HotFreeBooks.com
The Making of an American
by Jacob A. Riis
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"The good Lord bless you," I heard as I passed through a dark hall, "but you are a good man. No such has come this way before." Oh! the heartache of it, and yet the joy! The Italians in the Barracks stopped quarreling to help keep order. The worst street became suddenly good and neighborly. A year or two after, Father John Tabb, priest and poet, wrote, upon reading my statement that I had seen an armful of daisies keep the peace of a block better than the policeman's club:—

Peacemakers ye, the daisies, from the soil Upbreathing wordless messages of love, Soothing of earth-born brethren the toil And lifting e'en the lowliest above.

Ay, they did. The poet knew it; the children knew it; the slum knew it. It lost its grip where the flowers went with their message. I saw it.

I saw, too, that I had put my hand to a task that was too great for me, yet which I might not give over, once I had taken it up. Every day the slum showed me that more clearly. The hunger for the beautiful that gnawed at its heart was a constant revelation. Those little ones at home were wiser than I. At most I had made out its stomach. This was like cutting windows for souls that were being shrunk and dwarfed in their mean setting. Shut them up once the sunlight had poured in—never! I could only drive ahead, then, until a way opened. Somewhere beyond it was sure to do that.

And it did. Among the boxes from somewhere out in Jersey came one with the letters I. H. N. on. I paid little attention to it then, but when more came so marked, I noticed that they were not all from one place, and made inquiries as to what the letters meant. So I was led to the King's Daughters' headquarters, where I learned that they stood for "In His Name." I liked the sentiment; I took to it at once. And I liked the silver cross upon which it was inscribed. I sometimes wish I had lived—no! I do not. That's dreaming. I have lived in the best of all times, when you do not have to dream things good, but can help make them so. All the same, when I put on the old crusader's cross which King Christian sent me a year ago from Denmark, and think of the valiant knights who wore it, I feel glad and proud that, however far behind, I may ride in their train.



So I put on the silver cross, and in the Broadway Tabernacle spoke to the members of the order, asking them to make this work theirs. They did it at once. A committee was formed, and in the summer of 1890 it opened an office in the basement of the Mariners' Temple, down in the Fourth Ward. The Health Department's summer doctors were enlisted, and the work took a practical turn from the start. There were fifty of the doctors, whose duty it was to canvass the thirty thousand tenements during the hot season and prescribe for the sick poor. They had two months to do it in, and with the utmost effort, if they were to cover their ground, could only get around once to each family. In a great many cases that was as good as nothing. They might as well have stayed away, for what was wanted was advice, instruction, a friendly lift out of a hopeless rut, more than medicine. We hired a nurse, and where they pointed there she went, following their track and bringing the things the doctor could not give. It worked well. At the end of the year, when we would have shut up shop, we found ourselves with three hundred families on our hands, to leave whom would have been rank treachery. So we took a couple of rooms in a tenement, and held on. And from this small beginning has grown the King's Daughters' settlement, which to-day occupies two houses at 48 and 50 Henry Street, doing exactly the same kind of work as when they began in the next block. The flowers were and are the open sesame to every home. They wrere laughed at by some at the start; but that was because they did not know. They are not needed now to open doors; the little cross is known for a friend wherever it goes.

We sometimes hear it said, and it is true, that the poor are more charitable among themselves than the outside world is to them. It is because they know the want; and it only goes to prove that human nature is at bottom good, not bad. In real straits it comes out strongest. So, if you can only make the others see, will they do. The trouble is, they do not know, and some of us seem to have cotton in our ears: we are a little hard of hearing. Yet, whenever we put it to the test, up-town rang true. I remember the widow with three or four little ones who had to be wheeled if she were to be able to get about as the doctor insisted. There was no nursery within reach. And I remember the procession of baby-carriages that answered our appeal. It strung clear across the street into Chatham Square. Whatever we needed we got. We saw the great heart of our city, and it was good to see.

Personally I had little to do with it, except to form the link with the official end of it, the summer doctors, etc., and to make trouble occasionally. As, for instance, when I surreptitiously supplied an old couple we had charge of with plug tobacco. The ladies took it ill, but, then, they had never smoked. I had, and I know what it is to do without tobacco, for the doctor cut my supply off a long while ago. Those two were old, very old, and they wanted their pipe, and they got it. I suppose it was irregular, but I might as well say it here that I would do the same thing again, without doubt. I feel it in my bones. So little have I profited. But, good land! a pipe is not a deadly sin. For the rest, I was mighty glad to see things managed with system. It was a new experience to me. On the Tribune I had a kind of license to appeal now and again for some poor family I had come across, and sometimes a good deal of money came in. It was hateful to find that it did not always do the good it ought to. I bring to mind the aged bookkeeper and his wife whom I found in a Greene Street attic in a state of horrid want. He had seen much better days, and it was altogether a very pitiful case. My appeal brought in over $300, which, in my delight, I brought him in a lump. The next morning, when going home at three o'clock, whom should I see in a vile Chatham Street dive, gloriously drunk, and in the clutches of a gang of Sixth Ward cutthroats, but my protege, the bookkeeper, squandering money right and left. I caught sight of him through the open door, and in hot indignation went in and yanked him out, giving him a good talking to. The gang followed, and began hostilities at once. But for the providential coming of two policemen, we should probably have both fared ill. I had the old man locked up in the Oak Street Station. For a wonder, he had most of the money yet, and thereafter I spent it for him.

On another occasion we were deliberately victimized—the reporters in Mulberry Street, I mean—by a man with a pitiful story of hardship, which we took as truth and printed. When I got around there the next morning to see about it, I found that some neighborhood roughs had established a toll-gate in the alley, charging the pitying visitors who came in shoals a quarter for admission to the show in the garret. The man was a fraud. That was right around the corner from a place where, years before, I used to drop a nickel in a beggar woman's hand night after night as I went past, because she had a baby cradled on her wheezy little hand-organ, until one night the baby rolled into the gutter, and I saw that it was a rag baby, and that the woman was drunk. It was on such evidence as this, both as to them and myself, that I early pinned my faith to organized charity as just orderly charity, and I have found good reasons since to confirm me in the choice. If any doubt had lingered in my mind, my experience in helping distribute the relief fund to the tornado sufferers at Woodhaven a dozen years ago would have dispelled it. It does seem as if the chance of getting something for nothing is, on the whole, the greatest temptation one can hold out to frail human nature, whether in the slum, in Wall Street, or out where the daisies grow.

Everything takes money. Our work takes a good deal. It happened more than once, when the bills came in, that there was nothing to pay them with. Now these were times to put to the test my faith, as recorded above. My associates in the Board will bear me out that it was justified. It is true that the strain was heavy once or twice. I recall one afternoon, as do they, when we sat with bills amounting to $150 before us and not a cent in the bank, so the treasurer reported. Even as she did, the mail-carrier brought two letters, both from the same town, as it happened—Morristown, N.J. Each of them contained a check for $75, one from a happy mother "in gratitude and joy," the other from "one stricken by a great sorrow" that had darkened her life. Together they made the sum needed. We sat and looked at each other dumbly. To me it was not strange: that was my mother's faith. But I do not think we, any of us, doubled after that; and we had what we needed, as we needed it.



CHAPTER XII

I BECOME AN AUTHOR AND RESUME MY INTERRUPTED CAREER AS A LECTURER



For more than a year I had knocked at the doors of the various magazine editors with my pictures, proposing to tell them how the other half lived, but no one wanted to know. One of the Harpers, indeed, took to the idea, but the editor to whom he sent me treated me very cavalierly. Hearing that I had taken the pictures myself, he proposed to buy them at regular photographer's rates and "find a man who could write" to tell the story. We did not part with mutual expressions of esteem. I gave up writing for a time then, and tried the church doors. That which was bottled up within me was, perhaps, getting a trifle too hot for pen and ink. In the church one might, at all events, tell the truth unhindered. So I thought; but there were cautious souls there, too, who held the doors against Mulberry Street and the police reporter. It was fair, of course, that they should know who I was, but I thought it sufficient introduction that I was a deacon in my own church out on Long Island. They did not, it seemed. My stock of patience, never very large, was showing signs of giving out, and I retorted hotly that then, if they wanted to know, I was a reporter, and perhaps Mulberry Street had as much sanctity in it as a church that would not listen to its wrongs. They only shut the doors a little tighter at that. It did not mend matters that about that time I tried a little truth-telling in my own fold and came to grief. It did not prove to be any more popular on Long Island than in New York. I resigned the diaconate and was thinking of hiring a hall—a theatre could be had on Sunday—wherein to preach my lay sermon, when I came across Dr. Schauffler, the manager of the City Mission Society, and Dr. Josiah Strong, the author of "Our Country." They happened to be together, and saw at once the bearing of my pictures. Remembering my early experience with the magic lantern, I had had slides made from my negatives, and on February 28, 1888, I told their story in the Broadway Tabernacle. Thereafter things mended somewhat. Plymouth Church and Dr. Parkhurst's opened their doors to me and the others fell slowly into line.

