Posts Tagged ‘crime in New York’

The “Bridge of Sighs” over a downtown prison

January 4, 2012

Venice’s “Bridge of Sighs,” built in 1602, connected the city’s prisons to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace.

The name comes from a Byron poem suggesting that condemned prisoners walking back over the bridge would view Venice and then sigh before being locked up for years—or executed.

New York had its own Bridge of Sighs. It linked the criminal court building and the infamous Tombs prison bounded by Centre, Franklin, Elm (Lafayette), and Leonard Streets.

The inspiration for the name is the same. “The span was called ‘the Bridge of Sighs’ because condemned prisoners passed over it on the way to their deaths,” explains

“The gallows were set up in the courtyard near the Bridge of Sighs and taken down immediately afterwards.

“Before the state began employing the electric chair at Ossining and Auburn prisons, the Tombs gallows had hanged some 50 convicted murderers.”

The postcard above shows the Bridge of Sighs connecting the criminal court building on the left with the new Tombs built in 1902 on the right.

Based on what says about gallows in the prison yard, plus the fact that the last hanging at the Tombs took place in the 19th century, there must have been a previous Bridge of Sighs connecting the first Tombs, constructed in 1838.

Perhaps this is it, in an illustration from the NYPL Digital Collection.

A prostitution scandal hits 1870s New York

June 14, 2010

Houses of ill repute thrived in post–Civil War New York. The city’s population was exploding, and poverty bred a criminal underclass mostly ignored by the police.

That’s where Red Light Lizzie and Jane the Grabber come in.

These two madams led rival gangs of “grabbers” or procurers—recruiting young women new to the city with promises of a well-paying job.

Instead, the girls, many from wealthy backgrounds, were put to work in the hundreds of brothels all over the city.

(Above, what a refined young lady of the day looked like.)

Lizzie and Jane were real pros. They had business offices and even sent out monthly circulars to clients advertising the newest girls they’d procured.

But after so many girls from upper-class families disappeared into the city’s underworld, the public became outraged. This “grabber scandal” of 1875 resulted in Jane getting arrested.

It’s not clear what happened to Lizzie. Whether she went to prison or left New York in the wake of the scandal, surely another madam took her place.