The Slums of New York 1875


The Rev. Fred Bell, well known as the reforMed drunkard and pugilist, delivered his lecture, "Midnight Scenes in the Slums of New York," before good sized audience last evening, in the DeKalb avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, under the auspices of the East Brooklyn Young Men's Christian Association.

On the platform with him were the Rev. Messrs. Platt and Hutchins, the latter of whom opened the proceedings with prayer, in which he referred to the lecturer as a monument of God's grace and one who had been rescued from the mire and mud. Rev. Mr. Platt, who is the pastor of the church, introduced the lecturer.

Mr. Bell said in the outset that he believed the audience didn't want any police news hashed up and that his lecture would be of what he had seen and heard. The Fourth Ward of new York City, he said, is thickly populated with thieves, pugilists and all kinds of men, women and children who were deeply sunk in poverty and sin. Three years ago he was called by the grace of God to labor in this field, and when he had looked it over he came to the conclusion that it was the wickedest place he had ever been in. When he saw the wretchedness of the slums his heart was made sad. He had since altered his mind concerning the wickedness of the fourth Ward, however, and was now of the opinion that there are places equally as wicked in the City of Brooklyn, and if the Christian young men wanted some missionary work to do they would not have far to go. There were hundreds of men and women in the Fourth Ward, he said, who never heard the gospel until he began to preach it among them and at first they shunned the mission over which he presided and which was located in what was known as KIT BURNS' RAT PIT.

At first he wondered what he could do to reach these people. Finally one afternoon, about a month after his entrance into the field, he dropped into a boarding house in Cherry street, where he found twelve or fourteen sailors who were "three sheets in the wind," and having a good time. One of the number was singing a comic song, and after he got through he (Bell) was asked to favor the company with a song, which he agreed to do if good order was maintained. One of the men then raised his fists and exclaimed, "I'll swell the head of the man who disturbs the stranger," which had the effect of producing order, and then he sang the song "Scatter Seeds of Kindness," which was heartily applauded. There were two or three wet eyes in the room when he got through. They encored him, and he was obliged to sing "I'm so glad that Jesus loves me." Then they asked him if he was a minister, and when he owned up that he was they promised to come to the Mission, and some of them did go and were saved.

His success, he continued, gave him a new idea, and that was to sing the Gospel as well as preach it. He told his wife of his plan and she opposed it at first. He told her that he was going to sing in the dance houses, and she told him he could not do so, as they did not get in full blast until midnight. He went first to the place next door to the Mission, which was called BUFFALO HALL, and asked its proprietor for permission to sing one song there, but was promptly refused. He next went to Fanny Grant's place. She, whenever she got drunk, would announce herself as President Grant's daughter, although old enough to be his mother. [Laughter.] She kept the Band Box, and said, "Yes, you can come in an' sing till yer blue." And the immediate result was that he was allowed admittance to all the dance houses in the ward.

He then spoke of his midnight visits to these places; of the gaudily dressed and brazen faced women who frequented them; of the character of their dances and the terrible baseness of their lives. One of these dance houses was The Flag of our Union in James slip, kept by two German brothers and frequented by sailors, thieves, burglars and prostitutes. They knew him and when he entered to sing would say, "Here comes Mister Bell to scatter seeds of kindness," and some were brought to the Saviour.

He next described his visits to the BUCKET SHOPS and said in this connection that he was glad that he was not a drunkard in America or he would have been in his grave and in hell long ago, for here it is not drinking but guzzling. Those who lived in these bucket shops, he said, were of that class too lazy to move and only fit to steal. They rarely got drunk at their own expense but that of others, and the women here were a shade lower than those of the dance houses. One of the features of these shops was the "velvet room," where the women, by the payment of five cents, could go and sleep off the effects of their drunks. It was not a luxurious apartment, as its name would imply, but a box with sawdust floor, and the women would huddle all together.

In conclusion, he described the life in the basements and cellars, and explained what had been and could be done, to relieve the sufferings and degradation of those unfortunates who lived in these slums.

Website: The History
Article Name: The Slums of New York 1875
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Daily Eagle March 23, 1875
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