WHERE Mulberry Street crooks like an elbow within hail of the old depravity of the Five Points, is "the Bend," foul core of New York's slums. Long years ago the cows coming home from the pasture trod a path over this hill. Echoes of tinkling bells linger there still, but they do not call up memories of green meadows and summer fields; they proclaim the home-coming of the ragpicker's cart. In the memory of man the old cow-path has never been other than a vast human pig-sty. There is but one "Bend" in the world, and it is enough. The city authorities, moved by the angry protests of ten years of sanitary reform
||effort, have decided that it is too much and must come down. Another Paradise Park will take its place and let in sunlight and air to work such transformation as at the Five Points, around the corner of the next block. Never was change more urgently needed. Around "the Bend" cluster the bulk of the tenements that are stamped as altogether bad, even
by the optimists of the Health Department. Incessant
raids cannot keep down the crowds that make them
their home. In the scores of back alleys, of stable
lanes and hidden byways, of which the rent collector
alone can keep track, they share such shelter
as the ramshackle structures afford with every
kind of abomination rifled from the dumps and
ash-barrels of the city. Here, too, shunning the
light, skulks the unclean beast of dishonest idleness.
"The Bend" is the home of the tramp
as well as the rag-picker.
|It is not much more than twenty years since a
census of "the Bend" district returned
only twenty-four of the six hundred and nine tenements
as in decent condition. Three-fourths of the population
of the "Bloody Sixth" Ward were then
Irish. The army of tramps that grew up after the
disbandment of the armies in the field, and has
kept up its muster-roll, together with the in-rush
of the Italian tide, have ever since opposed a
stubborn barrier to all efforts at permanent improvement.
The more that has been done, the less it has seemed
to accomplish in the way of real relief, until
it has at last become clear that nothing short
of entire demolition will ever prove of radical
benefit. Corruption could not have chosen ground
for its stand with better promise of success.
The whole district is a maze of narrow, often
unsuspected passageways--necessarily, for there
is scarce a lot that has not two, three, or four
tenements upon it, swarming with unwholesome crowds.
What a birds-eye view of "the Bend"
would be like is a matter of bewildering conjecture.
Its everyday appearance, as seen from the corner
of Bayard Street on a sunny day, is one of the
sights of New York.
||Bayard Street is the
high road to Jewtown across the Bowery, picketed
from end to end with the outposts of Israel. Hebrew
faces, Hebrew signs, and incessant chatter in
the queer lingo that passes for Hebrew on the
East Side attend the curious wanderer to the very
corner of Mulberry Street. But the moment he turns
the corner the scene changes abruptly. Before
him lies spread out what might better be the market-place
in some town in Southern Italy than a street in
New York--all but the houses; they are still the
same old tenements of the unromantic type. But
for once they do not make the foreground in a
slum picture from the American metropolis. The
interest centres not in them, but in the crowd
they shelter only when the street is not preferable,
and that with the Italian is only when it rains
or he is sick. When the sun shines the entire
population seeks the street, carrying on its household
work, its bargaining, its love-making on street
or sidewalk, or idling there when it has nothing
better to do, with the reverse of the impulse
that makes the
|Polish Jew coop himself up in his
den with the thermometer at stewing heat. Along
the curb women sit in rows, young and old alike
with the odd head-covering, pad or turban, that
is their badge of servitude--her's to bear the
burden as long as she lives--haggling over baskets
of frowsy weeds, some sort of salad probably,
stale tomatoes, and oranges not above suspicion.
Ash-barrels serve them as counters, and not infrequently
does the arrival of the official cart en route
for the dump cause a temporary suspension of trade
until the barrels have been emptied and restored.
Hucksters and pedlars' carts make two rows of
booths in the street itself, and along the houses
is still another--a perpetual market doing a very
lively trade in its own queer staples, found nowhere
on American ground save in "the Bend."
