Jack London: a hobo in City Hall Park

Writer and San Francisco native Jack London is usually associated with California, the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska, thanks to novels like White Fang and To Build a Fire.

But he spent some time in New York City too. While hobo-ing around the country in the early 1900s as a young man, London lived for a few months in City Hall Park downtown.

JacklondoninchairHe recounts a typical day as a park vagrant in his autobiographical memoir, The Road, published in 1916:

“It was during a week of scorching weather. I had got into the habit of throwing my feet in the morning, and spending the afternoon in the little park that is hard by Newspaper Row and the City Hall. It was near there that I could buy from push-cart men current books (that had been injured in the making or binding) for a few cents each.

“Then, right by the park itself, were little booths where one could buy glorious, ice-cold, sterilized milk and buttermilk at a penny a glass. Every afternoon I sat on a bench and read and went on a milk debauch. I got away with from five to ten glasses each afternoon. It was dreadfully hot weather.”

London goes on to describe a nearby game of “pee wee” played by some “gamins” before the cops broke it up. It’s a pretty neat glimpse into daily life in downtown New York City at the time. Read more from The Road here.

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6 Responses to “Jack London: a hobo in City Hall Park”

  1. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    I liked Jack London, he was my inspiration to pay attention to life and not miss an instant of it. I picked up a battered copy of ‘The Road’ in a house I was staying in Canyon, Calif in 1966 and was amazed how fast I tore through its pages. That book was a great incitement to try my own hand at writing and, thanks to Jack London, I did just that. And this at a time I was a high school dropout. Well, years of waste were still before me but his writing put that tiny spark nurturing in me. Thanks very much for bringing that memory back.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    I like that he went on a “milk debauch.” A penny a glass, and sterilized too!

  3. Sally Miller Says:

    And well Mick writes, too! After I browbeat him for several years, he is now paying attention to HOW he writes, not just what he is writing about. His editor at Synergy Press, Flemington NJ. Yes, it is a good memory. Your stroke is being overcome as we speak!

  4. City Hall Park and the rise of Newspaper Row « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] been the site of rioting for 300 years now—and writer Jack London’s temporary home in the first decade of the 20th […]

  5. Christopher Says:

    He also had hoped to change Washington. And moved to DC like many idealistic Californians today. Found DC wasn’t ready for changing, and lived out the rest of his time in a park there as well.

  6. A cider vender at the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] vendors at the time were busy selling buttermilk, pretzels, potatoes, and lemonade. It looks like cider was a popular on-the-go beverage […]

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