Hotel proprietors are also the victims of adventurers of both sexes. These people live from house to house, often changing their names as fast as they change their quarters, and they are more numerous than is generally believed. One man who made himself known to the police in this way, used to take his family, consisting of a wife and three children, to the hotels, and engage the best rooms. When his bill was presented, he affected to be extremely busy, and promised to attend to it the next day. By the next day, however, he had disappeared with his family. His trunk, which had been left behind, was found to contain nothing but bricks and rags, or paper.
Another adventurer would put up at the most fashionable hotels, and when requested to pay his bills would feign madness. He would rave, and sing, and dance, call himself Nebuchadnezzar, or George Washington, or some such personage, and completely baffle the detectives, who were for a long time inclined to believe him a bona fide madman. In this way he ran up a bill of one hundred and seventy-one dollars at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, which he never paid.
Others do not seek to obtain lodgings at the hotels, but confine their efforts to securing meals without paying for them. They get into the dining-rooms along with the crowd at the meal hour, and once in and seated at the table are generally safe. Some two years ago as many as thirty-four of this class were detected at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in a single month. These men as they leave the dining-room generally manage to secure a better hat than that they deposited on the stand in entering. Under the regime of the Lelands, the Metropolitan Hotel had a colored man stationed at the door of its dining-room, who proved more than a match for the most expert thief.
All first class hotels keep private detectives and watchmen on duty at all hours. The business of these men is to keep guard over the upper part of the house, to prevent thieves from entering and robbing the rooms of the guests. Suspicious persons are at once apprehended, and required to give an account of themselves. Some queer mishaps often befall guests of the house who are not known to the detectives.
Bold robberies are often effected at the hotels of the city. Some time ago a thief was captured at the St. Nicholas, and upon being searched a gold watch and chain, and five different parcels of money were found upon him, all of which were identified by guests as their property.
There is no city in the Union in which impostors of all kinds flourish so well as in New York. The immense size of the city, the heterogeneous character of its population, and the great variety of the interests and pursuits of the people, are all so many advantages to the cheat and swindler. It would require a volume to detail the tricks of these people, and some of their adventures would equal anything to be found in the annals of romance. All manner of tricks are practised upon the unsuspecting, and generally the perpetrator escapes without punishment. They come here from all parts of the country, and indeed from all parts of the world, in the hope of reaping a rich harvest, and the majority end by eking out a miserable existence in a manner which even the police who watch them so closely are sometimes unable to understand.
They find their way into all classes. One cannot mingle much in society here without meeting some bewhiskered, mysterious individual, who claims to be of noble birth. Sometimes he palms himself off as a political exile, sometimes he is travelling, and is so charmed with New York that he makes it his headquarters, and sometimes he lets a few friends into the secret of his rank, and begs that they will not reveal his true title, as a little unpleasant affair, a mere social scandal in his own country, made it necessary for him to absent himself for a while. He hopes the matter will blow over in a few months, and then he will go home. The fashionable New-Yorker, male or female, is powerless against the charms of aristocracy. The "foreign nobleman" is welcomed everywhere, feted, petted, and allowed almost any privilege he chooses to claim—and he is far from being very modest in this respect; and by and by he is found out to be an impostor, probably the valet of some gentleman of rank in Europe. Then society holds up its hands in holy horror, and vows it always did suspect him. The men in society are weak enough in this respect; but the women are most frequently the victims.
Not long since, a handsome, well got up Englishman came to New York on a brief visit. He called himself Lord Richard X—-. Society received him with open arms. Invitations were showered upon him. Brown's hands were always full of cards for his Lordship. The women went wild over him, especially since it was whispered that the young man was heir to a property worth ever so many millions of pounds. In short, his Lordship found himself so popular, and hints of his departure were received with such disfavor by his new found friends, that he concluded to extend his stay in New York indefinitely. He made a fine show, and his toilettes, turnouts, and presents were magnificent. The men did not fancy him. He was too haughty and uncivil, but the ladies found him intensely agreeable. It was whispered by his male acquaintances that he was a good hand at borrowing, and that he was remarkably lucky at cards and at the races. One or two of the large faro banks of the city were certainly the losers by his visits. The ladies, however, were indignant at such stories. His Lordship was divine. All the women were crazy after him, and any of them would have taken him at the first offer.
By and by the newspapers began to take notice of the young man, and boldly asserted that there was no such name as Lord Richard X—- in the British peerage. Society laughed at this, and declared that everybody but ignorant newspaper men was aware that the published lists of titled personages in England were notoriously incomplete.
Meanwhile, his Lordship played his cards well, and it was soon announced that he was "to be married shortly to a well-known belle of Fifth avenue." The women were green with jealousy, and the men, I think, were not a little relieved to find that the lion did not intend devouring all the Fifth avenue belles. The marriage came off in due season; the wedding-presents fairly poured in, and were magnificent. The new Lady X—- was at the summit of her felicity, and was the envied of all who knew her. The happy pair departed on their honeymoon, but his Lordship made no effort to return home to England.
During their absence, it leaked out that Lord X—- was an impostor. Creditors began to pour in upon his father-in-law with anxious inquiries after his Lordship, against whom they held heavy accounts. Proofs of the imposture were numerous and indisputable, and the newspapers declared that Lord X—- would not dare to show his face again in New York. Everybody was laughing at the result of the affair.
What passed between the father-in-law and the young couple is not known; but the bride decided to cling to her husband in spite of the imposture. Father-in-law was a prudent and a sensitive man, and very rich. For his daughter's sake, he accepted the situation. He paid Lord X—-'s debts, laughed at the charge of imposture, and spoke warmly to every one he met of the great happiness of his "dear children, Lord and Lady X—-." On their return to the city, he received them with a grand party, at which all Fifth avenue was present, and, though he could not silence the comments of society, he succeeded in retaining for his children their places in the world of fashion. He was a nabob, and he knew the power of his wealth. He shook his purse in the face of society, and commanded it to continue to recognize the impostor as Lord X—-, and society meekly obeyed him.
Impostures of this kind do not always terminate so fortunately for the parties concerned. New York gossip has many a well-authenticated story of foreign counts and lords, who have set society in a flutter, and have married some foolish, trusting woman, only to be detected when it was too late to prevent the trouble. Some of these scoundrels have been proved to be married men already, and the consequences of their falsehood have, of course, been more serious to the bride. Others again do not enter the matrimonial market at all, but use their arts to secure loans from their new acquaintances. Not long since a foreigner, calling himself a Russian Count, and claiming to be sent here on a mission connected with the Russian navy, succeeded in borrowing from some credulous acquaintances, who were dazzled by his pretended rank, sums ranging from $500 to $2000, and amounting in the aggregate to $30,000. When the time of payment arrived, the Count had disappeared, and it was ascertained that he had escaped to Europe.
Impostors of other kinds are numerous. Men and women are always to be found in the city, seeking aid for some charitable institution, with which they claim to be connected. They carry memorandum books and pencils, in the former of which the donor is requested to inscribe his name and the amount of his gift, in order that it may be acknowledged in due form by the proper officers of the institution. Small favors are thankfully received, and they depart, assuring you in the most humble and sanctimonious manner that "the Lord loveth a cheerful giver." If you cannot give to-day, they are willing to call to-morrow—next week—any time that may suit your convenience. You cannot insult them by a sharp refusal, or in any way, for like Uriah Heep they are always "so 'umble." You find it hard to suspect them, but, in truth, they are the most genuine impostors to be met with in the city. They are soliciting money for themselves alone, and have no connection with any charitable institution whatever.
One-armed, or one-legged beggars, whose missing member, sound as your own, is strapped to their bodies so as to be safely out of sight, women wishing to bury their husbands or children, women with hired babies, and sundry other objects calculated to excite your pity, meet you at every step. They are vagabonds. God knows there is misery enough in this great city, but how to tell it from barefaced imposture, is perplexing and harassing to a charitably disposed person. Nine out of ten street beggars in New York are unworthy objects, and to give to them is simply to encourage vagrancy; and yet to know how to discriminate. That would be valuable knowledge to many people in the great city.
