Thursday, August 28, 2014

Help us pick new topics for the Bowery Boys podcast!

Thanks for voting! The poll is now closed.  We're off to turn your opinions into future Bowery Boys podcasts.  Top results: More neighborhood-centric history, true crime and law enforcement, and shows on early history. 


We've got our podcasts planned out for the next few months, but we need your help in determining the types of subjects to focus on for the next six months. And of course I can always use your advice for ideas here for the blog.

With that in mind, please vote in the poll below. Choose three selections from the list of topic categories below. You can vote once a day if you'd like. We'll take the feedback and use this information to create our upcoming programming. Thanks for your input!

If you have any particular ideas that don't seem to fit within these categories, please email your suggestion to us! Our email address is (and you can copy Tom at

The Women's Peace Parade, a moody anti-war protest in 1914

Give Peace A Chance: Women take to the streets in a stunning parade of mourning

Below are some pictures of what's possibly New York City's first anti-war protest organized by women, on August 29, 1914.

War had erupted that summer in Europe, sparked by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in late June and unfurling into a continent-wide catastrophe, as countries entered the fray on either side of the conflict.  Within weeks of the conflict, New Yorkers with strong ties to individual nations were raising money and even boarding ships to fight alongside their distant countrymen.

In other cities with sizable European populations -- such as Montreal -- people were already marching, calling for an end to the conflict.  And leading this call were women already involved in social organizations, in particular, suffragists with networks that reached into high society.

Protesting war has been a touchy issue in New York City. [See the Civil War Draft Riots for such a protest gone wrong.]  The mayor had expressly forbade parades in support of individual nations on New York streets lest a microscopic version of the European conflict erupt here.  Anti-war was often associated with socialist organizations and indeed, that August, several did march in Union Square.  But these were comprised largely of men.

Which makes the Women's Peace Parade so unusual.  Prominent women met at the Hotel McAlpin in mid-August to plan what was essentially a mourning parade, with its participants -- from all walks of life -- dressed in black as though in a funeral procession. (As you can see in the pictures, many women also chose to wear white in a symbol of peacetime, garnished with black accessories.)

Many people didn't quite understand what a peace protest even meant, seeing it as a wasted effort. One letter writer to the New York Times asked. "Will any of the women who intend to parade in protest of the war explain what they mean to accomplish by such a demonstration?"

While the parade drew from prominent individuals in the suffrage movement, others were simply not convinced.  Carrie Chapman Catt, one of America's most famous suffragists, remarked, "If anybody thinks that a thousand, or a million, women marching through New York or talking about peace in the abstract will have any effect on the situation in Europe, it is because they don't know the situation in Europe."

But, in fact, there was a motivation.  One of New York's leading activists Harriet Stanton Blanch -- daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton -- was very succinct about their motivation. "This is a movement for actual work. We intend to do something definite. We wish to have a meeting at The Hague Peace Conference called."

The parade began in the afternoon, marching down Fifth Avenue from 58th Street down to Union Square. Women who either lived or shopped along the avenue now marched in formal procession down it, accompanied by the "ominous beat of muffled drums."  There was occasional applause but otherwise "the general silence of the great gathering was considered the best evidence of understanding." [source]

Among the marchers were Lillian Wald and the nurses of Henry Street Settlement.

The skies were appropriately gray.  Some participants hoped for rain actually.  "Every woman in the slow-moving line wore some badge of mourning, either a band of black around her sleeve or a bit of crepe fluttering at her breast, as a token of the black death which is hovering over the European battlefields." [source]

The parade marshal was the young Portia Willis, a magnetic lecturer on the suffragist circuit. .

While the organizers announced there was to be only one flag on display in the parade -- the flag for peace -- one other crept into the proceedings.  "The smallest Boy Scout was Alfred Greenwald, 4 years old, who ... attracted much attention.  Little Alfred unknowingly broke the most stringent rule of the parade by carrying a flag.  He carried a United States flag but it was furled." [source]

Unfortunately I was not able to locate any pictures of the second half of the parade -- with 250 African-American women in solidarity, followed by "a number of Indian and Chinese women" and carloads of elderly women and babies.

