Category Archives: Health and Living

The Notorious Madame Restell: The Abortionist of Fifth Avenue

The story of New York’s most prominent abortionist of the 19th century and the unique environment of morality and secrecy which accommodated her rise on the fringes of society.

Ann Lohman aka Madame Restell was one of the most vilified women of the 19th century, an abortion practitioner that dodged the law to become one of the wealthiest self-made women in the Gilded Age. But is her wicked reputation justified?

Thoughts on abortion and birth control were quite different in the 1830s, the era in which Madame Restell got her start. It was societal decorum and marital morality — not science and religion — that played a substantial role in New Yorkers’ views on the termination of pregnancy.  Restell and countless imitators offers a wide range of potions, pills and powders to customers, provided for in veiled wording in newspaper advertisements.

By the 1860s Restell was insulated from serious interrogation and flaunted her unique position in society by planting her Fifth Avenue mansion in a very controversial place. But she soon became a target of New York’s most dogged reformer, a man who considered her pure evil and the source of society’s most illicit sins.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #211: THE NOTORIOUS MADAME RESTELL: THE ABORTIONIST OF FIFTH AVENUE

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

Ann Lohman aka Madame Restell, featured in the National Police Gazette for the crime that would get her sent to Blackwell’s Island, March 13, 1847

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A drawing of Madame Restell made in 1888, long after her death.

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The New York Illustrated News, 1878, heralding the arrest of Madame Restell by Anthony Comstock (and, later in the issue, Restell in the Tombs):

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Thanks to Victorian Gothic for this image!
Thanks to Victorian Gothic for this image!

 

A few choice pages from an 1896 scandal novelization about the life of Madame Restell by Rev. Bishop Huntington:

Courtesy Hathi Trust
Courtesy Hathi Trust

 

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A sampling of ‘abortion pill’ advertisements from the late 1830s and early 1840s, from Madame Restell and her impersonators. NOTE: It’s hard to discern if these so-called medicines were for abortions or for other “female issues” given the vagueness of language:

Even before Madame Restell, there was the ‘Widow Welch’s Female Pills’. Both these ads ran in the New York Morning Herald on November 8, 1837:

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

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An early Madame Restell advertisement, New York Morning Herald, December 9, 1839:

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A successful rival of Madame Restell was Madame Costello who worked off of Lispenard Street. Her ad from the Herald, October 10, 1842:

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A series of advertisements for an assortment of female ‘solutions’, New York Herald, August 4, 1867:

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From the New York Medical and Surgical Reporter, 1846

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Madame Restell’s Fifth Avenue mansion (at 52nd Street), an area so newly developed in 1857 that there was nothing else around — except for the construction site of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

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The mansion in later years after Restell’s death. The apartment building next to the mansion was also commissioned by Restell because nobody else would buy the property!

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Courtesy NYPL

An illustration of the death of Madame Restell as imagined in Recollections of a New York Chief of Police by George P. Walling.

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A big thanks to our special guest — author Nicholas Syrett, Associate Professor of History at the University of Northern Colorado!

His newest book American Child Bride: A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States comes out in October. And we forgot to mention his fantastic first book on the history of fraternities — The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities.

He’s in the process of researching his upcoming book on the life and legacy of Madame Restell.

Upper West Side’s Astor Market: The (failed) future of eating

The Astor Market once sat on the corner of 95th Street and Broadway, a ‘model’ market built in 1915, devised by Vincent Astor, son of John Jacob Astor IV (and whose wife Brooke Astor may be better known to you) to combat some of the high food prices brought on by World War I.  Astor was on Mayor John Purroy Mitchel‘s market commission to solve this very problem. (Read more about New York’s wartime market woes here.)

Markets were being heavily re-conceived in New York in the 1910s. Astor would have a guiding hand in the new project. The space was to be both practical and ornate, designed by Tracy & Swartwout, better known by this time for the Yale Club.

According to the New York Times, “under the cornice ran a 290-foot-long frieze by William Mackay depicting a market procession, with farmers and dealers carrying meat, fish, poultry, fruit and vegetables in everything from medieval carts to motor trucks. ”

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Library of Congress

It was renown for its ultra-clean interior with nary an insect or vermin to disrupt shopping. “Mr. Tracy, the architect, boasts that a fly would starve in this market.” [source]

The city had great hopes that the Astor Market would set the standard for others in the city. “This is the last word in market building,” said the city’s commissioner of markets.

