Essay Tenement Labor
It is an astounding fact, based upon actual count that there are 495,592 persons residing here in tenement houses, to which should properly be added at least 100,000 others who live in attics, stable lofts, and smaller buildings, in nests of two, three and five families each. These multitudes are packed upon the house-lots and streets at the rate of 240,000 to the square mile; and it is only because this rate of packing is somewhat diminished by intervening warehouses, factories, private dwellings, and other classes of buildings, that the entire tenant-house population is not devastated by the domestic pestilences and infectious epidemics that arise from overcrowding and uncleanness. As now distributed, the tenant-houses of the city are nearly all found within an area of less than four square miles. Even this rate of crowding, including the other classes of population, and other classes of buildings that are interspersed, is so great as to have justly become a subject of momentous importance, and it calls for a thorough sanitary inquiry in regard to existing evils and impending dangers.
Such concentration and packing of a population has probably never been equalled in any city as may be found in particular localities in New-York. In some entire districts, as in the Fourth, Sixth, and portions of the Eleventh and Seventeenth Wards, the density of the population is far greater than in any parish or ward in London or any other European city of which we have definite knowledge. For example, in the Fourth Ward, the tenant-house and cellar population is all included within an area of about sixty acres, giving a population of about 192,000 to the square mile. It is estimated by persons of competent judgment, that 18,000 of those people live in the collars underground. These holes must not be confounded with the light and airy basements of the better class of houses. They are literally and terribly-cellars, many of them below tide-water mark, and all of them damp, dark and dank.
The submarine region is not only excessively damp, but is liable to sudden inroads from the sea. At high tide the water often wells up through the floors submerging them to a considerable depth. In very many cases the vaults of privies are situated on the same or a higher level, and their contents frequently ooze through the walls into the occupied apartments beside them. Fully one-fourth of those subterranean domiciles are pervaded by a most offensive odor from this source, and rendered exceedingly unwholesome as human habitations. These are the places in which we most frequently meet with typhoid fever and dysentery during the Summer months. The streets on which these tenant-houses stand are filthy in the extreme, and so long as they are used, as they now are, for the deposit of refuse and garbage, they will continue filthy. Should carts and scrupulous laborers go thrice daily through some of them, at night the casual passer would open wide his eyes at the piles of thrown-out stuff, and hold tight his nose, lest the offensive odor should taint his nostrils. Closely allied to the streets are courts and alleys. These cul-de-sacs leading to and adjoining the close and unventilated homes of the poor are almost universally in a more filthy condition than the adjacent street. They are the receptacle of much of the waste of the house, and are rarely cleaned. The air of these places during the summer is often of the most stifling and irrespirable, and yet as it ascends it enters the closely-packed tenant-house and furnishes to the inmates the elements of disease and death.
Slops from rear buildings of such premises are usually emptied into a shallow gutter cut in the flagging and extending from the yard, or space between front and rear buildings, to the street. This is often clogged up by semi-fluid filth, so that the alley and those parts of the yard through which it runs are not unfrequently overflown and submerged to the depth of several inches. There are more than four hundred families in this district, whose homes can only be reached by wading through a disgusting deposit of filthy refuse. In some instances, a staging of plank, elevated a few inches above the surface, is constructed through the alley.
But dreadful as all this may seem, it is as nothing to the fearful condition of mind, body and estate in which are and forever must be the poor creatures, who are huddled together like sheep, and rotten at that, inside the frail tenements.
will, perhaps, enlighten the mind of our readers on this point, and in order that they may go and see for themselves, we will give, as we did before, in the case of the dirty streets, names and places. In company with Alderman BRADY and Policeman CHARLES MURPHY, of the Tenth Precinct, we made a little tour on Saturday and saw enough to fill forty newspapers, of pauperism, wretchedness and filth. The men were dirty and cross; the women frowsy and pert; the children -- well, the children deserve a separate article. Some of the most beautiful children we ever saw live in the very hot-beds of vice, the very nests of misery. The day was sultry and the frequent showers made the streets muddy; everybody was uncomfortable and everything was clad in full-suited wretchedness. Starting from the station-house, we went first into
the primest expounder of modern tenantry, a choice locality, where the devil's work goes on smoothly and uninterrupted from Sunday morning early till Saturday night late and never minds the stops. That's the place for philanthropists; that's the mission which might well challenge the attention of our religious societies and share the labor which is spent on Burmah, Afghanistan and the South Pole; there's the place for the glib-tongued young men who rattle off their platitudes about universal brotherhood at pleasant prayer-meetings; thus the field and the harvest would be immense.
We stopped first in front of a house just beyond Fisher's alley. On the low wooden steps stood three women, clad in coarse smocks, shoeless, without a stocking, entirely devoid of crinoline, with no waterfall nor rats nor jigamarees of any sort, but red-faced, stout-armed, broad-feeted women, who were ready to joke with a friend or fight with a stranger -- just as it might happen; children by platoons joined the three and gazed inquiringly after us, as we descended the ricketty steps to the cellar. An old crone was at the wash-tub; a young woman lay upon a bundle of rags asleep; a third smoked a pipe, while the walls held divers coats and trousers indicative of masculine copartnership in the comforts of the room. Phew! how it smelled; the pipe, the wet floor, the hot stove, the boiling fish, the damp clothing, the women and the two children who followed us, combinedly gave forth such a decoctionized offence that, regardless of politeness, we remounted the stairs. Inquiry developed the fact that the cellar-basement accommodates nightly the three women and their husbands, five children and an "occasional friend or two." Its dimensions are 15x16 feet.