Those who witnessed the parade would not soon forget it, especially in the following months as the conflict that would become known as World War I grew to eventually encompass the United States.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Farewell New Amsterdam! Peter Stuyvesant vs the world, reflecting on the handover between the Dutch and the English

On August 26, 1664, English ships sailed into the harbor and essentially ran the Dutch out of their port town of New Amsterdam, renaming it New York.  Despite this momentous event, little actually changed for the townspeople themselves whose allegiances were more for their own livelihood and that of their neighbors, and less for the distant power who relied on the city as an anchor to the New World.

Nobody wanted a fight -- not the English, not the residents.  The only one angling to defend the town was its director-general Peter Stuyvesant.

He had been director-general since 1647, transforming the scraggly outpost into, well, a slightly more presentable one. But for all his firm guidance -- transforming the government, the infrastructure, the defenses of what would become one of the world's great cities -- it was still no match for a fleet of powerful warships.

But Stuyvesant wanted to fight.  His blood and toil had gone into improving this town. Perhaps he did not consider it the domain of the West India Company so much as his. He ripped up entreaties by the English which had promised safety to the townspeople of New Amsterdam. He attempted to corral the soldiers at Fort Amsterdam (its walls woefully unprepared for battle) and rally the spirits of the townfolk, but his provocations were ignored.  Angered that their ambitious leader would prefer battle over acquiescence, the residents presented Stuyvesant with a politely-worded remonstrance.

Everybody signed it, including Stuyvesant's own son.  For the men and women of New Amsterdam, it was a document of peace.  For Stuyvesant, a surrender.

"...[W]e humbly, and in bitterness of heart, implore your Honors not to reject the conditions of so generous a foe, but to be pleased to meet him in the speediest, best and most reputable manner.  Otherwise, which God forbid, we are obliged to protest before God and the world; and to call down upon your Honors the vengeance of Heaven for all the innocent blood which shall be shed in consequence of your Honors' obstinacy..." [source]

It became Peter Stuyvesant versus everyone.  If he did not back down, the subtext of the petition ensured he would be removed by force.

The following day, on August 27, a delegation of English advisers met with locals at Stuyvesant's home at the Battery to arrange the handover and draft the so-called Articles of Capitulation.  Over the next few days, further assurances were made to the Dutch residences of New Amsterdam, securing their property and protecting their liberty and religious freedoms.

On September 8, 1664, the British flag was raised over Fort Amsterdam, now named Fort James, and the wild town of New Amsterdam officially became New York.

As the New York Times noted yesterday, nobody in New York is exactly celebrating this unusual anniversary.  There may not be any Dutch parades or ceremonies in Battery Park, but I suggest you take an hour or two over this Labor Day Weekend and appreciate the remnants of Dutch symbolism that sill exist in the city today, from the official state flag to the many street names that still reflect their Dutch origins.

Here are a few articles from the back catalog to inspire your appreciation of Dutch New York:

-- Smoke a Peter Stuyvesant! New Amsterdam leader becomes a cigarette, the "international passport to smoking pleasure" [link]

-- Boston vs. New York: You think this is just about sports? Origins of an epic rivalry, from Puritans to the Super Bowl [link]

-- Dr. Johannes La Montagne: Manhattan's first physician [link]

-- How some rough Saint Patrick's Day hangovers almost destroyed New Amsterdam [link]

-- Rediscovering the rediscovery of a 350-year-old city view [link]

-- Lovelace's Tavern: Early New York history, under foot [link]

-- New York and Brooklyn's first ferry -- for a handful of wampum and the toot of a horn [link]

 -- A Very Special New Amsterdam Christmas [link]

 -- Name That Neighborhood: Wall Street Blues [link]

And our very old podcast on Peter Stuyvesant from 2007! [link]  You can also listen to it here.  This show is ancient.  We sound so young!  Our early shows were so brief,  so perhaps Stuyvesant is due a re-do in the near future.

Images courtesy New York Public Library

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Brooklyn Dodgers vs. Cincinnati Reds at Ebbets Field -- in the first Major League baseball game ever broadcast on television

Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, N. Y.

Seventy five years ago today, an extraordinary tradition began -- televised Major League baseball!