Two old hags, camping on the pavement, are dispensing
stale bread, baked not in loaves, but in the shape
of big wreaths like exaggerated crullers, out
of bags of dirty bed-tick. There is no use disguising
the fact: they look like and they probably are old mattresses
mustered into service under the pressure of a rush of
trade. Stale bread was the one article the health officers,
peter a raid on the market, once reported as "not
unwholesome." It was only disgusting. Here is a
brawny butcher, sleeves rolled up above the elbows and
clay pipe in mouth, skinning a kid that hangs from his
hook. They will tell you with a laugh at the Elizabeth
Street police station that only a few days ago when
a dead goat had been reported lying in Pell Street it
was mysteriously missing by the time the offal-cart
came to take it away. It turned out that an Italian
had carried it off in his sack to a wake or feast of
some sort in one of the back alleys.
On either side of the narrow entrance to Bandit's Roost,
one of the most notorious of these, is a shop that is
a fair sample of the sort of invention necessity is
the mother of in "the Bend." It is not enough
that trucks and ash-barrels have provided four distinct
lines of shops that are not down on the insurance maps,
to accommodate the crowds. Here have the very hallways
been made into shops. Three feet wide by four deep,
they have just room for one, the shop-keeper, who, himself
within, does his business outside, his wares displayed
on a board hung across what was once the hall door.
Back of the rear wall of this unique shop a hole has
been punched from the hall into the alley and the tenants
go that way. One of the shops is a "tobacco bureau,"
presided over by an unknown saint, done in yellow and
red--there is not a shop, a stand, or an ash-barrel
doing duty for a counter, that has not its patron saint--the
other is a fish-stand full of slimy, odd-looking creatures,
fish that never swam in American waters, or if they
||were never seen on an American fish-stand,
and snails. Big, awkward sausages, anything but
appetizing, hang in the grocer's doorway, knocking
against the customer's head as if to remind him
that they are there waiting to be bought. What
they are I never had the courage to ask. Down
the street comes a file of women carrying enormous
bundles of fire-wood on their heads, loads of
decaying vegetables from the market wagons in
their aprons, and each a baby at the breast supported
by a sort of sling that prevents it from tumbling
down. The women do all the carrying, all the work
one sees going on in "the Bend." The
men sit or stand in the streets, on trucks, or
in the open doors of the saloons smoking black
clay pipes, talking and gesticulating as if forever
on the point of coming to blows. Near a particularly
boisterous group, a really pretty girl with a
string of amber beads twisted artlessly in the
knot of her raven hair has been bargaining long
and earnestly with an old granny, who presides
|wheel-barrow load of second-hand stockings
and faded cotton yarn, industriously darning the
biggest holes while she extols the virtues of
her stock. One of the rude swains, with patched
overalls tucked into his boots, to whom the girl's
eyes have strayed more than once, steps up and
gallantly offers to pick her out the handsomest
pair, whereat she laughs and pushes him away with
a gesture which he interprets as an invitation
to stay; and he does, evidently to the satisfaction
of the beldame, who forthwith raises her prices
fifty per cent without being detected by the girl.
Red bandannas and yellow kerchiefs are everywhere; so
is the Italian tongue, infinitely sweeter than the harsh
gutturals of the Russian Jew around the corner. So are
the "ristorantes" of innumerable Pasquales;
half of the people in "the Bend" are christened
Pasquale, or get the name in some other way. When the
police do not know the name of an escaped murderer,
they guess at Pasquale and send the name out on alarm;
in nine cases out of ten it fits. So are the "banks"
that hang out their shingle as tempting bait on every
hand. There are half a dozen in the single block, steamship
agencies, employment offices, and savings-banks, all
in one. So are the toddling youngsters bow-legged half
of them, and so are no end of mothers, present and prospective,
some of them scarce yet in their teens. Those who are
not in the street are hanging half way out of the windows,
shouting at some one below. All "the Bend"
must be, if not altogether, at least half out of doors
when the sun shines.
In the street, where the city wields the broom, there
is at least an effort at cleaning up. There has to
be, or it would be swamped in filth overrunning from
the courts and alleys where the rag-pickers live.
It requires more than ordinary courage to explore
these on a hot day. The undertaker has to do it then,
the police always. Right here, in this tenement on
the east side of the street, they found little Antonia
Candia, victim of fiendish cruelty, "covered,"
says the account found in the records of the Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, "with
sores, and her hair matted with dried blood."
