Archive for May, 2015

Uno cross-dressing dog

I couldn’t find an actual photo of Uno, but don’t you just love this funny, dressed-up pooch?

During vaudeville’s heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s, animal performances were a dime a dozen on New York stages and rooftop gardens. Performing dogs like Dan the Drunken Dog and Don the Talking Dog were favorites with the crowds at places like Hammerstein’s Roof Garden and Tony Pastor’s Fourteenth Street Theatre.

One of the most famous performing pooches was Uno, a nondescript male terrier that was billed as “The Mind-Reading Dog,” “The Educated Dog,” and “The Dog with a Human Brain.” Uno was the prodigy of J.C. Pope, a vaudeville performer and agent aligned with John R. Price’s Popular Players touring theater troupe.

After spending several years performing in California and the Midwest, Uno and Pope made their New York debut in 1909 at Keith & Proctor’s Fifth Avenue Theatre, which was located just off Broadway at 31 West 28th Street. According to a review of the 13-minute show in Variety, Uno was a big hit with the audience, not so much for what he did, but for how he did it (in other words, I think he was a bit of a drama queen).

Don the Talking Dog

Don the Talking Dog was one of the headliners at Hammerstein’s Roof Garden and other theaters in the early 1900s.

The performance began with Uno walking on stage all dressed in female attire, from cloak and dress to corset and other feminine undergarments. One by one, J.C. Pope would remove each item of clothing in a manner that mimicked burlesque – which got a lot of laughs – and then he’d ask Uno to pick them up as he called for each item.

Uno also picked up coins of various denominations as well articles from the audience, such as a watch or pipe. The act would always conclude with Uno and Pope playing a musical selection on the bells (J.C. played all but one bell and Uno was trained to chime in with his bell at the appropriate time).

According to most reviews, Uno was a male dog. But in one theater review, the critic reported that Uno was a female dog:

Uno is a success and her stay in vaudeville may only he determined by the years she remains upon Mother Earth. The fourteen minutes of her act were none too many.—The New York Dramatic Mirror, April 30, 1910

Fifth Avenue Theatre

Uno and J.C. Pope performed for audiences on this stage at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in 1909-1910.

Uno also apparently had an understudy in case she (or he) was unable to perform for whatever reason. As for actual mind reading, my research did not reveal any demonstrations of this talent.

The Fifth Avenue Theatre

The Fifth Avenue Theatre on West 28th Street – and the ground on which it was built – has some very interesting history going back to the 1600s. I’ve also discovered some old photos from an architectural review of the new theater (Scientific American Building Monthly, January 1893) that I think many readers will enjoy.

The land goes back in American history to about 1670, when Sir Edmond Andros granted a land patent to Solomon Peters, the son of Pieter Santomee, a free African American who had once worked for the Dutch West India Company. In his will dated November 30, 1694, Solomon bequeathed his land, including 30 acres bounded by Abington Road (21st Street), the Bloomingdale Road (Broadway), Seventh Avenue, and 28th Street, to his wife, Maria Antonis Portugues.

Randel Farm Map 1818

A portion of the old Solomon Peters tract — later the Isaac Varian farm — is shown on the 1818 Randel Farm Map. Notice the structures to the right at the foot of 26th Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway — this is the old Varian homestead.

In 1716, Maria’s heirs (which may have included grandson William Smith of Orange County, NY), conveyed the land to John Horn, a wheelwright, and Cornelius Webber, Horn’s brother-in-law. In 1751, Jacob Horn conveyed about 17 northerly acres of the Horn farm to John De Witt, a Dutch farmer.

Along comes Isaac Varian, a butcher and farmer, who purchased the land from De Witt’s executors for 1,280 pounds in 1787. Isaac established his homestead on the Bloomingdale Road (Broadway) just north of 26th Street (see map above), where he lived until his death. (And Varian lived quite the life: He was married three times, had 16 children, and was 79 years old when he died in 1820.)

Isaac Varian Homestead

At least two generations lived at the old Varian homestead until it was demolished in 1850 to make way for new townhouses. At that time, a grandson, Richard Varian, was living in the house with his wife and their children, all of whom were born there. With the old homestead gone, Richard had a new home built at 27 West 26th Street, where he lived until his death in 1864.

Over the years, starting around 1830, the many heirs to the Varian estate began selling off their allotted lots to individual buyers and speculators. But one great-granddaughter, Lucy Varian, held fast to her land.

