Author Profile - About Lorraine B. Diehl
Lorraine Diehl’s Manhattan Love Affair
She has written about the first black slaves in Manhattan, the ghosts of Ellis Island and about James Walker, New York’s most flamboyant mayor. The article on black slaves, which she wrote for New York Magazine, brought her to the newly dug African Burial Ground where she found herself staring down at one of the exhumed skeletons.
"It thrilled me to know that this person walked
Manhattan when it was New Amsterdam."
She walked the halls of Ellis Island before
it was refurbished, when the sense of those immigrants who passed through it was palpable. A pair of dirt-encrusted spectacles resting on an old wooden table brought chills to her spine. For an article on Walker, she convinced his reluctant son to let her see the keepsakes from his high-living father, which he kept in his modest Sheepshead Bay basement. Diehl’s subjects have only one
boundary: they must have occurred on the island of Manhattan. "The city defines me as much as anything else in my life." And her love affair with her
native city is only inflamed by time.
"I grew up in the shadow of the old Pennsylvania Station. I walked through it as a kid, using it as a shortcut to Macy’s. The feeling that came over me as a 14-year old when I entered that building was extraordinary." Lorraine Diehl took those feelings and transformed them into "The Late, Great Pennsylvania Station," a history of the vanished station, a book with its own cult following that has remained in print for nearly twenty years.
A native New Yorker, Diehl can never get enough of her city. "I tell people that loving New York is like loving the wrong man. It can be very difficult at times, but no matter
how it treats you, in the end you’re stuck with it."
Tapping into her memories of meals at the 42nd Street Horn & Hardart Automat when she and her grandmother took in matinees at the Laffmovie (her grandmother actually lived on 42nd Street) Diehl co-wrote "The Automat" with Marianne Hardart, great-granddaughter of Frank Hardart. The book triggered an exhibit based on the book, of Horn & Hardart memorabilia at the Museum of the City of New York, becoming one of the museum’s most popular exhibits. No sooner had "The Automat" reached bookstores when Clarkson Potter suggested a book on the New York subway system, to come out in time for the subway’s centennial.
"I thought about it for about two minutes before deciding this is a book I should write." Again, childhood memories became a kind of riff as the book came together. "As a teenager growing up in Chelsea in the 1950s, I took the subway on Saturday nights with my friend Betty, from 34th Street to the South Bronx where Betty’s friends held parties. We rode them back late at night, rarely arriving home before one in the morning. They were perfectly safe."
In between the two books she wrote for Clarkson Potter, Diehl banged out a weekly feature for the New York Daily News. "Secret City" directed readers to some of the city’s out-of-the-way treasures, and showed them how to look at the ones right in front of their eyes.
"I love this city but I’m not selfish about it," says
Diehl. "At the drop of a hat I’ll share it with anybody."