I had my say and felt better. I found a note from Dr. Schauffler among my papers the other day that was written on the morning after that first speech. He was pleased with it and with the collection of $143.50 for the mission cause. I remember it made me smile a little grimly. The fifty cents would have come handy for lunch that day. It just happened that I did not have any. It happened quite often. I was, as I said, ever a bad manager. I mention it here because of two letters that came while I have been writing this, and which I may as well answer now. One asks me to lift the mortgage from the writer's home. I get a good many of that kind. The writers seem to think I have much money and might want to help them. I should like nothing better. To go around, if one were rich, and pay off mortgages on little homes, so that the owners when they had got the interest together by pinching and scraping should find it all gone and paid up without knowing how, seems to me must be the very finest fun in all the world. But I shall never be able to do it, for I haven't any other money than what I earn with my pen and by lecturing, and never had. So their appeals only make me poorer by a two-cent stamp for an answer to tell them that, and make them no richer. The other letter asks why I and other young men who have had to battle with the world did not go to the Young Men's Christian Association, or to the missionaries, for help. I do not know about the others, but I did not want anybody to help me. There were plenty that were worse off and needed help more. The only time I tried was when Pater Breton, the good French priest in Buffalo, tried to get me across to France to fight for his country, and happily did not succeed. As to battling with the world, that is good for a young man, much better than to hang on to somebody for support A little starvation once in a while even is not out of the way. We eat too much anyhow, and when you have fought your way through a tight place, you are the better for it. I am afraid that is not always the case when you have been shoved through.

And then again, as I have just told, when I did go to the ministers with a fair proposition, they did not exactly jump at it. No, it was better the way it was.

The thing I had sought vainly so long came in the end by another road than I planned. One of the editors of Scribner's Magazine saw my pictures and heard their story in his church, and came to talk the matter over with me. As a result of that talk I wrote an article that appeared in the Christmas Scribner's, 1889, under the title "How the Other Half Lives," and made an instant impression. That was the beginning of better days.

Before I let the old depart I must set down an incident of my reporter's experience that crowds in with a good hearty laugh, though it was not the slum that sent me to the Church of the Holy Communion over on Sixth Avenue. And though the door was shut in my face, it was not by the rector, or with malice prepense. A despatch from the Tenderloin police station had it that the wife of the Rev. Dr. Henry Mottet was locked up there, out of her mind. We had no means of knowing that Dr. Mottet was at that time a confirmed bachelor. So I went over to condole with him, and incidentally to ask what was the matter with his wife, any way. The servant who came to the door did not know whether the doctor was in; she would go and see. But even as she said it the wind blew the door shut behind her. It had a snap-lock.

"Oh!" she said, "I am shut out. If the doctor isn't in the house, I can't get in."

We rang, but no one came. There was only one way: to try the windows. The poor girl could not be left in the street. So we went around the rectory and found one unlatched. She gave me a leg up, and I raised the sash and crawled in.

Halfway in the room, with one leg over the sill, I became dimly conscious of a shape there. Tall and expectant, it stood between the door-curtains.

"Well, sir! and who are you?" it spoke sternly.

I climbed over the sill and put the question myself: "And who are you, sir?"

"I am Dr. Mottet, and live in this house." He had been in after all and had come down to hear what the ringing was about. "And now may I ask, sir—?"

"Certainly, you may. I am a reporter from Police Headquarters, come up to tell you that your wife is locked up in the Thirtieth Street police station."

The doctor looked fixedly at me for a full minute. Then he slowly telescoped his tall frame into an armchair, and sank down, a look of comic despair settling upon his face.

"O Lord!" he sighed heavily. "A strange man climbs through my parlor window to tell me, a bachelor, that my wife is locked up in the police station. What will happen next?"

And then we laughed together and made friends. The woman was just an ordinary lunatic.

I was late home from the office one evening the week my Christmas article was printed. My wife was waiting for me at the door, looking down the street. I saw that she had something on her mind, but the children were all right, she said; nothing was amiss. Supper over, she drew a chair to the fire and brought out a letter.

"I read it," she nodded. It was our way. The commonest business letter is to me a human document when she has read it. Besides, she knows so much more than I. Her heart can find a way where my head bucks blindly against stone walls.

The letter was from Jeanette Gilder, of the Critic, asking if I had thought of making my article into a book. If so, she knew a publisher. My chance had come. I was at last to have my say.

I should have thought I would have shouted and carried on. I didn't. We sat looking into the fire together, she and I. Neither of us spoke. Then we went up to the children. They slept sweetly in their cribs. I saw a tear in her eye as she bent over the baby's cradle, and caught her to me, questioning.

"Shall we lose you now?" she whispered, and hid her head on my shoulder. I do not know what jealous thought of authors being wedded to their work had come into her mind; or, rather, I do. I felt it, and in my heart, while I held her close, I registered a vow which I have kept. It was the last tear she shed for me. Our daughter pouts at her father now and then; says I am "fierce." But She comes with her sewing to sit where I write, and when she comes the sun shines.

Necessarily, for a while, my new work held me very close. "How the Other Half Lives" was written at night while the house slept, for I had my office work to attend to in the day. Then it was my habit to light the lamps in all the rooms of the lower story and roam through them with my pipe, for I do most of my writing on my feet. I began the book with the new year. In November it was published, and on the day it came out I joined the staff of the Evening Sun. I merely moved up one flight of stairs. Mulberry Street was not done with me yet, nor I with it.

I had had a falling out with the manager of the Associated Press Bureau,—the Tribune had retired from the copartnership some years before,—and during one brief summer ran an opposition shop of my own. I sold police news to all the papers, and they fell away from the Bureau with such hearty unanimity that the manager came around and offered to farm out the department to me entirely if I would join forces. But independence was ever sweet to me, and in this instance it proved profitable even. I made at least three times as much money as before, but I did it at such cost of energy and effort that I soon found it could not last, even with the phenomenal streak of good luck I had struck. It seemed as if I had only to reach out to turn up news. I hear people saying once in a while that there is no such thing as luck. They are wrong. There is; I know it. It runs in streaks, like accidents and fires. The thing is to get in the way of it and keep there till it comes along, then hitch on, and away you go. It is the old story of the early bird. I got up at five o'clock, three hours before any of my competitors, and sometimes they came down to the office to find my news hawked about the street in extras of their own papers.

One way or another, a fight there was always on hand. That seemed foreordained. If it was not "the opposition" it was the police. When Mulberry Street took a rest the publisher's "reader" began it, and the proof-reader. This last is an enemy of human kind anyhow. Not only that he makes you say things you never dreamed of, but his being so cocksure that he knows better every time, is a direct challenge to a fight. The "reader" is tarred with the same stick. He is the one who passes on the manuscript, and he has an ingrown hatred of opinion. If a man has that, he is his enemy before he ever sets eye on him. He passed on my manuscript with a blue pencil that laid waste whole pages, once a whole chapter, with a stroke. It was like sacking a conquered city. But he did not die in his sins. I joined battle at the first sight of that blue pencil. The publishers said their reader was a very capable man. So he was, and a fine fellow to boot; had forgotten more than I ever knew, except as to the other half, of which he did not know anything. I suggested to the firm that if they did not think so, they had better let him write a book to suit, or else print mine as I wrote it. It was fair, and they took my view of it. So did he. The blue pencil went out of commission.

How deadly tired I was in those days I do not think I myself knew until I went to Boston one evening to help discuss sweating at the Institute of Technology. I had an hour to spare, and went around into Beacon Street to call upon a friend. I walked mechanically up the stoop and rang the bell. My friend was not in, said the servant who came to the door. Who should she say called? I stood and looked at her like a fool: I had forgotten my name. I was not asleep; I was rummaging in an agony of dread and excitement through every corner and crevice of my brain for my own name, but I did not find it. As slowly as I could, to gain time, I reached for my card-case and fumbled for a card, hoping to remember. But no ray came. Until I actually read my name on my card it was as utterly gone as if I had never heard it. If the people of Boston got anything out of my speech that day they did better than I. All the time I spoke something kept saying over within me: "You are a nice fellow to make a speech at the Institute of Technology; you don't even know your own name."

After that I was haunted by a feeling that I would lose myself altogether, and got into the habit of leaving private directions in the office where I would probably be found, should question arise. It arose at last in a Brooklyn church where I was making a speech with my magic-lantern pictures. While I spoke a feeling kept growing upon me that I ought to be down in the audience looking at the pictures. It all seemed a long way off and in no way related to me. Before I knew it, or any one had time to notice, I had gone down and taken a front seat. I sat there for as much as five minutes perhaps, while the man with the lantern fidgeted and the audience wondered, I suppose, what was coming next. Then it was the pictures that did not change which fretted me; with a cold chill I knew I had been lost, and went back and finished the speech. No one was any the wiser, apparently. But I was glad when, the following week, I wrote the last page in my book. That night, my wife insists, I deliberately turned a somersault on the parlor carpet while the big children cheered and the baby looked on, wide-eyed, from her high chair.

I preserve among my cherished treasures two letters of that period from James Russell Lowell. In one of them he gives me permission to use the verses with which I prefaced the book. They were the text from which I preached my sermon. He writes that he is "glad they have so much life left in them after forty years." But those verses will never die. They tell in a few lines all I tried to tell on three hundred pages. The other letter was written when he had read the book. I reproduce it here.



