Posts Tagged ‘Newsboys’ Lodging House’

How New York celebrated Christmas in the 1910s

December 23, 2019

If you like to browse photos of early 20th century New York City, then you’ve seen the work of George Grantham Bain.

Bain wasn’t just a talented news photographer who started one of the first photo agencies. He was also a poetic chronicler of street life in the city, a man with a knack for creating visual narratives of how life was lived in New York—especially when it came to lives of the working men and women, the down and out, and kids.

The Christmas season was a prolific time for Bain, who captured dozens of images in the 1910s showing all the ways the holiday was celebrated in the city by the down and out, the young, and the forgotten.

The top two photos were taken outside a Salvation Army Christmas Dinner held at Grand Central Palace, an exhibition hall on 42nd Street. It was an annual event where 4,000 people, “found places at 60 long tables set on the main floor of the hall and extending practically from one side of it to the other,” wrote the New York Times in 1903.

Some people didn’t sit; they took home their holiday meal in baskets—like the woman in the center of the photo.

The third and fourth images show women and kids posing in front of a Christmas tree at what’s likely the Municipal Lodging House, the public city shelter for homeless men, women, and children at the end of 25th Street on the East Side.

We’re at one of the Newsboys’ Houses in the fifth image, above. Facilities for street kids who worked as newsies, bootblacks, flower sellers, and other jobs children often took were built in the late 19th century and funded by benevolent societies.

Some New Yorkers celebrated Christmas by peddling everything from trees to cheap toys to food, like these vendors under an elevated train.

Meanwhile, others spent the holiday delivering all the gifts picked out of toy stores and department stores. The ropes holding these boxes into the back of this delivery wagon don’t look very secure!

[All photos: Bain Collection/LOC]

The “Street Arabs” roaming Lower Manhattan

July 1, 2010

Urchins, gamins, Street Arabs—these were the tens of thousands of kids, mostly boys, who fended for themselves in the vast slums of post–Civil War New York City.

They slept in alleys and parks and made a living hawking newspapers and shining boots, congregating along Park Row, according to social reformer Jacob Riis in How the Other Half Lives:

“Whence this army of homeless boys? is a question often asked. The answer is supplied by the procession of mothers that go out and in at Police Headquarters the year round, inquiring for missing boys, often not until they have been gone for weeks and months, and then sometimes rather as a matter of decent form than from any real interest in the lad’s fate.”

Says one Street Arab Riis quotes:

“‘We wuz six,’ said an urchin of twelve or thirteen I came across in the Newsboys’ Lodging House, “and we ain’t got no father. Some on us had to go.’ And so he went, to make a living by blacking boots.”

[Photos by Jacob Riis, taken in the 1890s]