The location was appropriately Ebbets Field, one of baseball's legendary 'field of dreams'. The home team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, was pitted against the Cincinnati Reds in a key National League match-up. Both teams were quite strong that year, although it was Cincinnati at the top of the standings.

Fans who packed the stands at Ebbets that steamy Saturday afternoon noticed some rather unusual contraptions had invaded the field -- bulky television cameras.  "One 'eye' or camera was placed near the visiting players' dugout," reported the New York Times. "The other was in a second-tier box back of the catcher's box and commanded an extensive view of the field when outfield plays were made."

The experiment was inspired by the technological marvels at the 1939 World's Fair in Flushing-Meadows.  In fact, since few people actually owned TVs then, it was in David Sarnoff's RCA exhibition hall where most people saw the broadcast, courtesy W2XBS (a precursor to WNBC-TV).

Below: A view of one of the cameras broadcasting the game.  Ads for GEM Razor Blades and Calvert Whiskey can be seen across the field. They became the first sponsor of a televised baseball game, although it was purely accidental!

Up until that point, the 400-odd receivers throughout the city -- owned mostly by RCA executives and technicians -- received broadcasts from a studio in Rockefeller Center. (For more information, check our our New York and the Birth of Television podcast.)

This was not the first baseball game ever broadcast;  a college game between Columbia and Princeton was beamed out to the handful of received that May, near the opening of the World's Fair.  But it attempting to broadcast a game with broader appeal, like the Dodgers-Reds face off, Sarnoff and his engineers invented a new way of interacting with major sport.

Sports of mass appeal had been heard on the radio for over 15 years by this point. Interestingly, New York teams originally blanched at the idea of radio broadcasts, thinking they would reduce stadium attendance.  Broadcasters were even banned from the field for a few years. [source]

Adding a live visual element was crucial not only in popularizing the game of baseball -- uniting fans of a certain team beyond the borders of a stadium or a city -- but in popularizing the idea of television itself.  Televised sports, invented here in 1939, had the unique potential of bringing together masses across the globe, as anybody caught up in this year's World Cup hysteria or last year's Summer Olympics fandom can attest.**

It's to the credit of the television engineers that their feat seems not to have disrupted the game.  Coverage in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle neglects to mention the cameras*, and the New York Times mentions it only in a small article.

In the end, the teams split the two-game event -- the Reds one the first (5-2), the Dodgers the second (6-1).  The Reds would eventually win the National League pendant and return to the New York for the World Series, facing (and eventually losing quite badly to) the New York Yankees.

*However, RCA ran an advertisement in the Brooklyn paper on August 24, 1939, to drum up a big crowd for their inaugural broadcast:

**As commenter Andrew points out, portions of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin were also broadcast live to several countries.
Top picture of Ebbets Field courtesy Museum of City of New York

Friday, August 22, 2014

Rudolph Valentino, the seductive, tragic idol of the Jazz Age

PODCAST  Rudolph Valentino was an star from the early years of Hollywood, but his elegant, randy years in New York City should not be forgotten.  They helped make him a premier dancer and a glamorous actor. And on August 23, 1926, this is where the silent film icon died.

Valentino arrived in Ellis Island in 1913, one of millions of Italians heading to America to begin a new life.  In his case, he was escaping a restless life in Italy and a set of mounting debts! But he quickly distinguished himself in New York thanks to his job as a taxi dancer at the glamorous club Maxim's, where he mingled with one particular Chilean femme fatale.

He headed to Hollywood and became a huge film star in 1921, thanks to the film The Sheik, which set his reputation as the consummate Latin Lover.  Throughout his career, he returned to New York to make features (in particular, those as his Astoria movie studio), and he once even judged a very curious beauty pageant at Madison Square Garden.  

In 1926, he headed here not only to promote his sequel Son Of The Sheik, but to display his masculinity after a scathing article blamed him for the effeminacy of the American male!

Sadly, however, he tragically and suddenly (and, some would say, mysteriously) died at a Midtown hospital.  People were so shocked by his demise that the funeral chapel (in the area of today's Lincoln Center) was mobbed for almost a week, its windows smashed and the streets paralyzed by mourners -- or where those people paid by the film studio?

Here are the details of the tragedy that many consider one of the most important cultural events of the 1920s.