In the fall of 1870, a middle aged woman committed suicide in New York. For some months she had pursued a singular career in the great city, and had literally lived by her wits. While her main object was to live comfortably at other people's expense, she also devoted herself to an attempt to acquire property without paying for it. She arrived in New York in the spring of 1868, and took lodgings at an up-town hotel. She brought no baggage, but assured the clerk that her trunks had been unjustly detained by a boarding house keeper in Boston with whom she had had a difficulty. She succeeded in winning the confidence of the clerk, and told him that she had just come into possession of a fortune of one million dollars, left her by a rich relative, and that she had come to New York to purchase a home. She completely deceived the clerk, who vouched for her respectability and responsibility, and thus satisfied the proprietor of the hotel. She made the acquaintance of nearly all the resident guests of the house, and so won their sympathy and confidence that she was able to borrow from them considerable sums of money. In this way she lived from house to house, making payments on account only when obliged to do so, and when she could no longer remain at the hotels, she took up her quarters at a private boarding house, passing thence to another, and so on. She spent two years in this way, borrowing money continually, and paying very little for her board.
In pursuance of her plan to acquire real estate without paying for it, she made her appearance in the market as a purchaser. In the summer of 1870, she obtained permits of one of the leading real estate agents of the city to examine property in his hands for sale, and finally selected a house on Madison avenue. The price asked was $100,000, but she coolly declared her readiness to pay the full amount in cash as soon as the necessary deeds could be prepared. The real estate dealer was completely deceived by her seeming frankness, and assured her that he would give his personal attention to the details of the transaction, so that her interests would not suffer, and a day was agreed upon for the completion of the purchase.
The woman then assumed a confidential tone, and told the gentleman of her immense fortune. She was absolutely alone in the city, she said, without relatives or friends to whom she could apply for advice in the management of her property, and she urged him to become her trustee and manage the estate for her, offering him a liberal compensation for his services. Her object was to make him her trustee, induce him to act for her in the purchase of the house, and involve him so far as to secure the success of her scheme for getting possession of the property. The dealer, however, thanked her for her preference, but assured her that it was impossible for him to accept her proposition, as he had made it a rule never to act as trustee for any one. He did not in the least suspect her real design, and but for this previous and fixed determination would have acceded to her request. Finding that she could not shake his resolution, the lady took her departure, promising to return on the day appointed for the payment of the purchase money.
At the time designated, the deeds were ready, and the real estate agent and the owner of the Madison avenue mansion awaited the coming of the lady; but she did not appear, and, after a lapse of several days, the two gentlemen concluded they had been victimized, and then the true character of the trusteeship he had been asked to assume broke upon the real estate agent. The audacity and skill of the scheme fairly staggered him.
After the failure of this scheme, the woman tried several others of a similar character, with the same success. In October, 1870, a city newspaper, having obtained information respecting her transactions from some of her victims, published an account of her career. The next day she committed suicide, and was found dead in her bed.
Not long since a city lawyer, whom we shall call Smith, and who is much given to the procuring of patent divorces for dissatisfied husbands and wives, was visited by a richly dressed lady, who informed him that she was Mrs. P—-, the wife of Mr. P—-, of Fifth avenue, and that she wished to retain his services in procuring a divorce from her husband, on the ground of ill treatment. Mr. P—- was personally a stranger to the lawyer, who knew him, however, as a man of great wealth. Visions of a heavy fee flashed before him, and he encouraged the lady to make a full statement of her grievances, promising to do his best to secure the desired divorce in the shortest possible time. He made full notes of her statement, and assured her that he felt confident that he would be able to obtain not only the divorce, but a very large sum as alimony. In reply to her question as to his charge for his services, he replied:
"Well, I ought to charge you $1000, but out of consideration for your sufferings, I will only take a retainer of $100, and when we have gained our suit, you will pay me $500 additional."
"That is very reasonable," said the lady, "and I accept the terms. Unfortunately, I have nothing with me but a check for $200, given me by my husband this morning to use in shopping. I shall only need half of it, and if you could get it cashed for me—but, no matter, I'll call to-morrow, and make the payment."
Smith, who had seen the millionaire's heavy signature at the bottom of the cheek, thought he had better make sure of his retainer, and offered to accept the check on the spot. He had just $100 in his pocket, and this he gave to the lady who handed him the check, with the urgent entreaty that he would not betray her to her husband.
"He shall know nothing of the matter until it is too late for him to harm you," said the lawyer, gallantly, as he bowed his fair client out of the office.
It was after three o'clock, and Smith was forced to wait until the next morning before presenting his check at the bank on which it was drawn. Then, to his astonishment, the teller informed him that the signature of Mr. P—- was a forgery. Thoroughly incensed, Smith hastened to the office of the millionaire, and, laying the check before him, informed him that his wife had been guilty of forging his name, and that he must make the check good, or the lady would be exposed and punished. The millionaire listened blandly, stroking his whiskers musingly, and when the lawyer paused, overcome with excitement, quietly informed him that he was sorry for him, but that he, Mr. P—-, had the misfortune to be without a wife. He had been a widower for five years.
How Smith found his way into the street again, he could never tell, but he went back to his work a sadder and a wiser man, musing upon the trickiness of mankind in general, and of women in particular.
[Picture: THE SOLDIER MINSTREL.]
XIX. STREET MUSICIANS.
It would be interesting to know the number of street musicians to be found in New York. Judging from outward appearances, it must be their most profitable field, for one cannot walk two blocks in any part of the city without hearing one or more musical instruments in full blast. A few are good and in perfect tone, but the majority emit only the most horrible discords.
Prominent among the street musicians are the organ grinders, who in former days monopolized the business. They are mostly Italians, though one sees among them Germans, Frenchmen, Swiss, and even Englishmen and Irishmen. Against these people there seems to be an especial, and a not very reasonable prejudice. A lady, eminent for her good deeds among the poor of the Five Points, once said, "There is no reason why an organ grinder should be regarded as an altogether discreditable member of the community; his vocation is better than that of begging, and he certainly works hard enough for the pennies thrown to him, lugging his big box around the city from morning until night." To this good word for the organ grinder it may be added that he is generally an inoffensive person, who attends closely to his business during the day, and rarely ever falls into the hands of the police. Furthermore, however much grown people with musical tastes may be annoyed, the organ grinders furnish an immense amount of amusement and pleasure to the children; and in some of the more wretched sections provide all the music that the little ones ever hear.
Very few of them own their organs. There are several firms in the city who manufacture or import hand organs, and from these the majority of the grinders rent their instruments. The rent varies from two to twenty dollars per month, the last sum being paid for the French flute organs, which are the best. The owners of the instruments generally manage to inspire the grinders with a profound terror of them, so that few instruments are carried off unlawfully, and, after all, the organ grinders are more unfortunate than dishonest.
Organ grinding in New York was once a very profitable business, and even now pays well in some instances. Some of the grinding fraternity have made money. One of these was Francisco Ferrari, who came to this city ten years ago. He invested the money he brought with him in a hand organ and a monkey, and in about five years made money enough to return to Italy and purchase a small farm. He was not content in his native land, however, and soon returned to New York with his family and resumed his old trade. He is said to be worth about twenty thousand dollars.
At present, in fair weather, a man with a good flute organ can generally make from two to five dollars a day. Those who have the best and sweetest toned instruments seek the better neighborhoods, where they are always sure of an audience of children whose parents pay well. Some of these musicians earn as much as ten and fifteen dollars in a single day. In bad weather, however, they are forced to be idle, as a good organ cannot be exposed to the weather at such times without being injured.
A monkey is a great advantage to the grinder, as the animal, if clever, is sure to draw out a host of pennies from the crowd which never fails to gather around it. The monkey is generally the property of the grinder. It is his pet, and it is interesting to see the amount of affection which exists between the two. If the grinder is a married man, or has a daughter or sister, she generally accompanies him in his rounds. Sometimes girls and women make regular business engagements of this kind with the grinders, and receive for their services in beating the tambourine, or soliciting money from the bystanders, a certain fixed proportion of the earnings of the day.
