Cholera’s grim warning for tenement landlords

When New York’s first cholera epidemic hit in 1832 and killed 3,515 people (out of a population of 250,000), the poor took the blame.

“Many city officials implicated the residents of the poorest neighborhoods for contracting cholera, blaming their weak character, instead of viewing the epidemic as a public health problem,” stated Anne Garner, in an online article from the New York Academy of Medicine in 2015.

Cholera struck again in 1849, but by the time the next outbreak happened in 1866, cholera was better understood to be a contagious disease transmitted via contaminated water and other unsanitary conditions.

This 1866 illustration from Harper’s Weekly pins the blame on a different target: the landlords of New York’s tenements—substandard buildings that in the absence of strong housing laws often lacked ventilation and running water and were perfect breeding grounds for cholera.

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6 Responses to “Cholera’s grim warning for tenement landlords”

  1. rossana delzio Says:

    Reblogged this on Intellicooking.

  2. 1877 – This isn't happiness Says:

    […] 1877 […]

  3. lkarnis Says:

    Reblogged this on BigBongDongSoLong.

  4. The pioneering clinic of NYC’s first ‘lady doctor’ | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] the conditions many families lived in—shut off in dark, unventilated tenements where disease easily spread and infants didn’t often make it to their first birthday—this information was […]

  5. David H Lippman Says:

    Nothing ever changes…we still have vast problems in New York City with unbelievably greedy and uncaring landlords that allow their tenants to live in unsanitary pestholes.

    We had a twin pair of apartment buildings named “Brick Towers” in Newark, that racked up nearly a quarter of a million dollars in housing code violations, ranging from no heat to elevators that didn’t work. Mayor Sharpe James wanted them prosecuted (Municipal Court is where that is done) and I had to coordinate the army of media that wanted to shoot this action, being the press officer.

    Up came the owner of this complex, who I will call Carl Pavano, after my least favorite Yankee pitcher, although he was an Orthodox Jew. Carl saw me as the lone Anglo-Saxon face who was not lugging a camera or microphone and rightly guessed that I was there from the Mayor’s office. He asked me what the Mayor wanted.

    I figured that Carl wanted to make a deal with Sharpe to somehow get off the hook, and I said, “It’s very simple. He wants you to obey the law.”

    Carl started complaining about his tenants’ behavior and how hard it was to keep those buildings maintained. I shrugged. You still have a moral and legal obligation to those tenants, I answered. He wasn’t happy. He was less happy when he was hit with the fine. Ultimately he sold the property, and the developer who bought it took the 50-cent tour of the complex and said, “We’re tearing this down and building two new buildings. This is ridiculous.”

    In the landlords’ limited defense, I can say that when we in Newark transported residents out of one such horror building and put them up for two nights at the Courtyard by Marriott (with their support), the displaced tenants tried to take with them from their hotel rooms(back to the repaired building) anything that was not nailed down and even some things that were, including the wall-mounted TV sets. The cops “explained” to them that they better put the TV sets and mini-fridges back in the rooms…or else.

    Of course, NYCHALand, otherwise known as the archipelago of New York City’s public housing projects, is a totally different mess. Robert Moses’ attempt to warehouse the poor in towers that resemble nothing more than skyscraper prisons created a prison mentality among the inhabitants, and helped allow them to become overrun by homeless squatters, gangs, and drug addicts, who use the building staircases as toilets, shooting galleries, and houses of prostitution.

    To make matters worse, the city’s inability to pay for its’ residents needs has resulted in deferred and/or nonexistent maintenance.

    The residents of these buildings regard the appearance of official agencies,be it the cops seeking a criminal or social workers trying to save a family as the invasion of a hostile invading army. One time a police car arrived at the Polo Grounds project, and as they did, their front window was smashed. A ball that Willie Mays had hit 60 years ago? No…a jar of Kraft’s Mayonnaise to tell the cops where to go. Sadly, there was no tuna fish and whole wheat bread to complete the combination.

    So there are some tenants who will abuse management just as there are some landlords who abuse tenants. There is nothing new in our housing crisis, as this cartoon shows.

  6. A mob torches New York’s Quarantine Hospital | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] would board the vessel and make sure no one showed signs of disease, especially yellow fever, smallpox, cholera, or typhus (so common it was dubbed “ship fever”). If all was well, the ship […]

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