Scribners was a popular magazine read by the broad middle class and the author vividly contrasts the city playgrounds and adventures available to this readership with what the poor had. However, he also wrote personally to give the poor dimension beyond stereotypes and he offered examples of charitable measures that seemed successful in defeating privation.
The hot days are uncomfortable, but bearable incidents; managed easily with the aid of vacations, air-space, and bathtubs, but without them--theare are a great many people who hardly know what they mean.
Those whose acquaintance with the poor people of New York is limited to what they see from the windows of the L trains and from platforms of crosstown cars find it very easy to forget them when the hot weather comes. Anyone who has shivered can imagine the sensation of no coal in the tenement in winter. But in summer, surely everyone is comfortably; it is not the season for social and educational work; the deserving poor can scrabble along somehow. There is a kind of philanthropy in New York, however, that does not go by the calendar. The ordinary, normal human requires in summer a certain amount of recreation, air, water, outing, and relief, and those who are busy with the idea that poor people are pretty much like other people are as much interested in their welfare during July, August, and September as they are when cold weather complicates the problem. They cannot do as much as they would like; nobody can, in the philanthropic way, but they are doing a great deal more than most people dream of, and with discrimination that does not outrage one's views as to the survival of the fit. It is worth while to look on for a day or two at least, if only for the fun and new interests to be got out of it.
It sizzles in the neighborhood of Hester Street on a sultry day. The pale-faced, stern-eyed push-cart men cry their wares, but competition dulls in the mugginess. On the shady side of the street the little mothers and fathers of the poor tend the babies; hot, sweat-splashed little things that get jounced up and down when they get too fretful, on the knees of their elders, who are often as many as ten years old. Sometimes they sleep in odd corners, while the caretakers play jacks, covered only with prickly heat and dirty shifts.
Wherever they can find room, on the pavement, in the street or hallways, the boys play their games, dodging, instinctively it seems, the pedestrian's foot or the horse's hoof. They are chided very often by the push-cart men, for Izzy is a mischievous lad and must have fun. He has a way of getting it with hopping games, and does not look when he hops backward or mind when he is pushes aside. He is used to bumping against people.
The crowd is warm. Blindness would not conceal the fact. The tenements crows close; windows and fire escapes bulge with bedding; one bumps against people in the street, on the stairs, in the hallways, and the life of each man, woman, and child is so close, physically, to another like the inside of an uptown care in the evening, that one wonders why the whole East Side does not get snappy as the conductors do.
It doesn't. It sweats and gasps and gets what relief it can. The little children suffer most. A walk with a physician who sees things in red-blotched faces is not recommended.
When it gets out and out painful--too much for Nature even--and thunder, a whirl of dust and papers, come over the high buildings out of the west, and slanting rain splashes into the street, there is a great scatterment of the elders. The children whoop. It is as good as an unguarded ice-wagon. They do not think of their clothes--they haven't many to think of--and jump their hot, dirty little bodies up and down in the puddles, sail chip ships in the torrents, dam the gutters, and get as close to alleviating Nature as they can. Sometimes they sit down in it, paying scant attention to the Izzy, Izzy. Abey, Abey! with which anxious mothers rend the air up along the sky-line after they get in the clothes from the bellying lines.
The fun they get out of a pelting rain or the splutter and splash of a fire-plug turned on when the authorities discover that it is piping hot is the fun of all small fry and something more. It is relief, and can be appreciated after a day's separation from a tub in this part of New York when the thermometer dallies in the vicinity of 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
It is not very hard about three o`clock on a hot, sultry day east of the Bowery to become interested in the efforts of those who are agitating the subject of free public baths. Water, lot of it, does not hurt anyone, and can hardly be classed among the pauperizing influences. The novices at work among the poor, feeling keenly the differences between their own environment and that of those they visit, are always full of the soap and water gospel. They would preface their social movement, whatever it is, by a crusade with soap and a scrubbing-brush--and there is truth in what they feel. These articles are not unknown or unused, however, by the deserving poor. We are not thinking now of those who get their names on the books of the charity organizations, but of the thousands who do not. The undeserving poor always shy at water.
