Category Archives: Newspapers and Newsies

Newsies on Strike! The thrilling tale of New York newsboys fighting back

PODCAST We’re in the mood for a good old-fashioned Gilded Age story so we’re bringing back one of our favorite Bowery Boys episodes ever — Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst vs. the newsies!

It was pandemonium in the streets. One hot summer in July 1899, thousands of corner newsboys (and girls) went on strike against the New York Journal and the New York World. Throngs filled the streets of downtown Manhattan for two weeks and prevented the two largest papers in the country from getting distributed.

In this episode, we look at the development of the sensationalist New York press — the birth of yellow journalism — from its very earliest days, and how sensationalism’s two famous purveyors were held at ransom by the poorest, scrappiest residents of the city. The conflict put a light to the child labor crisis and became a dramatic example of the need for reform.

Crazy Arborn, Kid Blink, Racetrack Higgins and Barney Peanuts invite you to the listen in to this tale of their finest moment, straight from the street corners of Gilded Age New York.

PLUS: Bonus material featuring a closer look at the Brooklyn Newsboys Strike and a moment with the newsies during the holidays.

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 Google MusicStitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #219: NEWSIES ON STRIKE


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!


For related images for this week’s show, I’m turning to the extraordinary Lewis Wickes Hine, one of the first photographers to ever turn his lens towards the poor and disadvantaged with the express purpose of public activism.

Here is a collection of Hine photographs of newsboys (and some girls), taken from the late 1890s into the early 1920s.  Where possible, I will try and include Hine’s original caption and will feature a selection of images from cities across the country.

Perhaps you will see the face of your grandfather or great-grandfather here? These pictures are equally charming, concerning, life-affirming, tragic,

Pictures courtesy the Library of Congress. Our thanks to them for continually providing great access to their marvelous trove of images.

“Group of newsies (youngest 10 years) selling Boston papers at noon. In Barre and Montpelier newsies are excused from school a little early at noon and at night in order to get to their papers earlier. Location: Barre, Vermont” December 18, 1916 — one century old


One of the newsies at The Newsboys’ Picnic, Cincinnati. Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, August 1908


“11:00 A. M . Monday, May 9th, 1910. Newsies at Skeeter’s Branch, Jefferson near Franklin. They were all smoking. Location: St. Louis, Missouri.” May 9, 1910″

“Two newsies selling in P.M. Grand Avenue. May 9th, 1910. Location: St. Louis, Missouri.”


“Newsies selling near saloon. Location: St. Louis, Missouri.”


“Just newsies.” Location: St. Louis, Missouri. May 1910


“In comparison with governmental affairs newsies are small matters. This photo taken in the shadow of the National Capitol where the laws are made. This group of young newsboys sells on the Capitol grounds every day, ages 8 years, 9 years, 10 years, 11 years, 12 years. The only boy with a badge, was the 8 year old, and it didn’t belong to him. Names are Tony Passaro, 8 yrs. old, 124 Schottes Alley N.E.; Joseph Passaro, 11 yrs. old, (has made application for badge) Joseph Mase (9 yrs. old), 122 Schottes Alley. Joseph Tucci, (10 yrs. old), 411 1/2 5th St., N.E. Jack Giovinazzi, 228 Schottes Alley, 12 yrs. old. Is in ungraded school for incorrigibility in school. Location: [Washington (D.C.), District of Columbia].” April 1912

“Some of the youngest newsies hanging around the paper office after school. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)” February 1910″

“Newsies selling on Court St., 8 P.M. Left to right: Frank Spegeale, 13 years old, 72 Terrace St.; Dominick Gagliani, 10 years old, 230 Court St.; Charlie Decarlo, 8 years old; Anthony Decarlo (brother) 13 years old, 32 Front Ave.,. Location: Buffalo, New York (State)” February 10, 1910


“Group of Nashville newsies. In middle of group is 7-year-old Sam. Smart and profane. He sells nights also. Location: Nashville, Tennessee.” November 1910



Lewis met a lot of profane kids apparently! “Two 7 year old Nashville newsies, profane and smart, selling Sunday. Location: Nashville, Tennessee.”

