Archive for the ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ Category

Rock-throwing and gunfire on Election Day 1864

November 7, 2016

If you think the 2016 presidential election has been brutal, consider the violence triggered by the election of 1864—as seen through the eyes of a bright 9-year-old boy living in a tenement district on Eighth Avenue and 57th Street.

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That year, incumbent President Lincoln was up against General George B. McClellan. “The campaign was very bitter on both sides in our neighborhood,” recalled James Edward Kelly, a sculptor who published his memories of the Civil War–era city in Tell Me of Lincoln.

lincolnbookcoverKelly remembered his pro-Lincoln father, “having rows with the Copperhead neighbors.” Copperheads, of course, were Northerners who were against the Civil War.

There were plenty of Copperheads in New York, who felt the war was bad business for New York merchants. Thousands of immigrants, many Irish, who had fought in the war were also disenchanted.

Many Irish women, Kelly wrote, “thought if McClellan were elected on ‘The War is a Failure’ platform, their husbands would come back from the front.”

With a war going on, much was at stake—and it showed in city streets.

‘The streets were overhung with banners, decorated (or defaced) with so called portraits of Lincoln and Johnson and McClellan and Pendleton,” wrote Kelly. “There were the usual torchlight parades, and the air echoed with glorification of ‘Little Mac,’ and the abuse of ‘Old Abe.'”

lincolnjohnsoncampaignpostercurrierives“The very curbstones were covered with election posters called ‘gutter snipes.'”

After a brutal campaign season, it was finally Election Day, a holiday in the city. On that cold, rainy morning, Kelly left his house to a polling place.

“I peeped in the doorway. Along the counter were some large glass globes . . . .There was a slit in the top, through which was dropped the folded ballot. . . . The room was filled with tobacco smoke, though I could dimly make out the glint of a policeman’s buttons.”

“Before I could see more, I was hustled aside by a crowd of drunken roughs, who joggled the undisciplined voters swarming in and out at will. I saw a crowd on the corner rush through 57th Street. I followed them to near Sixth Avenue, where they ran into another crowd, and began to pelt one another with stones.”

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“Then a shot snapped out. The crowd ceased fighting. . . . The man who had been shot was half lying, resting on his right arm, with his left hand on the wound in his breast, groaning heavily.”

“Hustled aside by the crowd, I trotted homeward, joining the other boys collecting ballots which were scattered thickly upon the sidewalks  and along the gutters.”

lincolnelectionpollingplacenyplAt day’s end, the action was only beginning, with Election Night bonfires illuminating the sky.

“The short November day began to darken. According to the English custom, a voice rang out, ‘Hear ye! Hear ye! The polls are closed!’ The crowd made a charge for the election boxes, carting them off to be used for the fires later that evening.”

“Night came on, cold, bleak, and drizzly. . . . The boys who had been stealing barrels for a month or so, now rolled them out of their cellars, or carried them on their heads in triumph. They built them into mounds before touching them off.”

lincolnmccellanposter“With yells of a gang of large boys, the grocer’s wagon was hauled along and run into the flames, but was rescued by the frantic German.”

“Boys danced around and jumped through the flames, till at last, they were hauled off by the ear or the neck by their enraged mothers who had been hunting for them. Finally, the rain scattered the rest, and the embers died down under its dreary beat.”

The results weren’t in until the next morning. While Lincoln received only 33 percent of the vote in New York City, voters from the rest of the country gave him a second term.

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“Next morning, my father was up bright and early, and called to us, ‘President Lincoln re-elected.’ Then we sat down to a joyous breakfast, while he read aloud the details of the victory.”

TheGildedAgeinNewYorkcoverKelly wouldn’t yet know that at the end of November, a group of Confederate sympathizers would attempt to burn down New York. The plot was foiled, and it turned many residents against the South and pro-Union, hoping for victory.

Interestingly, McClellan’s son, George B. McClellan Jr., became New York’s mayor from 1904-1909.

Read about the Plot to Burn Down New York City in The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910.

The bloody past of Manhattan’s West 39th Street

October 28, 2016

abattoirrowsignWest 39th Street close to the Hudson River is an unglamorous road of Port Authority bus ramps, plus traffic from the Javits Center and the ferry station across 12th Avenue.

It’s not a pretty three or so blocks. But this concrete stretch is nothing like it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when West 39th Street was one of New York’s bloodiest streets.

