On November 11, 1935, a blue peacock decided to make his escape from who knows where and lead numerous grown men on a four-hour chase through the streets of New York.

Peacock New York City

In August 2011, a peacock flew the coop from the Central Park Zoo and spent the night on a fifth-floor ledge at 858 Fifth Ave. The peacock in this story made the reverse trip.

It’s a plane! It’s a bird! It’s a peacock!

Imagine walking down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on a Monday morning and seeing a peacock flying overhead. Nowadays, you might just shrug it off and continue walking to keep up with the crowd. Or maybe you’d stop briefly to take a selfie with your smart phone and share it on Twitter. A few of you might capture the incident on video, like they did in 2012 when a peacock escaped from the John Browne High School in Queens.

Unfortunately, there were no personal cameras and video recorders when this event actually took place almost 80 years ago, but news reports from The New York Times and Cortland Standard tell a colorful story.

At 9:10 a.m. on that Monday morning, a woman on West 58th Street called the West 47th Street police station to report a large buzzard on her windowsill. Patrolmen William Burke, John Duffy, and John Leonhardt were dispatched to the building with orders to make the buzzard go away…

47th Street Police Station

The old 47th Street Police Station in 1939.

The three leading policemen in this story were assigned to what was then the 18th Precinct on West 47th Street in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. This station house was built in 1860, and over the course of a century, was known as the 26th, 9th, 18th, and 16th precincts as well as Traffic Station D.

Due to its proximity to the theater district, the station house was quite busy making arrests and headlines. According to national news reports, Mae West was a frequent customer – she was reportedly arrested in 1926 for appearing in her play “Sex,” and in 1928, she and four cast members of the play “Pleasure Man” were arrested when detectives and uniformed policemen from the station raided the show on opening night. A large crowd followed the police as they drove Miss West and her cast to the station for questioning. They were reportedly each released on $500 bail and were to be arraigned on charges of performing in an indecent play.

After the police station was demolished in 1962, the city transferred the property to the Fire Department as a potential site for a firehouse, but nothing ever materialized. In the 1970s, Ramon Aponte, a native of Puerto Rico who had lived nearby since 1950, organized a group of concerned citizens that helped transform the lot into a playground. Today it is called the Ramon Aponte Park.

40 West 58th Street

40 West 58th Street, 1916

“The Buzzard”

By the time the patrolmen got to 58th Street, the buzzard had miraculously turned into a peacock and flown away. They looked up and saw that it was perched on the roof of the Plaza Funeral Home at 40 West 58th Street. The men made their way to the roof and tried to approach the bird, but the peacock kept its distance…

The five-story building at 40 West 58th Street was known as the Plaza Funeral Home from about 1930 to 1968. Prior to that, the building served as a showroom for the New York and Brooklyn Casket Company, and earlier, as a luxury clubhouse for New York’s Coterie Club. The building had elevator service to all floors.

Coterie Club ballroom

The ballroom of the Coterie Club.

The Coterie Club was organized in 1916 by several prominent Daughters of the American Revolution. Its mission was to provide superior accommodations and service for single, well-to-do women who were visiting the city and needed assistance procuring hotel rooms, theater tickets, taxi services, and more. The club provided a ballroom, dining room and lounging rooms for afternoon or evening entertainment, and services such as social secretaries, chaperones, and personal shoppers. This club was very active from 1916-1918.

Starting in 1965, builder Sheldon H. Solow began to secretly purchase 14 buildings on 57th and 58th Street, including the Plaza Funeral Home (he recorded the buyers under different names in order to fly below the real estate development radar). These buildings were demolished in the fall of 1968 to make room for the luxury 50-story Solow Building at 9 West 57th Street.

Solow Building

The Solow Building at 9 W. 37th St.

From the roof of the Plaza Funeral Home, the peacock flew to the roof of the Wyndham Hotel at 42 West 58th Street. The three policemen headed to that roof also, but again the peacock flew the coop.

By this time, the policemen were just hoping the large bird would fly over to the Savoy Hotel on the east side Fifth Avenue so that they could turn the job over to the East 51st Street police station.

After departing the Wyndham roof, the peacock flew around the nine-story Bergdorf-Goodman building on Fifth Avenue. Down on the street, a large crowd of people stood gaping and cheering on the feathered fugitive as it circled a few times around the gilded rooster weather vane on top of the Heckscher Building.

Cornelius Vanderbilt II mansion

Before Edwin Goodman and Herman Bergdorf moved their department store to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street in 1928, the site was occupied by the huge Cornelius Vanderbilt II mansion, designed in 1893 by George B. Post and his teacher, Richard Morris Hunt. The Gilded Age Era website has some great interior photos and information about the mansion.

The Heckscher Building

Augustus Heckscher Sr. came to the United States from Germany in 1867 and began making a fortune in various mining operations. In 1913, he bought the old Frederick Stevens and William Whitney mansion at the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street and constructed a three-story building of offices and shops.

Stevens and Whitney mansion

In 1875 Frederick W. Stevens commissioned architect George Harney to design a mansion for him and his family at 2 West 57th Street. After Frederick died, his widow sold the property to Oliver Payne who in turn gave it to his sister Flora and her husband, William C. Whitney.

A few years later he announced plans for a tall office building in the form of a simple slab on a plain base, but with some French Renaissance detailing. By the time construction began in 1920, the design had changed to conform to a new zoning law requiring setbacks with skyscrapers.

In the 1930′s Heckscher lost the building through foreclosure. Then in 1942, the weather vane was removed, apparently as scrap for the war effort. Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos secretly bought the building in 1981, and in 1983, management renamed it the Crown Building.

Back to our illustrious peacock…

Apparently realizing that the rooster was not going to pay him any attention, the peacock soared over to Chickering Hall at 29 West 57th Street, where he perched for a brief time on a window sill on the 13th floor.

Alas, there were no chicks to be found at Chickering Hall, so it was time for the peacock to move on again.

Crown Building Heckscher Building

The 25-story Crown Building rises in a series of setbacks culminating in a fancy copper pyramidal roof.

By now, the streets were thronged with spectators. There were also 12 photographers, 10 reporters, three agents from the ASPCA, and two keepers from the Central Park Zoo on hand to witness the flying spectacle. The peacock did not disappoint. Spotting a nice cornice on the 15th floor of the Plaza Hotel, he took flight again.

The peacock obviously enjoyed the view from the Plaza Hotel, because he stayed up there for about an hour. The officers tried to reach him by entering Room 1571 (the peacock hunters interrupted the occupant, who was eating a late breakfast) and opening the window. They slowly made their way along the narrow edge (I find this hard to believe, but it was reported in the news) and tossed pellets at the bird to scare it off, but that also failed.

Chickering Hall

Chickering Hall was built in 1924, just four years after a fire destroyed two houses on the site and killed five people, including the famous animal trainer, Dr. Martin Potter. In its early years, the building was home to the American Piano Company. By the time the high-flying peacock paid a visit, the building was, quite appropriately, being leased by The Curtiss Flying Service.

