"Occasionally an interruption of a grosser character occurs, a member leaping from his seat on some slight provocation, and striking off the hat of the man who has offended. Fine Harrison, fine Harrison again, fine, FINE him again,—FINE Harrison,' cries the Vice-President, repeating the word without cessation until the broker's wrath has been appeased, and he returns to his chair with the disagreeable reflection that a heavy score is against him for the semi-annual settlement-day. Every repetition of that fatal monosyllable was a fresh mark of fifty cents or a dollar against his name. Generally, however, the Government brokers are more orderly than their neighbors in the Regular Board. Indeed, the whole proceedings are more decorous and respectful, the bidding, half the time, being carried on in a low conversational tone. At second call there is a brief excitement, but when 'things are dull' throughout the street, this room peculiarly reflects the external influences.
"Very different it is, however, on days when some special cause provokes great fluctuations. Then the members spring from their seats, arms, hands, excitable faces, rapid vociferations, all come in play, and the element of pantomime performs its part in assisting the human voice as naturally as among the Italians of Syracuse. To the uninitiated the biddings here are as unintelligible as elsewhere, sounding to ordinary ears like the gibberish of Victor Hugo's Compachinos. But the comparative quietude of this Board renders it easier to follow the course of the market, to detect the shades of difference in the running offers, and generally to get a clearer conception of this part of the machinery of stock brokerage."
In former times brokers were subjected to great expense in keeping a host of runners and messengers to bring them news of the transactions at the Exchanges. The introduction of the Stock Telegraph has made a great and beneficial change in this respect. In every broker's office, and in the principal hotels and restaurants of the city, there is an automatic recording instrument connected by telegraphic wires with an instrument in the Stock and Gold Exchanges. The operator in these exchanges indicates the quotations of stocks and gold on his own instrument, and these quotations are repeated by the instruments in the offices throughout the city. These office instruments print the quotations in plain Roman letters and figures on a ribbon of paper, so that any one can read and understand them. Thus one man does the work formerly required of several hundred, and no time is lost in conveying the information. The broker in his office is informed of the transactions at the Exchange at the very instant they are made.
IV. THE GOLD EXCHANGE.
You pass from Broad street into the basement of a brown stone building just below the Stock Exchange, and find yourself in a long, dimly-lighted passage way, which leads into a small courtyard. Before you is a steep stairway leading to a narrow and dirty entry. At the end of this entry is a gloomy looking door. Pass through it, and you are in the famous Gold Exchange.
This is a showy apartment in the style of an amphitheatre, with an ugly fountain in the centre of the floor. An iron railing encloses the fountain. Against the New street end is the platform occupied by the President and Secretary, and on the right of this is the telegraph office. There are two galleries connected with the room, one for the use of visitors provided with tickets, and the other free to all comers. There is an indicator on the outer wall of the building on New street, from which the price of gold is announced to the crowd without. It is a common habit with sporting men of the lower class to frequent New street and bet on the indicator.
There are but few benches in the Gold Room. The members of the Board are too nervous and excitable to sit still, and seats would soon be broken to pieces in their wild rushing up and down the floor.
The business of the day begins about ten o'clock. The rap of the President's gavel opens the session, and as there is but one thing dealt in—gold—the bids follow the sound of the mallet. The noise and confusion are greater here than in the Stock Board or the Long Room, and it seems impossible to a stranger that the President should be able to follow the various transactions. When the excitement is at its height, the scene resembles "pandemonium broken loose." The members rush wildly about, without any apparent aim. They stamp, yell, shake their arms, heads, and bodies violently, and almost trample each other to death in their frenzied struggles. Men who in private life excite the admiration of their friends by the repose and dignity of their manner, here join in the furious whirl, and seem more like maniacs than sensible human beings. And yet every yell, every gesture, is fraught with the most momentous consequences. These seeming maniacs have a method in their madness, and are changing at every breath the value of the currency upon which the whole business of the country rests. When the fluctuations are very great, fortunes are made and lost here every hour.
Connected with the business of the Gold Room are the Gold Exchange Bank and the Clearing House. The method of settlement with these institutions, which are indispensable where gold passes so rapidly from hand to hand in the Exchange, is as follows: "On or before half past twelve o'clock, a statement of all the purchases or sales made by each broker on the preceding day must be rendered to the bank. If the gold bought be in excess of that sold, a check for the difference must accompany the statement. If deposits in gold or currency are not kept in the bank, the coin must be delivered at every deficiency. The Board adjourns at twelve, in order to enable tardy dealers to complete their accounts. Provided all contracts are honored, the bank must settle by two P.M. In case of default, the amount in abeyance is debited or credited to the broker who suffers by the failure."
The Clearing House Association was created in 1853, and represents the sum of the financial business of the city. "The Association is located in the third story of the building of the Bank of New York. The centre of the room is occupied by a bank counter, extending on four sides, with a passage inside and out. Fifty-nine desks are placed on the counter for the use of the fifty-nine banks represented in the Association. Each desk bears the name of the bank to which it belongs. Fitted up in each desk are fifty-nine pigeon holes for the checks of the various banks. Two clerks represent each bank. One remains at the desk and receives all the checks on his bank. He signs the name of the bank to the sheet which each outside clerk holds in his hand. These outside clerks go from desk to desk and leave the checks received the day before, with the banks on which they are drawn. Banks do not begin public business till ten; but clerks have to be on hand at eight, when all checks are assorted and arranged for delivery at the Clearing House.
"At ten minutes before ten the bank messengers begin to assemble and take their places. As they enter they leave with the messenger a slip containing an exact account of the bank they represent. These statements are put on a sheet prepared for that purpose, and must conform precisely to the checks received inside, before the Clearing House closes its duties. If there is any error or discrepancy, the bank is immediately notified by telegraph, and the clerks kept until the matter is satisfactorily adjusted. At ten, promptly, business begins. Clerks come rushing in with small trunks, tin boxes, or with bundles in their arms, and take their seats at the desks. On the side of the room entered only from the manager's office is a desk, not unlike a pulpit. Precisely at ten the bell rings, the manager steps into his box, brings down his gavel, and the work of the day begins. Quiet prevails. No loud talking is allowed, and no confusion. A bank late is fined two dollars; a party violating the rules, or guilty of insubordination, is fined two dollars and reported to the hank. On repetition, he is expelled the Clearing House. The daily transactions of the Clearing House varies from ninety-eight to one hundred millions. The system is so nicely balanced that three millions daily settle the difference. Each bank indebted to the Clearing House must send in its check before half after one. Creditors get the Clearing House check at the same hour. Daily business is squared and all accounts closed at half after three. Every bank in the city is connected with the Clearing House by telegraph. The morning work of clearing one hundred millions, occupies ten minutes. Long before the clerks can reach the bank, its officers are acquainted with the exact state of their account, and know what loans to grant or refuse. Through the Clearing House each bank is connected with every other in the city. If a doubtful check is presented, if paper to be negotiated is not exactly clear, while the party offering the paper or check is entertained by some member of the bank, the telegraph is making minute inquiries about his financial standing. Before the conference closes, the bank knows the exact facts of the case."
V. CURB-STONE BROKERS.
The members of the Stock and Gold Exchange, as has been stated, are men of character. Their transactions are governed by certain fixed rules, and they are required, on pain of expulsion from the Exchange, to observe the strictest good faith in their dealings with each other and with their customers. If the operations of the street were entirely confined to them, business in Wall street might be regarded as in safe hands. But there is another class, even more numerous and quite as well skilled in the ways of the street, who transact a vast part of its business. They are not members of the Exchange, and in former times used to assemble around its doors in Broad and New streets, and carry on their operations on the sidewalk. Hence their designation, "Curb-stone brokers." They no longer assemble on the pavement, for the Exchange has thrown open to them its Long Room. Any one who can pay $50 a year for a ticket of admission, and who has brains and nerve enough to enter upon the struggle, can sell or buy in the Long Room. This is better than standing in the street, exposed to the weather, and moreover gives a certain respectability to the "operator," although he may carry his sole capital in his head, and his office in his breeches-pocket.