A bath-tub in every tenement is an idle dream, they cost too much and run very good chances of being used for coal. A public bath around the corner is another matter and seems in reason. Those who wished to use it could do so, they are the people we are after; those who prefer the other things could stay at home. Besides, they might succumb to the temptation and get into the habit of using water frequently.
Water is not avoided to anything like the extent some good people are disposed to assert. It simply cannot be used often in a satisfactory way, not because there are not tubs, but by reason of the fact that the family uses the kitchen as a living room and turns the rest of the tenement over to boarders. Privacy in a tenement is often hard to achieve. Many doubts were expressed as to whether public baths would be used until the Association for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor tried the experiment. Last year 130,000 people paid five cents for soap and towel and the privilege of using the People's Baths at Center Market Place.
This bath, one at the University Settlement, and the one shortly to be opened by the city, seem somewhat inadequate when the tub is thought of especially fort he relief it afford in hot weather. Probably this thought was in the minds of the 4,000,000 and more men, women, and children who found their way to the free floating baths last summer in the East and North Rivers. There is no record of their having been forced to the water, and no good reason to believe that the elderly people and children left behind would not avail themselves of opportunities nearer home. Perhaps those 4,000,000 people would bathe in winter, too.
I never saw an East Side boy hold up two fingers, as country boys do, when they yearn for a swim, but they go swimming just the same. Taking their lives in their hands, a diminutive bathing suit sometimes, the adventuresome spirits, scorning the confining legality of the floating baths, seek the docks and the vacant lots on the upper East Side. It is a risky business, for the tides race fast in the river and aclothes-appropriating policeman can cause no end of trouble. There is always a smaller boy sentinel, whose "Cheese it, Cops!" fetches brown, slippery little bodies out of the water in wonderfully quick time to escape the policeman, dressing while running at full speed is an accomplishment; to get pinched a disgrace: to stay out of the water longer than the policeman remains in the immediate vicinity, unheard of. Drownings occur, of course, but every gang of boys numbers a life-saver. They are not more than enough sentimental in their humanitarian efforts, for one of them one day brought two exhausted boys in from midstream and then gave each a licking for having been the cause of the loss of his derby hat. He had jumped in shoes and all.
The East and North Rivers, pinching Manhattan out long and thin, are often blamed for many of the discomforts we have to endure and ride uptown in, but they have to endure and ride uptown in, but they prove in summer one of the main comforts of our poorer friends. There is fascination in loafing near running water at all times, better air too, when it races as does the East River. In the mornings at daylight, mothers take their babies to the water fronts and nurse them on the dock string-pieces and on the rocks in the empty lots. Quiet is there, some space, a kinder air, and the sun coming up over Long Island through the haze cannot be more uncomfortable than the several times heated and used air back in the bricklined street and stuffy rooms.
They fondle the babies in the morning stillness, watching the quiet, changing life on the river. Schooners flap out with the tide, big Fall River boats thump around Hell Gate and shortly the sharp saucy bowed stem-yachts slip by on their way from the Sound to the anchorage off Twenty-second Street. By that time the East Side has yawned, stretched, and the mothers go wearily inland to cook breakfast for another hot day.
The real philanthropist who first suggested the recreation pier must have known the docks in summer. It was a good day for us when the notion began to work in his mind. We have six of them now, four south of Fifty-ninth Street, and cold get along very well with more.
It is quite the thing in the evenings when the stored-up heat of the day begins to ooze out of the brick walls and mushy asphalt to take the wife and family from the crowded stoop to the pier. There one escapes the sullen discomfort of reflected heat but not the crowd. The benches fill early. The babies cry their evening songs and one must crowd one's neighbors; chatty, rather hot individuals who good-humoredly scrouge close for it is all part of the day's fun for them. There is the chatter of the opera-house until the band-master raises his baton and then an encore-loving appreciation of what the band does for them.
