1855, 1856, 1857.-FERNANDO WOOD, 1855-1857, MAYOR
1855. AT this date the City of Philadelphia had introduced
into its Fire Department several steam fireengines, which
were readily and successfully operated. I was at this time a member
of our common council, and having witnessed, on invitation, the
operation of one of the engines in Philadelphia, on my return
I essayed to have a committee appointed to visit that city, examine
the working of their engines, and report to the Board. There were
at this time two firemen in the Board, and my resolution was not
only opposed, but was received with derision. It was not allowed
to entertain any measure, or to act in any manner opposed to the
views or convenience of "our noble firemen," or to arrest
their amusement in competitive racing and working their engines,
with an occasional display of the fraternal regard that existed
between rival companies (in some wellknown instances even
to the degree of arresting an engine while a fire was raging),
which was so manifestly apparent in the interchange of epithets
in no wise conspicuous for delicacy or refinement of sentiment,
and in the projection of brickbats, stones, and any convenient
missiles. To destroy such a source of amusement of our firemen,
by the introduction of steam fireengines, was not to be
thought of. In a brief period after this the resort to steam became
a necessity, and it was gradually introduced.
The city of Cincinnati employed steam fireengines
at this time, and one of them (built by A. B. Latta) was exhibited
here in the City Hall Park in February. An exempt company, using
our handengine No. 42, competed with the steamer, and in
each of three successive trials exceeded it slightly in the distance
to which a stream was thrown. But, after the trials, the men of
the hand engine were exhausted, while the steamer was fresh. It
was not long after this that the general resort to steam was compelled.
Castle Garden was in this year appropriated and used
as an immigrant depot, where all immigrants were received, sheltered,
and informed as to the manner of reaching their destinations,
and whence they were transported to the different railroad stations
from which they were to proceed on their journeys.
February 24, "Bill" Poole, Lewis Baker,
and others of that class met late at night in the barroom
of Stanwix Hall in Broadway, opposite to the Metropolitan Hotel.
"Paudeen" McLaughlin, a notorious character, challenged
Poole to fight, who did not notice him, whereupon one of the party,
James Turner, drew a revolver and, resting it on his forearm,
shot at Poole, but wounded himself, but with a second discharge
his ball hit Poole in the leg. Baker then, without drawing his
revolver, discharged it, while in his coatpocket, directed
at Poole, the ball entering his heart; notwithstanding this, he,
to the wonder and amazement of the surgical fraternity, retained
life for fourteen days. Poole was one of the intense Americans.
He came to a not wholly inappropriate end. Many will remember
the lithographs that were widely displayed in his memory, presenting
a handsome man's portrait draped with national flags, and having
underneath Poole's "last words": "I die a true
American," by which the notion of his eminent patriotism
was no doubt widely perpetuated. We have heard that his true last
words were: "By ____, boys, I'm a goner!"
Baker escaped in a brig bound for the Canary Islands.
At this time George Law was considered to be the leading candidate
of the Native American party for President, and in support of
that position he individually chartered the clipper bark Grapeshot
to follow Baker and arrest him on the high seas before he
reached a foreign port. Upon the evidence of such purpose on the
part of Law and his friends, Mayor Wood requested me to proceed
to Washington and essay to have Baker brought back by a national
vessel. I proceeded there and laid the matter before Wm. L. Marcy,
the Secretary of State, who introduced me to the President (Franklin
Pierce), and upon my statement of the case, Mr. Marcy sent for
the Portuguese Minister, and asked if his Government would allow
Baker to be extradited. He promptly replied that it would not.
The Grapeshot arrived at the Islands before the vessel
with Baker, from which on her arrival he was taken out, brought
back and tried for murder three times, the jury in each case failing
to agree, and he was eventually discharged from custody.
Trinity Chapel, begun by Trinity Parish in 1851,
was on April 17, this year, consecrated before it was quite completed.
It was entirely finished in 1856.