Beaumont is overrun with little newsies. This boy, Vincent Serio, eight years old, is up at 5:00 A.M. daily. “Have sold papers since I was four years old.” Location: Beaumont, Texas. November 1913


“Tony and Charlie a pair of six year old newsies. Location: Beaumont, Texas. November 1913”



And now for a few of their New York brothers:

“Group of newsies hanging around Long Acre Square waiting for the theatre to close. Photo taken at the Victoria Theatra [i.e., Theatre], B'[road]way and 42nd St. James Thorpe (boy selling paper) 8 yrs. 640 10th Ave. Richard Farrell, 13 yrs., same address. Harry Farrell, 10 yrs., same address. August Habich, 10 yrs., same address. 10:30 P.M. Oct.’, 1910. Location: New York, New York (State)”



“In foreground–14 yrs. old Nathan Weis. He comes all the way from East New York in Brooklyn (435 W. Jersey St.) to sell pages at the 14th St. Subway entra[n]ce. St. 11 P.M. with one exception, I saw no other small newsies on 14th St. between 5th and Third Ave. Location: New York, New York (State)” October 1910



“Newsies. Bowery. Frank & Johnnie Yatemark. 12 Delancey St. Location: New York, New York (State), July 1910”

 “Park Row Newsies. July 1910”


“N.Y. Newsies. Location: New York, New York (State)”



And just to demonstrate Hine’s thoroughness, he even went out to the West Coast, searching for newsboys in action.

“Newsies. Location: Los Angeles, California. May 1916”



The famous Newsboys Lodging House at 9 Duane Street. Date of photograph unknown, taken by Robert L. Bracklow (1849-1919). Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Great Hoaxes of Old New York: Mischief from Manhattan to the Moon

PODCAST Two stories of outrageous hoaxes perpetrated upon New Yorkers in the early 19th century.

New Yorkers can be tough to crack, maneuvering through a rapidly changing, fast-paced city. But they can, at times, also be easily fooled.

In this episode, we explore two of the wackiest stories in early New York City history, two instances of tall tales that got quite out of hand. While both of these stories are almost two centuries old, they both have certain parallels to modern-day hucksterism.

In the 1820s, the Erie Canal would completely change the fortunes of the young United States, turning the port city of New York into one of the most important in the world.  But an even greater engineering challenge was necessary to prevent the entire southern part of Manhattan from sinking into the harbor! That is, if you believed a certain charlatan hanging out at the market…..

One decade later, the burgeoning penny press would give birth to another tremendous fabrication and kick off an uneasy association between the media and the truth. In the summer of 1835 the New York Sun reported on startling discoveries from one of the world’s most famous astronomers. Life on the moon! Indeed, vivid moon forests populated with a menagerie of bizarre creatures and winged men with behaviors similar those of men on Earth.

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: 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!


New York in 1823, as seen from Brooklyn. Does it look a little, uh, heavy to you, like it might be sagging into the harbor?


The harbor in 1825, at the opening of the Erie Canal, which changed the financial fortunes of New York and America in general. If man could carve a canal into the continent, couldn’t they also just move a little part of a island and move it around?

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York


A view of Castle Clinton and the Battery in 1825. Had the island been severed and moved around, what would have become of Manhattan’s most famous fort?

Courtesy Museum of City of New York
Courtesy Museum of City of New York


And here’s an illustration of Wall Street as it may have looked in 1825.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York


Benjamin Day, the publisher of the New York Sun, who literally opened up the pages of his newspaper to the heavens.


The Moon Hoax articles of 1835 were reprinted in several papers, and the New York Sun even sold lithographs. Here are some images from those publications:




A 1838 print by the Thierry Brothers


An illustration featuring the moon bison!


For more information on the Moon Hoax, visit the excellent presentation by the Museum of Hoaxes and of course Matthew Goodman’s The Sun and the Moon.

Jacob A. Riis: The Power of the Flash

The daredevil antics of Nellie Bly (subject of our last podcast) proved that investigative journalism could prove a benefit to society while also selling stacks of newspapers (specifically, those of Joseph Pullitzer’s New York World).

A few months after Bly’s trip to Blackwell’s Island, Jacob Riis published his first investigation for the New York Sun, revealing the wretched conditions of New York’s worst slum neighborhoods by employing an experimental technology — flash photography.  The startling pictures, by Riis and a team of other photographers, were at first rendered in line drawings, but the effect was nevertheless profound.