The Varian Homestead Tree

One of the last reminders of the Varian homestead was this tree in front of 1151 Broadway, near 26th Street. The tree had once marked the gateway to the old Varian farm and homestead, and it stood until just before 1880.

Even after Lucy married Henry Gilsey, the son of real estate mogul and city alderman Peter Gilsey, she refused to sell to her own father-in-law. He had to lease the land on which he built his house and performance hall on West 28th Street.

Gilsey’s Apollo Hall

The Fifth Avenue Hotel began as Apollo Hall, which was erected by Peter Gilsey on the north side of 28th Street, a few doors west of Broadway, in 1868. Gilsey also built a rowhouse next door at 33 West 28th, where he and his family lived.

Apollo Hall was only two stories, with the upper floor used for lectures, readings, balls, and political meetings; the lower floor for public amusements. It opened October 16, 1868, with a concert by Jerome Charles Hopkins, founder of the Orphean Free Schools for musical instruction, the proceeds of which went to the school’s fund.

1863 Draft Riots New York

Many buildings on West 28th and 29th streets were burned down during the 1863 Draft Riots, including the offices of Provost-Marshal Benjamin F. Manierre, shown here, at 1190 Broadway (southeast corner of Broadway and 29th). The small wooden structure in the foreground may be the old Casper Samler cottage, which stood at the northeast corner of Broadway and 29th until 1869, when Peter Gilsey built the iconic Gilsey House on the site (still extant).

Soon thereafter, the hall underwent a complete overhauling and was reopened April 17, 1871, as Newcomb’s Hall (W. W. Newcomb, manager). Six months later, John E. McDonough and H. A. Eamshaw took over management and reopened the hall on October 23, 1871, as The St. James Hall and then the St. James Theatre.

Peter Gilsey house and Apollo Hall

The old Fifth Avenue Theatre at #31 West 28th Street (center) and Peter Gilsey’s home at #33 (left) as they appeared before 1891. Peter died in the home on April 8, 1873, and was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Family members continued to live at the home.

In June 1873, the Gilsey estate began transforming the building into a true theater with seating for 1,900 people. The work was completed in December 1873, whereupon theater manager and playwright John Augustin Daly obtained a lease for the new venue. Daly was in need of a new theater, having lost his Fifth Avenue Theatre on 24th Street (adjacent to the Fifth Avenue Hotel) in a fire on January 1, 1873.

Daly opened the new theater on December 3, 1873, and renamed it the New Fifth Avenue Theatre. He continued as proprietor until 1877, which was the same year a ventilation system was installed that blew air over blocks of ice, making the venue the world’s first air-conditioned theater (there’s a good trivia question for you).

Daly was followed by John T. Ford, who removed “New” from the name, and then Eugene Tompkins, “the Napoleon of theater managers,” took over the lease on the building.

Here’s where the plot thickens a bit.

Fifth Avenue Theatre 24th Street

In 1865, the Christy Minstrels converted an illegal stock exchange next to the Fifth Avenue Hotel into a theater. Augustin Daly managed the theater from 1869 to 1873, when it burned down. The theater was rebuilt in 1879 and demolished in 1908 to make way for an office building.

In 1889, Andrew and Henry Gilsey, two of Peter’s seven children, decided to demolish the house and the old theater and build a new theater facing Broadway. To help finance this plan, they told Tompkins they would only renew his lease in 1891 if he agreed to make repairs to the old theater and also build a new theater at a cost from $100,000 to $150.000 in 1891.

Tompkins refused the terms of the deal. Turns out he had discovered that while the ground covered by the auditorium belonged to Peter’s sons, the ground covered by the stage still belonged to Lucy Varian Gilsey (remember her?), who, surprise, surprise, refused to renew the lease under any terms (so much for building a new theater).

Tompkins turned the lease over to H.C. Miner for the 1890-91 season. Those in the theater industry who read the terms of the lease felt that Miner was getting a bad deal, since it would probably cost more than $150,000 to build a new theater.

A Timely Conflagration

Augustin Daly

Augustin Daly was only 35 when he took over the New Fifth Avenue Theatre on 28th Street.