The first regatta of the New York Yacht Club, when
on its annual cruise, was held this year off Glen Cove, over the
course around the steppingstones; the prize was won by the
William M. Thackeray revisited this country toward
the close of the year, repeating the public success which he had
achieved on his earlier visit in 1852, and renewing the private
friendships which were so agreeable to those who welcomed him
here. He gave again his earlier course of lectures on the "English
Humorists of the Eighteenth Century," and added the course
on the "Four Georges."
September 3, the great Rachel was first seen by an
American audience at the New York Theatre, etc., better remembered
by our public as the Winter Garden; remaining there until October
20, during which time she played a dozen parts. She caught a cold
in this house which ultimately caused her death. After visiting
Boston she was seen at Niblo's for a brief period, making her
final appearance in New York on November 17, and her last appearance
on any stage at Charleston, a month later. She sought relief from
her pulmonary disorder through a winter spent in Havana, and returned
in the spring to France, where she died in January, 1858. This
is not the place for an estimate of Mme. Rachel's powers, but
the memory of them is still fresh with those who saw her forty
years ago, though she was worn and ill during the whole of her
Speculation in this and the following year ran riot.
Cotton lands, town lots, guano, goldmines, etc., were put
upon the market; the originators in many cases "watering"
the stock, and in others selling out and leaving the outside public
to develop the schemes. In addition to the field of ordinary stock
operations, a positive craze, so to term it, was developed in
the desire to procure foreign or fancy poultry, and poultry brokers
appeared upon the scene-Chittagongs, Shanghaes, Cochin Chinas,
Dorkings, and Creoles were bought and sold at enormous prices,
ranging from fifty dollars to over one hundred dollars per pair.
Delmonico's restaurant at Broadway and Chambers Street
was first opened in this year. Chambers Street was opened from
Chatham Street to James' Slip.
The Academy of Music was now managed by Mr. W. H.
Payne, a wellknown resident of the city, with Maretzek as
conductor, and Mme. Lagrange, Brignoli, Amodio, etc., in the company.
Performances began October 1. The business was bad, and the season
came to an end early in January.
Eighth Avenue Railroad opened and commenced operation,
from Fifty.ninth Street to Vesey Street and Broadway.
1856. January 23d, the Collins steamer Pacific,
Captain Eldridge, left Liverpool with 45 passengers and a
crew of 141 men; she was never seen or heard of after. Her day
of leaving was three days before that of the Persia, a
new vessel of the Cunard Line. The opposition between the two
lines was then at its extreme of banters and bets. Captain Eldridge
is reported to have made an illtimed, if not profane, declaration
regarding his course with the Persia, which arrived in
due season, reporting not to have seen the Pacific but
to have encountered much field ice. The occasion of the Pacific's
loss was evident; she had run into a field of ice, and as
she was planked with yellow pine, without a collision bulkhead,
she must have sunk with great rapidity, as not even a vestige
of her was ever seen.
The New Bowery was opened from the south side of
Chatham Street to Franklin Square, and Cliff, between Beekman
and Ferry streets, was widened. The North German Lloyd's line
of steamers between New York and Bremen was established.
April 23, occurred the benefit and last appearance
upon the stage of "Old Joe Cowell," in his pet part
of Crack, in which he had begun at the Park Theatre in
1821. He was well known everywhere.
May 25, the last services were held in the old "Brick
Church," which yielded its site to the Times building,
the purchase having been made, despite the assertion that a condition
of the gift to the church of the site, was that it should ever
be occupied for a church.
A great public ceremony occurred on July 4, at the
dedication of Henry K. Brown's bronze equestrian statue of Washington,
erected in Union Square, almost on the very spot where the citizens
received the Commanderin-Chief when he was entering New
York on Evacuation Day, November 25, 1783. The First Division
paraded on occasion of the dedication, and an oration was delivered
by the Rev. Dr. George W. Bethune.
