Archive for February, 2014

Tammany, mascot cat of City Hall

I recently wrote about Old Tom, who was a very popular mascot of New York’s City Hall in the early 1900s. Although several other cats took over Tom’s place at City Hall after he died, none of these felines were as popular as Tammany, who occupied City Hall during the administrations of Mayor Jimmy Walker and Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in the 1930s.

Tammany’s life of luxury as the City Hall cat began sometime around 1930, when New York Mayor James J. Walker found the cat on the Lower East Side. Mayor Walker named the cat Tammany and brought him to City Hall to help get rid of rats in the building. Tammany was apparently quite the charmer, because during the remainder of Mayor Walker’s reign, his rat diet was supplemented by calves’ livers that came out of the city budget.

Hamilton Fish Park

Tammany spent his kitten-hood in the Lower East Side, somewhere near Hamilton Fish Park. The park, shown here during construction, opened in 1900 under the state’s Small Parks Act, which aimed to add open space in crowded neighborhoods. The Beaux-Arts gymnasium, designed by Carrere & Hastings, is the only original feature of the park that still stands today. From the Collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

Tammany took his job as the City Hall feline boss very seriously. As the New York Sun reported, he was “a bold, swashbuckling lad” and no rat was too big to escape his claws. In addition to rat-catching, Tammany would make the rounds of the building, checking in on a Board of Estimate meeting or a Council session, or dropping by to visit the mayor, whose door was always open for him. Between visits he’d stretch out in the main corridor and check out the visitors. If the visitor was feline, he’d chase the cat out of the building without mercy. When his work was done, he enjoyed sleeping in his dank cellar retreat.

Tammany was also a great friend of the City Hall reporters – well, he didn’t really like them, but he spent a lot of time in Room 9, the reporters’ room, sleeping on their desks. The reporters loved to pose Tammany for pictures, but he didn’t love the publicity. Sometimes after being photographed sitting on a reporter’s desk, stalking the halls of City Hall, or looking out the window, he’d spend the rest of the day sulking in the cellar.

The men on the Board of Aldermen also enjoyed Tammany’s company, especially if he did something to break up a meeting. One day in the winter of 1934, the cat created quite a stir when he stared down Alderman Edward Curley of Bronx, who was angrily denouncing Mayor LaGuardia. While Curley was calling the mayor “a self-declared monarch of all his surveys,” Tammany woke up from his nap on a chair near the dais and began nudging the alderman and staring into his face.

As the other alderman’s laughter drowned out Curley’s oration, Aldermanic President Bernard S. Deutsch said, “I think the sergeant-at-arms had better escort the silent member to the back of the room.” The aldermen responded, “No, no, let him alone!” Alderman Walter R. Hart of Brooklyn then leapt to his feet and said, “I move that the privileges of the floor be extended to the City Hall cat.”

“City Hall Cat’s Job Safe Under LaGuardia”

Fiorello Henry LaGuardia

Fiorello Henry LaGuardia, born Fiorello Enrico La Guardia, was the 99th Mayor of New York for three terms from 1934 to 1945.

Although Tammany’s job was quite secure under Mayor Walker, his fate was questioned by the New York press when Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia took office in 1934. After all, the anti-Tammany “reform” mayor was not a member of the Democratic party – he ran on the Republican-Fusion ticket. Right from day one, Mayor LaGuardia reorganized the city cabinet with non-partisan officials in his quest to develop a clean and honest city government. As Tammany watched many of his old friends leave City Hall, perhaps he also pondered his own fate under Mayor LaGuardia.

Mayor LaGuardia apparently had no intention of evicting Tammany from City Hall. On January 6, 1934, the headline on the front page of the New York Sun said, “City Hall Cat’s Job Safe Under LaGuardia.” A photo of the mayor with the cat in the foreground accompanied the article (unfortunately, the photo is too dark to post). Shortly thereafter, Tammany was wearing a collar that said “City Hall Custodian” in case he should get lost.

Although the new mayor had no intention of sending Tammany back to the streets of the Lower East Side, life did get a little more challenging for the cat under the “Fusion frugality.”

Deputy Mayor Henry H. Curran

Tammany had an ally in Deputy Mayor Henry Hastings Curran, who served with Mayor LaGuardia from 1937 to 1939.

No longer were his meals a line item on the city budget; now he had to rely on Tom Halton, a watchman at City Hall, and John Helmuth, night patrolman, who paid for Tammany’s evening meal out of their own pockets. He also had to deal with a cat named Fusion who tried to move in on his territory. This silent battle for control lasted for three weeks, until Fusion disappeared one night during a storm. Hmmm….

