Lights and Shadows of New York Life - or, the Sights and Sensations of the Great City
by James D. McCabe
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On the walls back of the tables are suspended the clothing of the unfortunates, and of others who have preceded them. Maybe some friend will come along and recognize them, and the one who has been missing will be traced to this sad place. They form a strange collection, but they speak chiefly of poverty and suffering.

The dark waters of the rivers and bay send many an inmate to this gloomy room. The harbor police, making their early morning rounds, find some dark object floating in the waters. It is scarcely light enough to distinguish it, but the men know well what it is. They are accustomed to such things. They grapple it and tow it in silent horror past the long lines of shipping, and pause only when the Morgue looms up coldly before them in the uncertain light of the breaking day. The still form is lifted out of the water, and carried swiftly into the gloomy building. It is laid on the marble slab, stripped, covered with a sheet, the water is turned on, and the room is deserted and silent again.

So many come here on their way to their long homes. The average number is about two hundred per year. You can scarcely take up a city newspaper without finding one or more advertisements of persons "lost." Many of them come here. Many are never heard of again. The waters which encompass the city keep well the secrets confided to them, and neither the Morgue nor the Police books can tell the fate of all the missing. Strangers visiting the city often venture into the chosen haunts of crime "to see the sights," and in so doing place themselves in the power of the most desperate and reckless villains. Human life is held so cheap here, and murder has become such a profession, that no respectable person is safe who ventures into these localities. You may often see at the Morgue, where the majority of the bodies show marks of violence, the lifeless forms of those who but a few days before left their pleasant homes in other portions of the country to see the metropolis. A visit to a concert saloon or a dance house, merely from what they consider the most innocent curiosity, has sealed their doom. A glass of drugged liquor has destroyed their power of self-protection, and even without this they have been assaulted. They are helpless, and they have paid with their lives the price of their "innocent curiosity." Then the River and the Morgue complete the story; or perhaps the River keeps its secret, and the dead man's name goes down on the long list of the missing.

Strangers, and all others who would see New York, should content themselves with its innocent sights and amusements. Those who seek to pass beneath the shadow willfully take their lives in their hands.


The Custom House is one of the most prominent and interesting places in New York. It is one of the largest in the country, and is provided with every facility for the prompt despatch of the vast business transacted in it. Five-sixths of all the duties on imports collected in the United States are received here.

The Custom House building was formerly the Merchants' Exchange. It is one of the handsomest structures in the city, and its purchase cost the General Government one million of dollars in gold. The building is constructed of solid granite, with a fine portico and colonnade in front. If is fire-proof throughout. It occupies the entire block bounded by Wall street, Exchange Place, William street, and Hanover street. Its dimensions are a depth of two hundred feet, a frontage of one hundred and forty-four feet, and a rear breadth of one hundred and seventy-one feet. The top of the central dome is one hundred and twenty-four feet from the ground. The main entrance is on Wall street, but there are entrances on every side. The Rotunda occupies the space beneath the central dome, and is one of the finest interiors in the country.

Within the Rotunda are arranged rows of desks, running parallel with the walls. These are occupied by four "deputy collectors," three "chief clerks," five "entry clerks," two "bond clerks," the "foreign clearance clerk" and his assistant, and by those whose duties bring them most commonly in contact with the merchants, shippers, commanders of vessels, etc., in the ordinary routine of the business of the port. The Collector and the higher officials have handsome offices in other parts of the building.


There are about 1100 clerks attached to the Custom House, whose total wages amount to about $3,000,000 per annum. The legal salary of the Collector is $6000 per annum, but his fees and perquisites make up an actual income of five or six times that amount. The Collectorship of this port is the best paying office within the gift of the Government. Colonel Thorpe thus sums up the duties of the various officers of the port:

"The Collector shall receive all reports, manifests, and documents to be made or exhibited on the entry of any ship or vessel; shall record, on books to be kept for that purpose, all manifests; shall receive the entries of all ships or vessels, and of the goods, wares, and merchandise imported in them; shall estimate the amount of the duties payable thereupon, indorsing said amount on the respective entries; shall receive all moneys paid for duties, and take all bonds for securing the payment thereof; shall, with the approbation of the Secretary of the Treasury, employ proper personages—weighers, gaugers, measurers, and inspectors—at the port within his district.

"The Naval Officer shall receive copies of all manifests and entries; shall estimate the duties on all goods, wares, and merchandise subject to duty (and no duties shall be received without such estimate), and shall keep a separate record thereof; and shall countersign all permits, clearances, certificates, debentures, and other documents granted by the Collector. He shall also examine the Collector's abstract of duties, his accounts, receipts, bonds, and expenditures, and, if found correct, shall certify the same.

"The Surveyor shall superintend and direct all inspectors, weighers, measurers, and gaugers; shall visit and inspect the ships and vessels; shall return in writing every morning to the Collector the name and nationality of all vessels which shall have arrived from foreign ports; shall examine all goods, wares, and merchandise imported, to see that they agree with the inspector's return; and shall see that all goods intended for exportation correspond with the entries, and permits granted therefor; and the said Surveyor shall, in all cases, be subject to the Collector.

"The Appraisers' department is simply for the purpose of deciding the market values and dutiable character of all goods imported, so that the imposts can be laid with correctness. Other than this, it has no connection with the Custom House."