ALSO: We are proud to introduce to you -- POLA!

To get this week's episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #170: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino


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The young dancer was employed at Maxims on 110 West 38th Street.  From a 1916 guidebook: "A famous 'smart' restaurant. A la carte. Music, dancing, cabaret, from 6:30 to close. High prices. Special ladies luncheon at noon."  Valentino would use his skills as a struggling actor in Los Angeles and incorporate it into his film work.  Below: Valentino with Alice Terry

Valentino's breakthrough film -- The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  "He paints the town red!" "Each kiss flamed with danger!"  Like many of his movies, the plot seems taken from his life.  Valentino spent some time as a youth in Paris, dancing and dining his way through the city (and into debt). (NYPL)

The Sheik, the film that made his reputation:


From Blood and Sand (1922) -- In this one, the Italian Valentino plays a Spanish toreador. (NYPL)

Mineralava Beauty Clay, the sponsor of Valentino and Rambova's cross-country tango trip:

Newsreel footage of Valentino at Madison Square Garden judging the Mineralava Beauty Clay competition:

The Hotel Ambassador at Park Avenue and 51 Street.  This is where Valentino boxed the reporter (on the rooftop) to defend his masculinity and where he was staying on August 15, 1926, when he collapsed.

Most people are familiar with the Ambassador due to another iconic film star and her memorable photo shoot (by Ed Feingersh) on the rooftop:

Rudolph in Monsieur Beaucaire, filmed at the Famous Players (later Paramount) studio in Astoria, Queens:

Downstairs, in the studio commissary, with Valentino (at left) and the cast of the film.  Today this room is a restaurant named The Astor Room, which features cocktails named for silent film stars. There's even a Valentino-themed cocktail called Blood and Sand!

Polyclinic Hospital at 345 West 50th Street, where Valentino died on August 23, 1926.  The building still exists today as an apartment complex. (Picture courtesy Museum of the City of New York)

West 50th Street. Polyclinic Hospital.

Pictures of the mad, chaotic crowds outside Frank Campbell's Funeral Church during the week of August 23-30, 1926:

Pola Negri, who made quite a scene at the funeral of Valentino (NYPL):

From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 30, 1926

Newsreel footage of his funeral in Midtown Manhattan -- from Frank Campbell's (in today's Lincoln Center area) to St Malachy's on West 49th Street:


Note: Don't say we didn't warn you! There's a lot of material that seems to be based on speculation.  Thoughts of possible sexual adventures have sent many authors into wild fits of imagination. (  Enter the back catalog of Valentino at your own risk:

Rudolph Valentino: A Wife's Memories of an Icon by Natacha Rambova and Hala Pickford
The Valentino Mystique: The Death and Afterlife of a Silent Film Idol by Allen R Ellenberger and Edoardo Ballerini
Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino by Emily W. Leider
The Valentino Affair: The Jazz Age Murder Scandal That Shocked New York Society and Gripped The World by Colin Evans
The Intimate Life of Rudolph Valentino by Jack Scagnetti
Falcon Lair -- an indispensable online resource for all things Valentino
Publications sited:  New York Times, New Yorker, Newark News, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York Sun

Almost his entire film catalog is available to watch for free on YouTube.  These include The Sheik, Blood And Sand, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Son of the Sheik and his Astoria-made film Monsieur Beaucaire.  Another film he made in Astoria -- A Sainted Devil -- has been lost with no extant copies available.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Joyful mourning: The Lower East Side honors a forgotten star

An extraordinary photograph of Yiddish theater stars!  Front row: Jacob Adler, Sigmund Feinman, Sigmund Mogulesko, Rudolph Marx;  Back row: Mr. Krastoshinsky and David Kessler

For a passionate sub-set of New Yorkers, Mogulesko was everything.

The Romanian-born theater star Sigmund (also written as Zigmund or Zelig) Mogulesko came to America in 1886 already a star of Europe's Yiddish theater scene. Intrepid performers like Mogulesko helped create the Yiddish theater circuit during this decade -- and, by extension, vaudeville as well, since so many of its performers would start here.