It is a jolly crowd, not too noisy. The slapping tide below, the far-away flare of the electric advertisements high over the docks on the Jersey shore, the lights slipping, slipping, up and down and across the river, and the grateful breeze are quieting influences. The bigness of a city seems to make itself felt along the docks and that is not a hilarious thought. It is a pleasing way to spend an evening for anyone. When it is all over and the crown scatters in the seething, sweating city behind, tugging the children, carrying the babies, or talking with the sweetheart, you wander uptown with more new thoughts than can be got in a vaudeville or on a roof garden.
Walking close to the crowd in the street and in their homes is sure to bring a feeling of uncomfortable adjacency. There is something almost physical in the relief to the ye and body a park in the crowded districts gives, to say nothing of the better air. Fortunately this matter of parks has got rooted in the public mind and we shall have more of them. The Legislature, limiting the time allowed condemnation commissions, has removed one of the barriers to speedy action. So much per meeting encouraged frequent discussion and developed fat political jobs.
As an investment to the city a park soon pays for itself through increased values of adjoining property. No one doubts their values as breathing places for the poor. They are health spots in the city. How they are used depends largely on their location. It is a far cry for instance from the Ghetto to Central Park, and means carfare. It is much more convenient to slip into Hamilton Fish Park on the Saturday holiday, dressed in your best clothes and rusty top hat, to gossip on the benches, or better still to while away what time you have on Corlears Hook, for there the river is near and the new East River Bridge lifts the eye high over Grand Street.
Each bench, edging the sacred grass, has its story to tell of rest, weariness, no job, or what is more cheerful, the loaf in, breathing hours. The gift of getting into bench conversations is a good one to take into any of the parks, and nothing is seen save a crowd of people without a seeing pair of eyes. The man next on the bench may have a tale to tell of religious persecution that drove him from other lands to liberty and his push-cart on Rivington Street. He talks politics with a slant toward weird theories, and reads books on political philosophy you have put off reading-say till next winter. They are trying at the Education Alliance to set him on the right track because they know the great fear and suspicion that besets him after sudden release from social and political repression.
It is merrier in Mulberry Bend. Italy, big and little, chatters and laughs, wears bright ties and shawls, and gives the impression in good-humored conversation that a fight is on. It is hard to understand the merriment, after a walk down from Mott Street, past rickety tenements, dingy hallways, and dark cellars, all buzzing and whirring with hot life. Perhaps it is because many of them knew worse alleys in sunny Italy and hope to go back to them some day retired vendors, peanut kings. What the Bend was before the day of the park is known. What the Park has done toward letting in light and sunshine into a plague spot cannot be set down opposite an arithmetical equivalent, but that it breathes while the streets hard by gasp on a hot night cannot be doubted and that is what parks are fore, notwithstanding the fact that the police cannot get the grass notion out of their heads.
In the good old colony days dainty folk took the air on the Battery wall. Nowadays they do it on Riverside or in the weary round of Central Park with two men on the box; yet Battery Park is still one of the finest places on Manhattan. It is worth while any time of the year, and you get a great return for the trouble on a Sunday afternoon in summer, and this is the way to do it:
Stroll out on the bridge in the late afternoon and wait in the shade of one of the towers until a peanut-eating family comes along. Follow it out into City Hall Square, and while it looks at the slav over the stop where the tunnel was officially over the spot where the tunnel was officially begun, wait for others coming out Park Row from the East Side. There is no need for haste; this is the way some people make the best of a holiday evening; besides, the sun is still up.
Down Broadway to the Battery is not a long walk and is quickly managed, for the green of the trees ahead, touched by the slanting sun, the whiffs of saltish breeze that sift in through the tall buildings, and the fear of not getting in seat hasten one's step a bit. Our family finds one facing Liberty, and sits down to look and wait for the wind puffs that come out of the bay. Afternoon slips by into evening, Liberty flashes out official warning that night is come,and still they look, quietly, peacefully, notwithstanding the chatter of the L trains as they bustle out of Greenwich Street.