August 30, was burned the Latting Observatory, a
tall tower that had been built near the Crystal Palace (almost
on the present site of the Century (club) as an attraction to
visitors at the World's Fair. The spectacle of the fire was very
imposing, with its two hundred and eighty feet of flame upright
in the air.
September 4, Mr. and Mrs. John Wood first appeared
in this city at Niblo's and later Mrs. Wood at Wallack's.
At Niblo's Pauline Genet, of the Ravel company, met
with a fatal accident by her clothing catching fire from a gasjet
in the theatre, inflicting horrible injuries.
Perhaps this was the first season of German opera
in German. The prima donna was Mme. Johanssen, the
conductor, Carl Bergmann, with Theodore Thomas for concertmeister
September 8, Burton's New Theatre, late Laura Keene's
Varieties (in Broadway, opposite Bond Street), was opened with
a good company.
The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, now
18 East Sixteenth Street, which was organized in 1785 and incorporated
in 1792, founded the Mechanics' School and Apprentices' Library
in 1820; inaugurated a course of instructive lectures in 1833,
and in this year added a Reading Room to its Library. Later (1889)
it instituted free scholarships.
The New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, organized
and incorporated in 1817, in 1818 occupied a room in the Almshouse
in Chambers Street, then at 41 Warren Street. 1819, Legislature
granted it a moiety of the tax on lotteries; 1829, on Fiftieth
Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues, site consisting of one
acre donated by the city, and now occupied by Columbia College;
1853, sold and purchased land on Washington Heights (Boulevard)
between One hundred and sixty-second and One hundred and sixtyfifth
streets, December 4; and in this year erected a new building.
1857. This was a winter of severe and longcontinued
cold with heavy snows, communication between different parts of
the country being greatly deranged. In the southern portion of
New York the mercury fell to 28° below zero.
January 3, Dr. Harvey Burdell, a dentist residing
at 31 Bond Street, was discovered in the morning to have been
murdered; not only were the walls of his apartment smeared and
sprinkled with blood, but the hall, rails, and stairway leading
to the room were spotted with it, and, upon examining the body,
no less than fifteen wounds in it, from a poniard or like instrument,
A Mrs. Cunningham, a widow, leased the house from
the doctor and resided there with her two daughters. Upon examination
of her before a Coroner's jury, she claimed to have been married
to the doctor a few months previous; she was imprisoned, indicted,
tried, and acquitted. The mystery of the murder never was cleared
The case excited a general and widespread interest
in both the city and country. If Mrs. Cunningham could prove marriage
with the doctor she would be entitled to a wife's share of his
estate, and if she bore a child to him she would obtain the entire
control and enjoyment of its revenue. To attain this desirable
end, it was indispensable that a child should be procured, and
the woman forthwith commenced to exhibit the appearance consonant
with her purpose, and at the assigned time a newborn infant
was received from Bellevue Hospital, which she had obtained through
the aid of an attendant physician. But he, while consenting to
aid her in her scheme, disclosed the plan to the District Attorney,
A. Oakey Hall, who, when her claim in behalf of the child was
presented, exposed the fraud, and she and her daughters left the
I was present at the examination of one of the daughters
before the Coroner, and I conceived a very decided opinion of
the case, which, so far as the Coroner was concerned, was universally
held to have been so very ill conducted that a presentation was
made to the Governor, asking for the removal of such an incompetent
January 21, Maurice Strakosch undertook management
at the Academy of Music, opening with Teresa Parodi in "
Lucrezia." A week later Mme. Cora de Wilhorst, daughter of
one of our most worthy and respected citizens,-she had married
abroad and after her return home separated from her husband,-made
a very successful debut as Lucia, and increased
her reputation in other parts which she played during the short
April 15, Battery Place and Broadway from Fifty-seventh
to Sixtieth Street were ordered to be widened.