The room above is a bar-room. Over that are two rooms, rented to families. In one of them lay a sick man, with the sorest and most offensive knee imaginable. His wife was mopping up a puddle of water, into which was pushed a corner of the wretched pallet on which he lay. A stove, a table, kitchen utensils, and a few prints completed the furniture and decorations of the apartment, while in the corner were piled three dirty straw beds, the resting places of as many boarders at night. The rest of the house is similarly rented. On every floor arc two or three rooms. Each room is sub-rented to two or three families; each family has a fair average of children, and each child is dirty, ill-clad, pert and smart, or sulky and sick. But perhaps
so called we believe in honor of "wan iv the fust jintilmin in town sir," affords a more striking illustration of all the bad points under consideration. Running up from the street is the alley, wet, dirty and offensive. An old man grinned meanly at us as we passed, and made faces at us as he dressed his old, state, unhealthy, poisonous and fetid fish; entering a little court-yard we saw a sight quite remarkable for the variety of its unpleasant and peculiar features. Fronting the alley-way was a large double house; on its worn wooden steps were women, children and dirt in various stages of offensiveness; from every window were poked forth male and female heads, young and old, middle-aged and decrepid; at the left of the court stooped a blear-eyed man who scraped with his fingers the putrid entrails from decaying fish, and relieved the monotony of the operation by competing in the use of blasphemy and obscenity with an old crone clad in a gunny-bag shift, working at a wash-tub; in the very centre of the yard like a huge offalistic pearl sat a box, filled with nastiness, crammed with filth and surrounded by a congenial setting of house-slops, vegetable skins, sweepings, human excrement, and domestic garbage generally; on a bleek sat an old-faced girl of ten years of age, in her hands, with feet resting in a wash pail, was a bright-eyed filthy-faced little one, whose naked body shone from the cleansing given it by the ten year older; playing about the slimy place, slipping into mud, dangerous in many ways, were hordes of children who ran riot, now listening to the wicked tilt between the fishman and washwoman, then pelting each other with the stuff of the yard, and again brushing past us in suggestive and unpleasant proximity -- what worse can be seen inside -- here, by looking up the blue sky might be seen, and a breath of but partially tained air be obtained, but what must be found inside -- ugh, duty called and in we went.
were mainly above the middle age, they had passed the critical period of female existence, and were apparently disposed to enjoy themselves during the remainder of their mundanic probation to the very full, and to be at the top of the heap, even though the said heap was an extremely nasty one. We were greeted courteously by an old woman with a short garment and a [???]ine not much longer, and by her we were entertained with a vivid description of life in Fisher's-alley. Fights, rows, scrambles for supremacy, sickness, death, much misery, but, on the whole, not so bad as it might be. Dirt in every shape, filth of every name, smells in every degree, from the faintest suggestion of fat-boiling, through the intermediate gradings of close, heated rooms, unswept floors, perspiratory and unwashed babies, unchanged beds, damp walls and decayed matter, to the full-blown stench which arose from the liquid ooze from the privy -- these combined failed to impress the speaker or, indeed, any of the slightly-clad women who joined us in the passage, as anything to feel annoyed about, and we left her with the conviction that, however wretched and offensive she was, she had, at least, the consolation of not knowing it, a consolation which moralists and public economists would deem a drawback quite likely. Fat and lazy, wrinkled, thin and lazy, dirty, squallid and lazy, asleep and lazy, drunk and lazy, careless and lazy, nasty and lazy -- that's the whole story, that fairly describes a great majority of the women who live in these places.
In the three houses which form this tenement there are twenty-four rooms, all small, all dirty, all illy ventilated, and in each of them live not alone the family which rents it, but "friends of the family," lodgers and boarders, and the children likewise of the aforesaid. Three families in a room 13x15; why that's aristocratic in comparison to some others of which we will presently write. The three fathers, the three mothers, the three gangs of children -- children, animals sown in corruption and reared in corruption; propagating in time, and, alas! in kind -- can easily be accommodated on the beds -- not bedsteads -- and on the floor. They may be a little crowded, but it's cheap, varying from $9 to $2 50 per month, and the rest is wanted for rum. But despite the crowding, and the discomfort, and the uncleanliness, we were struck, painfully struck, by the
the redundant cheerfulness with which these poor people regard their lot in life and their lot in Fisher's Alley. In the upper story we found an old lady, full sixty years of age, a widow with no children "at her command." She received us cordially and welcomed us to her moist and somewhat smellifulous apartment. Fronting the door was a double bedstead; by its side a little table covered with dishes, over whose greasy contents five little youngketts were pleasantly fighting; beyond, in the corner, was a single bedstead on which were piled three straw beds for use at night; then came the stove, hot as necessary, and at the side of the door again was a third bedstead, with extra straw bed piled on. The old woman was facetiously inclined. She said that she occasionally, say every night, had a few folks there to keep company and help to pay the rent. She and a young gentleman of immature summerings occupied the first bed, another couple the second bedstead, three additional couples the three straw beds piled as aforesaid, a sixth happy pair the third bedstead, and a seventh the extra straw bed. The children belonged around generally, and she being a kind-hearted woman, and fond of any company, didn't object to let them enter and occupy and light in her premises just as much as they chose.