If the organ grinder be successful in his business, he has every opportunity for saving his money. Apart from the rent of his organ, his expenses are slight. Few, however, save very much, as but few are able to earn the large sums we have mentioned. The grinders pay from five to eight dollars per month for their rooms, and they and their families live principally upon macaroni. They use but a single room for all purposes, and, no matter how many are to be provided with sleeping accommodations, manage to get along in some way. As a general rule, they are better off here than they were in their own country, for poverty has been their lot in both. Their wants are simple, and they can live comfortably on an amazingly small sum. The better class of Italians keep their apartments as neat as possible. Children of a genial clime, they are fond of warmth, and the temperature of their rooms stands at a stage which would suffocate an American. They are very exclusive, and herd by themselves in a section of the Five Points. Baxter and Park and the adjoining streets are taken up to a great extent with Italians.
This is the life of the fortunate members of the class. There are many, however, who are not so lucky. These are the owners or renters of the majority of the street organs, the vile, discordant instruments which set all of one's nerves a tingling. They earn comparatively little, and are not tolerated by the irate householders whose tastes they offend. The police treat them with but small consideration. The poor wretches are nearly always in want, and soon full into vagrancy, and some into vice and crime. Some of them are worthless vagabonds, and nearly all the Italians accused of crime in the city are included in their number. One of these men is to be seen on the Bowery at almost any time. He seats himself on the pavement, with his legs tucked under him, and turns the crank of an instrument which seems to be a doleful compromise between a music box and an accordion. In front of this machine is a tin box for pennies, and by the side of it is a card on which is printed an appeal to the charitable. At night a flickering tallow dip sheds a dismal glare around. The man's head is tied up in a piece of white muslin, his eyes are closed, and his face and posture are expressive of the most intense misery. He turns the crank slowly, and the organ groans and moans in the most ludicrously mournful manner. At one side of the queer instrument sits a woman with a babe at her breast, on the other side sits a little boy, and a second boy squats on the ground in front. Not a sound is uttered by any of the group, who are arranged with genuine skill. Their whole attitude is expressive of the most fearful misery. The groans of the organ cannot fail to attract attention, and there are few kind-hearted persons who can resist the sight. Their pennies and ten-cent stamps are showered into the tin box, which is never allowed to contain more than two or three pennies. The man is an Italian, and is said by the police to be a worthless vagabond. Yet he is one of the most successful musicians of his class in the city.
The arrangements of a street organ being entirely automatic, any one who can turn a crank can manage one of these instruments. Another class of street musicians are required to possess a certain amount of musical skill in order to be successful. These are the strolling harpers and violinists. Like the organ grinders, they are Italians. Very few of them earn much money, and the majority live in want and misery.
Some of these strollers are men, or half-grown youths, and are excellent performers. The best of them frequent Broadway, Wall and Broad streets, and the up-town neighborhoods. At night they haunt the localities of the hotels. They constitute one of the pleasantest features of the street, for their music is good and well worth listening to. They generally reap a harvest of pennies and fractional currency. They form the aristocratic portion of the street minstrel class, and are the envy of their less fortunate rivals.
The vast majority of the strolling harpers and violinists are children; generally boys below the age of sixteen. They are chiefly Italians, though a few Swiss, French and Germans are to be found among them. They are commonly to be found in the streets in pairs; but sometimes three work together, and again only one is to be found. There are several hundreds of these children on the streets. Dirty, wan, shrunken, monkey-faced little creatures they are. Between them and other children lies a deep gulf, across which they gaze wistfully at the sports and joys that may not be theirs. All day long, and late into the night, they must ply their dreary trade.
Although natives of the land of song, they have little or no musical talent, as a class, and the majority of them are furnished with harps and violins from which not even Orpheus himself could bring harmony. Not a few of the little ones endeavor to make up in dancing what they lack in musical skill. They work energetically at their instruments, but they do no more than produce the vilest discord. At the best, their music is worthless, and their voices have a cracked, harsh, monotonous sound; but the sound of them is also very sad, and often brings a penny into the outstretched hand.
At all hours of the day, and until late at night you may hear their music along the street, and listen to their sad young voices going up to the ear that is always open to them. They are half clothed, half fed, and their filthiness is painful to behold. They sleep in fair weather under a door-step or in some passage way or cellar, or in a box or hogshead on the street, and in the winter huddle together in the cold and darkness of their sleeping places, for we cannot call them homes, and long for the morning to come. The cold weather is very hard upon them, they love the warm sunshine, and during the season of ice and snow are in a constant state of semi-torpor. You see them on the street, in their thin, ragged garments, so much overpowered by the cold that they can scarcely strike or utter a note. Sometimes a kind-hearted saloon-keeper will permit them to warm themselves at his stove for a moment or two. These are the bright periods in their dark lives, for as a general rule they are forced to remain on the street from early morning until late at night.
A recent writer, well informed on the subject, says: "It is a cruelty to encourage these children with a gift of money, for instead of such gifts inuring to their benefit, they are extracted for the support of cruel and selfish parents and taskmasters." This is true, but the gift is a benefit to the child, nevertheless. These children have parents or relatives engaged in the same business, who require them to bring in a certain sum of money at the end of the day, and if they do not make up the amount they are received with blows and curses, and are refused the meagre suppers of which they are so much in need, or are turned into the streets to pass the night. The poor little wretches come crowding into the Five Points from nine o'clock until midnight, staggering under their heavy harps, those who have not made up the required sum sobbing bitterly in anticipation of the treatment in store for them. Give them a penny or two, should they ask it, reader. You will not miss it. It will go to the brutal parent or taskmaster, it is true, but it will give the little monkey-faced minstrel a supper, and save him from a beating. It is more to them than to you, and it will do you no harm for the recording angel to write opposite the follies and sins of your life, that you cast one gleam of sunshine into the heart of one of these children.
A number of Italian gentlemen resident in New York have generously devoted themselves to the task of bettering the lot of these little ones, and many of those who formerly lived on the streets are now in attendance upon the Italian schools of the city. Yet great is the suffering amongst those who have not been reached by these efforts. Only one or two years ago there were several wretches living in the city who carried on a regular business of importing children from Tuscany and Naples, and putting them on the streets here as beggars, musicians, and thieves. They half starved the little creatures, and forced them to steal as well as beg, and converted the girls into outcasts at the earliest possible age. The newspapers at length obtained information respecting these practices, and by exposing them, drew the attention of the civil authorities to them. One of the scoundrels, named Antonelli, was arrested, tried, and sentenced to the penitentiary, and the infamous business was broken up. The police authorities are possessed of information which justifies them in asserting that some Italian children fare quite as badly at the hands of their own parents. There have been several instances where Italian fathers have made a practice of hiring out their daughters for purposes of prostitution, while they were yet mere children.
As a rule, the future of these little folks is very sad. The Italian and the Mission schools in the Five Points and similar sections of the city are doing much for them, but the vast majority are growing up in ignorance. Without education, with an early and constant familiarity with want, misery, brutality and crime, the little minstrels rarely "come to any good." The girls grow up to lives of sin and shame, and many fortunately die young. The boys too often become thieves, vagrants, and assassins. Everybody condemns them. They are forced onward in their sad career by all the machinery of modern civilization, and they are helpless to ward off their ruin.
During one of the heavy snows of a recent winter, a child harper trudged wearily down the Fifth avenue, on his way to the Five Points, where he was to pass the night. It was intensely cold, and the little fellow's strength was so exhausted by fatigue and the bleak night wind that he staggered under the weight of his harp. At length he sat down on the steps of a splendid mansion to rest himself. The house was brilliantly lighted, and he looked around timidly as he seated himself, expecting the usual command to move off. No one noticed him, however, and he leaned wearily against the balustrade, and gazed at the handsome windows through which the rich, warm light streamed out into the wintry air. As he sat there, strains of exquisite music, and the sounds of dancing, floated out into the night. The little fellow clasped his hands in ecstasy and listened. He had never heard such melody, and it made his heart ache to think how poor and mean was his own minstrelsy compared with that with which his ears were now ravished. The wind blew fierce and keen down the grand street, whirling the snow about in blinding clouds, but the boy neither saw nor heard the strife of the elements. He heard only the exquisite melody that came floating out to him from the warm, luxurious mansion, and which grew sweeter and richer every moment. The cold, hard street became more and more indistinct to him, and he sat very still with his hands clasped and his eyes closed.
