For reasons which he has not yet made public, Stokes now resolved to take matters into his own hands, and on the afternoon of the 6th of January, 1872, waylaid Fisk, as the latter was ascending the private stairway of the Grand Central Hotel, and, firing upon him twice from his hiding place, inflicted on him severe wounds from which he died the next day. The assassination was most cowardly and brutal, and awakened a feeling of horror and indignation on the part of all classes.
XLVII. TRINITY CHURCH.
On the west side of Broadway, facing Wall street, stands Trinity Church, or, as it is commonly called, "Old Trinity," the handsomest ecclesiastical structure in the city. It is the third edifice which has occupied the site. The first church was built in 1697, at the organization of the parish, and was a plain square edifice with an ugly steeple. In 1776, this building was destroyed in the great fire of that year. A second church was built on the site of the old one, in 1790. In 1839, this was pulled down, and the present noble edifice was erected. It was finished and consecrated in 1846.
The present church is a beautiful structure of brown-stone, built as nearly in the pure Gothic style as modern churches ever are. The walls are fifty feet in height, and the apex of the roof is sixty feet from the floor of the church. The interior is finished in brown-stone, with massive columns of the same material supporting the roof. There are no transepts, but it is proposed to enlarge the church by the addition of transepts, and to extend the choir back to the end of the churchyard. The nave and the aisles make up the public portion of the church. The choir is occupied by the clergy. The windows are of stained glass. Those at the sides are very simple, but the oriel over the altar is a grand work. There are two organs, a monster instrument over the main entrance, and a smaller organ in the choir. Both are remarkably fine instruments. The vestry rooms, which lie on each side of the chancel, contain a number of handsome memorial tablets, and in the north room there is a fine tomb in memory of Bishop Onderdonk, with a full-length effigy of the deceased prelate in his episcopal robes.
Service is held twice a day in the church. On Sundays and high feast days there is full service and a sermon. The choral service is used altogether on such occasions. Trinity has long been famous for its excellent music. The choir consists of men and boys, who are trained with great care by the musical director. The service is very beautiful and impressive, and is thoroughly in keeping with the grand and cathedral-like edifice in which it is conducted. The two organs, the voices of the choristers, and often the chime of bells, all combine to send a flood of melody rolling through the beautiful arches such as is never heard elsewhere in the city.
The spire is 284 feet in height, and is built of solid brownstone from the base to the summit of the cross. It contains a clock, with three faces, just above the roof of the church, and a chime of bells. About 110 feet from the ground the square form of the tower terminates, and a massive but graceful octagonal spire rises to a height of 174 feet. At the base of this spire is a narrow gallery enclosed with a stone balustrade, from which a fine view of the city and the surrounding country is obtained. The visitor may, however, climb within the spire to a point nearly two hundred and fifty feet from the street. Here is a small wooden platform, and about four feet above it are four small windows through which one may look out upon the magnificent view spread out below him. The eye can range over the entire city, and take in Brooklyn and its suburban towns as well. To the eastward are Long Island Sound and the distant hills of Connecticut. To the southward stretches away the glorious bay, and beyond it is the dark blue line of the Atlantic. Sandy Hook, the Highlands, the Narrows, and Staten Island are all in full view. To the westward is the New Jersey shore, and back of Jersey city rise the blue Orange Mountains, with Newark, Elizabeth, Orange and Patterson in full sight. To the northward, the Hudson stretches away until it seems to disappear in the dark shadow of the Palisades. From where you stand, you look down on the habitations of nearly three millions of people. The bay, the rivers, and the distant Sound are crowded with vessels of all kinds. If the day be clear, you may see the railway trains dashing across the meadows back of Jersey City. The roar of the great city comes up to you from below, and beneath you is a perfect maze of telegraph wires. The people in the streets seem like pigmies, and the vehicles are like so many toys. You know they are moving rapidly, but they seem from this lofty height to be crawling. It is a long way to these upper windows, but the view which they command is worth the exertion. The tower is open to visitors during the week, on payment of a trifling fee to the sexton.
The chimes are hung in the square tower, just above the roof of the church. The bells are nine in number. The smallest weighs several hundred pounds, while the largest weighs several thousand. The musical range is an octave and a quarter, rather a limited scale, it is true, but the ringer is a thorough musician, and has managed to ring out many an air within this compass, which but for his ingenuity would have been unsuited to these bells. The largest bell, the "Big Ben," and several others, are connected with the clock, and the former strikes the hours, while the rest of this set chime the quarters. Five of the bells, the large one and the four smaller ones, were brought here from England, in 1846. The other four were made in West Troy, by Meneely & Son, a few years later, and are fully equal to their English mates in tone and compass. The entire chime is very rich and sweet in tone, and, in this respect, is surpassed by very few bells in the world. The bells are hung on swinging frames, but are lashed, so as to stand motionless during the chiming, the notes being struck by the tongues, which are movable. The tongue always strikes in the same place, and thus the notes are full and regular. From the tongue of each bell there is a cord which is attached to a wooden lever in the ringer's room, about thirty feet below. These nine levers are arranged side by side, and are so arranged as to work as easy as possible. Each is as large as a handspike, and it requires no little strength to sustain the exertion of working them. The ringer places his music before him, and strikes each note as it occurs by suddenly pushing down the proper lever. At the end of his work, he is thoroughly tired. The ringer now in charge of the bells is Mr. James Ayliffe, an accomplished musician.
In favorable weather, the chimes can be heard for a distance of from five to ten miles. There are few strangers who leave the city without hearing the sweet bells of the old church. The city people would count it a great misfortune to be deprived of their music. For nearly thirty years they have heard them, in seasons of joy and in hours of sadness. On Christmas eve, at midnight, the chimes ring in the blessed morning of our Lord's nativity, thus continuing an old and beautiful custom now observed only in parts of Europe.
The church is kept open from early morning until sunset. In the winter season it is always well heated, and hundreds of the poor find warmth and shelter within its holy walls. It is the only church in New York in which there is no distinction made between the rich and the poor. The writer has frequently seen beggars in tatters conducted, by the sexton, to the best seats in the church.
The rector and his assistants are alive to the fact that this is one of the few churches now left to the lower part of the city, and they strive to make it a great missionary centre. Their best efforts are for the poor. Those who sneer at the wealth of the parish, would do well to trouble themselves to see what a good use is made of it.
The ultra fashionable element of the congregation attend Trinity Chapel, or "Up-town Trinity," in Twenty-fifth street, near Broadway. This is a handsome church, and has a large and wealthy congregation.
Trinity Parish embraces a large part of the city. It includes the following churches, or chapels, as they are called: St. Paul's, St. John's, Trinity Chapel, and Trinity Church. It is in charge of a rector, who is a sort of small bishop in this little diocese. He has eight assistants. Each church or chapel has its pastor, who is subject to the supervision of the rector. The Rev. Morgan Dix, D.D., a son of General John A. Dix, is the present rector.
Trinity takes good care of its clergy. The salaries are amply sufficient to insure a comfortable support, and a well-furnished house is provided for each one who has a family. Should a clergyman become superannuated in the service of the parish, he is liberally maintained during his life; and should he die in his ministry, provision is made for his family.
[Picture: TRINITY CHURCH.]
The wealth of the parish is very great. It is variously stated at from sixty to one hundred millions of dollars. It is chiefly in real estate, the leases of which yield an immense revenue.
The churchyard of Old Trinity covers about two acres of ground. A handsome iron railing separates it from Broadway, and the thick rows of gravestones, all crumbling and stained with age, present a strange contrast to the bustle, vitality, and splendor with which they are surrounded. They stare solemnly down into Wall street, and offer a bitter commentary upon the struggles and anxiety of the money kings.
The place has an air of peace that is pleasant in the midst of so much noise and confusion, and is well worth visiting.