In the Museum of the City of New York’s fascinating new show on Riis — Jacob A. Riis: Revealing New York’s Other Half (on view until March 20, 2016) — we get to see his photos on an intimate scale, in original prints, stereographs and glass negatives, their subjects trapped forever in meager situations.

The pictures are more than social activism; they’re history themselves, the first flash photography ever to be used in this fashion. Riis was showing New Yorkers a vivid glimpse of poverty — orphans in the gutter, street gangs in the alleyway — using a technique that few were regularly exposed to apart from portraiture.


Riis never considered himself a professional photographer. Later in his career, he even farmed out the photographic work to others as he focused on writing and social activism. And yet modern photojournalism wouldn’t really be what it was today without his first forays into slums, opium dens and beer halls with his bulky and costly equipment.  His early work influenced an entire field of social photographers seeking to prove the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” (a phrase which debuted near the end of Riis’ lifetime),

With that in mind, it seems shocking that Revealing New York’s Other Half is the first museum retrospective of Riis’ work in over fifty years, culling from their own massive collection of photographs and papers from the Library of Congress and New York Public Library.  The show is complete but not over-crowded, starting with artifacts from his private life, then methodically spanning his career.


The Museum’s show also pays tribute to the 125th anniversary of Riis’ How The Other Half Lives, a landmark examination of New York’s lower classes which provoked many city improvements in housing and labor.

I was particularly taken with the original books and newspaper clippings of Riis’ work. We’re used to engaging closely with older photography, presented relatively largely and with the ability to study detail. But his first impactful images weren’t actual photos at all, but pencil engravings of his photos.  It would take many years after Riis’ debut for newspaper printing processes to effectively reproduce photographic images.


One very useful feature of the exhibit is a large map indicating the many locations in Manhattan from Riis’ photographs. He’s principally associated with the old Five Points neighborhood (mostly demolished due to work), but his work spans the entire island. In fact many of his most famous photographs were actually taken a short distance south of Five Points in the slum called Gotham Court.

You may be tempted to skip the exhibit’s final section — a slide-show lecture with a stern Jacob Riis-style voiceover — because it seems at first rather unpleasant. But in many ways, this is the best part of Revealing New York’s Other Half, a reenactment of Riis’ magic lantern show, the first illustrated TED Talks if you will, and the method in which he brought his messaging closest to the audience. The presentations were stark and eye-opening, not to mention stilted at times. But you can’t deny their effectiveness.


Jacob A. Riis: Revealing New York’s Other Half
October 14, 2015 – March 20, 2016
Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue (at 103rd Street)


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.


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: 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.



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”



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




From the first article which ran on October 9, 1887


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.

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

SPY VS TRUMP: The best Donald Trump moments from Spy Magazine 1986-98

In 1987, Donald Trump released the book Trump: The Art of the Deal, a distillation of the 1980s that looked like a pocket-sized version of the real-estate mogul’s own brass-coated palace Trump Tower.  The book was a national best-seller, a staple of airport bookstores, aimed at business travelers.

But a more unflattering look at Trump’s business savvy could be found just a few feet away on the newsstand. Spy Magazine, founded in 1986 by Kurt Andersen and Graydon Carter, defined the 1980s as much as Trump did, a sharp, acidic publication whose victims were bold-faced New York celebrities. Its mix of pointed mockery, cynical wit and serious reporting was a droll, refreshing twist on the concept of satirical news.



In fact it was a great-grandchild of late 19th century publications like Puck Magazine, skewering the pretension of public figures, exposing their corruption, their foibles — all within invitingly designed pages. Today you see the influences of Spy all over the place, from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to Gawker.

Naturally, Spy Magazine and Donald Trump were on a collision course. He was the very thing Spy was designed to mock. Trump was one of the most frequent targets  for almost six straight years — in almost every issue.  His wobbly finances and bristling reputation were common targets, but the editors were not above more superficial accusations about his marriage or his level of taste.


The entire back-catalog of Spy Magazine is available over at Google Books, and it’s worth an afternoon to drift through their pages, an emporium of 1980s and 1990s nostalgia.   Here are a few of my favorite Spy vs Trump moments from the magazine, arbitrarily ranked because that’s how Spy would have certainly have wanted it.