The ball ended towards the small hours of the morning, and the clatter of carriages dashing up to the door of the mansion gave the signal to the guests that it was time to depart. No one had seen the odd-looking bundle that lay on the street steps, half buried in the snow, and which might have lain there until the morning had not some one stumbled over it in descending to the carriages. With a half curse, one of the men stooped down to examine the strange object, and found that the bundle of rags and filth contained the unconscious form of a child. The harp, which lay beside him, told his story. He was one of the little outcasts of the streets. Scorning to handle such an object, the man touched him with his foot to arouse him, thinking he had fallen asleep. Alas! it was the eternal sleep.
XX. THE CENTRAL PARK.
Though of comparatively recent date, the Central Park, the chief pleasure ground of New York, has reached a degree of perfection in the beauty and variety of its attractions, that has made it an object of pride with the citizens of the metropolis.
For many years previous to its commencement, the want of a park was severely felt in New York. There was literally no place on the island where the people could obtain fresh air and pleasant exercise. Harlem lane and the Bloomingdale road were dusty and disagreeable, and moreover were open only to those who could afford the expense of keeping or hiring a conveyance. People of moderate means, and the laboring classes were obliged to leave the city to obtain such recreation. All classes agreed that a park was a necessity, and all were aware that such a place of resort would have to be constructed by artificial means.
The first step taken in the matter was by Mayor Kingsland, who, on the 5th of April 1851, submitted a message to the Common Council, setting forth the necessity of a park, and urging that measures be taken at once for securing a suitable site, before the island should be covered with streets and buildings. The message was referred to a select committee, who reported in favor of purchasing a tract of 150 acres, known as Jones's Woods, lying between Sixty-sixth and Seventy-fifth streets, and Third avenue and the East River. There was a strong pressure brought to bear upon the City Government to secure the purchase of this tract, although the citizens as a rule ridiculed the idea of providing a park of only 150 acres for a city whose population would soon be 1,000,000. Yet the Jones's Wood tract came very near being decided upon, and the purchase was only prevented by a quarrel between two members of the Legislature from the City of New York, and the city was saved from a mistake which would have been fatal to its hopes. On the 5th of August, 1851, a committee was appointed by the Legislature to examine whether a more suitable location for a park could be found, and the result of the inquiry was the selection and purchase of the site now known as the Central Park, the bill for that purpose passing the Legislature on the 23d of July, 1853.
[Picture: VIEW FROM THE UPPER TERRACE.]
In November, 1853, Commissioners were appointed to assess the value of the land taken for the park, and on the 5th of February, 1856, their report was confirmed by the City Government. In May, 1856, the Common Council appointed the first Board of Commissioners, with power to select and carry out a definite plan for the construction of the park. This Board consisted of the Mayor and Street Commissioner, who were ex officio members, Washington Irving, George Bancroft, James E. Cooley, Charles F. Briggs, James Phalen, Charles A. Dana, Stewart Brown and others. The designs submitted by Messrs. Frederick L. Olmstead and C. Vaux were accepted, and have since been substantially carried out. The surveys had previously been made by a corps of engineers, at the head of which was Mr., now General Egbert L. Viele.
The task before the architects and Commissioners was an arduous one. With the exception of making a few hollows, and throwing up a few rocks and bluffs, nature had done nothing for this part of the island. It was bleak, dreary and sickly. "The southern portion was already a part of the straggling suburbs of the city, and a suburb more filthy, squalid and disgusting can hardly be imagined. A considerable number of its inhabitants were engaged in occupations which are nuisances in the eye of the law; and were consequently followed at night in wretched hovels, half-hidden among the rocks, where also heaps of cinders, brickbats, potsherds, and other rubbish were deposited. The grading of streets through and across it had been commenced, and the rude embankments and ragged rock-excavations thus created added much to the natural irregularities of its surface. Large reaches of stagnant water made the aspect yet more repulsive; and so ubiquitous were the rocks that it is said, not a square rood could be found throughout which a crowbar could be thrust its length into the ground without encountering them. To complete the miseries of the scene, the wretched squatters had, in the process of time, ruthlessly denuded it of all its vegetation except a miserable tangled underbrush."
Looking around now upon the beautiful landscape, with its exquisite lawns and shrubbery, its picturesque hills, and romantic walks and drives, its sparkling lakes, cascades and fountains, it is hard to realize that so much loveliness was preceded by such hideousness.
[Picture: FOOT-BRIDGE IN CENTRAL PARK.]
The Central Park, so called because it is situated almost in the centre of the island of Manhattan, is a parallelogram in shape, and lies between Fifty-ninth street on the south, and One-hundred-and-tenth street on the north, the Fifth avenue on the east, and the Eighth avenue on the west. It covers an area of 843 acres, and is about two and a half miles long, by half a mile wide. There are nine miles of carriage drives, four miles of bridle roads, and twenty-five miles of walks within its limits. It is the second park in the Union in size; the Fairmount Park at Philadelphia being the largest. It is larger than any city park in Europe, with the exception of the Bois de Boulogne at Paris, the Prater at Vienna, and the Phoenix at Dublin. A rocky ridge, which traverses the whole island, passes through almost the exact centre of the grounds, and has afforded a means of rendering the scenery most beautiful and diversified. A part of the grounds forms a miniature Alpine region; another part is the perfection of water scenery; and still another stretches away in one of the loveliest lawns in the world. The soil will nurture almost any kind of tree, shrub, or plant; and more than one hundred and sixty thousand trees and shrubs of all kinds have been planted, and the work is still going on. Any of the principal walks will conduct the visitor all over the grounds, and afford him a fine view of the principal objects of interest.
The park is divided into two main sections, known as the Upper and Lower Parks, the two being separated by the immense Croton Reservoirs, which occupy the central portion of the grounds. Thus far the Lower Park has received the greatest amount of ornamentation. It is a miracle of exquisite landscape gardening. Its principal features are its lawns, the Pond, the Lake, the Mall, the Terrace, the Ramble, and the Museum of Natural History. The main entrances are on Fifty-ninth street, those at the Fifth and Eighth avenues being for vehicles, equestrians, and pedestrians, and those at the Sixth and Seventh avenues for pedestrians only. All these entrances will ultimately be ornamented with magnificent gateways. Paths leading from them converge at the handsome Marble Arch at the lower end of the Mall.
Near the Fifth avenue gate is a fine bronze colossal bust of Alexander Von Humboldt, the work of Professor Blaiser of Berlin, which was presented to the park by the German citizens of New York, and inaugurated on the 14th of September, 1869, the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the great man.
Near the Eighth avenue gate is a bronze statue of Commerce, the gift of Mr. Stephen B. Guion.
At the extreme southern end of the park, and between the Fifth and Sixth avenue gates, is a small, irregular sheet of water, lying in a deep hollow. The surrounding hills have been improved with great taste, and the pond and its surroundings constitute one of the prettiest features of the park. The water consists mainly of the natural drainage of the ground.
Along the Fifth avenue side of the park, near Sixty-fourth street, is a large and peculiar-looking building, not unlike the cadet barracks at West Point. This was formerly used by the State as an arsenal, but was purchased by the city, in 1856, for the sum of $275,000. It has been recently fitted up as a Museum of Natural History, and the first, second, and third floors contain the magnificent collection of the American Museum Association. This collection is in charge of Professor Bickmore, and includes 12,000 birds, 1000 mammals, 3000 reptiles and fishes, and a large number of insects and corals. It is the largest and most perfect collection in the country. The famous collection of the Archduke Maximilian forms the nucleus of this one.
In the top floor of the Museum building is the Meteorological Observatory of the Central Park, under charge of Professor Daniel Draper. Here are ingenious and interesting instruments for measuring the velocity and direction of the wind, the fall of rain and snow, and for ascertaining the variation of the temperature, etc. The establishment is very complete, and a portion of it is open to visitors. The basement floors of the building are occupied by the offices of the Central Park authorities, and a police station.
