New York’s Idiot Asylum Was A School / Prison For Children Who Were Often Not “Idiots”
Without discussing the question how far down in the scale of idiocy the work of education can practicably go, this much may be said: that some idiots are teachable to an extent which will fully compensate for the amount of labor involved in their instruction. These certainly should be cared for by the State.
It will be seen by the report of the Superintendent, that according to the last census, there were in the State, 303 idiots under 15 years of age. No one can examine these returns without being convinced that the actual number is at least double the number so returned. Were only a third of these fit subjects for management and training in a public institution, even then it is obvious that the present provision made by the State falls short of their needs.
– from the 1867 Sixteenth Annual report of the New York Asylum for Idiots: transmitted to the Legislature, January 17, 1867
Today it would be politically incorrect to label anyone with mental disabilities or deficiencies as an idiot. The word mentally retarded has also fallen out of common usage.
In the early 20th century these words took on new psychiatric meaning, which has since been expunged from the nomenclature of psychiatry. In the 19th century those words were pretty much interchangeable for anyone considered mentally deficient or inherently stupid.
What Do We Do With “Idiots”?
The study and understanding of psychology and medical conditions related to learning and developmental disorders was virtually nonexistent before the 20th century. In a large state like New York, a facility was developed at public expense to deal with so-called idiots. Hence came the “Idiot Asylum.”
Often parents couldn’t understand why a child wasn’t speaking. paying attention, responding to social cues, or learning like other children. Continue reading
How A Merciless City Dealt With Its Unwanted Dogs
In 19th Century New York, You Had 24 Hours To Retrieve Your Lost Dog
Unclaimed Dogs Were Drowned In The East River
The dog catcher in New York City & the dogs fate- drowned in cages in the East River – illustration Harper’s Weekly
The Dog Dilemma
What happens today when animal shelters are filled to capacity? Sometimes cats and dogs are humanely euthanized, if there is such a thing as being humanely euthanized.
Canine population control in 19th century New York was much harsher. Beginning in 1855 a new and brutal method of putting down dogs was instituted – drowning.
Some editors and citizens actually attached the word “humane” to this new way of disposal.
Before that time, wandering dogs were considered pests and usually killed on the spot, in the street. The fear of rabies and mad dogs was used as a justification for the wanton killing.
The New York Times wrote, “One thing, however, is certain: dogs are useless animals in cities, and are a nuisance, independent of their habit of occasionally running mad; and the best dog law would be one that imposed so high a tax on the owners of curs that few people would care to keep them, and those who did would see to it that the animals did not run at large, muzzled or unmuzzled.” Continue reading
The Gun, The Knife and The Bullet From the Lincoln Assassination
Two tragic historic events occurred on the evening of April 14, forty-seven years apart.
On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater. Lincoln died at 7:22 am on April 15
At 11:40 in the evening of April 14, 1912 the unsinkable Titanic on its maiden voyage hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic. The great ship went down at 2:20 am April 15 taking over 1,500 lives.
Our AP news photograph above is from 1965 when the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln assassination was observed.
RELICS OF ASSASSINATION
These are some of the relics associated with the assassination of President Lincoln. The small pistol in the center is the pistol used by John Wilkes Booth. The dot just below it is the bullet dug from Lincoln’s head. The knife to the right of the pistol was used to stab Major Rathbone, the President’s bodyguard. The pistol at extreme right is the one Booth was carrying when caught. The boot was worn by Booth at the time of the assassination . Other weapons were taken from members of a gang which associated with Booth. (AP News features Photo For use Sunday, April 11, 1965)
Central Park – A Winter Oasis of Sleighing and Skating in 1863
Central Park after the snow February 5, 1863. Woodcut from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper January 30, 1864.
New York City received its first significant snowfall this winter on January 7, 2016 with about 6 inches of snow covering Manhattan. That day and the next, Central Park had children sleighing down its various hills. Ice skating was available for all at Wollman Rink.
Would anyone today recognize Central Park 154 years ago with similar activity?
Reproduced here for the first time since it appeared in the January 30, 1864 edition of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, is this fantastic woodcut Illustration of Central Park. Unfortunately there is no artist attribution.
At first glance you would think this rural scene is not even in New York City, but the telltale signs are evident that this is indeed Central Park.
In the distant background, buildings can be seen. In the foreground is a proverbial one horse open sleigh. Other sleighs race past one another as their riders are covered in warm blankets and animal skins. One sleigh is named, the “Snow Bird.”
If you look carefully on the right you can see a familiar Central Park balustrade that onlookers are leaning against and taking in all the action. Skaters glide across the frozen lake which begs the question: if you did not own ice skates, where could you get them from?
There was a structure called the “skating tent” in the southern portion of Central Park that rented out skates. Continue reading
July 13, 1863 The Civil War Draft Riots Begin + Related Book Recommendations
“The Battle in Second Avenue” from John Shea’s 1886 book, The Story of a Great Nation
If you’ve watched Martin Scorcese’s 2002 film The Gangs of New York, you saw a vivid depiction of what the Civil War Draft Riots may have looked like. In reality the tumult was probably a lot worse than what was portrayed on the screen. It was the most violent civil disorder in 19th century American history.
Protesting the conscription act, mobs of citizens went on a multi-day rampage of killing and looting. The riots were quelled after four or five days. The estimated number of people killed was 105. The number of injuries was in the hundreds.
In a November 26, 1938 New Yorker story, journalist Meyer Berger wrote about combing through the original blotters at the West Forty-Seventh Street Police Station. Berger came across the station’s last riot related arrest which occurred on July 30, 1863. Fergus Brennan, 35 was charged with being a leader of the rioters. He was held on $2,000 bail by Justice Kelly.
There are several books which cover the draft riots in detail. Among the best are: July 1863 by Irving Werstein (Julian Messner, 1957); The New York City Draft Riots by Iver Bernstein (Oxford University Press, 1990); The Second Rebellion by James McCague (Dial Press, 1968); The Devil’s Own Work The Civil War Draft Riots of 1863 by Barnet Schecter (Walker & Co., 2006) and The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863 by Adrian Cook (University of Kentucky, 1974).
19th Century Prostitution and a Sly Trick of the Trade
Every so often we will look back at the history of New York City.
Today’s entry is from “The Secrets of the Great City: A Work Descriptive of the Virtues and the Vices, the Mysteries, Miseries and Crimes of New York City” by Edward Winslow Martin published by Jones, Brothers & Co. 1868
Edward Winslow Martin was the pseudonym of James Dabney McCabe and he published this book or a slightly altered version of it many times beginning in 1868 under various titles and through different publishers until 1883 when he died. The illustrated book is a 600 plus page turner of practically every sleazy Continue reading