The Boats show lights now, the ferries whole broadsides of them, and the curve of Brooklyn Bridge twinkles and is streaked with the lights of moving cars. Pipe-lighting matches flare all over the Park, showing tired faces, but no one seems to be in a hurry to go home. It is better than the room yonder opening on a shaft, better even than sleeping on the tenement roof. The children, however, get tousled and cross, and our family has to go home, to Brooklyn, to the East Side. Once I followed one to Hell's Kitchen, and felt the reason why taking the air on the Battery wall is as popular now as it ever was, only in a different way and by people who really need it. Stay in town some Sunday and try it.
To the children of the tenement a park means play. They are slow to appreciate the aesthetic values of trees, grass, or landscape gardening, and make the lies of the policemen who do miserable. I met two little girls one day, each holding a baby in her arms, gazing through the fence around one of the small triangle parks downtown, beautiful examples I thought of what nature studies in the schools can do; but when I asked one of them whether they were ever allowed to go inside, she hitched up the baby and said: "No, it ain't a park, it's grass."
I know it is all wrong to agree with her notion of what a park should be; we ought to be thankful we have any parks at all, but it is hard not to sympathize less with the grass and more with the little girl when you see the youngsters squatting on the asphalt fringe of a park while so much good play space is held sacred to the ponderous, dusty-uniformed official of the department of parks with his paper jabbing stick.
What to do with the children in their play times is a question that bothers mothers all over New York; the mother up-town does not escape it. Her children parade with the nurse to the Mall in Central Park and have a very proper, stupid time of it until the country season comes. The mother in the tenement has to let her children take to the street, where they fit their fun to their opportunities. "Gee," said one of my little up-town friends when we were walking through Rivington Street, "wouldn't Marie Jabber if she had to look after these kids?"
When the long vacation comes, the boy who races down the dark tenement stairway, after doing his chores and stops in the doorway a moment looking out on a hot, crowded street where a hundred other children are doing their best to get rid of their animal spirits, does not know that he is a problem; that a great many good people stop there with him and his boyish indecision as to what he shall do--and ask themselves what shall we do?
He, in all probability, joins his gang in about four seconds. They work for parks, playgrounds, open-air gymnasiums, fresh-air funds, excursions and vacations in the country for him and the little sister who follows him shortly into the street,lugging the baby.
Johnny meantime darts through the crowds, joins his intimates and informs himself as to the boy situation in that block. The gang in the next street may need attending to; that means warfare; the policeman on the beat may need exercise; that means swiping from the peanut man, or it may be a matter of the current game, marbles, tops, hopping games, fire-engine or pussy.
Several hundred people in the block, doing a push-cart business along the curb, swarming the pavement and street; add wagons, drays, and bicycles, and you have what confronts Johnny when he goes out to play.
Not at all discouraged--he lets you do the worrying--he sets out to amuse himself. He has a highly developed instinct of adjacency and unconsciously avoids the dangers of impact with moving bodies. A heavy truck, bearing down on a group of children playing in a street, sends cold chills down an onlooker's back--needlessly--for nothing happens save a temporary interruption to the game and the driver's profanity.
They play fire-engine vigorously with a piece of string and restive snorting boy horses; a real fire sets them wild. They tool lordly soap-box coaches into your shins, and get more fun out of apiece of wire and an old wheel than can be offered by a modern toy-shop up-town. An abandoned tricycle is a joy. They make from it a wobbly bicycle, and mounted thereon, thread sidewalk mazes that are not sympathetic. In his gentler moods Johnny is not above swinging the jumping-rope for his girl friends, and before noon he is hot and dirty, but he has had fun according to his lights and the population of his block.