For myself I have never been able to satisfactorily explain the great run "How the Other Half Lives" had. It is a curiously popular book even to-day. Perhaps it was that I had had it in me so long that it burst out at last with a rush that caught on. The title had a deal to do with it. Mr. Howells asked me once where I got it. I did not get it. It came of itself. Like Topsy, it growed. It had run in my mind ever since I thought of the things I tried to describe. Then there was the piece of real good luck that Booth's "In Darkest England" was published just then. People naturally asked, "how about New York?" That winter Ward McAllister wrote his book about society as he had found it, and the circuit was made. Ministers preached about the contrast." How the Other Half Lives "ran from edition to edition. There was speedily a demand for more "copy," and I wrote "The Children of the Poor," following the same track. Critics said there were more "bones" in it, but it was never popular like the "Other Half."

By "bones" I suppose they meant facts to tie to. They were scarce enough at that stage of the inquiry. I have in my desk a table giving the ages at which children get their teeth that bears witness to that. I had been struggling with the problem of child-labor in some East Side factories, and was not making any headway. The children had certificates, one and all, declaring them to be "fourteen," and therefore fit to be employed. It was perfectly evident that they were not ten in scores of cases, but the employer shrugged his shoulders and pointed to the certificate. The father, usually a tailor, would not listen at all, but went right on ironing. There was no birth registry to fall back on; that end of it was neglected. There seemed to be no way of proving the fact, yet the fact was there and must be proven. My own children were teething at the time, and it gave me an idea. I got Dr. Tracy to write out that table for me, showing at what age the dog-teeth should appear, when the molars, etc. Armed with that I went into the factories and pried open the little workers' mouths. The girls objected: their teeth were quite generally bad; but I saw enough to enable me to speak positively. Even allowing for the backwardness of the slum, it was clear that a child that had not yet grown its dog-teeth was not "fourteen," for they should have been cut at twelve at the latest. Three years later the Reinhardt Committee reported to the Legislature that the net result of the Factory Law was a mass of perjury and child-labor, and day began to dawn for the little ones, too.

Rough ways and rough work? Yes, but you must use the tools that come to hand, and be glad for them, if you want to get things done. Bludgeons were needed just then, and, after all, you can get a good deal of fun out of one when it is needed. I know I did. By that time the whole battle with the slum had evolved itself out of the effort to clean one pig-sty, and, as for my own share in it, to settle for one dead dog. It was raging all along the line with demands for tenement-house reform and the destruction of the old rookeries; for parks for the people who were penned up in the slum; for playgrounds for their children; for decent teaching and decent schools. There were too many dark spots in New York where we had neither. So dense was the ignorance of the ruling powers of the needs and real condition of the public schools, which, on parade days, they spoke of sententiously as the "corner-stone of our liberties," while the people cheered the sentiment, that it was related how a Tammany Mayor had appointed to the office of school trustee in the Third Ward a man who had been dead a whole year, and how, when the world marvelled, it had been laughed off at the City Hall with the comment that what did it matter: there were no schools in the ward; it was the wholesale grocery district. I do not know how true it was, but there was no reason why it might not be. It was exactly on a par with the rest of it. I do not mean to say that there were no good schools in New York. There were some as good as anywhere; for there were high-souled teachers who redeemed even the slough we were in from utter despair. But they were there in spite of it and they were far from being the rule. Let us hope for the day when that shall have been reversed as a statement of fact. No one will hail it more gladly than I. There is an easy way of putting it to the test; we did it once before. Broach a measure of school reform and see what the question is that will be asked by the teachers. If it is, "How is it going to benefit the children?" hoist the flag; the day of deliverance is at hand. In the battle I refer to that question was not asked once. The teachers stood shoulder to shoulder for their rights, let the children fare as they might.

However, that is an old grievance. We had it out over it once, and I have no mind to rip it up again unless it is needed. My own father was a teacher; perhaps that is one reason why I revere the calling so that I would keep its skirts clear of politics at any hazard. Another is that I most heartily subscribe to the statement that the public school is the corner-stone of our liberties, and to the sentiment that would keep the flag flying over it always. Only I want as much respect for the flag: a clean school under an unsoiled flag! So we shall pull through; not otherwise. The thing requires no argument.



My own effort in that fight was mainly for decent schoolhouses, for playgrounds, and for a truant school to keep the boys out of jail. If I was not competent to argue over the curriculum with a professor of pedagogy, I could tell, at least, if a schoolroom was so jammed that to let me pass into the next room the children in the front seat had to rise and stand; or if there was light enough for them to see their slates or the blackboard. Nor did it take the wisdom of a Solomon to decide that a dark basement room, thirty by fifty feet, full of rats, was not a proper place for a thousand children to call their only "playground." Play, in the kindergarten scheme, is the "normal occupation of the child through which he first begins to perceive moral relations." Nice kind of morals burrowed there for him! There was, in the whole of Manhattan, but a single outdoor playground attached to a public school, and that was an old burial-ground in First Street that had been wrested from the dead with immense toil. When I had fed fat my grudge upon these things, I could still go where the public school children came, and learn, by a little judicious pumping, how my friend, the professor, had stored their minds. That is, if they did not come to me. Many hundreds of them did, when under Roosevelt we needed two thousand new policemen, and it was from some of them we learned that among the thirteen States which formed the Union were "England, Ireland, Wales, Belfast, and Cork"; that Abraham Lincoln was "murdered by Ballington Booth," and that the Fire Department was in charge of the city government when the Mayor was away. Don't I wish it were, and that they would turn the hose on a while! What a lot of trouble it would save us in November.

As for a truant school, the lack of one was the worst outrage of all, for it compelled the sending of boys, who had done no worse harm than to play hooky on a sunny spring day, to a jail with iron bars in the windows. For the boy who did this wicked thing—let me be plain about it and say that if he had not; if he had patiently preferred some of the schools I knew to a day of freedom out in the sunshine, I should have thought him a miserable little lunkhead quite beyond hope! As for those who locked him up, almost nothing I can think of would be bad enough for them. The whole effort of society should be, and is getting to be more and more, thank goodness and common sense, to keep the boy out of jail. To run to it with him the moment the sap begins to boil up in him and he does any one of the thousand things we have all done or wanted to do if we dared, why, it is sinful folly. I am not saying that there are not boys who ought to be in jail, though to my mind it is the poorest use you can put them to; but to put truants there, to learn all the tricks the jail has to teach, with them in the frame of mind in which it receives them,—for boys are not fools, whatever those who are set over them may be, and they know when they are ill-used,—I know of nothing so wickedly wasteful. That was our way; is still in fact, to a large extent, though the principle has been disavowed as both foul and foolish. But in those days the defenders of the system—Heaven save the mark!—fought for it yet, and it was give and take right along, every day and all day.

Before this, in time to bear a strong hand in it all, there had come into the field a new force that was destined to give both energy and direction to our scattered efforts for reform. Up till then we had been a band of guerillas, the incentive proceeding usually from Dr. Felix Adler, Mrs. Josephine Shaw Lowell, or some one of their stamp; and the rest of us joining in to push that cart up the hill, then taking time to breathe until another came along that needed a lift. The social settlements, starting as neighborhood guilds to reassert the lost brotherhood, became almost from the first the fulcrum, as it were, whence the lever for reform was applied, because the whole idea of that reform was to better the lot of those whom the prosperous up-town knew vaguely only as "the poor." If parks were wanted, if schools needed bettering, there were at the College Settlement, the University Settlement, the Nurses' Settlement, and at a score of other such places, young enthusiasts to collect the facts and to urge them, with the prestige of their non-political organization to back them. The Hull House out in Chicago set the pace, and it was kept up bravely at this end of the line. For one, I attached myself as a kind of volunteer "auxiliary" to the College Settlement—that was what the girls there called me—and to any one that would have me, and so in a few years' time slid easily into the day when my ruder methods were quite out of date and ready to be shelved.

How it came about that, almost before I knew it, my tongue was enlisted in the fight as well as my pen I do not know myself. It could not be because I had a "silver-tongue," for I read in the local newspaper one day when I had been lecturing in the western part of the state that "a voluble German with a voice like a squeaky cellar-door" had been in town. It seems that I had fallen into another newspaper row, all unsuspecting, and was in the opposition editor's camp. But, truly, I lay no claim to eloquence. So it must have been the facts, again. There is nothing like them. Whatever it was, it made me smile sometimes in the middle of a speech to think of the prophecies when I was a schoolboy that "my tongue would be my undoing" for here it was helping right wrongs instead. In fact, that was what it had tried to do in the old days when the teachers were tyrannical. It entered the lists here when Will Craig, a clerk in the Health Department, with whom I had struck up a friendship, helped me turn my photographs into magic-lantern slides by paying the bills, and grew from that, until now my winters are spent on the lecture platform altogether. I always liked the work. It tires less than the office routine, and you feel the touch with your fellows more than when you sit and write your message. Also, if you wish to learn about a thing, the best way is always to go and try to teach some one else that thing. I never make a speech on a subject I am familiar with but that I come away knowing more about it than I did at the start, though no one else may have said a word.

Then there is the chairman. You never can tell what sort of surprise is in store for you. In a Massachusetts town last winter I was hailed on the stage by one of his tribe, a gaunt, funereal sort of man, who wanted to know what he should say about me.

"Oh," said I, in a spirit of levity, "say anything you like. Say I am the most distinguished citizen in the country. They generally do."