[Picture: THE MARBLE ARCH.]
The open space surrounding the Museum edifice is taken up with buildings and cages containing the living animals, birds, and reptiles of the collection. They are admirably arranged, and the occupants are all fine specimens of their species. These accommodations are only temporary, as the Commissioners are now engaged in the construction of a Zoological Garden, on Eighth avenue, between Seventy-seventh and Eighty-first streets, immediately opposite the park, with which it will be connected by means of a tunnel under the Eighth avenue.
Just north of the pond, and on the high ground above it, is a pretty gothic structure of stone, known as The Dairy. It is contiguous to the South Transverse Road, and supplies may be taken to it without using the park thoroughfares. Pure milk and refreshments, especially such as are suited to children, may be obtained at a moderate cost.
A short distance from the Dairy is the children's summer house, near which is a cottage with toilette rooms, closets, etc., for the use of ladies and children. Near by are a number of self-acting swings, and a little to the north is the Carrousel, a circular building, containing a number of hobby-horses, which are made to gallop around in a circle by the turning of a crank in the centre of the machine. To the west of this building is the base-ball ground, covering some forty or fifty acres. A commodious brick cottage has been erected here for the accommodation of the ball players.
The paths from the Fifty-ninth street gates converge at the Marble Arch, which lies a little to the northeast of the Dairy. This is one of the most beautiful and costly structures in the park, and consists entirely of marble. Its purpose is to carry the main carriage drive over the foot-path without interrupting the level, and at the same time to furnish a pleasant access from the lower level of the Southwest Park to the Mall. A broad double stairway, to the right and left, leads from the Mall to the interior of the Arch. On either side runs a marble bench, on which, in the summer, the visitor may sit and enjoy the delightful coolness of the place; and opposite the upper end of the Arch, beyond the stairway, is a niche, around which is a marble bench. In the centre is a drinking fountain.
The Mall extends from the Marble Arch to the Terrace. It constitutes the grand promenade of the park, and near its upper end is the handsome music stand, from which concerts are given by the Central Park Band, on Saturday afternoons during the mild season. The Mall is about 1200 feet long by 200 feet wide. In the centre is a promenade, thirty-five feet wide. The remainder is laid out in lawns, and is shaded by four rows of American elms. The Mall terminates on the north in a spacious square or plaza, which is ornamented with two pretty revolving fountains, and a number of bird cages mounted on pedestals. In the spring and summer, numerous vases of flowers are placed here. On concert days, the upper part of the Mall is covered with rustic seats shaded by canvass awnings, where the visitor may sit and listen to the music. At such times, a large programme of the performance is posted on a movable frame placed opposite the music stand. These concerts are very good, and draw large audiences.
To the west of the Mall is a beautiful lawn, called the Green, covering fifteen acres, and terminated on the northwest by a hill, on the summit of which is placed a gaudy building in which artificial mineral waters are sold.
Along the northeastern side of the Mall, and elevated about twenty feet above it, is a rustic bower of iron trellis work, over which are trained wisterias, honeysuckle, and rose vines. This is the Vine-covered Walk, and from it visitors may overlook the Terrace, Lake, Ramble, and Mall.
Adjoining it on the east is an open square, in which carriages only are allowed. Across this square is the Casino, a handsome brick cottage, used as a ladies' restaurant. The fare here is good, and the prices are moderate. The establishment is conducted by private parties under the supervision of the Commissioners.
In the grounds in the rear of the Casino, is a fine group of figures in sandstone, called "Auld Lang Syne," the work of Robert Thomson, the self-taught sculptor, and a little to the southeast of this is a bronze statue of Professor Morse, erected by the Telegraph Operators' Association, and executed by Byron M. Pickett.
[Picture: VINE-COVERED WALK, OVERLOOKING THE MALL.]
At the northern end of the Mall is the Terrace, and between the two is a magnificent screen work of Albert freestone, in which are two openings whereby persons can leave their carriages and enter the Mall, or from it can cross the drive and reach the stairs leading to the Lower Terrace. A flight of massive stairs leads directly from the Mall to the arcade or hall under the drive, through which the visitor may pass to the Lower Terrace, which is on the same level. This hall is paved, and the walls and ceiling are inlaid with beautiful designs in encaustic tiles. It is now used as a refreshment room. The Terrace is constructed almost entirely of Albert freestone, and is very massive and beautiful in design. It is elaborately and exquisitely carved with appropriate figures and emblems, some of which are very quaint. Our engraving will give the reader a fair idea of its appearance from the water. In the summer, the slope adjoining the Terrace is studded with flowers, which give to the scene a very brilliant effect.
In the centre of the Lower Terrace is a large basin from the midst of which rises a fine jet of water. This fountain is to be ornamented with magnificent bronze castings, now on their way from Munich, where they were made.
The Central Lake washes the northern end of the Lower Terrace, and stretches away from it to the east and west. It is without doubt the most beautiful feature of the park. It covers between twenty and thirty acres, and is as pretty a sheet of water as can be found in the country. Upon its upper side are the wooded heights of the Ramble, which in some places slope down gently to the water's edge, and in others jut out into the lake in bold, rocky headlands. The magnificent Terrace, with its fountain and flowers, and carvings, adorns the southeastern portion. To the west of the Terrace the lake narrows very greatly, and is spanned by a light iron structure, called the Bow Bridge, from its peculiar shape. It is used for pedestrians only. Heavy vases filled with trailing flowers adorn its abutments, and from this it is sometimes called the Flower Bridge. The western part of the lake is a lovely sheet of water, and comprises more than two-thirds of the whole lake. Its northwestern end is spanned by a handsome stone bridge, which carries the drive across that part of the lake, and close by is another, picturesquely constructed of wood, which conducts a foot-path across the head of the lake.
At the Terrace there is a boat-house, in which is to be found the manager of the fleet of pleasure boats which dot the surface of the water. The regular fare around the lake in the omnibus or public boats is ten cents. Persons may hire a boat for their private use on the payment of a moderate sum. They may either make the circuit of the lake in these boats, or may leave them at any of the six pretty boat-houses which are arranged at convenient points on the shore. The popularity of these boats may be judged from the fact that in 1869, 126,000 persons used them.
Whole fleets of snow-white swans are constantly sailing through the waters. They are among the finest specimens of their species in existence. At the opening of the park twelve of these birds were presented to the Commissioners by the city of Hamburg in Germany. Nine of these died, and twelve more were presented by the same city. Fifty others were given by some gentlemen in London. Of the original seventy-four, twenty-eight died, and the remaining forty-six with their progeny form one of the pleasantest attractions of the lake. A number of white ducks have been added to the collection. All the birds are quite tame, and come readily to the call.
On a bright moonlight night in the summer, the scene to be witnessed on the lake is brilliant. The clear waters gleam like polished steel in the moonlight, and are dotted in every direction with pleasure boats, each of which carries a red or blue light; the swans sail majestically up and down in groups; on every side is heard the dash of oars, and the sound of laughter and happy voices; and the air is heavily laden with the perfume of the flowers along the shore. No sight or sound of the great city is at hand to disturb you, and you may lie back in your boat with half shut eyes, and think yourself in fairyland.
[Picture: THE TERRACE, AS SEEN FROM THE LAKE.]
In the winter the scene is different. Huge houses are erected on the shores of all the sheets of water in the park, and are provided with sitting-rooms, fires, restaurants, and counters at which skates may be hired for a trifling sum. The water is lowered to a depth sufficient to prevent the occurrence of any serious accident in case the ice should break, and the ice itself is carefully watched, and is scraped smooth after the sports of the day are over. Rotten ice is quickly detected and marked with a sign bearing the word "Danger." When the ice is in suitable condition, a red ball is hoisted on the Arsenal, and little white flags, on which is printed a similar ball, are affixed to the cars running between the park and the lower part of the city. Then the pleasure seekers come out in throngs, and soon the ice is crowded. At night the lakes are lighted by numerous gas jets with powerful reflectors, placed along the shore. The Central Lake at such times is a sight worth seeing. The Commissioners prepare a code of liberal rules for the government of skaters, and post them at conspicuous points. All persons going on the ice are required to comply with them, on pain of exclusion from the sport.