Comment being entirely unnecessary, we reflected the thrifty lady's good nature and left her in haste, while she, standing with cocked frilled cap, well knuckled elbows, and a partially concealed person at the head of the ricketty and narrow stairway, bade us good morning and invited us to call again.
Retracing our steps, followed by the curious gaze of the squallid myriad, and regarded rather pleasantly, we think, by the old women and the dear little dirt heaps, popularly known as the rising generation, we reentered Oak-street, where our good-natured and well-posted guide had found for us a surprise. To the attention of all who have a particle of love for their kind, to the attention of the honorable members of the Board of Health, to the attention of our well paid but shamefully neglectful authorities, we commend the basement of
which, bad and vile in all that degenerates men and women, is incomparably better and cleaner and healthier than scores, yes hundreds of places within the city limits, to which these honorable gentlemen might afterward turn their attention.
read the blue sign before our eyes, as carefully we went down, down into the cellar. Removing our hat, for the occupants were women and the ceiling very low, we found ourselves in a store -- a grocery and liquor, particularly a liquor store. The room must be at least 12x6 feet large -- in the front was a counter with its tempting devilments; by it stood a pleasant faced woman, the lessee of the place, on a little seat reclined a pale-faced woman, a lodger; on the floor rolled several little ones, brothers and sisters quite likely, to the older ones on the steps, and in the corner propped up in an armchair by a pillow, suffered a large-brained, hollow-eyed, spare-chested boy, who had been struck by the sun and prostrated. Beyond the room the way was dark, but we went in, stopping, however, at the very first step, for in a dark, unventilated wretched hole of a closet we caught sight of a woman resting on a settee. No living cat could be swung by his or its extremity in that fearful dungeon -- but it was her room, her home, she is a lodger. Passing on we came to two small rooms, each with its complement of beds, each a terrible place for human beings to stay in -- for live they cannot, it should be said only that they do not die there. We left the basement and passed to the back yard. There we found, what we hereby notify the Board of Health as a dangerous
Communicating with the choice box of filth in Fisher's Alley Court, by a green pool of Pandoraical evil, is a privy, and from the combined source oozes a thick and filthy mass of emerald colored liquid, disgusting to the eye, oppressive to the nostril, dangerous to health, an eyesore to the people and a standing disgrace to the officials who permit it. This and others of its kind and worse, deserve the immediate action of the authorities. Doubtless very much of the filth found in our tenement-houses, the yards and privies, is owing to the carelessness, and the don't-care-ativeness, of the tenants; but despite that, the city has a duty, and the landlord has a duty, and if public sentiment can awaken the conscience of the one, it may in time effect, through his pocket, the sense of decency, latent though it be, of the other. The cupidity which instigates landlords, our "best men," to overcrowd their tentants, is a nuisance, and the power given to the Board of Health to abate nuisances and take care of the sanitary condition of the city, is ample to protect it in abating this greatest of nuisances. Apartments are often so overcrowded that only from four to six hundred cubic feet of air is allowed to each occupant, taking into the estimate the whole suite of apartments; and by night the number of cubic feet to each individual is often reduced as low as two hundred feet. A house with these overcrowded apartments very often contains from fifty to sixty individuals, and not unfrequently from eighty to one hundred or one hundred and twenty. This overcrowding of apartments is a direct and powerful cause of the general deterioration of health in the occupants. It is especially manifested in the sickness and death ratio among children, who are almost constantly exposed, and have less power of resistance. For examples of the large sickness ratio among the children inhabiting these crowded apartments, it is only necessary to visit them and make a cursory inspection. And it may be added that of all the causes that tend to deteriorate the health of children, this is probably among the most efficient. In addition to the general cachexia above referred to, the occupants are predisposed to contract contagious and endemic diseases which they might escape if in better health; and when contracted, these diseases are rendered, by the above conditions, more difficult of control, and more fatal in their results. Thus we often see an endemic disease, as typhus fever, attacking in succession every unprotected inmate of an apartment. But instead of one crowded apartment there is usually a large number, so that the evil is multiplied still further. And not only this, but there are whole squares filled with these crowded houses, forming vast centres for the incubation and dissemination of disease. The remedy is simple, whether it be practicable or not, viz: the limitation of the number of persons occupying apartments and domiciles. Want of proper ventilation is an especial cause of insalubrity in domiciles occupied by many families. It is a well-known fact that hospitals having windows on only one or on two contiguous sides, cannot be well ventilated by means of the doors and windows. These wards require twice as much air-space for each patient as do wards having windows on opposite sides, the wards themselves being only of moderate width. Now, in almost all tenements of the worst class, and in the greater part of those of a medium class, each family occupies only part of one floor. Thus they have windows only on one narrow face, and, as the apartments are usually heated by stoves, there is no adequate means of obtaining a current of air, even at these windows. At night the condition is still worse, for one at least of the bedrooms is situated at the middle of the building, having no means of ventilation whatever; and even in those dark bedrooms that have a window opening into the hall, the condition is very little better, as the scuttle is usually either closed, or inadequate in size if left open.