No rules or regulations apply to the Long Room. The honest man and the rogue mingle together here, and the broker must be sure of his man. Many of the members of the Exchange buy and sell here, either in person or through their representatives, and many good men who are unable to enter the Exchange conduct their business here. Others again prefer the freedom and the wider field of the Long Room. Still, there are many sharpers here, who would fleece a victim out of his last cent.
The daily transactions of the Long Room are said to average about $70,000,000, or ten times the business done in the Regular Board. Fortune is much more uncertain here than in the room up stairs. Men buy and sell here with the recklessness of gamblers. The noise and excitement are almost as great as in the Gold Room. The absence of the fixed laws of the Regular Boards puts every one on his own resources, and men are compelled to use all their ingenuity, all their determination to guard against a surprise or unfair dealing. It is every one for himself here. A dozen or more small or new operators are ruined and swept away daily, and in times of great financial excitement the Long Room shakes the foundations of even some of the strongest houses in the street.
VI. THE BUSINESS OF THE STREET.
It is a common habit to speak of Wall street as the financial centre of the Republic; but only those who are acquainted with its transactions can know how true this is. Regarding Wall street and New York as synonymous terms, we find that the street is not only a great power in this country, but that it is one of the great controlling powers of the financial world. Indeed, if the prosperity of the country is as marked in the future as it has been in the past, there is good reason to believe that Wall street will control the whole world of finance. Its geographical location is in its favor. By noon the New York broker has full information of the same day's transactions in London, Frankfort, and Paris, and can shape his course in accordance with this knowledge, while the European broker cannot profit by his knowledge of matters in New York until the next day.
The Stock Exchange of New York numbers over 1000 members, and its aggregate wealth is greater than that of any similar association in the world. The par value of the annual sales made at the regular Boards and "over the counter" is estimated at over $22,000,000,000 annually. The par value of the authorized stocks, bonds, and Governments dealt in by the regular Boards is more than $3,000,000,000, and this vast sum is turned over and over many times during the year. The aggregate of the brokers' commissions on the sales and purchases made by them is estimated by competent authority at $43,750,000 annually. The bulk of this enormous business is in the hands of about 400 houses.
"Out of all the incorporated banks in the United States, there are thirty situated in Wall street and its neighborhood, whose office is not unlike that of the heart in the economy of animal life. Although less than half the full number of banks in the metropolis, these thirty have two-thirds of the capital, and quite two-thirds of the circulation. By a provision of statutory law, all outside National banks, numbering some 1600, are allowed to keep one-half, and many three-fifths, of their reserve balances in New York. In this way our great financial centre is rapidly acquiring the function of a National clearing-house. These temporary deposits bear a small interest, and are subject to be called for at a day's notice. They can only be used, therefore, by the employing banks on the same conditions. The stock market supplies these conditions. Bonds and shares bought to-day and sold to-morrow, endowed with all the properties of swift conversion, and held by men whose training has been one of incessant grappling with the new and unexpected, are the only class of property upon which money can safely be borrowed without a protection against sudden demands. On these securities, therefore, the down-town banks make call loans. The name implies the nature. The money which the thirty receive from without, together with their own reserves, is lent freely to stock-brokers, with the simple provision that it must be returned immediately upon notice, if financial exigencies require it. This vast volume of what may well be styled fluid wealth is difficult of estimate in figures. The published statements of loans made by city banks make no distinction between discounts of commercial paper and what is advanced on securities. In sum total, the thirty banks lend weekly about $165,000,000. Indeed, including all New York banks, the average is nearly $255,000,000. During the week ending September 18, 1868, these banks lent $266,496,024. The real meaning of these last figures will be better understood when it is known that they exceed the entire average loans and discounts of all the national banks of New England and New York State, with the exception, of course, of the city itself. Or, to take a more sweeping view, they surpass the total weekly loans of national banks in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Delaware, and New Jersey. Nigh $180,000,000 of the amount cited above were advanced by the down-town banks. What proportion of this was lent on stocks? Probably much over one-third. As many of the other banks also make call loans, we may, perhaps, estimate that from $70,000,000 to $100,000,000 are furnished daily to the brokers and operators of New York.
[Picture: THE PARK BANK, BROADWAY.]
"This, however, is but one element in the lending force of the city. There are five Trust Companies, with capitals amounting in the aggregate to $5,500,000, which lend, at times, $60,000,000 a week. There are also a large number of private banking houses, of which Jay Cooke & Co. may be selected as representatives, that daily loan vast sums of money on security. The foreign houses alone, which, like Belmont & Co., Brown Brothers, Drexel, Winthrop & Co., operate in Wall street, employ not much less than $200,000,000 of capital."
VII. STOCK GAMBLING.
In the good old days gone by Wall street did business on principles very different from those which prevail there now. Then there was a holy horror in all hearts of speculation. Irresponsible men might indulge in it, and so incur the censure of the more respectable, but established houses confined themselves to a legitimate and regular business. They bought and sold on commission, and were satisfied with their earnings. Even now, indeed, the best houses profess to do simply a commission business, leaving the risk to the customer, but those who know the hidden ways of the street hint that there is not a house in it but has its secrets of large or small operations undertaken on account of the firm. The practice of buying and selling on commission is unquestionably the safest, but the mania for wealth leads many clear, cool-headed men into the feverish whirl of speculation, and keeps them there until they have realized their wildest hopes, or are ruined.
It has been remarked that the men who do business in Wall street have a prematurely old look, and that they die at a comparatively early age. This is not strange. They live too fast. Their bodies and brains are taxed too severely to last long. They pass their days in a state of great excitement. Every little fluctuation of the market elates or depresses them to an extent greater than they think. At night they are either planning the next day's campaign, or are hard at work at the hotels. On Sundays their minds are still on their business, and some are laboring in their offices, screened from public observation. Body and mind are worked too hard, and are given no rest.
The chief cause of this intense strain is the uncertainty attending the operations of Wall street. The chances there are not dependent upon the skill or the exertions of the operator. Some powerful clique may almost destroy the securities upon which he relies for success, or may make him wealthy by suddenly running up their value; so that no man who does not confine himself to a strictly legitimate or commission business—and but few do so—can say one week whether he will be a millionaire or a beggar the next. The chances are in favor of the latter result. Nine out of ten who speculate in gold or stocks, lose, especially persons unaccustomed to such operations. Like all gamblers, they are undismayed by their losses, and venture a second time, and a third, and so on. The fascination of stock gambling is equal to that of card gambling, and holds its victims with an iron hand. The only safe rule for those who wish to grow rich is to keep out of Wall street. While one man makes a fortune by a sudden rise in stocks or gold, hundreds lose by an equally sudden fall in the same commodities. Even old and established firms sometimes give way with a crash under these sudden changes.
The legitimate operations of the street and the speculative ventures are becoming more and more concentrated every year in the hands of a few operators and capitalists. These move the market as they please, and fill their coffers, and sweep away younger or weaker men with a remorseless hand. It is useless to oppose them. They are masters of the field in every respect, and when they combine for a common object, their resources are inexhaustible and their power beyond computation. A dozen, or even half a dozen of the great capitalists could ruin the whole street were they so disposed, and once they came near doing so. This is the secret of the cordial hatred that is felt by the majority of Wall street men for Vanderbilt, Drew, and other great operators. They know and dread the power of these men, and would readily combine to destroy them singly.
The mania for stock gambling which now sways such masses of people, may be said to date from the war and the petroleum discoveries. Since then it has rolled over the country in a vast flood. The telegraph is kept busy all day and all night in sending orders for speculations from people in other States and cities to New York brokers. Everybody who can raise the funds, wishes to try his or her hand at a venture in stocks. Merchants, clergymen, women, professional men, clerks, come here to tempt fortune. Many win; more lose.