10. In the January 1988 issue came the nickname Spy would frequently use to describe Trump —  “Short-fingered vulgarian.” This letter to the editor from  March 1990 outlines an amusing twist to this name:

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 9.18.52 PM

9.  Another frequent target was New York Post columnist Liz Smith whose relationships with her subjects was a bit more cordial, needless to say. In September 1988, she spoke to Trump about the fate of Spy. The magazine then ran the quote almost every month under the heading ‘Chronicle of Our Death Foretold’. (Pictured below:  December 1988)

They often ran a tally of celebrities mentioned in Liz Smith’s column (Donald always made the list).



8. In the June 1990  issue,  journalist and actor Max Cantor found Donald Trump’s old phone number and called it:

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 9.33.55 PM


7. For the July-August 1992 issue, Spy sent out a questionnaire to several death-row inmates. One of the questions was about Donald Trump. “If you could say anything to Donald Trump, what would you say?” Some of the responses included:

— “What went wrong? Are you gay? And do you really have to have all that money?”

— “Get a life.”

— “Tough luck, bro. Get back on that horse.” (Trump went into business bankruptcy in 1991.)


6. The magazine often took low blows at Trump’s personal taste and decisions to tear down old architecture and replace it with something modern.  In the inaugural October 1986 issue, in one of their first harangues at Trump, they quote Trump regarding the destruction of the Bonwit Teller department store (where Trump Tower stands today):

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 9.38.11 PM

5. Spy was merciless in their mockery of Trump’s financial situation. In one of their most absurd barbs (in February 1991), Spy attempts to translate Donald’s ‘debt sign language’:




4. Perhaps the most popular features in Spy Magazine were its visual celebrity gags.  Naturally Donald Trump made frequent appearances in these. Regular features like Celebrity Math  ….(below: July-Aug 1994)

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 9.23.21 PM


… and of course Separated at Birth (below: March 1989):

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 9.40.36 PM


3.Trump’s marital woes with Ivana Trump were in the news in April 1990 when Spy decided to find him a wife in their pages.  “Anyone of either sex may enter, just as long as he or she is not Marla Maples or an employee of Spy magazine.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 9.21.07 PM


2. THIS COVER — August 1990

The accompanying article features a brutal ‘scrapbook’ of fictional articles that essentially document Trump’s deteriorating fortunes in the future.




1. Speaking of predicting the future, in the Jan-Feb 1988 issue,  Spy Magazine urges Trump to run for president.

“We have come to believe that a Donald Trump candidacy is viable. ”

“[T]his is one candidate who will  not let you down. After all, we already  have Donald Trump’s personal guarantee that if he did run for president, he would win.” Read the entire issue here.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 10.51.56 PM

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 10.52.12 PM


BONUS:   In 1990, Spy Magazine produced a television comedy special called Spy Magazine Presents How To Be Famous, hosted by upcoming comedian Jerry Seinfeld.  The special received with mixed reviews. (People magazine called the jokes “tiresome and even cruel.”) Here, too, Spy spoofed Trump in a cartoon parody:


By the 1990s, Spy Magazine had trained its verbal artillery elsewhere, onto public figures like John F. Kennedy Jr., Martha Stewart and Hillary Rodham Clinton.   You could say that, in the end, Trump had the last laugh. The magazine folded in 1998. Trump followed with a host of new construction projects, the TV show The Apprentice, and, well, who knows where it will end?

For more information on Donald Trump’s unique connection to New  York City history, check out the Bowery Boys podcast from 2011 — Episode #123 A Short History of Trump. (Listen to the show here or find it on iTunes.

All images, articles and magazine clips above are courtesy Spy Magazine. Read the entire run of Spy issues here.

Shameless Urchins and Mighty Frauds: 19th Century Views of April Fools Day

The celebration of April Fools Day traces back to the Middle Ages and possibly as far back as the Roman era. In the mid-19th century, the unofficial holiday for pranks provided a good excuse to attack political opponents.  Here are a couple samples of writing from New York publications from this period which I’m quoting at length because I’m a fan of the almighty air of jadedness that pervades these articles. Also — use of the words “operose” and “gew-gaws”:


From the New York Times, April 2, 1861:

“There is a time for all things, we are told. Every dog will have his day, and all fools must have theirs. All fools; and which are the wise ones? Let him among us who is most perfect in wisdom, play the first prank.