Abuse is the normal condition of "the Bend,"
murder its everyday crop, with the tenants not always
the criminals. In this block between Bayard, Park,
Mulberry, and Baxter Streets, "the Bend"
proper, the late Tenement House Commission counted
155 deaths of children  in
a specimen year (1882). Their per centage of the total
mortality in the block was 68.28, while for the whole
city the proportion was only 46.20. The infant mortality
in any city or place as compared with the whole number
of deaths is justly considered a good barometer of
its general sanitary condition. Here, in this tenement,
No. 59 1/2, next to Bandits' Roost, fourteen persons
died that year, and eleven of them were children;
in No. 61 eleven, and eight of them not yet five years
old. According to the records in the Bureau of Vital
Statistics only thirty-nine people lived in No. 59
1/2 in the year 1888, nine of them little children.
There were five baby funerals in that house the same
year. Out of the alley itself, No. 59, nine dead were
carried in 1888, five in baby coffins. Here is the
record of the year for the whole block, as furnished
by the Registrar of Vital Statistics, Dr. Roger S.
Deaths and Death-rates
in 1888 in Baxter and Mulberry Streets, between
Park and Bayard Streets.
| Five years old and over
|| Under five years
|| Five years old and over
|| Under five years
|| Five years old and over
|| Under five years
| Baxter Street
| Mulberry Street
|The general death-rate for the whole city that year
These figures speak for themselves, when it is shown
that in the model tenement across the way at Nos.
48 and 50, where the same class of people live in
greater swarms (161, according to the record), but
under good management, and in decent quarters, the
hearse called that year only twice, once for a baby.
The agent of the Christian people who built that tenement
will tell you that Italians are good tenants, while
the owner of the alley will oppose every order to
put his property in repair with the claim that they
are the worst of a bad lot. Both are right, from their
different stand-points. It is the stand-point that
makes the difference--and the tenant.
||What if I were to tell
you that this alley, and more tenement property
in "the Bend," all of it notorious for
years as the vilest and worst to be found an)
where, stood associated on the tax-books all through
the long struggle to make its owners responsible,
which has at last resulted in a qualified victory
for the law, with the name of an honored family,
one of the "oldest and best," rich in
possessions and in influence, and high in the
councils of the city's government? It would be
but the plain truth. Nor would it be the only
instance by very many that stand recorded on the
Health Department's books of a kind that has come
near to making the name of landlord as odious
in New York as it has become in Ireland. Bottle
Alley is around the corner in Baxter Street; but
it is a fair specimen of its kind, wherever found.
Look into any of these houses, everywhere the
same piles of rags, of malodorous bones and musty
paper all of which the sanitary police flatter
themselves they have banished to the dumps and
the warehouses. Here is a "flat" of
"parlor" and two pitch-dark coops called
|bedrooms. Truly, the bed is all there is room
for. The family teakettle is on the stove, doing
duty for the time being as a wash-boiler. By night
it will have returned to its proper use again,
a practical illustration of how poverty in "the
Bend" makes both ends meet. One, two, three
beds are there, if the old boxes and heaps of
foul straw can be called by that name; a broken stove with crazy pipe from which the
smoke leaks at every joint, a table of rough
boards propped up on boxes, piles of rubbish
in the corner. The closeness and smell are appalling.
How many people sleep here? The woman with the
red bandanna shakes her head sullenly, but the
bare-legged girl with the bright face counts
on her fingers--five, six!
"Six, sir!" Six grown people and
"Only five," she says with a smile, swathing
the little one on her lap in its cruel bandage. There
is another in the cradle--actually a cradle. And how
much the rent?
Nine and a half, and "please, sir! he won't
put the paper on."
"He" is the landlord. The "paper"
hangs in musty shreds on the wall.
Well do I recollect the visit of a health inspector
to one of these tenements on a July day when the thermometer
outside was climbing high in the nineties; but inside,
in that awful room, with half a dozen persons washing,
cooking, and sorting rags, lay the dying baby alongside
the stove, where the doctor's thermometer ran up to
115 degrees! Perishing for the want of a breath of
fresh air in this city of untold charities! Did not
the manager of the Fresh Air Fund write to the pastor
of an Italian Church only last year  that "no one asked for Italian children,"
and hence he could not send any to the country?
||Half a dozen blocks
up Mulberry Street there is a ragpicker's settlement,
a sort of overflow from "the Bend,"
that exists to-day in all its pristine nastiness.