Fortunes are made quicker and lost more easily in New York than in any place in the world. A sudden rise in stocks, or a lucky venture of some other kind, often places a comparatively poor man in possession of great wealth. Watch the carriages as they whirl through Fifth avenue, going and returning from the park. They are as elegant and sumptuous as wealth can make them. The owners, lying back amongst the soft cushions, are clad in the height of fashion. By their dresses they might be princes and princesses. This much is due to art. Now mark the coarse, rough features, the ill-bred stare, the haughty rudeness which they endeavor to palm off for dignity. Do you see any difference between them and the footman in livery on the carriage-box? Both master and man belong to the same class—only one is wealthy and the other is not. But that footman may take the place of the master in a couple of years, or in less time. Such changes may seem remarkable, but they are very common in New York.
See that gentleman driving that splendid pair of sorrels. He is a fine specimen of mere animal beauty. How well he drives. The ease and carelessness with which he manages his splendid steeds, excites the admiration of every one on the road. He is used to it. Five years ago he was the driver of a public hack. He amassed a small sum of money, and being naturally a sharp, shrewd man, went into Wall street, and joined the "Curb-stone Brokers." His transactions were not always open to a rigid scrutiny, but they were profitable to him. He invested in oil stocks, and with his usual good luck made a fortune. Now he operates through his broker. His transactions are heavy, his speculations bold and daring, but he is usually successful. He lives in great splendor in one of the finest mansions in the city, and his carriages and horses are superb. His wife and daughters are completely carried away by their good fortune, and look with disdain upon all who are not their equals or superiors in wealth. They are vulgar and ill-bred, but they are wealthy, and society worships them. There will come a change some day. The husband and father will venture once too often in his speculations, and his magnificent fortune will go with a crash, and the family will return to their former state, or perhaps sink lower, for there are very few men who have the moral courage to try to rise again after such a fall, and this man is not one of them.
In watching the crowd on Broadway, one will frequently see, in some shabbily dressed individual, who, with his hat drawn down close over his eyes, is evidently shrinking from the possibility of being recognized, the man who but a few weeks ago was one of the wealthiest in the city. Then he was surrounded with splendor. Now he hardly knows where to get bread for his family. Then he lived in an elegant mansion. Now one or two rooms on the upper floor of some tenement house constitute his habitation. He shrinks from meeting his old friends, well knowing that not one of them will recognize him, except to insult him with a scornful stare. Families are constantly disappearing from the social circles in which they have shone for a greater or less time. They vanish almost in an instant, and are never seen again. You may meet them at some brilliant ball in the evening. Pass their residence the next day, and you will see a bill announcing the early sale of the mansion and furniture. The worldly effects of the family are all in the hands of the creditors of the "head," and the family themselves are either in a more modest home in the country, or in a tenement house. You can scarcely walk twenty blocks on Fifth avenue, without seeing one of these bills, telling its mournful story of fallen greatness.
The best and safest way to be rich in New York, as elsewhere, is for a man to confine himself to his legitimate business. Few men acquire wealth suddenly. Ninety-nine fail where one succeeds. The bane of New York commercial life, however, is that people have not the patience to wait for fortune. Every one wants to be rich in a hurry, and as no regular business will accomplish this, here or elsewhere, speculation is resorted to. The sharpers and tricksters who infest Wall street know this weakness of New York merchants. They take the pains to inform themselves as to the character, means and credulity of merchants, and then use every art to draw them into speculations, in which the tempter is enriched and the tempted ruined. In nine cases out of ten a merchant is utterly ignorant of the nature of the speculation he engages in. He is not capable of forming a reasonable opinion as to its propriety or chance of success, because the whole transaction is new to him, and is so rapid that he has no time to study it. He leaves a business in which he has acquired valuable knowledge and experience, and trusts himself to the mercy of a man he knows little or nothing of; and undertakes a transaction that he does not know how to manage. Dabbling in speculations unfits men for their regular pursuits. They come to like the excitement of such ventures, and rush on in their mad course, hoping to make up their losses by one lucky speculation, and at length utter ruin rouses them from their dreams.
Not only do men squander their own money in this way, but they risk and often lose the funds of others committed to their charge. Bank officers, having the use of the deposits in their institutions, take them for speculation, intending of course to return them. Sometimes they are successful, and are able to replace the money in the bank, so that no one hears of their dishonesty. Again, and most commonly, they fail, and they are ruined. Guardians thus misappropriate the funds of their wards. Even the funds of churches are thus used by their trustees. The amount of speculation engaged in by clergymen with their own money would astonish a novice. Some prominent divines in the city are well known in Wall street. Their brokers keep their secrets, but the habitues of the street are adepts at putting this and that together, and these reverend gentlemen, some of whom preach eloquently against the sins of speculation and gambling, become known as regular customers. The street is full of gossip concerning them, and if the stories told of them be true, some of them have made large fortunes in this way, while others have literally "gone to the bad."
It is not necessary that a person speculating in stocks should be master of the entire value of the stocks. If he be known to the broker operating for him as a responsible person, he may employ only ten per cent., or some other proportion, of the stock to be dealt in. By depositing $1000 with his broker, he can speculate to the extent of $10,000. This per centage is called a margin, and the deposit is designed to protect the broker from loss in case the stock should fall in value. As the stock depreciates, the customer must either sell out and bear the loss which is inevitable, or he must increase his margin to an extent sufficient to protect his broker. If he fails to increase his margin, the broker sells the stock and uses the money to save himself.
VIII. THE WAYS OF THE STREET.
Like Brette Harte's Heathen Chinee,
"For ways that are dark And tricks that are vain, Wall Street is peculiar."
It takes a clear, cool head, a large amount of brains, and unaltering nerve, to thread one's way through the intricacies of the business of finance as carried on there. It would be interesting to know how many come out of the ordeal untouched by the taint of corruption. Members of the Exchanges are held by a rigid code of laws, but in questions of morality Wall street has a code of its own. Expediency is a prominent consideration in the dealings of the street, and men have come to regard as honest and correct almost anything short of a regular breach of contract. They do not spare their own flesh and blood. Friendships are sacrificed, the ties of kinship are disregarded, if they stand in the way of some bold operation. Every thing must give way to the desire for gain. The great operators plunder and destroy their lesser rivals without a feeling of remorse, and by combinations which they know cannot be resisted blast the prospects and ruin the lives of scores whose greatest fault is an inability to oppose them successfully. Tricks so mean and contemptible that their perpetrator would not be tolerated in social life, are resorted to, and if successful are applauded as evidences of smartness. Every man's hand is against his neighbor. Clerks are bribed to betray the secrets of their employers. The baser their treachery, the larger their reward. We do not propose, however, to discuss the morality of Wall street transactions, and so we drop the subject.
It is said by the gossips of the street that the great Railroad King, Commodore Vanderbilt, is not above using any means at hand to secure the success of his schemes. It is said that he once tried to use his son William in this way. He came to him one day, and advised him that he had better sell his Hudson River stock, as 110 was too high for it. William thanked him, and made inquiries in the market, and found that his father was buying quietly all he could lay his hands upon.
William determined to follow suit. Up jumped the stock to 137. It was a clear twenty-six per cent. in pocket.
When the operation was concluded, the Commodore rode round to the son's office.
"Well, William, how much did you lose?"
"I went in at 110 on 10,000 shares. That ought to make me two hundred and sixty thousand dollars—"
"Very bad luck, William," quoth the father, trying to look extremely troubled,—"very bad luck, this time."
"But then I bought, and so made."
"Hey? What sent you doing that, sir?"
"O, I heard that was your line, and so concluded that you meant long instead of short."
"Ahem!" croaked Vanderbilt pere, as he buttoned up his fur overcoat, and stalked out of the open door. He has always had a high opinion of William since that event!