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Here’s a standard Christmas menu that one could purchase at the market, printed in the 1915 New York Tribune.  Coffee for eight cents!

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The Astor Market is sometimes called the first supermarket.  But it was a bit too experimental for its day and the market closed in 1917.

Simply put — people still preferred small and local vs. wide selection at a distance. “Most people, on account of service and convenience, prefer to buy at the neighborhood corner grocery, with the result that in this country there is one grocery store for every 400 people.” [source]

Grocery stores of massive size would become quite popular of course — sometimes driving those neighborhood corner groceries out of business — once they offered lower prices and most people could get to them in automobiles.  Indeed the shopping revolution had already begun in the South with the opening (in 1916) of the first Piggly Wiggly, considered the first self-service grocery store.

As for the old Astor Market, it was turned into an glamorous restaurant and ice rink — Crystal Carnival Ice Rink and Sunken Galleries Restaurant –owned by Thomas Healy (who developed Pomander Walk nearby).

Today Symphony Space now sits on the spot of the former market.

Here are a few more pictures of this long-forgotten, well-meaning place:

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Courtesy Museum of New York
Courtesy Museum of New York

 

Below: As the Symphony Theater. You can clearly see the arches of the original market.

Courtesy Symphony Space
Courtesy Symphony Space

 

Roosevelt Island: City of Asylums — Podcast Rewind with new material

PODCAST REWIND Originally a quiet island of orchards and stone quarries, the place we call Roosevelt Island today was once New York’s ‘city of asylums’, the place where it sent its infirm, its incarcerated, its insane. Today it has the peculiar air of a small town with one of the best views in the world. Find out about its numerous names (from Hog’s Island to Welfare Island), its many former institutions, and the stories behind the island’s several existing ruins, including the ghostly remains of a smallpox hospital.

WITH several new minutes of material outlining the recent history of Roosevelt Island — to its newest residents to the completion of the monument on its southern end that gives the island its name.

ORIGINALLY RELEASED MAY 8, 2009

THIS IS A SPECIAL ILLUSTRATED PODCAST!  Chapter headings with images have been embedded in this show, so if your listening device is compatible with AAC/M4A files, just hit play and a variety of pictures should pop up.  The audio is superior than the original as well. (This will work as a normal audio file even if the images don’t appear.)

For this and our older episodes (Episodes #5-#81), subscribe to The Bowery Boys: NYC History Archive feed, on iTunes, directly from our host page, or directly via our RSS feed.

___________________________________________________________________________

The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

Here’s a few views of Blackwell Island that may not be familiar to you — images of these grim institution with the people who populated them over the many decades.

Orphan children on the rooftop of the old almshouse. The Octagon in to the far right of the image:

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Nurses on Blackwell Island being instructed how to apply bandages to patients (picture dated between 1915 and 1920):

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Blackwell Island nurses receiving instruction in a ‘dietetic class’:

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An image from one of Blackwell Island’s many hospital. He caption for this one reads ‘grave operation’:

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Nurses at tea and in an anatomy class. These visuals — from 1915-20 — are a few cry from the things that Nellie Bly described just a few decades earlier.

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Those pictures are courtesy the Library of Congress — Bain Collection. The next round are from the Museum of the City of New York, another look at the people who inhabited Blackwell Island.

In a photo by Richard Hoe (for use by Jacob Riis), prisoners at the penitentiary line up for inspection in 1890. Below that, a prisoner in his cell:

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MCNY

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From 1896, two men carrying a patient from the ferry to the pier, bound for one of the hospitals.

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MCNY

An image of the women’s almshouse (1890, again used by Jacob Riis), with its striking balconies, added for inmates to receive fresh air.

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From 1896, a series of images revealing how patients, staff and visitors interacted on the island:

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Just because you were on an island of suffering and illness, that was no excuse not to look your best! (These men must be administrators of some kind.)

 

 

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MCNY

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From 1903: An outdoor strolling area ‘for consumptives’:

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Nellie Bly: Undercover in New York’s Notorious Asylum for the Insane

The story of New York World reporter Nellie Bly as she poses as a mental patient to report on the abuses of Blackwell’s Island’s Lunatic Asylum.