Nicknamed “Abattoir Row,” the street was the center of Manhattan’s slaughterhouse district (previously on Mulberry Street), where cattle delivered to the city via ferry or rail line were penned in stockyards before being led into factories, turned into beef, and destined for New York dinner tables.

abattoirmcnysollibsohn3-131-6-162The earliest abattoirs appeared there in 1850, according to an Evening Post article, which counted 43 separate buildings.

“Running through these cellars will be laid a number of pipes, to carry off the blood and filth to a sewer in the rear. . . .”

“A thorough system of ventilation by means of pipes is embraced in the design, and will do much towards preserving the health of those living in the vicinity,” wrote the Post.

abattoir1877nyplv-l-kingsburythemanhattanabattoirCattle drives were a familiar site on the far West Side even after the turn of the century.

“Well into the 20th century, cattle drovers would close off 39th, 40th and 41st Streets between 11th and 12th Avenues and herd the cattle from pens to their destinations,” wrote Michael Pollack in his FYI column in the New York Times in 2013.

“Cattle runs across 40th Street continued into the mid-1950s, to a division of Armour & Company a block from the pens. . . . In 1955, an aluminum-sided bridge was built 14 feet above the street so the cattle could walk their last quarter-mile without disrupting traffic.

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A cow bridge is one thing—a cow tunnel even more fascinating. To dodge traffic, cattle coming into Manhattan via Hudson River barges in the late 19th century were herded through a tunnel under 12th Avenue to the abattoirs on West 39th Street.

abattoirad1922Abattoir Row disappeared in the 1960s. The cow bridge has long since been torn down.

And the tunnels? According to Pollack, “if remnants of the tunnels still exist, they may have disappeared beneath the Javits Center.”

This well-researched article does a deep dive into where the cow tunnels might be and how long ago they were in use.

West 39th Street in the old Tenderloin district also had a dicey reputation—of an entirely different kind.

[Second photo: MCNY, 1938 by Sol Libsohn; 43.131.6.162; third and fourth images: NYPL, “The Manhattan Abattoir,” 1877 by V. L. Kingsbury; fifth image: 1922 ad]

Haunting emptiness of the city’s lone tenements

October 17, 2016

The tenement is a New York invention—typically a six-story residence shoddily constructed in the 19th and early 20th centuries to capitalize on a surge in population and the need for cheap yet affordable housing. (Below, 10th Avenue and 57th Street)

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These “nurseries of pauperism and crime,” as reformer Jacob Riis deemed them in 1890, housed three-quarters of New York’s population in the late 1800s.

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Tenements (like the one above at University Place and 13th Street) then were “packed like herrings with human beings,” wrote the city board of health in an 1873 report.

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For decades, rows and rows of them filled entire blocks. Yet these days, with developers knocking down old buildings and putting up luxury apartments and offices, there seems to be an uptick in single tenements sticking out of the cityscape with nothing on either side. (Above, Tenth Avenue and 30th Street)

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These tenements are ghostly remnants that look eerily out of place and abandoned, even when window curtains and lights make it clear that tenants live there. (West Street, above)

lonetenementbellowsThere’s something haunting about a tenement standing alone. Painter George Bellows realized this.

His 1909 “Lone Tenement” (at left) shows a deserted brick walkup in the shadows under the then-new Queensboro Bridge, a representation of the displaced, cast-off men warming themselves by a fire nearby.

lonetenementgrabachAnother social realist painter of the early 20th century, John R. Grabach, was also touched by the lone tenement.

His 1929 work, “The Lone House,” is a portrait of abandonment—of a tenement and people.

Some of today’s lone tenements might be next in line for the wrecking ball. Others stay up perhaps because their owners refuse to sell to developers.

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TheGildedAgeinNewYorkcoverAnd others await development to creep in and surround them—like this tenement on East 14th Street, which stood unmoored and alone for a few years and is now encased on either side by the concrete shell of a future apartment building.

Check out The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910, for more on the history of the New York tenement.

The cat rescued from a Hell’s Kitchen mailbox

August 26, 2016

Cat antics and exploits make for irresistible clickbait—come on, who doesn’t love keyboard cat? But felines were huge media stars in the pre-Internet era too.