And the 1st of April in each year, is the day of all others by common usage consecrated to folly. If there are more senseless acts committed within its twenty-four hours than on any other single day of the three hundred and sixty-five, it has a record not much better than JAMES BUCHANAN’s.*

It is the anniversary on which half-witted people endeavor to make others appear to be so; and they labor to draw forth an ill-advised word or act from them much upon the principle that gave birth to the adage, “Set a thief to catch a thief.”

The custom of late years, it would seem, like an irreverent Dutchman, has more of breaches than observance. Little children honor it, and always will honor it, and may be excused for honoring it; but they who are at years of discretion should put away childish things.

We detest April Fool’s Day. We do not believe in it, and have not believed in it since — yesterday.

To be frank, the writer of this, in the pursuit of pabulum, yesterday, was “sold,” fooled, taken in, deluded, deceived, swindled at every step. He was sent on “Fool’s errands” to distant parts of the City by hypocritical friends whom he told to their double faces afterwards, when they taunted him, that if he had been on “Fool’s errands” it was their errands that he had gone to perform.

Then shameless little urchins threw tempting parcels in his path, and when he stooped to pick them up, behold! they were up before he could pick them, dangling high in air, pendant by cords from windows, from which deriding faces looked down upon him. And his pockets were turned inside out, and placards were hung on his back, or suspended from his coat-tails, and when, losing his way, he civily asked the name of a street. — “No you don’t,” was the answer. “April fool!”

And so, after a day spent in anxious but unrequited efforts to get leisure to write of it, he sat down late, and weary, and concluded to take revenge upon the reader, and say to him simply, “April Fool!””

* In 1861 James Buchanan was at the end of his presidency. He was also a Democrat and thus unfavored by the Republican-leaning New York Times of the mid-19th century.



Other newspapers used the holiday as cover to rail against political opponents.   On April 1, 1876, the New York Sun ran down a list of so-called April Fools, calling out some of the biggest names in politics. An excerpt:

“We cannot better celebrate this day dedicated to fools and folly, than by considering some of the principal frauds, humbugs, charlatans, hypocrites and fools who infest the country, and dwelling for a moment on their history and prospects.

They are a large and thoroughly self-satisfied company, recruited from various ranks of society and armed with impudence, pretension, cant or simple stupidity.  They like to be observed and entertain a low opinion of those who criticize them.   They think they out to be permitted to practice their trade  unmolested by impertinent scrutinizers of their shoddy materials, short weights and other tricks of deception.

Today let us celebrate the glories of their enterprising company, carefully abstaining from any word or suggestion to which they can fairly take exception.”

Among their list of the greatest fools in 1876:

“Ulysses S Grant** — “cannot strictly be called a fraud. His practice of greed is open, and he believes in it.  Once of the very lowest estate, a social wreck and failure, he was lifted by a bloody war to the high ground of eminent position where all men could see him.  If ever a man had reason to be thankful for the happy fortune which enabled him to get out of the mire and to stand in clean places, it’s Grant.

Hamilton Fish — “is a pompous sailor, replete with the airs of an operose and ostentatious respectability …. and in fact, Fish is one of the hollowest of frauds.

Henry Ward Beecher*** — “the cheekiest fraud,” “old and unblushing in licentiousness, he takes the part of a manly fellow and a holy man, and with variations of buffoonery, plays it to the entire satisfaction of the brethren.  But paint and gew-gaws cannot cannot hide the foulness underneath.   His reputation is gone, and he lives on lies and perjuries.

Jay Gould — “is a great fraud, but he was a fool in buying the [New York]Tribune, hiring the young editor as a stool pigeon, and building the tall tower.****

There there’s this whole paragraph:


**He was at the end of a scandal-ridden presidency, and his cabinet was known for a bevy of corruption charges.

***His adultery trial had sullied his reputation the previous year. 

****Gould, his connections with Tammany Hall well publicized, had bought the Tribune, a rival to the New York Times, in the years before he began amassing railroad property.