Some years ago Vanderbilt wanted to consolidate the Hudson River and Harlem Railroads, and when the scheme was presented before the Legislature of New York, secured a sufficient number of votes in that body to insure the passage of the bill authorizing the consolidation. Before the bill was called upon its final passage, however, he learned from a trustworthy source that the members of the Legislature who had promised to vote for the bill, were determined to vote against it, with the hope of ruining him. The stock of the Harlem road was then selling very high, in consequence of the expected consolidation. The defeat of the bill would, of course, cause it to fall immediately. The unprincipled legislators at once began a shrewd game. They sold Harlem right and left, to be delivered at a future day, and found plenty of purchasers, every one but those in the plot expecting the consolidation of the roads and a consequent advance in the value of the stock. They let their friends into the secret, and there was soon a great deal of "selling short" in this stock. Commodore Vanderbilt managed to acquaint himself with the whole plot; but he held his peace, and resolved upon revenge. He went into the market quietly, with all the funds he could raise, and bought every certificate of Harlem stock that he could find. These certificates he locked up in his safe. When the bill came before the Legislature on its final passage, it was defeated.
The conspirators were jubilant. They were sure that the defeat of the bill would bring "Harlem" down with a rush. To their astonishment, however, "Harlem" did not fall. It remained stationary the first day, and then to their dismay rose steadily. Those to whom they had sold demanded the delivery of the stock, but the speculators found it impossible to buy it. There was none in the market at any price. In many of these instances Vanderbilt was the real claimant, the brokers acting in the transactions being merely his agents. Being unable to deliver the stock, the conspirators were forced to settle the demands against them in money, and the result was that they were ruined. One of the shrewdest operators in New York lost over $200,000. He refused to pay, and his name was stricken from the list of stockholders. This brought him to his senses, and he made good his contracts. Vanderbilt made money enough out of this transaction to pay for all the stock he owned in the Harlem Road.
Daniel Drew is a great operator. His gains are immense, as are also his losses. He is not popular in the street, and the brokers are fond of abusing him. He has handled too many of them mercilessly to have many friends. They say that he does not hesitate to sacrifice a friend to gain his ends, and that he is utterly without sympathy for those who go down before his heavy blows.
Bogus stock companies appear from time to time in Wall street. An office is rented and fitted up in magnificent style, a flaring programme is issued, and seemingly substantial evidences of the stability and prosperity of the company are exhibited to inquirers. The stock offered is readily taken up by the eager to be rich crowd. A dividend, most hopefully large, is declared and paid, to stimulate investments, and then, when the market has been drained dry, the bubble bursts, the directors disappear, the office is closed, and the shareholders lose their money.
On fine afternoons visitors to the Park do not fail to notice a handsome equipage driven by a stylish young man, with rosy cheeks and light curly hair. His face is the perfect picture of happy innocence. He is very wealthy, and owns a great deal of real estate in the city. The manner in which he made his money will show how other persons enrich themselves.
A few years ago, he, in company with several others, organized a scheme for working certain gold mines said to be located in a distant territory. A company was made up, the country was flooded with flaming descriptions of the valuable mine, and stock was issued which sold readily. The bonds were soon taken up, and in a month or two the so-called company commenced paying handsome dividends. A number of gold bars, bearing the stamp of the mint, were on exhibition in the company's office, and were triumphantly exhibited as amongst the first yields of the valuable mine. For several months the dividends were paid regularly, and the company's stock rose to a splendid premium. It could hardly be bought at any price. No one doubted for an instant the genuineness of the affair, and the lucky company was the envy of all Wall street.
In a few months, all the stock being disposed of, the company ceased paying dividends. This excited the suspicion of some of the shrewdest holders of the stock, and the affair was investigated. It was found that the wonderful mine had no real existence. The gold bars were simply gold coins melted into that form at the Mint, and stamped by the Government as so much bullion. The dividends had been paid out of money advanced by the company, who were simply half a dozen unprincipled sharpers. The stockholders were ruined, but the company made a profit of a clear half million of dollars out of the infamous transaction. Legal proceedings are expensive and tedious when instituted against such parties, and the stockholders, rather than increase their losses by the outlay necessary for a lawsuit, suffered the swindlers to go unmolested.
A certain stock broker, anxious to increase his wealth, purchased twenty acres of land a few years ago in one of the Western States, and commenced boring for oil. After a few weeks spent in this work, he discovered to his dismay that there was not the slightest trace of oil on his land. He kept his own counsel, however, and paid the workmen to hold their tongues. About the same time it became rumored throughout New York that he had struck oil. He at once organized a company, and had a committee appointed to go West and examine the well. In a few weeks the committee returned in high glee, and reported that the well contained oil of the very best quality, and only needed capital and improved machinery to develop its capacity. In support of this assertion, they brought home numerous bottles containing specimens of the oil. This report settled the matter in Wall street, and the stock issued by the company was all sold at a handsome premium. When the sales ceased, it was rumored that the well had ceased to flow. This was true, for there was no oil anywhere on the land. That in the well had been bought in Pennsylvania, and poured into the well by the agents of the owner, and the examining committee had been paid large sums for their favorable report. The owner of the well was enriched, as were his confederates of the bogus company, and the holders of the stock were swindled, many of them being ruined.
Said the New York Herald, at a period when speculation was rampant:
"Within the past few days we have seen the most gigantic swindling operations carried on in Wall street that have as yet disgraced our financial centre. A great railway, one of the two that connect the West with the Atlantic seaboard, has been tossed about like a football, its real stockholders have seen their property abused by men to whom they have entrusted its interests, and who, in the betrayal of that trust, have committed crimes which in parallel cases on a smaller scale would have deservedly sent them to Sing Sing. If these parties go unwhipped of justice, then are we doing injustice in confining criminals in our State prisons for smaller crimes.
"To such a disgusting degree of depravity do we see these stock operations carried, that members of the church of high standing offer, when 'concerned,' to betray their brother 'pals,' and, in their forgetfulness of the morality to which they sanctimoniously listen every Sunday, state that 'all they care about is to look out for number one.' A manager of a great corporation is requested to issue bonds of his company without authority, offering 'to buy the bonds if you are caught, or buy the bonds with the understanding not to pay for them unless you are caught.' This attempted fiscal operation, however, did not work, and resulted in a good proof of the old adage that it requires 'a rogue to catch a rogue.'
"A railroad treasurer boldly states that he has without authority over-issued stock of the company to a large amount. He offers it to a broker for sale, with the understanding that all received over a fixed value is to go into his (the treasurer's) pocket. From the fact that this man is not arrested for maladministration of the company's property, we judge this to be a legitimate operation, and that this may hereafter serve as a model or standard of morals to all presidents, directors, treasurers and managers of railway and other great corporations."
IX. BLACK FRIDAY.
In the month of September, 1869, one of the most gigantic attempts to run up the value of gold ever made was attempted by a powerful combination of Bulls, consisting of a set of unprincipled men whose only object was to make money. Their scheme came near attaining a success which would have broken the market utterly, have unsettled values of all kinds, and have precipitated upon the whole country a financial crisis of the most terrible proportions. Nothing but the interference of the Secretary of the Treasury at a critical moment averted this disaster. As it was, the losses were fearful. Men in Wall street were ruined by the score, and for several days the best houses in the street were uncertain as to their exact condition.
An account of this formidable transaction is interesting as revealing the method of conducting the great operations of the street.
[Picture: SCENE IN THE GOLD ROOM—BLACK FRIDAY.]
"On the 22d of September, 1869, gold stood at 137.5 when Trinity bells rang out the hour of twelve. By two it was at 139. Before night its lowest quotation was 141. . . . An advance of three and a half per cent. in five hours. At the same time the Stock Market exhibited tokens of excessive febrility, New York Central dropping twenty-three per cent. and Harlem thirteen. Loans had become extremely difficult to negotiate. The most usurious prices for a twenty-four hours' turn were freely paid. The storm was palpably reaching the proportions of a tempest.