“They did all in their power, but the place was like a tinder box, and its four high walls were like a chimney. The fire whirled and swirled in it pits, and as it rolled upward and spread out in the wind it made one of the most imposing spectacles that New York has seen in years.”—New York Times, January 2, 1891

Well, wouldn’t you know that a curious thing happened on January 2, 1891, about a half hour after all the performers in that Friday evening’s production of “Cleopatra” had left the building. At about 11:45, night watchman Daniel Finn reported flames coming from the cellar of the theater. There was barely enough time to grab a few stage props and run.

By the time firemen arrived on that windy night, the fast-moving fire was not only burning down the theater but also threatening to destroy several other nearby buildings, including 1185-1193 (I.&I. Slater), 1195 Broadway (Herrmann’s Theater), 1182-1196 Broadway (Sturtevant House), and 33 West 28th Street (Mrs. Peter Gilsey’s residence).

Gilsey family

Mary C. Gilsey, seen here with their two daughters in this 1854 portrait by Louis Lang, was still living at #33 next to the theater when it burned down in 1891. She died on September 13, 1891.

According to a report in The New York Times the next day, the Gilsey brothers, and Harry Miner, in particular, didn’t seem too upset as they watched the flames destroy their property:
“Harry Miner, the proprietor of the Fifth Avenue Theatre, was one of the coolest of the spectators. He looked on the flames that were consuming his property and was not once heard to bemoan his misfortune.”

Andrew Gilsey estimated the total loss at $156,000, including damage to the home and complete destruction of the theater. He told the press he had $80,000 in insurance coverage (a nice amount to put toward a new building). Harry Miner’s loss was about $30,000, but he had $20,000 of insurance coverage.

Iron framework, new Fifth Avenue Theatre

The new theater was built to be completely fireproof, with an iron framework, seen here, a cement and asphalt scene pit, and fireproof arching erected by the Guastavino Fireproof Construction Company.

An investigation into the origin of the fire was made by the Fire Marshal, and it was his opinion that the flames were started by a lighted cigarette (and maybe an accelerant of some sorts?).

A New Fifth Avenue Theatre

With insurance money and a good excuse to build a new theater (and by this time Lucy had finally given in and began selling off her lots), the Gilsey estate promptly hired architect Francis Hatch Kimball to rebuild a new, fireproof Fifth Avenue Theatre.

Fifth Avenue Theatre foyer

“The W. 28th Street lobby was a sumptuous sight to behold, with various shades of marble on the walls, gilded columns, plasterwork and intricate stained glass windows. The halls were lined with mirrors, adding a feel of depth to the narrow space, and lined with marble Ionic columns and pilasters. Persian carpets, imported draperies and artwork added to the luxurious atmosphere.”–Scientific American

The Neo-Classical structure featured heavy terra-cotta decoration, gilt plasterwork, and a richly decorated entrance on West 28th Street (the main entrance was later moved to 1187 Broadway). The auditorium was parallel with 28th Street, while the stage occupied the site of the old Gilsey home.

The new Fifth Avenue Theatre opened on Saturday night, May 28, 1892, with Maurice Barrymore’s and Charles Poemer’s comic opera, “The Robber of the Rhine.”

Henry Miner continued to manage the theater until Frederick Freeman Proctor took control in 1900. Proctor teamed up with Benjamin Franklin Keith, and in 1906 the vaudeville chain redecorated the theater for vaudeville presentations — like Uno the mind-reading dog. When their partnership dissolved in 1911, the theater was renamed Proctor’s Fifth Avenue Theatre.

Fifth Avenue Theatre

The theater could accommodate 1,400 patrons, but unlike its predecessor, and many of its contemporaries, it featured rows of seats, both on the orchestra floor and in the balconies, rather than benches.

By 1915, Proctor was showing motion pictures in addition to vaudeville acts. Sometime after 1929, Proctor bowed out and movies were replaced by burlesque shows. On April 8, 1936, Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank acquired the property in a foreclosure. The old theater was demolished in 1939.

Fifth Avenue Theatre

In 1939, the Fifth Avenue Theatre was demolished forever. In order to reduce taxes for the company, Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank decided to turn the site into a parking lot. Today it is a multilevel parking garage and one-story structure with retail shops.

1151 Broadway

The old Varian tree, the gateway to the Varian farm and homestead, once stood in front of 1151 Broadway, pictured today (Rico Wholesale). If you ever happen to walk by here, close your eyes and picture an old frame house and farmland.

