Things You Should Know If Visiting New York City In 1873

“Thousands of children are imported from Italy each year to turn them into organ-grinders and street beggars.”

12 Helpful Hints And Notes From 1873

Standing on Broadway by New York City Hall circa 1870

A tourist standing on Broadway by New York City Hall circa 1870

From the wordily titled – Wood’s Illustrated Handbook To New York and Environs: A Guide For The Traveller or Resident With Minute Instructions For Seeing The Metropolis In One or More Days Together With Numerous Valuable Hints To Visitors On Nearly Every Topic That Arises Upon The Subject of Sight-Seeing, G.W. Carleton Publishers, 1873, we learn surprising things about New York City.

If you lost something of value in public there was an excellent chance that it would be returned to you.

Saturday was the fashionable day for ladies to attend public entertainments – alone!

Wood’s Handbook’s aim was to point out interesting things about New York City without preaching to the reader.

As the guidebook says;

We think the sight-seer may now be safely left with the “Handbook ” to the guidance of the Index and Map and to his own inclinations and judgment.

He will speedily discover that our object in the preparation of this volume has been not to confuse and weary him by stale remarks and hackneyed observations about this or that, but to put him in a position to see, and admire, and criticize from his own stand-point of taste and opinion. We think the sight-seer requires ready hints, not stupid essays; and if we conduct him to a remarkable locality or a well-known structure, he will not care to have us stand perpetually at his elbow telling him what to admire, and what he ought not to be pleased with.

Since the book contains no “hackneyed observations,” the section called “helpful hints” are what we thought were worth highlighting rather than the sights to be seen.

From among the many listed, we have culled, a dozen of the helpful hints for visiting New York:

1- A GLASS OF BRANDY, in an emergency, can be obtained at any apothecary. No wines, ales, or liquors are permitted to be sold in New York at any bar on Sunday. The guests of a hotel can be served with them, however, at table or in their rooms.

2- ORGAN-GRINDERS and STREET-BEGGARS — Thousands of children are annually exported from Italy to the United States for the purpose of making them organ-grinders and street-beggars, of whom a multiplicity are to be seen in New York. A bill has been brought before the Italian Parliament, designed to put a stop to this disgraceful traffic in children. It punishes with five years’ imprisonment all persons exporting children under twelve years of age to foreign countries, under any pretext.

Note the man on the right having his bag picked

Billiards Saloon: note the man on the right having his bag picked

3- GAMBLING HOUSES — These are of two classes, the high and the low. It is dangerous for anyone to enter either. Persons are enticed into the low houses to become victims. The high-class houses are on their dignity and solicit no one. But if you enter, woe be to you. There are no places so seductive as these houses, and the misery they create is deadly. The “day ” gambling houses are downtown among business marts.

4- LABORERS — Nearly all the laborers in New York, as in the other large cities of the United States, are foreigners. There is no class of Americans in our cities below that of the mechanic and artisan. Education and foreign immigration keeps the American in this desirable position.

5- IF YOU LEAVE AN ARTICLE in an omnibus or car, and remember the number of the conveyance, go to its depot. See index for omnibuses and cars. There is a good chance of your recovering it. If not, there is no other way but to advertise it with promise of a reward. See first column in morning Herald for these kind of advertisements.

6- A LADY MAY WEAR, at the present time, to any entertainment, a high-necked, long-sleeved dark or black silk dress, if it be fresh and fashionably made. This is convenient to know, for there are many ladies who, in traveling, do not wish to be cumbered with the enormous trunks which are necessary to carry a set of regular party dresses. Gentlemen, at parties, must appear in full dress — i. e., black dress coat and pantaloons, plain vest, and gloves.

7- CALLS AND CALLERS — Calls of ceremony are made between two and half-past four o’clock. Morning calls between eleven and twelve, evening calls between eight and nine; evening calls may be prolonged to ten or half-past ten. Morning calls are made in simple walking costume, afternoon and evening calls in more dressy suits, with either long or short skirts.

8- SATURDAY — Is a fashionable day for ladies to attend public entertainments — alone. These are advertised in the daily papers under the head of “Matinees.” Handsome walking suits are worn, Gentlemen can of course attend these matinees either with or without ladies, but the number of ladies very far predominates.

