A project by Ricardo Miranda Zuniga for
the NEW MUSEUM'S Counter Culture

A Bowery History

As I began to research the history of the Bowery, I picked up Christopher Mele's Selling the Lower East Side: Culture, Real Estate and Resistance in New York City (University of Minnesota Press, 2000). In his book, Mele sites Darkness and Daylight, or Lights and Shadows of New York Life (A.D. Worthington and CO., Publishers, Hartford, Conn, 1892), "a milestone in the genre of sensationalist representations that mapped the city's moral geography and detailed the lives of thieves, prostitutes, tramps, tenement dwellers, and others deemed 'less fortunate'" [Mele, pg.33]. I was able to find Darkness and Daylight, or Lights and Shadows of New York Life at NYC's Main Library and it became a source of inspiration for the Bowery Project, hence the project's title.

Darkness and Daylight, or Lights and Shadows of New York Life is broken up into three sections, each by one author that presents an alternate perspective. The first section is by Mrs. Helen Campbell, a missionary working to save lost souls in the Lower East Side. The second section by a journalist and the third by Thomas Byrnes, the Chief of the New York Detective Bureau.

Below, I have transcribed sections from the 19th Century publication, that I found of most interest. The publication was accompanied by a number of illustrations based on photographs taken by candle light, to the right are links to illustrations concerning the Bowery scanned from the original publication.

From Publisher's Preface: "The publishers and their photographer explored the city together for months, by day and by night, seeking for living material on the streets, up narrow alleys and in tenement houses, in missions and charitable institutions, in low lodging-houses and cellars, in underground resorts and stale-beer dives, in haunts of criminals and training-schools of crime, and in nooks and corners known only to the police and rarely visited by any one else. These two hundred and fifty remarkable pictures were selected from upwards of a thousand photographs taken at all hours of the day and night. Many of them were taken at moments when the people portrayed would rather have been anywhere else than before the lens' eye.
The dark side of life is presented without any attempt to tone it down, and foul places are shown just as they exist. Anyone who undertakes to "see life" in the haunts of vice and crime in New York, especially by night, takes his life in his own hands, and courts dangers in many forms... It is not pleasant, in underground dens, where hardened criminals and the vilest outcasts hide from the light of day, to be mistaken for detectives in search of their prey; nor is it pleasant to spend day after day in vermin-infested tenements and oozy cellars waiting for opportunities to portray some particularly desired scene. It is dangerous to breathe for hours at a time an atmosphere poisoned with nauseating effluvia; it is hazardous to be surrounded in narrow alleys by a crowd of toughs who believe that bricks and other missiles were specially designed for the benefit of strangers."

"But business has invaded these once fashionable quarters, and now all the way to Forty-Second Street Fashion is fast disappearing before the steady advance of Commerce. A few of the old houses remain untouched, but the tide is irresistible and the world moves. Superb carriages still roll along the avenue, and in the afternoon there is a throng of promenaders, though it is less dense than the active, rushing throng of lower Broadway. The Bowery has a course parallel in a general way to the great thoroughfare, Broadway, but the course is the only feature in which a parallel exists. In population, shops, theatres, manners, customs and everything else, the Bowery and Broadway are wholly dissimilar. The Bowery is intensely German in character. German beer saloons, German shops of every name and kind, German theatres and concert halls, German banks, and other German institutions innumerable abound here."

"The actors in the cheap museums and on the Bowery music hall stage are often broken-down men and disappointed women, whose only art now is to hide from the audience that they are near the end of a bitter struggle for daily bread.
Concert-halls and Dime Museums thrive on the Bowery. The ordinary concert-hall is a place where no respectable man would like by any one for whose opinion he has any regard. Their frequenters are dissolute men of all ages, but more often young clerks and mechanics, together with strangers and rural visitors who think they are 'seeing city life.' Beer and cheap liquors are dispensed, vulgar songs are accompanied by wretched music, and the surrounding and influences are generally low and vile. The attendants at the tables are often disreputable women who are fit associates for dissolute patrons."

It is characteristic of the Bowery that it has its own artists in the criminal professions and tolerates no others. They may live on the side streets, but they operate on the great thoroughfare. There is a battalion of tramps, also, who never stray outside this charmed circle. Some of them I have known for twenty years and have watched them step down lower and lower until their feet are close to the threshold of the morgue. One, a gray-haired and bent mendicant, tottered ahead of me tonight, little dreaming that I can recall the day when his name was famous in literature. To the world he has been dead these score of years, and he will be nothing more than a mere name and remembrance when his tired bones are laid to rest in the city's cemetery of the outcast..."

Chapter XXXIV
Low Lodging-Houses of New York - Places that foster Crime and Harbor Criminals - Dens of Thieves The Breeding-Places of Crime - Dens of Thieves - How Boys and Young Men from the Country are Lured to Ruin - From the Lodging-House to the Gallows - A Night's Lodging for three Cents - Lost, Dirty, and Troublesome Places - Hotbeds of Crime - Leaves from my own Experience -- Illustrative Cases - A Forger's Crime and its Results - A Unique Photograph - the Pride of a Bowery Tough - 'Holding up' a Victim - The Importation of Foreign Criminals - A Human Ghoul - How Ex-Convicts Drift back into Crime - the Descent into the Pit - Black Sheep.

"It is undeniable that the cheap lodging-houses of New York City have a powerful tendency to produce, foster, and increase crime. Instead off being places where decent people reduced in circumstances or temporarily distressed for want of money can obtain a clean bed for a small sum, these places are generally filthy beyond description, and are very largely the resorts of thieves and other criminals of the lowest class who here consort together and lay plans for crimes.

The cheap lodging-house in New York is a modern institution. It was started by a man named Howe, who came here from Boston, about fifteen years ago. His first lodging-house in Chatham Street (now Park Row) was a success and he soon extended the business. When he died, a few years ago, he left a large fortune as the result of shrewd management of a new enterprise. The number of lodging-houses and dormitories has increased rapidly since Howe made his first venture, and there are now 270 such places in the city, containing in all 12,317 rooms. Some of these lodging-houses have as many as three hundred beds. There is one class in which fifteen, twenty or twenty-five cents are charged for a night's lodging, while in another and lower class the prices range from three to ten cents. In the very cheapest houses the lodgers generally sleep on the floor or a narrow wooden benches, and in some places on strips of canvas suspended by ropes, after the fashion of hammocks. According to the Report of the Police Department of New York for 1890, the enormous number of 4,823,595 cheap lodgings were furnished during the year in these resorts."