"Nevertheless, the brokers on the Bear side strove manfully under their burden. The character and purposes of the clique were fully known. Whatever of mystery had heretofore enfolded them was now boldly thrown aside, and the men of Erie, with the sublime Fisk in the forefront of the assailing column, assured the shorts that they could not settle too quickly, since it remained with the ring, now holding calls for one hundred millions, either to kindly compromise at 150 or to carry the metal to 200 and nail it there. This threat was accompanied by consequences in which the mailed hand revealed itself under the silken glove. The movement had intertwisted itself deep into the affairs of every dealer in the street, and entangled in its meshes vast numbers of outside speculators. In borrowing or in margins the entire capital of the former had been nearly absorbed, while some five millions had been deposited by the latter with their brokers in answer to repeated calls. When Thursday morning rose, gold started at 141-5/8, and soon shot up to 144. Then the clique began to tighten the screws. The shorts received peremptory orders to increase their borrowing margins. At the same moment the terms of loans overnight were raised beyond the pitch of ordinary human endurance. Stories were insidiously circulated exciting suspicion of the integrity of the Administration, and strengthening the belief that the National Treasury would bring no help to the wounded Bears. Whispers of an impending lock-up of money were prevalent; and the fact, then shrewdly suspected, and now known, of certifications of checks to the amount of twenty-five millions by one bank alone on that day, lent color to the rumor. Many brokers lost courage, and settled instantly. The Gold Room shook with the conflict, and the battle prolonged itself into a midnight session at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. The din of the tumult had penetrated to the upper chambers of journalism. Reporters were on the alert. The great dailies magnified the struggle, and the Associated Press spread intelligence of the excitement to remote sections. When Friday opened clear and calm, the pavement of Broad and New streets soon filled up with unwonted visitors. All the idle population of the city and its neighborhood crowded into the financial quarter to witness the throes of the tortured shorts. Blended with the merely curious were hundreds of outside speculators who had ventured their all in the great stake, and trembled in doubt of the honor of their dealers. Long before 9 A.M. these men, intensely interested in the day's encounter, poured through the alley-way from Broad street, and between the narrow walls of New street, surging up around the doorways, and piling themselves densely and painfully within the cramped galleries of the Room itself. They had made good the fresh calls for margins up to 143, the closing figure of the night before. The paramount question now was, How would gold open? They had not many minutes to wait. Pressing up to the fountain, around which some fifty brokers had already congregated, a Bull operator with resonant voice bid 145 for twenty thousand. The shout startled the galleries. Their margins were once more in jeopardy. Would their brokers remain firm? It was a terrible moment. The Bears closed round the aggressors. Yells and shrieks filled the air. A confused and baffling whirl of sounds ensued, in which all sorts of fractional bids and offers mingled, till '46 emerged from the chaos. The crowd within the arena increased rapidly in numbers. The clique agents became vociferous. Gold steadily pushed forward in its perilous upward movement from '46 to '47, thence to '49, and, pausing for a brief twenty minutes, dashed on to 150.5. It was now considerably past the hour of regular session. The President was in the chair. The Secretary's pen was bounding over his registry book. The floor of the Gold Room was covered with 300 agitated dealers and operators, shouting, heaving in masses against and around the iron railing of the fountain, falling back upon the approaches of the committee-rooms and the outer entrance, guarded with rigorous care by sturdy door-keepers. Many of the principal brokers of the street were there,—Kimber, who had turned traitor to the ring; Colgate, the Baptist; Clews, a veteran government broker; one of the Marvins; James Brown; Albert Speyer, and dozens of others hardly less famous. Every individual of all that seething throng had a personal stake beyond, and, in natural human estimate, a thousand-fold more dear than that of any outside patron, no matter how deeply or ruinously that patron might be involved. At 11 of the dial gold was 150.5; in six minutes it jumped to 155. Then the pent-up tiger spirit burst from control. The arena rocked as the Coliseum may have rocked when the gates of the wild beasts were thrown open, and with wails and shrieks the captives of the empire sprang to merciless encounter with the ravenous demons of the desert. The storm of voices lost human semblance. Clenched hands, livid faces, pallid foreheads on which beads of cold sweat told of the interior anguish, lurid, passion-fired eyes,—all the symptoms of a fever which at any moment might become frenzy were there. The shouts of golden millions upon millions hurtled in all ears. The labor of years was disappearing and reappearing in the wave line of advancing and receding prices. With fortunes melting away in a second, with five hundred millions of gold in process of sale or purchase, with the terror of yet higher prices, and the exultation which came and went with the whispers of fresh men entering from Broad street bearing confused rumors of the probable interposition of the Government, it is not hard to understand how reason faltered on its throne, and operators became reckless, buying or selling without thought of the morrow or consciousness of the present. Then came the terrific bid of Albert Speyer for any number of millions at 160. William Parks sold instantly two millions and a half in one lot. Yet the bids so far from yielding rose to 161, 162, 162.5. For five minutes the Board reeled under the ferocity of the attack. Seconds became hours. The agony of Wellington awaiting Blucher was in the souls of the Bears. Then a broker, reported to be acting for Baring & Brothers, at London, sold five millions to the clique at the top price of the day. Hallgarten followed; and as the shorts were gathering courage, the certain news that the Secretary of the Treasury had come to the rescue swept through the chamber, gold fell from 160 to 140, and thence, with hardly the interval of one quotation, to 133. The end had come, and the exhausted operators streamed out of the stifling hall into the fresh air of the street. To them, however, came no peace. In some offices customers by dozens, whose margins were irrevocably burnt away in the smelting-furnace of the Gold Board, confronted their dealers with taunts and threats of violence for their treachery. In others the nucleus of mobs began to form, and, as the day wore off, Broad street had the aspect of a riot. Huge masses of men gathered before the doorway of Smith, Gould, Martin & Co., and Heath & Co. Fisk was assaulted, and his life threatened. Deputy-sheriffs and police officers appeared on the scene. In Brooklyn a company of troops were held in readiness to march upon Wall street.
"When night came, Broad street and its vicinity saw an unwonted sight. The silence and the darkness which ever rests over the lower city after seven of the evening, was broken by the blaze of gas-light from a hundred windows, and the footfall of clerks hurrying from a hasty repast back to their desks. Until long after Trinity bells pealed out the dawn of a new day, men bent over their books, scrutinized the Clearing-House statement for the morrow, took what thought was possible for the future. At the Gold Exchange Bank the weary accountants were making ineffective efforts to complete Thursday's business. That toilful midnight, at the close of the last great passion-day of the bullion-worshippers, will be ever memorable for its anxieties and unsatisfying anguish.
[Picture: BROAD STREET ON BLACK FRIDAY.]
"Saturday brought no relief. The Gold Board met only to adjourn, as the Clearing-House had been incapable of the task of settling its accounts, complicated as they were by ever fresh failures. The small brokers had gone under by scores. The rumors of the impending suspension of some of the largest houses of the street gave fresh grounds for fear. The Stock Exchange was now the centre of attraction. If that yielded, all was lost. To sustain the market was vital. But whence was the saving power to came? All through yesterday shares had been falling headlong. New York Central careened to 148, and then recovered to 185.75. Hudson plunged from 173 to 145. Pittsburgh fell to 68. Northwest reached 62.5. The shrinkage throughout all securities had been not less than thirty millions. Would the impulse downward continue? The throngs which filled the corridors and overhung the stairway from which one can look down upon the Long Room saw only mad tumult, heard only the roar of the biddings. For any certain knowledge they might have been in Alaska. But the financial public in the quiet of their offices, and nervously scrutinizing the prices reeled off from the automaton telegraph, saw that Vanderbilt was supporting the New York stocks, and that the weakness in other shares was not sufficient to shadow forth panic. It soon became known that the capitalists from Philadelphia, Boston, and the great Western cities had thrown themselves into the breach, and were earning fortunes for themselves as well as gratitude from the money-market, by the judicious daring of their purchases. The consciousness of this new element was quieting, but Wall street was still too feverish to be reposed by any ordinary anodyne. A run on the Tenth National Bank had commenced, and all day long a steady line of dealers filed up to the counter of the paying teller demanding their balances. The courage and the ability in withstanding the attack which were shown by the president and his associates deserve something more than praise. The Gold Exchange Bank witnessed a similar scene, angry brokers assaulting the clerks and threatening all possible things unless instantaneous settlements were made. The freedom with which the press had given details of the explosion had been extremely hurtful to the credit of many of the best houses. In a crisis like that of Black Friday the sluice-gates of passion open. Cloaked in the masquerade of genuine distrust, came forth whispers whose only origin was in ancient enmities, long-treasured spites, the soundless depths of unquenchable malignities. Firms of staunchest reputation felt the rapier-stroke of old angers. The knowledge that certain houses were large holders of particular stocks was the signal of attacks upon the shares. Despite of outside orders for vast amounts, these influences had their effect upon securities, and aided to tighten the loan market. One, one and a half, two, and even four per cent. were the compulsory terms on which money could alone be borrowed to carry stocks over Sunday.
