Tag Archives: Irish

The 1867 St Patrick’s Day riot: No peace in the Lower East Side

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper reported on a ‘riot’ which occurred on Saint Patrick’s Day 1867 at the intersections of East Broadway, Grand and Pitt Streets, one block below Delancey Street and the Williamsburg Bridge (which was decades from being built by that date).

The parade began on East Broadway, with regiments assembling here (“slush and snowdrifts … disregarded”) to march throughout the city.

A bit after noon, a wagon driver, hemmed in by mounds of snow, got caught at Grand and Pitt street, blocking the parade route.  He was immediately set upon by angry marchers.  When a police officer interceded to protect the driver, he, too, was assaulted, “knocked down and severely injured by being trampled upon.”

Other officers arrived, and soon Grand and Pitt was the scene of senseless violence.  “The Hibernians broke their staves of office and used the fragments as shillelaghs and clubs, with such effect, that the officers were the recipients of several ugly scalp wounds and bruises.”  Another report lists the unique weaponry as “sword canes, society emblems and other missiles.”  One officer was wounded with a sabre. Soon the street corner filled with policemen, and the violence subsided. [source]

The whole event seemed to last no more than thirty minutes.  But the New York Times, a fairly anti-Democrat, anti-Irish paper in the mid 19th century, was truly outraged: “We trust there is no Irishman or Irish American, outside of a small lawless minority, that does not feel keenly the disgrace brought upon such celebrations as that of yesterday, by the wanton and brutal assaults upon the Police.”

‘The Irish Way’ to becoming American: a hard-fought history of the dockworkers, the vaudevillians and the chambermaids

The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multi-Ethnic City
part of the Penguin History of American Life series
By James R. Barrett
Penguin Group

The Irish were the first to immigrate to this country en masse in the 1840s, only to find themselves near the bottom of almost every aspect of American life. In James R. Burnett‘s tidy and studied cultural history ‘The Irish Way: Becoming American In The Multi-Ethnic City‘, we found out how they fought their way into American life, transforming it, and paving the way for others.

Burnett, a professor from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, explores the Irish influence on American life via the collisions and conflicts which occurred between the new arrivals and nativists, and the new arrivals and the newer arrivals. A profound theme of the book is that the definition of being American Irish came not from seclusion that would define later immigrant groups, but from clashes with those groups. By the 20th century, Irish influence came from their successful entry into American life and, according to Burnett, “in strategies for dealing with newcomers.”

The book is categorized into various aspects of modernity as it would have looked to a late 19th century immigrant — The Streets, The Parish, The Workplace, The Machine. Although it purports to be a survey of American Irish urban life, it’s almost wholly based on the New York Irish experience. And for good reason; by the turn of the century, more people of Irish descent lived here than in Dublin.

Many aspects of modern life trace back to more robust strains of Irish defiance. The Catholic Church may have been a powerful organizer of the Irish community, but the many Irish social reformers who pushed against it (even those among the clergy itself) helped fashion modern social reform. The roots of union organizing came from Ireland. And, with nods to the likes of “Big Tim” Sullivan, the modern political machine was essentially fueled by powerful collaborations with Irish community leaders.

If early Irish New Yorkers strived for assimilation, later generations defined their ethnicity against the grain, combating black, Italian and other immigrants in alleyways and along the docks — for territory, for jobs, for identity. The Irish dominated the worlds of minstrelsy and vaudeville. Victimized by horrid stereotypes, Irish entertainers turned the tables with equally vulgar presentations of groups they often considered beneath them. (Those tables could be turned again; as Irish entertainers often did ‘yellowface’, so too could a Chinese entertainer do a broad Irish impression in those years.)

There are lovely details of New York life scattered throughout, from the birth of New York’s first black Catholic Church to the final foothold of Irish dock workers in the neighborhood of Chelsea. While Burnett spends little time amid the grit of early Irish neighborhoods, there are plenty of depictions of fisticuffs and riots to indulge your pugilistic impulse. While it does beautifully illustrate the roots of Irish American pride, ‘The Irish Way’ is not a manual but a map, a reflection upon their path to influence on life in the United States.

Notes from the podcast (#134) St. Patrick’s Cathedral



A spectacle from a hundred years ago: St. Patrick’s in 1912, in a gauze of electric lights. The picture below this post illustrates how this particular light performance made the church standout among the as-of-yet mild landscape of Midtown East. Pictures courtesy the Library of Congress

We hope you like our new podcast on St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Very odd timing to be releasing a Catholic themed podcast, given that Archbishop Dolan is set to turn Cardinal tomorrow and, oh right, the contraception controversy.

