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The Story of Skid Row: The Bowery of the Forgotten Men

PODCAST A history of the Bowery in the 20th century when this street became known as the most notorious place in America. And the stories of the lonely and desperate men whose experiences have been mostly forgotten.

From the moment that elevated train went up in 1878, the historic Bowery became a street of deteriorating fortunes. And by the 1940s, things had gotten so bad that the Bowery had taken on the nickname Skid Row.

For decades it had become the last resort for men down on their luck, filling the flophouses and the cheap gin mills. For most of the people who found themselves here, these were not the ‘good ole days’.

The only thing holding the Bowery back from total ruin were the rescue missions which began sprouting up here in the late 19th century, providing food and shelter for tens of thousands of people.

Men lined up to receive food, 1910s. George Grantham Bain Collection/ Library of Congress

The most renown of these places was the Bowery Mission which was founded in 1879. And is still, believe it or not, on the Bowery. Performing pretty much the same function as it did over 140 years ago.

Greg and Tom take you through the dramatic history of the Bowery, then pay a visit to Jason Storbakken at the Bowery Mission to get a look at the rescue mission’s current challenges and surprising struggles.

LISTEN NOW — SKID ROW: THE BOWERY OF THE FORGOTTEN


Featured in this show: Woody Guthrie’s “New York Town”


The Bowery, photographed in 1896. Courtesy Library of Congress
The famous Bowery as it is today. Taken in 1900. Courtesy New York Public Library

After 1915 the elevated train was expanded to completely cover the street.

Photography by Weegee/Under the Third Avenue El, 1943-1945
The elevated train at Bowery and Division Streets, 24 April 1936, New York Public Library

Visit the Bowery Mission website for more information on the mission and its programs.

You can make a financial donation to help the Mission with their efforts to provide Thanksgiving meals to those in need this season.

And there are many more ways to get involved. Check out their website for further information.


Inside the Bowery Mission, photo by Greg Young
Inside the Bowery Mission, photo by Greg Young
Our interview with Jason was recorded right in front of this window. Photo by Greg Young
Weegee, Sammy’s Bowery Follies, 1944. Image courtesy Damiani Editore and International Center of Photography.
FURTHER VIEWING

Some of the films featured or mentioned on this show:

Watch How Do You Like the Bowery? by filmmakers Dan Halas & Alan Raymond here

FURTHER READING

The Bowery Mission: Grit and Grace on Manhattan’s Oldest Street Kindle Edition / Jason Storbakken
The Bowery: The Strange History of New York’s Oldest Street / Stephen Paul DeVillo
Devil’s Mile: The Rich, Gritty History of the Bowery / Alice Sparberg Alexiou
Down & Out, On The Road : The Homeless in American History / Kenneth L Kusmer
Holy Humanitarians: American Evangelicals and Global Aid / Heather D. Curtis
Up In The Old Hotel and Other Stories / Joseph Mitchell

FURTHER LISTENING

After you’ve listened to this show on the history of the Bowery’s Skid Row, dive back into the back catalog and listen to these shows referred to on the show:


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1 reply on “The Story of Skid Row: The Bowery of the Forgotten Men”

Thanks for opening the door to this place! It’s famous for sure, but it’s great to understand what it really does and it’s history!

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