Whereupon my funereal friend marched upon the stage and calmly announced to the audience that he did not know this man Riis, whom he was charged with introducing, never heard of him.

"He tells me," he went on with never a wink, "that he is the most distinguished citizen in the country. You can judge for yourselves when you have heard him."

I thought at first it was some bad kind of joke; but no! He was not that kind of man. I do not suppose he had smiled since he was born. Maybe he was an undertaker. Assuredly, he ought to be. But he had bowels after all. Instead of going off the stage and leaving me blue with rage, he stayed to exhort the audience in a fifteen minutes' speech to vote right, or something of that sort. The single remark, when at last he turned his back, that it was a relief to have him "extinguished," made us men and brothers, that audience and me. I think of him with almost as much pleasure as I do of that city editor chap out in Illinois who came blowing upon the platform at the last minute and handed me a typewritten speech with the question if that would do. I read it over. It began with the statement that it was the general impression that all newspapermen were liars, and went on by easy stages to point out that there were exceptions, myself for instance. The rest was a lot of praise to which I had no claim. I said so, and that I wished he would leave it out.

"Oh, well," he said, with a happy smile, "don't you see it gives you your cue. Then you can turn around and say that anyway I am a liar."

With tongue or pen, the argument shaped itself finally into the fundamental one for the rescue of the home imperiled by the slum. There all roads met. Good citizenship hung upon that issue. Say what you will, a man cannot live like a pig and vote like a man. The dullest of us saw it. The tenement had given to New York the name of "the homeless city." But with that gone which made life worth living, what were liberty worth? With no home to cherish, how long before love of country would be an empty sound? Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness? Wind! says the slum, and the slum is right if we let it be. We cannot get rid of the tenements that shelter two million souls in New York to-day, but we set about making them at least as nearly fit to harbor human souls as might be. That will take a long time yet. But a beginning was made. With reform looming upon the heels of the Lexow disclosures came the Gilder Tenement-House Commission in the autumn of 1894.

[ Picture of an entitled "Typical East Side Tenement Block" subtitled "Five hundred babies in it, not one bathtub"]

Greater work was never done for New York than by that faithful body of men. The measure of it is not to be found in what was actually accomplished, though the volume of that was great, but in what it made possible. Upon the foundations they laid down we may build for all time and be the better for it. Light and air acquired a legal claim, and where the sun shines into the slum, the slum is doomed. The worst tenements were destroyed; parks were opened, schools built, playgrounds made. The children's rights were won back for them. The slum denied them even the chance to live, for it was shown that the worst rear tenements murdered the babies at the rate of one in five. The Commission made it clear that the legislation that was needed was "the kind that would root out every old ramshackle disease-breeding tenement in the city." That was the way to begin it. As to the rest of them, it laid the foundation deeper yet, for it made us see that life in them "conduces to the corruption of the young." That told it all. It meant that a mortgage was put on the civic life of the morrow, which was not to be borne. We were forewarned.

The corruption of the young! We move with rapid strides in our time. That which was a threat, scoffed at by many, has become a present and dreadful peril in half a dozen brief years. We took a short cut to make it that when we tried to drain the pool of police blackmail of which the Lexow disclosures had shown us the hideous depths. We drained it into the tenements, and for the police infamy got a real-estate blackmail that is worse. The chairman of the Committee of Fifteen tells us that of more than a hundred tenements, full of growing children, which his committee has canvassed, not one had escaped the contamination that piles up the landlord's profits. Twelve dollars for an honest flat, thirty for the other kind and no questions asked! I find in my scrap-book this warning, sounded by me in the Christmas holidays, 1893, when the country was ringing with Dr. Parkhurst's name:—

"I would not, whatever else might happen, by any hasty or ill-advised system of wholesale raids crowd these women into the tenements and flats of our city. That is what will surely happen, is happening now. It is a danger infinitely greater than any flowing from their presence where they are, and as they are. Each centre of moral contagion by this scattering process becomes ten or twenty, planted where they will do the most possible harm. Think of the children brought in daily, hourly contact with this vice! Think of the thousands of young women looking vainly for work this hard winter! Be there ever so little money for woman's honest work, there is always enough to buy her virtue. Have tenement houses moral resources that can be trusted to keep her safe from this temptation?

"This is a wicked villany that must not be permitted, come whatever else may. We hear of danger to 'our young men,' from present conditions. What sort of young men must they be who would risk the sacrifice of their poorer sisters for their own 'safety'? And it is being risked wherever houses of this kind are being shut up and the women turned into the streets, there to shift for themselves. The jail does not keep them. Christian families will not receive them. They cannot be killed. No door opens to them: yet they have to go somewhere. And they go where they think they can hide from the police and still ply the trade that gives them the only living society is willing they shall have, though it says it is not."

And they did go there. Dr. Parkhurst was not to blame. He was fighting Tammany that dealt the cards and took all the tricks, and for that fight New York owes him a debt it hardly yet knows of. Besides, though those raids hastened the process, it was already well underway. The police extortion of itself would have finished it in time. A blackmailer in the long run always kills the goose that lays his golden egg. His greed gets the better of his sense. The interview I quoted was not a plea for legalizing wrong. That will get us no farther. It was rather a summons to our people to cease skulking behind lying phrases and look the matter squarely in the face. With a tenement-house law, passed this winter, which sends the woman to jail and fines the landlord and his house $1000, we shall be in the way shortly of doing so. Until we do that justice first, I do not see how we can. Poverty's back is burdened enough without our loading upon it the sins we are afraid to face. Meanwhile we shall be getting up courage to talk plainly about it, which is half the battle. Think of the shock it would have given our grandmothers to hear of a meeting of women in a public hall "to protest against protected vice." On a Sunday, too. Come to think of it, I do not know but that wholesome, plain speech on this subject is nearer the whole than half the battle. I rather guess it is.



CHAPTER XIII

ROOSEVELT COMES——MULBERRY STREET'S GOLDEN AGE

See now how things fall out. Hardly had I sent the chapter to the printer in which I posted proofreaders as enemies of mankind when here comes the proof of the previous one with a cordial note of thanks from this particular enemy "for the inspiration" he found in it. So then I was mistaken, as I have been often before, and owe him the confession. Good land! what are we that we should think ourselves always right, or, lest we do wrong, sit idle all our lives waiting for light? The light comes as we work toward it. Roosevelt was right when he said that the only one who never makes mistakes is the one who never does anything. Preserve us from him; from the man who eternally wants to hold the scales even and so never gets done weighing—never hands anything over the counter. Take him away and put red blood into his veins. And let the rest of us go ahead and make our mistakes—as few as we can, as many as we must; only let us go ahead.

All of which has reference to other things I have in mind, not to the proof-reader, against whom I have no grudge to-day. As for him, perhaps, he is just a sign that the world moves.

Move it did at last in the year (1894) that gave us the Lexow Investigating Committee, the Citizens' Seventy, and reform. Tammany went out, speeded on its way by Dr. Parkhurst, and an administration came in that was pledged to all we had been longing and laboring for. For three years we had free hands and we used them. Mayor Strong's administration was not the millennium, but it brought New York much nearer to it than it had ever been, and it set up some standards toward which we may keep on striving with profit to ourselves. The Mayor himself was not a saint. He was an honest gentleman of sturdy purpose to do the right, and, normally, of singular practical wisdom in choosing the men to help him do it, but with an intermittent delusion that he was a shrewd politician. When it came uppermost he made bargains and appointed men to office who did their worst to undo what good the Warings, the Roosevelts, and their kind had wrought. In the struggle that ensued Mayor Strong was always on the side of right, but when he wanted most to help he could not. It is the way of the world. Nevertheless, as I said, it moved.

How far we came is history, plain to read in our streets that will never again be as dirty as they were, though they may not be as clean as Waring left them; in the threescore splendid new school-houses that stand as monuments of those busy years; in the open spots that let the sunlight into the slum where it was darkest and most foul; in the death rate that came down from 26.32 per thousand of the living in 1887 to 19.53 in 1897. That was the "Ten Years' War" [Footnote: Now, "The Battle with the Slum."] I wrote about and have here before referred to. The three years of the Strong administration saw all the big battles in which we beat the slum. I am not going to rehearse them, for I am trying to tell my own story, and now I am soon done with it. I carried a gun as a volunteer in that war, and that was all; not even in the ranks at that. I was ever an irregular, given to sniping on my own hook. Roosevelt, indeed, wanted me to have a seat among Mayor Strong's official advisers; but we had it out over that when he told me of it, and the compact we made that he should never ask that service of me he has kept. So he spared the Mayor much embarrassment; for, as I said, I am not good in the ranks, more is the pity: and me he saved for such use as I could be of, which was well. For shortly it all centred in Mulberry Street, where he was.

We were not strangers. It could not have been long after I wrote "How the Other Half Lives" that he came to the Evening Sun office one day looking for me. I was out, and he left his card, merely writing on the back of it that he had read my book and had "come to help." That was all, and it tells the whole story of the man. I loved him from the day I first saw him; nor ever in all the years that have passed has he failed of the promise made then. No one ever helped as he did. For two years we were brothers in Mulberry Street. When he left I had seen its golden age. I knew too well the evil day that was coming back to have any heart in it after that.