The force in crowded streets, like other forces, shoves the boy to the point of least resistance. Sometime, during the day, he is sure to find himself in a park, if one exists within a half mile of home. Otherwise the boy atom is pushed hither and yon in the crowd where the line of least resistance leads to an intimate knowledge of thieving, immorality, and intemperance.
Appreciation of this fact, sympathy for the boy and ordinary common-sense on the part of those who remember their own mud-pie days, are responsible for the most cheerful work that is being don. The work that provides fun for the youngsters--there lies a hope for the afterwhile.
Seward Park has not a blade of grass in it; horticulturally, it is a rank failure. Consequently the policeman leans against the fence and talks politics, little feared or noticed by the thousands of children who play there. There are three enclosures for ball players; ladders, bars, flying-rings, basketball, and a punching bag for gymnasts in the large enclosure. The swings creak all day long, moving pictures of shrieking fun. The babies are not forgotten. Under the shed in a corner, little tots tied tightly in their swing-chairs are pushed gently back and forth by tired but proud mothers. There are grandfathers, too, who go there with their little Schatzen.
There is plenty of sand in the boxes for little architects, and the see-saws, four bump- anticipating children on a side, are hard worked. They do not sing "See Saw, Margery Daw" as the board slowly rises from the bump, but they shriek in good form--and the little girls skipping rope sing: "Jacob, Jacob, do you love me? Yes, no--yes, no?" The faulty skip revealing the state of Jacob's mind brings out the teasing taunt, "Oh, Becky!" Becky tosses her head, in a pretty, self-conscious way, and says, "It ain't' so."
It is their way of finding out what the daisy petals tell little dreamers along a country road, and as one watches, knowing of the things they often see at the very doors of their homes, how easy it is for them to become familiar with impure lives and impure traffic, it is easy to understand the tenderness of men and women who are willing to be called sentimental; anything as long as they can make the lives of little children happier and the temptations less. They have a hard fight, for the police are on the other side.
Charity supports six bantam chickens, four rabbits, and a score or so of pigeons in a wire cage in one corner of Seward Park. They earn their feed, for with a humanitarian indifference to their surroundings they lead a life of patient sacrifice. The rooster swells his breast and crows, the rabbits hop, and the pigeons coo to the three-deep row of children that crowds close to the wire netting.
It seems hard that this spot is the only one in the park that suggests human depravity. A sign over the cage warns the unwary to beware of pickpockets, and curiously enough, it was there I saw my first display of ill-temper.
A well-dressed, sour-looking woman stood near the railing. A boy with a baby brushed past and bumped her on his way to the cage. "Can't you mind where yer goin'?" said the woman. "Can't you see I've got the baby?" was the boy's answer. "Ignorant. Ain't ye seen an animal?" "Only unfortunate," I suggested. "Mind you business," said the woman. "Go chase yourself," said the boy. I tell this incident because of its unusualness. With all the crowding, the East Side is almost always patient.
The Outdoor Recreation League maintains this park and one on Stryker's Lane, Fifty-fifth Street and Eleventh Avenue. Up there they boys are more aggressive. Hell's Kitchen lies to the south, wherein are cooked the red-nosed loafers one sees standing 0n saloon corners, and rushing growlers to the board piles on the side streets. They seem to loaf as hard as they can. In the Ghetto the drone is not so much in evidence.
"Say, Mister, gim me a swing?" the boys demand of the visitor, as by right but that is only their way. They are the products of a raw, dare-devil part of New York, but should not be neglected on that account.
Those little Pats, Mikes, and Petes, shooting craps in the avenue, dangling overhead on the ladders, rocking their enemies in the vacant lots, are embryo Honorables, our future rulers maybe, by the divine right inherent in their race.
They say England`s greatest battle was won on the Eton football field. Why not win some of our skirmishes against bad city government on playgrounds for our future citizens--say the members of the Recreation League. These little chaps have rough and tumble in their blood. It must out, and common-sense philanthropy would direct the boy steam into proper exhaust pipes. Every effort made to boost the urchins into health, normal boy development, decent play and better living is warranted by the hope that it is a step toward healthier citizenship some day, and if Mike Duffy is ever persuaded or coaxed to go in for good government there will be no business for the reform movements.
