By 1890 architect John G. Prague had designed more than 230 residences in the neighborhood of Columbus Avenue and 86th Street. That year The Real Estate Record and Guide said that he and the developers who hired him “have created a neighborhood.”
Among them was a string of Queen Anne rowhouses on the south side of West 86th Street, just west of Columbus Avenue. Erected by developers Kennedy & Dunn and completed in 1888, these high-stooped brownstones had little in common with their Italianate forebears of a generation earlier. Four stories high above an English basement, each wore fanciful elements of the often playful style.
At every level the windows of No. 112 flaunted colorful stained glass transoms. The second floor featured a bowed bay, and at the third a terra cotta panel between the openings (which interestingly had its own stained glass transom), depicted a vase of flowers. Almost imperceptible from street level, snarling faces peer from the carved panels directly above. The fourth floor took the form of a fish-scale-tiled mansard. Its prominent dormer was flanked by curving volutes and a centered roundel held the face of a man with an oversize mustache. Interesting portrait faces peered from the corners of the dormer, both suspiciously contemporary in appearance. But if they were actual representations, the identities of the posers have been lost.
|The platform above the dormer would have originally held a cast iron or terra cotta finial.
Each of the 20-foot wide homes had cost the developers $22,000 to construct--nearly $600,000 today. The newly-completed No. 112 was sold to the well-known physician Clark W. Dunlop and his wife, the former Eliza Cisco.
The couple had married on September 10, 1873 in Brooklyn. Moving into the 86th Street house with them was Eliza's widowed mother, Louisa C. Cisco.
Dunlop had graduated in 1880 from the Eclectic Medical College of the City of New York. He practiced medicine on Bond Street until 1885; then went on to larger things. He founded the United States Medicine Company, manufacturing his own remedies like "Dr. Dunlop's King of Pain," "Dr. Dunlop's Cascara Compound," “Dr. Dunlop's Quick Relief,” and “Dr. Dunlop's Bromo Nervolene." He marketed them through his handbook Dr. Dunlop's Family Practice. It outlined more than 100 common diseases, giving symptoms and treatments--those treatments most often his own.
In the summer of 1894 the Dunlops traveled to Europe. They left Mrs. Cisco at home, most likely because of her failing eyesight. Plagued by cataracts in both eyes, she was nearly blind.
While the Dunlops were absent, Louisa sought help from a specialist. She arrived at the eye infirmary of Dr. Bessis in Glens Falls, New York, around June 1. The trip ended tragically.
On June 15 The County Post reported "Mrs. L. C. Cisco, of 112 West Eighty-sixth street, New York...fell down stairs about nine o'clock Monday night, and sustained injuries from which she died two hours afterward." Louisa, whom the article described as "a lady a little above 80 years," apparently had needed to visit the bathroom; but there was no attendant around. Thinking she could make it on her own, she made a wrong turn and tumbled down eighteen steps. Every June afterward Eliza held a prayer service the 86th Street house for her mother.
In the summer of 1907 Dr. Dunlop's relatives could not locate him nor Eliza. His niece, Gertrude Dunlop Hawes, later told investigators that they "disappeared from their Eighty-sixth Street home, and their disappearance was a mystery until a letter signed 'A Nurse' was received by Mrs. Mary N. Dunlop." Mary was Dr. Dunlop's sister-in-law. The note informed the family that Clark W. Dunlop was being kept in the home of Matthew Hilgert, at No. 31 West 26th Street, "against his will."
Hilgert was relatively well-known in New York. The apartment house which he managed doubled as Hilgert's Curative Foot Gear Institute where he claimed to cure hip diseases and lower body mobility problems with his "magic boots." But just a year earlier The Medical Council had reported "Matthew Hilgert and Albert Whitehouse, of New York, have been fleecing helpless cripples and depriving them of possible chances of recovery by inducing them to use their worthless 'magic boots,' for which an extortionate price was charged."
But Eliza had not brought Dr. Dunlop here because he was crippled--the magic boots were to restore his mind. Eliza claimed that her husband was insane and, in fact, he seems to have been suffering from increased dementia. How the magic boots were supposed to fix that is puzzling.
Gertrude Hawes and her husband went to the institute on September 15 to see her uncle. They had a long talk with Hilgert, who admitted Dunlop was there and insisted "that his magic boots would cure all provided he stayed in the institution long enough."
