Posts Tagged ‘New York in 1910’

A corrupt city cop is sent to the electric chair

November 25, 2013

CharlesbeckerThe NYPD has fielded lots of bad-apple police officers, especially in the notoriously crooked late 19th century.

But Lieutenant Charles Becker (left) went down in history as one of the most rotten.

Born in upstate Sullivan County, Becker worked as a bouncer at popular beer garden the Atlantic Garden on the Bowery.

After meeting corrupt state senator and Bowery fixture Big Tim Sullivan, he was able to buy an appointment on the force in 1893 for $250.

Like so many others, Becker became a cop on the make. Appointed to the vice squad, he patrolled the infamous sin district the Tenderloin, centered roughly between 23rd and 42nd Streets from Broadway to Eighth Avenue.

Hotelmetropole1900mcny2He took thousands in kickbacks from gambling houses and brothels in exchange for agreeing to keep police off their backs.

Then, in 1912, a minor gangster and casino owner named Herman “Beansy” Rosenthal blew the whistle on Becker.

Rosenthal and Becker had agreed that for a price, Becker would steer clear of Rosenthal’s Hesper Club casino on West 45th Street.

But Becker decided to have the private club raided to get on the good side of new police chief Rhinelander Waldo, a progressive reformer.

Two days after Rosenthal’s story hit the press, he was gunned down by four mobsters inside the Hotel Metropole on 43rd Street in Times Square (above, photo from the MCNY).

CharlesbeckersingsingDistrict Attorney Charles Whitman was sure Becker was behind Rosenthal’s murder. He had Becker transferred to desk duty in the Bronx, then placed under arrest.

After two first-degree murder convictions—the first verdict was overturned on appeal—Becker was brought to Sing Sing (left, heading from New York to prison).

In 1915, two years after the gangsters he hired met their fate in the electric chair, Becker was electrocuted as well. Charles Whitman, now governor of New York, signed his death warrant.

He execution lasted several minutes and surely caused Becker agony in his final moments. He maintained his innocence until the end.

A painter’s blurry, enchanting, elusive New York

February 28, 2013

Born in St. Louis in 1864 and trained in France, Paul Cornoyer made a name for himself in the late 19th century, painting landscapes and urban scenes in an impressionist style.

Cornoyermadsqintheafternoon1910

“In 1899, with encouragement from William Merritt Chase, he moved to New York City,” states oxfordgallery.com.

Here he opened a studio, became associated with the Ash Can school, and for many years was a beloved art teacher at the Mechanics Institute.

Cornoyerwintertwilightcenpark

“Celebrated for his lyrical cityscapes and atmospheric landscapes, Paul Cornoyer crafted an indelible impression of fin-de-siècle New York,” explains this fine arts site.

[Above: "Winter Twilight Central Park"; below, "Flatiron Building"]

Cornoyerflatironbldg

Well-known in his day, his typically rainy, muted depictions of New York City sold well and earned him fame, particularly “The Plaza After Rain” (below) and “Madison Square in the Afternoon” (top).

Cornoyerplazaaftertherain

He’s not a household name, but his vision of a New York with soft edges and blurred borders still resonates—reflecting a moody city filled with mystery and enchantment.

An anonymous valentine sent to East 121st Street

February 13, 2013

I wonder who mailed this sweet yet message-less card to Miss Elsie Mangels, who apparently resided at 447 East 121st Street in February 1910?

NYPLvalentinecard

Her residence looks like it no longer exists; a housing development and some empty lots occupy that address today.

NYPLvalentinecardback

The card comes from the New York Public Library’s digital collection—a treasure of old ephemera, including vintage Valentine cards.

A fame-hungry kid jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge

January 23, 2013

OttoeppersWWINot long after the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883, people began jumping off it.

Some were daredevils, some were suicidal. And some simply wanted publicity and to make a little cash, which seems to be the case with 17-year-old Otto Eppers.

In June 1910, Eppers lived at 535 Dean Street in Brooklyn. He was a budding cartoonist, later described by The New York Times as “ferret faced” (that’s him at right, in 1917).

Eppers apparently convinced storekeepers in Brooklyn to give him more than a thousand bucks (plus two new suits!) if he leaped off the Manhattan Bridge.

BridgejumpheadlinenytimesThe notoriety and money would kick-start his career, he reportedly believed.

The morning of the jump, on June 29, his plan was briefly thwarted by patrolmen stationed along the bridge.

So he went to the Brooklyn Bridge instead, climbing the tower on the Brooklyn side before letting go and dropping 14 stories into the river.

A tugboat waiting for him picked up Eppers, whose clothes had ripped but was unhurt. As soon as the boat reached Manhattan’s Fulton Street, he was arrested on charges of attempted suicide—then let go with a warning.

Brooklynbridge1910

It’s unclear whether he got his money. But he scored a brush with fame.

Eppers is credited with the first witnessed successful jump from the Brooklyn Bridge—and he did make a name for himself as a professional cartoonist.