But to pass again from generalities, we must record a
in this most extraordinary condition of things in New-York City. We forget the exact number of the building, but it is directly opposite the last place mentioned in Oak-street. The front room on the ground floor is a pork, grocery and creature-comfort store. At the left as we entered we saw and snuffed pig in various forms -- pigs' feet however predominated and for a wonder they were clean. At the right was the bar -- behind was a middle-aged woman and several bottles. In the bottles were many colored poisons, and in the woman a strong desire to make money out of her customers, and to be impudent to visitors. Sitting in the back room were two dilapidated specimens of frailty, or rather two very frail specimens of dilapidation, who were surprised at our entrance, and disappointed at our summary retreat. Passing them we went down a long, dark, unhealthy alley, tripping over stones or stumbling over children at every step, until we reached a second passage where a dirty woman was washing dirtier clothing, by whom we likewise went, stopping right. Two women, comely, neat, not yet middle aged with babies in their arms and children, pretty faced, curly-headed girls and boys at their knees, looked up in astonishment at the unexpected visit. We took no chair -- there was none in the room; we rested on no table -- there was none on which to lay even our hat; we sat at the foot of no bedstead -- there was none there. Listen! The single solitary article of furniture in that room and in the large closet opening from it, was a stool, on which sat a poor, tired, hungry, dirty little girl, with the prettiest blue eyes we ever saw, whose well-made head was golden with luxuriant curls, but into whose little mouth no food had gone that day, whose weary mother had but just returned from a half day's scrubbing, and who as yet had had no time to turn from the younger baby that she might comfort or console her broken-hearted, empty-stomached child. The women were intelligent. Their dead husbands had been soldiers in our army, with whom they had been permitted to travel. Their husbands killed, they returned here and receive each $5 a month from the Local Committee. They pay $3 50 a month for the wretched holes they occupy, and clean the privies in addition. They have no friends, no money, no work, save the accidental incident of a day's scrubbing, no bed, clothes, chair, table, crockery -- nothing but themselves and four beautiful children -- children of whom any mother in this city might well be proud, who were sent for a few days to the mission school, but being too poorly clad were taken away. When by chance the women got work, a little girl, the oldest, takes care of the hungry babies till night, when, if fortunate, they share a crust and then tumble upon the floor and sleep for dessert. Oh! if they were only Sandwich Islanders, or scallywag Chinamen, how quick we would give them fine linen, Testaments, teachers and pocket handkerchiefs -- how the Jellabys and missionaries would strive to make each woman a proselyte, each child a saint -- but, unfortunately for them, they live in Oak-street, New-York, and thus far, somehow they have failed to get in the range of the Humanitarian telescope, an invention which brings near the foreign Heathen, and while overlooking those near by.
In the same house, directly across the passage-way, we entered a
so dark in fact that for a few seconds we could use none of our senses save that which operates by means of the nostrils; that one we ought to state was freely occupied. Gradually we became accustomed to the room, which was exceedingly small and with no ventilation whatever. A tall, gaunt woman met us and asked us our wish. We explained, and having assumed that no one but herself, her old man, their five children, and another cripple and a "greenhorn," occupied the appartment, we turned to go, when in a recess by the chimney we saw dimly the outline of a girl. Questioning her, we obtained no answer. "Are you ill?" No reply. "Do you live here?" No notice. "Can we do anything for you?" Same result. "Is she drunk?" said we to the old woman. "No, she's sick." "What's the matter?" "I don't know." "Have you had a doctor?" "No." "How long has she been so?" "Since yesterday -- she'll be all right in time." A closer examination revealed the features of a pleasant-faced girl of perhaps twenty years of age. She was in a terribly sound sleep or stupor, and we imagined she had probably had an engagement with Demi John, and came off second best. The air in the room was vile and offensive, the floor cluttered up with a variety of useful but ungainly utensils, and in the corner by the table cried a girl whose hair hung all over her face, and whose tribulations a second woman vainly tried to drive with blows or coax with caresses.
In the upper floors of the same house were sundry and promiscuous gatherings. In one room we found an
and their American offspring, who accommodated nightly in their wee bit of a room, "two lone widdies and their small little childer," and that's all, besides the five Celtico-Chinese-Americans aforesaid. In another was a fearfully and wonderfully made old woman, with a partial beard and a huge frilled cap --
"Her nose was crookt and turned outwarde,
Her chin stood all awrye;
And where as shoedo have been her mouthe.
Lo! there was set her eye."
so to speak. She glared at our little party like an ancient witch, and her old tortoise-shell cat brandished a tall long and stiff, while his mistress assaulted us with choicest billingsgate. Only herself, her husband, her brother-in-law, the two children and a young couple occupied the two little rooms, in which the cooking, washing and other operations pertaining to families are carried on, and the sud-forms of an extensive laundry are being developed. Eight dollars a month are paid for the privileges of the place, whatever they are. In another room, whose low ceiling made us stoop, and whose atmosphere was like that of BARNUM's Happy Family cage on a sultry day in July, was a thin and skinny old hag, beneath whose feet the floor was puddled with water. She was whitewashing the walls, while the few pieces of furniture in the place were piled on top of the bed to keep them dry. A hot -- red-hot stove held sundry pots, kettles and pans, in one of which sweltered a porgie. Near the door, bare-footed, stood a young girl, eighteen perhaps, washing away for dear life a bundle of underclothing. Her cut head was bandaged with rags; about her white plump shoulders was drawn a white and blue crochetted shawl, through which the unadorned article was visible, while no other garment, save and only a coarse piece of sacking about her loins, served as a protection or a screen. With two children, her husband and this young girl, a lodger, this woman lives in that place. She pays $5 a month for its use, but she might as well be in the street.
