Posts Tagged ‘Five Points’

How the other half lived

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

On this day in 1870, Jacob Riis stepped off a ship from Denmark to begin a new life in New York. The immigration office found him a job in western Pennsylvania, but news of a war in Europe prompted him to soon return to New York City to volunteer to serve in the French Army.

The French Army didn’t want him. He had sold everything down to his boots to pay for the trip to New York, so now he was destitute and homeless. During the summer, he was able to find some seasonal work just outside the city, but when those jobs ended in the fall, he “joined the great army of tramps…fighting at night with vagrant curs or outcasts as miserable as myself for the protection of some sheltering ash-bin or doorway.”Jacob Riis - Bandit's Roost He spent weeks sleeping in doorways or alleys in the most notorious neighborhood in the country, Five Points. He was even evicted from the police station and put on a ferry to Jersey City. (more…)

No Guinness in the Old Brewery

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

When Irish landlords started shipping their starving tenants to North America in the mid-19th Century (either to help the tenants or to help themselves by avoiding the extra poor tax), most of the immigrants chose to go to New York. It soon became much cheaper to send them to Canada (see my earlier post on the “coffin ships”) so some landed in Quebec instead. But many of them soon made their way to New York anyway, because they already had friends or families there. In New York they could be sure to find people from their home county, or even their home neighborhood.

Unfortunately, they would most likely find those friends in Five Points, the most notorious neighborhood slum in the world.The Old Brewery in Five Points (more…)

Looking for Hell

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

The other day I went looking for Hell.

I was in New York and had a few hours to kill so I checked the map for things near my hotel and I saw we were near the neighborhood labeled “Hell’s Kitchen.”  I’d been reading about the 19th Century tenements of the Five Points neighborhood, so I was in the mood to look for signs of past misery in New York. Five Points was so notoriously bad that it became a huge tourist attraction. Davy Crockett, visiting New York in 1834, said that the residents of the Sixth Ward were “too mean to swab hell’s kitchen.” So those who actually lived in Hell’s Kitchen had to have it worse, right? Maybe they did, but I found no evidence of it on this trip.

The first indication I saw that I’d reached the right area was a restaurant proudly calling itself “Hell’s Kitchen.” It was closed. Maybe that had something to do with the ice over the sidewalk outside… (more…)