Phases of City Life 1891

Persons who have occasion to use frequently the facilities afforded by the American District Messenger service have doubtless often been led to marvel at the lax system that can permit so large a proportion of the messenger boys in this city to become careless and slouchy in their manners and appearance. Some of the boys who are allowed to go to first-class hotels and to residences of people of refinement are by no means the clean, tidy, well-behaved boys that are desired to perform the services required. It would not need very rigid discipline, it would seem, to impart a permanent regard for cleanliness, civility, and good deportment to all of these boys. Most of them certainly mean well. What they should have is proper training.

The man who sleeps in the open air on the fire-escape in South Fifth Avenue, a little below Bleecker Street, Summer nights, has taken up his blanket and gone indoors. The chilly weather of two weeks ago drove him in. For the past three or four years this particular person, apparently a toiler at manual labor has made his bed on the fire escape upon which the windows of his tenement open, during the warm season, when the nights were not damp. A single blanket seemed to serve for mattress and covering. Passengers on the Sixth Avenue elevated trains have frequently noted the solitary figure on that fire escape, particularly those passengers on the trains moving up town just before break of day. There have been plenty of other sleepers on tenement-house fire escapes of Summer nights, but none equaled the regularity of this particular sleeper.

A gang of laborers went down into Nassau Street two or three days ago with picks, crowbars, and shovels and began digging up the new and solid asphalt pavement in the vicinity of Liberty Street. There was much scowling and much growling on the part of the people who do business in that neighborhood, and the "I told you so's!" and "Isn't it a shame?" that were uttered would have made a sensitive employee of the Public Works Department ashamed of himself. For several weeks early in the Summer the asphalt men worked to pave lower Nassau Street, Liberty Street, and one or two other cross streets in that vicinity. They blocked up the thoroughfares and permeated the locality with the smell of tar. The shopkeepers and office tenants there stood it patiently because they were glad to have a good, smooth, and noiseless pavement. When the work was finished it gave satisfaction to the eye and looked as if it might wear well. Now it has been chopped up to enable some public or corporate functionary to "get at" some underground connections. Wall Street, between Nassau and William, and Broad Street, below Wall, have both been treated in pretty nearly the same way, and now on their once level and smooth surfaces the usual depressions and bumps are beginning to appear. But that is a very common phase of city life in New York.

There is an old woman, a little past eighty years of age, who has been an inmate of a very reputable "home" up town in this city for nearly a quarter of a century. A young woman connected with a church society called with her little daughter to see the old lady not long ago, and found her sitting alone in a small room, completely helpless, unable to walk, unable to dress herself, unable to feed herself. Still the attendants were not intentionally negligent. There are many inmates of the institution and but few attendants to wait upon them. But the singular feature of this case was the effect of the appearance of the child before the venerable invalid. Her lips moved tremulously, her eyes filled with tears, and she feebly endeavored to place her withered hand on the child's head. The little girl clasped the old woman's hand and smoothed the aged brow. "Bless you," came in low and tearful tones from the old woman's lips, "you are the first child I have seen in ten years."

The hotels of this town have about all of the business that they can attend to just now and the uptown stores are apparently enjoying a busy Fall trade. The city is full of Fall buyers from various parts of the country, and the merchants from far away who have not been in New York for a year until now are open-eyed and enthusiastic over the development of the hotel traffic of the metropolis. They express wonder that New York should be able to support so many hotels, and yet there seems to be no limit to the demand for first-class hotel accommodations. The Holland House in Fifth Avenue just above the Brunswick will be opened within a few weeks. next will come the stately Hotel Savoy at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-ninth Street. After that, Astor's sky-piercing iron hotel, The Netherlands, on the opposite corner of Fifty-ninth Street and Fifth Avenue, and next year will be opened the palatial Waldorf on the site of John Jacob Astor's home, at Fifth Avenue and Thirty-third Street.

Preparations for the annual banquet of the Chamber of Commerce, to take place this year at Delmonico's on the third Tuesday of next month, are going forward with the usual methodical care that characterizes that well-managed event. One pleasant feature of the affair will be an original and locally suggestive design for the frontispiece of the menu souvenir. The elements in doubt are the speakers. James G. Blaine has been trying to attend a Chamber of Commerce dinner here for several years, and he is expected to attend this one if his health will permit. The Committee of Arrangements find, as the years advance, the range of widely-known public speakers is narrowing. There is no Henry Ward Beecher now to fall back upon, and talkers like Gen. Sherman, Roscoe Conkling, Judge Brady, and Henry W. Grady are not abundant.

At the store of the dealer in antique objects of art, who sells lamps, bronzes, vases, furniture, oil paintings by Trouillebert, signed Carot; and, in brief, everything except objects of art that are antique, a vigorous man, with long gray beard, offered for sale an autograph letter of Stonewall Jackson. "I found it," he said, "in the lumber room of an abandoned farmhouse. The persons who owned it are dead. I want for it the price of the fare to Philadelphia, where I have friends and may find work." The eyes of the poor man sparkled when the dealer gave $5 to him. Fifteen minutes after the autograph passed into the hands of a collector for $25, and the dealer, sincerely pleased with himself, said to his thin, pale clerk: "Yes, virtue has its reward. I paid too much for the letter, but it was charity."

She said to him: "If I were a man and could not give a miserable little two-hundred dollar gown to my wife. I do not know what I would do. I hate a miser, but I think I would try to pass for one."

In his place, what would you have said? He said: "You, dear, are a miser. When you appear on Broadway, New York which seemed dull, stupid, and troubled becomes splendid. The trees take life, the shop windows are amusing, the men witty, and the dresses of women regain their brightness like tarnished paintings brushed with a sponge. You are more beautiful than the ideal creatures evoked by the poets and know how happy the city is when you pass, but it does not please you, and you frown."

Website: The History
Article Name: Phases of City Life 1891
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


New York Times October 11, 1891 p.11 (1 page)
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