In the churchyard, near the south door of the church, you will see a plain brown-stone slab, bearing this inscription: "The vault of Walter and Robert C. Livingston, sons of Robert Livingston, of the Manor of Livingston." This is one of the Meccas of the world of science, for the mortal part of Robert Fulton sleeps in the vault below, in sight of the mighty steam fleets which his genius has called into existence. A plain obelisk, near the centre of the southern extremity of the yard, marks the grave of Alexander Hamilton. At the west end of the south side of the church is the sarcophagus of Albert Gallatin, and James Lawrence, the heroic but ill-fated commander of the Chesapeake sleeps close by the south door of the church, his handsome tomb being the most prominent object in that portion of the yard. At the northern extremity of the churchyard, and within a few feet of Broadway, is the splendid "Martyrs' Monument," erected to the memory of the patriots of the American Revolution, who died from the effects of British cruelty in the "Old Sugar House" and in the prison ships in Wallabout Bay, the site of the present Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Close to the Broadway railing, and so close that one can almost touch it from the street, is a worn brown-stone slab, bearing but two words, "Charlotte Temple." It is difficult to find, and but few strangers ever see it, but for years it has been the most prominent spot in the enclosure to the lovers of romance. Charlotte Temple's history is a very sad one, and unhappily not a rare one. She lived and died nearly a century ago. She was young and surpassingly lovely, and she attracted the attention of a British officer of high rank, who carried her off from her boarding school, seduced her, and deserted her. Her friends discarded her, and she sank under her heavy load of sorrow. She was found by her father in a wretched garret, with her child. Both were at the point of death. The father came just in time to close their eyes forever. They were laid to rest in the same grave in the old churchyard, and, some years after, the seducer, stung with remorse for his brutality, placed over them the slab which still marks the spot. The sad story was written out in book form, and was dramatized and played in every part of the country, so that there are few old time people in all the land who are ignorant of it.
XLVIII. THE HOLIDAYS.
I. NEW YEAR'S DAY.
All the holidays are observed in New York with more or less heartiness, but those which claim especial attention are New Year's Day and Christmas.
The observance of New Year's Day dates from the earliest times. The Dutch settlers brought the custom from their old homes across the sea, and made the day an occasion for renewing old friendships and wishing each other well. All feuds were forgotten, family breaches were repaired, and every one made it a matter of conscience to enter upon the opening year with kind feelings towards his neighbor. Subsequent generations have continued to observe the custom, though differently from the primitive but hearty style of their fathers.
For weeks before the New Year dawns, nearly every house in the city is in a state of confusion. The whole establishment is thoroughly overhauled and cleaned, and neither mistress nor maid has any rest from her labors. The men folks are nuisances at such times, and gradually keep themselves out of the way, lest they should interfere with the cleaning. Persons who contemplate refurnishing their houses, generally wait until near the close of the year before doing so, in order that everything may be new on the great day. Those who cannot refurnish, endeavor to make their establishments look as fresh and new as possible. A general baking, brewing, stewing, broiling, and frying is begun, and the pantries are loaded with good things to eat and to drink.
All the family must have new outfits for the occasion, and tailors and modistes find this a profitable season. To be seen in a dress that has ever been worn before, is considered the height of vulgarity.
The table is set in magnificent style. Elegant china and glassware, and splendid plate, adorn it. It is loaded down with dainties of every description. Wines, lemonades, coffee, brandy, whiskey and punch are in abundance. Punch is seen in all its glory on this day, and each householder strives to have the best of this article. There are regular punch-makers in the city, who reap a harvest at this time. Their services are engaged long before-hand, and they are kept busy all the morning going from house to house, to make this beverage, which is nowhere so palatable as in this city.
Hairdressers, or "artistes in hair," as they call themselves, are also in demand at New Year, for each lady then wishes to have her coiffure as magnificent as possible. This is a day of hard work to these artistes, and in order to meet all their engagements, they begin their rounds at midnight. They are punctual to the moment, and from that time until noon on New Year's Day are busily engaged. Of course those whose heads are dressed at such unseasonable hours cannot think of lying down to sleep, as their "head-gear" would be ruined by such a procedure. They are compelled to rest sitting bolt upright, or with their heads resting on a table or the back of a chair.
All New York is stirring by eight o'clock in the morning. By nine the streets are filled with gayly-dressed persons on their way to make their annual calls. Private carriages, hacks, and other vehicles soon appear, filled with persons bent upon similar expeditions. Business is entirely suspended in the city. The day is a legal holiday, and is faithfully observed by all classes. Hack hire is enormous—forty or fifty dollars being sometimes paid for a carriage for the day. The cars and omnibuses are crowded, and every one is in the highest spirits. The crowds consist entirely of men. Scarcely a female is seen on the streets. It is not considered respectable for a lady to venture out, and the truth is, it is not prudent for her to do so.
Callers begin their rounds at ten o'clock. The ultra fashionables do not receive until twelve. At the proper time, the lady of the house, attended by her daughters, if there be any, takes her stand in the drawing-room by the hospitable board. In a little while the door-bell rings, and the first visitor is ushered in by the pompous domestic in charge of the door. The first callers are generally young men, who are ambitious to make as many visits as possible. The old hands know where the best tables are set, and confine their attentions principally to them. The caller salutes the hostess and the ladies present, says it's a fine or a bad day, as the case may be, offers the compliments of the season, and accepts with alacrity the invitation of the hostess to partake of the refreshments. A few eatables are swallowed in haste—the visitor managing to get out a word or two between each mouthful—a glass of wine or punch is gulped down, the visitor bows himself out, and the ladies avenge themselves for the infliction by ridiculing him after he has gone. This is the routine, and it goes on all day, and until long after dark.
Sometimes a family, not wishing to receive callers, will hang a card-basket on the front-door knob and close the front of the house. The callers deposit their cards in the basket, and go their way rejoicing. Perhaps the mansion is one that is famed for the excellence of its wines and eatables on such occasions. The veteran caller has promised himself a genuine treat here, and he views the basket with dismay. There is no help for it, however, so he deposits his card, and departs, wondering at "the manners of some people who refuse to observe a time-honored custom."
[Picture: NEW YEAR'S CALLS.]
A gentleman in starting out, provides himself with a written memorandum of the places he intends visiting, and "checks" each one off with his pencil, when the call is made. This list is necessary, as few sober men can remember all their friends without it, and with the majority the list is a necessity before the day is half over. The driver takes charge of it often, and when the caller is too hazy to act for himself, carries him sometimes to the door of the house, and rings the bell for him. Each man tries to make as many calls as possible, so that he may boast of the feat afterwards. At the outset, of course, everything is conducted with the utmost propriety, but, as the day wears on, the generous liquors they have imbibed begin to "tell" upon the callers, and many eccentricities, to use no harsher term, are the result. Towards the close of the day, everything is in confusion—the door-bell is never silent. Crowds of young men, in various stages of intoxication, rush into the lighted parlors, leer at the hostess in the vain effort to offer their respects, call for liquor, drink it, and stagger out, to repeat the scene at some other house. Frequently, they are unable to recognize the residences of their friends, and stagger into the wrong house. Some fall early in the day, and are put to bed by their friends; others sink down helpless at the feet of their hostess, and are sent home; and a few manage to get through the day. Strange as it may seem, it is no disgrace to get drunk on New Year's Day. These indiscretions are expected at such times; and it has happened that some of the ladies themselves have succumbed to the seductive influences of "punch," and have been carried to bed by the servants.
The Kitchen, as well as the parlor, observes the day. During the Christmas week housekeepers become impressed with the fact that the usual amount of provisions utterly fails to meet the wants of the family. They attribute it to the increased appetites of the establishment. Biddy could tell a different tale, however, and on New Year's Day sets a fine table for her "Cousins" and friends, at the expense of the master of the house. "Shure, she must say her friends, as well as the missus; and bedad, it's a free counthry, and a poor ghirl has to look out for hersilf."
The next day one half of New York has a headache, and the other half is "used up" with fatigue. The doctors are kept busy, and so are the police courts. This day is commonly called "The Ladies' Day," and is devoted by those who feel inclined, to making calls on each other and comparing notes as to the work of the previous day.
For weeks before the high festival of Christendom, New York puts on its holiday attire. The stores are filled with the richest and most attractive goods, toys of every description fill up every available space in the great thoroughfares, the markets and provision stores abound in good things in the eatable line, and the whole city looks brighter and more cheerful than it has done since the last Christmas season. Broadway and the Bowery are ablaze with gaslight at night, and shops that usually close their doors at dark, remain open until nine or ten o'clock. All are crowded, and millions of dollars are spent in providing for the happy day. On Christmas Eve, or perhaps a day or two later, many of the churches provide Christmas trees for their Sunday schools.
