Notes for Chapter 1
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9—cheap food was easy to find at the pushcarts in Five Points. People have been selling food and goods on the streets of New York City since its founding. The earliest carts sold oysters. The real rush came in the late 1800s, though, when hundreds of thousands of Eastern European Jews landed in the city. Pushcarts allowed them to both support themselves with little capital and buy food and goods inexpensively. Here are some articles on the history of pushcarts: https://www.eldridgestreet.org/history/pushcarts-the-hustle-to-the-american-dream/, https://www.6sqft.com/from-oysters-to-falafel-the-complete-history-of-street-vending-in-nyc/, http://strangeside.com/new-york-pushcarts-and-peddlars/. There’s even a video of Lower East Side pushcarts, filmed around 1903!
9—a neighborhood where the signs were mostly in Yiddish. Jews have been immigrating to New York City since the mid 1600s. The earlier Jews were fleeing the Inquisition and came mostly from Portugal, Spain, and their colonies. But between 1880 and 1939, over a million Jews fled persecution in Eastern Europe and settled in New York, especially in the Lower East Side. Like many immigrant communities, this one was poor but vibrant.
10—“Bowery,” he said, his voice heavily accented. Bowery was the first thoroughfare in New York City. Originally a footpath used by native peoples, it became a street when the Dutch colonized. By the 1800s, it was an entertainment district mostly aimed at the masses, such as the residents of Five Points, rather than the wealthy. By Alby’s time, the Bowery had become fairly seedy, full of saloons, cheap lodging, and prostitutes. Here’s a great history of the area, including photos.
10—Trolleys rattled down the center of the street, while elevated train tracks lined the buildings on either side. Elevated trains came to New York in the 1860s and to the Bowery in 1878. While they provided public transportation, the trains were noisy and dirty, and their presence contributed to the Bowery’s decline. The el tracks were torn down in 1955. There are lots of great photos and some videos.
10—“Seven-cent lodging houses.” In Alby’s time, NYC was badly overcrowded. Seven-cent lodging houses were one option for the poor, and a small step up from sleeping on the street. Jacob Riis described them in 1890, and they were also photographed.
13—There were cheap places to eat in the Bowery, restaurants where the menus showed ham and beans for a nickel and coffee for another five cents. I spent a lot of timing researching restaurants. Working people in Alby’s time needed cheap places to eat, especially since many didn’t have access to a kitchen at home. Scroll down this page for a photo of a 5-cent restaurant in the Bowery. This page has an example of a 5-cent menu.
14—plunging yourself into the Central Park Lake. Central Park Lake was opened in 1858 and was intended expressly for recreation: boating in summer and skating in winter. Some old photos exist.
14—Xenocrates. Xenocrates was a 4th century BC Greek philosopher, a student of Plato.
15—when we’ve a notion to go slumming. Slumming was a popular pastime among the wealthy in Alby’s time. Parties of well-off white people would have excursions into neighborhoods populated by minorities and the poor. The Bowery was a popular neighborhood for this.
15—There’s a new establishment there called the Slide. I’ve taken a bit of liberty with this one. The Slide was actually in Greenwich Village, not the Bowery. I’m not sure when it opened, but by 1890 it was known—notorious in some circles—as a dive gay bar. Here are a description and a modern photo. It must have been quite a place! Police shut it down in 1892.
15—The YMCA. The Young Men’s Christian Association was founded in 1844 and came to New York City in 1852. The first one in the Bowery opened in 1872, although I’ve based my description more on this location, also in the Bowery (although it didn’t open until 1915). The Y was intended to provide housing, meals, exercise, spirituality, and education to working-class men, in hopes of saving them from lives of poverty and crime. The Y rented out rooms, and it also provide exercise facilities, lecture halls, and job placement. This page has drawings of what the interior would have looked like in Alby’s time. With young men living close together, a certain amount of sexual activity must have happened, although the extent of it in 1880s New York is unknown. By the early 1900s, at least, the YMCAs in New York were well-known as a relatively safe place for gay men to engage with one another.
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