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The Making of an American
by Jacob A. Riis
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Before that I had been once suspended myself for missing something in this very case. I was not to blame, and therefore was angry and refused to make explanations. That night, as I sat sulking in my home in Brooklyn, a big warehouse fire broke out down town. From our house on the hill I watched it grow beyond control, and knew that the boys were hard put to it. It was late, and as I thought of the hastening hours, the police reporter got the better of the man, and I hurried down to take a hand. When I turned up in the office after midnight to write the story, the night editor eyed me curiously.

"I thought, Riis, you were suspended," he said.

For a moment I wavered, smarting under the injustice of it all. But my note-book reminded me.

"I am," I said, "and when I am done with this I am going home till you send for me. But this fire—can I have a desk?"

The night editor got up and came over and shook hands. "Take mine," he said. "There! take it!"

They sent for me the next day.

It is not to be supposed that all this was smooth sailing. Along with the occasional commendations for battles won against "the mob" went constant and grievous complaints of the editors supplied by the Associated Press, and even by some in my own office now and then, of my "style." It was very bad, according to my critics, altogether editorial and presuming, and not to be borne. So I was warned that I must mend it and give the facts, sparing comments. By that I suppose they meant that I must write, not what I thought, but what they probably might think of the news. But, good or bad, I could write in no other way, and kept right on. Not that I think, by any manners of means, that it was the best way, but it was mine. And goodness knows I had no desire to be an editor. I have not now. I prefer to be a reporter and deal with the facts to being an editor and lying about them. In the end the complaints died out. I suppose I was given up as hopeless.

Perhaps there had crept into my reports too much of my fight with the police. For by that time I had included them in "the opposition." They had not been friendly from the first, and it was best so. I had them all in front then, and an open enemy is better any day than a false friend who may stab you in the back. In the quarter of a century since, I have seldom been on any other terms with the police. I mean with the heads of them. The rank and file, the man with the nightstick as Roosevelt liked to call him, is all right, if properly led. He has rarely been properly led. It may be that, in that respect at least, my reports might have been tempered somewhat to advantage. Though I don't know. I prefer, after all, to have it out, all out. And it did come out, and my mind was relieved; which was something.



Speaking of night-sticks reminds me of seeing General Grant in his to my mind greatest hour, the only time he was ever beaten, and by a policeman. I told his son, Fred Grant, of it when he became a Police Commissioner in the nineties, but I do not think he appreciated it. He was not cast in his great father's mould. The occasion I refer to was after the General's second term in the Presidency. He was staying at the Fifth Avenue Hotel when one morning the Masonic Temple was burned. The fire-line was drawn halfway down the block toward Fifth Avenue, but the police were much hampered by the crowd, and were out of patience when I, standing by, saw a man in a great ulster with head buried deep in the collar, a cigar sticking straight out, coming down the street from the hotel. I recognized him at sight as General Grant. The policeman who blocked his way did not. He grabbed him by the collar, swung him about, and, hitting him a resounding whack across the back with his club, yelled out:—

"What's the matter with you? Don't you see the fire-lines? Chase yourself out of here, and be quick about it."

The General said never a word. He did not stop to argue the matter. He had run up against a sentinel, and when stopped went the other way. That was all. The man had a right to be there; he had none. I was never so much an admirer of Grant as since that day. It was true greatness. A smaller man would have made a row, stood upon his dignity and demanded the punishment of the policeman. As for him, there was probably never so badly frightened a policeman when I told him whom he had clubbed. I will warrant he did not sleep for a week, fearing all kinds of things. No need of it. Grant probably never gave him a thought.

It was in pursuit of the story of a Breton nobleman of hoped-for ancient lineage that I met with the most disheartening set-back of my experience. The setting of the case was most alluring. The old baron—for he was nothing less, though in Minetta Lane he passed for a cat's-meat man who peddled his odd ware from door to door—had been found by the police sick and starving in his wretched cellar, and had been taken to Bellevue Hospital. The inevitable de suggested the story, and papers that I found in his trunk—papers most carefully guarded and cherished—told enough of it to whet my appetite to its keenest edge. If the owner could only be made to talk, if his stubborn family pride could only be overcome, there was every promise here of a sensation by means of which who could tell but belated justice might even be done him and his family—apart from the phenomenal trouncing I should be administering through him to my rivals. Visions of conspiracies, court intrigues, confiscations, and what not, danced before my greedy mental vision. I flew rather than walked up to Bellevue Hospital to offer him my paper and pen in the service of right and of vengeance, only to find that I was twenty-four hours late. The patient had already been transferred to the Charity Hospital as a bad case. The boat had gone; there would not be another for several hours. I could not wait, but it was a comfort, at all events, to know that my baron was where I could get at him on the morrow. I dreamed some more dreams of happiness as I went back, and was content.

As it happened, I was very busy the next day and for several days after. The week was nearly spent when I found myself on the boat going up to the island. At the hospital office they reassured me with a queer look. Yes; my man was there, likely to stay there for a little while. The doctor would presently take me to see him on his rounds. In one of the big wards I found him at last, numbered in the row of beds among a score of other human wrecks, a little old man, bent and haggard, but with some of the dignity, I fancied, of his noble descent upon his white and wrinkled brow. He sat up in bed, propped by pillows, and listened with hungry eyes as, in French which I had most carefully polished up for the occasion, I told him my errand. When at last I paused, waiting anxiously for an answer, he laid one trembling hand on mine—I noticed that the other hung limp from the shoulder—and made, as it seemed, a superhuman effort to speak; but only inarticulate, pitiful sounds came forth. I looked appealingly at the doctor.

"Dumb," he said, and shook his head. "Paralysis involving the vocal organs. He will never speak again."

And he didn't. He was buried in the Potter's Field the next week. For once I was too late. The story of the last of my barons remains untold until this hour.

And now that this chapter, somewhat against my planning, has become wholly the police reporter's, I shall have to bring up my cause celebre, though that came a long while after my getting into Mulberry Street. I shall not have so good an opportunity again. It was the occasion of the last of my many battles for the mastery; but, more than that, it illustrates very well that which I have been trying to describe as a reporter's public function. We had been for months in dread of a cholera scourge that summer, when, mousing about the Health Department one day, I picked up the weekly analysis of the Croton water and noticed that there had been for two weeks past "a trace of nitrites" in the water. I asked the department chemist what it was. He gave an evasive answer, and my curiosity was at once aroused. There must be no unknown or doubtful ingredient in the water supply of a city of two million souls. Like Caesar's wife, it must be above suspicion. Within an hour I had learned that the nitrites meant in fact that there had been at one time sewage contamination; consequently that we were face to face with a most grave problem. How had the water become polluted, and who guaranteed that it was not in that way even then, with the black death threatening to cross the ocean from Europe?

I sounded the warning in my paper, then the Evening Sun, counselled the people to boil the water pending further discoveries, then took my camera and went up in the watershed. I spent a week there, following to its source every stream that discharged into the Croton River and photographing my evidence wherever I found it. When I told my story in print, illustrated with the pictures, the town was astounded. The Board of Health sent inspectors to the watershed, who reported that things were worse a great deal than I had said. Populous towns sewered directly into our drinking-water. There was not even a pretence at decency. The people bathed and washed their dogs in the streams. The public town dumps were on their banks. The rival newspapers tried to belittle the evil because their reporters were beaten. Running water purifies itself, they said. So it does, if it runs far enough and long enough. I put that matter to the test. Taking the case of a town some sixty miles out of New York, one of the worst offenders, I ascertained from the engineer of the water-works how long it ordinarily took to bring water from the Sodom reservoir just beyond, down to the housekeepers' faucets in the city. Four days, I think it was. Then I went to the doctors and asked them how many days a vigorous cholera bacillus might live and multiply in running water. About seven, said they. My case was made. There was needed but a single case of the dreaded scourge in any one of a dozen towns or villages that were on the line of travel from the harbor in which a half score ships were under quarantine, to put the metropolis at the mercy of an inconceivable calamity.