When the bell of "Old Trinity" rings out the last stroke of the midnight hour of Christmas Eve, there is a pause. The city is dark and still, and there is not a sound in all the vast edifice which towers so majestically in the gloom of the night. The heavy clangor of the clock bell dies away in the stillness, when suddenly there bursts out from the dark tower of the old church a perfect flood of melody. The bells seem beside themselves with joy, and they send their merry tones rolling through the silent streets below, and out upon the blue waters of the bay, bidding all men rejoice, for Christ is born.
On Christmas Day the festivities are much the same as those in other places. They are hearty and merry here, as elsewhere, and the season is one of happiness. The poor are not forgotten. Those who give nothing at other times, will subscribe for dinners or clothing for the unfortunate at Christmas. The various charitable institutions are kept busy receiving and delivering the presents sent them. Their inmates are provided with plentiful, substantial dinners, and have abundant means of sharing in the happiness which seems to pervade the whole city.
Thanksgiving Day, Evacuation Day (November 25th), the Fourth of July, and the Birthday of Washington, all receive appropriate honors, but they do not compare with the two great festivals of the Metropolis.
XLIX. THE SOCIAL EVIL.
I. THE LOST SISTERHOOD.
In January, 1866, Bishop Simpson, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, at a public meeting at the Cooper Institute, made the astounding declaration that there were as many prostitutes in the city of New York as there were members of the Methodist Church, the membership of which at that time was estimated at between eleven and twelve thousand. In the spring of 1871, the Rev. Dr. Bellows estimated the number of these women at 20,000. These declarations were repeated all over the country by the press, and New York was held up to public rebuke as a second Sodom. The estimate of Dr. Bellows would brand one female in every twenty-four, of all ages, as notoriously impure, and taking away from the actual population those too old and too young to be included in this class, the per centage would be, according to that gentleman, very much larger—something like one in every eighteen or twenty. New York is bad enough in this respect, but not so bad as the gentlemen we have named suppose. The real facts are somewhat difficult to ascertain. The police authorities boast that they have full information as to the inmates of every house of ill-fame in the city, but their published statistics are notoriously inaccurate. As near as can be ascertained, there are about 600 houses of ill-fame in the city. The number of women living in them, and those frequenting the bed-houses and lower class assignation houses, is about 5000. In this estimate is included about 700 waiter-girls in the concert saloons.
This is the number of professional women of the town, but it does not include these who, while nominally virtuous, really live upon the wages of their shame, or the nominally respectable married and single women who occasionally visit assignation houses. It is impossible to estimate these, but it is believed that the number is proportionately small. Their sin is known only to themselves and their lovers, and they do not figure in the police records as abandoned women.
The fallen women of New York include every grade of their class, from those who are living in luxury, to the poor wretches who are dying by inches in the slums. Every stage of the road to ruin is represented.
There are not many first-class houses of ill-fame in the city—probably not over fifty in all—but they are located in the best neighborhoods, and it is said that Fifth avenue itself is not free from the taint of their presence. As a rule, they are hired fully furnished, the owners being respectable and often wealthy people. The finest of these houses command from ten to twelve thousand dollars rent. The neighbors do not suspect the true character of the place, unless some of them happen to be among its visitors. The police soon discover the truth, however. The establishment is palatial in its character, and is conducted with the most rigid outward propriety.
The proprietress is generally a middle-aged woman, of fine personal appearance. She has a man living with her, who passes as her husband, in order that she may be able to show a legal protector in case of trouble with the authorities. This couple usually assume some foreign name, and pass themselves off upon the unsuspecting as persons of the highest respectability.
The inmates are usually young women, or women in the prime of life. They are carefully chosen for their beauty and charms, and are frequently persons of education and refinement. They are required to observe the utmost decorum in the parlors of the house, and their toilettes are exquisite and modest. They never make acquaintances on the street, and, indeed, have no need to do so. The women who fill these houses are generally of respectable origin. They are the daughters, often the wives or widows, of persons of the best social position. Some have been drawn astray by villains; some have been drugged and ruined, and have fled to these places to hide their shame from their friends; some have adopted the life in order to avoid poverty, their means having been suddenly swept away; some have entered upon it from motives of extravagance and vanity; some are married women, who have been unfaithful to their husbands, and who have been deserted in consequence; some have been ruined by the cruelty and neglect of their husbands; some, horrible as it may seem, have been forced into such a life by their parents; and others have adopted the life from motives of pure licentiousness. The proprietress takes care to keep her house full, and has agents whose business it is to provide her with fresh women as fast as they are needed. Whatever may be the cause of their fall, these houses are always full of women competent to grace the best circles of social life.
The visitors to these establishments are men of means. No one can afford to visit them who has not money to spend on them. Besides the money paid to the inmates, the visitors expend large sums for wines. The liquors furnished are of an inferior quality, and the price is nearly double that of the best retail houses in the city. It is not pleasant to contemplate, but it is nevertheless a fact, that the visitors include some of the leading men of the country, men high in public life, and eminent for their professional abilities. Even ministers of the gospel visiting the city have been seen at these houses. The proportion of married men is frightfully large. There is scarcely a night that does not witness the visits of numbers of husbands and fathers to these infamous palaces of sin. These same men would be merciless in their resentment of any lapse of virtue on the part of their wives. New York is not alone to blame for this. The city is full of strangers, and they contribute largely to the support of these places, and the city is called upon to bear the odium of their conduct. Men coming to New York from other parts of the country seem to think themselves freed from all the restraints of morality and religion, and while here commit acts of dissipation and sin, such as they would not dream of indulging in in their own communities, and they go home and denounce New York as the worst place in the world.
The proprietress takes care that the visitors shall enjoy all the privacy they desire. If one wishes to avoid the other visitors, he is shown into a private room. Should the visitor desire an interview with any particular person he is quickly admitted to her presence. If his visit is "general," he awaits in the parlor the entrance of the inmates of the house, who drop in at intervals.
The earnings of the inmates of these houses are very large, but their expenses are in proportion. They are charged the most exorbitant board by the proprietress, whose only object is to get all the money out of them she can. They are obliged to dress handsomely, and their wants are numerous, so that they save nothing. The proprietress cares for them faithfully as long as they are of use to her, but she is not disinterested, as a rule, and turns them out of doors without mercy in case of sickness or loss of beauty.
The inmates of these first-class houses remain in them about one year. Many go from them sooner. In entering upon their sin, and tasting the sweets of wealth and luxury, they form false estimates of the life that lies before them, and imagine that though others have failed, they will always be able to retain their places in the aristocracy of shame. They are mistaken. The exceptions to the rule are very rare, so that we are warranted in asserting that these first-class houses change their inmates every year. A life of shame soon makes havoc with a woman's freshness, if not with her beauty, and the proprietress has no use for faded women. She knows the attraction of "strange women," and she makes frequent changes as a matter of policy. Furthermore, the privacy of these places demands that the women shall be as little known to the general public as possible.
Whatever may be the reason, the change is inevitable. One year of luxury and pleasure, and then the woman begins her downward course. The next step is to a second-class house, where the proprietress is more cruel and exacting, and where the visitors are rougher and ruder than those who frequented the place in which the lost one began her career. Two or three years in these houses is the average, and by this time the woman has become a thorough prostitute. She has lost her refinement, and, it may be, has added drunkenness to her other sin, and has become full-mouthed and reckless. She has sunk too low to be fit for even such a place as this, and she is turned out without pity to take the next step in her ruin. Greene street, with its horrible bagnios, claims her next. She becomes the companion of thieves—perhaps a thief herself—and passes her days in misery. She is a slave to her employer, and is robbed of her wretched earnings. Disease and sickness are her lot, and from them she cannot escape. She is never by any chance the companion of a "respectable" man, but her associates are as degraded as herself. She may fall into the hands of the police, and be sent to the Island, where the seal is set to her damnation. A year or two in a Greene street house is all that a human being can stand. The next descent is to Water street or some kindred thoroughfare. Almost immediately she falls a victim to the terrible scourge of these places. Disease of the most loathsome kind fastens itself upon her, and she literally rots to death. Such faces as look out upon you from those Water street dens! Foul, bloated with gin and disease, distorted with suffering and despair, the poor creatures do what they can to hasten their sure doom. It all happens in a few years, seven or eight at the longest. Ninety-nine women out of every hundred go down the fearful road I have marked out. I care not how beautiful, how attractive, how sanguine may be the woman who is to-day the acknowledged belle of a fashionable house of ill-fame, her doom is sure. Would you see her seven years hence, should she live that long, you must seek her among the living corpses of the Water street dens.