Case in point: Blackie, a sleek inky furball who ended up inside a mailbox in Hell’s Kitchen just before World War II. Here she is, posing for renowned crime and police photographer Weegee.

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The story of her misfortune and rescue is a bit of a tearjerker. “A garage worker called the cops when he heard meows issuing from a box in Hell’s Kitchen, but they couldn’t do anything about it, April 29, 1941,” the original photo caption states, per Getty Images.

“They had to call the Post Office. A mechanic opened the box and found Blackie. Whoever threw her in also tossed in a couple of clams and some pretzels.”

No word on what happened to Blackie after her rescue and turn as a media darling—or who tried to mail her.

[Hat tip: researcher extraordinaire History Author. Photo by Weegee (Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Getty Images]

The beautiful apartment house hidden from view

May 9, 2016

1940 tax photo via New York Landmarks Conservatory; third photo:

The Dakota, the Ansonia, the Chelsea, the Apthorp: most city residents recognize these as some of New York’s earliest and most magnificent apartment houses.

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But the Windermere? Hidden behind scaffolding for years, this Renaissance Revival beauty on Ninth Avenue and 57th Street (above, mostly scaffold-free) has been forgotten.

Still, imagine how lovely the romantically named Windermere must have been in 1881, when it was one of the first apartment houses on the rapidly developing West Side—home to well-off residents, then “bachelor girls,” and a century later, SRO tenants.

Windermere1940WSJ“The interior is separated into five divisions, which comprise 38 suites of apartments, each containing from seven to nine rooms, and each furnished with a buffet, sideboard, and pier glass,” the New York Times described it.

“For the convenience of tenants who do not wish to cook in their own apartments, large kitchens are situated in the basement.”

With the noisy, belching Ninth Avenue Elevated railroad so close, the Windermere wasn’t top-of-the-line luxurious.

WindermerelandmarksBut it had plenty of amenities: three resident elevators, steam heat, a telephone, electric bells that rang attendants, a fire alarm, an open-air inner courtyard, uniformed “hall boys,” and separate passageways for delivery wagons.

The rent? Between $600 and $1,000 yearly, according to Landmarks Preservation Commission report from 2005.

By the 1890s, the Windermere advertised itself as an apartment house for the independent New Woman of the era, who was educated, employed, and desired a place of her own.

That often meant renting a room in one of the larger apartments. The Windermere offered single women “a congenial home where she can live at moderate cost,” reported the Times.

WindermeremichaelminnDuring the 1900s, the bachelor girls began moving out; the neighborhood’s slide into a more working-class enclave meant that tenants in what was now Hell’s Kitchen were now stenographers, chauffeurs, and waiters.

Fires plagued the building. Owners came and went. By the 1960s, drug users and prostitutes moved in . . . and a not-yet-famous Steve McQueen.

In 1985, the Windermere’s owner—who tried to harass the few remaining tenants into leaving—made the Village Voice‘s list of the city’s worst landlords.

The scaffolding and netting began wrapping the building at least a decade ago. Fire safety inspectors forced the remaining tenants out in 2007.

Windermere2016

A new owner came in (and was named to another worst landlord list) with plans to turn the Windermere into a boutique hotel.

Perhaps this diamond in the rough will emerge a beauty again.

[Top and fourth photos: Michaelminn.net; second photo: 1940s NYC Municipal archives photo via the Wall Street Journal; third photo: 1940 tax photo via New York Landmarks Conservatory]

Catching a West Side horse car in a winter storm

January 18, 2016

With its network of privately owned horse cars, elevated railroads, and trolleys, New York in the mid- to late-19th century had a relatively decent public transit system.

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But getting around could be rough in bad weather, especially in one of the horse cars—the way thousands of workingmen, shop girls, and other New Yorkers regularly traveled.

Streetcardriverchristmas“The cold, bitter gale from across the Hudson River nearly swept me into the sunken lots, as I waited at the lower corner of 57th Street for the horse car to come down Eighth Avenue,” recalled James Edward Kelly, a sculptor, of an episode that happened during his boyhood on the West Side in the 1860s.

“The wail of the wind through the telegraph wires on the lofty poles gave additional dreariness. Then the sharp scrape of horses’ shoes on the cobblestones seemed to add to the tingling cold.”