Not that we were carried heavenward "on flowery beds of ease" while it lasted. There is very little ease where Theodore Roosevelt leads, as we all of us found out. The lawbreaker found it out who predicted scornfully that he would "knuckle down to politics the way they all did," and lived to respect him, though he swore at him, as the one of them all who was stronger than pull. The peace-loving citizen who hastened to Police Headquarters with anxious entreaties to "use discretion" in the enforcement of unpopular laws found it out and went away with a new and breathless notion welling up in him of an official's sworn duty. That was it; that was what made the age golden, that for the first time a moral purpose came into the street. In the light of it everything was transformed.



Not all at once. It took us weary months to understand that the shouting about the "enforcement of the dead Excise Law" was lying treachery or rank ignorance, one as bad as the other. The Excise Law was not dead. It was never so much alive as under Tammany, but it was enforced only against those saloon-keepers who needed discipline. It was a Tammany club, used to drive them into camp with; and it was used so vigorously that no less than eight thousand arrests were made under it in the year before Roosevelt made them all close up. Pretty lively corpse, that! But we understood at last, most of us; understood that the tap-root of the police blackmail was there, and that it had to be pulled up if we were ever to get farther. We understood that we were the victims of our own shamming, and we grew to be better citizens for it. The police force became an army of heroes—for a season. All the good in it came out; and there is a lot of it in the worst of times. Roosevelt had the true philosopher's stone that turns dross to gold, in his own sturdy faith in his fellow-man. Men became good because he thought them so.

By which I am not to be understood as meaning that he just voted them good—the police, for instance—and sat by waiting to see the wings grow. No, but he helped them sprout. It is long since I have enjoyed anything so much as I did those patrol trips of ours on the "last tour" between midnight and sunrise, which earned for him the name of Haroun al Roosevelt. I had at last found one who was willing to get up when other people slept—including, too often, the police—and see what the town looked like then. He was more than willing. I laid out the route, covering ten or a dozen patrol-posts, and we met at 2 A.M. on the steps of the Union League Club, objects of suspicion on the part of two or three attendants and a watchman who shadowed us as night-prowlers till we were out of their bailiwick. I shall never forget that first morning when we travelled for three hours along First and Second and Third avenues, from Forty-second Street to Bellevue, and found of ten patrolmen just one doing his work faithfully. Two or three were chatting on saloon corners and guyed the President of the Board when he asked them if that was what they were there for. One was sitting asleep on a butter-tub in the middle of the sidewalk, snoring so that you could hear him across the street, and was inclined to be "sassy" when aroused and told to go about his duty. Mr. Roosevelt was a most energetic roundsman and a fair one to boot. It was that quality which speedily won him the affection of the force. He hunted high and low before he gave up his man, giving him every chance. We had been over one man's beat three times, searching every nook and cranny of it, and were reluctantly compelled to own that he was not there, when the "boss" of an all-night restaurant on Third Avenue came out with a club as we passed and gave the regulation signal raps on the sidewalk. There was some trouble in his place. Three times he repeated the signal calling for the patrolman on the beat before he turned to Roosevelt, who stood by, with the angry exclamation:—

"Where in thunder does that copper sleep? He orter'd tole me when he giv' up the barber-shop, so's a fellow could find him."



We didn't find him then, but he found the President of the Board later on when summoned to Police Headquarters to explain why he had changed his sleeping quarters. The whole force woke up as a result of that night's work, and it kept awake those two years, for, as it learned by experience, Mr. Roosevelt's spectacles might come gleaming around the corner at any hour. He had not been gone a year before the Chief found it necessary to transfer half the force in an up-town precinct to keep it awake. The firemen complained that fires at night gained too much headway while the police slept. There was no Roosevelt to wake them up.

Looking after his patrolmen was not the only errand that took him abroad at night. As Police President, Mr. Roosevelt was a member of the Health Board, and sometimes it was the tenements we went inspecting when the tenants slept. He was after facts, and learned speedily to get them as he could. When, as Governor, he wanted to know just how the Factory Law was being executed, he came down from Albany and spent a whole day with me personally investigating tenements in which sweating was carried on. I had not found a Governor before, or a Police President either, who would do it; but so he learned exactly what he wanted to know, and what he ought to do, and did it.

I never saw Theodore Roosevelt to better advantage than when he confronted the labor men at their meeting-place, Clarendon Hall. The police were all the time having trouble with strikers and their "pickets." Roosevelt saw that it was because neither party understood fully the position of the other and, with his usual directness, sent word to the labor organizations that he would like to talk it over with them. At his request I went with him to the meeting. It developed almost immediately that the labor men had taken a wrong measure of the man. They met him as a politician playing for points, and hinted at trouble unless their demands were met. Mr. Roosevelt broke them off short:

"Gentlemen!" he said, with that snap of the jaws that always made people listen, "I asked to meet you, hoping that we might come to understand one another. Remember, please, before we go farther, that the worst injury any one of you can do to the cause of labor is to counsel violence. It will also be worse for himself. Understand distinctly that order will be kept. The police will keep it. Now we can proceed."

I was never so proud and pleased as when they applauded him to the echo. He reddened with pleasure, for he saw that the best in them had come out on top, as he expected it would.

It was of this incident that a handle was first made by Mr. Roosevelt's enemies in and out of the Police Board—and he had many—to attack him. It happened that there was a music hall in the building in which the labor men met. The yellow newspapers circulated the lie that he went there on purpose to see the show, and the ridiculous story was repeated until the liars nearly persuaded themselves that it was so. They would not have been able to understand the kind of man they had to do with, had they tried. Accordingly they fell into their own trap. It is a tradition of Mulberry Street that the notorious Seeley dinner raid was planned by his enemies in the department of which he was the head, in the belief that they would catch Mr. Roosevelt there. The diners were supposed to be his "set."

Some time after that I was in his office one day when a police official of superior rank came in and requested private audience with him. They stepped aside and the policeman spoke in an undertone, urging something strongly. Mr. Roosevelt listened. Suddenly I saw him straighten up as a man recoils from something unclean and dismiss the other with a sharp: "No, sir! I don't fight that way." The policeman went out crestfallen. Roosevelt took two or three turns about the floor, struggling evidently with strong disgust. He told me afterward that the man had come to him with what he said was certain knowledge that his enemy could that night be found in a known evil house up-town, which it was his alleged habit to visit. His proposition was to raid it then and so "get square." To the policeman it must have seemed like throwing a good chance away. But it was not Roosevelt's way; he struck no blow below the belt. In the Governor's chair afterward he gave the politicians whom he fought, and who fought him, the same terms. They tried their best to upset him, for they had nothing to expect from him. But they knew and owned that he fought fair. Their backs were secure. He never tricked them to gain an advantage. A promise given by him was always kept to the letter.

Failing to trap him only added to the malignity of his enemies. Roosevelt was warned that he was "shadowed" night and day, but he laughed their scheming to scorn. It is an article of faith with him that an honest man has nothing to fear from plotters, and he walked unharmed among their snares. The whole country remembers the yearlong fight in the Police Board and Mayor Strong's vain attempt to remove the obstructionist who, under an ill-conceived law, was able to hold up the scheme of reform. Most of the time I was compelled to stand idly by, unable to help. Once I eased my feelings by telling Commissioner Parker in his own office what I thought of him. I went in and shut the door, and then told it all to him. Nor did I mince matters; I might not get so good a chance again. Mr. Parker sat quite still, poking the fire. When I ceased at last, angry and exasperated, he looked up and said calmly:—

"Well, Mr. Riis, what you tell me has at least the merit of frankness."

You see how it was. I should never have been able to help in the Board. Out of it, my chance came at last when it was deemed necessary to give the adversary "a character." Mr. Roosevelt had been speaking to the Methodist ministers, and as usual had carried all before him. The community was getting up a temper that would shortly put an end to the deadlock in the Police Board and set the wheels of reform moving again. Then one day we heard that Commissioner Parker had been invited by the Christian Endeavorers of an up-town church to address them on "Christian Citizenship." That was not consecrated common sense. I went to the convention of Endeavorers the next week and told them so. I asked them to send a despatch to Governor Black then and there endorsing Roosevelt and Mayor Strong, and urging him to end the deadlock that made public scandal by removing Commissioner Parker; and they did. I regret to say that I felt compelled to take a like course with the Methodist ministers, for so I grieved a most good-natured gentleman, Colonel Grant, who was Mr. Parker's ally in the Board. Grant was what was described as "a great Methodist." But I feel sure that Brother Simmons would have approved of me. I was following the course he laid down. The one loyal friend Mr. Roosevelt had in the Board was Avery D. Andrews, a strong, sensible, and clean young man, who stood by his chief to the last, and left with him a good mark on the force.

The yellow newspapers fomented most industriously the trouble in the Board, never failing to take the wrong side of any question. One of them set about doling out free soup that winter, when work was slack, as a means, of course, of advertising its own "charity." Of all forms of indiscriminate almsgiving, that is the most offensive and most worthless, and they knew it, or they would not have sent me a wheedling invitation to come and inspect their "relief work," offering to have a carriage take me around. I sent word back that I should certainly look into the soup, but that I should go on foot to it. Roosevelt and I made the inspection together. We questioned the tramps in line, and learned from their own lips that they had come from out of town to take it easy in a city where a man did not have to work to live. We followed the pails that were carried away from the "relief station" by children, their contents sometimes to figure afterwards as "free lunch" in the saloon where they had been exchanged for beer; and, knowing the facts, we denounced the thing as a nuisance. The paper printed testimonials from Commissioners Parker and Grant, who certified from Mulberry Street, which they had not left, that the soup was a noble Christian charity, and so thought it evened things up, I suppose. I noticed, however, that the soup ran out soon after, and I hope we have seen the last of it. We can afford to leave that to Philadelphia, where common sense appears to be drowned in it.

