Tag Archives: New York History

Idiot or Autistic? New York’s 19th Century “Idiot Asylum”

New York’s Idiot Asylum Was A School / Prison For Children Who Were Often Not “Idiots”

The New York Asylum for Idiots Report 1867 coverWithout 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.

Idiot.

Imbecile.

Moron.

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.”

The Idiot Asylum Syracuse NY circa 1860Often parents couldn’t understand why a child wasn’t speaking. paying attention, responding to social cues, or learning like other children. Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #20 – Hotels Of The Past On The Upper West Side

Old New York Hotels Of The Upper West Side from 70th – 86th Streets

Hotel MAjestic 72nd St Central Park WestFor the past 150 years New York has had a thriving hotel industry. With real estate prices continually rising in Manhattan, more new hotels are opening now in Queens and Brooklyn.

The Plaza, The Waldorf Astoria and the St. Regis have over a century of  history. Those hostelry’s are the exception to longevity. Many of New York’s hotels are constantly in flux with ownership and name changes. Often smaller hotels have gone out of business because the real estate they sat upon was too valuable. Developers acquire the hotel and surrounding parcels and the hotel passes into history. Other times the buildings are spiffied up after years of neglect and converted from hotels to apartments.

Here are some views of the upper west side’s hotels of the past.

Hotel Emerson 75th Street off BroadwayThe Hotel Emerson at 166 West 75th Street off Broadway was a 300 room 16 story hotel opened in 1922, designed by Robert Lyons. In 1959 it became the Hotel Lincoln Square. The building has been remodeled and turned into rental apartments and is now named the Amstrdm. (That’s right, they cut out some vowels.) Continue reading

The General Slocum Disaster – 115 Years Ago Today

The General Slocum Steamship Disaster Wiped Out Entire Families – June 15, 1904

The New York Evening World General Slocum Cover June 15 1904 headline Over 1.000 Dead115 years ago today, a penny brought you news of a  massive calamity. It was a disaster unlike any other that had ever occurred in New York City.

Earlier that day, June 15, 1904, the General Slocum excursion boat caught fire. Women and children who comprised the majority of the passengers, were burned alive or drowned.

As news filtered in to the newspapers, the death toll continued to mount. The number of victims would rise from hundreds to over 1,000. Continue reading

In 1915, Bestiality, Sex With The Dead And Homosexuality Could Get You The Same Prison Sentence

In 1915 “Crimes Against Nature” In New York City Included Sex With The Dead, Bestiality & Homosexuality

If Convicted Of Crimes Against Nature, You Could Receive A 20 Year Prison Sentence

What has transpired in the last 100 years when it comes to sexual permissiveness in society?

Looking at New York City sex laws from 1915, the world today seems to have done a complete 180 at least in terms of same sex coupling.

While copulating with a corpse or any animal is still considered off limits, Continue reading

Old New York In Postcards #19 – Chinese Restaurants, A Brief History

Postcard Views 1910 – 1949 & A Short History Of Chinese Restaurants In New York City

The Chinese Tuxedo Restaurant in New York’s Chinatown 1910

Along with Chinese immigration to the United States in the 1850s, came Chinese food. It wasn’t long before Americans took a liking to the transoceanic cuisine. The Chinese population in New York City was only 747 in 1880. By 1900 it had grown to 6,321.

Tai Sy Chinese restaurant

There “are eight thriving Chinese restaurants that can prepare a Chinese dinner in New York, almost with the same skill as at the famous Dan Quay Cha Yuen (Delmonico’s) of Shanghai or Canton,” according to Wong Chin Foo in the October 1888 Current Literature Magazine.  With only one day off, Chinese patrons, usually working as laundrymen, would crowd the Chinese restaurants on Sunday’s.

Port Arthur Restaurant

Port Arthur Restaurant 7 & 9 Mott Street, considered among the finest Chinese restaurants in New York City est. 1899

Continue reading

Kings Bridge (1693) and The Farmers Bridge (1759) – Two Of New York City’s Oldest Bridges Still Exist

The Story of Two Forgotten And Buried New York City Bridges

This is Kings Bridge connecting upper Manhattan to the Bronx and Westchester. The Kings Bridge was originally constructed in 1693 under a grant from the Crown and maintained by the Philipse family as a toll bridge until the revolution.

The toll was collected on every person, animal and vehicle crossing to the mainland excepting the King’s soldiers. At night the rates doubled. The bridge was reconstructed in 1713 and altered slightly a few times in the intervening 200 years. Continue reading

The Brooklyn Home Of Actor Edward Everett Horton (and His Interesting Life)

Famed Actor Edward Everett Horton Was Born & Bred In Brooklyn

Everett Edward Horton home BrooklynImagine living in a home that is old. Over 150-years-old.

If you’ve ever lived anywhere that has a long past, you’ve probably wondered who previously occupied the space before you. What were the people like who once lived there? What celebrations and heartbreaks happened there?