“Organ Grinder and Monkey, Washington Heights”

In 1935, this Washington Heights performer was one of the last organ grinders legally allowed to perform in New York City. Museum of the City of New York Collections

If you’re like most people reading this, when you hear the term “organ grinder” you immediately picture a man of Italian descent playing the bulky instrument with a Capuchin monkey at his side collecting coins in a tin cup.

It may be stereotypical, but you can’t be blamed for thinking this way. By 1880, according to author Tyler Anbinder in his book Five Points, nearly one in 20 Italian immigrant men in New York City’s Five Points neighborhood were organ grinders. And most of them had a companion of the primate persuasion.

One organ grinder who broke the mold was Irishman Timothy McGrath, who, for over 10 years, played his hand-organ along 7th and 8th avenues in New York City’s Tenderloin District. Instead of a monkey, Timothy had a grizzly-haired Skye terrier who would sit on top of the organ wrapped in a blanket and holding a basket in his mouth. Women passersby simply could not resist placing a few coins in the basket, even when their male companions scorned their actions.

“Beggar’s dog – Hoboken,” ca. 1910-1915

Many street performers and beggars, like this man in Hoboken, N.J. in the early 1900s, used pet dogs to win over women and children, who were more apt than men to place coins in the dogs’ baskets. Library of Congress

Like many street performers in those days, Timothy was nearly blind. But he was able to get around the neighborhood and live on his own in a small third-floor room at 402 West 38th Street.

Timothy moved into the small room around 1881, shortly after his wife and two children took ill and died within weeks of each other in the family’s small brick home, also on West 38th Street. (They may have died of diphtheria, which killed almost 5,000 Manhattan residents in 1881.)

Save for his daily organ playing, Timothy lead a very secluded life for the next 20 years. In fact, his only true human companion was James Brown, a tailor who had a shop on the ground floor and also served as the building’s janitor.

402-408 West 38th Street

Timothy McGrath lived in the tenement building at the very left of this 1932 photo of 402-408 W. 38th Street. Today this area is a vacant lot. Museum of the City of New York Collections

Timothy was no doubt familiar with the neighborhood because he had spent all his teenage and adult years living in the West 30s along 9th Avenue. It was here he attended the New York Institution for the Blind from about 1855 to 1860, receiving not only general education lessons but also taking part in a pilot manufacturing workshop in which adult residents made basketry, mattresses, and other items for sale.

Timothy McGrath’s Neighborhood

The history of the Old New York neighborhood in which Timothy lived – today located on the edge of Hell’s Kitchen and the Garment District – goes back to about 1639, when it was leased by Dutch settler Hendrick Pietersen van Wesel. (Hendrick’s farmhouse was identified on the 1639 “Manatus Map” as farm number 15.)

In 1647, Governor Willem Kieft granted this farm to Adriaen Pietersen van Alckmaer, and following the death of his heirs (around 1657), the land reverted to the Dutch East India Company.

The Weylandt Patent

Blue Book Map of Farms, Weylandt Patent

The Weylandt Patent extended from the shores of the Hudson to just west of Bloomingdale Road (present Broadway), north to Reed Valley and the Great Kill (40th to 42nd Streets), and south to 28th Street. Take notice of the large structure on the Isaac Moses farm, right center, which comes into play later. Blue Book Map of Farms, 1815; NYPL Digital Collections

In 1668 the first English governor, Richard Nicolls, granted the land now known as the Weylandt (meadow) Patent to three Dutch farmers for the purpose of pasturing their cattle and horses. The patent encompassed 300 acres and was bounded by the Hudson River, the Bloomingdale Road (Broadway), the Great Kill (where three streams converged at 10th Avenue and 40th Street), and Clapboard Valley, a small semi-circular fenced-in meadow with a little stream between 28th and 30th Street.

The three recipients of the Weylandt Patent divided the area into six parallel lots, running east to west, for the entire width of the grant: Cornelis van Ruyven (Lots 1-2), Allard Anthony (3-4), and Paulus Leendertse van der Grift (5-6).

Fast-forward 100 years to 1757, when Lot 5 (about 38th-42nd Street), now owned by Mathias Ernest, included a dock at the river and a small wooden house that was once a roadhouse and now used for the manufacture of glass bottles. (Although Ernest’s glass venture failed, the entire neighborhood came to be known as the Glass House Farm through much of the nineteenth century.)