I had it out with them at last all together. When I have told of it let the whole wretched thing depart and be gone for good. It was after Roosevelt had gone away. That he was not there was no bar to almost daily attacks on him, under which I chafed, sitting at the meetings as a reporter. I knew right well they were intended to provoke me to an explosion that might have given grounds for annoying me, and I kept my temper until one day, when, the subject of dives being mentioned, Commissioner Parker drawled, with the reporter from the soup journal whispering in his ear:—

"Was not—er-r—that the place where—er—r—Mr. Roosevelt went to see a show with his friend?"

He was careful not to look in my direction, but the reporter did, and I leaped at the challenge. I waited until the Board had formally adjourned, then halted it as Mr. Parker was trying to escape. I do not now remember what I said. It would not make calm reading, I suspect. It was the truth, anyhow, and came pretty near being the whole truth. Mr. Parker fled, putting his head back through the half-closed door to explain that he "only knew what that reporter told" him. In the security of his room it must have occurred to him, however, that he had another string to his bow; for at the next session Commissioner Grant moved my expulsion because I had "disturbed the Board meeting." But President Moss reminded him curtly that I had done nothing of the kind, and that ended it.

One of the early and sensational results of reform in Mulberry Street was the retirement of Superintendent Byrnes. There was not one of us all who had known him long who did not regret it, though I, for one, had to own the necessity of it; for Byrnes stood for the old days that were bad. But, chained as he was in the meanness and smallness of it all, he was yet cast in a different mould. Compared with his successor, he was a giant every way. Byrnes was a "big policeman." We shall not soon have another like him, and that may be both good and bad. He was unscrupulous, he was for Byrnes—he was a policeman, in short, with all the failings of the trade. But he made the detective service great. He chased the thieves to Europe, or gave them license to live in New York on condition that they did not rob there. He was a Czar, with all an autocrat's irresponsible powers, and he exercised them as he saw fit. If they were not his, he took them anyhow; police service looks to results first. There was that in Byrnes which made me stand up for him in spite of it all. Twice I held Dr. Parkhurst from his throat, but in the end I had to admit that the Doctor was right. I believed that, untrammelled, Byrnes might have been a mighty engine for good, and it was with sorrow I saw him go. He left no one behind him fit to wear his shoes.



Byrnes was a born policeman. Those who hated him said he was also a born tyrant. He did ride a high horse when the fit was on him and he thought it served his purpose. So we came into collision in the early days when he was captain in Mercer Street. They had a prisoner over there with a story which I had cause to believe my rivals had obtained. I went to Byrnes and was thundered out of the station-house. There he was boss and it suited him to let me see it. We had not met before. But we met again that night. I went to the Superintendent of Police, who was a Republican, and, applying all the pressure of the Tribune, which I served, got from him an order on Captain Byrnes to let me interview his prisoner. Old Mr. Walling tore his hair; said the thing had never been done before, and it had not. But I got the order and got the interview, though Byrnes, black with rage, commanded a policeman to stand on either side of the prisoner while I talked to him. He himself stood by, glaring at me. It was not a good way to get an interview, and, in fact, the man had nothing to tell. But I had my way and I made the most of it. After that Captain Byrnes and I got along. We got to think a lot of each other after a while.

Perhaps he was a tyrant because he was set over crooks, and crooks are cowards in the presence of authority. His famous "third degree" was chiefly what he no doubt considered a little wholesome "slugging." He would beat a thief into telling him what he wanted to know. Thieves have no rights a policeman thinks himself bound to respect. But when he had to do with men with minds he had other resources. He tortured his prisoner into confession in the Unger murder case by locking him up out of reach of a human voice, or sight of a human face, in the basement of Police Headquarters, and keeping him there four days, fed by invisible hands. On the fifth he had him brought up through a tortuous way, where the tools he had used in murdering his partner were displayed on the walls as if by accident. Led into the Inspector's presence by the jailer, he was made to stand while Byrnes finished a letter. Then he turned his piercing glance upon him with a gesture to sit. The murderer sank trembling upon a lounge, the only piece of furniture in the room, and sprang to his feet with a shriek the next instant: it was the one upon which he had slaughtered his friend, all blood-bespattered as then. He sprawled upon the floor, a gibbering, horror-stricken wretch, and confessed his sin.

As in this instance, so in the McGloin murder case, the moral certainty of guilt was absolute, but the legal evidence was lacking. McGloin was a young ruffian who had murdered a saloon-keeper at a midnight raid on his place. He was the fellow who the night before he was hanged invited the Chief of Detectives to "come over to the wake; they'll have a devil of a time." For six months Byrnes had tried everything to bring the crime home to him, but in vain. At last he sent out and had McGloin and his two "pals" arrested, but so that none of them knew of the plight of the others. McGloin was taken to Mulberry Street, and orders were given to bring the others in at a certain hour fifteen or twenty minutes apart. Byrnes put McGloin at the window in his office while he questioned him. Nothing could be got out of him. As he sat there a door was banged below. Looking out he saw one of his friends led across the yard in charge of policemen. Byrnes, watching him narrowly, saw his cheek blanch; but still his nerve held. Fifteen minutes passed; another door banged. The murderer, looking out, saw his other pal led in a prisoner. He looked at Byrnes. The Chief nodded:—

"Squealed, both."

It was a lie, and it cost the man his life. "The jig is up then," he said, and told the story that brought him to the gallows.

I could not let Byrnes go without a word, for he filled a large space in my life. It is the reporter, I suppose, who sticks out there. The boys called him a great faker, but they were hardly just to him in that. I should rather call him a great actor, and without being that no man can be a great detective. He made life in a mean street picturesque while he was there, and for that something is due him. He was the very opposite of Roosevelt—quite without moral purpose or the comprehension of it, yet with a streak of kindness in him that sometimes put preaching to shame. Mulberry Street swears by him to-day, even as it does, under its breath, by Roosevelt. Decide from that for yourself whether his presence there was for the good or the bad.

In writing "How the Other Half Lives" I had been at great pains not to overstate my case. I knew that it would be questioned, and was anxious that no flaws should be picked in it, for, if there were, harm might easily come of it instead of good. I saw now that in that I had been wise. The Gilder Tenement-House Commission more than confirmed all that I had said about the tenements and the schools. The Reinhardt Committee was even more emphatic on the topic of child labor. I was asked to serve on the Seventy's sub-committee on Small Parks. In the spring of 1896, the Council of Confederated Good Government Clubs appointed me its general agent, and I held the position for a year, giving all my spare time to the planning and carrying out of such work as it seemed to me ought to make a record for a reform administration. We wanted it to last. That was a great year. They wanted a positive programme, and my notions of good government were nothing if not positive. They began and ended with the people's life. We tore down unfit tenements, forced the opening of parks and playgrounds, the establishment of a truant school and the remodelling of the whole school system, the demolition of the overcrowded old Tombs and the erection on its site of a decent new prison. We overhauled the civil courts and made them over new in the charter of the Greater New York. We lighted dark halls; closed the "cruller" bakeries in tenement-house cellars that had caused the loss of no end of lives, for the crullers were boiled in fat in the early morning hours while the tenants slept, and when the fat was spilled in the fire their peril was awful. We fought the cable-car managers at home and the opponents of a truant school at Albany. We backed up Roosevelt in his fight in the Police Board, and—well, I shall never get time to tell it all. But it was a great year. That it did not keep the Good Government clubs alive was no fault of my programme. It was mine, I guess. I failed to inspire them with the faith that was in me. I had been going it alone so long that I did not know how to use the new tool that had come to hand. There is nothing like an organization if you know how to use it. I did not. Perhaps, also, politics had something to do with it. They were in for playing the game. I never understood it.

But if I did not make the most of it, I had a good time that year. There were first the two small parks to be laid out over on the East Side, where the Gilder Commission had pointed to the smothering crowds. I had myself made a member of the Citizens' Committee that was appointed to locate them. It did not take us any nine years or six, or three. We did the business in three weeks, and having chosen the right spots, we went to the Legislature with a bill authorizing the city to seize the property at once, ahead of condemnation, and it was passed. We were afraid that Tammany might come back, and the event proved that we were wise. You bring up the people slowly to a reform programme, particularly when it costs money. They will pay for corruption with a growl, but seem to think that virtue ought always to be had for nothing. It makes the politicians' game easy. They steal the money for improvements, and predict that reform will raise the tax-rate. When the prophecy comes true, they take the people back in their sheltering embrace with an "I told you so!" and the people nestle there repentant. There was a housing conference at which that part of the work was parcelled out: the building of model tenements to the capitalists who formed the City and Suburban Homes Company; the erection of model lodging-houses to D. O. Mills, the banker philanthropist, who was anxious to help that way. I chose for the Good Government clubs the demolition of the old tenements. It was my chance. I hated them. A law had been made the year before empowering the Health Board to seize and destroy tenement-house property that was a threat to the city's health, but it had remained a dead letter. The authorities hesitated to attack property rights, vested rights. Charles G. Wilson, the President of the Board, was a splendid executive, but he was a holdover Tammany appointee, and needed backing.