George Bellows paints the raw New York winter

December 27, 2012

Realist painter and longtime East 19th Street resident George Bellows is best known for his bold views of amateur boxers as well as the grittiness of urban life in the early 20th century.

He painted scenes showing every season. But there’s something about his depictions of New York beneath cold gray skies, covered in snow, or surrounded by ice that captures the city’s abrasive, isolating winters.

Bellowspennstationex19071908

“Pennsylvania Station Excavation,” from 1907-1908, puts the fiery equipment brought in to clear out 31st to 33rd Streets between snowy ground and an icy sky.

“The scene has an infernal quality, with the digging machinery circled by small fires and rising smoke near the center of the snowy pit, and all overshadowed by a massive building from which soot streams across the acid blue of a winter sunset,” states the website for the Brooklyn Museum.

Bellowssnowdumpers1911

“Snow Dumpers,” painted in 1911, shows us overcoat-clad city workers and snorting horses tasked with carrying loads of snow from Manhattan streets to be dumped into the choked-with-traffic East River.

The skies over the river and Brooklyn Bridge look gray and frigid, and the snow has streaks of blue.

Bellowssteamingstreets

“Steaming Streets,” from 1908, reveals winter as an agent of chaos. “[The painting] is dealing with a fleeting, highly charged moment during winter in New York when weather and traffic conditions have combined to create havoc in the street,” explains the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

“Immediately one feels that the vapors from the melting snow and slush are unsettling the horses and adding to the annoyance of the driver, who is forcibly braking them against the oncoming trolley and team to its left.”

The Met’s George Bellows exhibit runs until February 18, a powerful collection of paintings by an artist with a sharp eye for the moods of his adopted city.

When Fifth Avenue hosted a yearly horse parade

September 13, 2012

I’m not so sure that the thousands of horses tasked to pull wagons day after day in New York’s pre-auto era were treated very well.

But for several years in the early 1900s, they were treated to their own parade.

The Work Horse Parade, sponsored by the ASPCA, was meant to “induce the owners and drivers of work horses, and the public generally, to take more interest in their welfare,” states a New York Times article on the first-ever parade, dated May 19, 1907.

About 1,200 horses were expected to participate, and “all of the express companies, many coal companies, confectionery houses, and co. will send entries,” reported the Times.

Equines that worked for the FDNY, police force, and other city workers marched too.

So did hundreds of truck horses, who spent their days making deliveries for “wholesale grocers, breweries, butchers, milk companies, laundries, and, in fact, almost every branch of business.”

The parade started at Washington Square, with horses and drivers going up Fifth Avenue to Worth Square at 23rd Street.

There, judges awarded various prizes. This Borden’s milk truck team in the above photo won the “obstacle test” in 1908.

Looks like the parade ran for eight years; I can’t find a reference to it after 1914, when it expanded to include dogs, ponies, and even two mules.

After 1914, automobiles began eclipsing horsepower—which had served New York well for close to three centuries.

[Photos: Bain Archive, Library of Congress]

The incredible life of New York’s “strongest boy”

August 27, 2012

Born in 1910, Jack Beers’ early years echo a familiar East Side story.

His Austrian immigrant parents were desperately poor. His family shared a cold water flat on East Sixth Street, heating it with bits of coal that had fallen off trucks. Jack pitched in by hawking the Daily News on Avenue B.

But he was also entranced by bodybuilding. Blessed with incredible natural strength, he began training in Tompkins Square Park and later on Coney Island.

As a teenager, he performed as a strongman in city clubs and on vaudeville stages, earning local fame and the title “New York City’s Strongest Boy.”

His story is chronicled in the 2006 documentary Holes in My Shoes, which features Jack, then 94, talking about his life and revisiting his old East Side haunts.

After a hand injury at a pool hall ended his strongman career, he went to work at Fassler Iron Works on East 10th Street and helped build New York’s top skyscrapers. He trained dogs and later became a character actor.

As the trailer from Holes in My Shoes shows, Beers retained amazing power even as a very senior citizen—watch him rip a phone book apart with his bare hands. He died a few days short of his 99th birthday.

[Photo: Holes in My Shoes]

A city so hot, families sleep on the sidewalk

August 12, 2010

How steamy must this family’s apartment have been if they found relief dragging their pillows on the sidewalk and sleeping beside what looks like a store entryway?

The photo, taken by an unknown photographer on the Lower East Side, dates to 1910.

“A Letter for Sweetheart,” 1910

July 10, 2010

That’s the English translation of “A Brivele der Kale,” a popular Yiddish song from 1910.

The sheet music cover illustration is intriguing. An immigrant leaving his wife for the America? Or did he find a new love here?

Composer J.M. Rumshisky—who later changed his name to Rumskinsky—was a bigwig of Yiddish theater.

He wrote hundreds of operettas and songs for stars like Molly Picon during the theater’s heyday.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,671 other followers