Posts Tagged ‘Herbert Asbury’

Where thieves met up at Broadway and Houston

June 18, 2010

Today, it’s prime Manhattan real estate, a location hosting trendy boutiques and upscale retailers.

But in the late 19th century, this heavily trafficked intersection was one center of the city’s criminal underworld, where late at night fences got their hands on all kinds of stolen goods.

Not surprisingly, police and politicians were paid off to look the other way.

Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York puts it like this:

“One of the notorious places of the city was the Thieves’ exchange in the 8th Ward, near Broadway and Houston St, where fences and criminals met each night and dickered openly over their beer and whiskey for jewelry and other loot.

“Annual retainers were paid to criminal lawyers and politicians and police received stated fees, and occasionally commission on gross business.”

New York City’s roller skating fad of 1884

February 24, 2010

Ice skating had already swept the city in the mid-1800s. But a few decades later, city residents took up a new recreational craze: skates on wheels.

They skated in newly built roller rinks, like the Cosmpolitan on Broadway in midtown, as well as on the street—as this 1893 illustration of girls skating on Park Avenue shows.

“Throughout the eighteen-eighties and much of the nineties roller skating was the principal pastime of citizens of every age and condition—business men went to work on skates, and skating parties were much in vogue among the fashionable,” writes Herbert Asbury in his 1929 book All Around the Town.

But it wasn’t just fun—some New Yorkers thought skates could fight crime.

“Several leading citizens and public officials seriously advocated equipping the police force with roller-skates, contending that a patrolman could then easily overtake a criminal,” Asbury states.

What fashionable ladies wore in the 1860s

April 27, 2009

If you think being a woman is tough now, imagine how arduous it was a hundred and thirty years ago, when fashion dictated a frighteningly elaborate clothing and makeup routine. 

fashion1870s“Once arrayed for a fete, especially if she had lost the bloom of youth, the butterfly of the eighteen sixties and early eighteen seventies staggered forth under the burden of an infinite variety of beautifying apparatus constructed of steel, iron, wire, cotton, wood, horsehair, and wool, all attached to her person by straps, tape, and mucilage,” wrote Herbert Asbury in 1929’s All Around the Town.

The look a woman of the time wanted involved a tiny waist and big breasts (attainable thanks to a steel corset), plump arms, small feet, and a “Grecian bend,” basically a butt supersized with the help of bustles and pads under her dress.

 fashion1870s2Hair was puffed up with the help of human-hair wigs or horsehair extensions. The face, neck, shoulders, and arms were painted with “vegetable rouge” as well as chalks and pastes. A coat of India ink darkened eyebrows.

Some fashionable chicks had their bodies coated in enamel—kind of  like a more time-consuming version of today’s spray-on tan.

“Many society women made regular tri-weekly trips to the enameling studio, while a few had coats put on to last anywhere from a week to two or three months,” Asbury wrote.

A hot babe of the 1870s, from All Around the Town