No. 452
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
December 13, 2019

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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On this date in 1994 — the ten-year anniversary of the robbery-murder that earned him his death sentence — Raymond Carl Kinnamon died to lethal injection despite his loquacity. A career criminal with 17 felony convictions and three prison stints previously to his name, Kinnamon robbed a Houston bar at gunpoint on December 11, 1984. […]
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Executed Today - 12/11/2019

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Lizzie’s Old School Chum, Augusta Poole (Mrs. Cyrus Tripp) Shelley M. Dziedzic, October 2019 (all rights reserved) During the hot …

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Via Newspapers.com The unofficial motto of Austin, Texas is "Keep Austin Weird." In early 1964, someone or something certainly obliged. The "Austin American," January 29, 1964: Can the mystery blast that shook Austinites Monday at noon be linked to puzzling reports of flying objects later the same day in Fort Worth and Dallas? Perhaps not, but the eerie events have one thing in common:
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Strange Company - 12/11/2019
Jeff and Joe Soapy Smith buries Joe Simmons The Illustrated Police News April 9, 1892 (Click image to enlarge) oe Simmons was a tall, slender gambler known to many as “Gambler Joe” Simmons, a member of the Soap Gang who managed Soapy Smith's Tivoli Club in Denver, 1890, and Soapy's Orleans Club in Creede, 1892. According to William Devere’s poem "Two Little Busted Shoes," Simmons
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 3/25/2019
William J. Elder, aged 61, was addicted to drink and when under its influence was violent and uncontrollable. His wife tolerated his abuse as long as she could then packed up and moved out of their farm in Hammonton, New Jersey, leaving behind her two sons, Robert and Mathew. In 1887, 19-year-old Robert Elder moved out of his father’s house as well. 12-Year old Mathew Elder was still
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Murder By Gaslight - 12/7/2019

It’s the blue hour in “Rainy Day, New York,” a 1940 painting by Leon Dolice—a Vienna-born artist who came to Manhattan in the 1920s. The sun has sunk below the horizon, and sidewalks and buildings are cast in a blueish glow, illuminated by streetlamps, car headlights, and the reflection of rain-slicked streets. I’m not sure […]
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Ephemeral New York - 12/9/2019
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
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Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
Horatio Alger Story. | The Advent of Spiritualism.

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.

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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.