“I said anything could be done in New York, including rodeo. And I proved it.”—Tex Austin

Tex Austin Rodeo Yankee Stadium

Frank McCarroll steer wrestling at Tex Austin’s rodeo, Yankee Stadium, 1923.

Every time I sit in the nosebleed seats at Yankee Stadium, I laugh at the placards on the back of every seat that say “Be alert for bats and/or balls.” Ha, like a bat or foul ball is going to make its way all the way up to the grandstand seating!

I laugh now, but for 10 days in August 1923, just four months after the brand-new Yankee Stadium opened at 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx, the spectators did need to be alert – but not for bats and balls. It was stray bulls they had to worry about.

Bryan Roach of Fort Worth, Texas, came in third place in the Great Harlem River Swimming Contest.

Bryan Roach of Fort Worth, Texas, came in third place in the Great Harlem River Swimming Contest. The other contestants were Charles Aldrich, “Red” McDonald, Tony Pagano, Joe Bell, Bill Hurley, Jack Rogers, Roy Kivett, John McDonald, Tim Carmine, Bill Getz, Ed McCarthy and Verne Elliot.


Tex Austin Brings His Rodeo to the Bronx

In 1922, American rodeo promoter John Van “Tex” Austin brought his popular western-style rodeo to Madison Square Garden. The inaugural event was such a big success, he needed a bigger venue. So in August 1923, while the New York Yankees were playing out west, Tex Austin brought the west to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

To generate publicity and excitement for the 10-day event, Tex organized a benefit event for Catholic Big Brothers that featured about a dozen cowboys in western garb “riding” cow ponies across the Harlem River. Called the Great Harlem River Swimming Contest, the event attracted 10,000 spectators who loudly cheered on the ponies and cowboys.

Tony Pagano won $300 in the Great Harlem River Swimming Contest

Tony Pagano won $300 in the Great Harlem River Swimming Contest. To ensure safety at the event, Commander Edward F. Otto of the Orchard Beach Life Saving Station was on hand with 27 men equipped with life rings and Pulmotor artificial respiration devices.

The rodeo officially opened at 3 p.m. on August 15. Almost overnight, Yankee Stadium had been transformed into the Wild West. About 900 hands of livestock were corralled under the stadium grandstands. And a huge, 100,000 square foot mat made of cocoa and weighing 58 tons was pegged down with iron spikes over the infield and part of the outfield in order to protect the ground from the cloven hooves. The running track was widened to accommodate relay races on horseback, and 30 enormous flood lights were perched on the roof for night events (lights and night games didn’t come to Yankee Stadium until May 28, 1946!).

The rodeo featured almost 200 contests, including bronco riding, steer wrestling, cow roping, cowgirl trick and fancy riding, relay races, bareback bronco riding, and more. Just over 100 cowboys and cowgirls competed for $50,000 in prize money, and thousands of spectators paid $2 or $3 to watch all the action.

Ruth Roach cowgirl Yankee Stadium

Ruth Roach, the wife of Bryan Roach pictured above, was one of many cowgirls to compete for prize money in the rodeo at Yankee Stadium. “Western girls are at home in the saddle as New York girls are in a subway seat.” —Evening Telegram, August 12, 1923

Be Alert for Foul Bulls

As Time magazine noted on August 20, 1923, “At bronk riding and steer bull-dogging [events], contestants are frequently seriously injured, occasionally killed. Tex Austin imports from the West and Southwest steers and broncos selected especially for their lack of amiability.” In other words, foul bulls.

Tex Austin Rodeo, Yankee Stadium

Eddie Steidler is thrown from his horse during Tex Austin’s rodeo at Yankee Stadium in 1923.

Speaking to the New York press before the rodeo began, Tex Austin explained that the contestants could ride whatever they pleased at the event — including the subway if they found the horses and steers too tame. I think some of the cowboys and cowgirls should have stuck to the subway.

Each day of the event, the New York newspapers reported on the numerous mishaps at the stadium. Ruth Wheat was thrown and trampled by her horse; Frank Studenick broke his arm when he was thrown from his horse (they both came back to compete the next day). Buford B. Polk was thrown during the steer riding competition and was taken, unconscious, to Fordham Hospital with a fractured skull. Earl Thode was kicked in the spine by a steer and taken to Harlem Hospital; Floyd Schilling was thrown from a bucking bronco and went to Lincoln Hospital with two broken arms. You get the idea.

Tex Austin Rodeo Yankee Stadium

Wooden promotional poster for the rodeo.

Numerous spectators were also injured — or, at least, almost frightened to death — when several bulls decided to make their way into the stands. One steer went on a rampage and headed into the lower left-field seats, causing people to run for their lives (some cowboys had to jump over seats to catch the animal). And two steers took off into the right-field bleacher seats — it took 12 men to capture them.

A Brahma Steer Goes Wild

A few days after the rodeo ended, a convoy of motor trucks began transporting the livestock from the stadium to the railroad yards at 152nd Street. One particularly brazen Brahma steer who apparently did not want to leave the big city jumped from the vehicle and made a mad dash through Macomb’s Dam Park.

Pursued by rodeo cowboys on horseback and several policemen in commandeered taxi cabs, the steer ran north on Sedgwick Avenue to Jerome Avenue. There, it struck Mrs. Mary Merrill of 407 East 136th Street. Mrs. Merrill was not injured, but the steer quickly met his demise when Patrolman Powers of the Highbridge Station shot him in the head from a moving taxi cab. (And we thought the 1970s were dangerous times!)

Yankee Stadium 1923

This circa 1923 photo provides a rare aerial view of Yankee Stadium, Macomb’s Dam Park, and the Polo Grounds across the Harlem River. It was along these dusty dirt streets that the Tex Austin rodeo steer led cowboys and police on a wild chase.

Yankee Stadium: From Swampland to Cathedral

Although it would be astounding to see a bull running down Jerome Avenue today, in 1923 the Highbridge (formerly Highbridgeville) neighborhood of the Bronx was still quite rural and mostly farmland. Here’s a quick visual history of the 10 acres of hollowed ground that the American Baseball League delegates chose for Yankee Stadium – the Cathedral of Baseball – in February 1921:

Keskeskeck Bronx

On August 3, 1639, the West India Company received from native tribes a tract of land between the Kil and Great Kil (Harlem and Hudson rivers), which they called Keskeskeck. From this tract, Daniel Turneur was granted 81 acres bounded by the Harlem River and Cromwell’s Creek, and comprising the high lands of Devoe’s Point near today’s Macombs Dam Bridge (Frederick Devoe was a descendent of Turneur’s daughter.) About 1,900 acres of land to the east of Cromwell’s Creek was granted to Colonel Lewis Morris in 1676.

Morrisania map 1879

The site of the original Yankee Stadium was once swampland along Cromwell’s Creek, a popular spot for fishing, swimming, and ice skating in the 1800s. Cromwell’s Creek, shown in this 1879 map, was named for the descendants of John Cromwell, a nephew of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. In the late 1700s, James Cromwell used the waters of the creek to propel his mill.

Macombs Dam, 1814

In 1813, Robert Macomb constructed a dam across the Harlem River for his mill on Devoe’s Point (his toll bridge opened in 1816). Although the state required Macomb to operate a lock to keep navigation open, only small boats could pass through the 7 x7 foot lock. In 1838, Lewis G. Morris and irate residents along the riverbank paid a coal barge crew to break through the dam with axes. Charges were filed, but the court declared Macomb’s dam a “public nuisance” (Renwick v. Morris). The Central Bridge opened in 1861 and was replaced by the current Macombs Dam Bridge in 1895.

Cedar Jack's Last Stand Clam Bar

In the 1800s, Highbridge was a popular destination for tourists and sporting men who traveled to the area by Harlem River steamers. The town had numerous wood-frame road houses and eateries, like George A. Huber’s Hotel and Casino (formerly Judge Smith’s road-house tavern) at Jerome and 162nd Street and Cedar Jack’s Last Stand Clam Bar along Cromwell’s Creek at 161st Street (shown here), which was run by John Burns. There was also Schumacher’s Saloon at 161st and River Avenue, which was the exact spot of the 1923 Yankee Stadium.

162nd Street Bronx 1880s

On April 21, 1880, William H. Morris and his wife conveyed about 500 lots to John Jacob Astor for $437,983. The lots comprised about 140 acres plus water rights, and were bounded by Mott Avenue, Cromwell’s Creek, Central Avenue (Jerome Avenue), 155th and 167th Street. The Astor’s had many tenants, including coal dealers John M. Tierney, William F. Porter, and Carrie T. Porter (Tierney & Porter), who opened shop at 161st Street and Jerome Avenue along Cromwell’s Creek in 1888, and Clifford L. Miller & Co., a brick and cement manufacturer, who began operating on this site in 1891. New York Public Library Digital Collection

Morrisania Map 1900

By the late 1800s, the city had begun allowing contractors to dump dirt, boulders, and other excavated materials from building sites into Cromwell’s Creek in order to cover it over. For example, in 1902, when the rapid transit tunnel at Morris Avenue and 149th Street was excavated, all the stones and dirt was dumped into the creek. By about 1905, much of it was covered over; Macombs Dam Park (green) was in use by local ball clubs like the Unions of Morrisania and the empty lot to its west was awaiting something big.

Lumberyard, pre Yankee Stadium, 1921

In 1903, American Baseball League delegates began looking at a swampy piece of land owned by the Astor estate. It wasn’t until February 1921 that the owners of the New York American League Baseball Club, Jacob Rupert and Tillinghast l’Hommedieu Huston, announced that they had selected a location for the future home of the Yankees — a garbage-strewn 10-acre plot between 161st Street and 157th Street at River Avenue that was currently being used as a lumberyard. The owner paid $675,000 for the lot and the lumberyard was demolished. The rest, they say, is history. Brooklyn County Historical Society

Click here for a month-by-month photo collage of the construction of Yankee Stadium, starting February 11, 1921.

Yankee Stadium 1923

Taxis line up in front of Yankee Stadium during its inaugural season in 1923.

Kitten in police boot

In 1915, the New York Police Department had more than 100 station house cats on the roster, each responsible for ridding the houses of mice and rats.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, many New York police station houses were located in neighborhoods populated by stables or shanties that were overrun by rats. The policemen of this era were not ashamed to admit that it was quite unnerving to see a large rat scampering across their dormitory at night. It was no doubt very reassuring to know that the station house cat was on the job.

The Morrisania police station on Washington Avenue at 160th Street was the perfect candidate for a station house cat. Although today we call it the South Bronx, less than 150 years ago this southwestern section of the borough was a sleepy little village surrounded by farms along the Mill Brook (today’s Brook Avenue). Although I’m sure the station house in Morrisania had many mouse catchers over the years, three such felines that made the New York headlines in the 1900s deserve a special tribute.

But first, a quick look at the history of the Morrisania police station.

From Town Hall to Police Station

In 1639, Jonas Bronck, a Swedish captain for the Dutch West India Trading Company, was granted a purchase of land between the Harlem and Aquahung (Bronx) Rivers. Following his death in 1643, the tract passed through the hands of successive Dutch traders until 1664, when a royal patent for Bronck’s land was issued to Samuel Edsall.

William H. Morris Mansion

Even members of the Morris family were apparently afraid of discovering rats in their bedrooms at night. In 1816, James Morris, the son of Lewis Morris IV, built an estate on the site bounded by the present Findlay and Teller Avenues and East 167th and 168th Streets. This estate, later called the William H. Morris Mansion (William was one of James’ 12 children) had a curious feature: The only stairway was hidden away inside a small room behind a small door leading off the grand hallway. As Common Council Clerk David T. Valentine noted, “The owner evidently took no chances with possible nocturnal visitors of the early days.” Museum of the City of New York.

Edsall in turn conveyed the land to Captain Richard Morris and Colonel Lewis Morris. Four years later, Colonel Morris obtained a royal patent to Bronck’s Land and adjacent lands, which afterward became the Manor of Morrisania – a total of 1,900 acres bounded by the Bronx Kill at E. 132nd Street, W. 170th Street, the Harlem River and the East River.

Morrisania Town Hall

Although the Morrisania Town Hall was erected on “Lot No. 1 of the Village of Morrisania,” it actually was in the Village of Melrose, just south of the true limits of Morrisania.

Fast-forward to 1869, when the original Morrisania police station began its life as the first town hall for Morrisania. The two-story stone and brick structure was erected for about $40,000 under Supervisor William Cauldwell, and was designed by architects John Rogers and Edward H. Browne, who both resided in Morrisania.

When the township was formally annexed to New York City in 1874, the building was adapted for a police station. Morrisania was a large precinct patrolled by mounted policemen, and so a wooden stable was erected on the east for the horses of the mounted unit. Later, an annex was built in the rear for a dormitory for the men.

Police Call Box

The Morrisania police station could receive special signals from three telegraph boxes that were located at the Harlem Bridge; on Eastern Boulevard (today’s Bruckner Expressway) near 175th Street; and near George P. Arcularius’ Jerome Park Hotel at the intersection of Central Avenue and Gerard Street (today’s Jerome Avenue and Gerard Avenue, and the site of the 44th Police Precinct).

The grounds on the triangular lot were reported to be quite lovely, and featured a flower garden and pastures for the horses. School children often stopped by to watch or feed the horses — a particular favorite was Shiner, a cherry bay horse who was on the job for 20 years. Directly behind the station were the tracks for the Port Morris branch of the New York and Harlem Railroad.

But as time went by and Morrisania became more populated, the old town hall building was no longer suitable for a police station. As Police Captain Theron R. Bennett noted in 1885, “The accommodations are wretched, but the place is comfortable.” It would be another 20 years before the town got a new police station.

Port Morris Branch New York and Harlem Railroad

In this 1911 map, you can see the tracks for the Port Morris branch of the New York and Harlem Railroad directly behind the police station. Today the overgrown rail bed still exists behind the station, while other portions of the track run under O’Neill’s Triangle and St. Mary’s Park.

In May 1904, workers began demolishing the old building in preparation for a new, modern station. During the construction, the department was temporarily housed in an abandoned tool factory that the city owned on Brook Avenue near the site of today’s O’Neill Triangle. Finally, on November 1, 1905, the policemen moved into their new home at 830 Washington Avenue, a Neo-Renaissance style palazzo-like police station designed by Charles Volz.

1904: Bill is Arrested for Stealing a Steak

In June 1904, when the Morrisania police were in their temporary quarters in the old tool factory, Bill was the precinct’s official mouse catcher under the command of Sergeant William E. Egan. Every day, Sergeant Egan’s son, Albert, would bring his dinner to the station. On June 29, Albert brought his father a large porterhouse steak that he was looking forward to eating.

Morrisania Bronx Washington Ave.

This late 19th-century photo shows Washington Avenue at East 169th Street, which was just 9 blocks north of the police station. In the back is a row of breweries on Third Avenue.

Just as he was about to eat his meal at his desk, another policeman appeared with a prisoner and he was called to assist. As he walked from his desk he heard the dish fall to the floor. Then he saw Bill carry away his prized steak.

This wasn’t the first time Bill had stolen food from Sergeant Egan, but this time he wasn’t going to get away with it. The sergeant told The New York Times that he was “arresting” the cat for larceny, and that Bill would be arraigned later that day by Captain Patrick Byrne.

1911: Pete Goes on a Hunger Strike

In 1911, the Morrisania police had been in the new station house for six years. The population was booming at this point, and one by one the old farms and vacant lots began disappearing as new housing was constructed to meet the heavy demand. It was during this era that a beautiful white cat named Pete ruled the roost as the chief mouser of Morrisania.

42nd Precinct NYPD

The building facade reads “46 Precinct Police Station,” but today the building is home to the 42nd Precinct under the command of Captain Steven Ortiz. The landmark station house was used in exterior shoots during the making of the 1981 movie Fort Apache, the Bronx starring Paul Newman.

Born at the station house sometime around 1910, Pete was the pride of the precinct. He was named after Lieutenant Peter Brady, who adopted him when he was born.

Like many cats, Pete was very stubborn, and he had strong likes and dislikes. His favorite resting place was the top of the station house desk, but when a lieutenant whom Pete disliked was on duty, nothing could persuade him to stay near the desk. If he didn’t like the lieutenant on duty, he sought out a far corner of the station or made mischief.

One time the lieutenant went to the back room for a few minutes, leaving Pete in charge of the station. Pete obviously did not like this man, and he demonstrated his feelings by spilling a bottle of ink all over the police blotter.

Pete liked several of the lieutenants, including Frank O’Rourke, who would blow his police whistle to summon Pete back to the station. Another favorite was Lt. Charles Price. But Pete was most loyal to Lt. Peter Brady.

245 East 60th Street was the station house for Bridge Precinct D

In 1911, Lt. Brady and Pete the cat were attached to the Bridge Precinct D at 245 East 60th Street (middle). This was a small precinct of only 49 officers, most of whom patrolled the streets on bicycle. The three-story brownstone with basement was formerly the residence of Lillie McGovern, who rented the building to the city for $1,200 a year. This station house also served as offices for the Detective Bureau. The Bridge Precinct D was abolished in 1912 and merged with the 31st Precinct.

So in July 1911, when Lt. Brady and Lt. Price were transferred to other stations, Pete went on a hunger strike. For days, he refused to come out of his hiding spot in the basement. The policemen tried coaxing him with cream, milk, and fish, all to no avail. They finally captured the cat and sent him to the Queensboro Bridge Squad (Bridge Precinct D) so he could be reunited with his namesake.


1915: Tabby Gets a Gift from Justice

In 1922, the granite Beaux-Arts Bronx Borough Courthouse on Brook Avenue at 161st Street was home to a flock of English starlings. The birds discovered the building soon after it was completed in 1914, and were particularly fond of “Lady Justice,” who presided over the entrance on the Brook Avenue side of the courthouse.

Bronx Borough Courthouse 1914

Construction of the G.E. Roine’s sculpture “Justice” graces the south facade of the Bronx Borough Courthouse, shown here in 1914, the year it opened. The graffiti-covered landmark has been vacant since 1977.

During an extreme cold spell in January 1922, a woman found several of the starlings on the pavement – they had fallen from the statue, stiff from the cold. She took three of the birds to her home to revive them, and she brought three more to the police station.

I don’t know what happened to the three birds she took home, but I do know that the birds she took to the police were dead on arrival. Lieutenant John Lake summoned chief mouse catcher Tammy, who gladly received the free avian gift (I’m sure she would have preferred a porterhouse steak.)

Billy goat, mascot of The Lambs

Billy played the role of Djali in “Notre Dame” and served as The Lambs’ mascot in 1902.

A while back, I wrote about Sir Oliver, a parrot that performed on Broadway in the early 1900s and served as mascot for The Lambs, America’s first professional theatrical club. Right after I posted the story, New York actor and Lambs’ Shepherd (president) Marc Baron contacted me to tell me that The Lambs also had a mascot tomcat named Tommy in the 1930s. He sent me a picture of Tommy that is on display at the club’s current headquarters, and I began to do some research.

As I searched for more information on Tommy, I came across two articles in The Sunday Telegraph and The New York Times about Billy, a goat that was also a Lambs’ mascot in the early 1900s (you’d think actors could come up with more original mascot names!). Although the details differ slightly in both articles, the most likely story is that Billy came to The Lambs via honorary member Daniel Frohman sometime around January 1902.

Daniel Frohman

Daniel Frohman, an honorary member of The Lambs, was the producer-manager of the Lyceum Theatre and the Lyceum Theatre Stock Company from 1886 to 1909.

According to the report in the Telegraph, Daniel Frohman had gone to Harlem in search of a goat for Miss Hilda Spong, who was performing with Frohman’s Lyceum Theatre Stock Company. Miss Spong was playing the role of Esmeralda in “Notre Dame” at Daly’s Theatre on Broadway, and she needed a goat to play the role of Djali. Daniel returned from his jaunt with Billy, a white goat that, until that point, had been surviving on garbage in the wild lands of Harlem Heights.

From February 26 to April 6, 1902, Billy appeared on stage every night as the clever goat with gold-painted hoofs and horns (as depicted by Victor Hugo in his 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame). When he wasn’t performing, Billy made his home at the Lambs Club on West 36th Street in the Herald Square Theater District, where he was treated like royalty with weekly baths and grooming.

Daly Theatre, New York

The Daly Theatre at 1221 Broadway opened in 1867 as Barnvard’s Museum, a museum-theater operated by owner John Banvard. In 1879, Augustin Daly took over, creating one of America’s foremost theaters. After his death in 1899, various managers followed, including the Shuberts. It was operating as a burlesque house when it was demolished in 1920.

In a preview of “Notre Dame” in the January 1902 issue of “The Theatre,” most of the performers were panned, but Billy received a thumbs-up:

“With the exception of Esmeralda’s goat, the only natural-appearing, convincing creatures on the stage are Mr. (George) Barbier’s Quasimodo, Mr. (James Lee) Finney’s Gringoire, and, in a limited way, Mr. (Frank) Bangs’ Major Galiache.”

Hilda Spong

Hilda Spong did not receive any rave reviews for her betrayal of Esmeralda in “Notre Dame.” However, her “leading man,” Billy the goat, did win over the critics with his strong will to take center stage.

Billy also received some ink in The New York Times’ review of the play on February 27, the day after opening night:

“Esmeralda’s goat made his entrance in the first act, and showed a strong histrionic instinct! At least, when one of the stage people tried to lead him out of the centre of the stage he resisted stoutly.”

Although Billy spent most of his time in The Lambs’ back yard at 70 West 36th Street, he preferred being indoors where there many more items other than a wood fence to chew on and destroy. Billy was particularly fond of towels, hats, slippers, and umbrellas. He was always blamed when items disappeared – he even took the blame one time when a diamond ring went missing from the club.

Lambs Club, 70 West 36th Street

The Lambs moved to West 36th Street in 1897 and stayed there until 1905. It was here that Shepherd Clay M. Greene inducted Billy the goat as their mascot.

1932: Tommy Makes Himself at Home

Tommy C. Lamb…was truly a remarkable cat. Merely an alley cat when he first came to the Lambs, he blossomed forth as one of the most beautiful cats you have ever seen. There wasn’t a pregnant cat within a radius of six blocks that didn’t blame it on Tom. He really was remarkable.–Joe Laurie, Jr., 1953

Tommy Casanova Lamb, a husky grey-and-white cat from the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, wandered into The Lambs’ Club in 1932 when he was just a kitten. There, at 128 West 44th Street, he took up his station at the bar, where he spent most of his waking hours gazing at the celebrity customers, fattening up on beer and free lunches, or kicking out any other cats that tried to create disorder in the club.

Tommy Casanova Lamb

Tommy Casanova Lamb was a life member of The Lambs. To this day, his picture hangs in their clubhouse on West 51st Street. Photo courtesy of Lambs Shepherd Marc Baron.

Although The New York Times called Tommy the Feline Bar Fly, he did keep good order at the establishment. One time a black tom with green eyes from Sixth Avenue crashed into the bar and tried to steal some bologna from the counter. As the Times reported, Tommy evicted him with a few well-placed lefts.

Tommy was also a very smart feline. Not only did he know when anyone in the dining room ordered fish, he was quite aware that The Lambs’ Club was his forever home.

Lamb's Club, West 44th Street, 1918

Tommy made his home at The Lambs’ clubhouse on West 44th Street. This building was designated a New York City Landmark in 1974 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Today it is home to the Chatwal Hotel, which operates a restaurant called the Lambs’ Club.

For example, in December 1935, vaudeville singer and pianist Herb Williams borrowed Tommy for his trick piano skit at a gambol at the Waldorf. During the finale, as the piano fell apart, Tommy popped out, let out a loud meow, jumped over the footlights and ran down the aisle and out the door. Two hours later, drenched by rain, he appeared at the entrance to the Lambs clubhouse, meowing to be let in.

One of the reasons Tommy may have felt so at home with The Lambs is that he was reportedly a descendent of one of the performing cats in Charles Swain’s Rats and Cats vaudeville act. This act featured rats dressed as jockeys who would ride on the cats’ backs around a little racetrack. The climax of the act was a comedy skit featuring two of the cats boxing each other.

Herb Williams with trick piano

Herb Williams (Herbert Schussler Billerbeck) had a trick piano that fell apart during his act. In 1935, one year before his death, he borrowed Tommy to jump out of the piano. You can see Tommy running away in this video capture. You can also click here to see and hear the entire act.

Based on Tommy’s track record as a fighter — the Times dubbed him “the toughest cat of New York” — I have a feeling that if he truly was a descendant of one of Swain’s feline performers, it would have been one of the boxing cats.

You see, Tommy had a bad habit of flirting with the other tomcat’s wives, which not only earned him the title “The Great Lover of the Forties,” but also got him into trouble with the competition. Many a boxing match took place when Tommy tried to add another female to his feline harem.

Ellin Prince Speyer Hospital for Animals

Tommy spent several days healing from his wounds at the Ellin Prince Speyer Hospital for Animals at 350 Lafayette Street (at the cost of $3 a day). Formerly known as the Hospital of Women’s League for Animals, the facility opened in 1914.

One time, Tommy got into a fight with Felix Adelphi, the Tuxedo cat mascot of the Alpha Delta Phi Club, which was next door at 136 West 44th Street. Another time, after an all-night battle in the winter of 1936, he limped home in such a shocking state of disrepair that he was put in a taxi cab and rushed to the Ellin Prince Speyer Hospital for Animals. Dr. James R. Kinney, chief vet, said it was one of the worst cases of mayhem and mussing up that he had ever seen. Although the vet thought Tommy’s wounds would lead to gangrene, the tough cat pulled through, albeit, he had quite a few more battle scars.

Tough Tomcat to Take Girlfriend to Party

To celebrate Tommy’s recovery from the big fight, the Gallery Boys, the younger set of The Lambs Club, decided to hold a testimonial dinner for Tommy Lamb in March 1936. On March 21, the headline in The New York Post read: “Lambs Club’s Tough Tomcat to Take Girlfriend to Party.” Right above this story, the headline was, “Hitler is Asked for Counter-Plan.”

According to the article, Joe Laurie, Jr., super president of the Gallery Boys, came up with the idea for the dinner. The special dinner featured all of Tommy’s favorite dishes, including scallops, stuffed olives, cantaloupe, and beer. Tails and white tie were compulsory, and it was agreed that Tommy would sit at the head of the table (although no one wanted to volunteer to make him sit there.)

Tommy’s latest girlfriend, a little black-and-white kitty who lived at the nearby Central Union Bus Terminal, was invited to be his escort for the evening. The Alpha Delta Phi fraternity asked if Felix could attend, but that request was shot down by the Gallery Boys.

Central Union Bus Terminal, Hotel Dixie, New York

Before the Port Authority Bus Terminal, there was a much smaller Central Union Bus Terminal at the Hotel Dixie on West 42nd Street. Tommy’s favorite girlfriend was a black-and-white kitty who lived at the terminal. She was also invited to Tommy’s dinner, although I’m not sure if she was able to attend.

Joe Laurie, who wrote about the event in his book Vaudeville from the Honky Tonks to the Palace, reported that everyone wore evening clothes, many great speeches were made, and Tommy took it all in stride as he stretched out on a special throne with loads of catnip around him.

Joe Laurie jr.

Joe Laurie, Jr., “The Pint-Sized Comedian” (bottom), came up with the idea to have a testimonial dinner for Tommy Lamb.

When people read about the dinner in the news, they sent him all kinds of gifts, including catnip, hand-knit sweaters and booties, dishes, and more. Pro boxer Edward Patrick “Mickey” Walker gave him a set of boxing gloves and New York artist James Montgomery Flagg sketched a portrait of him amongst all his fellow Lambs.

A month after the dinner, Mrs. Diana Belais, president of the New York Anti-vivisection Society, presented a silver
medal to Tommy. The medal was accompanied by this inscription:

“Thomas Casanova Lamb crept into the Lambs’ club four years ago when he was an orphan and took up residence in the bar, fattening on the beer and free lunches until now he is a great, husky gray and white cat who is to receive our medal for his super-intelligence and devotion.”

Although Tommy was long since gone “to where all good cats go” when Joe Laurie published his vaudeville book in 1953, Joe said he did leave a grandson who was even more talented than his grandpa cat.

This cat was trained by Willie, The Lambs’ long-time waiter, to sit up with a cigarette in his mouth while wearing glasses and holding a newspaper in his paws. The word was, when Tommy III (I don’t know his real name) was on the pool table, nobody was allowed to chase him off – the players simply had to shoot around him.

Tommy Lamb

Tommy Lamb’s grandson was very well trained. Here, he strikes one of his favorite poses for the press.

Sounds to me as if Tommy’s grandson was a life member, too.

GoatsBrooklyn

On April 26, 1915, the Mounted Policemen’s Association hosted a dinner at the Hotel Majestic in Manhattan. Two of the many honored guests were Patrick J. Doody and Edward T. Cody, both mounted policemen with the 168th Police Precinct in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.

At the dinner, Mayor John Purroy Mitchel, “The Boy Mayor of New York,” quashed a rumor that mounted police were going to be replaced by bicycle police or motorcycle patrols. Although he admitted that motorcycles were necessary in New York’s outlying districts because of their speed, he pointed out that horses were still necessary because motorcycles could not jump over fences or ditches.

“Some people seem to feel the day is coming when the horse is going to disappear from the police department” Mitchel told the men. “I do not for one believe so.”

Two months later, Patrick Doody and Edward Cody would prove their worth as mounted policemen during the greatest roundup of goats in the history of Brooklyn.

John Purroy Mitchel

“Until motorcycles are equipped with aeorplanes the horse will be in use for police work,” “Mayor John Mitchel told the Mounted Policemen’s Association in April 1915. Three years later, as a cadet with the Army Signal Corps, Mitchel was killed when the military plane he was flying went into a nose dive and crashed.

James Murdock and His Law-Breaking Ways

Before I tell you about the goat herding, let me introduce you to the goats’ owner, James Murdock, or Jimmie, as he was called.

Jimmie Murdock was born in Italy in 1867 (give or take a few years). He arrived in Brooklyn around 1903 and began working as a farmer. By 1910, he was a self-proclaimed dairy man with about a dozen cows and two bulls. He reportedly lived with the cows in a barn on 11th Avenue at 64th Street in the Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn.

Jimmie had a problem abiding by the big city laws, and he was often arrested for violating the Sanitary Code, trespassing, creating a public nuisance, using insulting language, and numerous other minor crimes. In June 1910, he stepped over the line of petty offenses and was arrested for committing a felony.

According to news reports, Jimmie allegedly attacked two women on separate occasions and held them prisoner in his barn. Brooklyn resident Helen Wilson told police she was attacked and held hostage in the barn for an entire night. Another woman, 19-year-old Pauline Kreyeka, said she had been attacked by three men in the barn and also held prisoner overnight.

9th District Magistrates' Court, Brooklyn

Jimmie Murdock was a frequent customer of the 9th District Magistrates’ Court on Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street in Brooklyn. This building was erected in about 1860, and had two detention pens (one for men, one for women), each about 9 x 18 feet. Photo ca. 1932, Brooklyn Public Library

The police arrested Jimmie and took him to the hospital where Pauline was being treated. She identified him as one of the men who had attacked and robbed her of $100 and a gold chain. Jimmie was held on $2,000 bail at the Fifth Avenue Magistrates’ Court.

I’m not sure if Jimmie spent any lengthy time in jail, but I do know that he was arrested again in December 1912. The problem this time was that Jimmie did not have a license to keep cows on the property, nor did he have a Board of Health license to sell cow’s milk. Magistrate Nash of the Fifth Avenue police court fined him $50 for failure to close the stable.

Jimmie Loses His Bay Ridge Home

Forced to close his dairy business on 11th Avenue, Jimmie moved into a make-shift home – a collapsible shack made out of sheet iron — on 8th Avenue at 62nd Street in Bay Ridge. He brought the cows and bulls with him, along with several dogs and cats. Without any enclosure to protect them, the animals roamed freely in vacant lots and neighbors’ yards.

As time passed and builders crowded him out of his temporary home site, Jimmie would drag his dwelling a few hundred feet down the road and set up house again. No surprise, the neighbors did not like Jimmie Murdock.

Neighbors often complained when Jimmie Murdock allowed his cows to graze in the vacant lots along 62nd Street and 8th Avenue. Today, these vacant lots are the site of Leif Ericson Park.  Brooklyn Public Library

Neighbors often complained when Jimmie Murdock allowed his cows to graze in the vacant lots along 62nd Street and 8th Avenue. Today, these vacant lots are the site of Leif Ericson Park. Brooklyn Public Library

In 1914, the Health Department finally seized his bulls and cows. Jimmie responded by stocking up on more dogs and a herd of 16 to 40 goats (the estimates widely varied, depending on which neighbor complained). When he was threatened with seizure again, he enclosed the herd in a ramshackle corral made of rusty bed springs, tin, branches, and boards.

On November 3, 1914, Jimmie’s shack burned down. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported damages totaling about 60 cents, not including the cost of water needed to extinguish the blaze. None of the animals were injured in the fire, although Jimmie told Lieutenant Sloan of the 171st Precinct that three cats and some dogs went missing during the incident.


Goats Gone Wild

By July 1915, Jimmie was living in some type of structure on West 5th Street at Avenue U in Gravesend. As they had done everywhere else, the neighbors often complained to the police about the sounds and odors coming from his small barn.

Many of Jimmie’s neighbors on West 5th Street or Avenue U were farmers, as this 1915 census report shows. Even so, they often complained about his growing family of goats.

Many of Jimmie’s neighbors on West 5th Street or Avenue U were farmers, as this 1915 census report shows. Even so, they often complained about his growing family of goats.

By this time, Jimmie had about eight dogs and 63 goats, give or take a few. Whenever he was arrested and fined for having the goats, he’d tell the magistrate at the Coney Island Magistrates’ Court that he needed the goat’s milk to treat his rheumatism.

Only July 13, Magistrate Alexander H. Geismar said enough was enough. He was tired of seeing Jimmie in his court, so he charged him with keeping goats without a permit from the Health Department and gave him the choice of paying a $100 fine or going to jail for 30 days. Jimmie couldn’t pay the fine, so he took the second option and was whisked off to prison.

Coney Island Magistrates' Court

James Murdock was sentenced at the Coney Island Magistrates’ Court, which was located in the same building as the 60th Precinct station house on West 8th Street, just north of Surf Avenue. This building was erected about 1873, and at one time was part of the old town hall for Gravesend (which replaced the old Gravesend school on this site). The court was on the first floor, and a large public hall with a stage was on the second floor. There were four holding cells in the basement for criminals. It was torn down sometime around 1970.

Now, the problem was that Jimmie lived alone, and he didn’t have anyone to care for his dogs and goats. So the animals were left to fend for themselves in the small barn. All night long the goats bit at the enclosure – the neighbors didn’t bother to complain about the noise this time — until they finally broke away and spread out all over the neighborhood.

Avenue U and West 5th Street, Brooklyn

On May 2, 1901, Cornelius D. Stryker auctioned off about 10 acres of his property located between Avenue U and Avenue T and West 6th to West 9th Street. According to an ad announcing the sale, the property had been in the Stryker family since the very first Dutch settlement in Gravesend. It was on this land — depicted in this 1890 map — that the great goat roundup took place in 1915. (Note: Purple roads were open; beige streets were not yet open.)

“Ki-ya!”

Once free, the 63 goats and eight dogs began running wild through the vacant plots on West 7th Street. Then they scattered about and charged into people’s yards, eating clothes on the lines and nibbling on flowers in the manicured gardens.

Complaints came pouring in at the Sheepshead Bay police station on Avenue U at East 14th Street. Lt. James J. McCarthy sent five mounted policemen to the scene, including Patrick J. Doody, Edward T. Cody, John Walker, Joseph C. Carty, and Henry B. Nichols.

As it turns out, Mounted Policeman Doody was a former cowboy who learned his trade on the southwestern plains. He ordered the cavalry to round up all the clotheslines they could find so they could lasso the goats. Bellowing a mighty “Ki-ya!” and twirling his lasso about his head, Doody lead the team as they captured 42 of the runaway goats.

Once captured, the goats were brought to the police station. The dogs were sent to the SPCA stable. The goats were later taken to a stable at Lake Street and Avenue T – the butcher who owned the stable said he would sell the goats.

After serving his 30 days in jail, Jimmie went home to find that all his goats had been taken away. He started shrieking and going hysterical. Mounted Policeman Walker responded and took poor Jimmie Murdock to Kings County Hospital for observation.

I don’t know what happened to Jimmie after this incident, but it’s interesting to note that Policemen Doody and Cody were transferred to motorcycle duty two weeks later.

The old Sheepshead Bay police station was across from the Manhattan Villa, a boarding house and private residence owned by Mrs. Elizabeth Clute, shown here.

The old Sheepshead Bay police station was next to Mrs. Josephine Mason’s St. Elmo Villa boarding house and just across from the Manhattan Villa, a boarding house and private residence owned by Mrs. Elizabeth Clute, shown here.


A Short History of the Sheepshead Bay Police Station

For anyone interested in police history:

The Sheepshead Bay police precinct was added to the Brooklyn police department in 1892. Prior to 1904, the station was located on Voorhies Avenue, about 150 feet west of Sheepshead Bay Road. According to the New York Sinking Fund Commissioners proceedings of 1904, the old station was a two-story mansard and cellar frame building, about 40 x 40, on a high brick foundation. It had 20 rooms and a bathroom, and three brick cells in the cellar. At high tide, any prisoners in the cells would have to stand on benches because the water would rise two feet.

In the rear of the station house were a one-story frame barn and two other smaller frame buildings. The department was leasing the property for $1,200 a year when plans were made to construct a more accommodating building. The site selected was in the heart of the Homecrest neighborhood, which had seen a rash of home burglaries in the early 1900s.

Sheepshead Bay police station

The former Sheepshead Bay station house was located at the northwest corner of Avenue U and East 14th Street. There was a stable in the rear, where the cowboy policemen of the mounted squad kept their horses. Brooklyn Public Library

According to the Annual Report of the State Commission of Prisons, Volume 26, the new station house at the northwest corner of Avenue U and East 14th Street was constructed in 1904 and cost $90,000. Over the years, the Italian Renaissance Revival-style station housed the 168th, 72nd, and 61st precincts. In 1977 the 61st Precinct moved to 2575 Coney Island Avenue; the building was demolished in 1979. Today the site is a Duane Reade pharmacy.

RomeowPillow

The following story is dedicated to my cat Romeow, who passed away after 16 years of life on July 21, 2014.

On June 15, 1904, the General Slocum caught fire and sank in the East River. An estimated 1,021 of the 1,342 people on board the side-wheel passenger boat were killed — most of them German American women and children from the Lower East Side who were all dressed up and on their way to a picnic hosted by St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. Many of the victims had lived on East 4th Street, including Lina Giessmann, Minnie Cohn, Clara Erhardt, Eugene Hansel, Louisa and Alfred Ansel, Grace Iden, and Mrs. Katy Ambrust and her nine-year-old daughter, Florrie, of 166 East 4th Street.

General Slocum funeral procession

A funeral procession for unidentified victims of the General Slocum disaster on Avenue A and East 6th Street.

Five weeks after what was to be the worst maritime disaster in New York City’s history, the residents on East 4th Street had, at least, a little something to celebrate when their favorite cat was rescued after spending two years stuck between two tenement buildings.

A Brief History of the Neighborhood

Before I tell you about this special cat, a little background on this particular section of the Lower East Side is warranted.

The land that now comprises the Lower East Side was originally part of the Dutch West India Company’s Bowery No. 2, acquired by Petrus Stuyvesant, and Bowery No. 3, granted to Gerrit Hendricksen and later acquired by Phillip Minthorne around 1732. Both these large farms were bordered on the west by the Bowery Lane (today’s Bowery).

Following Phillip Minthorne’s death in 1756, much of the eastern half of the 110-acre bowery was sold to John Jacob Astor. The western half was divided into 27 individual lots, three for each of his nine children: Philip Minthorne, a farmer; John, a cooper; Henry, a tinman; Mangle, a cooper; Hannah, the wife of Viert Banta, a house carpenter; Hilah, the wife of Abraham Cock, a cooper; Margaret, the wife of Nicholas Romaine, a carpenter; Sarah, the wife of Samuel Hallet, a carpenter; and Frankie, the wife of Paulus Banta, also a carpenter.

Minthorne Farms

Bowery No. 3 was also called the Schout’s Bowery. The fanlike arrangements of the nine Minthorne family farms is clearly visible in this 1776 Ratzer map. Incredibly, even more 200 years later, the patterns of these early farms are still evident in the current New York City tax maps that show modern property lines.

Each of his heirs received a lot along the Bowery, an internal meadow lot, and a salt-marsh lot closer to the East River. Ownership of most of the Minthorne property was eventually consolidated under Mangle Minthorn, Philip’s most prominent son.

Development in this area picked up during the 1830s, with elegant single-family row houses turning once empty land into one of New York’s most prestigious neighborhoods. By the 1850s, many immigrants began to settle in the area as wealthier residents moved farther uptown. The lovely row houses were converted for multiple-family dwellings and boarding houses, and eventually replaced by tenements in the 1860s to accommodate the housing demand. These buildings were later called “pre-law” tenements because they predated the Tenement House Act of 1879, which required windows to face a source of fresh air and light (as opposed to an interior hallway, as was the case with the older railroad flats).

Old-Law Dumbbell Tenement

The Tenement House Act of 1879, which required windows to face a source of fresh air and light as opposed an interior hallway, led to the “Old-Law dumbbell tenements” with the narrow air shafts.

Had the buildings in the following story been constructed in the dumbbell shape adopted after 1879 by the “Old Law” tenements, our featured feline could have been rescued immediately from the air shaft rather than spending two years in a three-inch wide prison.

A Kitten Takes a Tumble

Like many tenements of the Lower East Side, Nos. 163 and 165 East 4th Street were five-story brick buildings with a commercial business and two rear apartments on the ground floor and four three-room flats on each of the upper floors. Only one of the rooms in each apartment had direct window access; the remaining interior rooms had no windows and no ventilation.

These two buildings occupied the same long and narrow footprint (about 25 x 50 feet) as the row houses of the previous decades. Thus, they were constructed extremely close together – perhaps as close as 3 inches toward the ground and 14 inches near their rooftops (the old walls of the buildings reportedly bulged out toward the ground floor).

On September 1, 1902, a striped kitten was living in the top rear apartment at No. 163 with John Poppenlauer, his wife, and family. With the arrival of a new baby boy, John decided to isolate the kitten on the roof to keep it away from the infant. Whether some mischievous boy pushed it, or it was just curious and clumsy, the poor little kitten fell into the crevice between the rooftops and landed at the bottom of the brick chasm. There was no escape; the crevice was closed off front and back, and even some tin roofing closed off part of the top, giving the kitten very little air and light.

Like many tenements of the Lower East Side, Nos. 163 and 165 East 4th Street were five-story brick buildings with a commercial business and two rear apartments on the ground floor and four three-room flats on each of the upper floors.

Like many tenements of the Lower East Side, Nos. 163 and 165 East 4th Street were five-story brick buildings with a commercial business and two rear apartments on the ground floor and four three-room flats on each of the upper floors.

During the early days of imprisonment, the neighbors watched from the roof with pity as the kitten tried to climb up these slippery walls, only to fall back down. The people soon became divided into two factions: those who thought the kitten should be killed and relieved of its misery, and those who believed that while there was life there was hope. George Betz and his wife, who lived on the top floor of No. 165, and Mrs. Rose Kolb, who lived at No. 163, sided with those who believed in miracles.

Although cats were plentiful in this neighborhood, Holey, as she was named, got everyone’s sympathy with her continuous howls and meows. Fishing for the kitten using fish hooks with meat, button hooks, nooses, miniature scaffolds, poles, and other devices became a common diversion for the residents. Men, women, and children would often sit on the roof and talk to her. Some neighbors, like George Betz and Mrs. Kolb, also lowered buckets of water and food down the shaft, including wienerwurst, chicken and fish. (Food-wise, Holey made out better than any of the other stray cats on the street.)

A Kitten Grows in the Lower East Side

Meanwhile the kitten continued to grow – the people fed her so well, in fact, that she got fat and could only turn around on the wider end of the shaft. George told Gustave Froelich, the owner of No. 163, that he was going to cut a hole in the cellar wall if the cat got any fatter. “Every time I looked down and saw the poor prisoner my heart was touched, and I made up my mind she would not spend another winter down there.”

For two winters, though, Holey survived in the narrow brick prison. Sometime the snow would pile up and no one could see her for days at a time. Although she could keep fairly dry under the end that was covered by the tin gutter, during heavy rain storms the shaft would fill up with a couple of inches of water. George reportedly made a raft for the cat, which he lowered down to her. When it rained, Holey could “sail” on the makeshift raft.

The cat’s predicament finally got the attention of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). The agent who came to investigate was in favor of killing the cat. First he suggested shooting it, but the cat’s advocates argued that this might jeopardize the safety of the human residents. He also tried to send down poisoned liver, but the cat had instinctive wisdom and ignored it. As the women of the neighborhood began mobbing him and shouting that he was being cruel to Holey, the agent finally gave up and left.

Mrs. Rose Kolb and Holey

Mrs. Rose Kolb holds her new pet cat, Holey, following the cat’s two-year ordeal.

A Cowboy to the Rescue

Finally, on July 22, 1904, a former cowboy who had learned how to use a lariat in the West came to the rescue with a clothesline noose. At 7 in the morning he went upon the roof of No. 163 and, as Holey sat amazingly still, he got the noose around her and freed her. Although Holey tried to escape, George was able to grab her and bring her to Mrs. Kolb, who had expressed an interest in adopting the cat. Once in the apartment, Holey drank some milk and ran under a bed.

It took Holey a while to adjust to daylight. It also took some time for her to learn to walk in directions other than back and forth along a straight line.

Another Cat Takes a Tumble

Three years after Holey’s rescue, a white cat moved into an apartment at No. 163 East 4th Street. The apartment was home to Louis Leichtman, his wife, and their three children, Aaron, Ruth, and Isaac. Louis named the cat Gittel, which means “good” in Yiddish.

Gittel brought much luck to Louis, and according to a story about the cat in The Sun, he would have done anything for her in return. Apparently so.

On July 21 1908, Gittel was on the rooftop of No. 163 when she fell into an unfinished chimney that ran down to the basement. Louis and his family could hear Gittel howling all night long. The next day, instead of going to work at the National Employment Agency, Louis made a rope ladder of cord and sticks and lowered it down. Of course, the cat would have none of it.

Next, he tried lowering liver skewered to the rope, pails of milk, and bits of fish. That didn’t work, so Louis asked the landlord if he could make a hole in the wall in the basement. The landlord refused.

Thomas F. Freel, superintendent of the SPCA

Thomas F. Freel, superintendent of the SPCA, came to Gittel’s rescue.

Desperate to free his beloved Gittel, Louis resorted to lowering his son Aaron down the chimney, but Aaron got stuck halfway down the shaft and some friends and neighbors had to help Louis pull him out.

Finally, four days after Gittel had fallen down the chimney, Louis sought help from the SPCA. Agent Thomas Freel responded and found a plumber in the neighborhood. Together, the men were able to create a hole in the wall. The cat, of course, was too frightened to come out, so Agent Freel went back up on the roof and tossed a few pieces of brick down to encourage the cat to run out the hole.

As Gittel emerged from the hole, all the neighbors shouted in joy.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Houses

In 1959, 1,738 families and 300 small businesses were evicted from the four-block area bounded by 2nd Street, Avenue A, 6th Street, and 1st Avenue. All of the tenements were demolished over the next two years, including Nos. 163 and 165 East 4th Street. In December 1960, the New York City Housing Authority broke ground for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Houses, a complex of seven buildings comprising 1,200 apartments. Today, the complex is called Village View.

FDR Houses