No. 562
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
July 2, 2022

The Swindling Beggar

July 11, 2011
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 "The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan MandijnThe Strange Company staff is ready for the Fourth of July!What the hell just crashed into the Moon?Ancient trees tell of the biggest solar storm in history.Being a professional executioner does strange things to people.The poet and the Will O Wisp.The fairy world of ancient China.This may be the world's first musical instrument.Books that are allegedly
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Strange Company - 7/1/2022
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'SOAPY' SMITH AND TWO COLLEAGUESObject ID 2017.6.350Courtesy of Salvation Army Museum of the West(Click image to enlarge) New photograph of "Soapy" Smith?NOT EVEN CLOSE.      A B & W photograph, said to be of Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith, and two colleagues. Soapy is in the middle, marked with an "X." The photo was taken in Alaska,
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 4/11/2022
The photo, by Berenice Abbott, invites mystery. “Hacker Book Store, Bleecker Street, New York” is the title, dated 1945. Who is the pensive man at the door—and where on Bleecker Street is this? The answer to the latter question is 381 Bleecker Street, near Perry Street in the West Village. As for the pensive man, […]
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Ephemeral New York - 6/27/2022
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
 1n 1827, Elsie Lansing lived with her husband John, in Cherry Hill, the stately mansion overlooking the Hudson River near Albany, New York. Jesse Strang was a servant living in the basement. When Elsie and Jesse fell in love, their torrid affair led to the murder of John Whipple.Read the full story here: Albany Gothic.
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Murder By Gaslight - 7/2/2022
Mark your calendar for the 130th Anniversary of the Borden Murders. Hub 17’s Tea & Murder podcast will feature a special “Zooming with Lizzie” evening on Sunday, July 31, at 7 p.m. when our faithful viewers will be able to sign on and chat in real time about the case which continues to fascinate us, STILL! Leading up to the live ZOOM, Kimbra and I will be posting a weekly poll for our readers to take, featuring pressing questions which haunt students of the famous case. We will be going over the results of the polls and opening the forum to All Things Lizzie with our viewers! The ZOOM link will be posted on the Lizbeth Group and Warps & Wefts Facebook pages before the 31st as well as on this site. Join us for a great evening! To take the weekly polls, visit https://www.facebook.com/lizziebordenwarpsandwefts
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 6/25/2022
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately engaged as a carrier of wine, because he and his brother, with the help of […]
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
The Old Shell Game | Recruiting For Sin's Army

The Swindling Beggar

Blind Beggar

Boston, 1894 - The 1890s were golden years for begging. Economic times were hard and no one was doing well, but those who were physically unable to work had very few options but begging. They would beg on street corners or go from house to house asking for help. It was also a generous and trusting time; the disabled, deformed, and impaired were a reminder that things could be worse. Nearly everyone could spare a few coins for the less fortunate. But begging had become so lucrative in major cities that most beggars were actually able-bodied swindlers.[more]

They usually worked in small groups that would meet after a day’s begging to pool their money and divide it up at some pre-agreed rate. The group would have one leader who would take a small amount from each day’s take and maintain a cash reserve to be used to pay bail and fines, and to tide them over when donations were scarce. Each morning they would dress up to appear in distress, wrapping bloodstained bandages around their bodies, or painting scars and lacerations on their skin, or building up the inside of one shoe to force them to limp.

Each man would take a section of the city beg there until he became too familiar on the street to make any more money or he was driven off by the police. Often the men would sell pencils or other cheap knick knacks to make arrest for vagrancy less likely. They would sometimes hand out pre-printed cards, with verses such as this, to stimulate giving::

A Cripple’s Appeal

Don’t cast this from you, reader,
But read my story through;
I, like many other unfortunates,
Must ask the aid of you.
Misfortune has befallen me,
Like many more before,
My appeal, I wish to tell you,
Is to keep hunger from the door,

'Frisco-Slim</p

One band of swindlers well known the Boston Police was led by a man known as Frisco Slim. Even nickname was a fraud; weighing over 200 pounds he was anything but slim. Frisco Slim had lost a finger at some point in his life, possibly in a brawl while gambling. He would augment this disability by treating the skin of his arm with a chemical to simulate a bad burn, giving the impression that he had been the victim of a debilitating accident. Frisco Slim had two lieutenants named English Harry and Sheeny Si. Though they were professional beggars like Frisco Slim, they all claimed to have regular occupations when questioned by police. Slim was a painter, Harry a bartender, and Si a railroad brakeman. They kept a dirty tenement room in Boston’s West End, furnished only with filthy mattresses and vermin haunted blankets.

English-Harry

They were always on the lookout for new gang members, especially young people who proved to be the best earners. In 1894 Frisco Slim came across a young orphan boy from Connecticut who was traveling alone. Enticed by promises of making up to ten dollars a day doing nothing, the boy followed Slim back to the room the gang’s West End room. They put his arm in a plaster cast, gave him the nickname, Kid Johnson, and sent him out to beg.

Kid Johnson proved to be a prodigious earner, but his career of begging in Boston was not long lived. Sometime during the winter of 1894-1895, the Boston Police raided Frisco Slim’s lair, arresting Slim, English Harry, Sheeny Si, and several other members of the gang, including Kid Johnson.

Sheeny-Si

The hardened criminals were put in jail, but police held out hope that young Kid Johnson could be reformed. They took pains to find him a good job as a clerk with opportunity for advancement. He tried it for a while, but Kid Johnson soon bolted. He left behind a letter thanking his friends at the police department for their kindly care and regretting that their hope in him had been disappointed. He was already hooked on the easy life and left Boston to join the knights of the road.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sources:

  • Eldridge, Benjamin P., and William B. Watts. Our rival, the rascal a faithful portrayal of the conflict between the criminals of this age and the defenders of society, the police. Boston, Mass.: Pemberton Pub. Co., 1897
  • Riis, Jacob A.. How the other half lives; studies among the tenements of New York.. New York: Charles Scribners's Sons, 1890