"On Monday the 27th the Gold Board met, but only to be informed that the Clearing-House was not yet ready to complete the work of Friday. Important accounts had been kept back, and the dealings, swollen in sum-total to five hundred millions, were beyond the capacity of the clerical force of the Gold Bank to grapple with. A resolution was brought forward proposing the resumption of operations Ex-Clearing-House. The measure took the members by surprise, for a moment quivered between acceptance and rejection, and then was swiftly tabled. It was an immense Bear scheme, for no exchange can transact business where its dealers are under suspicion. All outstanding accounts require immediate fulfilment. Failure to make good deliveries would have insured the instant selling out of defaulters 'under the rule.' As the majority of brokers were inextricably involved in the late difficulty, the only consequence would have been to throw them into bankruptcy, thus bringing some $60,000,000 under the hammer. The market could not have borne up under such an avalanche. It was decided that the Room should be kept open for borrowings and loans, but that all dealings should be suspended. One result of this complication was that gold had no fixed value. It could be bought at one house for 133 and at other offices sold for 139. The Board thus proved its utility at the very juncture when least in favor."
XVI. THE FERRIES.
Including the Harlem, Staten Island, and Elizabethport routes, there are about twenty-five lines of ferries plying between New York and the adjacent shores. Ten of these lines are to Brooklyn, two to Hunter's Point, two to Green Point, one to Mott Haven, and one to Harlem, all in the East River; and five to Jersey City, one to Weehawken, one to Fort Lee, two to Staten Island, and one to Elizabethport, all in the North River. Thus there are sixteen lines in the East River, and ten in the North River. The boats are large side-wheel vessels, capable of carrying pedestrians, horses and vehicles. The fare to the Jersey shore is three cents, to Brooklyn two, and to Harlem and Staten Island ten cents. On some of the lines the boats ply every five minutes; on others the intervals are longer. The Staten Island and Harlem boats start every hour.
The boats are generally handsome, as well as large. Nearly all are lighted with gas, and at least a score of them are to be seen in the stream at any time. At night, with their many colored lamps, they give to the river quite a gala appearance. The Fulton, Barclay, and Courtlandt street lines run their boats all night. The others run from 4 A.M. until midnight. The travel on the various lines is immense. The aggregate is said, by reliable authority, to be upwards of 200,000 persons per day, or about 75,000,000 per annum. Many of the boats carry from 800 to 1000 passengers at a single trip.
During the summer it is pleasant enough to cross either of the rivers which encircle the island, but in the winter such travelling is very dangerous. Storms of snow, fogs, and floating ice interfere very greatly with the running of the boats, and render accidents imminent. Collisions are frequent during rough or thick weather, and the ice sometimes sweeps the boats for miles out of their course. The East River is always more or less crowded with vessels of all kinds, either in motion or at anchor, and even in fair weather it requires the greatest skill on the part of the pilot to avoid collisions.
Tens of thousands of people enter and leave the great city daily by means of the ferries. The country for twenty miles around the city is built up by persons who earn their bread in New York, and morning and evening they pass between their places of business and their homes. You may recognize them as they come into the city in the morning, or as they leave it at the close of the day. Towards five o'clock vast swarms of working-men pour over the river, followed at six and seven by the factory and shop girls, the clerks and salesmen in the retail houses and offices, and from these the newsboys reap a harvest for the two-penny papers. Every one has his newspaper, and all who can find the necessary space on the ferry-boat economize their time by reading the news as they cross the river. Later still come the clerks in the wholesale houses, and later still the great merchants themselves. Between nine and ten the Wall street men put in an appearance, and later yet the great capitalists, residing out of the city, begin to show themselves. From eight o'clock the great dailies are in demand, and the newsboys have scarcely a call for the cheap papers. Towards noon the idlers and ladies bent on shopping expeditions cross over, and for a few hours the ferries are comparatively dull. Towards four o'clock in the afternoon, however, the tide flows back again, but in reverse order. The richest come first, for their working hours are short, and the poorest extend the crowd into the hours of darkness. Night brings another flow and ebb of pleasure-seekers, theatre-goers, etc., so that the midnight boats go almost as full as those of the early evening. Then a few stragglers avail themselves of the boats that ply between midnight and morning. They are mostly journalists, actors, or printers employed in the newspaper offices.
With the first light of dawn, and frequently long before the darkness has passed away, the market farmers and gardeners of Long Island and New Jersey crowd the boats with their huge wagons heavily loaded with vegetables and fruits for the city markets. They come in throngs, and the approaches to the ferries in Brooklyn and Jersey City are lined for blocks with their wagons. They are mostly Germans, but they show a decidedly American quality in the impatience they manifest at the delays to which they are subjected. On the lower Jersey ferries, they are often followed by droves of cattle, many of which have come from the Far West, all wending their way to the slaughter houses of New York.
The New York approaches to the ferries are always "jammed" with wagons and trucks. The luckless "foot-passenger" must take the chances of reaching the boat in time, and often must incur no little risk in making his way through the crowd of vehicles. The police try hard to keep these approaches free, but the throng is too great for them, and they have all they can do in seeing after the safety of the "foot-passengers." A man on foot has no rights that a New York driver is bound to respect, and Jehu thinks it no harm to run over any one who gets in his way.
The ferries are good places to study human nature, for all classes use them. You see here the poor, pale working girl, whom toil and poverty are making prematurely old, and the blooming lady of fashion; the beggar and the millionaire; the honest laborer and the thief; the virtuous mother and her children, and the brazen courtezan and her poodle dog. You can tell them all by their appearance and aspect, for here they enjoy a few moments of enforced idleness, and during that time they are natural in expression and attitude.
At night, the scene to be witnessed from these boats is very striking. The waters are dark and the current is strong, and the dash of the waves against the side of the boat is like the noise of the great ocean. Through the darkness you may dimly discern the stern outline of the cities on either side, with the forests of masts which line them rising from the dark hulls at the piers. The shadowy forms of vessels at anchor in the stream, each with its warning light, rise up and disappear as if by magic as you dart past them. On the shore the many colored lights mark the various ferry houses, and similar lights are flashing about the stream like fire-flies as the boats pass from shore to shore. Back of the ferry houses the long rows of lights in the cities stretch away into the distance, and high over all gleams the round white face of the illuminated clock on the City Hall in New York. The breeze is fresh and keen, and comes in laden with the sighing of the mighty ocean so near at hand.
The people standing out on the open deck are silent, impressed by the fascination of the scene. Hark! there is a splash at the side of the boat, a white figure gleams one moment on the crest of the waves, and then sinks under the dark waters. The bell strikes sharply, and the boat stops suddenly. Life-preservers are thrown overboard, and lights gleam along the side of the boat. There is no sign of the unfortunate girl who has so rashly sought peace, and the waters will hold her in their cold embrace till the sea gives up its dead. All search is hopeless, and the boat speeds on, a dumb horror holding its occupants mute.
