Summerfield’s Angel notes—chapter 4

Notes for Chapter 3

Links to the entire set of notes

Page numbers refer to the page in the PDF and print versions.

26—Now many of them spoke in Italian. Although Italians landed in New York City as early as the 1600s, it was the late 1800s and early 1900s that saw huge waves arrive. They were among the largest groups of immigrants to the US in these years. One area in which a lot of them settled was Mulberry Street, which is a block from Baxter. Mulberry Bend was one of the most notorious sections of the Five Points neighborhood. This article has some photos of the neighborhood then and now.

29snow, burning cow chips, sickness. Trees are rare in the Sandhills, and the winters are bitterly cold. So how did the settlers and ranchers keep warm? By burning dried cow dung. Of course, prior to whites settling in the area, native people burned buffalo chips. The smell might not have been ideal, but it kept you alive.

29—He eventually found himself in Central Park. Central Park was designed in 1858 by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux as a place for urbanites to get some peace and for rich people to see and be seen. People who already lived on the land—Irish immigrants and African Americans—were forced to relocate. During Alby’s time, the park was in somewhat of a decline, which continued until the 1930s.

32Earlier this year I attended a presentation by Mr. Jacob Riis. Riis was a photojournalist, most famous for his book How the Other Half Lives, which documented the lives of New York City’s poor (you can read the whole thing here). Riis also gave lectures on his work, often using lantern slides to project his photos so attendees could see them. His work is credited with sparking city-wide and national reforms to improve working and living conditions for the poor.

35—My mother died of consumption too. Tuberculosis (TB) was called consumption due to the way patients wasted away; it was the leading cause of death in the US during Alby’s time. Although the disease was more common among the poor due to difficult living conditions, anyone could get it, and the mortality rate was something like 50%. Also around Alby’s time, scientists discovered the cause of TB. Milk pasteurization, vaccinations, and antibiotics greatly reduced the rates of TB in the US, but it remains a serious disease elsewhere in the world—and even sometimes in the US, due to treatment-resistant strains of the disease.

35—The judge packed me up and put me on a train. Alby was sent west on an orphan train. In the days before cities had much in the way of social services, and before the juvenile justice system existed, the westbound trains were an option for orphaned, homeless, abused, and delinquent children. The idea was that placing them with a family in the Midwest would get them away from adverse influences in the city and give them a chance for a new life. While some children may have benefited from the experience, most were separated from their families and some were undoubtedly abused. Here’s a contemporary account of children being placed out, and this site provides some information. Here’s a man talking about his childhood experience being placed out.

38—More money in beeves than corn, they reckoned. Both in the 19th century and now, Nebraska has had a primarily agricultural economy. In the eastern part of the state, which has richer soil and gets more rainfall, crops like corn and soy are grown. The state also grows a fair amount of grain, such as wheat and sorghum. In the drier, sandier parts of the state, beef is the biggest industry.

39—We had a terrible blizzard in March. On March 12, 1888, a blizzard began in New York City. It dumped about 40 inches of snow in two days, bringing the city to a standstill; over 200 people died. There are details and some great photos here. This page has more images and a detailed contemporary account. And this page has more newspaper accounts from the event.

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