A Group Of New York Bootblacks At City Hall Park – July 1863
A group of eight bootblack boys line up near City Hall for this stereoview photograph.
Taken by the pioneering stereoview firm of E. & H.T. Anthony of 501 Broadway, the view is entitled, “Brigade Of De Shoe Black, City Hall Park.” There is no date attached to the photo, yet, the timing of this photograph is of historical significance. How do we know?
The fence behind the boys is covered with broadsheets advertising several theatrical productions.
From the information on the advertisements we can narrow down the date the photo is from.
Wood’s Minstrels are performing “Running The Blockade” running from January 22 to June 26, 1863.
Barnum’s Museum is advertising General Tom Thumb (Charles S. Stratton) and his “Little Wife,” Lavinia Warren. The two married February 10, 1863 at Grace Episcopal Church. Tom Thumb was the most famous dwarf in the world and the wedding was highly publicized and celebrated.
The couple were exhibited at Barnum’s at a time when the public was enchanted by little adults. Ads exclaim how Tom Thumb “has been petted by nearly all Kings, Queens, Emperors and Potentates of the civilized world.”
Several advertisements are for The Duke’s Motto, a show at Niblo’s Garden in its initial run lasted from June 1 – August 26 starring Mr. (John) Collins. The theatre possessed a very popular illuminated garden and refreshment saloon.
There are two different advertisements for The Duke’s Motto on the fence. In our grainy old photograph they are lackluster. But this poster below is similar to what passerby saw –
Another show, Wives of Paris, starring Laura English is running from June 23 – July 11.
Finally, there is one advertisement that specifically narrows the date of this photograph to July 1863. The New Idea, a ballet troupe performed in New York City only from July 6 – July 11.
So is our photograph for the upcoming theatrical shows or productions occurring in the past?
It is more likely for upcoming shows since no ad is beyond July 11 and the older ads have been pasted over.
Two days after Wives of Paris and The New Idea concluded, the New York City Draft Riots broke out on July 13 and went on for several days.
This print showing rioting in front of The New York Tribune’s offices is near City Hall Park where the bootblack photo was taken.
Not one photograph is known to exist of the bloody draft riots, where over one hundred people were killed and hundreds injured. The Anthony’s who prodigiously photographed mid-nineteenth century New York missed their opportunity to shoot spot news photography by only a few days.
Though with their bulky cameras and the long exposure time necessary to produce an image, it probably would have not been a good idea for the Anthony’s to try and photograph a riot.