Menace to Brooklyn Health 1893

Dumping Grounds That Are Full of Disease Germs
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Breeding Places in South Brooklyn for Malaria and Typhoid Fever; Health of the entire city threatened. Sickening scenes and smells where the city's refuse and dead animals are rotting, hogs and human beings search there for food and eat it with a relish.

That part of South Brooklyn about the foot of Columbia Street and the shallows back of the Erie Basin is an unknown quantity to most of the people of Brooklyn, but those who live on the Heights, the park slope and the Hill, get frequent whiffs in their homes of the disease-laden air which blows up from the dumps. Prominent among the nuisances of the city are the public dumps at the foot of Columbia Street, on Richards, Bush, Lorraine, Sigourney, and Hicks Streets, and in a dozen other localities in the neighborhood.

Complaint after complaint has been made to the Brooklyn Board of Health that these dumping places are breeding grounds for malaria and typhoid fever, and are not only detrimental to the health of the thickly-settled portions of Brooklyn which lie adjacent, but also to the more select portions of the city on the side hill west of Prospect Park. No attention has ever been paid to the complaints, until now the health of the entire City of Brooklyn is menaced by the dangerous nuisances.

A reporter for the New York Times visited the locality yesterday with the ready camera, which does not lie, and in a few moments had indelibly impressed upon the photographic plate the true condition of affairs. He found near the foot of Columbia Street and on Van Dyke Street several hundred acres devoted to the ashes, kitchen refuse, and other rejected matter brought from a large part of the City of Brooklyn. A portion of the ground had been filled in to the depth of 20 feet with this refuse material and it was rotting and festering from the effects of silt water and a hot sun.

Everywhere over the whole expanse of the dump arose a noxious gas which almost took one's breath away, while everywhere piles of tin, fruit, vegetable, and meat cans lay in the hot sun sizzling and smelling like a glue factory.

Brooklyn has a regulation which provides for the disposal of dead animals, but it seems that the contractors have decided that the easiest way to get rid of them is to send them to the dump. In his tramp over this foul-smelling place the remains of dogs and cats were frequently seen. They were in all stages of decomposition, and were offensive to eyes and nostrils and a menace to the public health.

Brooklyn also has an ordinance which forbids the keeping of hogs within the city limits, yet droves of fat and dirty hogs and little pigs roam over the dumps and feast to their hearts' content of the dead animals and other carrion which finds its way there. The reporter in his investigation disturbed a couple of these scavengers just as they had found a dainty morsel in the shape of a dead cat. They squealed loudly in protest as he threw a brickbat at them and drove them from their horrid feast. These hogs, and there are fully a hundred of them that root about the dump, belong to the degraded human beings who live in the shanties which surround the dump. The hogs are on terms of absolute equality with their owners, and go in and out of the shanties at will. When killing time comes around these beasts, which have fattened on garbage and carrion from the dump, are sold to butchers in the neighborhood, and their flesh is exposed for sale over no inconsiderable portion of the city. Cows afflicted with pleuro-pneumonia are promptly killed by the State Dairy Inspectors, but these hogs, filled with the horrible trichina spiralis, are allowed to fatten on the dumps and their flesh is sold for food.

Another feature of the dump, fully as bad as the hogs, is seen in the human beings who pick their living from among the refuse. Hundreds of people live in dirty and pestilential shanties about the place, and have no other employment but to overhaul the vile stuff for whatever they may find in it. Rags, bones, old iron, tin cans, putrid meat, rubber shoes, paper, decaying vegetables, and bread are among the articles gathered up.

One Italian woman had a pile of chunks of bread and decaying vegetables by her side large enough to fill a barrel "What does she do with them?" the reporter asked of the driver of an ash cart.

He made a grimace and answered:

"Sure, the dagos eat what the hogs wouldn't touch. Why, she takes these things home, and eats them of course."

The woman also had a basket of bones, which had come among some refuse apparently from a restaurant. These the driver, in all sincerity, declared were to be used in making soup.

"I tell you," he said, "it is dirty business enough to drive an ash cart, but when I see how some of these women act here on the dump, it makes me sick. I have seen them take scraps of food out of the ashes and actually eat them."

Most of the shanties around the dump are inhabited by Irish. The Italians who pick rags on the dump come from the cheap tenement districts all over Brooklyn. They bring food with them and squatting down in the midst of filth of every nature, they eat their lunches with apparent relish, occasionally adding some little tidbit which they have found in an ash heap. The shanties, with the yards surrounding them, are full of flotsam and jetsam picked up on the dump.

The backyard of the Banon shanty on Richards Street, near Bush, is an example. In this yard are piled old barrels, drift wood, dirty rags, bones, and everything in the way of a nuisance which the dump provides. It is a pest hole of rubbish, and is a counterpart of all the others.

At a recent session of the Legislature the plot of ground bounded by Centre, Bush, Columbia, and Richards Streets was set apart for a public park, to be known as Twilight Park. This ground was once under water, and the salt tide ebbed and flowed through a culvert. The grading of Lorraine Street and the filling up with garbage of the low ground around Sigourney and Bay Streets, has stopped up the outlet, and four or five acres are now covered with stagnant, foul-smelling surface water, in which geese paddle about and the pigs of the neighborhood wallow. This lot, which is by law to become a public park, is beginning to be used as an ash and garbage dump, but it is not as bad as the one further down on Columbia Street.

The old canal leading to the old Brooklyn Basin has been filled with the same objectionable matter. This ground is reeking with fever germs. Typhoid and malarial fevers, sore throat and diphtheria, and probably other fatal maladies are never absent from the neighborhood. Undoubtedly these noxious dumps are also the cause of much of the sickness which prevails on the park slope. With the possibility of having cholera brought here from Europe, this neighborhood is not a pleasant thing for people of Brooklyn to contemplate. Cholera germs would breed there with frightful rapidity. There is no doubt that the Italians and other rag pickers who gather there were instrumental in spreading the small pox in Brooklyn last Winter.

Both the Brooklyn Board of Public Works and the Health Board are responsible for the condition of affairs, the first for giving the contractors permission to dump their garbage there, and the latter for allowing them to continue doing so.


Website: The History
Article Name: Menace to Brooklyn Health 1893
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The New York Times June 25, 1893
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