The church is closely linked to the history of early Irish New Yorkers. However there were obviously huge bodies of Catholics of other nationalities in the mid-19th century, particularly German Catholics. Archbishop John Hughes himself said that “people were composed of representatives from almost all nations.” That said, Germans Catholics opened their own churches, in particular the Roman Catholic Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, opening in the East Village in 1852, in the new German enclave of Kleindeutschland.


Here’s an interesting read about the 1989 ACT UP protest at St. Patrick’s, from a person who was actually arrested at the protest!

VISIT: The official site for St. Patrick’s has a historical timeline, a map, and information on tours.

MUSIC: The music in this week’s show is from the album ‘O Come Let Us Sing’, featuring the St. Patrick’s Cathedral Choir and St. Patrick’s organist Donald Dumler. You can find the album on iTunes.

CORRECTIONS: I made a big blunder in this episode. I’ve always prided myself in New York movie trivia, yet I flubbed it in this episode. ‘The Godfather III’ was filmed at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, not at the new one. Sorry for the error.

Speaking of the old cathedral, it’s now a basilica, if you haven’t heard. Although we speak about the original Mott Street cathedral in this episode, you might like to check out our old show (Episode #9). You can tell we’ve come a long way in this podcasting thing!



TIMELINE: We do things a bit out of order at the start of the show, so I thought I’d lay out some of the key dates for you for reference. St. Patrick’s website also has a historical timeline that you can use to follow along. But of the things we speak about:

1801 — David Hosack opens his Elgin Botanical Garden in the vicinity of today’s Rockefeller Center.
1808 — The Diocese of New York is created
1810 — The land where St. Patrick’s sits today is sold to an insurance company, the Eagle Fire Company. One of the trustees of the board is Archibald Gracie. By this time, the Jesuits had already constructed a building on this property.
1813 — Augustin De Lastrange arrives in New York. The following year, he bought the structure and, for a short time, sets up a Trappist monastery here.
1815 — St. Patrick’s Cathedral opens downtown at Mulberry Street.
1828 — The mid-Manhattan land is sold to Francis Cooper, on behalf of St. Peter’s and St Patrick’s, with the intention of building a cemetery
1838 — John Hughes is made a bishop
1850 — The Diocese of New York becomes an archdiocese
1858 — The cornerstone to St. Patrick’s new cathedral is laid. By this time, the controversial figure Madame Restell has already built her mansion across the street, and quite on purpose it seems.
1864 — John Hughes dies
1878 — The ‘Great Cathedral Fair’ is held, raising enough funds to finally complete the structure
1879 — The new Cathedral is officially dedicated
1888 — The cathedral’s distinctive spires are finally completed.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral: Stately grace in bustling Midtown, thanks to a fiery archbishop and a venerable hairdresser

During its early years, St Patrick’s neighbors were luxurious mansions. Today the surrounding streets house retail and tourist attractions. (Picture courtesy Library of Congress)


PODCAST One of America’s most famous churches and a graceful icon upon the landscape of midtown Manhattan, St. Patrick’s Cathedral was also one of New York’s most arduous building projects, taking decades to build. An overflow of worshippers at downtown’s old St Patrick’s demanded a vast new place of worship, even as most Catholic New Yorkers were having an uneasy time due to religious prejudice by angry ‘nativists’.

 Enter ‘Dagger’ John Hughes, the relentless first Archbishop of New York, who hammered the city for equal treatment for Catholics and managed to construct several New York institutions still in existence. Many scoffed at his idea of building a gigantic cathedral so far north of town.

We explore the early years of this once-quiet piece of mid-Manhattan real estate and some of the notable events that have taken place at St. Patrick’s since its opening.

 ALSO: The tale of the revered Haitian hairdresser in the crypt!


You can tune into it below, download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, or get it straight from our satellite site.

Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys: St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Notes, corrections, clarifications, sources, and additional information will be posted on Tuesday. Because the set-up was so complex this time around — we bounced around quite a bit between the years 1800 and 1850 — I’ll also have a timeline that can accompany that show.

 Before ‘uptown’ St. Patrick’s, there was downtown St. Patrick’s, the original cathedral which was consecrated in 1815. By the 1850s, with the number of Catholics growing due to immigration, a larger, grander structure was required, one that reflect the congregants’ growing influence. The image below is from St. Patrick’s before the 1866 fire. The facade was rebuilt with less ornamentation.

The land where St. Patrick’s sits today was wooded and sparsely populated 210 years ago. But for a short time, in 1814, a Trappist monastery sat here, the haven of French refugee Dom Augustin de Lestrange.

