Turkey Day with the inmates at the Tombs

On December 1, 1903, The New York Times ran a long article covering how city orphanages, missions, hospitals, “Magdalen” asylums, and other charitable institutions celebrated the holiday. That almost always meant a big turkey dinner and religious speakers.

The Times also reported how Thanksgiving was celebrated in city jails—like the Tombs, the nickname given to a succession of jail complexes located downtown. The moniker stemmed from the original Tombs, built in 1838 on Centre Street, which looked like an Egyptian mausoleum.

Here’s a couple of inmates—or guards?—hanging out in the interior of the Tombs in the late 19th century.

What the Times had to say about how the men there spent turkey day:

“There were 424 prisoners in the Tombs. They had 150 turkeys, chicken ad lib, 200 pounds of potatoes, 100 mince pies, and cranberries, nuts, and other goodies. Then they listened to addresses by the Rev. J.J. Munro and the Rev. W.W. Gilliss, respectively Presbyterian and Episcopal clergymen. Mr. Gilliss passed a cigar to each of the men prisoners.

“Such an array of prisoners were in the various Police Court prisons as to lead to the suspicion that many had gotten themselves locked up in order to be sure of a Thanksgiving dinner. None was disappointed.”

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2 Responses to “Turkey Day with the inmates at the Tombs”

  1. Nabe News: November 25 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    [...] turn-of-the-century look at spending Thanksgiving with the inmates at the Tombs [Ephemeral [...]

  2. Millard Says:

    “The Times also reported how Thanksgiving was celebrated in city jails—like the Tombs, the nickname given to a *secession* of jail complexes located downtown.”

    You mean “succession” there.

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