Rapelje Farm

Sometime after the Revolution, merchant and ship builder Rem Rapelje purchased the northeast portion of the old Weylant Patent from about 30th to 42nd Street between 8th Avenue and the Hudson. He built his farmhouse, seen here, at the foot of 35th Street. A portion of this land was purchased by the Chemical Manufacturing Company (later, Chemical Bank) in 1827 and the farmhouse was torn down in 1865. Today this is the site of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

By 1780, most of the patent land was owned by Rem Rapelje and Jacobus Van Orden, who had inherited several southern lots from his grandfather, Johannes van Couwenhoven. When Jacobus died in 1782, his lots went to his daughter Madgalena, the wife of Thomas Tibbet Warner. Two years later, Warner conveyed the land, which included a large house and barn, to John Watts, who in turn sold it in 1795 to Isaac Moses and Benjamin Seixas. (Talk about real estate flipping!)

In 1832, wealthy iron merchant James Boorman purchased the old Isaac Moses farm from Moses L. Moses and adjacent lots from Samuel Watkins. (By now, the original six lots of the Weylandt Patent had been subdivided into numerous building lots for future development, but most of the land had yet to be improved. The roads in this part of Manhattan were still not paved, and city water, sewer, and gas lines did not yet exist.) Boorman named his new estate Abington Place.

New York Institution for the Blind

The New York Institution for the Blind, pictured here in about 1840, was built on the former Isaac Moses and Samuel Watkins farms, between 8th and 9th Avenue and 33rd and 34th Streets. The large, turreted Gothic revival building faced Ninth Avenue. The building in back may be large house shown on the map above.

The New York Institution for the Blind

At the same time all these real estate transactions were taking place in the 1830s, three prominent New Yorkers were in the process of starting a school for blind children — first in a private home on Mercer Street and later, at 62 South Street. On March 15, 1832, the New York Institution for the Blind, under the leadership of founders Samuel Wood, a Quaker philanthropist; Dr. Samuel Akerly, a physician; and Dr. John Dennison Russ, a philanthropist and physician, held its first class for three blind children. Two months later, the school had six students.

Looking to greatly expand the school, the Institution sought benefactors to donate land or money. James Boorman responded by offering to lease to the school, for nine years, 32 lots with buildings, including a large, two-story marble mansion that was unoccupied. The rent: one peppercorn per year.

James Boorman

James Boorman was born in Kent County, England, in 1783. In addition to being a successful merchant, he was the director, vice-president, and president of the Hudson River Railroad Company and one of the founders of the Bank of Commerce.

As described in the New York Evening Post, August 15, 1833:

The main building on the premises is a large substantial two story house, 100 by 54 feet, situated on a rising ground overlooking the Hudson River. There are also two stone kitchens apart from the main building, and a well of good water near the house. The ground is now in good order, under cultivation as a garden, and contains a little’ over two acres. The situation is stated to be one of the pleasantest on Manhattan Island, in the immediate vicinity of the city, and offers fine air, good soil for cultivation, a shady grove and flower garden, with wide and level paths. The house is very large, two stories high, with a spacious attic, abundantly large enough for a workshop and place for exercise in bad weather, while the distance from the City Hall is only about three miles.

Classes began at the new school building on October 10, 1833. By the end of 1834, the school had 26 pupils.

In 1837, the Institution purchased the western half of the large lot and began construction on a stone Gothic revival building. The original marble estate was demolished in 1840, and in 1850, a three-story brick workshop called the Manufacturing Department was erected on the site of the former estate. It is here Timothy McGrath received occupational training and made products for which he received about $300 after graduating the school in 1860.

New York Institution for the Blind, 1870

In 1870, a fourth floor was added to the school in addition to central steam heating. In 1922, the school began construction on a new facility in the Bronx on an 18-acre parcel of the Vincent Astor Farm just off today’s Pelham Parkway. Today the institution is called the New York Institute for Special Education.

The Passing of Timothy McGrath

In January 1901, Timothy took ill. James Brown, his only companion, started checking on him daily to make sure he had enough food to eat (his diet consisted of bread and condensed milk). About a month later, the dog, whom I call Timothy II, passed away, reportedly from starvation. For several days later James tapped on Timothy’s door to see if he needed more food, but each time Timothy said, “No, nothing. I have plenty of bread left for several days.”

William Sloane House YMCA

On January 1, 1930, the William Sloane House, the largest YMCA residence in the U.S., opened on the site of the former Institution for the Blind. In the 1993 the building converted to condos. The building in front is occupied by B&H Photo and Video.