In a fog, the scene is exciting beyond description. The passengers throng the forward end of the boat, and strive with eager eyes to pierce the dense mist which enshrouds the stream and hides the shore from view. From either side the hoarse clangor of the ferry bells, tolling their number, comes floating through the mist, to guide the pilot to his destination, and all around, on every hand, steamers are shrieking their shrill signals to each other. The boat moves slowly and with caution, and the pilot strains both eye and ear to keep her in the right course. One single error of judgment on his part, and the boat might go crashing into a similar steamer, or into one of the vessels lying in the stream. It is a moment of danger, and those who are used to the river know it. You could hear a pin drop in the silent crowd on the deck. If men speak at all, they do so in low, subdued tones. There is a sharp whistle on the right, and the boat suddenly stops. You hear the splashing of paddle wheels, and the next moment a huge steamer dashes past you in the mist. You can hear her, but the fog hides her. Then the boat goes ahead again, and gradually the fog bells on the shore grow louder and clearer, and in a little while the dock bursts suddenly upon you, so spectral and unearthly in its appearance that you hardly recognize it. The boat now glides swiftly into her "slip," and a sigh of relief breaks from the throng on board. The danger is over.
The boats carry such crowds that an accident to any of them is a terrible affair. The collision at the Fulton Ferry in 1868, and the terrible explosion of the Westfield in 1871, were attended with great loss of life. The injuries were none of them slight, and the disasters were of such magnitude as to throw a general gloom over the community.
XVII. THE HOTELS.
New York is the paradise of hotels. In no other city do they flourish in such numbers, and nowhere else do they attain such a degree of excellence. The hotels of New York naturally take the lead of all others in America, and are regarded by all who have visited them as models of their kind.
It is said that there are from six to seven hundred hotels of all kinds in the City of New York. These afford accommodations for persons of every class, and are more or less expensive, according to the means of their guests. Of these, only about fifty are well known, even in the city, and only about twenty-five come under the head of "fashionable." The principal hotels are, beginning down town, the Astor, St. Nicholas, Metropolitan, Grand Central, Brevoort, New York, St. Denis, Spingler, Everett, Clarendon, Westminster, Glenham, Fifth Avenue, Hoffman, Albemarle, St. James, Coleman, Sturtevant, Gilsey, Grand, and St. Cloud. These are the largest, handsomest, and best kept houses in the city. Each has its characteristics and its special customers, and each in its way is worth studying.
The Astor House is one of the oldest hotels in the city. It is built of granite, and occupies an entire block on Broadway, from Vesey to Barclay streets. It is immediately opposite the Herald office, and the new Post-office. It was built by John Jacob Astor, and presented by him to his son William. It was opened for business in 1831, by Colonel Charles A. Stetson, the present proprietor, and for twenty years was the leading hotel of the country. In those days no one had seen New York unless he had "put up at the Astor." People talked of it all over the country, and in all our leading cities monster hotels began to appear, modelled upon the same general plan. Those were the palmy days of the Astor, and if one could write their history in full, it would be a record worth reading. The old registers of the house would be valuable for the autographs they contain, for there was scarcely a great or distinguished man of those days but had written his name in Colonel Stetson's book.
[Picture: THE ASTOR HOUSE.]
The house had from the first a strong flavor of politics about it. The leading statesmen of the country were always there in greater or less force, and their admirers kept up a continuous throng of comers and goers. The house had a decided leaning towards the Whig Party, and finally it became their New York headquarters. For thirty years Thurlow Weed boarded here, and the caucuses, committee meetings, and intrigues of various kinds the old house has witnessed, would fill a volume with their history. The Astor still keeps its political character, and is one of the Republican strongholds of the city. It is safe to assert that very few Democrats now inscribe their names on its register, if they are free to seek quarters elsewhere.
The misfortune of the Astor is that it is too far down town to be a fashionable house. It is admirably located for merchants and others who have business in the lower part of the city, and to whom time is of value. A few old-time folks, who knew the house in its palmy days, still stop there, and many whose political faith is in sympathy with that of the proprietor, make it a matter of conscience to patronize the house, and Colonel Stetson's well-earned popularity brings him other guests. Although its glories have faded, the Astor is still a successful hotel, but in popularity with the general public, it has long since been eclipsed by the up town hotels.
The St. Nicholas is one of the best houses in the city. It shows a handsome marble front on Broadway, with a brown stone extension on the same thoroughfare to Prince street, and extends back to Mercer street. It is handsomely furnished, and is kept on a scale of comfort and magnificence worthy of its fame. Its spacious halls and sitting-rooms, on the street floor, furnish one of the most popular lounging places in the city. Towards nightfall they are full to overflowing. The table is said, by the lovers of good living, to be the best served of any house in the city. The hotel is always full, and is very profitable to its proprietors. It is said to pay better in proportion to its expenses than any of its rivals. It is much liked by the Western people, who come here in crowds. There is also a dashing element about its guests which gives to it its peculiar reputation in the city. It is popularly believed to be the headquarters of "Shoddy," and certain it is that one sees among its habitues an immense number of flashily dressed, loud-voiced, self-asserting people.
The Metropolitan is a handsome brown stone edifice, situated at the northeast corner of Broadway and Prince street. It extends back to Crosby street, and has a frontage of about 300 feet on Broadway. It is one of the most elegant hotels in the city, in every respect. It contains about 400 rooms, and is always full. It is very popular with army officers, with Californians and the people of the mining States and Territories, as well as with the New Englanders. Capitalists and railroad managers also have a fondness for it. "Shoddy" is to be seen here also in great force.
[Picture: ST. NICHOLAS HOTEL.]
The New York Hotel is a plain red brick structure, occupying the entire block bounded by Broadway and Mercer street, and East Washington and Waverley Places. It has recently been refitted and improved, and is one of the most comfortable houses in the city. In one respect, it may be regarded as the counterpart of the Astor, since like that hotel, it is noted for its political complexion. It is the favorite stopping place of the Democratic politicians visiting the city, and is mainly patronized by members of that party. It is very popular with the Southern people, large numbers of whom come here to spend the summer, to escape from the heat of their climate, or to pass the winter to enjoy the delights of the city. The guests of the New York generally stay a long time, and the house is said to do a good business.
The Grand Central, on Broadway, between Bleecker and Amity streets, and extending back to Mercer street, is a new house. It was opened in August, 1870, and is the largest hotel in America. It rises to a height of eight stories, or 127 feet, exclusive of the Mansard roof, above the street. Including the central dome, it is ten stories in height. The fitting up of the house is very handsome and elaborate, the furniture and decorations having cost over half a million of dollars. The dining-room will seat 600 persons at once.
The Fifth Avenue Hotel, at the junction of Broadway and Fifth avenue, and between Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth streets, is generally regarded as the best house in the city. It occupies the most conspicuous location in New York, and is one of the finest buildings of its kind in the world. It is constructed of white marble, is six stories in height, above ground, and fronts on Fifth avenue, Broadway, Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth streets. The land and building are valued at over $1,000,000, and are owned by Mr. Amos R. Eno, by whom the house was built. The proprietors are Messrs. Hitchcock, Darling & Co.
The hotel was begun in 1857, Mr. Eno having more faith in the rapid growth and prosperity of the city than most persons had at that day. The wise heads laughed him to scorn, and called his house "Eno's folly." They said it might make a popular summer resort, but would never take rank as a first class city hotel. It was too high up town. Undismayed by these criticisms, Mr. Eno went on with his work, and in 1860, the marble palace, to which he gave the name of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, was opened to the public. By this time the city had grown so fast as to make the need of this house imperative, but the first years of the war laid a burden upon it which only the most skilful financial management could overcome.
The hotel is the most perfectly appointed in the city. The ground floor along Broadway and Fifth avenue is let out in stores. The main entrance is on Fifth avenue, and is ornamented with a fine marble porch. From this, the visitor enters into the spacious reception hall, tiled with marble and handsomely frescoed. A marble counter at the lower end encloses the offices of the hotel, and on this counter is laid the Visitor's Register, of which several fresh pages are filled daily with the names of new-comers. Opposite the office are the stairs leading to the basement, in which are the billiard-rooms, storerooms, etc., of the house. The hall upon which the office opens extends through to the rear of the building. On the south side of this hall is the reading-room, in which are to be found the daily papers of the leading cities of the Union. Opposite the reading-room is the bar-room, one of the most elegant apartments of the house, and beyond this is the handsome and well-appointed barber-shop. There is a private entrance on Twenty-fourth street, used mainly by gentlemen, another on Twenty-third street, and still another on Broadway. Each is in charge of a door-keeper, whose duty it is to exclude improper personages. Along the Twenty-third street side are suites of private apartments on the ground floor, occupied by permanent boarders.