When passing by, no one would take a second look at the building at 316 Carlton Avenue in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. It’s just another tidy single family, four story brick home in a row of similar 19th century houses. Continue reading

How Thanksgiving In New York Used To Be Celebrated

Many Years Before Macy’s Held Their Annual Thanksgiving Parade New York City Children Used To Dress In Costume And Beg For Money

A Forgotten New York Thanksgiving Tradition – Ragamuffin Day

New York City children dressed in costume for Thanksgiving 1933 photo Percy Loomis Sperr

On Bleecker Street New York City children dressed in costume for Thanksgiving 1933 photo Percy Loomis Sperr

“Please mister, a penny or a nickel for Thanksgiving?”

This request was once heard all around New York City from children dressed in outlandish costumes celebrating Thanksgiving. It came to be known as Ragamuffin Day.

Thanksgiving subway kiosk 1933

Christopher Street near subway kiosk Thanksgiving 1933

When it started exactly is unclear. It was reported in 1870 costumed men were celebrating Evacuation Day a day early on Thanksgiving, November 24. Evacuation Day commemorated the November 25 anniversary of the British forces leaving New York after the Revolutionary War. Evacuation Day was a major holiday in New York until 1888.

The men in costume who paraded about were called “the Fantasticals.” But why would they be in costume? The answer is somewhat convoluted. The costumes were not really about Thanksgiving or Evacuation Day. This was related more to Guy Fawkes Day celebrated November 5 in England. In the United States, Guy Fawkes day was celebrated with anti-Catholic sentiment, burning an effigy of the Pope. Even though the holidays are weeks apart, the proximity of Guy Fawkes Day to Thanksgiving Day and Evacuation Day is thought to be responsible for the strange combination of these distinct holidays. However the American Fantasticals did not beg for money.   Continue reading

New York City Used To Kill Its Stray Dogs By Drowning Them

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

What Were The Best New York City Restaurants In 1929?

Brooklyn Daily Eagle Columnist Rian James Shares His Picks For The Best Restaurants in New York City in 1929

Rian James (1899-1953) may not be a well known name today, but back in the 1920s and 30s, he was a widely read journalist and  “man about town.”

In 1933 James took a stab at writing for the movies. He wrote the screenplay for 42nd Street, one of the most successful and popular films of the 1930s. James would go on to write over three dozen screenplays.

As a columnist for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from 1928-1935, James rambled all around New York City. Along the way James hobnobbed with everyone: the well-to-do, the hoi-polloi, actors,  and bohemians, in the process, hitting all the night spots. The stories James gathered made for a widely read column about the city he loved.

Four times a year the Eagle published a small guide Going Places With Rian James casting his top picks in New York City food and entertainment.

For the Summer 1929 Going Places, a good portion of  James’ 32 page booklet is devoted to dining. Unlike the modern Zagat restaurant guides or Yelp, consensus was not considered. The only thing that mattered was James’ opinion. James knew all the “in” places, the haunts of celebs, the exclusive, the ribald and the popular.

Proving he’s no snob, the best New York restaurant according to James is not at a high class hotel or Madison Avenue establishment. It’s Feltman’s, originator of the hotdog, in Coney Island that wins the prize.  James writes, “The best all-round food in all New York, excluding no place.”

This is a New York booklet written for New Yorkers.

James offers a unique slice of the New York dining scene just prior to the October 1929 stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression. The good times were to end soon after.

While there were a ton of contemporary guidebooks published about New York City, very few delved into the restaurant scene. James’ punchy one line descriptions tell you a lot more than many a detailed review.

The writing has some jazz age jargon such as “Beeway” for Broadway and “black and tan” for an establishment that has race mingling between Blacks and Caucasians. Sometimes there’s an “inside”, long forgotten, or even a risque reference such as this one:

BARNEY’S – 85 W. 3rd St.
The best bet for whoopee in the Village.

In other words, where you have the best chance of hooking up.

James later wrote several full length books about New York City: a full guidebook All About New York An Intimate Guide; John Day (1931) and another not surprisingly titled, Dining in New York; John Day (1934).

While you peruse this list, you may recognize some names long gone from New York’s glorious culinary past. Other eateries you never heard of just sound like they would have been a blast to visit.

What is stunning in the transient world of dining, is that there are a small number of restaurants that are still in business nearly 90 years later.

We have left Rian James’ spelling, grammar and punctuation as it is written in the booklet.

So with that, here is Rian James’ New York City’s restaurant recommendations for the summer of 1929, divided into his appropriate section headings in bold.

Restaurants of All Nations

Name      Address       Nation

L’AIGLON – 55th, E. of Fifth Ave. French
Complete French Cuisine.LUCHOWS – 110 E. 14th St. German
Complete German Cuisine. Try the German Rye Bread. Continue reading