9- DINNER HOUR — The dinner hour in New York is from five to half-past six. Evening calls may be made by gentlemen and ladies as early as eight o’clock.

10- FIRST DAY OF MAY or MOVING DAY IN THE METROPOLIS — It is a pandemonium in New York. The poor go from the cellar or garret of one tenement house to another, wealthy people up town pack trunks, cases, and boxes for the country, or change for a more eligible location, or to obtain cheaper rates of rent in town. All landladies are less amiable than usual, and most are furious. Matrons lose their temper through the din and dust of the general commotion. Servants enjoy the privilege of reckless demolition. Young children cry, and larger ones help servants to break. Heads of families ache, and their lungs are smothered, and their throats are choked with dust. Countless Micawbers pocket the curses of their enraged landlords, who themselves can pocket nothing. And so the day wears on in every part of the city. The carriers and carmen reap the harvest. Eight, ten and fifteen dollars per load are the prices, and furniture wagons are scarce even at these rates. Some are engaged weeks before. At night people find themselves away from their old home — if one can be said to have a home under conditions of yearly migration — and in a strange place. Papa goes “round the corner,” feeling very blue. Mamma can find nothing she needs for the children, and the dear children sit about on the floor in a most lugubrious and lachrymose condition, bewailing the fall of china angels and the breaking of little playthings. Such is life on May-day in New York.


a) The Fourth of July. — The great national holiday is a day of unexampled confusion in the metropolis. The poorest boy or girl has, at least, a handful of fire-crackers, and the majority of private citizens have a display of small fireworks in their yards in the evening, while in the parks, and especially at the City Hall, the exhibition is one of surpassing splendor. The firing of pistols and crackers on every hand is heard at daybreak,
simultaneously with the firing of guns from the Battery, the Fort, the shipping in the harbor, and the Navy Yard. The excitement knows no abatement until midnight.

b) Washington’s Birthday is celebrated by a parade of all the military companies of the city, and a universal rejoicing; but, unlike the 4th of July, the day is characterized by the utmost decorum and dignity.

c) Evacuation Day — The day the British evacuated New York is celebrated like Washington’s Birth-day, but with less general feeling.

d) New Year’s Day. — This is specially a New York institution, for it originated with the Dutch settlers, and is maintained with unabated enthusiasm, especially by the fashionable classes. Ladies stay at home to receive calls, and gentlemen have the undisputed use of the thoroughfares and streets from nine o’clock in the morning till midnight. Houses are put in the finest order in preparation for the day, and every one is in their best dress, best spirits, and best looks ; and the most elaborate tables, loaded with every delicacy, are prepared. It is the great festival day of New York.

12- SNOW BLOCKADE — Once in four or five years comes a snow blockade which impedes all kinds of locomotion, stops the trains about to leave the city, and fills to repletion every hotel, small and great, of every class. It furnishes great amusement to the young, and valuable occupation to the laborer.

3 thoughts on “Things You Should Know If Visiting New York City In 1873

  1. M.F. Bruck

    Thank you for sharing this for I found it most interesting. I wonder when New Yorkers stopped celebrating Evacuauation Day? I certainly never heard of it.

    1. Max Post author

      According to lifelong New Yorker, author and educator Brander Matthews the last time the city officially celebrated Evacuation Day was 1883. By World War I the few citizens who remembered the date were less likely to commemorate the day considering the British were now our allies.

    2. Andrew

      Yes, it is still celebrated each year in NYC:

      The National Park Service, the Veteran Corps of Artillery-State of New York and the Lower Manhattan Historical Association just announced their 2018 Evacuation Day commemoration schedule.

      This year Evacuation Day will be celebrated on Friday November 23 starting with

      1. A presentation at Federal Hall, 26 Wall Street at 11:00AM
      2. A parade to Evacuation Plaza (Bowling Green) 12:00 noon.
      3. The removal of the British Union Jack and the raising of the American Colonial Flag.

      The removal of the Union Jack and the raising of the American Colonial Flag was the final act in the victory over the British fulfilling of the military and political goals set forth in the Declaration of Independence.


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