"The wages of sin is death!" Never were truer words written. Ask any one whose duties have called him into constant contact with the shadowy side of city life, and he will tell you that there is no escape from the doom of the fallen women. Let no woman deceive herself. Once entered upon a life of shame, however brilliant the opening may be, the end is certain, unless she anticipates it by suicide. The longer her life, the greater her suffering. It is very hard for a woman to reform from such a life. Not one in a hundred feels the desire to reform. Everything is against her. Her mode of life is utterly destructive of her better nature, her higher impulses. There is but one means of safety. Avoid the first step. There is no turning back, when once a woman enters upon the downward path. "The wages of sin is death!"—death in its most awful form.
It is generally very hard to learn the true history of these unfortunates. As a rule, they have lively imaginations, and rarely confine themselves to facts. All wish to excite the sympathy of those to whom they speak, and make themselves as irresponsible for their fall as possible. It is safe to assert that the truly unfortunate are the exceptions. Women of cultivation and refinement are exceptionally rare in this grade of life. The majority were of humble position originally, and either deliberately adopted or allowed themselves to be led into the life as a means of escaping poverty and gratifying a love for fine clothes and display. The greater part of these women begin their careers at second and third class houses, and, as a matter of course, their descent into the depths is all the more rapid. Very many are led astray through their ignorance, and by the persuasions of their acquaintances engaged in the same wretched business. The proprietors of these houses, of every class, spare no pains to draw into their nets all the victims that can he ensnared. They have their agents scattered all over the country, who use every means to tempt young girls to come to the great city to engage in this life of shame. They promise them money, fine clothes, ease, and an elegant home. The seminaries and rural districts of the land furnish a large proportion of this class. The hotels in this city are closely watched by the agents of these infamous establishments, especially hotels of the plainer and less expensive kind. These harpies watch their chance, and when they lay siege to a blooming young girl, surround her with every species of enticement. She is taken to church, to places of amusement, or to the park, and, in returning, a visit is paid to the house of a friend of the harpy. Refreshments are offered, and a glass of drugged wine plunges the victim into a stupor, from which she awakes a ruined woman.
A large number of the fallen women of this city are from New England. The excess of the female population in that overcrowded section of the country makes it impossible for all to find husbands, and throws many upon their own resources for their support. There is not room for all at home, and hundreds come every year to this city. They are ignorant of the difficulty of finding employment here, but soon learn it by experience. The runners of the houses of ill-fame are always on the watch for them, and from various causes many of these girls fall victims to them and join the lost sisterhood. They are generally the daughters of farmers, or working men, and when they come are fresh in constitution and blooming in their young beauty. God pity them! These blessings soon vanish. They dare not escape from their slavery, for they have no means of earning a living in the great city, and they know they would not be received at home, were their story known. Their very mothers would turn from them with loathing. Without hope, they cling to their shame, and sink lower and lower, until death mercifully ends their human sufferings. As long as they are prosperous, they represent in their letters home that they are engaged in a steady, honest business, and the parents' fears are lulled. After awhile these letters are rarer. Finally they cease altogether. Would a father find his child after this, he must seek her in the foulest hells of the city.
When other arts fail, the wretches who lie in wait for women here seek to ruin them by foul means. They are drugged, or are forced into ruin. A woman in New York cannot be too careful. There are many scoundrels in the city who make it their business to annoy and insult respectable ladies in the hope of luring them to lives of shame. Young girls have been frequently enticed into low class brothels and forced to submit to outrage. Very few of the perpetrators of these crimes are punished as they deserve. Even if the victim complains to the police, it amounts to nothing. The same species of crime is practised every year.
The police are frequently called upon by persons from other parts of the country, for aid in seeking a lost daughter, or a sister, or some female relative. Sometimes these searches, which are always promptly made, are rewarded with success. Some unfortunates are, in this way, saved before they have fallen so low as to make efforts in their behalf vain. Others, overwhelmed with despair, will refuse to leave their shame. They cannot bear the pity or silent scorn of their former relatives and friends, and prefer to cling to their present homes. It is very hard for a fallen woman to retrace her steps, even if her friends or relatives are willing to help her do so.
Last winter an old gray-haired man came to the city from his farm in New England, accompanied by his son, a manly youth, in search of his lost daughter. His description enabled the police to recognize the girl as one who had but recently appeared in the city, and they at once led the father and brother to the house of which she was an inmate. As they entered the parlor, the girl recognized her father, and with a cry of joy sprang into his arms. She readily consented to go back with him, and that night all three left the city for their distant home.
A gentleman once found his daughter in one of the first-class houses of the city, to which she had been tracked by the police. He sought her there, and she received him with every demonstration of joy and affection. He urged her to return home with him, promising that all should be forgiven, and forgotten, but she refused to do so, and was deaf to all his entreaties. He brought her mother to see her, and though the girl clung to her and wept bitterly in parting, she would not go home. She felt that it was too late. She was lost.
Many of these poor creatures treasure sacredly the memories of their childhood and home. They will speak of them with a calmness which shows how deep and real is their despair. They would flee from their horrible lives if they could, but they are so enslaved that they are not able to do so. Their sin crushes them to the earth, and they cannot rise above it.
Drunkenness is very common among women of this class. Generally the liquors used are of an inferior quality, and do their dreadful work on the health and beauty of their victim very quickly. The use of narcotics is also very common. All the drug stores in the vicinity of these houses sell large quantities of opium, chloroform, and morphia. Absinthe is a popular drink. This liquor is a slow but deadly poison, and destroys the nervous system and brain, and produces insanity. Suicides are frequent, and many of the poor creatures fall victims to the brutality of the men who seek their society.
II. HOUSES OF ASSIGNATION.
There are over one hundred houses of assignation of all kinds in the city known to the police. This estimate includes the bed-houses, of which we shall speak further on. Besides these, there are places used for assignations which the officials of the law do not and cannot include in their returns. These are the smaller hotels, and sometimes the larger ones. Sometimes women take rooms in some of the cheap hotels, and there receive the visits of men whose acquaintance they have made on the street or at some place of amusement. Very often the proprietor of the house is simply victimized by such people, and several respectable houses have been so far overrun by them that decent persons have avoided them altogether. One or two of the smaller hotels of the city bear a most unenviable reputation of this kind. Even the first-class hotels cannot keep themselves entirely free from the presence of courtezans of the better class. Rich men keep their mistresses at them in elegant style, and the guests, and sometimes the proprietors, are in utter ignorance of the woman's true character. Again, women will live at the fashionable hotels, in the strictest propriety, and live by the proceeds of their meetings with men at houses of assignation.
The best houses are located in respectable, and a few in fashionable neighborhoods. In various ways they soon acquire a notoriety amongst persons having use for them. In the majority of them, the proprietress resides alone. Her visitors are persons of all classes in society. Married women meet their lovers here, and young girls pass in these polluted chambers the hours their parents suppose them to be devoting to healthful and innocent amusements. There are many nominally virtuous women in the city who visit these places one or more times each week. They come in the day, if necessary, but generally at night. A visit to the theatre, the opera, or a concert is too often followed by a visit to one of these places. It is said by those who claim to know, that sometimes women of good social position even possess pass keys to such houses. The hot-house fashionable society, to which we have referred elsewhere, sends many visitors here. Some married women visit these places because they love other men better than their lawful husbands. Others sin from mercenary motives. Their limited means do not allow them to gratify their taste for dress and display, and they acquire the desired ability in this infamous manner.
The majority of the houses are well known, and are scarcely conducted with secrecy, which is the chief requisite. The better class houses are handsomely furnished, and everything is conducted in the most secret manner. The police have often discovered assignation houses in residences which they believed to be simply the homes of private families. All these houses bring high rents. Men of "respectable" position have been known to furnish houses for this use, and have either engaged women to manage them, or have let them at enormous rents, supporting their own families in style on the proceeds of these dens of infamy.