 

PODCAST Nellie Bly was a determined and fearless journalist ahead of her time, known for the spectacular lengths she would go to get a good story. Her reputation was built on the events of late September-early October 1887 — the ten days she spent in New York’s most notorious insane asylum.

Since the 1830s Blackwell’s Island had been the destination for New York’s public institutions of an undesirable nature — hospitals for grave diseases, a penitentiary, an almshouse, even a quarantine for smallpox. There was also a mental institution — an insane or lunatic asylum — rumored to treat its patients most cruelly.

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The ambitious young reporter decided to see for herself — by acting like a woman who had lost her mind. Her ten days in this particular madhouse — the basis of her newspaper articles and a book — would expose the world to the sinister treatment of the mentally ill and the loathsome conditions of New York institutions meant to care for the most needy.

But would the process of getting this important story lead Nellie herself to go a little mad? And once she got inside the asylum, how would she get out?

ALSO: Not only is a vestige of the asylum still around today, you can live in it!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #194: NELLIE BLY: UNDERCOVER IN THE MADHOUSE

___________________________________________________________________________

The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

Nellie Bly, the bold journalist with extraordinary will and panache, tackled a number of strange assignments in her life, starting with her virtuoso performance getting into the Blackwell’s Island insane asylum.

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Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum from 1853, rendered by William Wade

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL

 

A newspaper clipping from 1865 — “Dancing by lunatics — Ball given to the patients of the Insane Asylum on Blackwell’s Island”

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Another view of Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum, pictured here in 1866 “from road to steamboat landing.”

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL

 

On the grounds of the asylum the ‘Retreat and Yard’, where Nellie would later roam with the other patients.

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL

 

Inside of the offices of the New York World in 1882

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL

Some images from the New York World and the book Ten Days In A Madhouse

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From the first article which ran on October 9, 1887

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A famous photo of Nellie Bly taken during her trip around the world.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

Blackwell’s Island was later named Welfare Island (before its following name change to Roosevelt Island in the 1970s). Below you can see the Octagon at the far right of this image.

Samuel H. (Samuel Herman) Gottscho, photographer, Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Samuel H. (Samuel Herman) Gottscho, photographer, Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

The remaining ruins of the mental asylum.  It was later turned into a condominium and apartment building.

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Edmund Gillon photographer. Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Foodies Unite! Brooklyn Bounty Revives Ancient Dutch Recipes

One of the most tantalizing artifacts in the collection of the Brooklyn Historical Society is Mrs. Lefferts Book, the hand-written recipe book of Maria Lott Lefferts and her daughter Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt, compiled sometime in 1830. Judging by those names, you can get that Mrs. Lefferts was from a prominent Brooklyn family.  At one point she lived in the house contained in today’s Prospect Park called the Lefferts Historic House as did her daughter Gertrude who would grow up to become a prominent Brooklyn historian.

Below — A page from Mrs Lefferts’ book of recipes:

Courtesy the Lefferts Family Papers at the Brooklyn Historical Society
Courtesy the Lefferts Family Papers at the Brooklyn Historical Society

The book is filled with traditional Dutch dishes passed down in the Lefferts family through the decades. Oh to imagine a Thanksgiving table of these meals with their rich ingredients and vivid tastes.

Well, imagine no longer! Cancel your dinner plans on Tuesday, November 10, because the BHS will once again present their annual fall fund-raiser Brooklyn Bounty, an evening of food, cocktails and history with special inspiration from Mrs. Lefferts herself.

From the Brooklyn Historical Society: “This year’s Brooklyn Bounty features curated tastings of a nineteenth century Dutch-American meal with a modern twist. Recipes will be inspired by one of BHS’s prized artifacts,  Mrs. Lefferts’ Book.  Our festive special evening will include a live auction, music and more fun surprises! Cocktail attire encouraged.”

All proceeds benefit will Brooklyn Historical Society’s popular  public programs, education programs and our collections in the  Othmer Library and  museum.