Each horse car had a driver, who sat on top and wore a wool cap and “a soldier’s overcoat with the cape brought up over his head,” wrote Kelly. A conductor was also in the car, clad in “a large fur cap” and “a huge seedy overcoat, ragged and patched at the pockets from being worn away by making change.”

The cars seated 13 passengers on each side; a trip generally cost a nickel. Riders could also sit up front with the driver or stand outside on front and rear platforms.

There was no heat in the cars, of course. Piles of straw thrown across the floor, like a barnyard, offered some insulation from the elements. Two kerosene lamps at each end of the car glowed weakly at night.

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“The window panes were so encrusted with ice and frost that one had to scratch it off to see the street,” Kelly remembered when the car was on its way to Vesey Street. “I began to get restless, so I went out on the front platform, where I found great pleasure in watching the straining muscles of the lean horses.”

Streetcarsnow1872nyplThe “fumes of the kerosene mingled with those of the wet straw and damp clothes of the passengers made it hard breathing … I worked my way up and out to the front beside the driver, who by this time looked like a snowman.”

During rough trips like this one, Kelly recalled that passengers became very friendly. “They would talk and laugh with one another like villagers, and occasionally, someone would start singing, in which many would join.”

“Some of the conductors were very jolly, and the men who were generally smokers on the front platform, had a cheerful, if storm-beaten trip.”

Their good cheer came in handy. Cars sometimes jumped track; male passengers would exit and lift it back on the rails (horse cars followed iron rails laid down on the street).

Streetcar1899lexand34thmcnyIt wasn’t easy for the overworked, underfed horses. Of a fallen horse, Kelly wrote, “its lean flanks heaving and sighing was the only response it gave to the beating, howling, and yelling” of passengers who tried to help the animal. Once the horse had been taken off the road, a new team was hitched to theirs.

“The snow seemed to make the passengers unusually sociable,” he wrote. “The men began hobnobbing … while the clear air rang with the girls’ merry laughter…. So it went on till we reached the 49th Street stables.”

[Top photo: 34th and Broadway, 1899, MCNY; second-fourth images: NYPL; fifth photo: snow all cleared at 34th and Lexington Avenue, 1899, MCNY]

Body parts wash ashore the East Side in 1897

October 26, 2015

GuldensuppenackThe upper half of the torso and arms were found first, on June 26, 1897, by boys playing on a pier off East 11th Street.

The rest of the torso came ashore near High Bridge. The legs showed up off the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The body was that of a well-built man who had been alive just a few days before, according to the medical examiner. But who was he?

The gruesome details gripped the tabloids, which investigated the story along with the police.

Clues soon emerged, thanks to tabloid reporters bent on solving the murder—and selling more papers. The man had strangely soft hands, and his body parts were wrapped in a distinctive oil cloth with a red and gold floral pattern.

GuldensuppethornjailDetectives traced the seller of the cloth, who pointed police in the direction of a Danish midwife named Augusta Nack (above).

Workers at the Murray Hill Turkish Baths on 42nd Street identified the body as that of William Guldensuppe, a German masseur.

Guldensuppe was a tenant in a West 39th Street building owned by Nack. Apparently Nack was also living with a barber named Martin Thorn (left), and the three were involved in a love triangle.

By July, police had arrested Nack and Thorn, thanks to a confession Thorn gave to a barber friend.

According to the confession, Guldensuppe had beaten Thorn senseless after he found him in bed with Nack. So Thorn decided to kill his rival by luring him to a house in Queens.

GuldensuppenackjeffersonmarketAfter shooting him in the back of the head with Nack in the house as well, Thorn said that “we threw him into the bath-tub, and while he was breathing heavily I cut off his head with a razor, and stripped the body.”

Thorn sawed the body, put the head in plaster, and wrapped body parts in the oilcloth, then threw everything into the East River while taking the ferry back to Manhattan with Nack.

GuldensuppenacknewspaperIn December 1897, a jury found the couple guilty. On August 2, Thorn was electrocuted at Sing Sing. Nack served 10 years in prison upstate, then fell into obscurity.

This “trial of the century” earned its name not only because of the bloody details—but the way the press inserted themselves into the story and made 1897 a banner year of yellow journalism.

[Top photo: New York Times; second: LOC; third: New York World; fourth: oldnews.aadl.org]

What if the West Side Airport had been built?

June 29, 2015

Imagine if the entire stretch of Manhattan from West 34th Street to West 79th Street from Broadway to the Hudson River was an enormous airport runway.