The prices paid by visitors for the use of the rooms are large, and the receipts of the keeper make her fully able to pay the large rent demanded of her.
The city papers contain numerous advertisements, which reveal to the initiated the locality of these houses. They are represented as "Rooms to let to quiet persons," or "Rooms in a strictly private family, where boarders are not annoyed with impertinent questions," or "A handsome room to let, with board for the lady only," or "Handsome apartments to gentlemen, by a widow lady living alone." These advertisements are at once recognized by those in search of them. Families from the country frequently stumble across these places by accident. If the female members are young and handsome, they are received, and the mistake is not found out, perhaps, until it is too late.
Public houses of prostitution are bad enough, but houses of assignation are worse. The former are frequented only by the notoriously impure. The latter draw to them women who, while sinning, retain their positions in society. The more secret the place, the more dangerous it is. The secrecy is but an encouragement to sin. Were the chance of detection greater, women, at least, would hesitate longer before visiting them, but they know that they can frequent them habitually, without fear of discovery. Their outward appearance of respectability is a great assistance to the scoundrels who seek to entrap an innocent female within their walls. They form the worst feature of the Social Evil, and something should be done to suppress them.
III. THE STREET WALKERS.
Strangers visiting the city are struck with the number of women who are to be found on Broadway and the streets running parallel with it, without male escorts, after dark. They pass up and down the great thoroughfares at a rapid pace peculiar to them, glancing sharply at all the men they meet, and sometimes speaking to them in a low, quick undertone. One accustomed to the city can recognize them at a glance, and no man of common sense could fail to distinguish them from the respectable women who are forced to be out on the streets alone. They are known as Street Walkers, and constitute one of the lowest orders of prostitutes to be found in New York. They seem to be on the increase during the present winter; and in Broadway especially are more numerous and bolder than they have been for several years. The best looking and the best dressed are seen on Broadway, and in parts of the Fifth and Fourth avenues. The others correspond to the localities they frequent. They are chiefly young girls, seventeen being the average age, but you will see children of twelve and thirteen among them. Very few promenade Broadway below Canal street. The neighborhoods of the hotels and places of amusement are the most frequented. Some of the girls are quite pretty and affect a modest deportment, but the majority are hideous and brazen. New faces are constantly appearing on Broadway, to take the places of those who have gone down into the depths.
Many of these girls have some regular employment, at which they work during the day. Their regular earnings are small, and they take this means of increasing them. The majority, however, depend upon their infamous trade for their support. There have been rare cases in which girls have been driven upon the streets by their parents, who either wish to rid themselves of the support of the girl, or profit by her earnings. We have known cases where the girls have voluntarily supported their parents by the wages of their shame. There were once two sisters, well known on Broadway, who devoted their earnings to paying off a heavy debt of their father, which he was unable to meet. Such instances, however, are very rare.
As a rule the girls seek the streets from mercenary motives. They begin their wretched lives in the society of the most depraved, and are not long in becoming criminals themselves. They are nearly all thieves, and a very large proportion of them are but the decoys of the most desperate male garroters and thieves. The majority of them are the confederates of panel thieves. They are coarse, ugly, and disgusting, and medical men who are called on to treat them professionally, state that as a class they are terribly diseased. A healthy Street Walker is almost a myth.
Were these women dependent for their custom upon the city people, who know them for what they are, they would starve. They know this, and they exert their arts principally upon strangers. Strangers are more easily deceived, and, as a rule, have money to lose. Hundreds of strangers, coming to the city, follow them to their rooms, only to find themselves in the power of thieves, who compel them on pain of instant death to surrender all their valuables. The room taken by the decoy is vacated immediately after the robbery, the girl and her confederate disappear, and it is impossible to find them.
I know that this whole subject is unsavory, and I have not introduced it from choice. The Social Evil is a terrible fact here, and it is impossible to ignore it, and I believe that some good may be done by speaking of it plainly and stripping it of any romantic features. It is simply a disgusting and appalling feature of city life, and as such it is presented here. I know that these pages will find their way into the hands of those who contemplate visiting the city, and who will be assailed by the street girls. To them I would say that to accompany these women to their homes is simply to invite robbery and disease. New York has an abundance of attractions of the better kind, and those who desire amusement may find it in innocent enjoyment. Those who deliberately seek to indulge in sensuality and dissipation in a city to which they are strangers, deserve all the misfortunes which come to them in consequence.
The police do not allow the girls to stop and converse with men on Broadway. If a girl succeeds in finding a companion, she beckons him into one of the side streets, where the police will not interfere with her. If he is willing to go with her, she conducts him to her room, which is in one of the numerous Bed Houses of the city. These bed houses are simply large or small dwellings containing many furnished rooms, which are let to street walkers by the week, or which are hired to applicants of any class by the night. They are very profitable, and are frequently owned by men of good social position, who rent them out to others, or who retain the ownership, and employ a manager. The rent, whether weekly or nightly, is invariably paid in advance, so that the landlord loses nothing.
[Picture: THE RESULT OF FOLLOWING A STREET WALKER.]
The girl leads her companion to one of these houses, and if she has a room already engaged, proceeds directly to it; if not, one is engaged from a domestic on the spot, the price is paid, and the parties are shown up stairs. The place is kept dark and quiet, in order to avoid the attention of the police. The houses are more or less comfortable and handsome, according to the class by which they are patronized. They are sometimes preferred by guilty parties in high life, as the risk of being seen and recognized is less there than in more aristocratic houses. These houses have a constant run of visitors from about eight o'clock until long after midnight.
The Street Walkers not only infest the city itself, but literally overrun the various night lines of steamers plying between New York and the neighboring towns. The Albany and Boston lines are so thronged by these women that ladies are subjected to the greatest annoyance.
We have referred once or twice to panel thieving. This method of robbery is closely connected with street walking. The girl in this case acts in concert with a confederate, who is generally a man. She takes her victim to her room, and directs him to deposit his clothing on a chair, which is placed but a few inches from the wall at the end of the room. This wall is false, and generally of wood. It is built some three or four feet from the real wall of the room, thus forming a closet. As the whole room is papered and but dimly lighted, a visitor cannot detect the fact that it is a sham. A panel, which slides noiselessly and rapidly, is arranged in the false wall, and the chair with the visitor's clothing upon it is placed just in front of it. While the visitor's attention is engaged in another quarter, the girl's confederate, who is concealed in the closet, slides back the panel, and rifles the pockets of the clothes on the chair. The panel is then noiselessly closed. When the visitor is about to depart, or sometimes not until long after his departure, he discovers his loss. He is sure the girl did not rob him, and he is completely bewildered in his efforts to account for the robbery. Of course the police could tell him how his money was taken, and could recover it, too, but in nine cases out of ten the man is ashamed to seek their assistance, as he does not wish his visit to such a place to be known. The thieves know this, and this knowledge gives them a feeling of security which emboldens them to commit still further depredations. The panel houses are generally conducted by men, who employ the women to work for them. The woman is sometimes the wife of the proprietor of the house. The robberies nightly perpetrated foot up an immense aggregate. The visitors are mainly strangers, and many of these go into these dens with large sums of money on their persons. The police have been notified of losses occurring in this way, amounting in a single instance to thousands of dollars. The majority of the sums stolen are small, however, and the victims bear the loss in silence. The police authorities are thoroughly informed concerning the locality and operations of these establishments, but they suffer them to go on without any effort to break them up.