Here’s the link to purchase tickets: https://bkbounty2015.eventbrite.com

2015 BK Bounty Banner

Brooklyn Bounty Culinary Advisors

Melissa Clark, Food Reporter, New York Times
Sarah Lohman, Historic Gastronomist, Four Pounds Flour
Paul Neuman, Chief Inspiration Officer, Neuman’s Kitchen

Brooklyn Bounty Chefs & Purveyors

Bartleby & Sage
Brooklyn Brewery
Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain
Delaware and Hudson
EVENTfull
French Louie
Gillies Coffee
Neuman’s Kitchen
OddFellows Ice Cream
One Girl Cookies
Poffees NY
Shelsky’s Of Brooklyn
Waterfront Wines   & Spirits

 

 

 

 

The Curious Case of Typhoid Mary

PODCAST An account of a mysterious typhoid fever outbreak and the woman — Mary Mallon, the so-called Typhoid Mary — at the center of the strange epidemic

The tale of Typhoid Mary is a harrowing detective story and a chilling tale of disease and death. Why are whole healthy families suddenly getting sick with typhoid fever — from the languid mansions of Long Island’s Gold Coast to the gracious homes of Park Avenue? Can an intrepid researcher and investigator named George Soper locate a mysterious woman who may be unwittingly spreading this dire illness?

Mary Mallon — is she a victim or an enemy? One of the weirdest and divisive tales of the early 1900s. What side are you on?

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #190: THE CURIOUS CASE OF TYPHOID MARY

 

___________________________________________________________________________

The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

The infamous newspaper article from the New York American (June 30, 1907) which depicts Mary literally seasoning her meals with death.

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Another newspaper headline from the Evening World, April 1, 1097

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Mary Mallon in a hospital bed at North Brother Island

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Dr. Emma Sherman standing next to Mary Mallon in the early 1930s. Mary has already spent over 15 years on North Brother Island by this time.

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The sanitation engineer (and detective of our story) George Soper who relentlessly tracked down Mary.  (From the New York Times, April 4, 1915)

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Sara Josephine Baker, the pioneering doctor who was brought in by Soper to (futilely) talk some sense into Mary.

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Willard Parker Hospital, formerly at East 16th Street along the East River in the old gashouse district.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

The smallpox hospital on North Brother Island.

Photo by Jacob Riis, courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Photo by Jacob Riis, courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

Mary Mallon’s cottage on North Brother Island where she spent the remainder of her life.

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A poster hung in eating establishments following the whole Typhoid Mary fracas.

Otis Historical Archives Nat'l Museum of Health & Medicine
Otis Historical Archives Nat’l Museum of Health & Medicine

History in the Making 7/21: Summer Baby Edition

A special new podcast is on the way for this Friday. It’s extra challenging so the blog will be a little quiet until then. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, enjoy a few pictures of small children keeping cool during a hot New York City summer over 100 years ago. Pictures courtesy the Library of Congress.

"Babies in a shady spot" Picture taken between 1910-1915
“Babies in a shady spot” Picture taken between 1910-1915

 

A baby being tended to at an open-air care center called Sea Breeze Junior,  “a summer hospital for babies run by the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, supported by John D. Rockefeller. The hospital was located at 64th Street and the East River, New York City.” Picture believed to be from 1909

 

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

More children enrolled in the Junior Sea Breeze program. More information here.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

 

And some links you might find interesting:

TRANSFORMATION  A rather decrepit tenement building on East 13th Street is about to become the Bea Arthur Residence for homeless LGBT youth. [EV Grieve]

THOSE WERE THE DAYS: Wanna see what New York City looked like exactly 25 years ago? This video gives a little slice of life of the pre-Guiliani years.  [Village Voice]

CURIOUS CORNER Have you ever been to the corner of Shakespeare Avenue and Featherbed Lane? [Forgotten New York]

HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU The faces of the East Village’s old German community are all around if you look for them/ [Off the Grid]

THE BOROUGH OF CHURCHES MINUS ONE A beautiful 19th century church is Brooklyn is being demolished soon. Its only crime — being located in the lucrative Barclay Center area. [Curbed]

WIDE SCREEN RELIGION Meanwhile, a vivid look inside the Queens movie theater that actually became a house of worship — the Tabernacle of Prayer. “The 3,440-seat theater is largely intact, with the “stars” still twinkling in the ceiling and the lions roaring out from the walls.” [Gothamist]

 

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

Hog Heaven: The wonderfully messy tale of ‘Taming Manhattan’

Here is New York — not the evened tree-lined avenues with fashionable ladies and shiny new carriages.  Not an ordered town of impressive architecture and manicured parks, emulating and even surpassing the trappings of European society.   Those things would arrive by the 1880s; before then, they were mostly aspirational designs.

