My grandmother, Dena Thomas, had a grandfather named Ed Slote, who lived in rural southern Michigan. In those days, he would take the train from Chicago to Texas to buy cattle and then would bring those cattle back to Chicago by train. He could ride home for free in the caboose.
On one particular trip in 1870, my great-great-grandfather Ed Slote purchased this painting, “Fast Trotters on Harlem Lane,” at the train station for 50 cents. The painting is a hand-colored lithograph by John Cameron for Currier and Ives. The Harlem Speedway in the picture still exists at 155th Street in Manhattan. In the painting, Commander Cornelius Vanderbilt, the famous railroad magnate, trots past the clubhouse.
This 50-cent picture from 1870 has been passed down in the family ever since. It was with my grandmother Dena Thomas for many years before being passed to her son, Bruce, in Tennessee and then ultimately to me and my family in Canaan, CT last year. My grandmother was so happy to see it hung in our home last Christmas (she passed away earlier this year), and felt it had finally landed where it was meant to be: in a historic farmhouse close to Manhattan.—Ted Michaels