New York Low Points -- the 1800s

  • July-November 1803
    600 New Yorkers die of yellow fever.

  • 1822
    As another yellow fever epidemic grips lower Manhattan, city residents take refuge in a distant country town -- Greenwich Village.

  • July-October 1832
    A cholera outbreak kills 3,500. On the upside, it leads to street-cleaning efforts.

  • 1832
    Caroline Ann Trow immigrates to New York where, under the name "Madame Restell," she grows fabulously wealthy selling her Preventive Powders for abortions, and later builds The Palace, a $200,000 mansion at 52nd Street and Fifth Avenue. In 1878, hounded by reformers and do-gooders, she commits suicide.

  • July 4-10, 1834
    Poor whites riot against the notion of abolition, rampaging through Five Points, terrorizing blacks and destroying their homes and businesses.

  • June 21-22, 1835
    Irish immigrants and native-born toughs square off in a series of running battles on the Lower East Side. Two are killed, and the original St. Patrick's Cathedral, on Mulberry Street, is menaced.

  • Dec. 16-17, 1835
    A fire devastates the financial district, spurring expansion to the north.

  • May 8-9, 1837
    A run on the city's banks -- all three of them -- leads to a financial panic that spreads across the country.

  • 1837
    The Tombs, the city's most notorious prison, is built.

  • January 1842
    Charles Dickens, a man who knows from slums, tours Five Points in lower Manhattan, and declares it as bad, if not worse, than anything he's seen in England. "All that is loathsome, drooping, and decayed is here," he writes.

  • 1845
    A second fire in the financial district finishes what the first didn't.

  • May 10, 1849
    A minor feud between an Irish-American actor and an English one becomes a matter of local and class pride, leading to the Astor Place Opera House Riot and the calling out of the National Guard. Over 20 killed, over 150 wounded.

  • June 1857
    On June 16, the Metropolitan Police, set up by the state legislature, fight a battle outside City Hall with the Municipal Police, set up by the city, over an attempt to arrest then-Mayor Fernando Wood, who favored the corrupt Municipals. Over 50 cops on both sides are wounded, and the Mets only win because the Seventh Regiment happens to be marching down Broadway. The resulting standoff between the two departments -- which criminals enjoy mightily -- ensues until July, when the Municipals are finally disbanded by court order.

  • Sept. 12, 1857
    The steamship Central America, bound for New York with close to $2 million in gold from California, sinks off South Carolina. Many New York banks, which needed the gold to answer a run on deposits, are forced to close, sparking a financial crisis and a depression that lasts until the Civil War.

  • Aug. 17, 1858
    Following a celebration of the laying of the Atlantic Cable, which included fireworks in City Hall Park, City Hall itself catches fire and suffers extensive damage.

  • 1858-1860
    During his term of office, Mayor Daniel Tiemann bans the sale of liquor in City Hall.

  • July 13-14, 1863
    Riots erupt over the introduction of Civil War conscription, and lead to vicious attacks on the black population and running battles with the police and army. Over 100 people are killed and $1 million in property damage inflicted in the city's worst-ever conflict.

  • Sept. 24, 1869
    Believing they've convinced President Ulysses S. Grant not to release government gold stocks, New York financiers Jay Gould and Jim Fisk try to corner the gold market, driving prices astronomically high. Grant gets wind of it and orders the Treasury to sell gold. Prices plummet, thousands are ruined.

  • 1871
    After an original estimate of $250,000, the Tweed Courthouse is finally built for $13 million. The extra money went to Boss William Tweed and his Tammany Hall cronies.

  • 1876
    On being transferred to a neighborhood where the graft was meatier, Police Capt. Alexander "Clubber" Williams says, "I've had nothing but chuck steak for a long time, and now I'm going to get a little of the tenderloin." He thus gave the 29th Precinct (on the West Side below 42nd Street) its name, and himself a chance to accumulate a mansion in Connecticut and a yacht on a policeman's salary. It took Teddy Roosevelt to pry him out of the department.

  • Dec. 5, 1876
    Close to 300 people die in a fire at the Brooklyn Theater, at Johnson and Washington Streets, leading to rules that exit doors must open out. There's a memorial to some of the victims in Green-Wood Cemetery.

  • 1887
    New York police officers get guns.

  • March 11-14, 1888
    The "Great White Hurricane" blankets New York in over 40 inches of snow, with drifts as high as 20 feet. 200 people die. The blizzard provides further impetus for the push for both a subway and the burying of telegraph and telephone lines.

  • 1890
    Danish-born photographer Jacob Riis published How the Other Half Lives, a study of the appalling conditions in New York slums and tenements. Housing reform becomes an issue, and Five Points, the worst area of all, is eventually cleaned out.

  • February 1892
    Social arbiter Ward McAllister publishes the list of "the 400" -- those who are included on Mrs. Astor's guest list -- in The New York Times. Everyone not on the list, including the Vanderbilts, is presumably unfit for society.

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