There was in all this no attempt at sensation. It was simple fact, as any one could see for himself. The health inspectors' report clinched the matter. The newspapers editorially abandoned their reporters to ridicule and their fate. The city had to purchase a strip of land along the streams wide enough to guard against direct pollution. It cost millions of dollars, but it was the merest trifle to what a cholera epidemic would have meant to New York in loss of commercial prestige, let alone human lives. The contention over that end of it was transferred to Albany, where the politicians took a hand. What is there they do not exploit? Years after, meeting one of them who knew my share in it, he asked me, with a wink and a confidential shove, "how much I got out of it." When I told him "nothing," I knew that upon my own statement he took me for either a liar or a fool, the last being considerably the worse of the two alternatives.

In all of this battlesome account I have said nothing about the biggest fight of all. I had that with myself. In the years that had passed I had never forgotten the sergeant in the Church Street police station, and my dog. It is the kind of thing you do not get over. Way back in my mind there was the secret thought, the day I went up to Mulberry Street, that my time was coming at last. And now it had come. I had a recognized place at Headquarters, and place in the police world means power, more or less. The backing of the Tribune had given me influence. More I had conquered myself in my fights with the police. Enough for revenge! At the thought I flushed with anger. It has power yet to make my blood boil, the thought of that night in the station-house.

It was then my great temptation came. No doubt the sergeant was still there. If not, I could find him. I knew the day and hour when it happened. They were burned into my brain. I had only to turn to the department records to find out who made out the returns on that October morning while I was walking the weary length of the trestle-work bridge across Raritan Bay, to have him within reach. There were a hundred ways in which I could hound him then, out of place and pay, even as he had driven me forth from the last poor shelter and caused my only friend to be killed.

Speak not to me of the sweetness of revenge! Of all unhappy mortals the vengeful man must be the most wretched. I suffered more in the anticipation of mine than ever I had when smarting under the injury, grievous as the memory of it is to me even now. Day after day I went across the street to begin the search. For hours I lingered about the record clerk's room where they kept the old station-house blotters, unable to tear myself away. Once I even had the one from Church Street of October, 1870, in my hands; but I did not open it. Even as I held it I saw another and a better way. I would kill the abuse, not the man who was but the instrument and the victim of it. For never was parody upon Christian charity more corrupting to human mind and soul than the frightful abomination of the police lodging-house, sole provision made by the municipality for its homeless wanderers. Within a year I have seen the process in full operation in Chicago, have heard a sergeant in the Harrison Street Station there tell me, when my indignation found vent in angry words, that they "cared less for those men and women than for the cur dogs in the street." Exactly so! My sergeant was of the same stamp. Those dens, daily association with them, had stamped him. Then and there I resolved to wipe them out, bodily, if God gave me health and strength. And I put the book away quick and never saw it again. I do not know till this day who the sergeant was, and I am glad I do not. It is better so.

Of what I did to carry out my purpose, and how it was done, I must tell hereafter. It was the source and beginning of all the work which justifies the writing of these pages; and among all the things which I have been credited with doing since it is one of the few in which I really bore a strong hand. And yet it was not mine which finally wrought that great work, but a stronger and better than mine, Theodore Roosevelt's. Even while I was writing this account we together drove in the last nail in the coffin of the bad old days, by persuading the Charter Revision Commission to remove from the organic law of the city the clause giving to the police the care of vagrants, which was the cause of it all. It had remained over in the Charter of the Greater New York in spite of our protests. It was never the proper business of the police to dispense charity. They have their hands full with repressing crime. It is the mixing of the two that confuses standards and makes trouble without end for those who receive the "charity," and even more for those who dispense it. You cannot pervert the first and finest of human instincts without corrupting men: witness my sergeant in Church Street and his Chicago brother.



CHAPTER X

MY DOG IS AVENGED



THE lilacs blossom under my window, as I begin this chapter, and the bees are humming among them; the sweet smell of wild cherry comes up from the garden where the sunlight lies upon the young grass. Robin and oriole call to their mates in the trees. There upon the lawn is Elisabeth tending some linen laid out to dry. Her form is as lithe and her step as light as in the days I have written about, grandmother as she is. I can see, though her back is turned, the look of affectionate pride with which she surveys our home, for I know well enough what she is thinking of. And so it has been; a blessed, good home; how could it help being that with her in it? They say it is a sign one is growing old when one's thoughts dwell much on the past. Perhaps with me it is only a sign that the printers are on the war-path. Often when I hear her sing with the children my mind wanders back to the long winter evenings in those early years when she sat listening late for my step. She sang then to keep up her courage. My work in Mulberry Street was at night, and she was much alone, even as I was, fighting my battles there. She had it out with the homesickness then, and I think hers was a good deal the harder fight. I had the enemy all in front where I could see to whack him. But so we found ourselves and each other, and it was worth all it cost.

Except in the short winter days it was always broad daylight when I came home from work. My route from the office lay through the Fourth and the Sixth wards, the worst in the city, and for years I walked every morning between two and four o'clock the whole length of Mulberry Street, through the Bend and across the Five Points down to Fulton Ferry. There were cars on the Bowery, but I liked to walk, for so I saw the slum when off its guard. The instinct to pose is as strong there as it is on Fifth Avenue. It is a human impulse, I suppose. We all like to be thought well of by our fellows. But at 3 A.M. the veneering is off and you see the true grain of a thing. So, also, I got a picture of the Bend upon my mind which so soon as I should be able to transfer it to that of the community would help settle with that pig-sty according to its deserts. It was not fit for Christian men and women, let alone innocent children, to live in, and therefore it had to go. So with the police lodging-rooms, some of the worst of which were right there, at the Mulberry Street Station and around the corner in Elizabeth Street. The way of it never gave me any concern that I remember. That would open as soon as the truth was told. The trouble was that people did not know and had no means of finding out for themselves. But I had. Accordingly I went poking about among the foul alleys and fouler tenements of the Bend when they slept in their filth, sometimes with the policeman on the beat, more often alone, sounding the misery and the depravity of it to their depth. I think a notion of the purpose of it all crept into the office, even while I was only half aware of it myself, for when, after a year's service at the police office, I was taken with a longing for the open, as it were, and went to the city editor who had succeeded Mr. Shanks with the request that I be transferred to general work, he refused flatly. I had made a good record as a police reporter, but it was not that.

"Go back and stay," he said. "Unless I am much mistaken, you are finding something up there that needs you. Wait and see."

And so for the second time I was turned back to the task I wanted to shirk. Jonah was one of us sure enough. Those who see only the whale fail to catch the point in the most human story ever told—a point, I am afraid, that has a special application to most of us.

I have often been asked if such slumming is not full of peril. No, not if you are there on business. Mere sightseeing at such unseasonable hours might easily be. But the man who is sober and minds his own business—which presupposes that he has business to mind there—runs no risk anywhere in New York, by night or by day. Such a man will take the other side of the street when he sees a gang ahead spoiling for a fight, and where he does go he will carry the quiet assumption of authority that comes with the consciousness of a right to be where he is. That usually settles it. There was perhaps another factor in my case that helped. Whether it was my slouch hat and my spectacles, or the fact that I had been often called into requisition to help an ambulance surgeon patch up an injured man, the nickname "Doc" had somehow stuck to me, and I was supposed by many to be a physician connected with the Health Department. Doctors are never molested in the slum. It does not know but that its turn to need them is coming next. No more was I. I can think of only two occasions in more than twenty years of police reporting when I was in actual peril, though once I was very badly frightened.

One was when a cry of murder had lured me down Crosby Street into a saloon on the corner of Jersey Street, where the gang of the neighborhood had just stabbed the saloon-keeper in a drunken brawl. He was lying in a chair surrounded by shrieking women when I ran in. On the instant the doors were slammed and barred behind me, and I found myself on the battlefield with the battle raging unabated. Bottles were flying thick and fast, and the bar was going to smash. As I bent over the wounded man, I saw that he was done for. The knife was even then sticking in his neck, its point driven into the backbone. The instinct of the reporter came uppermost, and as I pulled it out and held it up in a pause of the fray, I asked incautiously:—

"Whose knife is this?"

A whiskey-bottle that shaved within an inch of my head, followed by an angry oath, at once recalled me to myself and showed me my role.

"You tend to your business, you infernal body-snatcher, and let us run ours," ran the message, and I understood. I called for bandages, a sponge, and a basin, and acted the surgeon as well as I could, trying to stanch the flow of blood, while the racket rose and the women shrieked louder with each passing moment. Through the turmoil I strained every nerve to catch the sound of policemen's tramp. It was hardly three minutes' run to the station-house, but time never dragged as it did then. Once I thought relief had come; but as I listened and caught the wail of men being beaten in the street, I smiled wickedly in the midst of my own troubles, for the voices told me that my opponents from headquarters, following on my track, had fallen among thieves: half the gang were then outside. At last, just as an empty keg knocked my patient from his chair, the doors fell in with a crash; the reserves had come. Their clubs soon cleared the air and relieved me of my involuntary task, with my patient yet alive.

Another time, turning a corner in the small hours of the morning, I came suddenly upon a gang of drunken roughs ripe for mischief. The leader had a long dirk-knife with which he playfully jabbed me in the ribs, insolently demanding what I thought of it. I seized him by the wrist with as calm a pretence of considering the knife as I could summon up, but really to prevent his cutting me. I felt the point pricking through my clothes.

"About two inches longer than the law allows," I said, sparring for time. "I think I will take that."

I knew even as I said it that I had cast the die; he held my life in his hand. It was a simple question of which was the stronger, and it was already decided. Despite my utmost effort to stay it, the point of the knife was piercing my skin. The gang stood by, watching the silent struggle. I knew them—the Why-os, the worst cutthroats in the city, charged with a dozen murders, and robberies without end. A human life was to them, in the mood they were in, worth as much as the dirt under their feet, no more. At that instant, not six feet behind their backs, Captain McCullagh—the same who afterward became Chief—turned the corner with his precinct detective. I gathered all my strength and gave the ruffian's hand a mighty twist that turned the knife aside. I held it out for inspection.

"What do you think of it, Cap?"

Four brawny fists scattered the gang to the winds for an answer. The knife was left in my hand.

They gave me no time to get frightened. Once when I really was scared, it was entirely my own doing. And, furthermore, it served me right. It was on a very hot July morning that, coming down Mulberry Street, I saw a big gray cat sitting on a beer-keg outside a corner saloon. It was fast asleep, and snored so loudly that it aroused my anger. It is bad enough to have a man snore, but a cat—! It was not to be borne. I hauled off with my cane and gave the beast a most cruel and undeserved blow to teach it better manners. The snoring was smothered in a yell, the cat came down from the keg, and to my horror there rose from behind the corner an angry Celt swearing a blue streak. He seemed to my anguished gaze at least nine feet tall. He had been asleep at his own door when my blow aroused him, and it was his stocking feet, propped up on the keg as he dozed in his chair around the corner, I had mistaken for a gray cat. It was not a time for explanations. I did the only thing there was to be done; I ran. Far and fast did I run. It was my good luck that his smarting feet kept him from following, or I might not have lived to tell this tale. As I said, it served me right. Perhaps it is in the way of reparation that I now support twelve cats upon my premises. Three of them are clawing at my study door this minute demanding to be let in. But I cannot even claim the poor merit of providing for them. It is my daughter who runs the cats; I merely growl at and feed them.

The mention of Bowery night cars brings to my mind an episode of that time which was thoroughly characteristic of the "highway that never sleeps." I was on the way down town in one, with a single fellow-passenger who was asleep just inside the door, his head nodding with every jolt as though it were in danger of coming off. At Grand Street a German boarded the car and proffered a bad half-dollar in payment of his fare. The conductor bit it and gave it back with a grunt of contempt. The German fell into a state of excitement at once.

"Vat!" he shouted, "it vas pad?" and slapped the coin down on the wooden seat with all his might, that we might hear the ring. It rebounded with a long slant and fell into the lap of the sleeping passenger, who instantly woke up, grabbed the half-dollar, and vanished through the door and into the darkness, without as much as looking around, followed by the desolate howl of the despoiled German:—

"Himmel! One United Shdades half-dollar clean gone!"

The time came at length when I exchanged night work for day work, and I was not sorry. A new life began for me, with greatly enlarged opportunities. I had been absorbing impressions up till then. I met men now in whose companionship they began to crystallize, to form into definite convictions; men of learning, of sympathy, and of power. My eggs hatched. From that time dates my friendship, priceless to me, with Dr. Roger S. Tracy, then a sanitary inspector in the Health Department, later its distinguished statistician, to whom I owe pretty much all the understanding I have ever had of the problems I have battled with; for he is very wise, while I am rather dull of wit. But directly I get talking things over with him, I brighten right up. I met Professor Charles F. Chandler, Major Willard Bullard, Dr. Edward H. Janes—men to whose practical wisdom and patient labors in the shaping of the Health Department's work the metropolis owes a greater debt than it is aware of; Dr. John T. Nagle, whose friendly camera later on gave me some invaluable lessons; and General Ely Parker, Chief of the Six Nations.



I suppose it was the fact that he was an Indian that first attracted me to him. As the years passed we became great friends, and I loved nothing better in an idle hour than to smoke a pipe with the General in his poky little office at Police Headquarters. That was about all there was to it, too, for he rarely opened his mouth except to grunt approval of something I was saying. When, once in a while, it would happen that some of his people came down from the Reservation or from Canada, the powwow that ensued was my dear delight. Three pipes and about eleven grunts made up the whole of it, but it was none the less entirely friendly and satisfactory. We all have our own ways of doing things, and that was theirs. He was a noble old fellow. His title was no trumpery show, either. It was fairly earned on more than one bloody field with Grant's army. Parker was Grant's military secretary, and wrote the original draft of the surrender at Appomattox, which he kept to his death with great pride. It was not General Parker, however, but Donehogawa, Chief of the Senecas and of the remnant of the once powerful Six Nations, and guardian of the western door of the council lodge, that appealed to me, who in my boyhood had lived with Leather-stocking and with Uncas and Chingachgook. They had something to do with my coming here, and at last I had for a friend one of their kin. I think he felt the bond of sympathy between us and prized it, for he showed me in many silent ways that he was fond of me. There was about him an infinite pathos, penned up there in his old age among the tenements of Mulberry Street on the pay of a second-rate clerk, that never ceased to appeal to me. When he lay dead, stricken like the soldier he was at his post, some letters of his to Mrs. Harriet Converse, the adopted child of his tribe, went to my heart. They were addressed to her on her travels. He was of the "wolf" tribe, she a "snipe." "From the wolf to the wandering snipe," they ran. Even in Mulberry Street he was a true son of the forest.

Perhaps the General's sympathies went out to me as a fighter. The change of front from night to day brought no let-up on hostilities in our camp; rather the reverse. For this there was good cause: I had interfered with long-cherished privileges. I found the day men coming to work at all hours from ten to twelve or even one o'clock. I went on duty at eight, and the immediate result was to compel all the others to do the same. This was a sore grievance, and was held against me for a long time. The logical outcome of the war it provoked was to stretch the day farther into the small hours. Before I left Mulberry Street the circuit had been made. The watch now is kept up through the twenty-four hours without interruption. Like its neighbor the Bowery, Mulberry Street never sleeps.



There had been in 1879 an awakening of the public conscience on the tenement-house question which I had followed with interest, because it had started in the churches that have always seemed to me to be the right forum for such a discussion, on every ground, and most for their own sake and the cause they stand for. But the awakening proved more of a sleepy yawn than real—like a man stretching himself in bed with half a mind to get up. Five years later, in 1884, came the Tenement-House Commission which first brought home to us the fact that the people living in the tenements were "better than the houses." That was a big white milestone on a dreary road. From that time on we hear of "souls" in the slum. The property end of it had held the stage up till then, and in a kind of self-defence, I suppose, we had had to forget that the people there had souls. Because you couldn't very well count souls as chattels yielding so much income to the owner: it would not be polite toward the Lord, say. Sounds queer, but if that was not the attitude I would like to know what it was. The Commission met at Police Headquarters, and I sat through all its sessions as a reporter, and heard every word of the testimony, which was more than some of the Commissioners did. Mr. Ottendorfer and Mr. Drexel, the banker, took many a quiet little nap when things were dull. One man the landlords, who had their innings to the full, never caught off his guard. His clear, incisive questions, that went through all subterfuges to the root of things, were sometimes like flashes of lightning on a dark night discovering the landscape far and near. He was Dr. Felix Adler, whom I met there for the first time. The passing years have given him a very warm place in my heart. Adler was born a Jew. Often when I think of the position the Christian Church took, or rather did not take, on a matter so nearly concerning it as the murder of the home in a tenement population of a million souls,—for that was what it came to,—I am reminded of a talk we had once in Dr. Adler's study. I was going to Boston to speak to a body of clergymen at their monthly dinner meeting. He had shortly before received an invitation to address the same body on "The Personality of Christ," but had it in his mind not to go.

"What will you tell them?" I asked.

The Doctor smiled a thoughtful little smile as he said: "I shall tell them that the personality of Christ is too sacred a subject for me to discuss at an after-dinner meeting in a swell hotel."

Does that help you to understand that among the strongest of moral forces in Christian New York was and is Adler, the Jew or heretic, take it whichever way you please?

Four years later the finishing touch was put to the course I took with the Adler Tenement-House Commission, when, toward the end of a three days' session in Chickering Hall of ministers of every sect who were concerned about the losing fight the Church was waging among the masses, a man stood in the meeting and cried out, "How are these men and women to understand the love of God you speak of, when they see only the greed of men?" He was a builder, Alfred T. White of Brooklyn, who had proved the faith that was in him by building real homes for the people, and had proved, too, that they were a paying investment. It was just a question whether a man would take seven per cent and save his soul, or twenty-five and lose it. And I might as well add here that it is the same story yet. All our hopes for betterment, all our battling with the tenement-house question, sum themselves up in the effort, since there are men yet who would take twenty-five per cent and run that risk, to compel them to take seven and save their souls for them. I wanted to jump up in my seat at that time and shout Amen! But I remembered that I was a reporter and kept still. It was that same winter, however, that I wrote the title of my book, "How the Other Half Lives," and copyrighted it. The book itself did not come until two years after, but it was as good as written then. I had my text.

It was at that Chickering Hall meeting that I heard the gospel preached to the poor in the only way that will ever reach them. It was the last word that was said, and I have always believed that it was not exactly in the plan. I saw some venerable brethren on the platform, bishops among them, wince when Dr. Charles H. Parkhurst, rending some eminently respectable platitudes to shreds and tatters, cried out for personal service, loving touch, as the key to it all:—

"What if, when the poor leper came to the Lord to be healed, he had said to Peter, or some other understrapper, 'Here, Peter, you go touch that fellow and I'll pay you for it'? Or what if the Lord, when he came on earth, had come a day at a time and brought his lunch with him, and had gone home to heaven overnight? Would the world ever have come to call him brother? We have got to give, not our old clothes, not our prayers. Those are cheap. You can kneel down on a carpet and pray where it is warm and comfortable. Not our soup—that is sometimes very cheap. Not our money—a stingy man will give money when he refuses to give himself. Just so soon as a man feels that you sit down alongside of him in loving sympathy with him, notwithstanding his poor, notwithstanding his sick and his debased, estate, just so soon you begin to worm your way into the very warmest spot in his life."

It was plain talk, but it was good. They whispered afterward in the corners about the "lack of discretion of that good man Parkhurst." A little of that lack would go a long way toward cleaning up in New York—did go, not so many years after Worse shocks than that were coming from the same quarter to rattle the dry bones.

Long before that the "something that needed me" in Mulberry Street had come. I was in a death-grapple vith my two enemies, the police lodging-room and the Bend. The Adler Commission had proposed to "break the back" of the latter by cutting Leonard Street through the middle of it—an expedient that had been suggested forty years before, when the Five Points around the corner challenged the angry resentment of the community. But no expedient would ever cover that case. The whole slum had to go. A bill was introduced in the Legislature to wipe it out bodily, and in 1888, after four years of pulling and hauling, we had spunked up enough to file maps for the "Mulberry Bend Park." Blessed promise! And it was kept, if it did take a prodigious lot of effort, for right there decency had to begin, or not at all. Go and look at it to-day and see what it is like.

But that is another story. The other nuisance came first. The first guns that I have any record of were fired in my newspapers in 1883, and from that time till Theodore Roosevelt shut up the vile dens in 1895 the battle raged without intermission. The guns I speak of were not the first that were fired—they were the first I fired so far as I can find. For quite a generation before that there had been protests and complaints from the police surgeons, the policemen themselves who hated to lodge under one roof with tramps, from citizen bodies that saw in the system an outrage upon Christian charity and all decency, but all without producing any other effect than spasmodic whitewashing and the ineffectual turning on of the hose. Nothing short of boiling water would have cleansed those dens. Nothing else came of it, because stronger even than the selfish motive that exploits public office for private gain is the deadly inertia in civic life which simply means that we are all as lazy as things will let us be. The older I get, the more patience I have with the sinner, and the less with the lazy good-for-nothing who is at the bottom of more than half the share of the world's troubles. Give me the thief if need be, but take the tramp away and lock him up at hard labor until he is willing to fall in line and take up his end. The end he lets lie some one has got to carry who already has enough.

I ran to earth at last one of the citizens' bodies that were striving with the nuisance, and went and joined it. I will not say that I was received graciously. I was a reporter, and it was human nature to assume that I was merely after a sensation; and I did make a sensation of the campaign. That was the way to put life into it. Page after page I printed, now in this paper, now in that, and when the round was completed, went over the same road again. They winced a bit, my associates, but bore it, egged me on even. Anything for a change. Perchance it might help. It didn't then. But slowly something began to stir. The editors found something to be indignant about when there was nothing else. Ponderous leaders about our "duty toward the poor" appeared at intervals. The Grand Jury on its tours saw and protested. The City Hall felt the sting and squirmed. I remember when we went to argue with the Board of Estimate and Apportionment under Mayor Grant. It was my first meeting with Mrs. Josephine Shaw Lowell and John Finley, but not the last by a good many, thank God for that! I had gone to Boston to see the humane way in which they were dealing with their homeless there. They gave them a clean shirt and a decent bed and a bath—good way, that, to limit the supply of tramps—and something to eat in the morning, so they did not have to go out and beg the first thing. It seemed good to me, and it was good. But the Mayor did not think so.

"Boston! Boston!" he cried, impatiently, and waved us and the subject aside. "I am tired of hearing always how they do in Boston, and of the whole matter."

So were we, tired enough to keep it up. We came back next time, though it didn't do any good, and meanwhile the newspaper broadsides continued. No chance was allowed to pass of telling the people of New York what they were harboring. They simply needed to know, I felt sure of that. And I know now that I was right. But it takes a lot of telling to make a city know when it is doing wrong. However, that was what I was there for. When it didn't seem to help, I would go and look at a stone-cutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it would split in two, and I knew it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before together. When my fellow-workers smiled, I used to remind them of the Israelites that marched seven times around Jericho and blew their horns before the walls fell.

"Well, you go ahead and blow yours," they said; "you have the faith."

And I did, and the walls did fall, though it took nearly twice seven years. But they came down, as the walls of ignorance and indifference must every time, if you blow hard enough and long enough, with faith in your cause and in your fellow-man. It is just a question of endurance. If you keep it up, they can't.

They began to give, those grim walls, when typhus fever broke out in the city in the winter of 1891-92. The wonder was that it did not immediately centre in the police lodging-rooms. There they lay, young and old, hardened tramps and young castaways with minds and souls soft as wax for their foulness to be stamped upon[Footnote: The old cry of sensation mongering was raised more than once when I was making my charges. People do not like to have their rest disturbed. Particularly did the critics object to the statement that there were young people in the dens; they were all old tramps, they said. For an answer I went in and photographed the boys and girls one night, and held their pictures up before the community. In the Oak Street Station alone, one of the vilest, there were six as likely young fellows as I ever saw, herded with forty tramps and thieves. Not one of them would come out unscathed.], on bare floors of stone or planks.



Dirty as they came in from every vile contact, they went out in the morning to scatter from door to door, where they begged their breakfast, the seeds of festering disease. Turning the plank was "making the bed." Typhus is a filth-disease, of all the most dreaded. If ever it got a foothold in those dens, there was good cause for fear. I drew up at once a remonstrance, had it signed by representatives of the united charitable societies—some of them shrugged their shoulders, but they signed—and took it to the Health Board. They knew the danger better than I. But the time had not yet come. Perhaps they thought, with the reporters, that I was just "making copy." For I made a "beat" of the story. Of course I did. We were fighting; and if I could brace the boys up to the point of running their own campaigns for making things better, so much was gained. But they did not take the hint. They just denounced my "treachery."

I warned them that there would be trouble with the lodging-rooms, and within eleven months the prophecy came true. The typhus broke out there. The night after the news had come I took my camera and flashlight and made the round of the dens, photographing them all with their crowds. Of the negatives I had lantern-slides made, and with these under my arm knocked at the doors of the Academy of Medicine, demanding to be let in. That was the place for that discussion, it seemed to me, for the doctors knew the real extent of the peril we were then facing. Typhus is no respecter of persons, and it is impossible to guard against it as against the smallpox. They let me in, and that night's doings gave the cause of decency a big push. I think that was the first time I told the real story of my dog. I had always got around it somehow; it choked me even then, twenty years after and more, anger boiled up in me so at the recollection.

We pleaded merely for the execution of a law that had been on the statute-books six years and over, permitting the city authorities to establish a decent lodging-house; but though the police, the health officials, the grand jury, the charitable societies, and about everybody of any influence in the community fell in behind the medical profession in denouncing the evils that were, we pleaded in vain. The Tammany officials at the City Hall told us insolently to go ahead and build lodging-houses ourselves; they had other things to use the city's money for than to care for the homeless poor; which, indeed, was true. The Charity Organization Society that stood for all the rest gave up in discouragement and announced its intention to start a Wayfarer's Lodge itself, on the Boston plan, and did so. "You see," was the good-by with which my colaborers left me, "we will never succeed." My campaign had collapsed.

But even then we were winning. Never was defeat in all that time that did not in the end turn out a step toward victory. This much the unceasing agitation had effected, though its humane purpose made no impression on the officials, that the accommodation for lodgers in the station-houses was sensibly shrunk. Where there had been forty that took them in, there were barely two dozen left. The demand for separate women's prisons with police matrons in charge, which was one of the phases the new demand for decency was assuming, bred a scarcity of house-room, and one by one the foul old dens were closed and not reopened. The nuisance was perishing of itself. Each time a piece of it sloughed off, I told the story again in print, "lest we forget." In another year reform came, and with it came Roosevelt. The Committee on Vagrancy, a volunteer body of the Charity Organization Society, of which Mrs. Lowell was the head and I a member, unlimbered its guns again and opened fire, and this time the walls came down. For Tammany was out.

We had been looking the police over by night, Roosevelt and I. We had inspected the lodging-rooms while I went over the long fight with him, and had come at last, at 2 A.M., to the Church Street Station. It was raining outside. The light flickered, cold and cheerless, in the green lamps as we went up the stone steps. Involuntarily I looked in the corner for my little dog; but it was not there, or any one who remembered it. The sergeant glanced over his blotter grimly, I had almost to pinch myself to make sure I was not shivering in a linen duster, wet to the skin. Down the cellar steps to the men's lodging-room I led the President of the Police Board. It was unchanged—just as it was the day I slept there. Three men lay stretched at full length on the dirty planks, two of them young lads from the country. Standing there, I told Mr. Roosevelt my own story. He turned alternately red and white with anger as he heard it.



"Did they do that to you?" he asked when I had ended. For an answer I pointed to the young lads then asleep before him.

"I was like this one," I said.

He struck his clenched fists together. "I will smash them to-morrow."

He was as good as his word. The very next day the Police Board took the matter up. Provision was made for the homeless on a barge in the East River until plans could be perfected for sifting the tramps from the unfortunate; and within a week, on recommendation of the Chief of Police, orders were issued to close the doors of the police lodging-rooms on February 15, 1896, never again to be unbarred.

The battle was won. The murder of my dog was avenged, and forgiven, after twenty-five years. The yellow newspapers, with the true instinct that made them ever recognize in Roosevelt the implacable enemy of all they stood for, printed cartoons of homeless men shivering at a barred door "closed by order of T. Roosevelt"; but they did not, after all, understand the man they were attacking. That the thing was right was enough for him. Their shafts went wide of the mark, or fell harmless. The tramps for whom New York had been a paradise betook themselves to other towns not so discerning—went to Chicago, where the same wicked system was in operation until last spring, is yet for all I know—and the honestly homeless got a chance. A few tender-hearted and soft-headed citizens, of the kind who ever obstruct progress by getting some very excellent but vagrant impulses mixed up with a lack of common sense, wasted their sympathy upon the departing hobo, but soon tired of it. I remember the case of one tramp whose beat was in the block in Thirty-fifth Street in which Dr. Parkhurst lives. He was arrested for insolence to a housekeeper who refused him food. The magistrate discharged him, with some tearful remarks about the world's cruelty and the right of a man to be poor without being accounted a criminal. Thus encouraged, the tramp went right back and broke the windows of the house that had repelled him. I presume he is now in the city by the lake holding up people who offend him by being more industrious and consequently more prosperous than he.

For the general results of the victory so laboriously achieved I must refer to [Footnote: Now, "The Battle with the Slum."] "A Ten Years' War," in which I endeavored to sum up the situation as I saw it. They are not worked out yet to the full. The most important link is missing. That is to be a farm-school which shall sift the young idler from the heap of chaff, and win him back to habits of industry and to the world of men. It will come when moral purpose has been reestablished at the City Hall. I have not set out here to discuss reform and its merits, but merely to point out that the way of it, the best way of bringing it on—indeed, the only way that is always open—is to make the facts of the wrong plain. And, having said that, I have put the reporter where he belongs and answered the question why I have never wanted executive office and never will.



And now, in taking leave of this subject, of which I hope I may never hear again, for it has plagued me enough and had its full share of my life, is there not one ray of brightness that falls athwart its gloom? Were they all bad, those dens I hated, yes, hated, with the shame and the sorrow and hopeless surrender they stood for? Was there not one glimpse of mercy that dwells in the memory with redeeming touch? Yes, one. Let it stand as testimony that on the brink of hell itself human nature is not wholly lost. There is still the spark of His image, however overlaid by the slum. And let it forever wipe out the score of my dog, and mine. It was in one of the worst that I came upon a young girl, pretty, innocent—Heaven knows how she had landed there. She hid her head in her apron and wept bitterly with the shame of the thing. Around her half a dozen old hags, rum-sodden and foul, camped on the stone floor. As in passing I stooped over the weeping girl, one of them, thinking I was one of the men about the place, and misunderstanding my purpose, sprang between us like a tigress and pushed me back.

"Not her!" she cried, and shook her fist at me; "not her! It is all right with us. We are old and tough. But she is young, and don't you dare!"

I went out and stood under the stars, and thanked God that I was born. Only tramps! It had been dinned into my ears until I said it myself, God forgive me! Aye, that was what we had made of them with our infernal machinery of rum-shop, tenement, dive, and—this place. With Christian charity instead, what might they not have been?



CHAPTER XI

THE BEND IS LAID BY THE HEELS



If there be any to whom the travail through which we have just come seems like a mighty tempest in a teapot, let him quit thinking so. It was not a small matter. To be sure, the wrong could have been undone in a day by the authorities, had they been so minded. That it was not undone was largely, and illogically, because no one had a word to say in its defence. When there are two sides to a thing, it is not difficult to get at the right of it in an argument, and to carry public opinion for the right. But when there is absolutely nothing to be said against a proposed reform, it seems to be human nature—American human nature, at all events—to expect it to carry itself through with the general good wishes but no particular lift from any one. It is a very charming expression of our faith in the power of the right to make its way, only it is all wrong: it will not make its way in the generation that sits by to see it move. It has got to be moved along, like everything else in this world, by men. That is how we take title to the name. That is what is the matter with half our dead-letter laws. The other half were just still-born. It is so, at this moment, with the children's playgrounds in New York. Probably all thinking people subscribe to-day to the statement that it is the business of the municipality to give its children a chance to play, just as much as to give them schools to go to. Everybody applauds it. The authorities do not question it; but still they do not provide playgrounds. Private charity has to keep a beggarly half-dozen going where there ought to be forty or fifty, as a matter of right, not of charity. Call it official conservatism, inertia, treachery, call it by soft names or hard; in the end it comes to this, I suppose, that it is the whetstone upon which our purpose is sharpened, and in that sense we have apparently got to be thankful for it. So a man may pummel his adversary and accept him as a means of grace at the same time. If there were no snags, there would be no wits to clear them away, or strong arms to wield the axe. It was the same story with the Mulberry Bend. Until the tramp lodging-houses were closed, until the Bend was gone, it seemed as if progress were flat down impossible. As I said, decency had to begin there, or not at all.



Before I tackle the Bend, perhaps I had better explain how I came to take up photographing as a—no, not exactly as a pastime. It was never that with me. I had use for it, and beyond that I never went. I am downright sorry to confess here that I am no good at all as a photographer, for I would like to be. The thing is a constant marvel to me, and an unending delight. To watch the picture come out upon the plate that was blank before, and that saw with me for perhaps the merest fraction of a second, maybe months before, the thing it has never forgotten, is a new miracle every time. If I were a clergyman I would practise photography and preach about it. But I am jealous of the miracle. I do not want it explained to me in terms of HO(2) or such like formulas, learned, but so hopelessly unsatisfying. I do not want my butterfly stuck on a pin and put in a glass case. I want to see the sunlight on its wings as it flits from flower to flower, and I don't care a rap what its Latin name may be. Anyway, it is not its name. The sun and the flower and the butterfly know that. The man who sticks a pin in it does not, and never will, for he knows not its language. Only the poet does among men. So, you see, I am disqualified from being a photographer. Also, I am clumsy, and impatient of details. The axe was ever more to my liking than the graving-tool. I have lived to see the day of the axe and enjoy it, and now I rejoice in the coming of the men and women who know; the Jane Addamses, who to heart add knowledge and training, and with gentle hands bind up wounds which, alas! too often I struck. It is as it should be. I only wish they would see it and leave me out for my sins.

But there! I started out to tell about how I came to be a photographer, and here I am, off on the subject of philanthropy and social settlements. To be precise, then, I began taking pictures by proxy. It was upon my midnight trips with the sanitary police that the wish kept cropping up in me that there were some way of putting before the people what I saw there. A drawing might have done it, but I cannot draw, never could. There are certain sketches of mine now on record that always arouse the boisterous hilarity of the family. They were made for the instruction of our first baby in wolf-lore, and I know they were highly appreciated by him at the time. Maybe the fashion in wolves has changed since. But, anyway, a drawing would not have been evidence of the kind I wanted. We used to go in the small hours of the morning into the worst tenements to count noses and see if the law against overcrowding was violated, and the sights I saw there gripped my heart until I felt that I must tell of them, or burst, or turn anarchist, or something. "A man may be a man even in a palace" in modern New York as in ancient Rome, but not in a slum tenement. So it seemed to me, and in anger I looked around for something to strike off his fetters with. But there was nothing.

I wrote, but it seemed to make no impression. One morning, scanning my newspaper at the breakfast table, I put it down with an outcry that startled my wife, sitting opposite. There it was, the thing I had been looking for all those years. A four-line despatch from somewhere in Germany, if I remember right, had it all. A way had been discovered, it ran, to take pictures by flashlight. The darkest corner might be photographed that way. I went to the office full of the idea, and lost no time in looking up Dr. John T. Nagle, at the time in charge of the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the Health Department, to tell him of it. Dr. Nagle was an amateur photographer of merit and a good fellow besides, who entered into my plans with great readiness. The news had already excited much interest among New York photographers, professional and otherwise, and no time was lost in communicating with the other side. Within a fortnight a raiding party composed of Dr. Henry G. Piffard and Richard Hoe Lawrence, two distinguished amateurs, Dr. Nagle and myself, and sometimes a policeman or two, invaded the East Side by night, bent on letting in the light where it was so much needed.

At least that was my purpose. To the photographers it was a voyage of discovery of the greatest interest; but the interest centred in the camera and the flashlight. The police went along from curiosity; sometimes for protection. For that they were hardly needed. It is not too much to say that our party carried terror wherever it went. The flashlight of those days was contained in cartridges fired from a revolver. The spectacle of half a dozen strange men invading a house in the midnight hour armed with big pistols which they shot off recklessly was hardly reassuring, however sugary our speech, and it was not to be wondered at if the tenants bolted through windows and down fire-escapes wherever we went. But as no one was murdered, things calmed down after a while, though months after I found the recollection of our visits hanging over a Stanton Street block like a nightmare. We got some good pictures; but very soon the slum and the awkward hours palled upon the amateurs. I found myself alone just when I needed help most. I had made out by the flashlight possibilities my companions little dreamed of.



I hired a professional photographer next whom I found in dire straits. He was even less willing to get up at 2 A.M. than my friends who had a good excuse. He had none, for I paid him well. He repaid me by trying to sell my photographs behind my back. I had to replevin the negatives to get them away from him. He was a pious man, I take it, for when I tried to have him photograph the waifs in the baby nursery at the Five Points House of Industry, as they were saying their "Now I lay me down to sleep," and the plate came out blank the second time, he owned up that it was his doing: it went against his principles to take a picture of any one at prayers. So I had to get another man with some trouble and expense. But on the whole I think the experience was worth what it cost. The spectacle of a man prevented by religious scruples from photographing children at prayers, while plotting at the same time to rob his employer, has been a kind of chart to me that has piloted me through more than one quagmire of queer human nature. Nothing could stump me after that. The man was just as sincere in the matter of his scruple as he was rascally in his business dealings with me.

There was at last but one way out of it; namely, for me to get a camera myself. This I did, and with a dozen plates took myself up the Sound to the Potter's Field on its desert island to make my first observations. There at least I should be alone, with no one to bother me. And I wanted a picture of the open trench. I got it, too. When I say that with the sunlight of a January day on the white snow I exposed that extra-quick instantaneous plate first for six seconds, then for twelve, to make sure I got the picture, [Footnote: Men are ever prone to doubt what they cannot understand. With all the accumulated information on the subject, even to this day, when it comes to taking a snap-shot, at the last moment I weaken and take it under protest, refusing to believe that it can be. A little more faith would make a much better photographer of me.] and then put the plate-holder back among the rest so that I did not know which was which, amateur photographers will understand the situation. I had to develop the whole twelve to get one picture. That was so dark, almost black, from over-exposure as to be almost hopeless. But where there is life there is hope, if you can apply that maxim to the Potter's Field, where there are none but dead men. The very blackness of my picture proved later on, when I came to use it with a magic lantern, the taking feature of it. It added a gloom to the show more realistic than any the utmost art of professional skill might have attained.

So I became a photographer, after a fashion, and thereafter took the pictures myself. I substituted a frying-pan for the revolver, and flashed the light on that. It seemed more homelike. But, as I said, I am clumsy. Twice I set fire to the house with the apparatus, and once to myself. I blew the light into my own eyes on that occasion, and only my spectacles saved me from being blinded for life. For more than an hour after I could see nothing and was led about by my companion, helpless. Photographing Joss in Chinatown nearly caused a riot there. It seems that it was against their religious principles. Peace was made only upon express assurance being given the guardians of Joss that his picture would be hung in the "gallery at Police Headquarters." They took it as a compliment. The "gallery" at Headquarters is the rogues' gallery, not generally much desired. Those Chinese are a queer lot, but when I remembered my Christian friend of the nursery I did not find it in me to blame them. Once, when I was taking pictures about Hell's Kitchen, I was confronted by a wild-looking man with a club, who required me to subscribe to a general condemnation of reporters as "hardly fit to be flayed alive," before he would let me go; the which I did with a right good will, though with somewhat of a mental reservation in favor of my rivals in Mulberry Street, who just then stood in need of special correction.

What with one thing and another, and in spite of all obstacles, I got my pictures, and put some of them to practical use at once. I recall a midnight expedition to the Mulberry Bend with the sanitary police that had turned up a couple of characteristic cases of overcrowding. In one instance two rooms that should at most have held four or five sleepers were found to contain fifteen, a week-old baby among them. Most of them were lodgers and slept there for "five cents a spot." There was no pretence of beds. When the report was submitted to the Health Board the next day, it did not make much of an impression—these things rarely do, put in mere words—until my negatives, still dripping from the dark-room, came to reenforce them. From them there was no appeal. It was not the only instance of the kind by a good many. Neither the landlord's protests nor the tenant's plea "went" in face of the camera's evidence, and I was satisfied.



I had at last an ally in the fight with the Bend. It was needed, worse even than in the campaign against the police lodging-houses, for in that we were a company, in the Bend I was alone. From the day—I think it was in the winter of 1886—when it was officially doomed to go by act of legislature until it did go, nine years later, I cannot remember that a cat stirred to urge it on. Whether it was that it had been bad so long that people thought it could not be otherwise, or because the Five Points had taken all the reform the Sixth Ward had coming to it, or because, by a sort of tacit consent, the whole matter was left to me as the recognized Mulberry Bend crank—whichever it was, this last was the practical turn it took. I was left to fight it out by myself. Which being so, I laid in a stock of dry plates and buckled to.

The Bend was a much jollier adversary than the police lodging-houses. It kicked back. It did not have to be dragged into the discussion at intervals, but crowded in unbidden. In the twenty years of my acquaintance with it as a reporter I do not believe there was a week in which it was not heard from in the police reports, generally in connection with a crime of violence, a murder or a stabbing affray. It was usually on Sunday, when the Italians who lived there were idle and quarreled over their cards. Every fight was the signal for at least two more, sometimes a dozen, for they clung to their traditions and met all efforts of the police to get at the facts with their stubborn "fix him myself." And when the detectives had given up in dismay and the man who was cut had got out of the hospital, pretty soon there was news of another fight, and the feud had been sent on one step. By far the most cheering testimony that our Italian is becoming one of us came to me a year or two ago in the evidence that on two occasions Mulberry Street had refused to hide a murderer even in his own village. [Footnote: The Italians here live usually grouped by "villages," that is, those from the same community with the same patron saint keep close together. The saint's name-day is their local holiday. If the police want to find an Italian scamp, they find out first from what village he hails, then it is a simple matter, usually, to find where he is located in the city.] That was conclusive. It was not so in those days. So, between the vendetta, the mafia, the ordinary neighborhood feuds, and the Bend itself, always picturesque if outrageously dirty, it was not hard to keep it in the foreground. My scrap-book from the year 1883 to 1896 is one running comment on the Bend and upon the official indolence that delayed its demolition nearly a decade after it had been decreed. But it all availed nothing to hurry up things, until, in a swaggering moment, after four years of that sort of thing, one of the City Hall officials condescended to inform me of the real cause of the delay. It was simply that "no one down there had been taking any interest in the thing."



I could not have laid it out for him to suit my case better than he did. It was in the silly season, and the newspapers fell greedily upon the sensation I made. The Bend, moreover, smelled rather worse than usual that August. They made "the people's cause" their own, and shouted treason until the commission charged with condemning the Bend actually did meet and greased its wheels. But at the next turn they were down in a rut again, and the team had to be prodded some more. It had taken two years to get a map of the proposed park filed under the law that authorized the laying out of it. The commission consumed nearly six years in condemning the forty-one lots of property, and charged the city $45,498.60 for it. The Bend itself cost a million, and an assessment of half a million was laid upon surrounding property for the supposed benefit of making it over from a pig-sty into a park. Those property-owners knew better. They hired a lawyer who in less than six weeks persuaded the Legislature that it was an injury, not a benefit. The town had to foot the whole bill. But at last it owned the Bend.

Instead of destroying it neck and crop, it settled down complacently to collect the rents; that is to say, such rents as it could collect. A good many of the tenants refused to pay, and lived rent free for a year. It was a rare chance for the reporter, and I did not miss it. The city as landlord in the Bend was fair game. The old houses came down at last, and for a twelvemonth, while a reform government sat at the City Hall, the three-acre lot lay, a veritable slough of despond filled with unutterable nastiness, festering in the sight of men. No amount of prodding seemed able to get it out of that, and all the while money given for the relief of the people was going to waste at the rate of a million dollars a year. The Small Parks Act of 1887 appropriated that amount, and it was to be had for the asking. But no one who had the authority asked, and as the appropriation was not cumulative, each passing year saw the loss of just so much to the cause of decency that was waiting without. Eight millions had been thrown away when they finally came to ask a million and a half to pay for the Mulberry Bend park, and then they had to get a special law and a special appropriation because the amount was more than "a million in one year." This in spite of the fact that we were then in the Christmas holidays with one year just closing and the other opening, each with its unclaimed appropriation. I suggested that to the powers that were, but they threw up their hands: that would have been irregular and quite without precedent. Oh, for irregularity enough to throttle precedent finally and for good! It has made more mischief in the world, I verily believe, than all the other lawbreakers together. At the very outset it had wrecked my hopes of getting the first school playground in New York planted in the Bend by simply joining park and school together. There was a public school in the block that went with the rest. The Small Parks Law expressly provided for the construction of "such and so many" buildings for the comfort, health, and "instruction" of the people, as might be necessary. But a school in a park! The thing had never been heard of. It would lead to conflict between two departments! And to this day there is no playground in the Mulberry Bend, though the school is right opposite.



It was, nevertheless, that sort of thing that lent the inspiration which in the end made the old Bend go. It was when, in the midst of the discussion, they showed me a check for three cents, hung up and framed in the Comptroller's office as a kind of red-tape joss for the clerks to kow-tow to, I suppose. They were part of the system it glorified. The three cents had miscarried in the purchase of a school site, and, when the error was found, were checked out with all the fuss and flourish of a transaction in millions and at a cost, I was told, of fifty dollars' worth of time and trouble. Therefore it was hung up to be forever admired as the ripe fruit of an infallible system. No doubt it will be there when another Tweed has cleaned out the city's treasury to the last cent. However, it suggested a way out to me. Two could play at that game. There is a familiar principle of sanitary law, expressed in more than one ordinance, that no citizen has a right to maintain a nuisance on his premises because he is lazy or it suits his convenience in other ways. The city is merely the aggregate of citizens in a corporation, and must be subject to the same rules. I drew up a complaint in proper official phrase, charging that the state of Mulberry Bend was "detrimental to health and dangerous to life," and formally arraigned the municipality before the Health Board for maintaining a nuisance upon its premises.

I have still a copy of that complaint, and, as the parting shot to the worst slum that ever was, and, let us hope, ever will be, I quote it here in part:—

"The Bend is a mass of wreck, a dumping-ground for all manner of filth from the surrounding tenements. The Street-cleaning Department has no jurisdiction over it, and the Park Department, in charge of which it is, exercises none.

"The numerous old cellars are a source of danger to the children that swarm over the block. Water stagnating in the holes will shortly add the peril of epidemic disease. Such a condition as that now prevailing in this block, with its dense surrounding population, would not be tolerated by your department for a single day if on private property. It has lasted here many months.

"The property is owned by the city, having been taken for the purposes of a park and left in this condition after the demolition of the old buildings. The undersigned respectfully represents that the city, in the proposed Mulberry Bend park, is at present maintaining a nuisance, and that it is the duty of your honorable Board to see to it that it is forthwith abolished, to which end he prays that you will proceed at once with the enforcement of the rules of your department prohibiting the maintaining of nuisances within the city's limits."

If my complaint caused a smile in official quarters, it was short-lived, except in the Sanitary Bureau, where I fancy it lurked. For the Bend was under its windows. One whiff of it was enough to determine the kind of report the health inspectors would have to make when forced to act. That night, before they got around, some boys playing with a truck in the lots ran it down into one of the cellar holes spoken of and were crushed under it, and so put a point upon the matter that took the laughter out of it for good. They went ahead with the park then.

When they had laid the sod, and I came and walked on it in defiance of the sign to "keep off the grass," I was whacked by a policeman for doing it, as I told in the "Ten Years' War." [Footnote: Now, "The Battle with the Slum."] But that was all right. We had the park. And I had been "moved on" before when I sat and shivered in reeking hallways in that very spot, alone and forlorn in the long ago; so that I did not mind. The children who were dancing there in the sunlight were to have a better time, please God! We had given them their lost chance. Looking at them in their delight now, it is not hard to understand what happened: the place that had been redolent of crime and murder became the most orderly in the city. When the last house was torn down in the Bend, I counted seventeen murders in the block all the details of which I remembered. No doubt I had forgotten several times that number. In the four years after that during which I remained in Mulberry Street I was called only once to record a deed of violence in the neighborhood, and that was when a stranger came in and killed himself. Nor had the Bend simply sloughed off its wickedness, for it to lodge and take root in some other place. That would have been something; but it was not that. The Bend had become decent and orderly because the sunlight was let in, and shone upon children who had at last the right to play, even if the sign "keep off the grass" was still there. That was what the Mulberry Bend park meant. It was the story it had to tell. And as for the sign, we shall see the last of that yet. The park has notice served upon it that its time is up.



So the Bend went, and mighty glad am I that I had a hand in making it go. The newspapers puzzled over the fact that I was not invited to the formal opening. I was Secretary of the Small Parks Committee at the time, and presumably even officially entitled to be bidden to the show; though, come to think of it, our committee was a citizens' affair and not on the pay-rolls! The Tammany Mayor who came in the year after said that we had as much authority as "a committee of bootblacks" about the City Hall, no more. So that it seems as if there is a something that governs those things which survives the accidents of politics, and which mere citizens are not supposed to understand or meddle with. Anyway, it was best so. Colonel Waring, splendid fellow that he was, when he grew tired of the much talk, made a little speech of ten words that was not on the programme, and after that the politicians went home, leaving the park to the children. There it was in the right hands. What mattered the rest, then?

And now let me go back from the slum to my Brooklyn home for just a look. I did every night, or I do not think I could have stood it. I never lived in New York since I had a home, except for the briefest spell of a couple of months once when my family were away, and that nearly stifled me. I have to be where there are trees and birds and green hills, and where the sky is blue above. So we built our nest in Brooklyn, on the outskirts of the great park, while the fledglings grew, and the nest was full when the last of our little pile had gone to make it snug. Rent was getting higher all the time, and the deeper I burrowed in the slum, the more my thoughts turned, by a sort of defensive instinct, to the country. My wife laughed, and said I should have thought of that while we yet had some money to buy or build with, but I borrowed no trouble on that score. I was never a good business man, as I have said before, and yet—no! I will take that back. It is going back on the record. I trusted my accounts with the Great Paymaster, who has all the money there is, and he never gave notice that I had overdrawn my account. I had the feeling, and have it still, that if you are trying to do the things which are right, and which you were put here to do, you can and ought to leave ways and means to Him who drew the plans, after you have done your own level best to provide. Always that, of course. If then things don't come out right, it is the best proof in the world, to my mind, that you have got it wrong, and you have only to hammer away waiting for things to shape themselves, as they are bound to do, and let in the light. For nothing in all this world is without a purpose, and least of all what you and I are doing, though we may not be able to make it out. I got that faith from my mother, and it never put her to shame, so she has often told me.

Neither did it me. It was in the winter when all our children had the scarlet fever that one Sunday, when I was taking a long walk out on Long Island where I could do no one any harm, I came upon Richmond Hill, and thought it was the most beautiful spot I had ever seen. I went home and told my wife that I had found the place where we were going to live, and that sick-room was filled with the scent of spring flowers and of balsam and pine as the children listened and cheered with their feeble little voices. The very next week I picked out the lots I wanted. There was a tangle of trees growing on them that are shading my study window now as I write. I did not have any money, but right then an insurance company was in need of some one to revise its Danish policies, and my old friend General C. T. Christensen thought I would do. And I did it, and earned $200; whereupon Edward Wells, who was then a prosperous druggist, offered to lend me what more I needed to buy the lots, and the manager of our Press Bureau built me a house and took a mortgage for all it cost. So before the next winter's snows we were snug in the house that has been ours ever since, with a ridge of wooded hills, the "backbone of Long Island," between New York and us. The very lights of the city were shut out. So was the slum, and I could sleep.



Fifteen summers have passed since. The house lies yonder, white and peaceful under the trees. Long since, the last dollar of the mortgage was paid and our home freed from debt.[Footnote: I have had my study built on the back lawn so that I may always have it before me, and have a quiet place at the same time, where "papa is not to be disturbed." But, though I put it as far back as I could, I notice that they come right in.] The flag flies from it on Sundays in token thereof. Joy and sorrow have come to us under its roof. Children have been born, and one we carried over the hill to the churchyard with tears for the baby we had lost. But He to whom we gave it back has turned our grief to joy. Of all our babies, the one we lost is the only one we have kept. The others grew out of our arms; I hardly remember them in their little white slips. But he is our baby forever. Fifteen happy years of peace have they been, for love held the course.

It was when the daisies bloomed in the spring that the children brought in armfuls from the fields, and bade me take them to "the poors" in the city. I did as they bade me, but I never got more than half a block from the ferry with my burden. The street children went wild over the "posies." They pleaded and fought to get near me, and when I had no flowers left to give them sat in the gutter and wept with grief. The sight of it went to my heart, and I wrote this letter to the papers. It is dated in my scrap-book June 23, 1888:—

"The trains that carry a hundred thousand people to New York's stores and offices from their homes in the country rush over fields, these bright June mornings, glorious with daisies and clover blossoms. There are too many sad little eyes in the crowded tenements, where the summer sunshine means disease and death, not play or vacation, that will close without ever having looked upon a field of daisies.

"If we cannot give them the fields, why not the flowers? If every man, woman, or child coming in should, on the way to the depot, gather an armful of wild flowers to distribute in the tenements, a mission work would be set on foot with which all the alms-giving of this wealthy city could not be compared.

"Then why not do it? Ask your readers to try. The pleasure of giving the flowers to the urchins who will dog their steps in the street, crying with hungry voices and hungry hearts for a 'posy' will more than pay for the trouble. It will brighten the office, the store, or the schoolroom all through the day. Let them have no fear that their gift will not be appreciated because it costs nothing. Not alms, but the golden rule, is what is needed in the tenements of the poor.

"If those who have not the time or opportunity themselves will send their flowers to 303 Mulberry Street, opposite Police Headquarters, it will be done for them. The summer doctors employed by the Health Department to canvass the tenements in July and August will gladly cooperate. Let us have the flowers."

If I could have foreseen the result, I hardly think that last paragraph would have been printed. I meant to give people a chance to discover for themselves how much pleasure they could get out of a little thing like taking an armful of flowers to town, but they voted unanimously, so it seemed, to let me have it all. Flowers came pouring in from every corner of the compass. They came in boxes, in barrels, and in bunches, from field and garden, from town and country. Express-wagons carrying flowers jammed Mulberry Street, and the police came out to marvel at the row. The office was fairly smothered in fragrance. A howling mob of children besieged it. The reporters forgot their rivalries and lent a hand with enthusiasm in giving out the flowers. The Superintendent of Police detailed five stout patrolmen to help carry the abundance to points of convenient distribution. Wherever we went, fretful babies stopped crying and smiled as the messengers of love were laid against their wan cheeks. Slovenly women courtesied and made way.

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