When he opened the Rumanian Opera House (later, the National Jewish Theatre) on Second Avenue and Houston Street, Mogulesko wasn't just opening a stage. It became a vital instrument of the community and a key destination in New York's thriving 'little Broadway', opera stages and vaudeville houses along Houston Street and Second Avenue uniquely catering to the immigrants of the Lower East Side.

Mogulesko became America's most popular Yiddish theater star by the 1900s, a singer and comedian with an uncanny ability to pluck the heart strings. His debut in Coquettish Ladies required a myriad of costume changes, from old to young, male to female. A Jewish historian wrote, "A born genius he was, and his personality was as marvelous as his art." [source]

Below:  Mogulesko in Joseph Lateiner's The Dybbuk (performed in Odessa in 1884) playing the character "Grandmother Eve"

At the same time, he was little known in other parts of New York. (He allegedly never learned to speak English.)  The more formal elements of the "legitimate" stage sometimes looked at the successes of the Lower East Side theater scene with bemusement and a little jealousy. "These alien citizens have a theater which they thoroughly comprehend and esteem," said the New York Times in 1914. [source]

Mogulesko, at right, with his son Julius:

This accounts for the passion held by many for the performers of Yiddish stage, the embrace of an entertainment form that was undeniably theirs in language and custom.  And this also accounts for the great outpouring of grief when one of its most acclaimed stars -- like Sigmund Mogulesko -- passed away.

On February 4, 1914, the great actor died in his home at Stuyvesant Street, eliciting a response from the Lower East Side that, from the outside, must have appeared quite hysterical. (Below: From the New York Sun, February 7, 1914)

His memorial service at his theater on Houston and Second Avenue caused a spectacular riot of mourning.  Over 20,000 people arrived at the theater, fighting past 50 police officers swinging their clubs.  "The crowd tore the theatre doors from their hinges and shattered their glass panels." [source]

A funeral procession lined the streets all along Second Avenue, from the Hebrew Actors Club (at 31 East 7th Street) to the theater.  The hearse transporting the actor's body was engulfed "in the sea of those who hummed with queer breaks in their voices bits of the songs which had endeared the author to them." [source]  Not since the explosion of the General Slocum steamship had the Lower East Side been filled with such intense grief.

Among those who spoke at his memorial service were Jacob Adler (father of method acting coach Stella Adler) and Boris Thomashefsky, a later inspiration for the Marx Brothers and Mel Brooks.  Sadness -- and a certain kind of joy -- permeated the service, his greatest roles and contributions to the local theater scene lauded.  It was now a vital industry of New York, one that would not have thrived as it did without him.

As Moguloesko's coffin was taken from the church, drawn by eight black horses, and carried through the falling show, all of Delancey Street was lined with thousands of mourners, watching as the hearse, now obscured in a blizzard, headed onto the Williamsburg Bridge for its eventual destination -- Washington Cemetery.

All photos (except the newspaper) from the Second Avenue Yiddish Theater Digital Archives.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

History In The Making 8/19: White House Down Edition

 Above: An engraving the gutted Capitol building by William Strickland (LOC)

Two hundred years ago this week (on August 24, 1814), the British invaded Washington DC and torched not just the White House, but a great many other government buildings. "Of the Senate house, the President's palace, the barracks, the dockyard, etc., nothing could be seen except heaps of smoking ruins" [Eyewitness To History]

The most recent New York Times' Streetscapes column by Christopher Gray explores Manhattan's aerial bridges and mentioned the Bowery Boys website and our recent photo gallery by Alexander Rea of the Gimbels traverse.  [New York Times]

You know what closes next week FOREVER? Kim's Video. Crank up your DVD players and go visit them one final time before they close on August 25. [Jeremiah's Vanishing NY]

Help save the Subway Inn, a classic dive bar near Bloomingdale's that's being shuttered for -- what else -- a luxury apartment building. [New York Neon]

Some fascinating history from Cincinnati -- a fiery courthouse riot that erupted in 1884 over the course of three bloody days. [Murder By Gaslight]

The Panama Canal opened 100 years ago on August 15, 1914.  The United State maintained a presence in the Canal Zone until 1999. [Smithsonian]

Below: The American steamship SS Ancon makes the first official transit through the locks of the Panama Canal, August 15, 1914:

Friday, August 15, 2014

The cocaine fiends of the Gilded Age: New York stages an intervention for its over-the-counter drug problem

We once lived in a world when cocaine was in nearly everything -- pain relievers, muscle relaxers, wine, fountain drinks, cigarettes, hair tonics, feminine products.  It was therapeutic, a "nerve stimulant," a natural remedy and an over-the-counter drug sold in a variety of forms and doses. The coca plant, to many, was "the most tonic plant of the vegetable world." [source]

The coca byproduct popped up in a variety of medicinal and recreational forms in the 1880s.  In particular, New Yorkers were wild about cocaine, especially those in the medical community.