The undisputed religious leader of New York’s Catholic community was Archbishop John Hughes, whose fierce tenacity — and curious signature — earned him the nickname ‘Dagger John’. He spearheaded the construction of a new cathedral, in an area of town that, in the 1850s, was nowhere near the center of the city. ‘Hughes’ Folly’ would take two decades to build; by the time it was completed, Fifth Avenue had entirely transformed. The Archbishop’s risk had paid off. (courtesy NYPL)

Sunday morning mayhem at St. Patrick’s Cathedral at the start of the 20th century. Fifth Avenue became a veritable procession of New York’s wealthiest residents. (NYPL)

An image from the late 19th century. The famous 20,000-lbs. bronze doors, featuring three-dimensional sculptures of saints, would not be installed until a few decades later. (Courtesy NY State Archives)

Inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, during the funeral of former mayor Jimmy Walker, November 1946. (courtesy Life)

Worshippers in 1944, as photographed by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life Magazine.

Another shot of St. Patrick’s in 1909, in one of the last years the cathedral would be surrounded with residential homes. By 1924 it would get its neighbor Saks Fifth Avenue. Fifteen years after that, Rockefeller Center would rise across the street.

Boston vs. New York: You think this is just about sports? Origins of an epic rivalry, from Puritans to the Super Bowl



The Metropolitans vs. the Beaneaters, captioned: “Boston and New York players on opening day, 1886, at the Polo Grounds, 5th Ave. and 110th St., NYC. posed in front of stands; Boston player in back row on left has his middle finger raised in obscene gesture.”  LOC

Eli Manning, Tom Brady — how heavy the burden you bear on your shoulders!

When the New York Giants meet the New England Patriots this Sunday for Super Bowl XLVI, the beast of an old rivalry will once again emerge from the gridiron, the latest configuration of a fierce competition between two of America’s greatest cities.

While the rivalry between Boston and New York primarily manifests within the world of sports — the venue of modern warfare —  it echos a spirit of competition that has existed between the coastal cities for over two centuries. But how did it begin?

The cultures of the cities which would become Boston and New York were drastically different from the very start. Boston, after all, was founded in 1630 by Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (at right), a society based on specific religious values, with little tolerance for variation. New Amsterdam, New York’s pre-cursor, developed as a company town in the 1620s and was quite renown for being notoriously value-less, relatively speaking.

The Puritans, with a moral superiority that paralleled national antagonisms, believed a distasteful mix of cultures, an abhorrent godless mixture festered there in New Amsterdam. As a secular development, New Amsterdam fostered a policy of religious freedom far more in keeping with modern American ethics than the stringent, finger-pointing Puritans. Many so-called heretics fled the Puritans and were granted haven by the Dutch.

The Puritans were fortified by their connection to England, while New Amsterdam was a rowdy outpost of a faltering world power. By 1644, Massachusetts had created a powerful alliance with other colonies, allowing England a stronghold in the New World. New Amsterdam, meanwhile, deteriorated as the Dutch focused on warfare with the Lenape and encroaching colonies such as Swedish. Peter Stuyvesant arrived in 1647 to shape up the Dutch town, but by then motions were already in place to drive them out entirely.

By 1664, the Dutch were thrown out of New Amsterdam and the defeated city was renamed New York, part of a larger British colony named for the Duke of York.  Boston, for its part, became the premier British bastion, capital of the Dominion of New England, and a place many believed chosen by God (the storied ‘City Upon a Hill’) as a shining beacon of humanity. Boston was right to have an attitude. Even as New York and Boston became competing ports in the British era, the Massachusetts city always had the edge.

America has benefited from Boston pride. The opening salvos of American independence were born from clashes between Boston citizens and British soldiers, rebellion in the form of bloody clashes (the Boston Massacre) and economic unrest (the Boston Tea Party). As colonists rose up against British oppression during the Revolutionary War, they could look to the Boston battle at Bunker Hill as an example of victory and perseverance.

Bostonians celebrated Evacuation Day on March 17 because the British were booted from there in 1776 and never returned. New Yorkers celebrated the same holiday on November 25 because the British kept that city for most of the war and weren’t expelled from it until 1783.

Both cities struggled for economic footing after the war. Both had sophisticated ports and bustling harbors ready to send and receive shipping vessels, manufacturing plants rivaling anything overseas, and a growing class of wealthy old-family elites. In Boston, they were the Brahmins and went to Harvard. In New York, they were Knickerbockers and turned to Yale or Princeton. (Columbia was not quite in their league yet.)