The Deputy Mayor Comes to Tammany’s Rescue

Tammany also has to contend with Commissioner Edward M. Markham of the Department of Public Buildings, who, according to rumors, was conspiring with the ASPCA to evict the cat from City Hall. Luckily, he had an ally in Deputy Mayor Henry Hastings Curran, who declared City Hall was under siege when he found out about the plan.

Tammany City Hall Cat

When the ASPCA and Buildings Department threatened to evict Tammany from City Hall, the reporters posed him “typing” Curran’s letter to Commissioner Markham.

On June 13, 1938, Curran wrote a letter to Markham in which he pleaded for clemency, noting Tammany was “the wisest and bravest of all cats.” Curran said the cat had 50,000 friends at City Hall who would fight for him if the ASPCA tried to take him away. “The carnage will be cheerful, instantaneous, and complete,” he wrote. “Let them come!”

The Tragic Death of the Boss Cat

On April 9, 1939, Tom Halton could not find Tammany when he went to feed him at 5 p.m. The next day around noon, the City Hall reporters spotted him in a telephone booth in their room. He had keeled over and was whimpering in pain.

Deputy Mayor Curran immediately called the Ellin Prince Speyer Hospital for Animals to let the vet know he was coming with the cat. Then he commandeered a car belonging to Council President Newbold Morris, and, escorted by two policemen, rushed Tammany to the animal hospital on Lafayette Street.

Ellin Prince Speyer Hospital for Animals

Tammany died on April 11, 1939, at the Ellin Prince Speyer Hospital for Animals at 350 Lafayette Street. Formerly known as the Hospital of Women’s League for Animals, the facility opened in 1914.

There, Dr. James R. Kinney gave him a fluoroscopic exam, which showed the cat was suffering from uremic poisoning and stones in the bladder. Dr. Kinney and his assistants sat up with the cat all night, but at 7:30 a.m. the next day, Tammany passed away. City Hall workers and reporters were notified of his death as they came to work. More than 200 calls came into City Hall that day from people who wanted to give Curran and LaGuardia their condolences.

James Speyer, the wife of the late Ellin Prince Speyer, offered to bury Tammany in a little pet cemetery at Waldheim, his large country estate at Scarborough-on-Hudson. The inscription on the grave read, “Tammany – In Fond Memory of Our Cat – Room 9, City Hall.”

Waldheim, James Speyer estate

Tammany was buried in an aristocratic animal cemetery at Waldheim, the majestic 130-acre Hudson Valley estate of James Speyer. The estate, which fronted the Scarborough-Briarcliff Road and the Albany Post Road, was sold in 1947 and subdivided into about 200 building lots for modest-priced single-family homes.

“If, as the Arabs suppose, the spirits of gentlewomen are re-embodied in cats, there is a delicate appropriateness in this dedication of cat fur to the adornment of living gentlewomen.” –The New York Times, October 12, 1890

Corona Cat Skin Company

With all the recent hubbub about the fur coat Joe Namath donned at this year’s Super Bowl, I thought I’d dig up this little ditty that I’ve been holding onto for just the right occasion.

“What Smart Women Are Wearing”

In the 1800s and early 1900s, furs were all the rage in Paris and, thus, among the ladies of high society in New York City. In an article titled “Facts About Furs,” published in The New York Times on October 12, 1890, it was reported that the furs of skunks, cats, and dogs were gaining in popularity among the furriers in the United States because they were both durable and comparatively cheap.

If it was fashionable in Paris, it was a fashion must in New York. Extravagant hats with large ostrich feathers and outrageous fur muffs and shawls were in high style in the 1800s.

If it was fashionable in Paris, it was a fashion must in New York. Extravagant hats with ostrich feathers and outrageous fur muffs and shawls were in high style in the 1800s.

Dog fur, the article noted, was valuable to furriers who wanted to “place aristocratic furs within reach of the democratic masses.” Sheared, plucked and dyed, the fur of the average yellow dog “could be converted into so good an imitation of
sea otter that only experts may distinguish it.”

Cat furs from both small wild cats and domesticated felines were also gaining in popularity, as the furriers learned to make cat skins look like “almost any kind of fur except seal, otter, beaver, sable, or mink.” It was noted that a very fine fox-skin muff could be made of cat fur. With native cat skins selling at $1.50 and $2.00, the reporter said, “Trappers and hunters might find profitable employment in the city back yards as well as the northern wilds.”