The various floors are reached by means of an "elevator," the first ever used in this country. Similar arrangements are now in use in all the large hotels. The main stairway commences immediately opposite the office. It is of white marble, and massive in its design. Ascending it the visitor finds himself in a spacious hall, at one end of which is a corridor at right angles to this hall. At the end nearest the stairs is the dining-room, a magnificent apartment. When the tables are filled with a handsomely dressed throng of guests at the dinner hour, this room presents one of the most brilliant sights that can be witnessed on the continent. The bill of fare comprises literally everything that is in season. Back of the dining-room is the kitchen, an immense establishment. Everything connected with it goes on like clock-work, however, so perfect is the system upon which it is managed. Beneath the kitchen are the machines for warming and ventilating the hotel. By means of these a perfectly comfortable temperature is maintained in all parts of the house, and the smells of the kitchen are kept out of the halls and chambers.
[Picture: FIFTH AVENUE HOTEL.]
At the end of the hall upon which the dining-room opens, are the parlors of the house. These are among the most magnificent rooms in the country. They are furnished with great taste and elegance, and their windows look out immediately upon Madison Square. There are also several private parlors adjoining the public rooms. Along the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth street sides of the house are corridors, not quite so wide, but longer than the main corridor, and leading off from it. The three constitute one of the pleasantest promenades to be found. The floors are covered with the richest carpets, into which the feet sink noiselessly. In the day a half twilight prevails, and at night a rich flood of gaslight streams along their entire length.
The upper floors are occupied with private parlors, rooms for guests, etc. There are in this hotel pleasant quarters for 800 persons, and a greater number can be accommodated in case of necessity. There are 100 suites of rooms, besides the ordinary chambers. Each suite comprises a parlor, chamber, dressing-room, bath-room and water-closet. The number of permanent boarders is about 300. The transient arrivals average about 300 per day, sometimes amounting to about twice that number. The house is expensive, but its accommodations are unsurpassed, and if one can "get his money back" anywhere in the city he can at this hotel.
The house is mainly patronized by people from other parts of the State, from New England, and from the West. It is the most fashionable establishment in the city, and will doubtless hold its present rank as long as its energetic proprietors retain the control of it.
Towards eight o'clock in the evening, the hotel presents its most attractive features. It is full to overflowing. The lower halls, the reading and sitting-rooms are filled with well-dressed men, guests and citizens, who have sauntered here from all parts of the city. Four-fifths are smoking, and the air is hazy with the "vapor of the weed." The hum of conversation is incessant, but the general tone is well-bred and courteous. In the farther end of the great hall a group of stock brokers may be seen comparing notes, and making bargains for the sale and purchase of their fickle wares. The clink of glasses makes music in the bar-room, and beyond this you may see the barbers at work on their customers in the luxurious shaving saloon. Doors are opening and shutting continually, people are coming and going. Porters are pushing their way through the crowd bearing huge trunks on their shoulders. The office bell is sounding incessantly, from a dozen different chambers at once, and the servants are moving about in every direction to execute the orders of the guests.
On the floor above the scene is as animated, but of a different character. Every one here is in full dinner dress, and all are on their good behaviour. The grand dining-room is crowded with guests, who are doing ample justice to the sumptuous viands set before them. The parlors are thronged with ladies and gentlemen, and the corridors are filled with promenaders. The toilettes of the ladies are magnificent, and they can be seen here to better advantage than at any ball or evening party. You may see here some of the loveliest and most refined women, and some of the coarsest and vulgarest, some of the most courtly gentlemen, and some of the most insufferable snobs. If you will join the quiet-looking man moving through the throng as if seeking some one whom he cannot find, he can give you many an interesting bit of gossip about the various persons whom you will encounter in your walk. He is the detective of the house, and is on the watch for improper characters. Well-dressed thieves will make their way into hotels in spite of the precautions of the proprietors. Here a guest is comparatively safe. The detective is argus-eyed, and knows everybody. Let a pick-pocket or thief but show his face in this place, and his arrest is sure. All night the corridors are patrolled by watchmen to make sure of the safety of the sleeping guests. The house is absolutely fire-proof.
The cost of conducting such an establishment is immense, but the profits are in proportion. The average profit of this house is said to be about a quarter of a million of dollars per annum.
The hotels that have been mentioned are all conducted on the American plan of full board, or one charge for every expense. This enables a guest to calculate his expenses exactly, and has many other advantages.
Many of the most fashionable houses are conducted on what is called "the European plan," in which a separate charge is made for room, meals, and every service rendered. It is said that this is more economical than the other plan, and that it is less profitable to the proprietors. It is adopted by the Hoffman, St. Denis, Glenham, Brevoort, Coleman, St. James, Albemarle, Clarendon, Everett, Grand, Gilsey, and several other prominent houses.
The leading hotels of the city lie very close together, the majority of them being in the vicinity of Union and Madison Squares. This is found to be an advantage, as strangers find it pleasant to visit friends who are staying at other houses. The business of hotel keeping in New York is generally very profitable. A large outlay is required at the opening of the house, for furniture, etc., as much as from $200,000 to $500,000 being expended on the fitting up of a first-class house. The furniture, plate, etc., of the Fifth Avenue and Grand Central Hotels are valued at the latter sum for each establishment. If the house meet with success, a moderate sum will suffice to supply its current wants. The business is all cash, and large amounts of money are received daily. The annual profits of the Fifth Avenue Hotel are said to be about $250,000; those of the St. Nicholas about $200,000. Other leading houses, when well managed, are said to clear about twenty per cent. on the sum invested. Large fortunes have been made by not a few keepers of hotels in New York.
The large hotels depend entirely upon transient guests for their success. The city has, perhaps, the largest floating population in America. Thousands come and go daily, even in the summer months, and these are mostly persons who have money to spend. Bridal parties are constantly arriving, and these are not inclined to be the most economical in their expenditures. In the spring and fall, the Southern and Western merchants come to New York in great numbers to buy goods, and are among the best customers of the hotels. Thousands, on business, and for pleasure, come and go daily, and they all pour a constant stream of money into the coffers of the hotels.
The smaller houses, while they compete with their great rivals for transient custom, rely chiefly upon their permanent guests. These are filled with families who have come to them to avoid the trouble of keeping house, and who remain all through the fall, winter, and spring. In the summer they go to the watering places, so that they pass their whole lives in hotels. They are mostly persons of wealth and fashion. As may be supposed, the atmosphere of a hotel is not very favorable to domestic privacy, and such establishments are vast manufactories of scandal. People imagine that they are living privately, but their every action is subject to the inspection and comment of the other inmates of the house. The hotels are not the safest places for the growth of the domestic virtues. Indeed, it may be said that they furnish the best means of destroying them entirely. Neither are they the best place for the training of children. This last, however, may be a minor consideration, for the wives who live at the hotels seem, as a rule, to take care that there shall be no children to need training. Small families are a necessity at such places, and they remain small in that atmosphere. If another Asmodeus could look down into the hotels of New York, he would have some startling revelations to make, which would no doubt go far to corroborate the gossip one hears in the city concerning them.
The proprietors of the city hotels are very active in their efforts to exclude improper characters from their houses, but with all their vigilance do not always succeed in doing so. One is never certain as to the respectability of his neighbor at the table, and it is well to be over-cautious in forming acquaintanceships at such places. Impure women of the "higher," that is the more successful class, and gamblers, abound at the hotels. The proprietor cannot turn them out unless they are notorious, until they commit some overt act, for fear of getting himself into trouble. As soon, however, as his attention is called to any improper conduct on their part, they are turned into the street, no matter at what hour of the day or night.