Posts Tagged ‘Kit Burns’

When dog vs. rat fights entertained the city

February 3, 2011

New York after the Civil War had a feral edge.

Amid the poverty, crime, and gangs that packed the Bowery, Five Points, and waterfront districts, a brutal pastime reached new heights in popularity: rat-baiting—pitting a terrier against a rat until they fought to the death.

And no dive was more famous for its rat-baiting than Kit Burns’ Sportsmen’s Hall at 273 Water Street (illustrated at right and below).

“The pits, at Kit Burns’ and elsewhere, were uscreened boxes, with zinc-lined wooden walls eight feet long and four and a half feet high,” wrote Luc Sante in his must-read account of 19th century Bowery, Low Life.

“Matches typically drew no fewer than one hundred betting spectators, from all walks of life, with purses starting at $125. A good rat dog could kill a hundred rats in half an hour to forty-five minutes….”

But not all New Yorkers considered rat-baiting morally okay.

A New York Times article about 273 Water Street (now luxury apartments, of course) quoted Edward Winslow Martin’s 1868 The Secrets of the Great City:

“Most of our readers have witnessed a dog fight in the streets. Let them imagine the animals surrounded by a crowd of brutal wretches whose conduct stamps them as beneath the struggling beasts, and they will have a fair idea of the scene at Kit Burns.”’

The sport died out by the 20th century, thanks to the new ASPCA.