On February 9, 1901, Brown got no answer when he knocked on Timothy’s door. He summoned a policeman, who broke down the door and found him dead. An ambulance surgeon said Timothy, who was 58 years old, had died from the cold and lack of nourishment.

The big surprise came when police opened a tin box that they had found in the room. Inside were two bank books (Emigrants’ Savings Bank and Bank of Savings), showing credits totaling $15,000. They also found the deeds for a house on 40th Street, off Fifth Avenue, two lots near Greenwood Cemetery, a life insurance policy, and deeds for a lot and monument in Calvary Cemetery.

Timothy II the dog had obviously collected a lot of pennies in his basket over the years.

According to news reports, Timothy McGrath had a brother who had two daughters and a son who worked as a letter carrier. But even after his story was published in several New York newspapers, no one came to the city morgue to claim his body or his property.

Snooky New York City Hall Cat

Fusion, aka Snooky, had white fur flecked with russet and dirty yellow markings – and patches of coal from having just discovered Mayor LaGuardia’s coal bin. Here she poses in her first official photo shoot with Councilman J.E. Kinsley.

On May 3, 1939, one month after popular City Hall cat Tammany died at the Ellin Prince Speyer Hospital, an 11-month-old multicolored female cat from Woodside, Queens, made her debut at City Hall. The cat was the pet of City Hall night watchman Tom Halton, who had been greatly saddened by the passing of Tammany.

Upon her arrival, the City Hall reporters named her Fusion, both for her coloring and for the newly formed City Fusion Party, a coalition of progressive Republicans, liberal Democrats, good-government types and independent Socialists who helped put Fiorello H. LaGuardia in the mayoral office. (A few reporters wanted to call her Confusion.) The reporters also welcomed her with catnip and a dish of ice cream.

Fiorello Henry LaGuardia

Fiorello Henry LaGuardia was the 99th Mayor of New York City for three terms from 1934 to 1945.

Although the name fit her very well, Tom Halton insisted that her name – the name he had already given her – was Snooky. To prove that her name was Snooky, he even produced a white collar for her on which was printed “Snooky—City Hall.” Some reporters obliged, but for years many newsmen continued to call her Fusion.

Snooky immediately fell into a daily routine, which included wandering from room to room with a rather proprietary air, stretching out on the city budget report (a large volume kept in the press room), and attending conferences in Mayor LaGuardia’s office and meetings of the Board of Estimate. Every night at 5 p.m. Tom would feed her dinner of canned salmon or tuna fish, which he kept cold in the press room water cooler.

Brooklyn-Long Island Cat Show

In December 1941, Snooky was a guest of honor at the inaugural cat show of the Brooklyn-Long Island Cat Club at the Hotel St. George Roof Garden. Each guest cat sat on a dais, with his or her personal history written on the seat. Here, Mrs. Silas H. Andrews, president of the Brooklyn-Long Island Cat Club, holds Boots during the inaugural cat show.

No More Salmon for Snooky

Soon after America entered World War II, it became apparent that voluntary conservation of goods would not be adequate, so numerous restrictions were put in place. On January 30, 1942, the Emergency Price Control Act granted the Office of Price Administration (OPA) the authority to set price limits and ration food and other commodities to discourage hoarding and ensure equal access to scarce resources.

Sugar was the first item to be rationed (and only available for purchase via government-issued food coupons), followed by coffee, meat, cheese, fats, canned fish, canned milk and other processed foods.

When the initial freeze on canned fish went into effect in 1943 (a freeze preceded rationing for canned fish), Tom Halton had only one can of salmon in reserve for Snooky. As he told a reporter for The New York Times, he feared that Snooky would resort to killing the sparrows and pigeons in City Hall Park if she did not approve of the fish substitutes.

War Ration Book WWII

Every American was entitled to a series of war ration books filled with stamps that, along with payment, could be used to buy restricted items. I have a feeling City Hall did not use any of their stamps to purchase canned salmon for Snooky.

Slippers, a cat who lived in Lawrence, Long Island, “read” the story and sent Snooky a can of soy substitute with a note stating that she too was saddened to hear that the Office of Price Administration had applied a freeze to salmon. “The dehydrated sawdust we are given now is singularly unpalatable – only fit for dogs, who have no sense of discrimination,” she wrote.

Snooky Goes AWOL

On October 31, 1944, Halloween night, Snooky ran away from City Hall after reportedly getting into a tiff with a black cat that had been trying to take her place. City Hall called in the police, who were instructed to leave no stone unturned in their search for the missing cat.

