Brace Memorial Lodging House, Collars, Dutch Pete, Five Cent Blokes, life, newsboy code, newsboys, newsboys' house, newsgirls, Paddy the Pug, photographs, Reggie from Paris, savings bank, superintendent Heig, The Man Behind, Waldorf Gang, Waldorf Room
From the New York Tribune’s Illustrated Supplement on April 17, 1904:
Waldorf Room at the Newsboys’ Lodging House
Some Picturesque Characteristics of the Little Fellows Who Sell “Uxtrys” in the Streets of New-York.
Whatever the newsboy may lack in appearance, he has a bottom all the instincts of an aristocrat. Let the sunshine of prosperity beam on him even for a moment, and he buds with the true flowers of a patrician. If he makes a couple of dollars by the help of the Japanese fleet, whose latest manoeuvres has furnished him with a startling bit of news, he spends his money with a lavish hand. instead of a box at the opera, he buys tickets for the “gang” just beneath the grimy roof of some Bowery theatre.
A striking illustration of the “newsies” latent gentility is furnished by a new feature of the Newsboys’ Lodging House, near Chatham Square, which has been called the “Waldorf room.” Although plenty of white, clean beds were to be had in the two big halls for 5 and 10 cents a night, yet an exclusive circle of newsboy society demanded apartments of great privacy. Some of them had obtained work in nearby business houses, where they were enjoying incomes of $10 and $15 a week; and as “Dutch Pete,” who is now loading delivery wagons across the alley from the lodging house expressed it:
“W’en you’se got de wad, you’se might as well lif’ like a gent. An’ yer can’t be a gent widdout piracy. yer can’t mix up wid de bunch and perserve yer rights as a gent.”
A room was accordingly set apart, in which were put eight beds, each one with a private locker at its head. Fifteen cents a night was charged for sleeping in this apartment, which soon came to be known as the “Waldorf Room,” and, by reason of the exalted social standing of the eight youths who became its inmates, they were honored with the title of the “Waldorf Gang.”
AS soon as the newsboy obtains a sufficient income he yearns for a bed in the “Waldorf Room” as ardently as a successful banker aspires to a marble front house in Millionaire’s Row. He becomes discontented with the 10-cent bed, in which he hitherto slept so soundly. He looks around the big room, with its rows of beds, whose white iron frames look as if they had been turned out of the same factory by the same pair of hands. He takes a peep into the adjoining locker room, where he just now undressed with a crowd of other boys, and stowed his clothes away in a sort of pigeonhole in a great wire cage and then scampered off to his bunk. he recalls, too, the time when he slept in a 5-cent bed in the great hall downstairs, where there was a still bigger crowd. And although he has risen from a 5-cent to a 10-cent bed, this Young America now feels he will never be satisfied until he can rest within the exclusive sheets of a “fifteen center.”
The obstacles, however, which beset his ambition seem almost insurmountable. like Mr. Got-Rich-Quick, who moves to New-York from Petroleum Creek, and who is surprised to find the doors of Gotham’s best society closed against him, his aspirations suffer many a rebuff. The tenants of “de ate swell deckers” guard the dignity of their social rank with jealous circumspection, and even when a bed becomes vacant and Superintendent Heig sends in a new boy, the other seven at first regard him as a upstart.
Although some of the “Waldorf Gang” are earning enough money to hire a furnished room uptown, they find the attractions of their present life too potent. “We’d rather be the main guys here,” as one of them expressed it, “than be an under dog at a cheap boarding house.” Nevertheless, when the superintendent finds that a youth has prospered sufficiently to make his home elsewhere and let some other lad rise to take his place, he transplants the graduate into a good home, where, under the right influences, he can strive for still higher ideals.
It was just half a century ago that the Chatham Square Newsboys’ Lodging House was founded by Charles Loring Brace. It was the first institution of its kind in the United States. The building was erected by private subscription, and was managed by Mr. Brace for some time before it was accepted by the Children’s Aid Society, of which Mr. Brace was the executive officer. Since then other lodging houses have been established by the society, and in its last report, which covers fifty years of work, this organization tells of having rescued and placed in family homes 23,61 orphans or abandoned children provided places in the country for 25,000 older boys and girls, and restored 5,551 runaway children to parents. The vast majority of those sent to family homes in the West have become farmers, and not a few have risen to stations of high responsibility. John Q. Brady, Governor of Alaska, for instance, was once a lodging house boy, and others whose careers are known to the society include two Congressmen, four members of State legislatures, twenty-seven bankers, thirty-four lawyers, twenty-two merchants, seventeen physicians, fifteen journalists, eighty-one teachers, twenty-one clergymen and more than a thousand soldiers and sailors.
Between two and three hundred lads make their home in the Chatham Square Lodging House every night. As they file into the assembly hall, in the half hour before 6 o’clock, each reports to the superintendent. If a lad is working, he hands 15, 20 or 25 cents to the superintendent for three brass checks and a key. The checks for breakfast and supper cost only a nickel apiece, and the bed check varies from 5 to 15 cents. The minimum amount for a week’s board and lodging is $1.05.