In nearly all the tenements which we we visited we found that the name of the owner is unknown. Indeed one of the principal defects in the management of these tenements is the lack of proper supervision. The owner frequently sub-lets, or employs an agent. Were he compelled to place his property in charge of some one who should reside on the premises and act as janitor, and should he then make frequent visits to look after the interest of those whom he should consider as placed under his protection, an improvement would result. In going from one of these habitations to another, it is shocking to observe the manner in which the human excrements are disposed of. Some throw the contents of chamber vessels from the windows; others, near the roof, deposit there. Many of the privies cannot be approached. Some are locked, but one is commonly open for emptying vessels, and the floor, the seat, and the ground near the entrance, is covered with filth. These sub-agents care only for their profit, and nothing for the safety and comfort of their tenants. The more the better, the poorer the more dependent, the more friendless the less troublesome. The tenements in charge of these persons are rarely provided proper sewerage or drainage facilities. Particularly in the lower part of the city is this the case, and in very many of the yards the out-houses are a constant never failing source of disease and ill health. They are generally small, and built of rough boards. Many of them are located on hard-ground, and without vaults; others, and the majority, have shallow vaults, which are soon filled. It is evident that privies constructed in this way are a source of sickness, unless frequently cleaned; but to a large proportion of them, proper attention in this respect is seldom given. They are most offensive, and add greatly to the insalubrity in those squares which contain rows of wooden tenements, for in such localities they are most numerous.
It is possible that these sub-agents are at times imposed upon, and that they are not entirely responsible for the fearful overcrowding of their places or the dirty state of the premises. The landlord, for instance, who rented the
which we are about describing, to the wretched family who occupy it, told us that he rented it with the understanding that they were quite decent people, and but four in the family. Turning away from Oak-street, we went into Cherry-street, visiting many places whose rooms swarmed with men, women, children, cats, dogs, vermin and dirt, until we halted in front of a rum-mill. Down the damp stone steps, sagged from their places by wet and years of abuse, we went, to be confronted by utter darkness. The smell was sickening, and the prospect gloomy, but the timid touch of a tiny hand decided our entrance. The little child whose pallid fingers clutched our garments nervously, was perhaps four years old in life; but oh! it looked as if a century of trouble had been passed by it. We asked for her mother, and she pointed toward a corner. On the bed, snoring and with mouth wide open, lay a man in the dress of a soldier. Over his stupid face fell his thick and uncombed hair. He lay on his stomach, and sprawled from end to end of the couch, while at his side was a graceful figure, a pretty face, a well moulded arm, a dainty foot well clad -- a half intoxicated woman, whose dishevelled hair dropped delicately upon her bared bosom its she half rose to see us. Above the bed was a print of Christ and his apostles, at its side stood a sorrowing child, a girl not twelve years old, whose eyes were red with weeping, on whose fragile form there were no clothes worth mentioning, and who, though hungry, had no means of cooking the small fish which lay uncleaned upon the little table. Oh, the
With the picture of the Savior before her eyes, with her sottish paramour on one side and her sobbing hungry babies on the other, this wretched woman attempted to lie herself with decent report. But too evident was the whole affair. Passing her, leaving the children hungry and desolate, we went from the dark, damp, unwholesome cellar into an apartment beyond, where the lodgers of this woman sleep at night. Two straw beds, partially filled with nasty rotten straw, strewn with filthy rags and offensive beyond description, filled up the place. Unable to stand the stench, we left the room and returned to the front cellar. There by our accustomed eyes we were able to see more than at first appeared. Not far from the bedstead on which lay the drunken couple, was a dirty pallet mussed up on the floor, and it, with a small table, constituted the furniture of the room. At night from fifteen to twenty persons use these two cellars. There they indulge in the vilest orgies; there they drink and smoke and hold high carnival of hell, disturbing even the foul neighborhood of Cherry-street, and causing frequent inroads by the police. Grant that the men are brutes and the women fiends, but tell us, in the name of Him who said "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not," what can be
A man of steel must he be who can look on such scenes unmoved; a man without a heart, a soul, a conscience, must he be who will not strain every nerve in the cause of humanity, when taught his lesson by such lips as theirs. As they grow older, they become bad, then worse then wicked, then devils, like their mother, with other little ones, who in turn will do the same. Is there a responsibility nowhere? Cannot something be done by the people, which will compel our authorities to root out such abominations, remove such nuisances, and thus do much toward redeeming the children from lives of infamy, misery and pollution?