The Board of Education has confronting it many difficulties. The question of housing school less children is not the least, but with all their problems of school work they find time to devote a great deal of energy to the problem of child play. Nearly 1,000 men and women are employed to conduct summer vacation schools and playgrounds in the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx. That their worth much fun, is likely, for last summer more than 100,000 boys and girls were in more or less constant attendance.
The scheme is very simple. In the densely populated districts, schools, kindergarten tents, out-door gymnasiums, recreation piers, parks, roof gardens, and the floating baths were utilized under skillful supervision, of course, for the purpose of cultivating and directing a healthy instinct of play. Not aimlessly, however, for boy play was encouraged that led later to useful trades and occupations, and the little girls played housekeeping, nursing babies, and numerous other things that experience has shown they have need for in their cramped lives; solemn, earnest duties--but there is no reason why they should not learn how to do them well and get some fun in the learning.
This does not mean that the children were fooled into the belief that they were having fun to illustrate a theory. In the mornings their play was directed systematically--but they could remain outside in the playgrounds if they preferred: prepare for the athletic tournament, learn to turn back flip-flaps, do the grasshopper, swim in the breast-stroke, or walk on their hands, and, above all, to play fair and honestly, whether in the sand-box or on the flying rings.
This latter aim may not seem important, but a woman who knows gang boys well feels that her year's work is done if she can see something more than a glimmer of fair dealing in the play of her gang. Little fellows who are compelled to exercise their wits to keep alive are not squeamish about using them to win in games by hook or crook.
Give a country boy a jack-knife and he will provide pine and the ingenuity to whittle out anything from a wind-mill to a terrible tomahawk. There is something pathetic in the page of the Board's report that records the necessity of a course in whittling. I showed it to a country boy who read it seriously and remarked: "I guess they never traded knives, no sight no see."
There is one nameless gentleman in New York who enjoys himself very thoroughly in the summer-time. He equips barges with a bank, policemen, life-saver, doctor and fresh milk; crowds them with as many children as they will hold without sinking, and away they go up the Hudson for a day's excursion, band playing, flags flying, with a chatter and buzz that can be heard on shore.
There is no use being solemn about this rot of thing, those who have it in charge think, nor is there any reason in day's fun, and if you ever meet one of these fresh-air excursions screaming at your boat`s salute, yell back merrily and without reserve your approval, for all of those women and children are there because they deserve the fun, have something of hard luck, grinding work of child sacrifice in their lives.
They do not throw a drag-net over the East Side in these days when they do charity and net good, bad, and indifferent for the dispensation. An examination must be passed before even a day's excursion or a fortnight's vacation int he country can be enjoyed. The examiners take into account little girls who have weak mothers, drunken fathers maybe and the responsibility of caring for the tenement-home, the last baby and several others already here; little girls one sees tugging bundles home, the little mothers of the poor. Widows are marked high, too; women with several children who are fighting against the cold, hard fact that it is next to impossible for a mother to support more than two children unaided. The day's outing gives her fresh courage to face that fight against the dreaded institution for little Ted and eight-year old Mamie. Boys are passed who help the mother in the fight. Sickly children, too young to know that it is all about, are taken, too, by courtesy, not because they get any fun perhaps,m but because their lives need saving.
It is a curious fact that, however underfed a baby may be, it is almost always overdressed. One infant arrived at Coney Island last summer during the hot weather clothed in a heavy flannel binder, two woolen undergarments, a cotton shirt, and a heavy woolen cloak.
Almost all of the societies that consider children at all make some sort of an arrangement for excursions and vacations far int he country. The children and their mothers are taken to Coney Island, to Long Island, up the Hudson and to Jersey--and give as much fun as they get-- for those who look after them come back with stories and enthusiasm. There are not very many long faces in a children's summer home.
