “If you’re going to dress in 19th-century attire, you might as well know how to defend yourself,” said Klingberg.



A teaser for a documentary about Bartitsu, an early example of a mixed martial art that was practiced by the literary character Sherlock Holmes. Bartitsu incorporates the use of improvised weapons that were common accessories in the 1800s, like walking stick or canes.

The Gourmand

Name: Sarah Lohman
19th-Century Proclivity: Lohman is a self-described “historic gastronomist.” She recreates recipes from old-time cookbooks like “America’s First Cookbook,” originally published in 1796. Her research reveals interesting facts. For example, early 19th-century New Yorkers cooked with a lot of nutmeg and rose water. By mid-century, rose water was replaced by vanilla extract. She documents her adventures on her blog “Four Pounds Flour.”
In Her Words: Lohman saw people looking to other countries for culinary inspiration when she realized that “the past was another country.” She became fascinated with the idea that she could prepare “something that seems new even though it’s old.”
Line-Crossing Moment:
In her quest for historic delicacies, Lohman has eaten the meat of bears, moose and beavers. “Beaver meat is delicious, like lamb but even less gamey,” said Lohman.


“Historic gastronomist” Sarah Lohman prepares a slab of bear meat, an often overlooked part of American cuisine. When Charles Dickens visited New York in 1842, roast bear was on the menu.

The Collectors

Evan Michelson, one of the proprietors of Obscura, a curiosity shop that is the subject of a Science Channel series called "Oddities." Photo by Matt Klypka.

Name: Mike Zohn and Evan Michelson
19th-Century Proclivity: Collecting bits and pieces of “19th century weirdness” for Obscura, their Lower East Side antiques shop. The shop’s oddities include a number of items that range from medical to scientific to “apothecary stuff” like handblown glass bottles for poison.
Weirdest Items:
“Mourning work.” Apparently those who lived in the Victorian era had a penchant for the macabre. Some families actually created art made from the hair of deceased relatives, “because it’s the one part of the body that doesn’t decompose,” said Zohn.


A clip from the Science Channel’s “Oddities” in which a young woman considers purchasing a “hairloom” at Obscura to remind her of New York City.

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