Near the superintendent’s desk, as if to invite the attention of everyone that enters, is a shallow, black box, the top of which is cut with rows of slots, each labelled with a number.As the lads pass by nearly every one goes down into his pocket and drops a few coins into a certain slot. Whenever a lad wants his savings, Mr. Heig opens the bank, and sometimes he takes out as much as $30. In the last year 139 depositors saved $500.74. Not infrequently the money is transferred to a savings bank, and Mr. Heig has one bankbook in this possession which has just reached the thousand dollar mark.
Cleanliness is one of the first rules of the lodging house. After registering, the lads to to the washrooms, which have just been equipped with an elaborate new set of bowls, tubs and shower baths. At the supper tables the “Waldorf Gang” dines on a perfect equality with the “Five Cent Blokes.”
In every way the boys are made to understand that the lodging house is not an institution of charity. They pay or work for all they get. If a lad comes in penniless he is put to work cleaning windows or scrubbing floors. But his pride soon drives him to get employment. The lads earning money call him a “bum,” and he jumps at the first job which is offered to him. He need not wait long. Every day some one applies for a boy.
There are many gifts of clothes to the lodging house, but the boys who want a new coat or pair of trousers must pay for them, even though it is a nominal price. The other day a friend of the Children’s Aid Society sent in fifty suits from a Broadway clothier. They were offered for $1 a suit. there was then a run on the savings banks, and the suits were soon distributed, and on the following Sunday, as “Collars,” the Chesterfield of the “Waldorf Gang,” expressed it: “Dere wuz the swellest bunch of guys as ever et lodgin’ house grub.” Several of the boys had been fascinated with summer suits of rather startling hues for the sombre days of early spring. One youth, for instance, appeared in a suit of light straw color, with a bizarre check, and, costumed as if for the racetrack in midsummer, he sauntered up the Bowery, totally oblivious to such catcalls from his associates as: “Hello, dere Reggie from Paris!” “Can’t cher hear dose clothes?” “Say, is day suit made of asbustus?”
On rainy days, when the street crowds are too busy struggling with the storm to buy papers, the newsboy finds the lodging house a veritable haven. Here he may obtain a dry and sheltered corner, and in the evening when his legs ache from tramping the pavements he can play checkers or pool or listen to comrades as they sing to the accompaniment of the big, square piano. And if “Paddy the Pug,” the leader of the lodging house chorus, lifts his voice, as he can when he wants to, till it sounds as clear and sweet as that of a vested chorister, and sings that favorite of all newsboy songs, “The Man Behind,” he will join in the refrain. Then he forgets all about the fight he had in a back street an hour ago, and the blow that made his temple bleed.
He knows the words of “The Man Behind,” and he loves the song, not so much for its melody as the worldly truthfulness of its lines. The last stanza in particular appeals to him:
There’s the man behind the club, behind the uniform in blue;
Behind him are the wardmen and the wise old roundsmen, too.
The captain they report to is behind the lamps of green,
But the man who gets the money is the man behind the green.
And he joins the refrain by singing:
The man behind, the man behind,
He’s the wisest man that you will every find.
At reformers he has laughed,
He’s the man behind the graft,
So always try to be the man behind.
At the lodging house the “newsie” is safe from gambling resorts, which have a particular charm for him. In Broome-st., Henry-st., at Sixth-ave, and Twenty-eighth-st., Forty-second-st. and Third-ave., Fifty-ninth-st. and Third-ave., and many other places where the newsboy may buy policy tickets, shoot craps or play poker. There are pool tables at a cent a cue, where the lads bet five cents or more on each game, and where in a few hours a boy who has earned $1 in the day may lose everything he has. And when such a lad does not find a pool-room convenient he uses the sidewalk for a gambling place. He carries all the necessary paraphernalia for a crap game in his pocket, and it takes only a minute to summon the “bunch” around the corner into a less frequented street, where the dice are soon rattling over the asphalt.
There is a certain professional pride in the newsboy of this city. He realizes that he lives in the biggest and wealthiest community of the New World, and that he must use his brains to get ahead.
“De New-York newsboy,” said one of them, “is the keenest ever, but he ain’t got t’e edication t’at the Boston kids has. I wuz up ter t’e Hub not long ago, studyin’ t’e organization dere. Dey’s got a bang up union in Boston; an’, say, de grammar dose bloats used would put out yer lamps. W’y, den can spiel off words as crooked as Pearl-st. an’ as long as Broadway, an’ w’en yer get ter t’e end of ’em you’re blowed to know w’ere yer started in at.”
In order to succeed the newsboy must be a fighter. He must guard the particular piece of sidewalk where he sells his “papes” against all comers. “An’ dere’s only one way ter do it,” as a Park Row “newsie” expressed it. “You’se got ter scrap fer it. If a kid tries ter butt inter your route, you’se got ter knock ’em out, or he’ll knock yer out. Only de womens we don’t bother. Dere’s a bunch of womens ’round t’e bridge dats been dere since it wuz built; an’ dey can stay, too. We’se got nothin’ comin’ agin them.”