Puck Magazine courtesy the Library of Congress

A Marked Man illustration courtesy New York Public Library


Newsboys strike 125 years ago, but it wasn’t yet a musical

Newsies hawk newspapers to riders of a passing trolley [LOC]

One hundred and twenty five years ago this week, hundreds of newsboys took to the streets in protest of unfair pricing and competition practices.  It was not their first time and, most memorably, it would not be their last.

“For an hour or two they made things very lively on Park Row,” said the New York Times, “parading the street and stirring up a great commotion.” [source]

You’re probably familiar with the newsboys strike which occurred ten years later, the inspiration for the film and Broadway musical Newsies, a major labor protest that lasted almost two weeks and actually affected the sales of New York’s major newspapers. [You can download our podcast on the Newsboy Strike of 1899 here, on iTunes (#105), or listen to it below via SoundCloud.]

Battles between newspapers and their youngest independent employees had been waged several times in the past, mostly because publishers could reintroduce bad business practices once a certain generation of newsboys grew out of their jobs.  It would not be until the 20th century that newsstands — and the adults that owned them — would become the primary source for selling papers.

Three years earlier, in 1886, a strike by Brooklyn newsies against publishers in that city sparked riots that lasted almost two days.  Brooklyn boys would also join their Manhattan counterparts in protest on August 12, 1889.

Below: Brooklyn newsboys, 1900, photo by Lewis Hine

The newsies strike in 1889 would be unsuccessful, but it’s notable for being incredibly similar to the more famous strike ten years later.

In 1889, the Evening World (the newspaper of Joseph Pulitzer) and the Evening Sun (owned by Charles Dana) bumped up the price of their bundles of 100 papers from 50 cents to 60 cents.  The kids revolted.  Pulitzer’s paper would pull this same tactic ten years later on a new batch of newsies, this time raising the prices due to the popularity of the (largely media manufactured) Spanish-American War.  When the war was over and sales decreased, the World attempted to keep the higher price, joined in this scheme by William Randolph Hearst and his New York Journal. The kids again revolted, but more successfully.

Newsies were usually depicted in the press one of two ways — pathetic whelps who latched on to any sign of good will or little criminals who were up to no good.  There was truth in both of these characterizations, but the stereotypes were often exaggerated.

The Times coverage of the 1889 strike upon the newspaper’s competitors focused on the newsboys delinquent ways.  Of the strike, “[a] number of fights followed, and some of the boys were very roughly handled.” A couple teenagers were dragged to the Tombs Prison Court, one for assaulting a police officer.

This less organized affair devolved into street gangs and attacks upon other newsies. “Several of the delivery wagons on the uptown routes had a serious time of it.  All the way up Broadway and on the west side they were followed by a howling mob of half-grown men and boys, who showered them with volleys of stones and brickbats at every opportunity.”

At some point in the next decade, the price decreased back to 50 cents again.  When publishers would again attempt to raise the price, they would be met by a larger and more organized force.

Our 2010 podcast on the Newsboys Strike of 1899:

NOTE: Some girls also sold newspapers although I’m sticking with “newsboys” in this article as all the participants mentioned in the coverage of the 1889 event were young men.

Historic or disappointing? How New York newspapers covered the first Labor Day — September 5, 1882

Illustration of the first Labor Day parade around Union Square, 1882

Clothing cutters, horseshoers, shoemakers, upholsterers, printers, house painters, freight handlers, cabinet makers, varnishers, cigar makers, bricklayers and piano makers.

The first American Labor Day began on September 5, 1882, with 10,000 workers from a wide variety of occupations circling Union Square, then parading up to the area of today’s Bryant Park. (A picnic ‘after party’ of sorts took place at a park at today’s Columbus Avenue and 92nd Street.)   Individual workers organizations had taken to the street before, sometimes violently.  But this peaceful protest, this public solidarity, took the issues of New York laborers to the heart of the city in a way that could not be ignored.*

We take it for granted today.  Labor Day is no more than a day off for most people today.  But looking at the original press notices from newspapers of the day (from the following day, September 6, 1882) suggest an event certain New Yorkers recognized as monumental.  Others considered it trivial, a nuisance or even a dangerous gathering of malicious intent.