But we have exceeded our limits, and have not yet mentioned the
Nos. 36 and 38 Cherry-street, owned by a Mr. WOOD. These buildings are 18 feet by 180 feet large; they are five stories high; they have each 116 rooms, with bedrooms 6 feet by 7 feet large, with a ceiling 8 feet high, entries 3 1/2 feet wide, and stairways 2 1/2 feet wide. In one of these, No. 38, there were
consisting of 240 adults and 280 children, making the grand total of
people in one house. In the other, No. 36, there were fifty-five families, 200 adults and 180 children, or 380 in all. Did time and space permit, we would cheerfully describe the condition of these places, but given the elements of 900 people, their furniture and bedding, their utensils and cooking, their vermin and escretions, their typhus fever and measles, their scarlatina and diarrhoea, their eruptions and marasmus, all of which we learn from Dr. PULLING, the Sanitary Inspector employed by the Citizens' Association, existed in the year 1859-'60; and the reader should be competent to judge of the result, the delightful condition in which these people have been, and now and ever shall be.
At another time we shall refer particularly to the nuisances with which other portions of the city are burdened, and for the present we trust the eyes of the people will be opened to the imperative necessity of immediate, peremptory and decided action in the promises.Continue reading the main story
The reader will no doubt suppose that the inmates of these houses arecompelled to remain in them because of extreme poverty. This is not thecase. The tenement houses are occupied mainly by the honest laboringpopulation of New York, who receive fair wages for their work. They herdhere because the rents of single houses are either out of proportion to,or beyond their means, and because they are convenient to their work.They are not paupers, but they cannot afford the fearful cost of aseparate home, and they are forced to resort to this mode of life inorder to live with any degree of comfort. Many of the most skilledmechanics, many of the best paid operatives of both sexes, who areearning comfortable wages, are forced to live in these vast barracks,simply because the bare rent of an empty house in a moderately decentneighborhood, is from $1000 upward. Did the city possess some means ofrapid transit between its upper and lower extremities, which wouldprevent the loss of the time now wasted in traversing the length of theisland, there can be no doubt that the tenement sections would soon bethinned out.
There are two classes of tenement houses in the city. Those occupied bythe well-to-do working people, and those which are simply the homes ofthe poor. The first are immense, but spruce looking structures, and arekept cleaner than the latter, but all suffer from the evils incident toand inseparable from such close packing. Those of the second class aresimply dens of vice and misery. In the older quarters of the city, manyof the old time residences are now occupied as tenement houses. The oldWalton mansion in Pearl street, opposite the vast establishment of Harper& Brothers, was once the most elegant and hospitable mansion in New York.It is now one of the most wretched tenement houses in the city. Thetenement houses of the upper wards, however, were constructed for theuses to which they are put. As pecuniary investments they pay well, therents sometimes yielding as much as thirty per cent. on the investment.One of them shall serve as a description of the average tenement house.The building stands on a lot with a front of 50 feet, and a depth of 250feet. It has an alley running the whole depth on each side of it. Thesealley-ways are excavated to the depth of the cellars, arched over, andcovered with flag stones, in which, at intervals, are open gratings togive light below; the whole length of which space is occupied by waterclosets, without doors, and under which are open drains communicatingwith the street sewers. The building is five stories high, and has aflat roof. The only ventilation is by a window, which opens against adead wall eight feet distant, and to which rises the vapor from the vaultbelow. There is water on each floor, and gas pipes are laid through thebuilding, so that those who desire it can use gas. The building contains126 families, or about 700 inhabitants. Each family has a narrowsitting-room, which is used also for working and eating, and a closetcalled a bed room. But few of the rooms are properly ventilated. Thesun never shines in at the windows, and if the sky is overcast the roomsare so dark as to need artificial light. The whole house is dirty, andis filled with the mingled odors from the cooking-stoves and the sinks.In the winter the rooms are kept too close by the stoves, and in thesummer the natural heat is made tenfold greater by the fires for cookingand washing. Pass these houses on a hot night, and you will see thestreets in front of them filled with the occupants, and every windowchoked up with human heads, all panting and praying for relief and freshair. Sometimes the families living in the close rooms we have described,take "boarders," who pay a part of the expenses of the "establishment."Formerly the occupants of these buildings emptied their filth and refusematter into the public streets, which in these quarters were simplyhorrible to behold; but of late years, the police, by compelling a rigidobservance of the sanitary laws, have greatly improved the condition ofthe houses and streets, and consequently the health of the people.During the past winter, however, many of the East side streets havebecome horribly filthy.
The reader must not suppose that the house just described is anexceptional establishment. In the Eleventh and Seventeenth wards wholestreets, for many blocks, are lined with similar houses. There are manysingle blocks of dwellings containing twice the number of familiesresiding on Fifth avenue, on both sides of that street, from WashingtonSquare to the Park, or than a continuous row of dwellings similar tothose on Fifth avenue, three or four miles in length. The Fourth ward,covering an area of 83 acres, contains 23,748 inhabitants. The city ofSpringfield (Massachusetts), contains 26,703 inhabitants. The Eleventhward, comprising 196 acres, contains more people than the cities ofMobile (Alabama), and Salem (Massachusetts), combined. The Seventh ward,covering 110 acres, contains more inhabitants than the city of Syracuse(New York). The Seventeenth ward, covering 331 acres, contains moreinhabitants than the city of Cleveland (Ohio), which is the fifteenthcity in the Union in respect of population.
The best of the tenement houses are uncomfortable. Where so large anumber of people are gathered under the same roof to live as they please,it is impossible to keep the premises clean. A very large portion ofthem are in bad repair and in equally bad sanitary condition. In 1867these houses made up fifty-two per cent. of the whole number, and thereis no reason to believe that there has been any improvement since then.Many of them are simply appalling. They become more wretched and squalidas the East River and Five Points sections are reached. Cherry, Water,and the neighboring streets, are little better than charnel houses.