IV. THE CONCERT SALOONS.
There are about seventy-five or eighty concert saloons in New York, employing abandoned women as waitresses. The flashiest of these are located on Broadway, there being nearly twenty of these infamous places on the great thoroughfare between Spring and Fourth streets. During the day they are closed, but one of the most prominent sets out before its doors a large frame containing twenty or thirty exquisite card photographs, and bearing these words, "Portraits of the young ladies employed in this saloon." It is needless to say that the pictures are taken at random from the stock of some photograph dealer, and have no connection whatever with the hags employed in the saloon. The Bowery, Chatham street, and some of the streets leading from Broadway, contain the greater number of these concert saloons. The majority are located in the basements of the buildings, but one or two of the Broadway establishments use second story rooms. These places may be recognized by their numerous gaudy transparencies and lamps, and by the discordant strains of music which float up into the street from them. The Broadway saloons are owned by a few scoundrels, many of them being conducted by the same proprietor. A writer in the New York World was recently favored with the following truthful description of these places by one of the best known proprietors:
"A concert saloon is a gin-mill on an improved plan—that's all, my friend. I don't pay the girls any wages. They get a percentage on the drinks they sell. Some saloon-keepers pays their girls regular wages and a small percentage besides, but it don't work. The girls wont work unless they have to. Now, my girls gets a third of whatever they sell. The consequence is, they sell twice as much as they would if they was on wages. You never can get people to work faithfully for you unless they can make money by it. The liquor is cheap, and I don't mind telling you its d—-d nasty, then we charge double prices for it. Now, I charge twenty cents for drinks that a regular gin-mill would sell for ten. Then there are a lot of drinks that the girls takes themselves, which we charges fifty cents for. They don't cost us more than four or five, but after a girl has said what she'll take, and a man has ordered it, he can't go back on the price. Then hardly any man stops at less than two or three drinks here, when he would take only one at a bar. The lights are the same as they would be anywheres else, and the music don't cost much. Then there's other ways to make in this business. But you don't want to know all about the speculations. There's keno, for instance. The keno business is attached to lots of saloons. You see the girls manages to get young fellows that come here—like those hounds yonder—pretty full, and then they says: 'Why don't you try your luck in the next room, and go shares with me?' So the fool he bites at once, and goes in for keno. Of course luck goes against him, for he's too drunk to play—O, the game's a square one—and he finally comes back for another drink. The girls then takes care that he doesn't go away till he's too drunk to remember where he lost his money. Even if he goes away sober, he seldom splits. I'll give the fellows that much credit. Bad as they are, they seldom splits."
The concert saloons derive their names from the fact that a low order of music is provided by the proprietor as a cover to the real character of the place. It may be an old cracked piano, with a single, half-drunken performer, or a couple or more musicians who cannot by any possible means draw melody from their wheezy instruments.
Persons entering these places assume a considerable risk. They voluntarily place themselves in the midst of a number of abandoned wretches, who are ready for any deed of violence or crime. They care for nothing but money, and will rob or kill for it. Respectable people have no business in such places. They are very apt to have their pockets picked, and are in danger of violence. Many men, who leave their happy homes in the morning, visit these places, for amusement or through curiosity, at night. They are drugged, robbed, murdered, and then the harbor police may find their lifeless forms floating in the river at daybreak.
The women known outside of the city as "pretty waiter girls," are simply a collection of poor wretches who have gone down almost to the end of their fatal career. They may retain faint vestiges of their former beauty, but that is all. They are beastly, foul-mouthed, brutal wretches. Very many of them are half dead with consumption and disease. They are in every respect disgusting. Yet young and old men, strangers and citizens, come here to talk with them and spend their money on them. Says the writer we have quoted, after describing a characteristic scene in one of these places:
"The only noticeable thing about this exhibition of beastliness is the utter unconcern of the other occupants of the room. They are accustomed to it. One wonders, too, at the attraction this has for strangers. There is really nothing in the people, the place, or the onlookers worthy of a decent man's curiosity. The girls are, without exception, the nastiest, most besotted drabs that ever walked the streets. They haven't even the pride that clings to certain of their sisters who are in prison. The whole assemblage, with the exception of such stragglers as myself, who have a motive in studying it, is a mess of the meanest human rubbish that a great city exudes. In the company there is a large preponderance of the cub of seventeen and eighteen. Some of these boys are the sons of merchants and lawyers, and are 'seeing life.' If they were told to go into their kitchens at home and talk with the cook and the chambermaid, they would consider themselves insulted. Yet they come here and talk with other Irish girls every whit as ignorant and unattractive as the servants at home—only the latter are virtuous and these are infamous. Thus does one touch of vileness make the whole world kin."
V. THE DANCE HOUSES.
The dance houses differ from the concert saloons in this respect, that they are one grade lower both as regards the inmates and the visitors, and that dancing as well as drinking is carried on in them. They are owned chiefly by men, though there are some which are the property of and are managed by women. They are located in the worst quarters of the city, generally in the streets near the East and North rivers, in order to be easy of access to the sailors.
The buildings are greatly out of repair, and have a rickety, dirty appearance. The main entrance leads to a long, narrow hall, the floor of which is well sanded. The walls are ornamented with flashy prints, and the ceiling with colored tissue paper cut in various fantastic shapes. There is a bar at the farther end of the room, which is well stocked with the meanest liquors, and chairs and benches are scattered about.
From five to a dozen women, so bloated and horrible to look upon, that a decent man shudders with disgust as he beholds them, are lounging about the room. They have reached the last step in the downward career of fallen women, and will never leave this place until they are carried from it to their graves, which are not far distant. They are miserably clad, and are nearly always half crazy with liquor. They are cursed and kicked about by the brutal owner of the place, and suffer still greater violence, at times, in the drunken brawls for which these houses are famous. Their sleeping rooms are above. They are sought by sailors and by the lowest and most degraded of the city population. They are the slaves of their masters. They have no money of their own. He claims a part of their infamous earnings, and demands the rest for board and clothes. Few have the courage to fly from these hells, and if they make the attempt, they are forced back by the proprietor, who is frequently aided in this unholy act by the law of the land. They cannot go into the streets naked, and he claims the clothes on their backs as his property. If they leave the premises with these clothes on, he charges them with theft.
Let no one suppose that these women entered upon this grade of their wretched life voluntarily. Many were drugged and forced into it, but the majority are lost women who have come regularly down the ladder to this depth. You can find in these hells women who, but a few years ago, were ornaments of society. No woman who enters upon a life of shame can hope to avoid coming to these places in the end. As sure as she takes the first step in sin, she will take this last one also, struggle against it as she may. This is the last depth. It has but one bright ray in all its darkness—it does not last over a few months, for death soon ends it. But, O, the horrors of such a death! No human being who has not looked on such a death-bed can imagine the horrible form in which the Great Destroyer comes. There is no hope. The poor wretch passes from untold misery in this life to the doom which awaits those who die in their sins.
The keepers of these wretched places use every art to entice young and innocent women into their dens, where they are ruined by force. The police frequently rescue women from them who have been enticed into them or carried there by force. Emigrant girls, who have strolled from the depot at Castle Garden into the lower part of the city, are decoyed into these places by being promised employment. Men and women are sent into the country districts to ensnare young girls to these city hells. Advertisements for employment are answered by these wretches, and every art is exhausted in the effort to draw pure women within the walls of the dance house. Let such a woman once cross the threshold, and she will be drugged or forced to submit to her ruin. This accomplished, she will not be allowed to leave the place until she has lost all hope of giving up the life into which she has been driven.
The Missionaries' are constant visitors to these dens. They go with hope that they may succeed in rescuing some poor creature from her terrible life. As a rule, they meet with the vilest abuse, and are driven away with curses, but sometimes they are successful. During the present winter they have succeeded in effecting a change for the better in one of the most notorious women in Water street.
[Picture: NOONDAY PRAYER MEETING AT WATER STREET HOME.]
VI. HARRY HILL'S.
Harry Hill is a well-known man among the disreputable classes of New York. He is the proprietor of the largest and best known dance house in the city. His establishment is in Houston street, a few doors west of Mulberry street, and almost under the shadow of the Police Headquarters. It is in full sight from Broadway, and at night a huge red and blue lantern marks the entrance door. Near the main entrance there is a private door for women. They are admitted free, as they constitute the chief attraction to the men who visit the place. Entering through the main door, the visitor finds himself in a low bar-room, very much like the other establishments of the kind in the neighborhood. Passing between the counters he reaches a door in the rear of them which opens into the dance hall, which is above the level of the bar-room. Visitors to this hall are charged an entrance fee of twenty-five cents, and are expected to call for refreshments as soon as they enter.
Harry Hill is generally present during the evening, moving about among his guests. He is a short, thick-set man, with a self-possessed, resolute air, and a face indicative of his calling, and is about fifty-four years old. He is sharp and decided in his manner, and exerts himself to maintain order among his guests. He is enough of a politician to be very sure that the authorities will not be severe with him in case of trouble, but he has a horror of having his place entered by the police in their official capacity. He enforces his orders with his fists if necessary, and hustles refractory guests from his premises without hesitating. The "fancy" generally submit to his commands, as they know he is a formidable man when aroused. He keeps his eye on everything, and though he has a business manager, conducts the whole establishment himself. He has been in his wretched business fifteen years, and is said to be wealthy. His profits have been estimated as high as fifty thousand dollars per annum.