Something like forty families are packed into
five old two-story and attic houses that were
built to hold five, and out in the yards additional
crowds are, or were until very recently, accommodated
in sheds built of all sorts of old boards and
used as drying racks for the Italian tenants'
"stock." I found them empty when I visited
the settlement while writing this. The last two
tenants had just left. Their fate was characteristic.
The "old man," who lived in the corner
coop, with barely room to crouch beside the stove--there
would not have been room for him to sleep had
not age crooked his frame to fit his house--had
been taken to the "crazy-house," and
the woman who was his neighbor and had lived in
her shed for years had simply disappeared. The
agent and the other tenants "guessed,"
doubtless correctly, that she might be found on
the "island," but she was decrepit anyhow
from rheumatism, and "not much good,"
and no one took the trouble to inquire for her.
They had all they could do attending to their
own business and raising
|the rent. No wonder;
I found that for one front room and two "bedrooms"
in the shameful old wrecks of buildings the tenant
was paying $10 a month, for the back-room and
one bedroom $9, and for the attic rooms, according
to size, from $3.75 to $5.50. There is a standing
quarrel between the professional--I mean now the
official--sanitarian and the unsalaried agitator
for sanitary reform over the question of overcrowded
tenements. The one puts the number a little vaguely
at four or five hundred, while the other asserts
that there are thirty-two thousand, the whole
number of houses classed as tenements at the census
of two years ago, taking no account of the better
kind of fats. It depends on the angle from which
one sees it which is right. At best the term overcrowding
is a relative one, and the scale of official measurement
conveniently sliding. Under the pressure of the
Italian influx the standard of breathing space
required for an adult by the health officers has
been cut down from six to four hundred cubic feet.
The "needs of the situation" is their
plea, and no more perfect argument could be advanced
for the reformer's position.
It is in "the Bend"
the sanitary policeman locates the bulk of his four
hundred, and the sanitary reformer gives up the task
in despair. Of its vast homeless crowds the census takes
no account. It is their instinct to shun the light,
and they cannot be corralled in one place long enough
to be counted. But the houses can, and the last count
showed that in "the Bend" district, between
Broadway and the Bowery and Canal and Chatham Streets,
in a total of four thousand three hundred and sixty-seven
"apartments" only nine were for the moment
vacant, while in the old "Africa," west of
Broadway, that receives the overflow from Mulberry Street
and is rapidly changing its character, the notice "standing
room only" is up. Not a single vacant room was
found there. Nearly a hundred and fifty "lodgers"
were driven out of two adjoining Mulberry Street tenements,
one of them aptly named "the House of Blazes,"
during that census. What squalor and degradation inhabit
these dens the health officers know. Through the long
summer days their carts patrol "the Bend,"
scattering disinfectants in streets and lanes, in sinks
and cellars, and hidden hovels where the tramp burrows.
From midnight till far into the small hours of the morning
the policeman's thundering rap on closed doors is heard,
with his stern command, "Apri port'! "
on his rounds gathering evidence of illegal overcrowding. The doors are opened
unwillingly enough--but the order means business,
and the tenant knows it even if he understands
no word of English--upon such scenes as the
one presented in the picture. It was photographed
by flashlight on just such a visit. In a room
not thirteen feet either-way slept twelve men
and women, two or three in bunks set in a sort
of alcove, the rest on the floor. A kerosene
lamp burned dimly in the fearful atmosphere,
probably to guide other and later arrivals to their "beds," for it was only just past
|| midnight. A baby's fretful wail came from
an adjoining hall-room, where, in the semi-darkness,
three recumbent figures could be made out. The
"apartment" was one of three in two
adjoining buildings we had found, within half
an hour, similarly crowded. Most of the men
were lodgers, who slept there for five cents
Another room on the top floor, that had been
examined a few nights before, was comparatively
empty. There were only four persons in it, two
men, an old woman, and a young girl. The landlord
opened the door with alacrity, and exhibited
with a proud sweep of his hand the sacrifice
he had made of his personal interests to satisfy
the law. Our visit had been anticipated. The
policeman's back was probably no sooner turned
than the room was reopened for business.
|Go to Chapter
| The term child means in the
mortality tables a person under five years of age.
Children five years old and over figure in the tables
 See City Mission Report,
February, 1890, page 77.