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It could have happened in 1946—if flamboyant real estate developer William Zeckendorf had his way.

That’s when Zeckendorf unveiled plans for his West Side Airport, the city’s “dream” airport that would obliterate Midtown West and part of the Upper West Side.

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Handling 68 domestic commercial flights per hour, “the sprawling terminal, in effect, would bring air service right to the heart of New York City and eliminate the necessity of limousine travel to and from existing airports which are 10 miles outside the business districts,” states a May 1946 Life article.

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“[Zeckendorf’s] plan included the building of thirty-five 10-story buildings for industrial purposes, terminals for buses and trucks, commercial and freight railroad lines, and an airport standing above the buildings and streets on a sizable deck,” states one book on urban renewal.

WestsideairportinsideIt’s not exactly a surprise that the airport idea died a quick death. Though Zeckendorf was a successful developer who helped piece together land to build the United Nations, some of his other ideas—a 102-story tower on top of Grand Central terminal, a boulevard of apartment houses on 42nd Street leading to the U.N.—also tanked.

They join so many other ideas for New York City that also never made it past the planning stage, such as a speedway in Central Park, a 100-story housing development in Harlem, and moving sidewalks to whisk pedestrians to their destinations.

[Photos: Life]

Faded outlines of long-gone Manhattan buildings

January 12, 2015

Ghostbuildingwest30sSigns for long-departed stores, retaining walls no longer in use, trolley tracks peeking out from asphalt streets: New York’s past leaves its imprint everywhere.

The sides of buildings give us glimpses of the city’s history too. The faded outlines of tenements and other buildings long gone often remain, at least until new construction comes along and obscures them again.

On a lonely block in the far West 30s is this classic city walkup, with a roof on a slant–a modest place to make a home in what was once a modest neighborhood.

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Hebrew Union College put up this building in 1979, at Mercer and West 4th Streets, almost covering the two chimneys from the building that previously occupied the spot. A tenement perhaps?

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Considering the pace of construction in a luxury-building crazed New York, these remains of a 43rd Street walkup might already be sealed out of view.

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Same with this former home—maybe a brownstone?—on 86th Street, on a stately block near Fifth Avenue.

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Also in the far West 30s near the Javits Center is this outline of a humble tenement on the side of another humble tenement, the people who once lived and worked there and their stories lost to the ages.

More faded building outlines—dormer windows too!—can be seen here.

A serial killer stalks Times Square in the 1970s

October 6, 2014

Timessquare1984mcnyfeiningerThe first two women were found on separate twin beds in a hotel room in flames in December 1979.

A firefighter at the scene, inside the then-seedy Travel Inn at 515 West 42nd Street, grabbed one of the women and brought her outside to a hallway. He was about to administer CPR before realizing she had no head or hands.

Neither did the other woman. Police determined that both had been killed, their bodies set on fire with lighter fluid, by a man who had arrived at the hotel using a fake name and phony New Jersey address.

TravelinnThen in May 1980, another woman’s body was found in a room at the low-rent Seville Hotel on East 29th Street after a fire had been set there.

The body was mutilated but mostly intact, and police identified her as a 25-year-old prostitute (one of the women from the Travel Inn had been as well, while the other was never officially ID’d).

CarltonhotelwikiThe similarities between the two crime scenes led law enforcement to dub the killer the “Times Square Ripper.”

The Ripper targeted vulnerable sex workers in an area so sleazy, a stretch of it was nicknamed “The Minnesota Strip” for all the teenage runaways from Middle America who ended up there.

It wasn’t long before police caught the Times Square Ripper. He was nabbed by New Jersey police later that month in a North Jersey motel, where he had tortured a teenage runaway.

After matching his fingerprints, comparing handwriting samples to his signature on the motel registry, and finding a “trophy room” in his home of items belonging to the dead women, the police had their man.

RichardcottinghamRichard Cottingham (left) was a mid-30s computer programmer who worked in Manhattan and lived in New Jersey with his family.

By all accounts a clean-cut guy, he was convicted of the murders of five women and sentenced to life in a New Jersey prison.

[Top photo: by Andreas Feininger, 1984; middle photo: the Travel Inn today; third photo: The Seville Hotel today, renamed the Carlton; fourth photo: Richard Cottingham]