"The therapeutic uses of cocaine are so numerous that the value of this wonderful remedy seems only beginning to be appreciated," said the New York Times in 1885.   "The new uses to which cocaine has been applied with success in New York include hay fever, catarrh and toothache and it is now being experimented with in cases of seasickness." They later report that even asthma could be eradicated by it.

Cocaine was the wonder drug of the early 1880s.  Not only could it cure disease; it could also dampen the senses.  In 1884, a doctor presented his findings at the College of Physicians and Surgeons (23rd/Park Avenue), heralding the successes of "anesthetic cocaine" in numbing patients during ear and eye surgeries.  It was even given as a pain reliever to horses.

A cocaine ad touting its use for "female complaints, rectal diseases":

By the 1890s, cocaine would be used as an anesthetic in a variety of cases, even injected directly into the spine.  As a miracle solution, "[t]hen came cocaine to claim her crown." [source]

There was even a cocaine district in lower Manhattan -- around the cross streets of William and Fulton -- where more of the drug was produced than perhaps any other place in the United States, by such manufacturers as McKesson & Robbins (95-97 Fulton Street) and New York Quinine & Chemical Works (114 William Street).

Below: Helmbold's Drug Store on Broadway and 17th Street, in Ladies Mile, would have sold a host of cocaine-related products in the 1880s. (NYPL)

"Cocaine looked to be the saviour of doctors the world over," wrote author Dominic Streatfeild in his book Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography,  "but, apart from its use as an anesthetic in surgical procedures, it was not really curing anything; it was just making people feel great for awhile."

By the mid-1880s, there seemed to be little doubt of cocaine's habit-forming qualities, but there were some notable holdouts.  William A. Hammond, the Surgeon General for the United States during the Civil War, didn't think so, frequently experimenting upon himself and later batting away concerns from some notable Brooklyn doctors.

"At first I injected one grain and experienced an exhilaration of spirits similar to that produced by two or three glasses of champagne," he told a newspaper in 1886.

But medical professionals soon grew weary as their hospitals and asylums soon filled with cocaine addicts, many who supplemented their habits with opium or morphine.

"No medical technique with such a short history  has claimed so many victims as cocaine," reported the New York Medical Record in 1887.

Sometimes it would be the doctors and nurses themselves that were trapped "in the clutches of cocaine." (The Cinemax show The Knick depicts this disturbing conflict within its main character, Dr. John Thackery, who at a certain point injects the drug straight into his penis and between his toes.)

At right: A 1900 ad for an at-home drug therapy program provided by the St. James Society.  Interestingly, this was located on Tin Pan Alley and near the heart of the pre-Times Square theater district!

From a cursory perusal of newspaper from the late 1890s, one can find a notable doctor or two succumbing to drug addiction almost once a month. "COCAINE KILLS A DOCTOR," blared a headline from January 2, 1898.  Another physician "WAS CRAZED BY COCAINE." went another in 1895.

The euphoria over cocaine was over.  The number of cocaine addiction cases blossomed through the 1890s, just as moralists and social reformers were looking to eliminate vice from city streets.  In 1893, the first law aimed at cocaine (along with morphine, opium and chloral) made it available only by prescription which, like so many later pharmaceuticals, was merely a speed bump for the serious user.

Hysteria soon followed. Cocaine was associated with crime, with occultists, with loose women, with poor people, with African-American, Asians and Jews.  Here's a rather startling quote from a druggist in 1895: "[W]ith the exception of a few abandoned white women, its use is confined almost exclusively to the colored folk." (Several years later, the New York Times took this assertion to the next level.)

