What life was like in a Manhattan “fever nest”

New Yorkers in the 19th century came up with some very descriptive slang names for poor, crowded neighborhoods where disease outbreaks tended to happen.

One is a “lung block,” or an entire street with a high number of residents living with the “white plague”—aka tuberculosis.

Another is a “fever nest,” seen in the image above. It’s unclear if the illustration depicts East 32nd Street, possibly near the shantytown called Dutch Hill, or West 32nd Street, which could have been the upper end of the Tenderloin, Gilded Age New York’s vice district.

When was this illustration of a fever nest done? Based on the wide skirts the women are wearing, the unpaved road, and the scavenging pig in the foreground, I’d guess it depicts the 1860s—a decade racked by outbreaks of cholera and other illnesses spread via unsanitary conditions.

[Image: CUNY Graduate Center]

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5 Responses to “What life was like in a Manhattan “fever nest””

  1. Mykole Mick Dementiuk Says:

    Looks like typical apartment buildings of the time, no? https://newyorkalmanack.com/2017/01/greenwich-village-past-and-present/

  2. Michael Leddy Says:

    This hit home — a great-grandfather of mine died from TB in the 1890s, not far from W. 32nd.

  3. Bill Wolfe Says:

    This is only tangentially related, in that it involves our current health crisis, but I thought you might be interested in seeing the obituary of this professor and author, William Helmreich, whose book about exploring the streets of New York on foot, “The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City,” reminded me of what you do here.

    As a CCNY grad, it’s heartbreaking to know the college lost three professors in one week to the disease, including another, Michael Sorkin, who also wrote a book about exploring New York on foot, called “Twenty Minutes in Manhattan.”

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thank you for posting this. I did see the obit last week, and it stopped me in my tracks. I had heard so many great things not just about his book but about Helmreich himself, mainly his warmth and knowledge as a teacher at CUNY and lifelong student of New York City.

  4. Bob Says:

    1866 – per http://dcmny.org/islandora/object/cuny34thstreet%3A899/compound-parent-metadata

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