A Catastrophic Plan

About 21 years after this article was published, a group of residents from Corona, Queens, got together in December 1911 to devise a way to get rich off of stray cats. Recognizing that cat skins made “excellent coat liners” and would thus be in high demand, the group proposed to open a cat farm that would operate very similar to a poultry farm.

On December 22, the residents met at the hotel of Henry Glickman, 102 National Avenue at Spruce Street (near today’s 103rd Street and Roosevelt Avenue). At the meeting, the group discussed purchasing a plot of land on Long Island and starting a business called the Corona Cat Skin Company.

Linden Lake Corona Queens

Henry Glickman’s hotel was located near the old Linden Lake in Corona. The lake was bounded by Sycamore St. (now 104th St.),  Park St. (now 42nd Ave.), Linden St. and National Ave. (now 103rd St.), and Lake St. (now 41st Ave). After WWII, the lake was deemed unsanitary, so it was filled in. Today it is a NYC park called the Park of the Americas

The plan was to let the public know that they wanted stray cats, and to advise any young boys who lived within a “reasonable freight-weight radius” to start grooming these stray cats in preparation for the new cat farm. (I wonder if they intended on having the cats shipped to them…)

Mr. Glickman and his gang also proposed to fatten the cats by feeding rats to them, and said they would encourage rat catchers to bring their vermin to the cat farm.

“Liberal prices would be paid,” the press reported, although prices had not been set for different breeds and colors of cats. Once the company had enough strays, it would then operate its own breeding program. (Is anyone else getting an image of Cruella de Vil right about now?)

Cat Farm Would Cater to Furriers

One furrier interviewed by The Times said there would be a big market for a cat skin industry. In fact, he thought the supply of cats could never meet the demand. Here’s what I. Freundlich of I. Freundlich & Sons (14-18 East 32nd Street, Manhattan) told the reporter:

“New York gets a great number of cat skins from men in the West who make a business of catching cats and skinning them. I don’t know of any cat-breeding institutions, but they would certainly pay if they furnished the goods. Cat skins would make elegant automobile coats, for instance, and they are used for that purpose now. I have had many skins shipped here for persons who prefer cat skins. The most desirable skins are those of the Maltese cat, the ordinary all gray house cat. These skins sell for 50 to 75 cents. The black cat skins, of course, are less desirable, selling for 25 to 40 cents per skin. I would not be surprised to see such industries flourish in the future.”

Henry Bergh ASPCA

Henry Bergh founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) on April 10, 1866.

The SPCA Has a Kitten!

We didn’t have PETA back then, but I’m happy to report that Henry Bergh and his Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) was not pleased with this news, and publicly announced that it was a cruel idea.

“I do not think the object obtained by the killing of cats wholesale would be justifiable,” said Bergh, who was then treasurer of the society and a member of its Board of Managers. “I doubt whether it would be justifiable to kills cats under any considerations unless the flesh of the animal be used as food…The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will certainly investigate such an institution if it becomes effective.”

In response to Bergh’s statement, the promoters of the cat farm replied that they did not intend to skin the cats alive. They also said they would treat the cats very well — after all, the cats would have to be treated well if they were to bear smooth coats. (How thoughtful of them.) Mr. Glickman also said that “moonlight soirees on back fences will not be tolerated” because such disturbances would not be good for the pelts.

More Fur Flying

At about the same time the Corona group was making plans, a group from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, led by Johann Gustave Grafenstein of 450 75th Street, was also considering opening a cat farm on Long Island. Gus had apparently visited a cat farm in Russia, where a furrier was raising cats and then killing them for their furs. (Oh, this is a horrible story.) Ironically, Gus had just retired and sold his business on 52nd Street and 5th Avenue — Dairymen’s Milk Co., which was engaged in the production, bottling, and selling of milk and cream.

Gus told some friends about the idea, “who thought highly of the scheme.” Their plan was to purchase a lot about a half-acre square and then construct a concrete wall around the farm that would go six feet into the ground so that the cats couldn’t dig themselves out.

Cat Got Their Tongues

Gustave Grafenstein

Gus Grafentstein never did open a cat farm on Long Island. He died in 1916 when he fell down the stairs at his home at 450 75th Street in Brooklyn, shown here.

In May 1912, Henry Glickman told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that the company planned to start its cat business on a large scale within a few weeks. However, there appears to be no further discussion of the cat farm and no action taken. Henry Glickman sold his hotel at 102 National Avenue in 1914, and the next time he appeared in the newspaper it was to announce his plans to build a large meeting hall on Poplar Street to be used by various organizations.