Now that Theodore Roosevelt sat in the Health Board, fresh from his war on the police lodging-rooms of which I told, they hesitated no longer. I put before the Board a list of the sixteen worst rear tenements in the city outside of the Bend, and while the landlords held their breath in astonishment, they were seized, condemned, and their tenants driven out. The Mott Street Barracks were among them. In 1888 the infant death-rate among the 350 Italians they harbored had been 325 per thousand—that is to say, one-third of all the babies died that year. That was the kind of evidence upon which those rear tenements were arraigned. Ninety-four of them, all told, were seized that year, and in them there had been in four years 956 deaths—a rate of 62.9 when the general city death-rate was 24.63. I shall have once more, and for the last time, to refer to "A Ten Years' War" for the full story of that campaign. As I said, it was great.



Conceive, if you can, the state of mind of a man to whom a dark, overcrowded tenement had ever been as a personal affront, now suddenly finding himself commissioned with letters of marque and reprisal, as it were, to seize and destroy the enemy wherever found, not one at a time, but by blocks and battalions in the laying out of parks. I fed fat my ancient grudge and grew good humor enough to last me for a dozen years in those two. They were the years when, in spite of hard work, I began to grow stout, and honestly, I think it was tearing down tenements that did it. Directly or indirectly, I had a hand in destroying seven whole blocks of them as I count it up. I wish it had been seventy.

The landlords sued, but the courts sided with the Health Board. When at last we stopped to take breath we had fairly broken the back of the slum and made precedents of our own that would last a while. Mr. Roosevelt was personally sued twice, I think, but that was all the good it did them. We were having our innings that time, and there were a lot of arrears to collect. The city paid for the property that was taken, of course, and more than it ought to have paid, to my way of thinking. The law gave the owner of a tenement that was altogether unfit just the value of the brick and timbers that were in it. It was enough, for "unfit" meant murderous, and why should a man have a better right to kill his neighbor with a house than with an axe in the street? But the lawyers who counseled compromise bought Gotham Court, one of the most hopeless slums in the Fourth Ward, for nearly $20,000. It was not worth so many cents. The Barracks with their awful baby death-rate were found to be mortgaged to a cemetery corporation. The Board of Health gave them the price of opening one grave for their share, and tore down the rear tenements. A year or two later I travelled to Europe on an ocean steamer with the treasurer of that graveyard concern. We were ten days on the way, and I am afraid he did not have altogether a good time of it. The ghost of the Barracks would keep rising out of the deep before us, sitting there in our steamer chairs, from whichever quarter the wind blew. I suppose he took it as a victory when the Court of Appeals decided upon a technicality that the Barracks should not have been destroyed; but so did I, for they were down by that time. The city could afford to pay. We were paying for our own neglect, and it was a good lesson.

I have said more than once in these pages that I am not good at figuring, and I am not; a child could do better. For that very reason I am going to claim full credit for every time I do a sum right. It may not happen again. Twice during that spell, curiously enough, did I downright distinguish myself in that line. I shall never be able to tell you how; I only know that I did it. Once was when I went before the Board of Estimate and Apportionment to oppose an increase in the appropriation for the Tombs which the Commissioner of Correction had asked for. His plea was that there had been a large increase in the census of the prison, and he marched up a column of figures to prove it. To the amazement of the Board, and really, if the truth be told, of myself, I demonstrated clearly from his own figures that not only had there been no increase, but that there could not be without criminally overcrowding the wretched old prison, in which already every cell had two inmates, and some three. The exhibit was so striking that the Commissioner and his bookkeeper retired in confusion. It was just the power of the facts again. I wanted to have the horrid old pile torn down, and had been sitting up nights acquainting myself with all that concerned it. Now it is gone, and a good riddance to it.



The other computation was vastly more involved. It concerned the schools, about which no one knew anything for certain. The annual reports of the Department of Education were models of how to say a thing so that no one by any chance could understand what it was about. It was possible to prove from them that, while there was notoriously a dearth of school accommodation, while children knocked vainly for admission and the Superintendent clamored for more schools, yet there were ten or twenty thousand seats to spare. But it was not possible to get the least notion from them of what the real need was. I tried for many months, and then set about finding out for myself how many children who ought to be in school were drifting about the streets. The truant officers, professionally discreet, thought about 800. The Superintendent of Schools guessed at 8000. The officers of the Association for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor, with an eye on the tenements, made it 150,000. I canvassed a couple of wards from the truant officers' reports, and Dr. Tracy compared the showing with the statistics of population. From the result I reasoned that there must be about 50,000. They scorned me at the City Hall for it. It was all guess-work they said, and so it was. We had first to have a school census, and we got one, so that we might know where we were at. But when we had the result of that first census before us, behold! it showed that of 339,756 children of school age in the city, 251,235 were accounted for on the roster of public or private schools, 28,452 were employed, and 50,069 on the street or at home. So that, if I am not smart at figuring, I may reasonably claim to be a good guesser.

The showing that a lack of schools which threw an army of children upon the street went hand in hand with overcrowded jails made us get up and demand that something be done. From the school executive came the helpless suggestion that the thing might be mended by increasing the classes in neighborhoods where there were not enough schools from sixty to seventy-five. Forty or forty-five pupils is held to be the safe limit anywhere. But the time had passed for such pottering. New York pulled itself together and spent millions in building new schools while "the system" was overhauled; we dragged in a truant school by threatening the city authorities with the power of the State unless they ceased to send truants to institutions that received child criminals. But a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still; we shall have to do that all over again next. My pet scheme was to have trained oculists attached to the public schools, partly as a means of overcoming stupidity—half of what passes for that in the children is really the teacher's; the little ones are near-sighted; they cannot see the blackboard—partly also that they might have an eye on the school buildings and help us get rid of some where they had to burn gas all day. That was upset by the doctors, who were afraid that "private practice would be interfered with." We had not quite got to the millennium yet. It was so with our bill to establish a farm school to win back young vagrants to a useful life. It was killed at Albany with the challenge that we "had had enough of reform in New York." And so we had, as the events showed. Tammany came back.

But not to stay. We had secured a hold during those three years which I think they little know of. They talk at the Wigwam of the "school vote," and mean the men friends and kin of the teachers on whom the machine has a grip, or thinks it has; but there is another school vote that is yet to be heard from, when the generation that has had its right to play restored to it comes to the polls. That was the great gain of that time. It was the thing I had in mind back of and beyond all the rest. I was bound to kill the Bend, because it was bad. I wanted the sunlight in there, but so that it might shine on the children at play. That is a child's right, and it is not to be cheated of it. And when it is cheated of it, it is not the child but the community that is robbed of that beside which all its wealth is but tinsel and trash. For men, not money, make a country great, and joyless children do not make good men.



So when the Legislature, urged by the Tenement House Commission, made it law that no public school should ever again be built in New York without an outdoor playground, it touched the quick. Thereafter it was easy to rescue the small parks from the landscape gardener by laying them under the same rule. It was well we did it, too, for he is a dangerous customer, hard to get around. Twice he has tried to steal one of the little parks we laid out, the one that is called Seward Park, from the children, and he "points with pride" almost to the playground in the other, which he laid out so badly that it was a failure from the start. However, we shall convert him yet; everything in its season.

The Board of Education puzzled over its end of it for a while. The law did not say how big the playground should be, and there was no precedent. No, there was not. I found the key to that puzzle, at least one that fitted, when I was Secretary of the Small Parks Committee. It was my last act as agent of the Good Government clubs to persuade Major Strong to appoint that committee. It made short work of its task. We sent for the police to tell us where they had trouble with the boys, and why. It was always the same story: they had no other place to play in than the street, and there they broke windows. So began the trouble. It ended in the police-station and the jail. The city was building new schools by the score. We got a list of the sites, and as we expected, they were where the trouble was worst. Naturally so; that was where the children were. There, then, was our field as a playground committee. Why not kill two birds with one stone, and save money by making them one? By hitching the school and the boys' play together we should speedily get rid of the truant. He was just there as a protest against the school without play.

We asked the Board of Education to make their school playgrounds the neighborhood recreation centres. So they would not need to worry over how big they should be, but just make them as big as they could, whether on the roof or on the ground. They listened, but found difficulties in "the property." Odd, isn't it, this disposition of the world to forever make of the means the end, to glorify the establishment! It was the same story when I asked them to open the schools at night and let in the boys to have their clubs there. The saloon was bidding for them, and bidding high, but the School Board hesitated because a window might be broken or a janitor want extra pay for cleaning up. Before a reluctant consent was given I had to make a kind of promise that I would not appear before the Board again to argue for throwing the doors wider still. But it isn't going to keep me from putting in the heaviest licks I can, in the campaign that is coming, for turning the schools over to the people bodily, and making of them the neighborhood centre in all things that make for good, including trades-union meetings and political discussions. Only so shall we make of our schools real corner-stones of our liberties. So, also, we shall through neighborhood pride restore some of the neighborhood feeling, the home feeling that is now lacking in our cities to our grievous loss. Half the tenement-house population is always moving, and to the children the word "home" has no meaning. Anything that will help change that will be a great gain. And that old Board is gone long since, anyhow.