To the east of the Central Lake, and along the Fifth avenue side, is a small pond, on the verge of which a large Conservatory, which is to be one of the principal ornaments of the park, is now in course of erection.
On the heights to the north of the lake lies the Ramble, which covers an area of about thirty-six acres, and is a labyrinth of wooded walks, abounding in the prettiest rustic nooks, with tiny bridges over little brooks, wild flowers and vines, and bits of lawn, and rock work, all so naturally and simply arranged that it is hard to believe it is not the work of nature. It is one of the most beautiful portions of the park.
At the northern end of the Ramble rises a fine gothic stone tower, which forms a prominent feature in almost any view of the park. This is the Belvedere, and is intended to serve as an observatory from which the entire park may be seen at a glance. The rock upon which it stands is the highest point in the park.
[Picture: VIEW ON THE CENTRAL LAKE.]
At the foot of this tower are the Croton Reservoirs. There are two of them. The old or lower one is a parallelogram in form, covering an area of thirty-one acres, and capable of holding 150,000,000 gallons of water. The new reservoir lies to the north of the old, and is separated from it by a transverse road. It is a massive structure of granite, irregular in form, and extends almost entirely across the park. It covers an area of 106 acres, and will hold 1,000,000,000 gallons of water. Thus the two reservoirs take 136 acres from the park. The landscape gardeners have so arranged them that they constitute a very attractive feature of the landscape.
North of the new reservoir is the Upper Park. This has been less improved than the Lower Park, but is naturally very beautiful. A large part of it is taken up with the great ravine formerly known as McGowan's Pass. It was through this wild glen that the beaten and disheartened fragments of the American army escaped from the city of New York after their disastrous rout at the battle of Long Island. Close by they were rallied in time to make a stand at Harlem Plains. On the hills in the extreme northern part of the park are still to be seen the remains of a series of earthworks, which have been carefully turfed over, and on one of these heights, known as The Bluff, is an old stone structure said to have been used as a block-house or magazine during the war of 1812-15. A small part of the "old Boston Road" is still to be seen in this portion of the park, and in the distance a view is to be obtained of the High Bridge, the Heights of Westchester county, and the Palisades, on the New Jersey shore of the Hudson, while Washington Heights rise boldly to the northward. To the eastward one may see the white sails of the vessels in Long Island Sound, and get a faint glimpse of the town of Flushing, on Long Island, and New Rochelle, on the mainland, while nearer are Hell Gate, the picturesque East and Harlem rivers, with their islands and public buildings, and the lovely little village of Astoria.
The park occupies the centre of the island, from north to south, for a distance of two miles and a half. The cross streets do not extend through it, and all vehicles of a business nature are excluded from the pleasure drives. It was foreseen from the first that it would be necessary to provide means of communication between the eastern and western sides of the island, without compelling wagons and trucks to pass around the upper or lower ends of the enclosure. At the same time it was felt to be desirable to make these roads as private as possible, so that the beauty of the park should not be marred by them, or by the long trains of wagons, carts, and such other vehicles as would pass over them. The genius of the constructing engineers soon settled this difficulty. A system of transverse roads was adopted and carried out. There are four of them, and they cross the park at Sixty-fifth, Seventy-ninth, Eighty-fifth, and Ninety-seventh streets. They are sunken considerably below the general level of the park, and are securely walled in with masonry. Vines, trees, and shrubbery are planted and carefully trained along the edges of these walls, which conceal the roads from view. The visitors, by means of archways or bridges, pass over these roads, catching but a momentary glimpse of them in some places, and in utter ignorance of them in others.
Near the northeastern end of the park is an elevation known as Mount St. Vincent. It is crowned with a large rambling structure principally of wood, to which is attached a fine brick chapel. The building was originally used as a Roman Catholic Seminary for young men. It is now a restaurant, kept by private parties under the control of the Commissioners. The chapel is used as a gallery of sculpture, and contains the models of the works of the sculptor Thomas Crawford. They were presented to the city by his widow in 1860.
Just below this hill is the North Lake, into which flows a stream noted for its beauty.
At the Fifth and Eighth Avenue gates are the stations of the Park Omnibuses. These are controlled by the Commissioners, and transport passengers through the entire park for the sum of twenty-five cents. They are open, and afford every facility for seeing the beauties of the place.
The original cost of the land included within the park was $5,028,884, and up to the close of the year 1869, there had been expended upon it an additional sum of $5,775,387; making the total cost of the park, up to January 1st, 1870, $10,804,271. Since that time it has cost about $1,000,000 additional.
The park is controlled by the Commissioners of the Department of Public Parks. The principal executive officer is the President. The discipline prescribed for the employes is very rigid. A force of special policemen, who may be recognized by their gray uniforms, has been placed on duty in the park, with the same powers and duties as the Metropolitan Police. One of these is always on duty at each gateway, to direct visitors and furnish information, as well as to prevent vehicles from entering the grounds at too rapid a rate. Others of the force are scattered through the grounds at such convenient distances that one of them is always within call. None of the employes are allowed to ask or to receive pay for their services. Their wages are liberal. When an article is found by any of the employes of the park, it is his duty to carry it to the property clerk at the Arsenal, where it can be identified and recovered by the rightful owner.
Improper conduct of all kinds is forbidden, and promptly checked. Visitors are requested not to walk on the grass, except in those places where the word "Common" is posted; not to pick flowers, leaves, or shrubs, or in any way deface the foliage; not to throw stones or other missiles, not to scratch or deface the masonry or carving; and not to harm or feed the birds.
No one is allowed to offer anything for sale within the limits of the enclosure, without a special licence from the Commissioners. There are several hotels, or restaurants, in the grounds. These are conducted in first-class style by persons of responsibility and character. Private closets for men, which may be distinguished by the sign, "For Gentlemen only," are located at convenient points throughout the park, and cottages for ladies and children are as numerous. These latter are each in charge of a female attendant, whose duty it is to wait upon visitors, and to care for them, in case of sudden illness, until medical aid can be procured.
The establishment of the park has been a great blessing to all classes, but especially to the poor. It places within reach of the latter a great pleasure ground, where they may come and enjoy their holidays, and obtain the fresh air and bodily and mental enjoyment of which they are deprived in their quarters of the city. In mild weather they come here in throngs, with their families, and on Sundays the park is crowded with thousands who formerly passed the day in drunkenness or vice. The Commissioners have no trouble in enforcing their rules. All classes are proud of the park, and all observe the strictest decorum here. No crime or act of lawlessness has ever been committed within the limits of the Central Park since it was thrown open to the public. The popularity of the place is attested by the annual number of visitors. During the year 1870, 3,494,877 pedestrians, 75,511 equestrians, 1,616,935 vehicles, and 234 velocipedes, passed within the park gates. The total number of persons that entered the park during that year, including drivers and the occupants of carriages, was 8,421,427.
XXI. THE DETECTIVES.
I. THE REGULAR FORCE.
The Detective Corps of New York consists of twenty-five men, under the command of a Captain, or Chief. Though they really constitute a part of the Municipal Police Force, and are subject to the control of the Commissioners and higher officers of that body, the detectives have a practically distinct organization. The members of this corps are men of experience, intelligence, and energy. These qualities are indispensable to success in their profession. It requires an unusual amount of intelligence to make a good Detective. The man must be honest, determined, brave, and complete master over every feeling of his nature. He must also be capable of great endurance, of great fertility of resource, and possessed of no little ingenuity. He has to adopt all kinds of disguises, incur great personal risks, and is often subjected to temptations which only an honest man can resist. It is said that the Detective's familiarity with crime is in itself a great temptation, and often leads him from the path of right. However this may be, it is certain that a member of the New York force committing an act savoring of dishonesty is punished by immediate expulsion from his post.
