Posts Tagged ‘Charles Dickens in New York City’

New York City’s free-roaming, trash-eating pigs

November 18, 2013

NicolinocalyopigFrom its earliest colonial days, New York produced lots of trash.

What wasn’t dumped in the rivers by private carting companies or scavenged by rag-pickers piled up on streets, producing a terrible stench described as  “a nasal disaster.

The image above, by Italian painter Nicolino Calyo, shows trendily dressed Bowery Boys in the 1840s, unfazed by a pig beside them.

In an era before street cleaners and a real sanitation department, the metropolis relied on one tactic: free-roaming pigs, who fed on household food scraps tossed into the gutters.

Fivepoints1827Swine didn’t just eat trash in poor neighborhoods, like Five Points (above in 1827, with fat sows mixed into the crowds). Pigs could be found on more upscale streets as well.

Charles Dickens made much of their presence when he was touring Broadway in American Notes, a book about his travels in 1842:

“Two portly sows are trotting up behind this carriage, and a select party of half-a-dozen gentlemen hogs have just now turned the corner,” wrote Dickens. “Here is a solitary swine lounging homeward by himself. He has only one ear, having parted with the other to vagrant-dogs in the course of his city rambles. . . . They are the city scavengers, these pigs.”

In 1849, the city drove thousands of them toward the northern reaches of the city, and by 1860, swine had been banished above 86th Street—where there were still sparsely populated enclaves of shantytowns and rural villages.

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By the 1870s, the city stopped dumping refuse in the rivers, and a decade later, the first garbage incinerators are built. In the 1890s, George Waring’s “White Wings” finally cleaned the city up.

Above: no more pigs, but New York still needed horses to cart away trash and ashes, now kept curbside in barrels, as this 1897 Alice Austen photo shows.

The Tombs: New York’s notoriously named prison

May 2, 2013

Can you imagine if the city of today sold postcards of Rikers Island?

At the turn of the last century, however, it apparently was no big deal to put an image of New York’s house of detention on penny postcards and sell them to tourists.

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This city jail was built in 1902, taking its nickname from the infamous penitentiary that had occupied the same site since 1838.

That first Tombs had been modeled on an Egyptian mausoleum. The ungainly building, where accused men and women lived while awaiting trial, occupied an entire block on Centre Street. Unfortunately constructed on swampy, stinky land over the polluted Collect Pond, it immediately began to sink into the ground.

“What is this dismal fronted pile of bastard Egyptian, like an enchanter’s palace in a melodrama?”, Charles Dickens reportedly wrote in his 1842 book chronicling his trip to the U.S., American Notes.

That’s the Bridge of Sighs connecting the jail to the courts building—named after the original Bridge of Sighs in Venice.