There is located at the Battery, an old white building, surmounted by a light tower. This is the Barge office, and is the headquarters of the Inspectors attached to the Surveyor's office, who are under the orders of Mr. John L. Van Buskirk, now nearly 89 years of age, and who has been "Assistant to the surveyor" for many years. The arrivals of all ships are reported from the telegraph station at Sandy Hook, and as soon as it is announced at the barge office that a steamer or ship "from foreign ports" is off soundings, two Inspectors are placed on a revenue cutter, and sent down to take charge of the arriving vessel. From the moment they set foot on the vessel's deck, they are in supreme control of the cargo and passengers. One would think from the manner in which many of them conduct themselves toward passengers, that an American citizen coming home from abroad has no rights but such as the Inspector chooses to accord him. Certainly the joy which an American feels in returning to his own home is very effectually dampened by the contrast which he is compelled to draw between the courtesy and fairness of the customs officials of European lands, and the insolence and brutality of those into whose clutches he falls upon entering the port of New York. The Inspectors examine the baggage of the cabin passengers, collect the imposts on dutiable articles, and send them ashore. They then send the steerage passengers to Castle Garden where they are examined. After this, the ship is allowed to go alongside of her pier, where her cargo is discharged under their inspection, and carted to the Bonded Warehouses of the United States, for appraisement and collection of duties.

Passing goods through the Custom House is a troublesome and intricate undertaking, and most merchants employ a Broker to perform that duty for them. A novice might spend hours in wandering about the labyrinths of the huge building, trying to find the proper officials. The broker knows every nook and corner in the establishment, and where to find the proper men, and moreover manages to secure the good will of the officials so that he is never kept waiting, but is given every facility for the despatch of his business. The fee for "passing an entry" is five dollars. Sometimes a broker will pass fifty different entries in a single day, thus earning $250. Some brokers make handsome fortunes in their business. When there is a dispute between the government and the importer as to the value of the goods or the amount of the duty, the broker's work is tedious and slow. The large importing houses have their regular brokers at stated salaries.


It is a common and almost meaningless remark, that one has to be careful to avoid being lost in New York, but the words "Lost in New York" have a deeper meaning than the thoughtless speakers imagine. If the curious would know the full force of these words, let them go to the Police Headquarters, in Mulberry street, and ask for the "Bureau for the Recovery of Lost Persons." The records of this bureau abound in stories of mystery, of sorrow, and of crime.

As many as seven hundred people have been reported as "lost," to this bureau, in a single year, and it is believed that this does not include all the disappearances. Many of those so reported are found, as in the cases of old persons and children, but many disappear forever. Others who are recovered by their friends are never reported as found to the bureau, and consequently remain on its books as missing.

When a person is reported "Missing" to this bureau, a description of the age, height, figure, whiskers, if any, color of eyes, dress, hair, the place where last seen, the habits and disposition of the person, is given to the official in charge, who enters it in the register. When the returns of the Morgue, which are sent to the Police authorities every twenty-four hours, are received, they are compared with the descriptions in the register, and in this way bodies are often identified. Five or six hundred cards with the description of the missing person are printed, and sent to the various police precincts, with orders to the commanding officers to make a vigilant search for the person so described. Advertisements are also inserted in the newspapers describing the missing ones. Many of the estrays are children, and these are usually recovered within twenty-four hours. These little ones usually fall directly into the hands of the police, and are taken at once to the station house. If not claimed there, they are sent at nightfall to Police Headquarters, where they are cared for until their friends come for them.


Many of the missing are men—strangers to the city. They have come here on business or for pleasure, and have undertaken to see the sights of New York. They have drowned their senses in liquor, and have fallen into the hands of the thieves and murderers, who are ever on the watch for such as they. They have been robbed and murdered, thrown into the river, from which they sometimes find their way to the Morgue. Or perhaps they have followed some street walker to her den, there to fall victims to the knife or club of her accomplice. The river is close at hand, and it hides its secrets well. Year after year the same thing goes on, and men pay with their lives the price of their impure curiosity. The street walker still finds her victim ready to follow her to her den, for "he knoweth not that the dead are there: and that her guests are in the depths of hell. He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks. Till a dart strike through his liver, and knoweth not that it is for his life. She hath cast down many wounded; yea, many strong men have been slain by her. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death."

Year after year the waters cast up their dead, and the Morgue is filled with those who are known to the police as "missing." Men and women, the victims of the assassin, and those who are tired of life, find their way to the ghastly tables of the dead house; but they are not all. There are long rows of names in the dreary register of the police against which the entry "found" is never written. What has become of them, whether they are living or dead, no one knows. They were "lost in New York," and they are practically dead to those interested in knowing their fate. Year after year the sad list lengthens.

In many a far off home there is mourning for some loved one. Years have passed away since the sorrow came upon these mourners, but the cloud still hangs over them. Their loved one was "lost in New York." That is all they know—all they will ever know.


{78} Samuel J. Tilden's speech.

{86} The Committee of citizens consisted of the leading merchants of New York—such men as Royal Phelps, Robert Lenox, P. Bissinger, Paul N. Spofford, Samuel Willets, H. B. Claflin, Seth B. Hunt, T. F. Jeremiah, R. L. Cutting, W. A. Booth, Jas. Brown, B. L. Solomon, Courtlandt Palmer, J. K. Porter, W. E. Dodge, T. W. Pearsall.




[Picture: LIFE IN UTAH]





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