About three months ago one of the most wretched rookeries in the city wascleared out and cleansed by order of the Board of Health. This was knownas "Sweeney's," and stood in Gotham Court. The immediate cause of itsoverhauling was the discovery of its actual condition made by DetectiveFinn and Mr. Edward Crapsey of the New York _Times_, during a visit toit. Mr. Crapsey gives the following interesting account of his visit:
"'This bullseye is an old acquaintance here,' said the detective, 'and asits coming most always means "somebody wanted," you see how they hide.Though why they should object to go to jail is more than I know; I'drather stay in the worst dungeon in town than here. Come this way andI'll show you why.'
"Carefully keeping in the little track of light cut into the darkness bythe lantern, I followed the speaker, who turned into the first door onthe right, and I found myself in an entry about four feet by six, withsteep, rough, rickety stairs leading upward in the foreground, and theircounterparts at the rear giving access to as successful a manufactory ofdisease and death as any city on earth can show. Coming to the first ofthese stairs, I was peremptorily halted by the foul stenches rising frombelow; but Finn, who had reached the bottom, threw back the relentlesslight upon the descending way and urged me on. Every step oozed withmoisture and was covered sole deep with unmentionable filth; but Iventured on, and reaching my conductor, stood in a vault some twelve feetwide and two hundred long, which extended under the whole of West GothamCourt. The walls of rough stone dripped with slimy exudations, while thepavements yielded to the slightest pressure of the feet a suffocatingodor compounded of bilge-water and sulphuretted hydrogen. Upon one sideof this elongated cave of horrors were ranged a hundred closets, everyone of which reeked with this filth, mixed with that slimy moisture whichwas everywhere as a proof that the waters of the neighboring East Riverpenetrated, and lingered here to foul instead of purify.
"'What do you think of this?' said Finn, throwing the light of hislantern hither and thither so that every horror might be dragged from thedarkness that all seemed to covet. 'All the thousands living in thebarracks must come here, and just think of all the young ones above thatnever did any harm having to take in this stuff;' and the detectivestruck out spitefully at the noxious air. As he did so, the gurgling ofwater at the Cherry street end of the vault caught his ear, andpenetrating thither, he peered curiously about.
"'I say, Tom,' he called back to his companion, who had remained with mein the darkness, 'here's a big break in the Croton main.' But a momentlater, in an affrighted voice: 'No, it ain't. Its the sewer! I neverknew of this opening into it before. Paugh! how it smells. That'snothing up where you are. I'll bet on the undertaker having more jobs inthe house than ever.'
"By this time I began to feel sick and faint in that tainted air, andwould have rushed up the stairs if I could have seen them. But Finn wasexploring that sewer horror with his lantern. As I came down I had seena pool of stagnant, green-coated water somewhere near the foot of thestairs, and, being afraid to stir in the thick darkness, was forced tocall my guide, and, frankly state the urgent necessity for an immediatereturn above. The matter-of-fact policeman came up, and cast theliberating light upon the stairs, but rebuked me as I eagerly took in thecomparatively purer atmosphere from above. 'You can't stand it fiveminutes; how do you suppose they do, year in and year out?' 'Even theydon't stand it many years, I should think,' was my involuntary reply.
"As we stepped out into the court again, the glare of the bullseyedragged a strange face out of the darkness. It was that of a youth ofeighteen or twenty years, ruddy, puffed, with the corners of the mouthgrotesquely twisted. The detective greeted the person owning this facewith the fervor of old acquaintanceship: 'Eh, Buster! What's up?''Hello, Jimmy Finn! What yez doin' here?' 'Never mind, Buster. What'sup?' 'Why, Jimmy, didn't yez know I lodges here now?' 'No, I didn't.Where? Who with?' 'Beyant, wid the Pensioner.' 'Go on. Show me whereyou lodge.' 'Sure, Jimmy, it isn't me as would lie to yez.'
"But I had expressed a desire to penetrate into some of these kennels forcrushed humanity; and Finn, with the happy acumen of his tribe, seizingthe first plausible pretext, was relentless, and insisted on doubting theword of the Buster. That unfortunate with the puffy face, who seemed toknow his man too well to protract resistance, puffed ahead of us up theblack, oozy court, with myriads of windows made ghastly by the paleflicker of kerosene lamps in tiers above us, until he came to the lastdoor but one upon the left side of the court, over which the letter S wassprawled upon the coping stone. The bullseye had been darkened, and whenthe Buster plunged through the doorway he was lost to sight in theimpenetrable darkness beyond. We heard him though, stumbling againststairs that creaked dismally, and the slide being drawn back, thefriendly light made clear the way for him and us. There was an entryprecisely like the one we had entered before, with a flight of narrow,almost perpendicular stairs, with so sharp a twist in them that we couldsee only half up. The banisters in sight had precisely three uprights,and looked as if the whole thing would crumble at a touch; while thestairs were so smooth and thin with the treading of innumerable feet thatthey almost refused a foothold. Following the Buster, who grappled withthe steep and dangerous ascent with the daring born of habit, I somehowgot up stairs, wondering how any one ever got down in the dark withoutbreaking his neck. Thinking it possible there might be a light sometimesto guide the pauper hosts from their hazardous heights to the stabilityof the street, I inquired as to the fact, only to meet the contempt ofthe Buster for the gross ignorance that could dictate such a question.'A light for the stairs! Who'd give it? Sweeney? Not much! Or thetenants? Skasely! Them's too poor!' While he muttered, the Buster hadpawed his way up stairs with surprising agility, until he reached a dooron the third landing. Turning triumphantly to the detective, heannounced: 'Here's where I lodges, Jimmy! You knows I wouldn't lie toyez.'