Harry Hill boasts that he keeps a "respectable house," but his establishment is nothing more than one of the many gates to hell with which the city abounds. There are no girls attached to the establishment. All the guests of both sexes are merely outsiders who come here to spend the evening. The rules of the house are printed in rhyme, and are hung in the most conspicuous parts of the hall. They are rigid, and prohibit any indecent or boisterous conduct or profane swearing. The most disreputable characters are seen in the audience, but no thieving or violence ever occurs within the hall. Whatever happens after persons leave the place, the proprietor allows no violation of the law within his doors.
The hall itself consists simply of a series of rooms which have been "knocked into one" by the removal of the partition walls. As all these rooms were not of the same height, the ceiling presents a curious patchwork appearance. A long counter occupies one end of the hall, at which refreshments and liquors are served. There is a stage at the other side, on which low farces are performed, and a tall Punch and Judy box occupies a conspicuous position. Benches and chairs are scattered about, and a raised platform is provided for the "orchestra," which consists of a piano, violin, and a bass viol. The centre of the room is a clear space, and is used for dancing. If you do not dance you must leave, unless you atone for your deficiency by a liberal expenditure of money. The amusements are coarse and low. The songs are broad, and are full of blasphemous outbursts, which are received with shouts of delight.
[Picture: HARRY HILL'S DANCE HOUSE.]
You will see all sorts of people at Harry Hill's. The women are, of course, women of the town; but they are either just entering upon their career, or still in its most prosperous phase. They are all handsomely dressed, and some of them are very pretty. Some of them have come from the better classes of society, and have an elegance and refinement of manner and conversation which win them many admirers in the crowd. They drink deep and constantly during the evening. Indeed, one is surprised to see how much liquor they imbibe. The majority come here early in the evening alone, but few go away without company for the night. You do not see the same face here very long. The women cannot escape the inevitable doom of the lost sisterhood. They go down the ladder; and Harry Hill keeps his place clear of them after the first flush of their beauty and success is past. You will then find them in the Five Points and Water street hells.
As for the men, they represent all kinds of people and professions. You may see here men high in public life, side by side with the Five Points ruffian. Judges, lawyers, policemen off duty and in plain clothes, officers of the army and navy, merchants, bankers, editors, soldiers, sailors, clerks, and even boys, mingle here in friendly confusion. As the profits of the establishment are derived from the bar, drinking is, of course, encouraged, and the majority of the men are more or less drunk all the time. They spend their money freely in such a condition. Harry Hill watches the course of affairs closely during the evening. If he knows a guest and likes him, he will take care that he is not exposed to danger, after he is too far gone in liquor to protect himself. He will either send him home, or send for his friends. If the man is a stranger, he does not interfere—only, no crime must be committed in his house. Thieves, pickpockets, burglars, roughs, and pugilists are plentifully scattered through the audience. These men are constantly on the watch for victims. It is easy for them to drug the liquor of a man they are endeavoring to secure, without the knowledge of the proprietor of the house; or, if they do not tamper with his liquor, they can persuade him to drink to excess. In either case, they lead him from the hall, under pretence of taking him home. He never sees home until they have stripped him of all his valuables. Sometimes he finds his long home, in less than an hour after leaving the hall; and the harbor police find his body floating on the tide at sunrise. Women frequently decoy men to places where they are robbed. No crime is committed in the dance hall, but plans are laid there, victims are marked, and tracked to loss or death, and, frequently, an idle, thoughtless visit there has been the beginning of a life of ruin. The company to be met with is that which ought to be shunned. Visits from curiosity are dangerous. Stay away. To be found on the Devil's ground is voluntarily to surrender yourself a willing captive to him. Stay away. It is a place in which no virtuous woman is ever seen, and in which an honest man ought to be ashamed to show his face.
VII. MASKED BALLS.
The masked balls, which are held in the city every winter, are largely attended by impure women and their male friends. Even those which assume to be the most select are invaded by these people in spite of the precautions of the managers. Some of them are notoriously indecent, and it may be safely asserted that all are favorable to the growth of immorality. On the 22d of December, 1869, one of the most infamous affairs of this kind was held in the French Theatre, on Fourteenth street. I give the account of it published in the World of December 24th, of that year:
"The 'Societe des Bals d'Artistes,' an organization which has no other excuse for existing than the profits of an annual dance, and which last year combined debauchery with dancing in a manner entirely new to this city, on Wednesday night had possession of the Theatre Francais, in which was to be given what was extensively advertised as the 'First Bal d'Opera.' The only conspicuous name in this society (which is composed of Frenchmen) is that attached to the circular published below, but it is reasonable to suppose that the men who got up the ball were animated by a purely French desire to make a little money and have a good deal of Parisian carousing, which should end, as those things do only in Paris, in high and comparatively harmless exhilaration. But they mistake the locality. This is not Paris. The peculiar success of the ball given under their auspices last year was not forgotten by the class of roughs indigenous to New York. Under the name of Bal d'Opera, licence, it was found, could be had for actions that would be no where else tolerated in a civilized community. It was found, moreover, that this description of ball would bring together, with its promise of licence, that class of reckless women who find opportunities to exhibit themselves in their full harlotry to the world, too much restricted and narrowed by enactment and public opinion not to take advantage of this one. The scenes which took place about the entrance of the French Theatre, when the 'artistes' commenced to arrive, were sufficiently indicative of the character of the entertainment. At 11 o'clock there were about a thousand men and boys there congregated, forming an impenetrable jam, through which the police kept open a narrow avenue for the masqueraders to pass from the coaches to the door. This crowd was manifestly made up of the two sui generis types of character which in this city have received the appellation of 'loafers' and 'counter jumpers.' Wide apart as they ordinarily may be, on such an occasion as this they are animated by common desires and common misfortunes. The inability to buy a ticket of admission, and the overpowering desire to see women disporting themselves in semi-nude attire and unprotected by any of the doubts which attach to their characters in ordinary street life, brought these moon-calves together, on a wet and chilly night, to stand for hours in the street to catch a passing glimpse of a stockinged leg or a bare arm, and to shout their ribald criticisms in the full immunity of fellowship. It was enough for them that the women came unattended. Every mask that stepped from her coach was beset by hoots and yells and the vile wit of shallow-brained ruffians, or the criticism of the staring counter-jumpers. There was also the chance open to the rougher members of this assemblage of ultimately getting into the ball without paying. They had no well-defined plan, but they felt instinctively that when their own passions had been sufficiently aroused, and when the later scenes inside had grown tumultuous, they could knock the door-keeper's hat over his face, and go brawling in like wolves. There were knots of half-grown men on the corners of the street and about the adjacent pot-houses who were driving a good traffic in tickets, and other knots of creatures, neither men nor boys, but that New York intermedium, who has lost the honesty of the boy without gaining the manliness of the man, were speculating upon the probabilities of a fight, and expressing very decided opinions as to the possibility of licking the Frenchmen who would endeavor to keep them out or keep them orderly after they got in.
"The attendants upon the ball, on entering the vestibule, were handed the following circular, printed neatly in blue ink:
"'The purpose of the President and Committee of the Societe des Bals d'Artistes is to preserve the most stringent order, and to prevent any infraction of the laws of decency. Any attempt at disturbance or lewdness will be repressed with the most extreme severity, and sufficient force is provided to warrant quietness and obedience to laws.
'The President, L. MERCIER.'