The Detectives have a special department assigned them at the Police Head-quarters in Mulberry street. There they may be found when not on duty, and the Chief, when not in his office, is always represented by some member of the corps. They are kept quite busy. The strangers who visit the city throw an immense amount of work upon the Detectives. These people often get drunk over night, and frequent houses of bad repute, where they are robbed. They naturally invoke the aid of the police in seeking to recover their property. Frequently, by making a plain statement of their cases, they recover their money or valuables, through the assistance of the Detectives. Sometimes the stolen property cannot be regained at all. These people, as a rule, refuse to prosecute the thieves, and declare their determination to submit to the loss rather than endure the publicity which would attend a prosecution. Thus the Detectives are forced to compound felonies. The injured party refuses to prosecute, and the Detective knows that to make an arrest in the case would simply be to take trouble for nothing. Consequently, if the plunder is returned, the thief is allowed to escape without punishment.
None but those whose duty it is to search out and punish crime, can tell how much the administration of justice is embarrassed, how much the officers of the law are hampered, and how greatly their labors are increased by the refusal of respectable persons to prosecute criminals. These refusals are not confined to those who seek to avoid such an exposure as is mentioned above. Merchants and bankers who have been robbed by thieves, seem to care for nothing but the recovery of their money or property. They will even sacrifice a portion of this to regain the remainder. The Detective may fairly work up his case, and fasten the crime upon the perpetrator, but he is not sure of meeting with the cooperation upon the part of the injured person that he has a right to demand. The thief seeing that an arrest is inevitable, may offer to return a part or the whole of the property on condition of his being allowed to escape. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the proposal is accepted. The merchant recovers his property, and immediately exerts himself to secure the escape of the thief. He refuses to prosecute the wretch, or if the prosecution is carried on in spite of him, his evidence amounts to nothing. He has protected his own interests, and he cares nothing for society or justice. He throws his whole influence against both, and aids the thief, in going free, to commit the same crime in another quarter. The Detectives complain, and with justice, that it is of no use for them to arrest a burglar where the stolen property can be recovered. If persons who have been wronged in this way would refuse all proposals for a compromise, and would endeavor to secure the punishment of the offender, the criminal class would be wonderfully thinned out, and the Detectives would not, as now, be obliged to arrest the same person over and over again, only to see him go free every time.
In June, 1870, a gentleman, passing through Bleecker street, on his way home, at two o'clock in the morning, was knocked down and robbed of his watch and money. He was struck with such violence by the highwayman that his jaw was permanently injured. He was very eloquent in his complaints of the inefficiency of a police system which left one of the principal streets of the city so unguarded, and was loud in his demands for the punishment of his assailant, and the recovery of the property stolen from him. The best Detectives in the force were put in charge of the case, and the highwayman was tracked, discovered and arrested. The friends of the culprit at once returned the stolen property to its owner, and promised to reward him liberally if he would not press the prosecution of their comrade, who was one of the leading members of a notorious and dangerous gang of ruffians from whose depredations the city had been suffering for some time. The offer was accepted, and the gentleman flatly refused to prosecute, and when compelled by the authorities to state under oath, whether the prisoner was the man who had robbed him, became so doubtful and hesitating that his identification was worth nothing. This, too, in the face of his previous assertion that he could readily identify the criminal. In spite of his misconduct, however, there was evidence enough submitted to secure the conviction of the prisoner, who was sentenced to an imprisonment of ten years.
The Detectives are in constant telegraphic communication with other cities, and intelligence of crimes committed is being constantly received and transmitted. Criminals arrested for serious offences are photographed, and their pictures placed in the collection known as the "Rogues' Gallery." These likenesses are shown to strangers only under certain restrictions, but they aid the force not a little in their efforts to discover criminals. The amount of crime annually brought to light by the Detectives is startling, but it does not exhibit all the evil doings of the great city. "The Police Commissioners of New York," says Mr. Edward Crapsey, "have never had the courage to inform the public of the number of burglaries and robberies annually committed in the metropolis; but enough is known in a general way for us to be certain that there are hundreds of these crimes committed of which the public is not told. The rule is to keep secret all such affairs when an arrest does not follow the offence, and hardly any police official will venture to claim that the arrest occurs in more than a moiety of the cases. There are hundreds of such crimes every year where the criminal is not detected, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property stolen of which the police never find a trace."
The individuality of crime is remarkable. Each burglar has a distinct method of conducting his operations, and the experienced Detective can recognize these marks or characteristics as he would the features of the offender. Thanks to this experience, which comes only with long and patient study, he is rarely at a loss to name the perpetrator of a crime if that person be a "professional." Appearances which have no significance for the mere outsider are pregnant with meaning to him. He can determine with absolute certainty whether the mischief has been done by skilled or unskilled hands, and he can gather up and link together evidences which entirely escape the unpractised eye. He rejects nothing as unimportant until he has tested it, and is able to conduct his search in a systematic manner, which in the majority of cases is crowned with success.
A few years ago a man came into one of the police stations of the city, and complained that his house had been robbed. He had pursued the thief without success, but the latter had dropped a chisel, and had torn up and thrown away a piece of paper in his flight. The captain commanding the station and an experienced Detective were present when the complaint was made. They carefully examined the owner of the house as to the mode by which the entrance had been effected, the marks left by the tools, the kind of property taken, and the action and bearing of the thief while running away. When these facts were laid before them, the two officers, without a moment's hesitation, concluded that the robbery had been committed by a certain gang of thieves well known to them. This settled, it became necessary to identify the individual or individuals belonging to this gang, by whom the robbery had been committed. The chisel was examined, but it could give no clue. The house-owner had fortunately secured the bits of paper which the thief had thrown away. The officers spread a layer of mucilage over a sheet of paper, and on this fitted the scraps which were given them. This at once disclosed the name of the robber, who was well known to the police as a member of the gang to whom the officers attributed the robbery. Their suspicions were at once confirmed, and the next step was to make the arrest. The Detective said that the thief would certainly be at one of three places, which he named. Three policemen were accordingly sent after him, one to each of the places named, and in an hour or two the culprit was safely lodged in the station-house.
It would require a volume to relate the incidents connected with the exploits of the Detective Corps of New York. Sometimes the search for a criminal is swift and short, and the guilty parties are utterly confounded by the suddenness of their detection and apprehension. Sometimes the search is long and toilsome, involving the greatest personal danger, and abounding in romance and adventure. Some of the best established incidents of this kind would be regarded simply as Munchausen stories, were they related without the authority upon which they rest. Such adventures are well known to the reading public, and I pass them by here.
But the Detectives are not always successful in their efforts. If they are ingenious and full of resource, the criminals they seek are equally so, and they find their best efforts foiled and brought to naught by the skill of this class in "covering up their tracks." To my mind the most interesting cases are not those in which the Detective's labors have been crowned with success, but those in which he has been baffled and perplexed at every step, and which to-day remain as deeply shrouded in mystery as at the time of their occurrence.
Inspector James Leonard, in the spring of 1869, related the following case to Mr. Edward Crapsey, in whose words it is presented here:
"One spring morning, during the first year of the war, a barrel of pitch was found to have disappeared from a Jersey City pier, and the porter in charge, when reporting the fact to his employers, took occasion to speak of the river-thieves in no very complimentary terms.
"On the same day, Ada Ricard, a woman of nomadic habits and dubious status, but of marvellous beauty, suddenly left her hotel in New York, without taking the trouble to announce her departure or state her destination. The clerks of the house only remarked that some women had queer ways.
"A few days after these simultaneous events, the same porter who had mourned the lost pitch, happening to look down from the end of his pier when the tide was out, saw a small and shapely human foot protruding above the waters of the North River. It was a singular circumstance, for the bodies of the drowned never float in such fashion; but the porter, not stopping to speculate upon it, procured the necessary assistance, and proceeded to land the body. It came up unusually heavy, and when at last brought to the surface, was found to be made fast by a rope around the waist to the missing barrel of pitch. There was a gag securely fastened in the mouth, and these two circumstances were positive evidence that murder had been done.
"When the body was landed upon the pier, it was found to be in a tolerable state of preservation, although there were conclusive signs that it had been in the water for some time. It was the body of a female, entirely nude, with the exception of an embroidered linen chemise and one lisle-thread stocking, two sizes larger than the foot, but exactly fitting the full-rounded limb. The face and contour of the form were, therefore, fully exposed to examination, and proved to be those of a woman who must have been very handsome. There was the cicatrice of an old wound on a lower limb, but otherwise there was no spot or blemish upon the body.