As for Gus, he died tragically and suddenly at the age of 53 on November 11, 1916. He apparently broke his neck when he fainted in his home and fell down a flight of stairs. Justice can been sweet sometimes.

Unfortunately, quite a few cat farms really did exist in upstate New York and throughout the country in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Let’s just all hope this fashion trend never comes back in style.

Subway Nellie, IRT mascot

Nellie was the mascot of the Joralemon-Battery Tunnel and Brooklyn subway.

On November 27, 1907, the very first train to go to Brooklyn via the new Battery-Joralemon Tunnel left the Wall Street station in Manhattan at 12:30 p.m. This train carried about 200 men, including officials of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, engineers, and reporters. Oh yeah, and a mixed-breed dog named Subway Nellie.

In my last post, I wrote about Jerry Fox, Brooklyn’s mascot cat (is that mascat?) who lost his ninth and final life in 1904 when he fell into an open subway shaft near Borough Hall. This next story is about a dog who was the mascot of that very same subway tunnel.

A Rapid Transit Tunnel to Brooklyn

In May 1900, a committee of 50 Brooklyn men appeared before New York’s Rapid Transit Commission to advocate for a full extension of the subway system to Brooklyn. The Committee of 50 suggested a route that would extend through Broadway to the Battery in Manhattan, under the East River and Joralemon Street in Brooklyn, past Borough Hall, up Fulton Street to Flatbush Avenue, and then to the Long Island Railroad Station at the junction of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues.

IRT East River Tunnel map

This old IRT map shows the new subway route from Manhattan to Brooklyn, as designed by William Barclay Parsons, chief engineer of the Rapid Transit Commission.

On July 24, 1902, the contract (Contract #2) to build this extension and a tunnel under the East River — called the Battery-Joralemon Tunnel — was awarded to the Rapid Transit Construction Company. This company was owned by August Belmont Jr. and John B. McDonald, the pioneers of New York’s first subway line (Contract #1). The contract was signed on September 11, 1902, and ground was broken in January 1903.

August Belmont Jr

The financier: August Belmont, Jr. (nee August Schonberg), of Belmont Park racetrack fame, was president of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, which he founded and incorporated in 1902 to help finance the construction and operation of New York City’s first subway line. Belmont and his partner, McDonald, also formed a separate company to build the subway, called the Rapid Transit Construction Company.

John B. McDonald

The contractor: John B. McDonald served as general superintendent of the Croton Dam and directed several large railroad projects before winning the bid to construct New York’s first subway. Required to post a $7 million bond to proceed, he turned to Belmont for financial support.

A Frozen and Starving Puppy

In the winter of 1905, a young mutt sought shelter in the offices of John B. McDonald, near Brooklyn’s Borough Hall, during a severe snowstorm. The shaggy-haired puppy, half starved and frozen, drank some warm milk that the men offered her, and then crawled under a stove to thaw out. The men didn’t have the heart to kick her out, so they decided to keep her and call her Nellie – an extremely popular name for female dogs in those days.

William Barclay Parsons

William Barclay Parsons was the chief engineer of the Rapid Transit Commission.

Although the offices were warm and comfortable, Nellie was also very interested in all the digging and shoveling outside. (I imagine she thought the men were burying a giant bone.) As the tunnel expanded, and she was able to wander around without getting in the way of shovels and picks, she started to spend most of her time in the excavation area.

Every time the hollow was enlarged, Nellie would inspect the new portion with a critical eye, wave a paw over the uneven spots, and sleep until it was time to inspect the next phase of the job.

East River tunnel construction

East River Tunnel during construction: Engineers originally wanted to build the tunnel in the open and float it into place, but the War Department, which required the water level atop the tunnel to be 45 feet at low tide, and the great volume of river traffic, put an end to that idea. The tunneling work was instead done by means of shields and compressed air.

As time passed, Nellie became so interested in the work that she didn’t sleep at all during the working hours. She’d examine the work in progress, and show her approval or disapproval with short barks of delight and growls of displeasure. The 500 hundred or so men who were working far below the streets, from the river tubes to Flatbush Avenue, grew quite fond of the little dog.

Her Name Is Subway Nellie

When the excavation project was big enough for people to begin calling it “the subway,” the men christened Nellie with the name “Subway Nellie” in order to make sure that no one confused her with all the other dogs named Nellie in the neighborhood. As time progressed, the subway mascot became very well known around downtown Brooklyn (but not as well known as Jerry Fox, I bet). With her charming manners she could show up at any restaurant around Borough Hall and be sure of a good meal. “Here comes Subway Nellie,” the restaurant proprietors would say while the employees prepared a plate for her.