Amendments to the new charter were enacted by the
Legislature, by which many important changes were made; notably,
transferring the Police Department from the city to the State,
which act was held by many of both political parties to be offensively
opposed to home rule; the removal of the Mayor and Recorder from
the Board of Supervisors, and the ceding to the State the appointment
of a Board of Excise and a commission to direct and superintend
the opening and construction of the Central Park. In addition
to which, the charter or municipal election was changed to the
first Tuesday in December; the boards of aldermen and councilmen
to be reduced to seventeen for the former, and twentyfour
for the latter, six of which were to be elected from each of the
four senatorial districts. In 1860 it was essayed to change this
charter, but the attempt failed.
The Fenian Brotherhood, a political association,
designed to effect a separation of Ireland from British rule,
was organized in this city, which was selected as the basis of
operation here, in Canada, and Ireland. Later (1866) they attempted
an invasion of Canada and signally failed.
This was a year of great financial distress; as a
consequence, many operatives were without work, and in the severe
weather the improvident suffered The Common Council was compelled
to distribute food to the poor to prevent rioting; many laborers
were put to work in grading the Central Park and in pulling down
and removing the material of the Institution, formerly the Almshouse,
etc., on Chambers Street, now the site of the new Court House.
Nevertheless, there was much distress. Bakers' wagons in some
instances were attacked in the streets, and some other acts of
violence were committed. The Arsenal in Centre Street was guarded
by the police; the Custom House and Assay Office by United States
May 21, Ascension Day, the chapel of St. Luke's Hospital
was first opened.
The Police Department from 1853 was governed and
directed by the Mayor, Recorder, and City Judge, and the appointment
of its officers and patrolmen was held to be in the interest of
the city. When Fernando Wood (Democrat) became Mayor, he used
the prerogative of appointments for his personal and political
advancement, which action caused such general dissatisfaction
that the State Legislature in this year enacted an amended charter
for New York, providing separate dates for State and municipal
elections, and distributing responsibility in local affairs through
separate governments for city and county. By this charter also
was constituted a Metropolitan Police District, including the
counties of New York, Kings, Westchester, and Richmond, which
were placed under a new Board of Commissioners, appointed by the
State. This action being at variance with the political interests
of Fernando Wood, the Mayor, he proceeded to declare the unconstitutionality
of the act, and declined to disband the existing municipal police
or to surrender the police property then in possession of the
city; but in May the Supreme Court decided the act to be in accordance
with the Constitution. Under the advice of Wood, however, a great
number of captains of precincts and patrolmen refused to submit
to the decision; whereupon the new Board (the Metropolitan, it
was termed) dismissed the captains and the patrolmen, alleged
to exceed seven hundred in number; but they disregarded the action
and remained on duty, Wood filling the vacancies caused by those
who submitted to the new Board, and it in like manner filling
the vacancies of those who remained with the old Board, or rather
with Wood, for the Recorder, James M. Smith, differed with him
and opposed his action.
Thus there were two details of police.
Superintendent George W. Matsell, having refused
to obey the orders of the Metropolitan Department, was dismissed
In order then to arrest such a condition of the matter,
a warrant was issued by Smith to Matsell to arrest Wood, who did
not recognize it and resisted. Smith then directed the Sheriff
to serve it, which Wood also resisted.
The office of Street Commissioner becoming vacant,
the Governor of the State, John A. King, appointed D. D. Conover
to fill it; but he, with the new police who endeavored to support
him in obtaining possession of the office and its records, was
driven from the City Hall by the old police under Wood, who claimed
the appointing power. Warrants for Wood's arrest were asked for
and issued by the courts, and Conover returned to enforce them
by the aid of the new Metropolitan Police. This action being resisted
by Wood and his police, an affray occurred in which many persons
I was present when Matsell rushed into the Mayor's
office and exultingly announced that his men had defeated the
The Sheriff then essayed to serve his warrant for
the arrest of Wood, who seized his mace and declared that he would
not submit to arrest.