"'We'll see whether you would or no,' said Finn, tapping on the door.Being told to come in, he opened it; and on this trivial but dexterouspretext we invaded the sanctity of a home.
"No tale is so good as one plainly told, and I tell precisely what I saw.This home was composed, in the parlance of the place, of a 'room andbedroom.' The room was about twelve feet square, and eight feet fromfloor to ceiling. It had two windows opening upon the court, and a largefireplace filled with a cooking stove. In the way of additionalfurniture, it had a common deal table, three broken wooden chairs, a fewdishes and cooking utensils, and two 'shakedowns,' as the piles of strawstuffed into bed-ticks are called; but it had nothing whatever beyondthese articles. There was not even the remnant of a bedstead; not acheap print, so common in the hovels of the poor, to relieve theblankness of the rough, whitewashed walls. The bedroom, which was littlemore than half the size of the other, was that outrage of capital uponpoverty known as a 'dark room,' by which is meant that it had no windowopening to the outer air; and this closet had no furniture whateverexcept two 'shakedowns.'
"In the contracted space of these two rooms, and supplied with thesescanty appliances for comfort, nine human beings were stowed. Firstthere was the 'Pensioner,' a man of about thirty-five years, next hiswife, then their three children, a woman lodger with two children, andthe 'Buster,' the latter paying fifteen cents per night for his shelter;but I did not learn the amount paid by the woman for the accommodation ofherself and children. The Buster, having been indignant at my inquiry asto the light upon the stairs, was now made merry by Finn supposing he hada regular bed and bedstead for the money. 'Indade, he has not, but a"shakedown" like the rest of us,' said the woman; but the Buster rebukedthis assumption of an impossible prosperity by promptly exclaiming,'Whist! ye knows I stretch on the boords without any shakedownwhatsumdever.'
"Finn was of opinion the bed was hard but healthy, and fixing his eyes onthe Buster's flabby face thought it possible he had any desirable numberof 'square meals' per day; but that individual limited his acquirementsin that way for the day then closed to four. Finn then touching on thenumber of drinks, the Buster, being driven into conjecture and a cornerby the problem, was thrust out of the foreground of our investigations.
"By various wily tricks of his trade, Detective Finn managed to get adeal of information out of the Pensioner without seeming to be eitherinquisitive or intrusive, or even without rubbing the coat of his povertythe wrong way. From this source I learned that five dollars per monthwas paid as rent for these two third-floor rooms, and that everybodyconcerned deemed them dirt cheap at the price. Light was obtained fromkerosene lamps at the expense of the tenant, and water had to be carriedfrom the court below, while all refuse matter not emptied into the courtitself, had to be taken to the foul vaults beneath it. The rooms, havingall these drawbacks, and being destitute of the commonest appliances forcomfort or decency, did not appear to be in the highest degree eligible;yet the Pensioner considered himself fortunate in having secured them.His experience in living must have been very doleful, for he declaredthat he had seen worse places. In itself, and so far as the landlord wasconcerned, I doubted him; but I had myself seen fouler places than thesetwo rooms, which had been made so by the tenants. All that cleanlinesscould do to make the kennel of the Pensioner habitable had been done, andI looked with more respect upon the uncouth woman who had scoured therough floor white, than I ever had upon a gaudily attired dame sweepingBroadway with her silken trail. The thrift that had so little for itsnourishment had not been expended wholly upon the floor, for I noticedthat the two children asleep on the shakedown were clean, while thelittle fellow four years of age, who was apparently prepared for bed ashe was entirely naked, but sat as yet upon one of the three chairs, hadno speck of dirt upon his fair white skin. A painter should have seenhim as he gazed wonderingly upon us, and my respect deepened for thewoman who could, spite the hard lines of her rugged life, bring forth andpreserve so much of childish symmetry and beauty.
"Having absorbed these general facts, I turned to the master of thishousehold. He was a man of small stature but rugged frame, and his leftshirt sleeve dangled empty at his side. That adroit Finn, noticing myinquiring look, blurted out: 'That arm went in a street accident, Isuppose?'
"'No, sir; it wint at the battle of Spottsylvania.'
"Here was a hero! The narrow limits of his humble home expanded toembrace the brown and kneaded Virginian glades as I saw them just sevenyears ago, pictured with the lurid pageantry of that stubborn fight whenSedgwick fell. This man, crammed with his family into twelve feet squareat the top of Sweeney's Shambles, was once part of that glorious scene.In answer to my test questions he said he belonged to the Thirty-ninthNew York, which was attached to the Second Corps, and that he received apension of $15 per month from the grateful country he had served aspayment in full for an arm. It was enough to keep body and soultogether, and he could not complain. Nor could I; but I could and didsignify to my guide by a nod that I had seen and heard enough, and wewent down again into the slimy, reeking court."