Meanwhile, newspapers seemed only concerned with the numerous rich, white addicts. And, of course, the many innocents who were lured by dealers on the streets and playgrounds.

Below: An illustration from the New York Tribune, 1912.  A 1907 law prohibited most sales of cocaine over the counter, creating an illicit 'street market'.  The Tribune dramatically displays the ways in which cocaine and other drugs were sold.  Note the headline underneath it!

Although still a legal substance, most products began advertising themselves as an alternative to cocaine. In 1895, you might find products that touted cocaine as a pain reliever;  ten years later, medicines were now proclaiming they were cocaine-free.

Below: A 1904 ad for "goat lymph tablets" reminds its readers that its free of "injurious drugs."

It would take several years to make cocaine entirely illegal.  During the 1910s, those who wanted it could make arrangements with a pharmacist, forge a prescription or, when all else failed, just rob the warehouses which stored cocaine.

In 1911, the drug was now a "poisonous snake," "the perfect intoxicant of the devil," its original uses in the United States now entirely forgotten and replaced with safer, less addictive alternatives.  (Dentists, for instance, would discover Novocaine.)

A series of local and federal laws in the mid-1900s assured that cocaine and other habit-forming drugs would be ushered off the market within the decade.

The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, passed in 1914, imposed stiff taxes on coca and opiate products, virtually eliminating any legal market for the drugs and insuring its manufacture and distribution be driven underground.

And just in time, too, for Prohibition was just around the corner!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Newsboys strike 125 years ago, but it wasn't yet a musical

Newsies hawk newspapers to riders of a passing trolley [LOC]

One hundred and twenty five years ago this week, hundreds of newsboys took to the streets in protest of unfair pricing and competition practices.  It was not their first time and, most memorably, it would not be their last.

"For an hour or two they made things very lively on Park Row," said the New York Times, "parading the street and stirring up a great commotion." [source]

You're probably familiar with the newsboys strike which occurred ten years later, the inspiration for the film and Broadway musical Newsies, a major labor protest that lasted almost two weeks and actually affected the sales of New York's major newspapers. [You can download our podcast on the Newsboy Strike of 1899 here, on iTunes (#105), or listen to it below via SoundCloud.]

Battles between newspapers and their youngest independent employees had been waged several times in the past, mostly because publishers could reintroduce bad business practices once a certain generation of newsboys grew out of their jobs.  It would not be until the 20th century that newsstands -- and the adults that owned them -- would become the primary source for selling papers.

Three years earlier, in 1886, a strike by Brooklyn newsies against publishers in that city sparked riots that lasted almost two days.  Brooklyn boys would also join their Manhattan counterparts in protest on August 12, 1889.

Below: Brooklyn newsboys, 1900, photo by Lewis Hine

The newsies strike in 1889 would be unsuccessful, but it's notable for being incredibly similar to the more famous strike ten years later.

In 1889, the Evening World (the newspaper of Joseph Pulitzer) and the Evening Sun (owned by Charles Dana) bumped up the price of their bundles of 100 papers from 50 cents to 60 cents.  The kids revolted.  Pulitzer's paper would pull this same tactic ten years later on a new batch of newsies, this time raising the prices due to the popularity of the (largely media manufactured) Spanish-American War.  When the war was over and sales decreased, the World attempted to keep the higher price, joined in this scheme by William Randolph Hearst and his New York Journal. The kids again revolted, but more successfully.

Newsies were usually depicted in the press one of two ways -- pathetic whelps who latched on to any sign of good will or little criminals who were up to no good.  There was truth in both of these characterizations, but the stereotypes were often exaggerated.

The Times coverage of the 1889 strike upon the newspaper's competitors focused on the newsboys delinquent ways.  Of the strike, "[a] number of fights followed, and some of the boys were very roughly handled." A couple teenagers were dragged to the Tombs Prison Court, one for assaulting a police officer.

This less organized affair devolved into street gangs and attacks upon other newsies. "Several of the delivery wagons on the uptown routes had a serious time of it.  All the way up Broadway and on the west side they were followed by a howling mob of half-grown men and boys, who showered them with volleys of stones and brickbats at every opportunity."

At some point in the next decade, the price decreased back to 50 cents again.  When publishers would again attempt to raise the price, they would be met by a larger and more organized force.