Finally around noon, there came a raucous cry from the new bird sanctuary in the southeast corner of Central Park (the Hallett Nature Sanctuary). The peacock spread his magnificent wings and swooped down across the pond toward four peahens in waiting.

Captain Ronald Cheyne-Stout, director of menageries for the New York City Park Department, said he was delighted that the peacock had landed there. Ironically, the only other peacock at the sanctuary had died two weeks before, so the new male would fit in very well. As long as his wings were clipped twice a year, he wouldn’t be able to fly away.

Plaza Hotel, New York

The 18-story Plaza Hotel at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South opened its doors on October 1, 1907. Although numerous birds, including owls, falcons, and pelicans, once lived at the Plaza with a princess, this was the first time a peacock visited the grand hotel.

The director said they would certainly return the bird if anyone could prove ownership, and added, “The ASPCA can’t take him because there is nothing cruel about where he is now.”

Peacock

Post Office Cats

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States government allocated funds to feed hundreds of cats that were “hired” to catch rats at post offices and other federal buildings.

On November 5, 1904, New York City postal clerk George W. Cook celebrated his 54th anniversary working for the U.S. Post Office Department with a special dinner. The banquet took place at 2 p.m. in the basement of the General Post Office building, also known as the Mullet Post Office, which was then located at the intersection of Broadway and Park Row in New York’s City Hall Park.

The menu was simple, and included raw calves’ liver and lambs’ kidney heaped high in four piles and served on clean white paper. In attendance were George, two “boss” sergeant cats named Bill and Richard, one bow-legged, brindled Roundsman cat, and 57 patrol cats. The entire dinner was funded by the United States government.

PoPostmaster Edward M Morgan

George Cook’s 54 years of service topped that of Acting Postmaster Edward M. Morgan, shown here, who had 45 years with the Post Office in 1904.

Superintendent of Federal Cats

When he wasn’t sorting letters in the Mailing Department, 81-year-old George Cook was also (unofficially) the Superintendent of Federal Cats. Under Postmaster Edward Morgan, it was George’s responsibility to feed the almost 100 New York mousers who were “employed” by the U.S. Post Office Department to kill the rats that were attracted to the glue used on envelopes and packages.

George was provided a budget of about $5 a month — allocated through the department’s Salaries and Allowance Division — which he used to purchase cat’s meat from a restaurant on Ann Street. The budget allowed for one meal a day. (George told reporters he thought the budget should have been at least $10 a month in order to accommodate his growing feline police force.)

The Mother of New York Postal Cats

Moving from old post office on Nassau Street

On the evening of August 28, 1875, the transfer from the old post office building on Nassau Street to the new building in City Hall Park commenced. One of the items included in the transfer of property and effects was a female tabby mouser. New York Public Library, Image ID: 809395

George Cook, a father of five daughters (Carrie, Jennie, Lilly, Laura, and Annie) and a resident of Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side, began working for the Post Office Department in 1850, when New York’s general post office was located in the former Middle Dutch Reformed Church on the corner of Liberty and Nassau streets. When the new General Post Office at City Hall Park opened in August 1875, George brought one postal tabby with him and put her to work as the new building’s first rat catcher.

“That darned low critter would never stay on post,” George told several New York reporters during his grand anniversary dinner. “She used to go a stravagin’ all over town. I tell you, mister, in a few months there were more cats in this office than letters. Every corner I turned it seemed as if I stumbled on a nest o’ kittens.”

According to George, one day the Superintendent of Mails asked him to get six strong mail bags. “He just stuffed them bags full o’ big and little cats and registered them, yes, mister, an’ sent ‘em to a little post office in New Jersey. Gosh! I wonder what the feller said when he got ‘em.”

The Old Post Office, Dutch Reformed Church

Built in 1729, the Dutch Church on Nassau Street was used as a house of worship until 1776, when British troops converted the 100 x 70 foot building into a military prison and riding school. Worship services resumed in 1790 until the United States government stepped in to lease the property for a post office in 1844. Incidentally, Benjamin Franklin conducted experiments with lightning from the belfry in 1750.

As you can guess, transferring a few cats across the river did not solve the problem. By 1897, there were about 60 cats in the New York Post Office (I’m sure it was one of these cats that took a ride through the pneumatic mail tubes in October 1897). Most of them were born in the building, but others came from the restaurants on Park Row or gave up catching sparrows in City Hall Park for a more secure job on the feline police force.

Sometimes the post office allowed human employees to take their favorite cats home if the ranks were full. Other times, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) would raid the cat colony and thin it out. The old cats that were born in the building knew to stay away from the cat catchers. But the kittens and the cats from the restaurants, which were used to being petted, were often captured and taken away to the death chamber.

If the population really got out of control, the postal clerks would “mail” some cats in the newspaper mail sacks. The sacks would then be carefully placed on the wagon with the other mail and quietly deposited at some other sub-station. (Occasionally, a cat would accidentally get into a mail bag and be delivered to a distant city if the railway post office clerks didn’t intercept.)

The Newspaper and Registry Cats

First-class stamps

Second-class cats that worked in the newspaper department could be promoted to first-class cats in the Registry Division.

At the General Post Office building in New York, most of the cats started their policing careers at the ground level, or more specifically, the newspaper department. This department, which was responsible for sorting and distributing newspaper mail (second class) and mail from the ocean steamships, took up the entire basement of the enormous building.

The basement offered numerous patrol and napping posts for the cats, including 700 closets where the employees stored their street clothes and a large storage area for all the U.S. mail bags not in use. Each patrol cat had a favorite spot to sit for hours and wait for a rat to pass by.

Hard-working cats that went above and beyond the call of duty could be promoted to the Registry Division on the top floor of the building. Registered mail required extra care to safeguard it, and all persons handling this mail had to account for it as it passed through their hands along its route. The postal cats had to be extra diligent in their rat-catching efforts to protect this valuable class of mail.

New York Public Library, Image ID: 809396

This 1890 engraving from Scientific American depicts the many departments of the General Post Office, including the large area in the basement dedicated to the distribution of newspapers (circular image) and the newspaper and bulk mail chutes (bottom left). I wonder how many curious cats went down those chutes? New York Public Library, Image ID: 809396

George said he used what he called “a two-platoon system” in order to ensure there were always enough cats on duty at one time to catch the rats and mice. He said he set up this system one day when he didn’t have enough cats on reserve to handle a massive rat attack. Apparently a cheese house had mailed samples of its most powerful Limburger cheese, and the mail bags were attacked by the rats. A riot ensued, and there were not enough cats on duty to arrest all of the perpetrators.

The Daily Lunch Hour and Furlough

Every day at around 2 p.m., George, like the Pied Piper, would blow a whistle to summon the second-class cats to their lunch. Cats would come running to the feeding area near the lockers from every corner where they were mousing (or sleeping on the job). They’d scramble under and over hand trucks, through people’s legs, over counters, or whatever they had to do to get to the food the fastest.

The cats ate in “assigned” groups of six, and if a cat from another table went to the wrong place by mistake, the boss of the group would box his ears and chase him back to where he belonged. In addition to strips of meat (usually lamb, beef, or calf livers and hearts), sometimes the cats would get fresh catnip for desert or some green grass from outdoors.

William W. Dixon feeds Post Office cats

Postal laborer William Dixon helps feed the cats, most of whom ran away when the flash fired on the camera. The New York Press, September 11, 1910

In order to keep the second-class and first-class cats separate so they wouldn’t fight, George would serve the top-floor cats separately. All those cats detailed for duty in the Registry Department would gather around the elevator door at the designated hour and take it down to the basement. When they were done eating, they’d take the elevator back up to work. (I am not making this up.)

In the summer months, the newspaper department cats were allowed to take an afternoon break outdoors in City Hall Park. They’d catch some sparrows, or maybe swap stories while soaking up the sun with the park cats or with Old Tom, the official cat mascot of City Hall. (Naturally, the park cats wanted to win a job at the post office, so they were on their best behavior with the postal cats.) After sunning themselves, the post office cats would stroll back to the basement and resume their duties.

City Hall Park, New York

A view of City Hall, Park Row and City Hall Park in 1911. The General Post Office is to the left.

“Please Adopt Our First-Class Cats”

On December 10, 1906, an article in the New York Herald reported that due to overpopulation, the post office was going to have to lay off some employees in the “Department of Mouse Catching.” The public was invited to come to the post office to adopt some first-class cats. According to the article, some of the cats were descendents of the original tabby from the Nassau Street post office. “Never was a greater variety of breeds under one roof than that which may be found in the basement of the Post Office,” it stated.

The New King of the Cats

New York City Hall Policeman John Foley, 1910

In the spring of 1910, Policeman John Foley, shown here, told a reporter for the New York Press that a black and white cat named Mollie (also shown here) was at the head of the Civil Service list. Her specialty was hunting sparrows by hiding under newspapers, and she held the record with two in an hour and 12 in a week.

By 1910, there were about 200 cats on Uncle Sam’s payroll in New York City. Most of these felines worked for the Post Office Department — nearly 100 in the General Post Office building and the rest at the various sub-stations.

177 Rogers Street, Brooklyn, NY

In 1910, 87-year-old George Cook was living with his daughter, Carrie, her husband, James E. Walker, and their son, Fred, in a brand-new townhouse at 177 Rogers Avenue in Brooklyn, shown here.

Although George Cook was still working as a clerk, a much younger man named William W. Dixon was now in charge of the cat police force. Dixon was making $700 a year as a laborer, but one of his primary duties was caring for the mousers. His fellow employees called him “King of the Cats.”

One of the people who kept in contact with William was Policeman John Foley of the City Hall Park police. Policeman Foley looked out for the park cats, and he would always try to persuade William to take one of them whenever there was an opening on the United States postal force.

By 1910, construction of a new General Post Office on 8th Avenue (31st to 33rd Street) had already begun. In that year, 87-year-old George Cook was a widower, but he still listed his occupation as “postal clerk” on the 1910 Census report. Postal services continued on the first floor of the Mullet Post Office through the 1920s, but the building was demolished in 1938 as part of the city’s efforts to beautify the city for the 1939 World’s Fair. I could find no mention of New York’s post office cats after 1924, so one might assume their skills were no longer required in the brand-new building.

Before there was a Seward Park on Essex Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, there was a square block of old wooden houses and crumbling brick tenements where hundreds of immigrants and alley cats made their home.

There once was a woman who lived in a dilapidated frame tenement house on the Lower East Side. She had so many cats – about 80 – there was no place for them to hide.

No, this is not a Mother Goose nursery rhyme. It’s a true story about Rosalie Goodman and her home for down-and-out cats in New York’s Lower East Side.

Mrs. Goodman's Hospital for Cats

As Rosalie told her story to the news reporter, there were dozens of cats at her feet, “whose musical purring kept time to the clicking of an old fashioned Dutch clock on the mantelpiece.” Some cats were on the table and chairs, and one little kitten was sleeping on the top shelf of the closet. Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, volume 3, 1875.

Rosalie Goodman was a cat hoarder, or what we’d call a crazy cat lady. For almost a decade, she offered food and shelter for all the abused, abandoned, and injured felines that lived in the neighborhood bordered by Orchard, Hester, and Clinton streets and East Broadway. The children in the neighborhood called her Catty Goodman.

Rosalie (nee Rose Waare), was born in the Kingdom of Prussia in 1836, give or take a few years. She and her husband, Henry, a cigar maker (spelled “segar” on the 1870 Census report), came to America in the late 1850s and had four children: Elizabeth, Regina, Hilde, and Oscar. In 1870, the family was residing in an apartment at 175 Madison Street (near where the Manhattan Bridge is today).

Shortly after Henry’s death in 1871, Rosalie purchased the 17th-century house at 170 Division Street from Moses Bonner (Moses operated a cigar store there, so perhaps Henry Goodman had worked with him.) In his book, “New York by Sunlight and Gaslight: A Work Descriptive of the Great American Metropolis,” published in 1882, James Dabney McCabe calls this house “one of the greatest curiosities in New York.”

1857 New York Map

Prior to 1897, 170 Division Street (far left, just north of the green-colored building) was located midway between Essex Street and Norfolk Street. According to this 1857 map by William Perris, almost the entire block comprised frame buildings. New York Public Library, Image ID: 1648089

In the winter of 1875, a reporter from the New York Sun paid Rosalie a visit to see if rumors of this crazy cat woman were true. Upon his arrival, he saw dozens of cats hanging out in the nearby alleys, and on the eaves and window sills of her ramshackle home. In his front-page story, which was picked up by several newspapers in New York and other states, he paints a very vivid picture of the house where Rosalie and her feline boarders lived:

“The house was a three-story wooden building, gambrel-roofed and withered with age, and dates back to the Dutch period of the city. The sides and roof have collapsed with the pressure of time, and the clapboards and shingles, mossed and blackened, hang in tatters from the decaying beams and rafters. Inside, the oaken stairs and hall floors are worn into hollows from the use of former generations, and the rooms are low-ceilinged, narrow, and dusty, lighted by high, small-paned windows, and still provided with wide, open, old-fashioned fireplaces.”

circa 1639 Henry Bull House in Newport, R.I.

The circa 1639 Henry Bull House in Newport, R.I., is an example of a frame structure with a gambrel roof. Rosalie Goodman’s home at 170 Division Street probably looked very similar to this building.

Outside, there was a courtyard about 15 feet deep, which was enclosed by a 10-foot fence. Scattered throughout the yard on that day in February 1875 were dozens of cats dining on soup and milk contained in white and yellow earthenware dishes. The reporter noted:

“The yard in the rear is a special playground of the museum. It is spacious, dirty and abounding in sly nooks that are just the thing for cats. At the back are a half-dozen patched wooden buildings similar to the one inhabited by Mrs. Goodman, each with an opening upon the enclosure.”

A Brief History of 170 Division Street

Before I continue this cat story, I believe a brief history of Rosalie’s home is in order.

Delancey Farm Map

This map, titled “James De Lancey’s Map or Plan of His Bowery Farm In the City of New York As it Was at the Time of the Revolution,” shows that Division Street between Essex and Norfolk streets was catty-corner to Delancey’s Square – pun intended. All the blocks around Delancey’s Square were laid out by the family in the 1760s.

In the 1700s, when the house at 170 Division Street was constructed, the street marked the dividing line between the large farms of Hendrick Rutgers and James Delancey. Several old maps show Division and surrounding streets, but the earliest public record I could find for #170 was an ad promoting a public auction for the 22 x 82 foot lot at the Tontine Coffee House on August 24, 1825. Twenty years later, in 1845, the address was listed in the newspapers again, this time as the polling place for the Fourth District of the Tenth Ward.

Tontine Coffee House, Wall Street, New York

After the Buttonwood Tree, the first real stock exchange in New York City was the Tontine Coffee House (on left with flag), which opened in 1794 on the north-west corner of Wall Street and Water Street. The Tontine was among New York City’s busiest centers for the buying and selling of stocks, auctions, business dealings, and political transactions. Just across the street, enslaved workers could be hired or bought.

By 1867, Frederick Jochen owned the building and operated his paint store there (paints were mixed in the cellar of the building). There was a fire in the building that year, reportedly caused by some turpentine that had ignited in the cellar. Frederick and two other men were injured in the fire.

Moses Bonner was the owner of record in 1870. He operated a cigar store and rented one of the rooms to 20-year-old Isaac Busch. On the morning of May 7, 1870, Busch was introduced to 19-year-old Rachel Isaacs. The two were married by Justice Ledwith four hours later. The next day, Isaac left Rachel and moved to Brooklyn, but she stayed on in his apartment for some time at 170 Division Street.

By 1875, Louis Jacobi and Julius Moll, under the firm name of L. Jacobi & Co., were conducting a cigar manufacturing business at 170 Division Street. On May 6, they were indicted in the U.S. Circuit Court on the charge of affixing counterfeit Custom-house import stamps on boxes of domestic cigars. Judge Blatchford released the men, noting that it was their first offense and they had not intended to break the law.

ld houses in Division St. between Eldridge & Orchard Sts., 1861.

On May 3, 1854, three old tenements on Division Street – like those shown here near Orchard Street in this circa 1861 engraving — were ordered torn down. No safety precautions were taken, and the two-story buildings with heavy brick chimneys came tumbling down on top of the crowd that had gathered to watch their destruction. The block of homes surrounding 170 Division Street was spared this time around. New York Public Library, Image ID: 809825.

Rosalia’s Home for Hard-Luck Cats

During the 1870s, Rosalie occupied two small rooms in the rundown building. In a narrow room on the second floor, she made a home for her and the children; the room was also used as an indoor playroom for the cats. A similar sized room on the third floor served as a bedroom for those contented cats that preferred sleeping to prowling along the gambrel rooftops at night.

By renting rooms to tenants, Rosalie was able to make a living and provide for her family — human and feline. Some of her tenants included the cigar dealers on the basement level, an Irish family on the first floor, and a German man in a room on the second floor.

Cats on city roof

Although many of the cats spent the night indoors, others preferred to do some late-night howling on the old rooftops.

On the day The Sun reporter was visiting, there were several young men seated around a table in a dusky basement room playing a betting game called “huff and gruff.” When asked if the tenants got along with the cats, one man said, “If any of her tenants interferes with the rights of her cats, or abuse them, he may expect to leave his room at the earliest date.”

The outside of Rosalie’s house was reportedly far more inviting than the inside, where the Sun reporter saw rickety stairs, bare walls, dirty ceilings, and sawdust-covered hallways lined with tin water bowls. He evokes all the senses with these details:

“As the visitor clambers up the dark, cobwebbed staircases, evidence of cats are perceptible on every hand; cats yellow, cats black, golden and dingy; cats tawny, white, and dubious; cats ringtailed, dovetailed, and notailed; cats with eyes, without eyes, earless, and cats of every description skulk in the black nooks or rush out and disappear in sudden panic. And all the time, from sunrise to sunrise, an aromatic and voluminous cloud of feline exhalation is rafted down the stairs into the street.”

A Kitten Named Tiger

Tiger, Rosalie Goodman

Like the Pied Piper of the Lower East Side, Tiger invited all of his feline friends to follow him to Rosalie Goodman’s house.

Before Rosalie took in her very first feline boarder, she was actually afraid of cats. Then one day she came upon “a wee little kitten, a homeless street Arab which she nursed and Christianized” and named Tiger. Before long, Tiger had told all his friends on Essex Street about the nice lady and good food at 170 Division Street.

At first, Rosalie did not intend to provide a permanent refuse for the Lower East Side cats. But then one day someone stole Tiger and hid him in a basement, where he starved to death. She told the reporter (who translated her broken English into proper speech):

“I found nothing but his bones, and I buried him, and then I made up my mind that I’d take care of all the cats I could when people turned them out in the cold to starve. It’s only people without sense or heart that would turn a helpless animal out in the cold. There ought to be some asylum for such abandoned animals in this country, as there is in England, but there is none, and somebody must look out for them. I don’t love the cats yet, but I pity them, and I think when I’m dead they’ll have no one to take care of them.”

After Rosalie Goodman’s story was published in The Sun, other news reporters stopped by to get their own stories. In August 1877, a reporter from The Daily Tribune paid a visit and found her surrounded by about 50 cats while stirring a compound in a pot on the stove. Rosalie said she bought the best cakes, sausages, and beefsteaks she could find along the Bowery, and spent about $1.50 a day to feed all her feline charges. As she spoke, she took the large iron kettle from the stove and poured a warm boiled dinner upon a piece of oilcloth. “The cats ate daintily, as though used to a good living.”

By the summer of 1878, Rosalie was apparently fed up with the nosy reporters. On July 18, 1878, a reporter from The Daily Graphic got booted out when he tried to make his way into her room:

“Now, you get out!” Rosalia shouted at the reporter. “I don’t told you but once. I have no more newspaper mens make some moneys out of me. My lawyer say to me no reporter have any right to come in my house, and if so I shall shoot him or push him down stairs or take my broomstick.”

Not only did she have the right to show the reporter to the door, but she also had a right to keep the cats. Although the neighbors tried to put an end to the crazy cat house, they couldn’t win. One time they called the Board of Health, but the officers, after inspecting the premises, said that she had not violated any law by helping the suffering. With the law on Rosalie’s side, the neighbors resorted to showering gravel from the rooftops on the poor cats in the courtyard.

Division Street, New York, 1894

By 1894, 170 Division Street was a five-story brick tenement surrounded by many other front and rear-yard tenement buildings. The courtyard that once served as a cat playground was reduced to a narrow alleyway. New York Public Library, Image ID: 1992474

The End Comes to 170 Division Street

Just two years after the last reporter’s visit to Rosalie’s cat house in 1878, she moved into a new apartment on 19th Street with her four children and her mother, Dore Waare. The old Dutch house was torn down around 1884, when plans were submitted to construct a five-story double brick tenement building in its place at the estimated cost of $16,000. An ad in the New York Daily Tribune on November 1, 1885, listed the 28.9 x 70 foot tenement with stores (12 families per floor) for sale. There was no mention of 80 cats being part of the deal.

It was a destructive fire on April 29, 1897, that led to the final demise of 170 Division Street. The fire started in the bottom of an airshaft shared with 166 Division Street, which was used for storage by the housekeeper, Philip Babinsky. About 15 families were displaced by the early-morning blaze, many of whom had to be rescued from the upper floors by the firemen of No. 6 Truck.

Two months later, the city took title to building, paying the building’s owners, Samuel Wine and Lena Levy, $31,500 for the burnt-out tenement. The rest, they say, is history, specifically, the history of Seward Park.

The Birth of Seward Park

The Division Street Park site -- as it was when tenements were cleared away, taken by Jacob A. Riss in 1898.

The Division Street Park site — as it was when tenements were cleared away, taken by Jacob A. Riss in 1898. Where Rosalie’s cats once roamed, what looks like a very large litter box was all that remained when the tenements were cleared away to build the Division Street Playground, or Seward Park. Museum of the City of New York.

In 1887, New York City Mayor Abram S. Hewitt passed a law giving the city rights to purchase land for small parks. A few years later, in February 1893, the officers of the Tenth Ward Social Reform Club proposed that one of these parks be placed in their ward to benefit the poor people. Their idea was to buy all the rear tenement buildings –“the worst feature of the tenement house evil”–and then convert the heart of each block into a series of small parks that would be connected by gateways.

Thompson Street Tenement, 1800s

The Tenth Ward Social Reform Club wanted to demolish all of the rear tenements, which would help eliminate the unsightly outdoor latrines and clothes lines that permeated the Lower East Side.

Although this plan never came to fruition, in 1897 the city began taking steps to create a new public park for the Lower East Side. The first step, which would eventually cost $1.8 million, was to condemn and demolish rows of decaying tenements on the blocks from Canal Street and East Broadway to Grand Street between Essex and Jefferson Streets. The second step was to level and fence in the site.

Due to lack of funds, the next major step didn’t come for seven more years. The site remained largely unimproved, and, according to Jacob Riis, author of “How the Other Half Lives,” the Tammany politicians simply allowed fish peddlers to put up shanties in the fenced-in land (particularly along Hester Street). Many residents wrote letters to the newspapers complaining that the city had not done anything to create an actual park.

Right around this time, a group of social reformers led by Lillian D. Wald and Charles B. Stover founded the Outdoor Recreation League. The ORL stepped up to the plate for the community by providing playground and gymnasium equipment, personnel, and other support until the city took over the administration and re-opened Seward Park in October 1903.

For more information about the park and its history, check out The Friends of Seward Park website.

Playground equipment at Seward Park.

In 1899, the Outdoor Recreation League added a fully equipped gymnasium to the park, featuring an iron framework with parallel bars, flying rings, and scaling ladders, in addition to apparatus for high and broad jumping, pole vaulting, and shot-putting. The Seward Park Gymnasium and Playgrounds was the first permanent, municipally built playground in the nation. Photo: Jacob A. Riis, Museum of the City of New York.

Stray Cat Depositories

Although Seward Park was a blessing for the humans of the Lower East Side, it was not such a good thing for all those cats that were displaced when it was constructed.

According to an article about the neighborhood’s prolific stray cat population in the New York Evening Post on June 16, 1920, residents were invited to drop off stray cats at the cat “dumping station” at Seward Park. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals would then take the cats away to euthanize them by means of poison gas in the “death “house” (so much for preventing cruelty). The article stated that 50 to 100 cats were rounded up each day from the “park depositories.”

Seward Park New York

Seward Park was a wonderful place for the residents of the Lower East Side in the early 20th century, but it was not so welcoming to all the stray cats that could no longer depend on Rosalie Goodman.

Sadly, another article in the Evening Post (June 6, 1925) titled “Cat Collecting Fans in Warm Glory Today,” reported that some people actually made a hobby out of collecting stray cats and bringing them to the SPCA. I wonder what Rosalie Goodman would have had to say about this atrocity.

Caliph II and Mrs. Murphy

Caliph II and his mother, Mrs. Murphy, in their outdoor enclosure at the Central Park menagerie around the spring of 1908. Photo by A. W. Schaad

On the evening of December 6, 1914, the veteran night watchman at the Central Park Menagerie was making his rounds when he heard Caliph Murphy II roaring from inside the lion house. Caliph II had never roared like that before, so the loud noise caught Louis Seibold’s attention. He looked toward the lion house and saw an orange glow through the rear windows of the old wooden building.

As Seibold ran to unlock the lion house, Policeman Dodson of the Central Park police squad called Fire Department headquarters on 67th Street. He also contacted Head Keeper Bill Snyder, who in turn summoned as many zoo keepers to the scene as possible. The men knew they’d need all the help they could get if the fire got out of control and any of the 22 animals inside the burning building – a dozen lions, four leopards, one Siberian tigress, two pumas, and three hippos — lived to escape.

Lion House and Arsenal, Central Park

The fire started in the south wall (right) of the lion house, which was only about 100 feet away from the Arsenal building. Museum of the City of New York, 1875.

Approaching Caliph’s cage, Seibold could see smoke pouring from behind the wall. As the roars of the lions, tigers, and pumas intensified – they could be heard on Fifth Avenue — everyone began to worry that the animals would all burn to death if the fire got out of hand.

The first recruit on the scene was Thomas Frank Hoey, a former Barnum & Bailey trainer who had recently been promoted from zoo keeper to shepherd of the sheep that grazed in Sheep Meadow. Hoey quickly assembled the warm-weather extension cages that projected from the lion house in case they were needed for rescue efforts. He was especially concerned about young Akbar the lion, his mate, Helen, and their newborn cubs.

Lion House, Central Park menagerie


A crowd in front of the lion cages at the menagerie in Central Park, 1895. In 1914, the lion house was still lit by gas jets. Zoo employees told the press that they were always afraid of fire in the building, especially since the indoor cages were wooden (only the bars in front were metal). Museum of the City of New York, Bryon Company.

As Battalion Chief Patrick J. Graham and the firemen from Engine 39 and Ladder 16 prepared to enter the building, Seibold hooked up a standpipe hose from behind the cages and began pouring water on the fire. The firemen also began making their way to the rear of the lion house, albeit, their attempts were hampered by an aggressive puma and tigress who lashed at the men as they passed by their cages.

Sensing their fear and extraordinary danger, Caliph II, the zoo’s popular hippo, went into action.

Caliph Murphy II
Caliph II was born in the basement of the Arsenal building at the Central Park menagerie on March 6, 1908. Weighing a whopping 60 pounds at birth, he was the eighth offspring (give or take) of the renowned Miss Fatima Murphy (aka Mrs. Murphy) and her mate, the late Caliph, a jumbo hippo that died just two months before his namesake’s birth.

Mrs. Murphy, Central Park Zoo

In summer months, Mrs. Murphy, Caliph, and their offspring spent all their time outdoors.

In warm months, Mrs. Murphy and Caliph II lived in an outdoor enclosure near the primate house. But in late fall they were transferred to steam-heated tanks in what was called the bathroom suite of the south end of the lion house. According to Hoey, who spent many years as keeper of the lions and hippos, the felines were none too pleased when the hippos moved in for winter. As he once told a reporter, “They’d say, ‘Here come those fat folks in the next flat who make such a beastly noise splashing about in their bathtubs.’”

I wonder if the big cats appreciated the fact that all this splashing about is what saved their lives the night of the fire…

On that night, the 6,000-pound Caliph II was alone in his tank, which was next to the wall where the fire had started. Mrs. Murphy and her eight-month-old baby were in a separate tank next to him. Frightened and confused, Caliph began lashing about in his tank. As he frantically splashed about, the water was thrown up against the burning wall, helping to extinguish the flames.

Thirty minutes after the fire was spotted, the flames were extinguished and all the animals were safe. Although Seibold thought the fire may have started by a faulty electric wire outside the building, others thought it may have started from a lighted pipe left in a worker’s overalls in Caliph’s cage.

The Makeshift Menagerie and Police Station at Central Park

The impromptu menagerie began around 1862 in the basement of the Arsenal building near the south-east section of the park, and in small cages outside the building. The new Central Park police squad and stables were also housed in the Arsenal building.

According to John W. Smith, former director of the Central Park menagerie, the first animals to share this space with the policemen were a small black bear, a pair of Kerry cows from Ireland, seven Virginian deer, and a few monkeys, raccoons, foxes, opossums, ducks, swans, pelicans, eagles, and parrots.

Central Park Arsenal

The Arsenal was built between 1847 and 1851 as a storehouse for arms and ammunition for the New York State Militia. The building and surrounding 10 acres was purchased by the city in 1856 for $275,000 as part of the new 843-acre Central Park. Although Parks Commissioner Cabot Ward ordered the vine-covered Arsenal torn down in 1915, the building still stands, and now houses the offices of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and the Central Park Wildlife Conservation Center.

There was also a small enclosure on the Mall near the Casino restaurant (formerly the Ladies’ Refreshment Saloon; today the Rumsey Playfield and SummerStage) where some of the smaller animals and birds were exhibited on weekends (the poor little bear would be chained to a tree).

In early years, animal trainers and circus men like P.T. Barnum used the Arsenal as a storehouse for their surplus stock. They also offered animals to the zoo in winter months so they wouldn’t have to care for them during the off-season. The problem with this arrangement was that the circus men could take their animals away whenever they pleased – the animals did not belong to the city.

The Arsenal was also not well suited for a menagerie — let alone a police department — as noted in this Department of Parks building report for 1871:

“A limited space of the first story of this building was occupied by a number of clerks. A small part of the basement (damp and unsuitable as it was) was used by the Central Park Police. The whole building was offensively objectionable. Various animals were confined in the basement and on the first floor, with their cages in a state of great insecurity and danger. There had been no extra ventilation furnished to this building from the time it had been used as an Arsenal, and its unwholesome condition was apparent to sight and smell.”

In 1882, the menagerie was recognized by the Board of Apportionment, which appropriated $15,000 annually for feeding the animals and making repairs. Even though this doubled to $30,000 in 1888, it was still not enough money to obtain permanent animals.

Mr. Crowley, Central Park Zoo

In 1888, $30,000 a year was barely enough to feed all the transient animals, which now included a rhino, hippopotamus, elephant, tigers, leopards, jaguars, pumas, hyenas, and a monkey named Mr. Crowley.

Mr. Smith Goes to Central Park

In 1892, following the forced resignation of menagerie superintendent William A. Conklin, New York City appointed John W. Smith to the position of menagerie director. Smith, a former superintendent and acting president of the Second Avenue Railroad Company, acquired most of his animal knowledge with the railroad, where he was responsible for overseeing the care of the horse car line’s 2,000 horses.

John Smith’s goal was to procure permanent animals at no cost to the city, in order to create a year-round exhibit of excellent animals. He also wanted to build more animal houses, replace the dirt paths with fine paved walkways, and replace the rotting wooden fences with iron ones.

John W. Smith, Central Park menagerie director

In 1912, at the age of 73, John W. Smith took his very first vacation since joining the zoo twenty years earlier. The Evening Telegram, January 7, 1912

John was able to achieve all these goals by breeding animals and then selling or trading them with other zoos. One of the most successful animals in the breeding program was Miss Fatima Murphy, a nine-year old hippo from Natal, South Africa, who arrived in the U.S. in 1880 via ship from Hamburg (she had been captured by a group of men who worked for Carl Hagenback, world-famous animal trainer of the renowned menagerie in Berlin).

Mr. Smith and Miss Murphy Build a Zoo

By 1892, Miss Murphy was already “married” to a large Nubian hippo named Caliph Pretzelstein, who was purchased from the Zoological Gardens of Cincinnati for $5,000 in the spring of 1888 (he was also captured by Hagenback’s men on the Nile River). The couple had their first baby on December 2, 1889, which Conklin and the zoo keepers named McGinty Murphy (if it were a girl, they were going to name her Mary Ellen Ryan Murphy). John Smith made a deal with Hagenback to trade McGinty – and any subsequent baby hippos – for many less valuable but equally desirable animals.

Over the years, Mrs. Murphy and Caliph had about ten offspring (not all survived), including Lotus, Congo, Fatima, Iris, Heimey, Lulu, Sirius, Peter the Great, and Caliph II. Each hippo sold for about $5,000, which is how a small makeshift menagerie turned into a large permanent zoo.

The Origins of Political Correctness?

On April 11, 1893, The New York Times published a letter from an Irish-American who complained about the zoo’s practice of giving Irish names like Bridget and Patrick to all the monkeys, hyenas, rhinos, and hippos. That night, representatives from many Irish societies held a meeting at Ledwith Hall on 45th Street and Third Avenue to discuss the letter.

Thomas Francis Gilroy, the 89th mayor of New York City

Thomas Francis Gilroy, the 89th mayor of New York City, said he thought it was a religious sacrilege to name the zoo animals after Catholic saints.

The Times interviewed several prominent New York City men of Irish descent, including Irish-born Mayor Thomas Francis Gilroy, retired Judge Morgan J. O’Brien, and renowned circus man James A. Bailey. All three men said they agreed that giving the zoo animals Irish names was offensive.

Former New York State Supreme Court Judge Morgan J. O’Brien

Former New York State Supreme Court Judge Morgan J. O’Brien said giving animals Irish names was in very poor taste.

Judge O’Brien told the Times that he “regarded it as a disgrace to the American people that such bigotry and intolerance should be manifested by the officials of the zoo”, and he was pleased the newspaper was finally calling attention to the injustice. James Bailey said, “I do not think it is in good taste to give honored Irish family names to the repulsive –looking animals in the Central Park menagerie.”

New York City Board of Parks Commissioners President Paul Dana responded that the zoo neither officially named the animals nor prohibited the nicknames used by the keepers and the New York press. He explained that most of the keepers that gave names to the animals were Irishmen; for example, he said Mrs. Murphy was named by an Irishman named McGurty.

Perhaps McGurty was once scorned by a woman named Miss Murphy and this was his revenge, Dana suggested. Other board members suggested the news reporters were responsible for creating and publicizing the names, and should therefore be more creative by using names of all nationalities, like Hans, Francois, and Alfonse.

Pressured into action by all the media attention, John Smith agreed that no distinctive Irish names would be applied to any of the animals. Two days after the letter was published in the Times, he ordered all the keepers to drop the offensive Irish nicknames. From now on, they’d have to stick to names like Tom, Dick, and Harry. Mrs. Fatima Murphy, however, was allowed to keep her Irish surname.

Lion House, Central Park

The old wooden lion house of the Central Park menagerie was in the process of being torn down when this photo was taken in 1934. New York City Municipal Archives, No. 982

The End of the Murphy Legacy

On April 28, 1929, Mrs. Murphy passed away. Her body was taken to the American Museum of Natural History, where it was modeled and put on display in the Old World Mammal Hall next to a model of her late husband Caliph.

Five years after her death, the menagerie was completely remodeled, and all the old wooden buildings were torn down to make way for a brand-new brick and limestone “picture-book” zoo. Sadly, Caliph II, the last of the Central Park Murphy clan, never really got to enjoy his new home. On January 8, 1935, only a month after the zoo reopened, he was found dead in his new 15-foot-deep indoor pool in the lion house. He did leave a widow, Rosie, but it’s not known if she was liberated or had taken his last name.

The last of the Murphy hippos to pass on was Peter the Great, who died at the Bronx Zoo on February 1, 1953, at the age of 49.

The last of the Murphy family hippos to pass on was Peter the Great, who died at the Bronx Zoo on February 1, 1953, at the age of 49.

Central Park, 1880

On the border of Central Park, circa 1880. Collection of the Museum of the City of New York, Image ID: 805713

The following story is dedicated in memory of the eight people who died in a building collapse in East Harlem, when a leak in a natural gas pipeline laid in 1887 exploded on March 10, 2014.

If you’ve read Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence,” you may recall her describing “the one-story saloons, the wooden greenhouses in ragged gardens, the rocks from which goats surveyed the scene” near Mrs. Manson Mingott’s white marble row house on Fifth Avenue.

Edith Wharton House

The white marble row house built by Edith Wharton’s great-aunt Mary Mason Jones, looking south from 58th Street in 1899. Photo: Office for Metropolitan History

Although the novel is fiction, much of the story is based on Edith’s own life and experiences in old New York. Mrs. Mingott’s house was based on the real home that Edith’s great-aunt Mary Mason Jones built in 1899. The wooden structures, rocks and goats were also very real in the 1800s.

Walking through the streets of New York City today, it’s hard to believe that only 100 years ago Upper Manhattan was sparsely developed, save for some rickety shantytowns where squatters of mostly Irish or Italian descent lived among the communal goats and chickens.

To be sure, there were a few luxury apartment buildings and tenements here and there – the Dakota at 72nd Street among the most notable – but they were few and far between.

The Dakota, 1889

This illustration of the Dakota at 72nd Street from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Paper, September 7, 1889, depicts the typical squatters’ shantytown of the Upper West Side.

The Goats of Harlem

During the 1800s, the Upper West Side of Manhattan from about 59th Street to Harlem was known as Goat Town or Goatville. Before the extension of the Eighth Avenue elevated railroad prompted new housing construction above Central Park, there was an estimated 15,000 goats in Goat Town.

There were also many goats roaming free on the Upper East Side, especially before some well-to-do residents of Yorkville and East Harlem formed the Anti-Goat Protective Association to expel the goats in 1884.

Eighth Avenue El, late 1800s

The Eighth Avenue elevated railroad, probably just north of 116th Street. As farmers sold their land, the lots were raised to the new street level.

Although most of Harlem’s goats received bad press for creating a nuisance – like entering a parlor window and devouring wall hangings or trampling flower gardens — the goats in the following story helped the police solve a crime.

Harlem Map, First Avenue

The Harlem Market Company leased 14 acres between 102nd and 103rd Street, First Avenue, and the East River. Existing buildings were converted to booths and new sheds (blue) were constructed to shelter the horse teams.


The Thieves of the Harlem Market

The Harlem Market, one of the greatest open-air markets of its time, was started by a group of men who wanted to provide a wholesale market for small tradesmen and farmers from Westchester County and Long Island. The men, led by M. Michael, J. Wulfhop, E. Williams, and H.C. Koster, established the Harlem Market Company in 1891 with a capital stock of $50,000.

Harlem Market

The Harlem Market during the transition from horse-drawn wagons (bottom left) to motorized trucks. New York Public Library, Image ID: 416550

All along First Avenue, blacksmiths and wagon repairmen opened shops to provide new shoes for the horses and fix carriages that suffered damages making the long journey from the farms to the market. Hotels and saloons also sprang up to provide services for the farmers. Hundreds of wagons arrived each day, many of them via steam ferry from College Point, Queens, to 99th Street or the new (1894) Public Services ferry from Edgewater, NJ, to 125th Street.

On November 20, 1897, two men from East 70th Street decided to try their luck at the Harlem Market, which was packed that Friday morning with wholesale wagons and retail push-carts. They loaded their light wagon with some stolen produce, including a crate of onions, a box of oranges, and a basket of string beans. Unbeknownst to them, however, the basket of beans had a hole in it.

Bicycle Policeman Daniel J. Fogarty

Bicycle Policeman Daniel J. Fogarty of the East 104th Street police station.

When the owners discovered the loss shortly thereafter, they summoned Bicycle Policeman Fogarty. There was no good description of the thieves, so where was he to begin? Perhaps the procession of goats following a trail of beans on the ground held the answer.

Fogarty followed the goats, which led him to the first thief, Joseph Abrams, 26. While the owner was identifying his produce, Abraham Yansky, 22, began to protest the arrest. The victim identified Yansky as Abrams’ accomplice, and he was also arrested. Both men were brought to the Harlem Police Court and held for trial on what was then a pretty stiff bail for stealing some fruit — $200.

Harlem Court House

The Harlem Courthouse at 170 East 121st Street and Sylvan Place was designed by Arthur M. Thom and James W. Wilson and completed in 1893. The brick, brownstone, bluestone, granite and terra-cotta building was built for the Municipal and Magistrate’s Courts, and included the Fifth District Prison. Today the landmark building is occupied by the Harlem Community Justice Center.

The Superhero of East Harlem

Although this story was originally going to be a quick and silly one about some goats, as I dug deeper into the career of Bicycle Policeman Daniel Fogarty, the story got longer – but much more amazing.

During his early career, Policeman Daniel Fogarty was stationed at the East 104th Street police station, which had jurisdiction from East 96th Street to East 116th Street, and from Central Park (and from Sixth Avenue above 110th Street) to the East River, as well as Ward’s Island. It turns out that Policeman Fogarty was a real superhero of East Harlem, a sort of Batman on two wheels in the late 19th century.

The 28th Police Precinct Station House

The 28th Police Precinct Station House was located at 177 East 104th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues. The five-story station house, which had a two-story prison and lodging house in the rear of the lot, was designed by renowned NYPD architect Nathaniel D. Bush and completed in 1893. It opened on June 28, 1893, and closed in 1974 (then the 23rd Precinct).

The New York press loved writing about his courageous adventures, whether he was being dragged along the ground while trying to stop runaway horses, jumping into the ice-cold river to save drowning victims, or pulling children from harm’s way in the nick of time.

Sergeant Daniel J. Fogarty

In his 19 years of service, Policeman Fogarty won eight life-saving medals, including a gold medal from Congress for saving a man in the Harlem River. As a friend once told the press, Fogarty had “enough medals to make the German Emperor look like a bloomin’ civilian.”

Here’s just a brief summary of some of his more daring rescues:

January 1896:
Just three months after leaving the postal service to join the police department, Policeman Fogarty rescued a Roman Catholic priest who had fallen from a pier into the icy Harlem River. Shortly after this incident, he jumped into the East River to save Johnnie Crowe, a little boy who had fallen from his mother’s lap into the East River at the Peck Slip pier. The strong current carried them to the Brooklyn Bridge, where a tugboat picked them up.

West Farms trolley car

While riding on a West Farms trolley car (like seen here) in July 1896, Policeman Fogarty saw James Harvey fall into the Harlem River. He jumped from the moving trolley, dove off the old Harlem Bridge, and swam 150 feet to rescue Harvey. Fogarty lost two revolvers in the river. (Anyone want to go scuba diving in the Harlem River?)

January 1898:
While cycling down First Avenue around 11 p.m., Daniel heard cries for help coming from the river near 98th Street. He blew his whistle for help, charged into the icy water – striking his leg on a spike – and attempted to rescue William O’Toole, a fireman on the steamship Saratoga who had probably been drinking at Gregory Moser’s barroom. Hearing the struggle, Policemen Darrow and Maguire ambushed the No. 19 horse car and grabbed the reins from the driver’s hands. With some help from a few passengers, they were able to use the cut reins to pull the men from the river.

Asked by a reporter why he thought it was okay for a bicycle policeman to rescue a sailor from the river, Daniel said his book of rules wasn’t handy, so he just guessed it was the right thing to do.

May 1899:
Seeing a wild mustang charging up First Avenue, Fogarty took to the chase. Cheered on by hundreds of spectators, he gained on the horse and caught a rope attached to its halter. He was forced to drop the rope at 101st Street in order to save a small boy who stood in their path. According to the story, Fogarty leaned over his bike, picked up the boy by his collar, and carried him out of harm’s way. Without missing a beat, he continued chasing the horse until he caught him again at 106th Street. The horse was taken to the police stables on East 104th Street.

Father of the Police Drama
When he wasn’t saving women, children, and drunken men, Fogarty was busy volunteering as the first drum major and leader of the new Police Band, which he helped organize in 1903. He also wrote police dramas, which were performed for the benefit of the department relief fund.

In 1905, Fogarty wrote an article suggesting that a film be made on the life of a New York City policeman. He was immediately approached by Frederick Freeman Proctor (F.F. Proctor’s Enterprises), a theatre and vaudeville circuit manager. Commissioner William McAdoo liked the idea of including the New York Police in movie scripts, and so paved the way for the myriad of police movies and TV shows.

2585 Marion Avenue in the Fordham section of the Bronx, Fogarty residence

According to the 1920 census, Daniel Fogarty and his wife, Anna, lived in this circa 1901 two-story frame house at 2585 Marion Avenue in the Fordham section of the Bronx with their children Harriet, Harry, Gertrude and Anna. Prior to living here, the family lived on Webster Avenue and then at 375 East 199th Street in the Bronx.

Sergeant Fogarty and Colonel John Jacob Astor IV
In addition to the heroics, Daniel Fogarty was one of the first organizers of the department’s Widows’ and Orphans Relief Fund. As the leader of the Police Band, he thought it would be a good idea for the band to raise money for the wives and families of policemen who were injured or killed in the line of duty.

It was while working with Commissioner McAdoo on this initiative that Fogarty met Colonel John Jacob Astor. Not only did Astor assist in creating the fund, but he also worked with Fogarty to help form the Honor Legion of the Police Department, which was composed of men who rendered distinguished service in time of great danger.
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Vincent Astor

After his father, John Jacob Astor IV, went down with the Titanic, 20-year-old Vincent Astor inherited a massive fortune. The richest boy in the world made headlines when he sold off the family’s slum housing and reinvested in reputable enterprises to help the less fortunate.

When Astor died on the Titanic in 1911, his son Vincent Astor took his place on the fund. Shortly after Sergeant Fogarty retired due to a heart condition in July 1914 (he was then stationed at the East 51st Street Station), Vincent presented him with a $20,000 building on land belonging to the Astor estate at 149th Street and 8th Avenue. Daniel, his wife, Anna, and son Harry opened the Screen Theater – what was then called a “moving picture theater” — in October 1914.

Sergeant Daniel J. Fogarty

The highly decorated Sergeant Daniel J. Fogarty retired in July 1914 due to a heart condition.

By 1920, Daniel Fogarty was fully retired and had turned the theater business over to his son. He died at home in the Bronx on August 13, 1921. By that time, the goats, the squatters, and the shanties were gone, too.

Today, the land once occupied by the thriving Harlem Market, where Policeman Fogarty fought crime and saved lives on his bicycle, is occupied by the East River Houses, a large public housing development completed in 1941. The former 104th Street Station is still standing, only now it’s owned by Hope Community, Inc., a non-profit housing organization founded in 1968 to “develop, revitalize and beautify East Harlem.”