Asa Greene.

A glance at New York: embracing the city government, theatres, hotels, churches, mobs, monopolies, learned professions, newspapers, rogues, dandies, fires and firemen, water and other liquids, & c., & c. .. online

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Online LibraryAsa GreeneA glance at New York: embracing the city government, theatres, hotels, churches, mobs, monopolies, learned professions, newspapers, rogues, dandies, fires and firemen, water and other liquids, & c., & c. .. → online text (page 9 of 11)
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The fear of public opinion, which influenc-
es so many in the country, and especially in
a village, has very little effect here. The
population here is too numerous for every
man to oversee his neighbor ; to observe
what he is about ; and to report proceedings
to the leading and influential members
of the community. Here most persons —
office-seekers excepted, — do as they please ;
and eat and drink what they please, or what
they can get ; holding themselves amenable
to the law only, and caring very little about
their neighbor's opinion.

In speaking of other liquids besides water —
whereof the number used as beverage is
pretty large — we must not forget tea,
coffee, wine, and beer. There are feWf or
no families in New York, where the former
are not drunk, such as they are ; the coffee
in the morning and the tea at night. It is
not so easy spoiling the latter by any process
of making; and therefore it is, in general, quite
possible to drink it. We cannot say as much
for the liquid called coffee. It is, in most


cases, triply ruined : first, in the burning,
secondly, in the boiling ; and finally in the
mixture therewith, of that very doubtfial liquid
denominated milk.

Wine in New York is better ; and, if we
except that compound called Port, is the best
liquor in the city. The Madeira is very
fine ; as even those most grumbling and fas-
tidious of guests — the British journalists — *
acknowledge. The author of '' Men and
Manners" ascribes this to the wine being
placed " in the attics, where it is exposed
to the whole fervor of the summer's heat and
severity of the winter's cold," instead of being
kept, as in England,"in a subterraneous vault.'^

The Claret in New York is also good. So
are the Sherry and the Champagne. Of the
latter and of Madeira large quanities are
drunk. The sound-headed old wine-drinkers
prefer the Madeira ; the dashing young
blades choose Champagne. Whether it is,
that their heads will bear it better ; or that
they can expend upon it more money at a


sitting ; or that they can have it to say, they
drank so many bottles ; or, lastly, that, it is
more agreeable to their natures, because it
contains more wind : which of these reasons,
or whether they all, operate in producing the
effect ; certain it is, that the younger gentry
of this city — do, occasionally, pour down
amazing quantities of Champagne. How
often they are cheated by a substitution of bot-
tled cider, it matters not to say. The remark
of Othello,

" He that is robbed, not wanting what is stolen,
Let him not know it, and he's not robbed at all,"

is as true in regard to this same substitu-
tion as to that of any cheatery we know
of. As long as the wine-bibber fancies
himself to be drinking Champagne, it is all the
same to him — except the headache which
follows — that being about fift}^ per cent
less. Exchange is truly no robbery here,
except in the matter of the headache ; which
were it not for the name of the thing, might
as well be omitted altogether, in the plea-
sures of drinking Champagne.


As last, but not the least agreeable among
our vinous liquors, may be mentioned the
fine cider that comes from the orchards of
New Jersey. That state has been long
famous for her manufacture of good cider, and
the dinner-tables of the most sensible citizens
of New York, give very sparkling, and agree-
able evidence that the fame of our neighbor
across the Bay is founded injustice and good

The last beverage we shall touch upon is
beer ; a liquid we very seldom touch at all, and
should not do so now, except for the purpose
of the present work. This liquid — under the
names of porter and ale — is much drunk in
this city ; especially in the cold season. Small
beer is not unfrequently substituted in the

The taste for the strong article, is on the
increase. The number of Bonifaces who
make it their meat, drink, and lodging, is al-
ready very great. Some have abandoned ar-
dent spirits, and taken to beer. And some,
having at first taken to beer have taken to lit-


tie else, from that day to this. They grow
fat upon it ; and it will soon be as common to
see burly Americans, as burly Englishmen.
Others drink beer moderately, taking only an
occasional glass, to strengthen the outer, and
revive the inner man. On the whole, the love
of beer, so far as we are able to discover, is,
of the two, a lesser evil than the love of ardent
^spirits. If it puts the toper asleep — as it is
very apt to do — so much the better : he will
jjot drink any more until he wakes again.



No one can be twenty-four hours in New York without
hearing the alarm of fire. — Hamilton.

The crackling flames appear on high ;
And driving sparkles dance along the sky.

Dryden's Virgil.

Fire ! fire ! fire ! Turn out ! turn out !


Among the novelties of New York, there is
nothing perhaps which strikes a stranger with
more surprise than the frequency of fires.
There is scarcely a day from January to July,
and from July to January, when there is not
an alarm— a cry of fire—and a ringing of
bells. But a single alarm, for each day in the
year, would be too low an average. To say
the bells are rung and the firemen called out,
five hundred times in the three hundred


and sixty-five days, would not exceed the

Some of these numerous alarms, in-'
deed, are false ; and others are raised
for very trivial causes. The boys vi^ill some-
times set up a cry of fire out of mere mischief,
or for the pleasure of running after, or help-
ing to drag, the engines. Other alarms are
raised from the burning of a foul chimney,
where no injury is done or likely to be done.
Others again arise from the actual catching
fire of some building ; which, however, taken
in the commencement, is extinguished with a
bucket of water.

But after making all due allowances, the
number of alarms, founded on good and suf-
ficient cause, is astonishingly great. Many
of the fires, though small, and capable of be-
ing extinguished with very little water, never-
theless require the aid of an engine, because
they are so situated that they cannot be
reached with bucket in hand. For these, a
single engine will suffice. Others, having
made greater progress, require two, or more


engines. While others — owing to the rapid
spread of the flames, the height of the build-
ings, the narrowness of the streets, or other
causes favoring the conflagration — demand
the aid of all the firemen, with all their means
of arresting the mischief.

Such was the great fire in Ann Street, on
the 4th of August, 1835; and such, above
all, was that most disastrous one, on the
16th of December, of the same year. In the
first of these, the difiiculty of extinguishing
the flames, arose principally from the exceed-
ing height of many of the buildings ; which,
being elevated to six stories, defied the force
of the most powerful engines to reach them
effectually ; at least to convey water to the
upper stories in such quantity as should not
rather excite the flames, than extinguish them.

The progress of the Great Fire, of the
16th of December, was owing to several caus-
es, which had never before occurred in com-
bination, and are not likely again to meet for a
long time to come. The mischief first com-
menced in a high building, in a narrow street.


But the firemen were on the ground, with
their usual alacrity, and before the flames
had made any very extensive progress. But
their engines were out of order; and this
was the first great cause of the succeeding
disaster. On the morning previous, they had
been employed at a large fire ; and the weath-
er being excessively cold, there was much ice
collected in the hose, and the pipes : so that
very little water could be received or deliver-
ed by them ; and that little not with sufficient
force, to have much eff"ect on a large fire and
a high building.

While the flames were fast getting ahead,
owing to the condition of the engines, these
were continually getting worse and worse,
in consequence of the increasing seventy of
the weather ; until at length they became, in
a great measure, useless ; and nearly all ef-
fort to arrest the flames by their means, was
abandoned. The firemen, unable to be of
service in their proper capacity, were employ*-
ed in saving goods and merchandize from the
stores which were next to be burnt.


But even these efforts in many instances,
availed not. The goods, though supposed at
first to be removed out of the reach of harm,
not being carried, as it turned out, to a suffi-
cient distance, were finally destroyed by the
flames ; and all the labor of their removal — in
some instances twice over — was utterly thrown

The first great cause of the progress of the
fire, as we have hinted, was the unfortunate
condition of the engines. But when it had
once got the power into its own hands, it seem-
ed to deride the vain efforts of man ; to
*' laugh at his calamity, and mock when his
fear came." Never was there a more striking
illustration of the truth of the latter clause
of that saying, which, having pronounced fire
to be " a good servant," also declares it to be
" a hard master." On that occasion it master-
ed all opposition. Contrary to the course
of ordinary fires, it seemed to pay no regard
to the winds, but ran as well agiiinst them, as
along with them. It spread east, west, north,
and south at the same time.. While one dj-


vision of its flames, was marching towards the
East River, another was proceeding towards
Broad-street, another to Wall, and so on.

People on all sides were in the utmost con-
sternation. Terror and dismay sat on every
face. Despair was in all men's words and
actions. A species of insanity, in many in-
stances, prevailed. Costly and valuable arti-
cles were destroyed, to save them from the
flames ! One man — a military character, and
now a hero in Texas — proposed to blow up
the City Hall, standing alone in the Park, to
stop the progress of the flames below Wall-
street, at half a mile's distance !

Gunpowder was finally employed, and pro-
bably with some advantage. Several stores
were blown up, in the neighborhood of the
fire, so as to occasion a vacancy in the line of
buildings where the flames were progressing.
The efiect of the powder on these stores was
very surprising, to those who had never seen
a similar explosion. Instead of the fragments
being blown upwards, and all around to a
great distance, as people expected ; the en-


tire buildings, on the powder being fired, set-
tled quietly down into their own cellars ; and
the spectators, who had run from the danger,
found they had been frightened without any

The blowing up of these stores, as we
have said, had probably some effect in ar-
resting the progress of the fire ; particularly
towards Broad street. A bound was put to
it in Wall street, by great exertions in keep-
ing constantly wet such of the exposed parts
of the buildings, on the upper side of that
street, as were combustible. While to the
east, it was only arrested by the river itself.

Some persons, however, were puzzled to
understand why the fire, on the whole, ceased
to rage so soon as it did ; they were rather
disposed to ascribe it to the mere weariness
and exhaustion of that element. If so, it had
abundant reason to be satisfied with its exer-
tions ; having destroyed, in its whole progress,
654 stores, shops, houses, and public build-
ings — including that expensive edifice, the
Merchants' Exchange, in which was the Post


Office, and the fine statue of Hamilton by

During the progress of this fire, the blacks
proved that they could be grateful for exer-
tions made in favor of their oppressed race,
A large number of them ran to the store of
Arthur Tappan — a leading abolitionist — and
exerted themselves faithfully, until his valuable
stock of goods was completely rescued from
the flames, and conveyed to a place of safety*

The amount of property, real, and personal,
destroyed at this fire, was estimated — after a
careful examination by a committee appointed
for that purpose — at the round sum of
$17,000,000. The loss at the fire in Ann
street was computed at nearly $1,000,000.
Other fires, during that year, of which the
number was large and the result disastrous,
are supposed to have raised the whole amount,
for the twelve months, to very near twenty
millions of dollars.

We have hinted at the surprise of strangers
at the frequent cries of fire in this city. They
are very often alarmed too, as well as sur-


prised; and fancy from the hideous outcry of
the boys and the rueful jangling of the bells,
that the fire is close to, if not within their
very lodgings ; and that New York is, every
day, on the veyy verge of a general confla-

To this alarm, the bells very much, per-
haps needlessly, contribute. As soon as an
alarm of fire is given, they fall to ringing in
all quarters, with great zeal and force; and
some of them continue their clamor for a con-
siderable time after the danger is past ; or
after the alarm is ascertained to be a false
one. The first in the field, the most vigorous
in action, and the last to quit, is the bell of
the Middle Dutch Church. Who the ringer
of that bell is, we know not ; but this we will
aver, that he labors with a zeal and perseve-
rance that are quite astounding. We fancy
he, now and then, gets up in his sleep to ex-
ercise his vocation. At any rate, whether
asleep or awake, he seems to have a remarka-
ble fondness for pulling at the end of a rope.


The number of fire companies in New York,
of all kinds, is 64. Of these, 49 are engine
companies ; 9, hook-and-ladder ; and the
remaining 6, hose. Each of these consists of
26 men, which is the requisite number to
form a full company. In addition to these,
they are permitted to accept of the services of
volunteers ; who, however, are not entitled to
any of the privileges belonging to the regular
firemen. All they can claim, is the pleasure
of turning out at every cry of fire ; and aiding
to draw and work the engines.

The regular firemen, as a remuneration for
all their toils, dangers, loss of sleep, exposure
to heat, cold, and wet, and various expenses
in the service of the public, for the space of
seven years, are exempted from military, and
from jury, duty ; not only during those seven
years, but for the rest of their lives. This
exemption, of course, is only available as long
as they continue inhabitants of the State of
New York ; other states not being bound to
the fulfilment of obligations contracted by
their sister state.


This is but a small compensation for all
their toil and exposure ; to say nothing of the
great loss of time, which can scarcely be con-
sidered of less value than $100 per annum
to each fireman ; amounting to $700 during
the seven years. With so inconsiderable an
offset for all their exertions, there must surely
be much of public spirit in the young men
composing the fire companies, to induce them
to enter upon, and persevere in this arduous
public duty.

That there is among them much of the
esprit du corps, is very certain : some pretty
strong proofs of it having been given last
year, when James Gulick, their popular Chief
Engineer, was removed from office by the
Common Council, and Mr. Riker, appointed
in his stead. They were engaged at a large
fire, when news of this change was brought
them : and touched with anger, or disgust,
or both, they suddenly abandoned their en-
gines, and following their leader, gave up a
valuable block of buildings to the flames ; nor
could they be induced to return, until Mr.


Gulick, at the instance of the mayor, intreat-
ed them to resume their duties, and himself
led them back to extinguish the flames.

Having done this, they resigned by whole
companies ; and New York was, for several
weeks, in a very exposed situation, for want
of an efficient fire department.

But the ex-firemen did not suffer the heat
of their resentment to cool, with the bare act
of resignation. On the contrary, they carried
the war into the enemy's camp — i. e. the
camp of the party to which the common
council belonged. At the fall election, they
organized a strong band ; and, since they
could not have Gulick for Chief Engineer of
the fire department, they determined he
should be Register of the city and county of
New York. They were indefatigable in pro-
curing him votes ; and the result was, that he
was raised to the office of Register, by a very
large majority ; and that in opposition to a
party which had almost invariably kept the
rule of the city, for many years. In the


room of an office worth $1,200, of which the
corporation deprived him, he was elevated to
one worth $20,000.

The fire companies are composed of young
men mostly between the ages of 20 and 30.
They are clerks and mechanics ; but a ma-
jority of the latter. Their alacrity in turning
out at every alarm of fire, is very remarkable ;
and the ambition of the different companies to
be first on the ground and to exert themselves
most strenuously when there, induces to the
most efficient operations.

Exerting themselves so much for the pub-
lic good with so little compensation, they fancy
they have some claims to select their chief en-
gineer ; and though by the law, the appoint-
ment lies with the common council, the fire-
men think their views and feelings might at
least be consulted by the members of that
honorable body. Perhaps it were a matter, no
less of policy than of courtesy, to do so : more
especially, as such vast interests and such im-
portant consequences depend upon the cheer-


ful activity and cordial exertions of the fire-
men, in discharge of their almost thankless



Together let us beat this ample field,

Try what the open what the covert yield. — Pope.

The number of public squares, in New York,
we believe does not much exceed ten. And,
as the number is remarkably small, so, in the
case of several of them, is the size remarka-
bly contracted. The first settlers, when land
was abundant and cheap, seem never to have
dreamed of setting aside any for the sole use,
behoof, and comfort of the citizens in general.
And since land began to grow scarce and
dear, it has been accounted too valuable to be
thrown open, in any great quantity, to the
public use.

To do our corporation justice, however,
they have provided some noble squares — at
least what we must call noble, in this cis-At-


lantic country, where, certain European wri-
ters say, every thing degenerates, and appears
comparatively on a small scale. Whether it
is on this principle of degeneracy, that our
Park is so contracted an affair in comparison
with St. James's, in London : and that our
other public squares are so inferior to those of
that great metropolis; we shall not pretend to
decide. But happy are we to say — nay, thrice
happy — that, in this land-speculating age, we
have any public squares, whatever, to set our
feet upon. Why, the temptation to sell them
is so great, that we marvel exceedingly that
the fathers of the city have not, ere this, cut
the Park and Battery into building lots and
set them to sale at the auction room of
Bleecker and Sons.

The whole space of ground occupied by
the public squar.^sof ^ ew York, may be about
60 acres. The Park and Battery contain,
each, somewhat more than 10 acres. Wash-
ington Square, Tompkins Square, and
Stuyvesant Square, have, each, probably
about the same amount. These are the


largest. Other petty patches of ground, de-
nominated squares, contain, some, one acre,
some a half, and some a fourth of an acre.

These squares are of all manner of shapes,
except that of a figure having four equal sides
and four right angles. In other words, though
called squares by courtesy, they are, in fact,
no squares at all. Some of them are oblong
rectangles, as the Washington Square, the
Tompkins Square, and so forth. Others are
triangles, as the Park, and some minor pieces.
While the Bowling Green is an elipsis ; and
the Battery, very much in the shape of a
quarter section of the rim of a modern hat.

The Bowling Green was formerly an ob-
long square ; and previous to the revolution
was called " the parade." There stood the
statue of his most gracious majesty, George
II., which the people, at the commencement
of the revolution, dragged through the streets ;
and finally converted its leaden materials into
bullets, to be shot at the soldiers of his
.grandson and successor, George III.

A large part of the ground, where the Bat-


tery now is, originally belonged to the do-
mains of old Neptune ; and, not many years
since, boats used to ply and the finny
tribes swim, where now trees grow and hu-
man feet tread.

This is the most delightful public ground in
the city — perhaps in any city of the United
States. It is agrc eably laid out and diversifi-
ed, with plots of grass, and gravel walks ;
beautified and rendered shady and pleasant, by
the weeping willow, the elm, the sycamore,
and other trees. Seats are also provided for
the weary, or for those who wish to lounge
and look abroad leisurely over the spacious
bay, the neighboring islands, and the shores
of New Jersey. It is perfectly delightful,

"The world forgetting, by the world forgot,"

To take a station on the Battery, of a
summer afternoon, and watch the vessels of
all kinds, as they glide by, from the light skiff
to the enormous steamboat, and from the fish-
ing smack with its single sail, to the merchant
ship with its thousand yards of canvass. It is
charming to witne^ss so busy a scene of life,


and commerce, and pleasure, on the quiet
bosom of the waves. It is pleasant to hear,
from the water, the sailor's merry "Yo !
heave O !" as he hoists the sail or heaves the
anchor. Even the playing of a porpus, or
the floating of a bit of wood, or a straw, on
the wave, affords agreeable pastime, on a plea-
sant summer's day ; when the mind is at
ease ; when the dinner has been good ; and
when the notes are all paid, and " some-
thing over."

It is a pleasant sight, of a Sunday, after the
last church, and just at the approach of sun-
set, to behold the crowds of people on the
Battery ; crowds of both sexes and every age,
but more particularly the young and light-
hearted ; all hi their Sunday's best ; gay in
heart, clean in person, and decent in attire.
There walks the bonnie lad and his more bon-
nie lassie. There walks the mother with her
children. And there walk the industrious
classes, who, escaped from the busy toils of
the week, seize upon this only hour of recre-


This is emphatically the people^s ground
Debarred, as the great body of them are,
from many of the pleasures and comforts of
life enjoyed by the wealthy ; and especially
confined to narrow limits in their houses ;
they are glad to escape, once a week, from
their crowded quarters and the unwholesome
air of their apartments, to stretch their cramp-
ed limbs, and to breathe freely the delightful
air of the Battery, where they are placed on
a footing of equality with the richest of their

But pleasant as it is, to the just and well-
disposed, thus to behold the people enjoying
themselves and taking their share of a com-
mon benefit, there are persons who seem to
grudge them this share, even though it be
claimed but once a week. They would, if it
were in their power, banish them from the
public walks. They are particularly offended
that the common people should presume to
appear on that delightful promenade, the Bat-
tery. " It is so very vulgar," say these aris-
tocrats, " to be seen walking in the same


grounds with mechanics, house-servants, and
laboring people !" And so, because the mass
of our citizens have the good sense and good

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Online LibraryAsa GreeneA glance at New York: embracing the city government, theatres, hotels, churches, mobs, monopolies, learned professions, newspapers, rogues, dandies, fires and firemen, water and other liquids, & c., & c. .. → online text (page 9 of 11)