Street Scenes, Broadway, Bowling Green, Trinity Church, 1830. -- An engraving by "Barnard & Dick" made in 1910. Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York
Street Scenes, Broadway, Bowling Green, Trinity Church, 1830. — An engraving by “Barnard & Dick” made in 1910. Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

Here is New York as it actually was.  Dogs and pigs — hundreds of them — wading through muddy streets of detritus, neighborhoods reeking of human filth and boiling offal.  Blocks dominated by poorly constructed buildings, spilling waste into the streets.  Foul and unhealthy conditions for daily living, fostering sickness and disease. Watch out for that dead horse in the street.

That, of course, may be as exaggerated as the first example, but you come out of reading Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles In The Antebellum City (Harvard University Press), the terrific new urban history by Catherine McNeur, with that impression. You’ll certainly need a bath afterwards.

McNeur, a professor at Portland State University, isn’t immediately concerned with the taming of the natural land — that is, the transformation of the island into an urban area, although the great hallmarks of that achievement (the Commissioners Plan of 1811, the draining of Collect Pond) are mentioned here.

2Instead, Taming Manhattan focuses on the idea of turning ragged New Yorkers into modern urban dwellers.  

You could no longer, say, have your pigs run rampant through the streets. In McNeur’s survey of the 1820s-1850s, hogs become a significant problem.  They were an unsightly nuisance, attacking women and children and rummaging through garbage.

So too were wild dogs. Large packs of them roamed the streets, often violent and afflicted with rabies.  A 1811 dog law authorized the wholesale slaughter of any dog deemed in any manner dangerous.

One editor wrote, “[N]o dog out to be allowed to exist.  The life of one single person is worth more than the lives of all the dogs in the United States; and while there is one dog living, there is danger that one or more persons may suffer the most cruel of all deaths in the course of a year.”

Even dead animals posed a threat as city custodians, few as they were, refused to pick up carcasses. Offal and bone-boiling companies, often with corrupt ties to city government, sprang up to tackle the problem.  One notable company owned by William B. Reynolds turned Barren Island in Jamaica Bay into an offal oasis.

And it was a sick cycle of life here as well.  As McNeur notes,” [f]ollowing the model of Manhattan offal boilers, Reynolds brought somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 hogs to the island to fatten them with the city’s offal.”

A stark scene from the so-called Piggery Wars of 1859 -- "Driving The Captured Pigs To The Pound : Scene Of Great Confusion And Riot." From Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, courtesy New York Public LIbrary
A stark scene from the so-called Piggery Wars of 1859 — “Driving The Captured Pigs To The Pound : Scene Of Great Confusion And Riot.” From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, courtesy New York Public LIbrary

There were even the so-called Piggery Wars of 1859, when police officers raided piggeries — pig farms where pork was produced for market — in an area called ‘Hogtown’ in the area of the 50s between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.  As you read McNeur’s vivid recounting of this purge — “they came armed with guns, clubs, pickaxes, crowbars, and a team of reporters” — remember that it is all taking place around the area of today’s Broadway district.

Waste products left by horses and other animals became highly valued as fertilizer for farmers. In fact, a couple intrepid companies attempted to sell off human waste (“night soil”) in the same manner, to lesser success.

Of course, there was a class and racial component to this sudden ‘taming’.  New York’s new wealthy classes, enriched by the opening of the Erie Canal, wanted clean promenades and handsome private parks in which to luxuriate.  And it wanted additional lands to expand, meaning the shantytowns were swept away with the rendering plants.

We benefit from New York’s eventual modernization, but there is an undercurrent in Taming Manhattan of a wholesale cleansing that is not entirely altruistic.

Watching the many changing motivations unspool in McNeur’s dense but exciting narrative makes for a surprisingly unpredictable tale. For instance, dogs and hogs may be among the principal offenders two hundred years ago. But take a look around. There are no hogs in the street anymore, no heaps of horse dung, but New Yorkers greatly value their four-legged canine friends far more than before.

But watch your step.