East River Tunnel

In early years, the East River tubes had telephones every 300 feet. An IRT employee in an office at the Bowling Green station could monitor the location of the trains in the tunnel via colored lights on a transparency.

As new hands joined the subway extension project, the foreman and other bosses advised them to be friendly to the canine. Of course there was no need to give these orders, because all the men appreciated her knowledge and work ethics. Nellie knew every nook and cranny of the tunnel from Borough Hall all the way out. (She was even allowed to enter the airlocks and explore the high-pressure chambers.) And she knew who owned every tool – in fact, it was said that if she saw that a riveter had forgotten his hammer, she’d promptly fetch it without being asked.

 Joralemon-Battery Tunnel

The Joralemon-Battery Tunnel comprises two cast-iron tubes, each just under 16 feet in diameter. As the first tunnel to span the East River, it was quite an impressive feat of engineering — it even had its own postcard. The tunnel currently services the 4 and 5 trains connecting the southern tip of Manhattan to Brooklyn.

Nellie the Timekeeper
Nellie also had a knack for telling time and apparently figured out that the men began work at a certain time, quit at a certain time for lunch, and then came back again to work until 6 p.m. She also seemed to understand that these times correlated to a loud whistle, which the foreman signaled by pulling a cord on a donkey engine.

Putting these two facts together, Nellie decided that it was her obligation to rush up to the cord and pull it with her teeth whenever it was time to start or stop work. When a reporter from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle asked the foreman if he thought Nellie could tell time he replied, “Maybe she could, only there are no clocks in the tunnel.”

Subway Nellie

Nellie was the guest of honor on the inaugural train from Manhattan to Brooklyn Borough Hall station via the new tunnel. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 30, 1907

The Guest of Honor

On November 27, 1907, the very first “test run” train to Brooklyn via the new Battery-Joralemon Tunnel left the Wall Street station in Manhattan at 12:36 p.m. This train carried about 200 men, including railroad officials, engineers, and reporters. Subway Nellie was the canine guest of honor on this very first trip.

The conductor for this train was chief motorman Morrison. He drove the three-car train around the South Ferry loop, back up to Bowling Green station, and then through the north tunnel (the south tunnel wasn’t completed yet). The train arrived at Brooklyn Borough Hall at 12:55 p.m. (The train went faster on the return trips: 7½ minutes and then 5 minutes.) A large crowd inside and outside the station greeted the train – they were attracted to the station by the ringing of the bell on top of Borough Hall, as ordered by Borough President Bird S. Coler.

First train to Brooklyn

August Belmont and Theodore P. Shonts, president of the IRT, hosted the very first train to Brooklyn via the Battery-Joralemon Street tunnel under the East River. Doesn’t it look like the man in blue on the right is holding a dog?

A Celebration to Rival the Brooklyn Bridge Party

After this test run, the first experimental train was a West Farms Express that left Bowling Green at 11:30 a.m. on January 6, 1908. Three days later, the first official train, a standard 8-car express train conducted by Grant Cooper, left the West Farms Square station (East Tremont Ave.) at 11:50 p.m. and arrived at Borough Hall at 12:49 a.m. At 12:51 a.m., it began the hour-long, five-cent return trip to the Bronx.

Because of the early hour, a formal ceremony took place about 10 hours after the train’s arrival in Brooklyn. The celebration, hosted by the Citizens’ Committee, began around 11 a.m. with a reception in the Manhattan City Hall. After the reception, the party proceeded to the Brooklyn Bridge station, where a special decorated train took them through the tunnel to Borough Hall.

Brooklyn Subway Opens

According to the Brooklyn Eagle Almanac’s 1909 Gazetteer of Long Island, “The celebration matched the fervor of the Brooklyn Bridge inauguration almost twenty-five years earlier.” Honored guests included Governor Charles E. Hughes, New York Mayor George B. McClellan, August Belmont, John B. McDonald, Borough President Coler, and E.W. Winter, president of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit.

Throngs of enthusiastic “citizens and their wives and sisters” (I guess women were not citizens then) greeted the train and gathered at the station all day long. Horns were blown, bells were rung, and everyone took a ride under the river. The trains through the tunnel were packed to the doors from morning till night.

I’m not sure what happened to Nellie after this big day, but I do know that the workmen who spent a few years underground with Nellie told the press they would make sure that she lived in luxury for the rest of her life after the subway was completed. Today, a bronze tablet in the Borough Hall Station commemorating the IRT extension is all that remains of the days a tunnel united Manhattan with Brooklyn under the East River.