Our 2010 podcast on the Newsboys Strike of 1899:

NOTE: Some girls also sold newspapers although I'm sticking with "newsboys" in this article as all the participants mentioned in the coverage of the 1889 event were young men.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lauren Bacall's Guide on How To Become A Successful Model in New York City, 1941

Lauren Bacall, the cinema and stage legend who died yesterday at age 89, was once the less enigmatic Betty Joan Perske, a New York girl with a lot of moxie.  As a sixteen year old, she ventured downtown from her home on the Upper West Side (84th Street, under the elevated train) to look for work as a model and actress.

In her great autobiography By Myself, she recounts her experiences as a teen model.  Go back in time and take her valuable advice on how to make it in the cutthroat world of the Garment District in 1941!

Know the finer places: "I asked a couple other girls how to find work modeling clothes on Seventh Avenue.  They said I should ... go down to certain Seventh Avenue buildings -- nothing really below 500 Seventh Avenue. The best houses were in 550 or 530 and you could squeeze in 495, but that was it -- anything below that was tacky."

Lie a little: At 498 Seventh Avenue, "[a] woman came out, looked at me, asked me about my experience -- I told her I had been a photographic model for several years (a white lie), that I was an actress, that I knew how to move and would certainly be a very good model."

Play act: "I kept telling myself, 'It's a part -- play it....'  Finally the woman asked me if I would try on one of the model dresses....I walked through the curtains.  Mr. Crystal asked me to turn -- I did, without falling down or getting dizzy..."

Dress the part:  "I spent the next week going through my scant wardrobe to make certain I had enough to wear to work.  Then a trip to Loehmann's in Brooklyn.  Loehmann's was a large store that stocked clothes from all the Seventh Avenue houses -- lower-priced clothes of unknown designers as well as the most expensive.... There were no dressing rooms in the store.  Women ran around in their slips, girdles and bras -- all shapes and sizes -- grabbing things from saleswomen as they brought them down. A madhouse."

Watch and learn:  At Crystal's, her first modeling house, "you undressed and either sat in a slip or put on a cotton smock.  There was a long make-up table with a chair for each of us....I watched [the older models] as they applied their make-up -- a base, then full eye make-up.  It didn't look heavy, but it was there. I did the best I could do with the face confronting me in the mirror."

Composure: "When I showed a dress and a buyer would ask to see it close to, I'd be motioned forward.  The buyer, male or female, would then feel the fabric, discuss it -- I'd stand there until I was dismissed.  An occasional male buyer would feel the goods a bit more than necessary and I never knew what to do.  I was petrified, though no one ever was really fresh, just suggestive -- just enough to make me aware that I'd better keep on my toes, protect myself."

Build from rejection:  She was laid off at Crystal's for being too thin (can you imagine?) but promptly got a job modeling evening gowns.  "I was much happier at Friedlander's than at Crystal's.  He laughed at all my little jokes, the other models were good girls (there were only two of them), the feeling was much cozier."

Plan your escape route: "The other girls seemed fairly uncomplicated to me -- they would keep on modeling until Mr. Right came along and then they'd get married and be all set."  But Betty wanted to be an actress.  On her lunch breaks, she would go up to Walgreen's at 44th and Broadway. Then this happened.

After six months she quit -- "I was not getting any closer to the stage in the Garment District" -- and eventually moved with her mother to 77 Bank Street in the West Village.  This allowed her a full time foray into theater work, first as an usher, then as a extra and bit part player.

But she still modeled for extra money, including a stint as a Montgomery Ward catalog model.   Although would soon move on to full-time acting, her experience as a model was invaluable once she was put in front of a movie camera.  Her cover work for Harper's Bazaar even got her noticed by director Howard Hawks.

Her debut in To Have And Have Not with future husband Humphrey Bogart electrified audiences.  Now as Lauren Bacall, she seemed to instantly generate magnetism. "Slumberous of eye and softly reedy along the lines of Veronica Lake," wrote Bosley Crowther for the New York Times, in her first film review," she acts in the quiet way of catnip and sings a song from deep down in her throat."

Or, Bacall might have said, she did the best she could do with the face confronting her in the mirror.