The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal

When the storage space of an apartment building on the Upper West side of NYC sloughed off its steamer trunks into the dumpster, intrepid NYTimes reporter Lily Koppel stumbled onto the story that would produce this book. Koppel was leaving for work when she spied the trunks piled atop each other and dumpster-dove to find various flapper clothing and a mysterious crumbling journal that chronicled the life of a wealthy Manhattanite between the ages of 14-19 and recounting daily life in NYC in the early 1930s. Florence Wolfson is an independent spirit, casually loving both boys and girls, horseback riding in Central Park, devoting herself to writing and painting. Koppel reconstructs the 1930s backdrop around Florence, going backstage at Eva Le Gallienne’s Civic Repertory Theatre, showing us the hospital beds in the infirmary of the Roxy “Cathedral of the Motion Picture” which were common to large theaters. Florence took herself to concerts and plays, strolled through the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum. The book is a fascinating tour of a long-ago age in New York, told through the eyes of a regular person. This type of history is invaluable, and I wish the book were a bit more polished in order to carry it further.