No. 584
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
December 8, 2022

Street Arabs and Gutter-Snipes.

Waifs and strays of a great city - A group of homeless New York Newsboys.
June 11, 2012
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Not George Talkington, but there must have been a strong resemblance.Many people could be called “accident prone,” but, fortunately, few take it to the level of the subject of today’s post.  From the “Bath Chronicle,” November 21, 1833 (via Newspapers.com):George Talkington, once a celebrated horse-dealer at Uttoxeter, who died on the 8th of April, 1826, at Cheadle, Cheshire, in his eighty-third
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Strange Company - 12/7/2022
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Wishing you a happy and bountiful Thanksgiving Day! Lizzie is thankful for turkey and all the trimmings – and no mutton broth in sight!
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 11/22/2022
CAME NEAR LOSING HIS MONEYSan Francisco ChronicleMay 6, 1893(Click image to enlarge)  San Francisco Man Taken in by Denver Card Sharks "First time I ever got caught" (Soapy Smith) This post was originally supposed to be about a new "victim" (Charles Anderson) swindled by the soap gang that I recently uncovered during a search through newspaper archives, but in looking through my files I found
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 12/6/2022
On this date in 2002, Pakistani Mir Aimal Kansi, Kasi, or Qazi was executed by lethal injection in Virginia, U.S.A. “Real angry with the policy of the U.S. government in the Middle East, particularly toward the Palestinian people,”* Qazi on January 25, 1993 revenged himself on Central Intelligence Agency commuters queued for a left turn […]
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Executed Today - 11/14/2022
 When tried for the 1840 murder of Catherine Merry, Charles Cook pled innocent by reason of insanity. Despite a history of medical treatment for extreme melancholy, and strange behavior such as running through the streets of Schenectady, wearing nothing but a blanket, proclaiming himself to be the Savior of the world, the jury rejected his plea and found him guilty.Before his execution, Cook
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Murder By Gaslight - 12/3/2022
For years I’ve walked by the delightfully shabby Joe’s Tavern sign at the corner of Tenth Avenue and 25th Street. I’ve never seen the vintage vertical beauty lit up, unfortunately. Even stranger, I’ve never seen any sign of life inside 258 Tenth Avenue, which once housed what I imagine to have been an old-school neighborhood […]
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Ephemeral New York - 12/5/2022
An article I recently wrote for the British online magazine, New Politic, is now available online. The article, “The Criminal Origins of the United States of America,” is about British convict transportation to America, which took place between the years 1718 and 1775, and is the subject of my book, Bound with an Iron Chain: […]
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Early American Crime - 12/17/2021
Napoleon's Oraculum. | A Ghastly Table.

Street Arabs and Gutter-Snipes.

Their only bed A group of homeless New York Newsboys.

The rapid population expansion of New York City in the years following the Civil War was accompanied by an equally rapid expansion of in the population of homeless boys sleeping in alleys and living hand-to-mouth on the city streets. Sometimes taking to the streets to escape abusive fathers, sometimes abandoned by unwed mothers, the waifs had no family connections and no identities beyond the nicknames they gave each other. Though tough and ruggedly independent, to a great extent they survived by taking care of each other.

There were two classes of homeless boys – “street arabs” and “gutter-snipes.” Street arabs were the older, stronger boys. Sturdy and self-reliant, they were always ready to fight for what was theirs, and ready, as well, to fight for the weaker gutter-snipes who looked to them for protection. Gutter-snipes were younger boys—sometimes as young as four or five—brutalized by abusive parents and left to the dangers of the street until they find the protection of an older boy. In time the gutter-snipe would harden into a full-fledged arab with snipes of his own.

extra

The most enterprising of these boys—both street arabs and gutter-snipes—became newsboys hawking the many competitive daily newspapers sold on the streets of the city. Being a newsie required a considerable amount of self-discipline. A newsie had to wake before dawn and arrive at the newspaper with enough money in his pocket to pay for the papers he would be hawking throughout the day. During the regular course of business, they respected each other’s turf and would not interfere with another boys clientele. But a fire, a brawl or any other event that drew a crowd would also draw newsboys competing directly with each other.

A number of societies and agencies were established to aid the homeless boys of New York but the boys were extremely independent and suspicious of handouts. Better to sleep outside than to risk being trapped and taken the House of Refuge. The most successful aid organization was the Newsboy’s Lodging House which offered a bed and bath for six cents a night and a hot supper for four cents. Skeptical at first, the boys came to view the Lodging House as their hotel. Rules were minimal, a gymnasium was available for their use, and reading lessons were provided for those interested.

But even with affordable lodging, many of the boys preferred sleeping outside. They were avid theatre goers and given the choice between a warm bed and a ticket to a play or vaudeville show were likely to choose the latter. Alcohol, gambling and the rest of the urban vices worked to drive the older boys from the straight and narrow.  Though the Newsboy’s Lodging House could boast of many triumphs, including homeless boys who went on to graduate from great universities, more often the lessons learned on the street prepared the boys for the fastest growing occupation in the city— crime.

 

 


Sources

  • Campbell, Helen, Thomas Wallace Knox, and Thomas Byrnes. Darkness and daylight, or, Lights and shadows of New York life: a woman's pictorial record of gospel, temperance, mission, and rescue work "in His Name" .... Hartford, Conn.: A.D. Worthington, 1897.
  • Needham, Geo. C.. Street Arabs and gutter snipes The pathetic and humorous side of young vagabond life in the great cities, with records of work for their reclamation.. Boston: D.L. Guernsey, 1884.