The club prevailed in the end. At least one school let it in, and though the boys did break a window-pane that winter with a ball, they paid for it like men, and that ghost was laid. The school playground holds aloof yet from the neighborhood except in the long vacation. But that last is something, and the rest is coming. It could not be coming by any better road than the vacation schools, which are paving the way for common sense everywhere. "Everything takes ten years." said Abram S. Hewitt, when he took his seat as the chairman of the Small Parks Committee. Ten years before, when he was Mayor, he had put through the law under which the Mulberry Bend had been at last wiped out. We held our meetings at the City Hall, where I had been spurned so often. All things come to those who wait—and fight for them. Yes, fight! I say it advisedly. I have come to the time of life when a man does not lay about him with a club unless he has to. But—eternal vigilance is the price of liberty! To be vigilant is to sit up with a club. We, as a people, have provided in the republic a means of fighting for our rights and getting them, and it is our business to do it. We shall never get them in any other way. Colonel Waring was a wise man as well as a great man. His declaration that he cleaned the streets of New York, all prophecies to the contrary notwithstanding, by "putting a man instead of a voter behind every broom," deserves to be put on the monument we shall build by and by to that courageous man, for it is the whole gospel of municipal righteousness in a nutshell. But he never said anything better than when he advised his fellow-citizens to fight, not to plead, for their rights. So we grow the kind of citizenship that sets the world, or anyhow our day, ahead. We will all hail the day when we shall be able to lay down the club. But until it comes I do not see that we have any choice but to keep a firm grip on it.



CHAPTER XIV

I TRY TO GO TO THE WAR FOR THE THIRD AND LAST TIME



That which I have described as "sitting up with a club" in a city like New York is bound to win your fight if you sit up long enough, for it is to be remembered that the politicians who oppose good government are not primarily concerned about keeping you out of your rights. They want the things that make for their advantage; first of all the offices through which they can maintain their grip. After that they will concede as many of the things you want as they have to, and if you are not yourself out for the offices, more than otherwise, though never more than you wring out of them. They really do not care if you do have clean streets, good schools, parks, playgrounds, and all the things which make for good citizenship because they give the best part of the man a chance, though they grudge them as a sad waste of money that might be turned to use in "strengthening the organization," which is the sum of all their self-seeking, being their means of ever getting more and more. Hence it is that a mere handful of men and women who rarely or never had other authority than their own unselfish purpose, have in all times, even the worst, been able to put their stamp upon the community for good. I am thinking of the Felix Adlers, the Dr. Rainsfords, the Josephine Shaw Lowells, the Robert Ross McBurneys, the R. Fulton Cuttings, the Father Doyles, the Jacob H. Schiffs, the Robert W. de Forests, the Arthur von Briesens, the F. Norton Goddards, the Richard Watson Gilders, and their kind; and thinking of them brings to mind an opportunity I had a year or two ago to tell a club of workmen what I thought of them. It was at the Chicago Commons. I had looked in on a Sunday evening upon a group of men engaged in what seemed to me a singularly unprofitable discussion of human motives. They were of the school which professes to believe that everything proceeds from the love of self, and they spoke learnedly of the ego and all that; but as I listened the conviction grew, along with the feeling of exasperation that sort of nonsense always arouses in me, that they were just vaporing, and I told them so. I pointed to these men and women I have spoken of, some of them of great wealth—the thing against which they seemed to have a special grudge—and told them how they had given their lives and their means in the cause of humanity without asking other reward than that of seeing the world grow better, and the hard lot of some of their fellow-men eased; wherein they had succeeded because they thought less of themselves than of their neighbors, and were in the field, anyway, to be of such use as they could. I told them how distressed I was that upon their own admission they should have been engaged in this discussion four years without getting any farther, and I closed with a remorseful feeling of having said more than I intended and perhaps having made them feel bad. But not they. They had listened to me throughout with undisturbed serenity. When I had done, the chairman said courteously that they were greatly indebted to me for my frank opinion. Every man was entitled to his own. And he could quite sympathize with me in my inability to catch their point of view.

"Because here," he added, "I have been reading for ten years or more the things Mr. Riis writes in his newspaper and in the magazines, and by which he makes a living, and for the life of me I never was able to understand how any one could be found to pay for such stuff."

So there you have my measure as a reformer. The meeting nodded gravely. I was apparently the only one there who took it as a joke.

I spoke of the women's share in the progress we made. A good big one it was. We should have been floundering yet in the educational mud-puddle we were in, had it not been for the women of New York who went to Albany and literally held up the Legislature, compelling it to pass our reform bill. And not once but a dozen times, during Mayor Strong's administration, when they had wearied of me at the City Hall—I was not always persona grata there with the reform administration—did I find it the part of wisdom to send committees of women instead to plead with the Mayor over his five o'clock tea. They could worm a playground or a small park out of him when I should have met with a curt refusal and a virtual invitation to be gone. In his political doldrums the Mayor did not have a kindly eye to reformers; but he was not always able to make them out in petticoats.



The women prevailed at Albany by the power of fact. They knew, and the legislators did not. They received them up there with an indulgent smile, but it became speedily apparent that they came bristling with information about the schools to which the empty old Tammany boast that New York "had the best schools in the world" was not an effective answer. In fact they came nearer being the worst. I had myself had an experience of that kind, when I pointed out in print that an East Side school was so overrun with rats that it was difficult to hear oneself think for their squeaking in the dark "playground," when the children were upstairs in their classes. The Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which comprises the important officials of the city Government with the Mayor as presiding officer, took umbrage at the statement, and said in plain words that I lied and that there were no rats. That was a piece of unthinking ignorance, for an old schoolhouse without rats in it would be a rare thing anywhere; but it was impertinence, too, of a kind of which I had had so much from the City Hall that I decided the time had come for a demonstration. I got me a rat trap, and prepared to catch one and have it sent in to the Board, duly authenticated by affidavit as hailing from Allen Street; but before I could carry out my purpose the bottom fell out of the Tammany conspiracy of ignorance and fraud and left us the way clear for three years, So I saved my rat for another time.

This "fact," which was naturally my own weapon, the contribution I was able to make from my own profession and training, was in reality a tremendously effective club before which nothing could or can stand in the long run. If I can leave that conviction as a legacy to my brother reporters, I shall feel that I have really performed a service. I believe they do not half understand it, or they would waste no printer's ink idly. The school war was an illustration of it, all through. I was at Police Headquarters, where I saw the East Side, that had been orderly, becoming thievish and immoral. Going to the schools, I found them overcrowded, ill ventilated, dark, without playgrounds, repellent. Following up the boys, who escaped from them in disgust—if indeed they were not barred out; the street swarmed with children for whom there was not room—I saw them herded at the prison to which Protestant truants were sent, with burglars, vagrants, thieves, and "bad boys" of every kind. They classified them according to size: four feet, four feet seven, and over four feet seven! No other way was attempted. At the Catholic prison they did not even do that. They kept them on a "footing of social equality" by mixing them all up together; and when in amazement I asked if that was doing right by the truant who might be reasonably supposed to be in special danger from such contact, the answer I got was "would it be fair to the burglar to set him apart with the stamp on him?" I went back to the office and took from the Rogues' Gallery a handful of photographs of boy thieves and murderers and printed them in the Century Magazine with a statement of the facts, under the heading, "The Making of Thieves in New York." I quote the concluding sentence of that article because it seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that there was no getting away from its awful arraignment:—

"While we are asking at this end of the line if it would be quite fair to the burglar to shut him off from social intercourse with his betters, the State Reformatory, where the final product of our schools of crime is garnered, supplies the answer year after year, unheeded. Of the thousands who land there, barely one per cent kept good company before coming. All the rest were the victims of evil association, of corrupt environment. They were not thieves by heredity; they were made. And the manufacture goes on every day. The street and the jail are the factories."

Upon the lay mind the argument took hold; that of the official educator resisted it stubbornly for a season. Two years later, when one of the School Commissioners spoke indulgently of the burglars and highway robbers in the two prisons as probably guilty merely of "the theft of a top, or a marble, or maybe a banana," in extenuation of the continued policy of his department in sending truants there in flat defiance of the State law that forbade the mingling of thieves and truants, the police office had once more to be invoked with its testimony. I had been keeping records of the child crimes that came up in the course of my work that year. They began before the kindergarten age with burglary and till-tapping. "Highwaymen" at six sounds rather formidable, but there was no other name for it. Two lads of that age had held up a third and robbed him in the street; at seven and eight there were seven housebreakers and two common thieves; at ten I had a burglar, one boy and four girl thieves, two charged with assault and one with forgery; at eleven four burglars, two thieves with a record, two charged with assault, a highway robber, an habitual liar, and a suicide; at twelve five burglars, three thieves, two "drunks," three incendiaries, three arrested for assault, and two suicides; at thirteen five burglars, one with a record, five thieves, five charged with assault, one "drunk," one forger; at fourteen four burglars, seven thieves, one drunk enough to fight a policeman, six highway robbers, and ten charged with assault. And so on. The street had borne its perfect crop, and they were behind the bars every one, locked in with the boys who had done nothing worse than play hooky.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse