LES History: A Look Back at the Bowery “Blue Book”

Sleeping it off under the El [or whatever] in 1932, photographer Berenice Abbott.

Sleeping it off under the El [or whatever] in 1932, photographer Berenice Abbott.

The following column was written by TLD contributor Eric Ferrara of the Lower East Side History Project:

If you were down and out on the Bowery in the 1940s or 1950s, you wouldn’t want to earn the reputation as a “toes-up mokus” or aggressive “pinker” because you just might “catch some heat” from the “bulls” – or worse – you might be ostracized by your contemporaries and “outed” publicly in the Bowery Blue Book.

The legendary Bowery began hosting a notable homeless population as early as the 1870s. Many struggling Civil War veterans migrated towards major cities like New York in search of occupational prospects, only to find competition in a workforce already saturated with incoming immigrants and thousands of other Americans attracted to urban areas for similar opportunities.

LES History: The Food Riots of 1917

da Harris leading protestors at City Hall in February, 1917. Source: International Socialist Review, April 1917/Library of Congress.

Editor’s note: Today we have the second installment of our new LES history series with Eric Ferrara, the founder of the Lower East Side History Project:

It is hard for us to imagine not having a C-Town nearby or a 24-hour bodega on every corner to satisfy our cravings at a moment’s notice. In a world before supermarkets—let alone packaged foods, microwaves and refrigerators—families had to purchase fresh groceries on a near daily basis from separate vendors and regularly prepare meals from raw materials. This responsibility usually fell on the wives and mothers of the house, who spent much of their days planning and preparing family meals based on a nominal budget of a few cents.

Looking at the LES’s Presidential Connections

George and Martha Washington’s mansion at 3 Cherry Street. Source: New York Historical Society.

Editor’s note: Today we’re kicking off a new LES history series with Eric Ferrara, the founder of the Lower East Side History Project.  In honor of President’s Day, Eric looks at the enduring allure of this neighborhood to occupants of the White House from the nation’s earliest days. 

From the ambitious political architects of our fledgling nation to the most powerful heads-of-state of the 21st century, the Lower East Side has hosted some pretty interesting presidential history.

Former Continental Army Commander George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States during a ceremony at Federal Hall in Lower Manhattan on April 30, 1789. After what I’m sure was a night on the town that would make Sean Combs envious, the nation’s earliest Commander-in-Chief retired to his residence at 3 Cherry Street on the Lower East Side.

The elegant, yet publicly accessible mansion was leased by Congress for $845 a year and served as Washington’s home base for the first ten months of his presidential term. With a home office on third floor, Washington soon found it difficult to work with the entire city knocking on his door, so bi-weekly “levees”—or greeting sessions – were established to satisfy public interest.