Union Square would continue to be the location of Labor Day festivities for decades afterwards.  The image below is of a parade from 1909 (courtesy LOC):

The New York Tribune begins nice enough. “The men who took part in the labor parade generally appeared to be persons of no small intelligence.”  The paper’s vitriol was saved for the leaders of the movement, in this case organizers from the Central Labor Union, “demagogues of the worst kind.”

“It is a pity that workingmen allow themselves to be so cheapened.”  The Tribune accuse the organizers of an ulterior motive — political chest-thumping.  “But it is not at all unlikely that certain demagogues and dishonest leaders thought it a good time of year to show the two great political parties that there are ten thousand ballots in this city in the hands of men who … might be at the disposal of somebody — for a consideration.”

Indeed, there would be a statewide election exactly two months later, sweeping a host of Democrats into office, including Grover Cleveland into the governor’s office.

Even their reporting of the parade itself is tinged with a little condescension.  “The parade of workingmen yesterday morning was not nearly as large as was expected by the leaders.  This is probably due to the unwillingness of many workmen to lose a day’s work.”

Labor Day parade in Union Square, 1887 (NYPL)

The New York Times seemed to find the parade slightly whimsical, almost superfluous.  It echoed the disappointing turnout, but describes the event as calm, “conducted in an orderly and pleasant manner.”

The coverage focuses undue attention on the paraders’ fashionable attire.  “The great majority smoked cigars.”  However they stress that the good behavior is attributable to the fact that organizers banned alcohol.  This detail is mentioned in no other coverage that I read.

Where the Tribune attested the lower-than-expected turnout to men not leaving their posts, the Times found a different reason — “due to the fact that [laborers] preferred to enjoy the day in quiet excursions in Coney Island, Glen Island and elsewhere.”

Children at the Union Square Labor Day parade, 1909 (NYPL)

The enthusiastic New York Sun describes it as a dry and brutal day. “[T]he rays of sun even in the early morning were very hot, and not a breath of wind brought relief from the oppressive heat.”

The same parade considered disappointing by the Tribune and the Times was conversely described by the Sun as a mob scene.

“As far ahead as one could see and as far down the side streets as forms and faces could be distinguished, the windows and roofs and even the lamp posts and awning frames were occupied by people anxious to get a good view of the first parade in New York of workingmen of all trades united in one organization.”

Far from a nuisance, the Sun recognized the parade as an important banner moment in history.  Its description of events is truly painstaking.

Many newspapers outside New York mentioned the parade the following day.  St. Paul’s Daily Globe in Minnesota said “the great labor demonstration today was a success,” quoting a number in attendance (20,000) almost double the actual projected number.

So did the Dallas Daily Herald, who put the event on their front page.  Meanwhile, it should be noted that most major New York newspapers neglected to put the labor parade on their front pages.

*New Yorkers, it should be noted, got the idea from Canada.  Read more about there here in my 2009 article. 

Angels and mermaids: Puck Magazine’s end of summer

This was the September 17, 1913 cover of humor journal Puck Magazine, featuring summer symbolized as a lovely mermaid on the back of a sea serpent, departing the Long Island shore.

She wasn’t the only female embodiment in Puck that issue. In the illustration below, according to the official caption, “a female figure with wings ris[es] from the flames of summer romances that are burning out as the season comes to an end; she leaves behind many broken-hearted men on the beach at a summer resort.”


In another image from that issue, summer stock actors put away their costumes, with the approval of Puck himself, while “a young woman learns that her engagement ring is next to worthless, both in economic value and romantic sentiment.”  That’s summer for you!

Puck Magazine made its home, of course, at the Puck Building, still ornamented with the Shakespearean imp himself that the magazine used for its mascot. Today it’s the home REI sporting goods on the ground floor.

Did you know that the Puck Building used to be almost one-third larger but was partially demolished and its entranced moved with the construction of Lafayette Street?  For more information, check out my 2009 podcast on the history of the Puck Building (Episode #81).  Find it on iTunes or download and listen to it from here.  The original blog posting features a few more illustrations from Puck.

Images above of courtesy the Library of Congress who has a great collection of old Puck illustrations to thumb through.