"That such was the purpose of the committee we have no reason to doubt. But it was no wiser than the purpose of the man who invited a smoking party to his powder magazine, and told them his object was to prevent explosion. The dancing commenced at 11 o'clock. At that time the floor, extending from the edge of the dress-circle to the extreme limit of the stage, presented a curious spectacle. Probably there were a hundred masked women present, among five hundred masked and unmasked men. These women were dressed in fancy costumes, nearly all selected with a view to expose as much of the person as possible. By far the greater number wore trunk hose and fleshings; but many were attired in the short skirts of the ballet, with some attempt at bayadere and daughter of the regiment in the bodices and trimmings. Here and there a woman wore trailing skirts of rich material, and flashed her diamonds in the gaslight as she swung the train about. There was no attempt on the part of the men to assume imposing or elegant disguises. The cheapest dominoes, and generally nothing more than a mask, afforded them all they wanted—the opportunity to carry on a bravado and promiscuous flirtation with these women. That part of the family circle tier which faces the stage was given up to the musicians. The rest of the gallery was crowded with spectators. The boxes below were all taken up, the occupants being mainly maskers overlooking the dance. But the proscenium boxes, and notably the two lower ones on either side, were filled with a crew of coarse-featured, semi-officious looking roughs, who might be politicians, or gamblers, or deputy-sheriffs, or cut-throats, or all, but who, at all events, had no intention of dancing, and had hired these boxes with the one view of having a good time at the expense of the women, the managers, and, if necessary, the public peace itself. They were crowded in; some of them stood up and smoked cigars; all of them kept their hats on; one or two were burly beasts, who glared upon the half-exposed women on the floor with a stolid interest that could only be heightened and intensified by some outrageous departure from the seemliness of simple enjoyment. They have their fellows on the floor, to whom they shout and telegraph. They have liquor in the boxes, and they use it with a show of conviviality to increase their recklessness.
"At twelve o'clock there is a jam; most of the crowd outside has got in by some means; the floor is a mass of people. Suddenly there is a fight in the boxes. Exultant cries issue from the proscenium. At once turn up all the masked faces in the whirling mass. It is a Frenchman beset by two, aye three, Americans. Blows are given and taken; then they all go down out of sight—only to appear again; the three are on him; they are screeching with that fierce animal sound that comes through set teeth, and in men and bull-dogs is pitched upon the same note. The maskers rather like it; they applaud and cheer on—not the parties, but the fight—and when the police get into the boxes and drag out the assaulted man, and leave the assailants behind, the proscenium bellows a moment with ironical laughter, the music breaks out afresh, and the dancers resume their antics as though nothing had happened.
"Enough liquor has now been swallowed to float recklessness up to the high-water mark. There is another fight going on in the vestibule. One of the women has been caught up by the crowd and tossed bodily into the proscenium box, where she is caught and dragged by half a dozen brutes in over the sill and furniture in such a manner as to disarrange as much as possible what small vestige of raiment there is on her. The feat awakens general enjoyment. Men and women below vent their coarse laughter at the sorry figure she cuts and at the exposure of her person. Presently the trick is repeated on the other side. A young woman, rather pretty and dressed in long skirts, is thrown up, and falls back into the arms of the crowd, who turn her over, envelop her head in her own skirts, and again toss her up temporarily denuded. The more exactly this proceeding outrages decency, the better it is liked. One or two repetitions of it occurred which exceeded the limits of proper recital. The women were bundled into the boxes, and there they were fallen upon by the crew of half drunken ruffians, and mauled, and pulled, and exhibited in the worst possible aspects, amid the jeers and laughter of the other drunken wretches upon the floor. One, a heavier woman than the rest, is thrown out of the box and falls heavily upon the floor. She is picked up insensible by the police and carried out. There is not a whisper of shame in the crowd. It is now drunken with liquor and its own beastliness. It whirls in mad eddies round and round. The panting women in the delirium of excitement; their eyes, flashing with the sudden abnormal light of physical elation, bound and leap like tigresses; they have lost the last sense of prudence and safety. Some of them are unmasked, and reveal the faces of brazen and notorious she-devils, who elsewhere are cut off by edict from this contact with the public; a few of them are young, and would be pretty but for the lascivious glare now lighting their faces and the smears of paint which overlay their skins; all of them are poisonous, pitiable creatures, suffering now with the only kind of delirium which their lives afford, rancorous, obscene, filthy beauties, out of the gutter of civilization, gone mad with the licence of music and the contact of men, and beset by crowds of libidinous and unscrupulous ninnies who, anywhere else, would be ashamed of their intimacy, or roughs to whom this kind of a ball affords the only opportunity to exercise the few animal faculties that are left to them.
"M. Mercier stands in the middle of the floor, and shouts to the musicians to go on. For it isn't safe for them to stop. Whenever they do, there is a fight. One stalwart beauty, in bare arms, has knocked down a young man in the entrance way, and left the marks of her high heels on his face. She would have kicked the life out of him while her bully held him down, if a still stronger policeman had not flung her like a mass of offal into a corner. There she is picked up, and, backed by a half dozen of her associates, pushes and strikes promiscuously, and the dense crowd about her push also and strike, and sway here and there, and yell, and hiss, and curse, until the entire police force in the place drag out a score of them, and then the rest go on with the dancing, between which and the fighting there is so little difference.
"In one of the boxes sits —- —-, with a masked woman. But it is getting too warm for him. The few French women who came as spectators, and occupied the seats in the family circle, went away long ago. They were probably respectable. On the floor one sees at intervals well known men, who either were deceived by the announcement of a Bal d'Opera, or were too smart to be deceived by anything of this sort. A few newspaper reporters, looking on with stoical eye; here a prize-fighter, and there a knot of gamblers; here an adolescent alderman, dancing with a notorious inmate of the police courts; there a deputy sheriff, too drunk to be anything but sick and sensual. Now the can-can commences. But it comes without any zest, for all of its peculiarities have been indulged in long before. It is no longer a dance at all, but a wild series of indecent exposures, a tumultuous orgie, in which one man is struck by an unknown assailant; and his cheek laid open with a sharp ring, and his white vest and tie splashed with blood, give a horrible color to the figure that is led out.
"There is an evident fear on the part of the ball officials that matters will proceed too far. They endeavor to prevent the women from being pulled up into the boxes by laying hold of them and pulling them back, in which struggle the women are curiously wrenched and disordered, and the men in the boxes curse, and laugh, and shout, and the dancers, now accustomed to the spectacle, give it no heed whatever.
"If there is anything in the behaviour of the women that is at all peculiar to the eye of an observer who is not familiar with the impulses and the manifestations of them in this class, it is the feverish abandonment into which drink and other excitements have driven them. It is not often that a common bawd, without brains or beauty enough to attract a passing glance, thus has the opportunity to elicit volleys of applause from crowds of men; and, without stopping to question the value of it, she makes herself doubly drunken with it. If to kick up her skirts is to attract attention—hoop la! If indecency is then the distinguishing feature of the evening, she is the woman for your money. So she jumps rather than dances. She has a whole set of lascivious motions, fashioned quickly, which outdo the worst imaginings of the dirty-minded men who applaud her. She springs upon the backs of the men, she swaggers, she kicks off hats. She is a small sensation in herself, and feels it, and goes about with a defiant and pitiless recklessness, reigning for the few brief hours over the besotted men who feel a fiend's satisfaction in the unnatural exhibition.
"To particularize to any greater extent would be to make public the habits and manners of the vilest prostitutes in their proper haunts, where, out of the glare of publicity, they may, and probably do, perfect themselves in the indecencies most likely to catch the eyes of men little better than themselves, but which thus brought together under the gaslight of the public chandelier is, to the healthy man, like the application of the microscope to some common article of food then found to be a feculent and writhing mass of living nastiness. That respectable foreigners were induced to attend this ball by the representations made by the managers is certain. That they were outraged by what took place there, is beyond all doubt. To suppose a man deceived as to the character of the entertainment, and to go there and mingle with masked ladies, who for a while ape the deportment of their betters, is to suppose a sensation for him at once startling; for when the richly dressed ladies doff their masks, he finds himself surrounded by a ghastly assemblage of all the most virulent social corruption in our civilization; dowagers turn out to be the fluffy and painted keepers of brothels; the misses sink into grinning hussies, who are branded on the cheeks and forehead with the ineradicable mark of shame; and the warm and coy pages, whom at the worst he might have supposed to be imprudent or improvident girls, stare at him with the deathly-cold implacability of the commonest street-walkers—those in fact who glory in their shame, and whose very contact is vile to anything with a spark of healthy moral or physical life in it. If, indeed, they had lain off their sickly flesh with their masks, and gone grinning and rattling round the brilliant hall in their skeletons, the transformation could not have chilled your unsuspecting man with a keener horror. But it is safe to say the unsuspecting were few indeed.