The American Civil War had been over for only six years when events which were to shape Madison Square Garden began to unfold.
It was in 1871 that Cornelius Vanderbilt moved his New York & Harlem Railroad operations from a sprawling shed just north of the newly fashionable Madison Square Park to Grand Central Terminal.
Madison Square was becoming an entertainment and social center for the emerging New York gentry. The park itself was bounded by Fifth and Madison Avenues and Twenty-sixth and Twenty-seventh Streets. The sole blot upon this landscape was the sooty, clamorous train yard.
The now-vacant block attracted the attention of the world's premier impresario. Phineas Taylor Barium, who leased the site and started constructing what was to become the first Madison Square Garden.
Madison Square Garden has been described in the 20th century as "more a state of mind than a building" but in the 19th Century it was most certainly a building.
Barnum's original structure was 420 feet by 200 feet with a three-story brick wall and no roof. The centerpiece of this edifice was an oval arena 270 feet long surrounded by rows of banked seats and benches.
On April 27, 1874, P.T. Barnum threw open the gates on "The Great Roman Hippodrome" also known as "Barnum's Monster Classical and Geological Hippodrome."
A little historical perspective is in order here... George Armstrong Custer would not lead the 7th Cavalry into the valley of the Little Big Horn for two more years; Billy the Kid had not yet killed his first man; and the United States of America numbered 37.
The lack of a roof and central heating curtailed winter events, although tenting material was used to protect against more moderate elements.
During the next few years the lease was passed to bandmaster Patrick Gilmore who fostered such events as temperance and evangelical meetings, beauty contests, flower shows, balls, and in 1877, the "First Annual N.Y. Bench Show," a dog show which continues to this day as The Westminster Kennel Show. The new impresario modestly renamed the complex "Gilmore's Garden" and became the moving force in bringing another sport to the New York mass. . . boxing.
Boxing was technically illegal in New York, so Gilmore was compelled to promote the bouts as "exhibitions" or "illustrated lectures." Boxing drew crowds but not enough to pay the bills, so the lease passed to W.M. Tileston, an executive of the dog show who sought to tone up the Garden with such visionary,' events as tennis, a riding school and an ice carnival.
Throughout the five years of operation. New Yorkers came to know of the exposition arena sitting just north of Madison Square but their sporadic patronage made it little more than a footnote on the city's entertainment scene.
Then Commodore Vanderbilt died, and his son William stepped in to regain his family's control of the property. On May 31, 1879, a gala ceremony was presented at the arena, in which the official new name was announced. . . Madison Square Garden.
The event was attended by thousands of New York's socially prominent. Ballets, classical pieces, marches and popular music entertained the throngs, and the reviews were effusive.
William Vanderbilt was gratified by the acceptance of his Madison Square Garden, but he found that his challenges were the same as his predecessors - how to attract paying crowds.
In July of 1882, John L. Sullivan agreed to a series of boxing exhibitions in Madison Square Garden which would draw more than 10,000 paying customers per bout over the next four years.
In 1882, P.T. Barnum reemerged as a factor in The Madison Square Garden story. He bought the elephant Jumbo from a London Zoo and amid gales of international publicity, displayed him first at Madison Square Garden. In four days at Madison Square Garden, Jumbo drew enough paying customers to recoup the $10,000 purchase price and the $30,000 it cost to transport the behemoth by steamer across the Atlantic.
Other events of note at Madison Square Garden during this decade included flower shows, horse shows, Elks conventions and the Garden's first indoor track and field event in 1888.
But as 1888 drew to a close, the days of the original Madison Square Garden were running out. The competition for the entertainment dollar even during the last days of the 19th century, was fierce. Although Madison Square was the focal point of New York night life, hotels, theaters, restaurants, night clubs and music halls could provide many of the physical amenities that were lacking at the Garden. The Garden was hot in the summer, freezing in the winter and damp in the spring and fall.
Harper's Weekly characterized the Garden as a "patched-up, grimy, drafty, combustible old shell." Harper's made the editorial observation that the site "has been marked these many years as the place for some building of public entertainment much finer than the present structure."
If a "finer" building was called for, then a "finer" building would be delivered. A new corporation under the leadership of J.P. Morgan and architect Stanford White was entrusted with the task of creating a new palace.
The orginal budget was in the neighborhood of $75,000, a neighborhood which White and Morgan judged too meager to satisfy the tastes of affluent New Yorkers. White added $450,000 to the cost of the project with the simple addition of a grand tower.
With the blessings of Morgan and his investors, wreckers went to work in July of 1889, and 11 months later, on June 16, 1890, New York City was sent reeling as the New Madison Square Garden opened on the same site.
On November 15, 1998 Kathy Fitzgerald of Madison Heights, Virginia wrote: I am looking for information about a Mr. Edward D. Andrus who was a famous horse tamer and once performed at Madison Square Garden probably in the latter part of the 1800's. More specifically probably in the time period after 1886 and on. He was a personal friend of Buffalo Bill Cody who also performed at MSG. Mr. Andrus at one time was a performer with Ringling Brothers Circus. He also was invited by the Governor General of Canada to perform there.
I am a direct decendant of Mr. Andrus and my grand aunt has an original poster of him advertising his performances. (Not his performance at MSG, however). If you keep any kind of records at all from this time period, I would be so very grateful for any information you could give. He also was an equine dental surgeon. He used to tame what were at that time referred to as "Man-eating" horses. Very vicious horses. And he would tame them right before audiences, and have them calmly riding around the ring - "so well tamed that a lady could ride or drive them." He apparently began learning this trade while working with the Arizona Land & Cattle Company. Thank you!