"In due time the body was buried; but the head was removed, and preserved in the office of the city physician, with the hope that it might be the means of establishing the identity of the dead, and leading to the detection of the murderer.
"The police on both sides of the river were intensely interested in the case; but they found themselves impotent before that head of a woman, who seemed to have never been seen upon earth in life. They could do nothing, therefore, but wait patiently for whatever developments time might bring.
"Chance finally led to the desired identification. A gentleman who had known her intimately for two years, happening to see the head, at once declared it to be that of Ada Ricard. The Detectives eagerly clutched at this thread, and were soon in possession of the coincidence in time of her disappearance and that of the barrel of pitch to which the body was lashed. They further found that, since that time, she had not been seen in the city, nor could any trace of her be discovered in other sections of the country, through correspondence with the police authorities of distant cities. They had thus a woman lost and a body found, and the case was considered to be in a most promising condition.
"The next step was to establish the identity by the testimony of those who had known the missing woman most intimately. The Detectives, therefore, instituted a search, which was finally successful, for Charles Ricard, her putative husband. He had not lived with her for some time, and had not even seen or heard of her for months; but his recollection was perfect, and he gave a very minute statement of her distinguishing marks. He remembered that she had persisted in wearing a pair of very heavy earrings, until their weight had slit one of her ears entirely, and the other nearly so, and that, as a consequence, both ears had been pierced a second time, and unusually high up. He regretted that her splendid array of teeth had been marred by the loss of one upon the left side of the mouth, and told how a wound had been received, whose cicatrice appeared upon one of her limbs, stating exactly its location. He dwelt with some pride upon the fact that she had been forced, by the unusual development, to wear stockings too large for her feet, and gave a general description of hair, cast of face, height, and weight that was valuable, because minute.
"When he gave this statement he was not aware of the death of his wife, or of the finding of her body, and without being informed of either fact he was taken to Jersey City, and suddenly confronted with the head. The instant he saw it he sank into a chair in horror.
"His statement having been compared with the head and the record of the body, the similitude was found to be exact, except as to the teeth. The head had one tooth missing on each side of the mouth, and this fact having been called to his attention, Ricard insisted that she had lost but one when he last saw her, but it was highly probable the other had been forced out in the struggle which robbed her of her life, and the physician, for the first time making a minute examination, found that the tooth upon the right side had been forced from its place, but was still adhering to the gum. He easily pushed it back to its proper position, and there was the head without a discrepancy between it and the description of Ada Ricard.
"The Detectives found other witnesses, and among them the hair-dresser who had acted in that capacity for Ada Ricard during many months, who, in common with all the others, fully confirmed the evidence of Charles Ricard. The identity of the murdered woman was therefore established beyond question.
"Naturally the next step was to solve the mystery of her death. The Detectives went to work with unusual caution, but persisted in the task they had assigned themselves, and were slowly gathering the shreds of her life, to weave from them a thread that would lead to the author of her tragical death, when they were suddenly 'floored,' to use their own energetic expression. Ada Ricard herself appeared at a down-town New York hotel, in perfect health and unscathed in person.
"The explanation was simple. The whim had suddenly seized her to go to New Orleans; and she had gone without leave-taking or warning. It was no unusual incident in her wandering life, and her speedy return was due only to the fact that she found the Southern city only a military camp under the iron rule of General Butler, and therefore an unprofitable field for her.
"The ghastly head became more of a mystery than before. The baffled Detectives could again only look at it helplessly, and send descriptions of it over the country. At last it was seen by a woman named Callahan, living in Boston, who was in search of a daughter who had gone astray. She instantly pronounced it to be that of her child, and she was corroborated by all the members of her family and several of her neighbors. The identification was no less specific than before, and the perplexed authorities, glad at last to know something certainly, gave Mrs. Callahan an order for the body. Before, however, she had completed her arrangements for its transfer to Boston, a message reached her from the daughter, who was lying sick in Bellevue Hospital, and so the head once more became a mystery. And such it has always remained. The body told that a female who had been delicately reared, who had fared sumptuously, and had been arrayed in costly fabrics, had been foully done to death, just as she was stepping into the dawn of womanhood—and that is all that is known. Her name, her station, her history, her virtues, or it may be, her frailties, all went down with her life, and were irrevocably lost. There is every probability that her case will always be classed as unfinished business."
On Friday, July 20th, 1870, Mr. Benjamin Nathan, a wealthy Jewish resident of New York, was foully and mysteriously murdered in his own dwelling by an unknown assassin. All the circumstances of the case were so mysterious, so horribly dramatic, that the public interest was wrought up to the highest pitch.
Mr. Nathan was a millionaire, a banker and citizen of irreproachable character, well known for his benevolence, and highly esteemed for his personal qualities. His residence stood on the south side of Twenty-third street, one door west of Fifth Avenue, and immediately opposite the Fifth Avenue Hotel, in one of the most desirable and fashionable neighborhoods of the city. The mansion itself was palatial, and its owner had not only surrounded himself with every luxury, but had taken every precaution to exclude housebreakers and thieves. But a short time before his death, he remarked to a friend that he believed that his house was as secure as a dwelling could be made.
On the night of the 28th of July, Mr. Nathan slept at his residence, his family, with the exception of two of his sons, being then at their country-seat in New Jersey, where they were passing the summer. One of these sons accompanied his father to his sleeping room towards eleven o'clock, but the other, coming in later, and finding his father asleep, passed to his chamber without saying "good-night," as was his custom.
On the morning of the 29th, at six o'clock, Mr. Washington Nathan descended from his chamber to call his father to a devotional duty of the day. Entering the chamber of the latter, a most appalling spectacle met his view. His father was lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood, dead, with five ghastly wounds upon his head. The young man at once summoned his brother Frederick, and the two together rushed to the street door and gave the alarm. The police were soon on the spot, and, taking possession of the house, they prepared to investigate the horrid affair. The newspapers spread the intelligence over the city, and the murder created the profoundest interest and uneasiness on the part of the citizens. All classes felt an interest in it, for it had been committed within the sacred precincts of the dead man's home, where he believed himself to be safe. If a murderer could reach him there, men asked, who could tell who would not be the next victim. This feeling of insecurity was widespread, and the whole community demanded of the police extraordinary efforts in tracking and securing the assassin.
The Superintendent of Police at that time was Captain John Jourdan, who was acknowledged to be the most accomplished detective on the Continent, and his principal assistant was Captain James Kelso (the present Superintendent), who was regarded as next to Jourdan in ability. These two officers at once repaired to the Nathan mansion, and took personal charge of the case.
At the first glance Jourdan pronounced the murder to be the work of a thief. The house was carefully searched. The room bore evidences of a struggle between the dead man and his assassin, and three diamond studs, a sum of money, a Perregaux watch, No. 5657, and the key of a small safe, had been stolen from the clothing of the dead man which had been hung on a chair placed at some distance from the bed. The safe stood in the library beside the door opening into the bed room. Jourdan's theory was that the thief, having stolen the watch and other articles from the clothing, had gone to the safe to open it, and had aroused Mr. Nathan by the noise he made in opening it. Alarmed by this noise, Mr. Nathan had sprung from his bed, and at the same moment the thief had raised himself up from his kneeling posture, with his face toward Mr. Nathan, and lighted up by a small gas jet which was burning in the chamber. The two men had met in the doorway between the rooms, and the thief, seeing himself identified, had struck Mr. Nathan a blow with a short iron bar curved at the ends, and known as a ship carpenter's "dog." A struggle ensued, which resulted in the murder, the assassin striking his victim on the head nine times with terrible force. Then, rifling the safe of its valuable contents, he had gone stealthily down the stairs, had unfastened the front door, which had been carefully secured at half an hour after midnight, and, laying the "dog" down on the hall floor, had passed out into the street. His object in carrying the "dog" to the place where it was found by the police had been to be prepared to make sure of his escape by striking down any one whom he might chance to meet in the hall. Once in the street, the assassin had disappeared in safety.