Pulling them aside, however, a nurse confided "that she had complained to Hilbert that the remedies and treatment employed were not benefiting the doctor, but were shortening his life." The New York Times went on, "The reply of Hilbert, according to the nurse, was that he was looking out for Mrs. Dunlop's interests." Those treatments included electrical shocks, hypodermic injections of salt water and the magic boots.
And there was another thing. The nurse added "Hilgert, the proprietor, paid much attention to Mrs. Dunlop, who is over 70 years old, and tried to make himself specially agreeable to her, and spent a large part of his time in her apartment."
Eliza was forced to appear in court on October 10, 1907 after twenty-two of her husband's relatives filed suit, demanding that a commission be appointed "to inquire into the state of Dr. Dunlop's mind." Gertrude Dunlop Hawes's husband, Gilbert Ray Hawes, acted as the family's attorney. Among his allegations was "that Hilgert desires to marry Mrs. Dunlop, who is seventy-three years old...when her husband dies" and "that Mrs. Eliza Dunlop...was trying to get possession of the estate, to the exclusion of Dr. Dunlop's relatives." (The New York Times remarked "The doctor is 63 years old and very wealthy, having large real estate interests in various parts of the country.")
|It appears that just one of the stained glass transoms (lower right) survives in the sorely abused structure.
The judge agreed to a investigation into Dunlop's mental condition. The findings were brought to light during the trial on January 8, 1908.
Newspapers briefly digressed from reporting the issues that day to talk about Eliza. The Evening Telegram noted that "Neither Dr. Dunlop nor Hilgert was in court. Mrs. Dunlop, dressed in particularly youthful fashion, was in court." The New York Press was less diplomatic about Eliza's outfit. "She was pitiable, dressed as a young woman."
Dunlop had been examined by two doctors at the institute and he was deemed insane. Nevertheless, Justice Newburger ordered him removed from Hilgert's control and returned home. Eliza was ordered "not to move her husband from their home at 112 West Eighth-sixth street, without the express permission of the Supreme Court."
The extended family was understandably concerned about Eliza's intentions. On January 22, 1908 The Sun described the scope of his real estate holdings alone. "The lawyers who have had the property appraised believe it to be worth more than $1,000,000." That amount would be 28 times as much today.
Somewhat mysteriously, at least as far as the relatives were concerned, on March 6, 1908, just a few weeks after returning to No. 112 West 86th Street, Dr. Clark W. Dunlop died. He was entombed in the magnificent, architecturally eccentric Dunlop mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery. Lavished inside with exquisite mosaics and stained glass, it includes marble busts of Clark and Eliza. (A separate glass casket would receive the corpse of the Clarks' beloved parrot in 1921.)
|The Dunlop mausoleum includes a superb mosaic floor. Marble busts of Eliza and Clark inhabit niches, Eliza's holding an opera fan. photograph by Ronny Preciado
The relatives now sought to break the will, saying "there was a scheme afoot to marry the widow to 'Magic Boots' Hilgert," according to The New York Press. If that were the case, however, Dr. Dunlop got the last word. On March 11, 1910 the estate was filed in the Surrogate's Office.
The New York Press reported "He left his home, No. 112 West Eighty-sixth street, and $150,000 in trust for life to his wife, Eliza C. Dunlop. He said in his will she was entitled to live in 'comfort and abundance, with the least possible danger of loss of property or unwise management or misplaced confidence." That was all based, the will said, on the fact that "she had expressly and voluntarily promised him never to be married again." Eliza could now choose between remarriage or her inheritance. She chose the latter.
|Eliza Dunlop's 86th Street block was still a quiet residential neighborhood in 1918. from the collection of the New York Public Library
Eliza Dunlop lived on in the 86th Street house as her neighborhood changed around her. The houses to the left were demolished in 1927, and those to the right in 1928. Eliza's home was soon squashed between two 16-story apartment buildings.
Having lived in the house for 45 years, Eliza died there in 1932. Until 1938 it was home to Grace W. Dunlop. On August 12 that year The New York Sun reported that the house, "which had been in one ownership for a half century, has been purchased by Samuel Kempner...The title rests in the name of the Eliza Dunlop estate, it having been taken by the family in 1888."
Kempner wasted no time in converting the house, once described as "luxurious." In 1939 the renovations were completed, resulting in two apartments per floor.
The block's sole surviving sliver of a long disappeared era is only somewhat diminished by its Goliath neighbors. Its very existence is as remarkable as is its story.
photographs by the author