By 1910, pigs had all but vanished from Manhattan.  The caption of this picture reads "Only pig sty on Manhattan Island." Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
By 1910, pigs had all but vanished from Manhattan. The caption of this picture reads “Only pig sty on Manhattan Island.” Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

 

 

History in the Making 2/3: Bundle Day Edition

Bundle Day was an organized used-clothing drive, mounted in February 1915 by the city in association with New York’s elite families (the Astors, Vanderbilts, Cooper Hewitts, among others). “Every railroad station in the city will be a receiving point for bundles bearing … tags or the bundles may be left at police stations, public schools and express offices.”  From there the clothes were sent to ‘Bundle Day Headquarters’ — pictured above — at 210 Fifth Avenue, across the street from Madison Square Park.

Below: Ladies mending donated clothes at Bundle Day Headquarters

—-

There’s still some work to be done on the blog here so thank you for your patience as I migrate over various features over to this new blog.  Hopefully we will be completely up and running by the end of the month.  (Indexing some of the back-catalog posts may take a bit longer…)

And now, some links of interest:

Music To My Ears:  Brooklyn’s Paramount Theater — currently the property of Long Island University and situated across the street from Junior’s Restaurant — will be transformed into new music venue. [Gothamist]

Hustling: A cinematic vision of Eighth Avenue circa 1975. [Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York]

Exclusive Living: There’s a private island home off the coast of New York City.  [Scouting NY]

Top of the World: One Times Square — one of the most transformed Gilded Age buildings in the city. [Daytonian In Manhattan]

Very Suite:  What treasures await inside the archives of the Waldorf-Astoria? [Atlas Obscura]

Bad Bridge: The Brooklyn Historical Society uncovers a promotional map from 1939 extolling the virtues of a Robert Moses pet project — the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge. [BHS]

Disturbing Parallels: A 7-alarm fire which took place on the Williamsburg waterfront appears strangely similar to a fire which took place — almost on the exact same block — back in 1912. [Bowery Boys]

The first appearance of the shower or “rain bath” in New York

With major improvements in plumbing and home design, private ‘rain-baths’ or showers began to be installed in the wealthier American homes. This is a New York Times advertisement from November 11, 1914 for a Kenney Needle Shower which inundated the body with water from multiple showerheads.

The modern form of shower was once referred to as a “rain bath”, invented in Europe in the 19th century.

From a 1908 journal called “Modern Baths and Bath Houses“:

“The rain bath is the most important form of cleansing bath, from a hygienic point of view, hence it is deserving of special attention.  Since the first introduction, about the year 1883, of the so-called ‘rain baths’ in Germany, I have followed with keen interest and close attention the gradual development and rapid spread of this new system of baths.

In the modern ‘rain bath’ system …. tubs are entirely abolished, simple spray or shower baths being substituted for the same, and being installed in the bath compartments as a distinct and independent form of bath.  

One feature of construction, which is novel and of much importance, is that the shower or spray in placed at an inclined angle in the rain bath, the object being to avoid a vertical stream from the shower striking the head of the bather, which to many person is quite disagreeable.  In the new form of rain bath .. the lukewarm water strikes the body only from the neck downwards, and the head is not wetted, except when the bather purposefully places the same under the descending shower of water.”

The very first ‘rain bath’ installed in New York, according to the 1908 journal, was at the New York City Juvenile Asylum, located at 175th Street and 10th Avenue. (Pictured below.) Delinquents taken to the asylum were stripped of their street clothing and thrown into the new showers, then provided proper uniforms.  After what appeared to be a successful trial upon these poor children, rain baths were installed in public hospitals and bathhouses throughout the city.

Private application of this technology, however, took a bit longer to catch on.  Home installations, such as the ones illustrated at top, came with the advent of improved apartment living in the early 20th century.

Apparently there was some concern that the rain bath could be successfully applied to private dwellings that weren’t for the wealthy.

“[T]he middle classes who, in New York City, for instance, are largely compelled to live in flats or apartment houses (the higher-sounding name for improved tenement houses), have, with rare exceptions, only a narrow, dark and generally uninviting bathroom, and the mistake is usually made by architects or buildings of locating the water-closet [toilet] almost invariably in the same room.”

Imagine, putting the shower in the same room as the toilet!