Below: Boston in 1873

But only one city had access to a river inland, a point made explicit with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. Suddenly, New York became a gateway into the expanding American west. Not only would New York traders and merchants grow rich and form a nouveau upper-crust (thriving in the wake of men like John Jacob Astor), the canal would siphon away much of Boston’s livelihood, one ship at a time.

Bostonians were not pleased. The founder of Boston’s first daily newspaper saw a diversion of goods to New York as ‘evil‘ and recommended the city jump on a newfangled transportation idea just debuting in England — the steam-powered railroad. Within a few years, train tracks stretched down the old Boston Post Road (almost, but not quite, to New York) in an effort to connect Boston to the waters of the Hudson River. Or as author Eric Jaffe observes: “…the goal of everyone involved in Boston’s railroad system at the time was clear: to move Manhattan toward the [Massachusetts] Bay along the highways of the future.”

The two cities remained locked in quiet, but stiff, competition throughout the 19th century, not only in industry and trade, but in intelligentsia, literature, politics and social ‘quality’. The dynamics of both cities changed with the immigration boom that began in the late 1840s. Soon, one fifth of the populations of both cities would be Irish. The culture of Boston was greatly affected, perhaps more that any American city, by these new Irish arrivals, but it was New York that felt the most weight. By 1860, with New York as the biggest city in America, even the city of Brooklyn had a greater population than Boston.

Bostonians had their legendary, steely pride for their city — in many ways, America’s first, greatest city — but New York was a powerful, untouchable metropolis by the time of the Gilded Age. Despite its grime and squalor, despite its sinful and corrupt reputation (or perhaps because of it), New York had bested Boston to become the biggest, richest, most powerful city in America by the time of the Civil War.

Below: New York City in 1873 (from George Schlegel lithograph)

And so it was that, in the late 19th century, an apparatus arose for which the undercurrent of rivalry between the cities could take a more explicit, more robust form — sports.

Universities already organized sports teams — with accompanying rivalries of their own — and now, in the post-war era, professional teams began sprouting up in a wide variety of games. The first sports leagues formed in the Northeast, thus it was natural that teams from Northern and Rust Belt cities would often clash.

The first organized baseball league principally concerned New York and Brooklyn teams. (Don’t even get me started on the New York/Brooklyn rivalry!) Teams wouldn’t truly take on defined regional characters until the formation of the National League in 1876, which included the Boston Red Stockings, a precursor of the Sox, among its original teams.

The two baseball franchises that would cement the Boston-New York conflict were born in the 20th century. The Boston team came first, in 1901, with the inauguration of the American League, but were not referred to by their distinctive bold-colored foot coverings until 1908. In 1904, the Boston team was declared champion of the American League. However, National League teams looked down upon the ‘inferiority’ of the younger American League teams, and thus, what might have been the first World Series — between the Boston Red Sox and National League victors the New York Giants — never occurred.

The Giants were considered New York’s principal baseball franchise and even spawned a successful soccer team. (They frequently played a soccer spinoff of the Boston Beaneaters.) By this time, another New York team limped into the city in 1903 — the Highlanders, who later changed their name to the New York Yankees.

In 1918 came an event that changed the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees forever. Red Sox star Babe Ruth was traded to the New York Yankees during the off-season 1919-1920, allegedly because Sox owner Harry Frazee was looking to finance his Broadway musical offering No No Nanette. (That’s the popular legend, although many believe the trade was to finance another, equally  ridiculous production called My Lady Friends.)

Whatever the origin of the ‘Curse of the Bambino’, it had a psychological effect on fans and players on both sides. Boston, once the league’s most successful squad, didn’t win another World Series until 2004, while the Yankees, well, changed sports history with 27 World Series victories.

The deep animosity spilled over into other sport match-ups. In basketball, the New York Knicks pale under the legacy of the Boston Celtics, simply put the best basketball team in history. In hockey, the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers became the first two American teams to play each other for the Stanley Cup in 1929. The Bruins cleaned the ice with the Rangers.

But it’s in football that the two cities have had some truly dramatic clashes. The New York Giants football team, hardly a threat when they first formed in the late 1920s, were a force to be reckoned with by the time they first met the Boston Patriots in 1960. Notably, when the Boston team changed its name to the New England Patriots and moved to Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough in 1971, the first game they played was against the Giants.

The Giants and the Patriots have met in the Super Bowl just once before — and notably so — in 2008. New York was the victor, in one of the greatest upsets in sports history. This Sunday, Boston seeks revenge. As you sit through a halftime show with Madonna (a New Yorker in her formative years), ponder upon the weight of history hanging over both teams.



To sports fans: I welcome any clarification of details if I’ve gotten something wrong!