Sometimes in July and August a group of children huddle around baskets, scatter papers and make a great deal of noise in Central Park. They offend one's sense of neatness, and muss up the ordinarily prim grass-plots we admire as we pass on our sedate Sunday walks home from church--but be patient. There are as many children downtown ignorant of the beauties of Central Park as there are little shavers uptown who never heard of Jeanette Park--and think of what it means when as an inducement to being good, children are promised all of the excitements of a day's outing in Central Park.
It is a far-off country to them they line up somewhere downtown in that part of New York we know so little about, dressed in their best, each clutching tightly the nickel he is expected to pay--half the car-fare. In the lot early morning they chatter and squabble until the expedition moves.
The journey north is exciting. With knees on seats they view the changing sights on the Bowery. Fourteenth Street is not like Baxter Street; Twenty-third Street is a novel experience; Fourth Avenue and the tunnel are interesting; Forty-second Street is a strange land; and then dumped out in one of the quiet, deserted, burglar-protected sixties they get into the shade of the Park, where one little girl is said to have remarked: "I seen the most wonderful things we ain't used to seein' in our neighborhood." I suppose she scattered papers and worried the slow-moving park policeman--but what of it?
While all this is going on in New York, country papers as far inland as central Pennsylvania record, in local gossip columns, items like this: "A car-load of fresh-air children arrived in our midst Saturday.
Dave Yoder took two of them to his farm. Give'em a good time, Dave." Dave gives them a good time, and resents the imputation that he id doing charity. He treats them as guests, and Bill McVitt is not above strolling across fields of an evening to take a look at the city kids.
There is something final about a quiet, peaceful farm; something that makes us all slyly dream of having one some day when our ship comes in. Seen through a pair of eyes that for ten years have looked out on the environs of Mulberry Bend a farm is a dreamland. Dave Yoder hitches up his trousers and looks at the youngsters in pure amazement. He cannot understand it--nor can anyone appreciate the joys of sliding down a hay-mow that fill the soul of a boy who has been accustomed to stolen slides down the stone sides of the steps of the Park pavilions--and the crack of the ever-watchful policeman's switch. They give Dave more to talk and think about in the winter, in the mornings when he sits by the kitchen stove waiting for sun up, than he gives them. Their curiosity, their funny questions, their appetites make him forget for a time to go even to the post-office, and make him maybe a little more content on the old farm in the valley.
"I guess," said Dave to me once as we sat by my camp fire, "they'd have the laugh on me if I went to the city." Dave had been telling the strange experience of two boys on his farm, and not once had he suggested the though that he had been doing any good. But Dave had never been to the city--knew nothing of crowds, bigger than those on circus days--never spent a hot night in a black tenement, and from boyhood up had always had the green of trees to look at. I think the fresh air funds are splendid charities fort he country folks.
With all their ways of lending helping hand, during the time when vacations and summer fun are in the air, there is a steadily growing feeling among very practical folks that if by far the larger part of our people have to stay in town in summer as well as in winter, and are compelled to go home to tenements after the day's work, a good tenement is more desirable than a bad one- -for them, for the general welfare of the city. There are some thousands of people in New York who tackle cheerfully the job of living, push hard all the time away from the line between pauperism and independence, ask no help and care compelled to pay high rents for homes that in the matter of light, ventilation, water-supply, and plumbing do not compare favorably with the homes of average carriage horses.
You are liable to arrest if you allow your stable to become filthy and a nuisance. The landlord may do pretty much what he pleases with his tenement. That is because you and I do not live near it, never smell it, and think it a man's won fault if he prefers to live in one. We do not realize that the people of the tenements pay really high rents, a large proportion of the daily wages, for inferior homes because they cannot get anything better and pay the grocer's bill.
