Posts Tagged ‘Bowery Mission’

The forgotten men waiting on a Bowery breadline

January 15, 2018

Bowler hats, thin shoes, and shabby coats that need a good washing—what the men on this Bowery breadline in 1910 are wearing tells us everything we need to know about them.

The bars they’ve lined up next to are advertising Ehret’s and Schaefer beer, both once manufactured in Manhattan (Schaefer eventually relocated to Brooklyn.)

[George Bain Collection/LOC]

The breadline of hungry men in Freeman Alley

February 22, 2011

This narrow little passage off Rivington Street between Chrystie Street and the Bowery now attracts well-heeled, hipster New Yorkers looking for a table at retro Freemans restaurant, at the end of the alley.

But in 1909, there was a different kind of clientele in Freeman Alley craving a meal—desperate men on a breadline.

The breadline stemmed from the Bowery Mission, which had just relocated to nearby 227 Bowery. That building, a former coffin factory, was remodeled so its rear entrance opened to the back of Freeman Alley. Apparently the alley’s end wasn’t closed at the time.

That’s where Bowery Mission planners wanted the breadline to form. So night after night, men queued up in Freeman Alley, hoping for some food.

Freeman Alley is a bit of a mystery. No one is sure if it honors early 19th century surveyor Uzal Freeman, or if the name refers to the Second African Burial Ground, a cemetery for black New Yorkers on the site of Sara Roosevelt Park that was closed in 1853.

[NYPL Digital Gallery photo of the Bowery Mission Breadline]

Hunger and hopelessness on the Bowery

September 30, 2009

If New York had to nominate one street as its most rock-bottom skid row ever, it would probably have to be the Bowery. Not the Bowery of 2009, of course, with its influx of luxe hotels and boutiques.

bowerybreadline.jpgI’m thinking of the Bowery of 1909, where down-on-their-luck men stood on bread lines and passed time in 15-cent hotel rooms, as these Library of Congress photos show.

If a man found himself on the Bowery, that was pretty much it for him. He’d sunk as low as you could go, and things weren’t going to get better.

Theodore Dreiser understood this when he wrote Sister Carrie. It’s an underrated turn-of-the-century New York novel chronicling the rise of a young, ambitious actress (kind of a Carrie Bradshaw of the 1890s) juxtaposed with the fall of her older common-law husband. 

Sister Carrie ends with the husband, the unemployed, weakened, and abandoned Hurstwood, committing suicide in a Bowery flophouse:

Boweryflophouse“Hurstwood laid down his fifteen cents and crept of with weary steps to his allotted room. It was a dingy affair—wooden, dusty, hard. A small gas-jet furnished sufficient light for so rueful a corner.

“‘Hm!’ He said, clearing his throat and locking the door.

“Now he began leisurely to take off his clothes, but stopped first with his coat, and tucked it along the crack under the door. His vest he arranged in the same place. His old wet, cracked hat he laid softly upon the table. Then he pulled off his shoes and laid down.

“It seemed as if he thought for a while, for now he arose and turned the gas out, standing calmly in the blackness, hidden from view. After a few moments, in which he reviewed nothing, but merely hesitated, he turned the gas on again, but applied no match. Even then he stood there, hidden wholly in that kindness which is night, while the uprising fumes filled the room. When the odour reached his nostrils, he quit his attitude and fumbled for the bed.

“‘What’s the use?’ he said, weakly, as he stretched himself to rest.”