No. 531
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
July 26, 2021

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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32 Coxwell Road was not, even by the standards of council houses in 1950s Birmingham, England, anything special to look at.  But for the family of 31-year-old ex-paratrooper Frank Pell, it was a palace compared to their previous lodgings--a house so dilapidated it was officially condemned.  The three-bedroom home was newly decorated, on a quiet road close to all necessary services.  And the rent
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Strange Company - 7/26/2021

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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

When painters depict the East River, it’s usually from the Manhattan side: a steel bridge, choppy waters, and a Brooklyn or Queens waterfront either thick with factories or quaint and almost rural. But when Richard Hayley Lever decided to paint the river in 1936, he did it from Astoria. What he captured in “Queensboro Bridge […]
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Ephemeral New York - 7/26/2021
[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
When Horatio Sherman took sick after returning home from a week-long drunken spree, he said it was just one of his “old spells.” His wife Lydia agreed, and dosed him with brandy as usual. But Horatio’s doctor, who had treated his alcohol induced “spells” before, was suspicious this time. Horatio died two days later, and the doctor ordered a post-mortem examination which revealed the cause of
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Murder By Gaslight - 7/24/2021

Harrison Ave.Leadville, ColoradoJuly 21, 1880Luke and Wheeler photographers(Click image to enlarge)  S THAT SOAPY'S PARTNER IN CRIME? Those who have read Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, you may recall seeing the photograph (#6A) below, in the first photograph section of the book.  Soapy Smith and his partner in crimeHarrison Ave.Leadville, ColoradoJuly 21, 1880Luke and
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 7/21/2021
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.

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.