We hear so much from East Side workers about uncleanly homes they visit that we forget that they are acquainted in the main only with the uncleanly. There are spick and span homes in the worst of tenements--people who use water, children that go to school with shining faces and clean frocks, women that take pride in their tenement keeping and keep alive the something that makes any little place, wherever it is, if it is pure with the honest living of parents and the growth and care of children, home. The landlord offers them as little as the feebly enforced law, in many respects, allows, and differs greatly from the polite individual who does business with apartment-seeking applicants in an office on Broadway, with roll-top desks and hard-wood finish.
But there is no reason why we should be more than healthily discouraged about he housing of the poor. There is one active man who is always ready to lead a fight in print or in person against dishonest builders--grasping owners. With his friends and sympathizers he has pushed them hard, and they have been touched on the raw more than once--witness the to-do they made recently when the tenement-house bill was before the Governor.
It is simply a contest between honest building and management against greed-as anyone can see after looking the matter over.
The City and Suburban Homes Company said little until its model tenements were ready for occupancy. They provided homes for men who wanted to live decently; gave them light, air- space, baths, individual closets, water-supply, gas-stoves, wardrobes, laundries with stationary tubs, and a room for baby carriages on the first floor. Besides, they complied with the law in building, and offered investors a good interest.
"Wait," said their opponents, "until the year is out, and see how much money you have lost."
Several years have passed, and a report of the company reads like the report of a get-rich quick concern. Nothing seems to go wrong. Interest has been paid to stockholders regularly and a contingency fund set aside. The tenants keep their apartments in good order, and pay the rent, averaging a dollar a week per room. Many applicants have been turned away because of lack of space--and the result has been so encouraging that the company has no difficulty in finding all the money it needs for an extension of its business.
The people for whom the tenements at Sixty-eighth Street and Amsterdam Avenue and at Sixty-fifth Street and First Avenue were erected have used them; they have kept their health well and show no disposition to abuse the comforts provided.
All of the old tiresome stories told by builders and owners about the piggishness of the poor, their fondness for dirt, and their preferences for just what they had have turned out to be interested statements.
Pretty much the same sort of thing was said about the Mills Hotels before they were opened to the public. Let the out-of-works, the young bachelors who do not like to board five in a room, go to the Bowery lodging-houses if they have not money enough to go to better places.
Both hotels are now crowded with men who seem to enjoy the accommodations they get. You see men loafing about the courts, chatting over games, growling about something or other, as some hotel patrons always do, and sitting alone, starring with unseeing eyes at a future or past--who knows--just as you do at any other hotel.
There are things to complain of, naturally. You may not like the gravy furnished with the beef or the dessert of the day, but men out of work or living on an uncertain dollar and a half a day are not so particular. They get what they pay for--not much more, for these hotels are a paying investment.
Charities, or interests in others, of this sort are not dangerous. If men who have concentrated industries, crowded workmen in cities where the old-time ambition of each man to own a little home is idle because of the impossibility of realization; if such men build tenements and hotels, help along a little the scheme of things, and get much fun in helping, they are doing only what they feel they ought to do.
They are hard-headed business men, and are not given to sentimentality, but it is quite possible that underneath it all there is more heart than head.
And after all, this whole business of thinking of others that evidences itself in summer and in winter too, is simply a matter of kindly feeling, showing itself in a variety of ways. Some of us pooh-pooh at any philanthropic movement that does not show a definite result, others like to see a balance on the right side of the sheet. There are those who sneak in their sympathy with the bald contribution of "a friend," and a large number of men and women do their work because they like it and feel in a measure that it is their duty. Whether they build tenements or provide potted plants for the sick, there is little real difference between them. They are all tarred with the same stick, kindly feeling.
The intensely practical philanthropist who likes to see a well-kept set of books, and be able at the end of the year to say: "We have done this and that," cannot understand the dreamer who walks the city full of big bulging thoughts, careless as to whether he spends a few dollars he cannot account for, but both have their places and their fun. When all is said and done it seems that whatever may be happening to faith these days, hope and charity are not being neglected. If charity covers a multitude of sins there is some hope for New York. Vol. XXX.-31
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