Hidden History at Kalustyan’s: NYC Specialty Food Store a Site of Former Presidential Inauguration

Tags: Currents 123 Lexington Avenue, American history, Chester Arthur, Crux, George Washington, History, Inauguration, Kalustyan's, New York Historical Society, President James Garfield

By Emily Drooby

A stroll down the aisles at Kalustyan’s in Manhattan, is also a stroll through history.

“It’s a great feeling to just be a part of something besides the history of Kalustyan’s, to know there is a bigger piece to it,” said Dona Abramson, the shop’s manager of operations.

Here in this building, which now is home to a spice store, a vice president became president.

“It’s around 2 a.m. that he takes the oath of office in his own home,” explained Lily Wong, the assistant curator of the New York Historical Society.

Back in 1881, President James Garfield was shot. He held on for months, but died in September. That is when his Vice President, Chester Arthur, needed to step in immediately.

“There was an urgency to it, right? The cabinet wanted the vice president to be sworn in as president as quickly as possible,” Lily told Currents ews.

He was sworn in, right in the parlor of his home at 123 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan.

It’s a discreet piece of America’s story, noted only by a hard to read plaque.

“The plaque is a little hard to read, but the plaque has been there for a long time. So people do come in and say, ‘Oh, you know I just heard,’ either because they saw or they were reading history.”

George Washington is the only other president to be inaugurated in New York City.

“The building that he was inaugurated in was demolished in the early 1800’s but there is a building now, Federal Hall in New York City, that was rebuilt later,” Dona explained.

Pieces from Washington’s inauguration are on display at the New York Historical Society’s “Meet the Presidents” exhibit.

“So, we have a piece of the railing from the balcony, right behind where Washington stood when he took his oath of office, and we also have the Bible which he swore the oath on,” Lily said.

Of the two, President Arthur’s building is the only one still standing. Even though he only lasted one term, the legacy of his inauguration has really “spiced up” history on this relatively quiet city block.