Tom also conducted his own search in places he knew Snooky might be expected to hide. For some reason she wasn’t wearing her collar and ID tag, but Tom held onto them with hopes that the prodigal cat would return to him.

New York State Building

After disappearing from City Hall in 1944, Snooky was last seen in front of the New York State Office Building at 80 Centre Street, a nine-story structure that housed all State offices in Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.
When the State Building was built in 1929-30, it replaced the former factory of Andrew Dougherty, a famous manufacturer of playing-cards who invented many of the printing devices used to make the cards. Dougherty built his factory at 76-80 Centre Street in 1872 on the site of several two-story frame houses from the early 1800s. NYPL Digital Collections

A few days after Snooky’s disappearance, the black cat had the nerve to return to City Hall and try taking over her territory again. The cat actually made it as far as the lobby of City Hall, but Tom, who had just arrived for his shift, gave the interloper the boot.

“I bet someone stole Snooky and put this black cat in here,” he told the City Hall reporters.

Snooky Is Found at Oak and Roosevelt

Oak Street and Roosevelt Street

Police found Snooky at the intersection of Oak Street and Roosevelt Street in the Lower East Side (shown here in the 1930s), two of the many streets that were demapped in 1947 and 1950 to make way for the Alfred E. Smith Houses and the Chatham Green apartments. NYPL Digital Collections

Four weeks later, on November 25, Patrolman William Mahoney of the 4th Precinct Police Station at 9 Oak Street spotted Snooky near the station house at Oak and Roosevelt streets while driving his patrol car through the Lower East Side.

He triumphantly returned Snooky to Patrolman James Byrnes at City Hall, where the cat was welcomed back with a ceremony fit for a queen cat (in other words, a large can of salmon).

Even stodgy City Council President and Acting Mayor Augustus Newbold Morris welcomed the cat back, saying, “Glad to see you back, old boy.” (Snooky was a female cat.)

Gotham Court, Lower East Side

In 1850, Quaker philanthropist Silas Wood developed Gotham Court, a “model tenement” situated on the block bounded by Oak Street, Roosevelt Street, Cherry Street, New Bowery (now St. James Place), and Franklin Square. The complex comprised two rows of six, five-story tenements standing back to back. Gotham Court was notorious for overcrowding, filth, and crime. The housing complex was demolished in 1895 under the Tenement House Law and replaced by New Law tenements. This photo of Gotham Court at 38 Cherry Street was taken by Richard Hoe Lawrence around 1885.

Oak Street and Catherine Street, 1944

This view from Oak Street and Catherine Street, looking southeast toward the Brooklyn Bridge, was taken in 1944, the year Snooky was miraculously found among this maze of tenements. This entire area up to the bridge and the East River waterfront was cleared away to build Governor Alfred E. Smith Houses in the late 1940s.

Oak Street station house of the 4th Police Precinct

The old Oak Street station house of the 4th Police Precinct — the four-story brick building here — was among the last structures to be removed when the Lower East Side neighborhood where Snooky was found was demolished. This photo was taken around 1950.

In May 1944, six months after her disappearance act, Snooky celebrated her fifth anniversary at City Hall sporting a new collar and dining on her favorite, a rationed can of salmon. As the Tipton Daily Tribune (Indiana) reported on May 30, 1944: “When Snooky first arrived she was dirty, disdainful, and debonair. Today, she is dirty, disdainful, and debonair.”

Kitty Hall stowaway cat

Kitty Hall was discovered by passengers aboard a Pan-Am flight from Ireland to New York in 1946. She was taken to City Hall and sworn in as an American citizen of the feline persuasion.

In September 1945, Snooky went AWOL again, and Tom, now 67 years old, feared that someone had stolen the cat he had so adored for almost seven years. Snooky never did return, and a year later a new cat had taken her place at City Hall.

This new cat was presented to Tom on January 29, 1946, by Dorothy Mills, a stewardess for Pan-American World Airways. The cat, first named O’Clipper, had been discovered as a stowaway aboard a clipper flight from Shannon, County Limerick, Ireland, to LaGuardia Airport.

City Hall reporters renamed the reddish-brown tabby Kitty Council, and later, Kitty Hall. Tom Halton was happy to receive the new cat, and immediately took to feeding her and instructing her on her new duties at City Hall.