Singularly and fortuitously, the Seventh Regiment,
at this time en route to Boston to participate in the ceremonies
to be held in commemoration of the completion of the Bunker Hill
Monument, was marching down Broadway, and being summoned to interfere,
turned into the Park. The Mayor, entertaining the opinion that
it was sent there to enforce the law of the State, submitted for
the time; which action admits of the application of Coelo tonantem
credidimus Jovem regnare, which in this case might be freely
rendered, When he heard the band, he recognized the presence of
When one considers Wood's deficiencies of early life
and even early manhood, he was a marvel; and had he merited the
confidence of the people, there is no position in this country
he might not have attained. He had an agreeable presence, and
as he advanced in years and in political position, he assumed
a dignity and reserve of manner that became him. How he ever became
enabled to address an audience with the selfpossession,
argument, and eloquence that he exhibited here and in Congress,
elicited the wonder of all who knew him and his antecedents. In
political advancement, in addition to his want of personal magnetism,
he handicapped himself by committing the grievous error of sacrificing
an old friend or partisan for a new one, entertaining the idea
that the one was in possession and the other a gain; in fact,
in all his political relations with his supporters, he fully illustrated
a saying of James I., Qui nescit dissimulare, nescit regnare.
But unfortunately for his national advancement he was not
only charged with two financial deficiencies of exceptional character,
but, Cassiolike, "much condemned to have an itching
palm, to sell and mart his offices for gold to undeservers,"
and like to Richard III., he could have said, "Why let them
say, they can but say I had the crown, and was not fool. . ."
Very soon after the organization of this newly created
or Metropolitan police referred to, the levies and tributes put
upon and demanded of violators of the laws and ordinances, as
developed by later exposures, were in full force, and so thoroughly
organized was the system of the recovery of stolen property, when
it was practicable to operate it with impunity, that offenders
escaped unless the tax was too large for the business, and as
a result they had either to submit to ruin or be arrested. In
illustration of the connection between the police and the thieves,
an intimate acquaintance of mine, returning late one night from
a convivial party, where he had been constrained to follow the
dicta of a "Court of Dover," became wholly oblivious
of what occurred after his leaving the house of entertainment,
until he awoke in a cell of a police station, minus his
watch, money, breast pin, and sleeve buttons; in fact, he had,
in the parlance of the police, "been gone through."
Desiring to recover his watch, he was advised to signify his wish
to an officer in authority, when he was told, if he would come
in the afternoon, he would receive the watch. He did so, received
it, and paid seventyfive dollars.
The trouble, however, was not entirely ended. A riotous
rising occurred in the Five Points on July 3, and something like
a panic was caused in the city; but the Seventh was recalled from
Boston, and with the aid of other regiments of the Guard put down
the riot, in which six persons were killed and one hundred were
wounded. Another rising shortly afterward at Anthony and Centre
streets, and a later one (on July 13 and 14) in the Seventeenth
Ward, were disposed of in like manner.
Eventually the members of the Metropolitan Police
who were injured sued Wood and obtained a verdict of two hundred
and fifty dollars for each, which Wood was compelled to pay. The
Legislature finally by act reimbursed him.
During this conflict of the police the detection
and repression of crimes were measurably neglected, and the question
of quis custodies ipsos custodes might have been very properly
Frank Leslie, soidisant, that being
an assumed name, publisher of the Illustrated News, caused
an examination to be made of the cow stables of the Johnsons on
Ninth Avenue, between Sixteenth and Seventeenth streets, and,
as a result, he published with illustrations an account of the
manner in which cows were stabled the year round, fed wholly on
warm swill from the distillery; reciting that the operation of
milking was conducted in a manner quite regardless of the requirements
of purity and cleanliness, and that for want of exercise, and
enervation from the warm food, the cows became diseased; that
in many instances their tails sloughed off, etc. The community
was shocked at the exposure, and its credulity put to a crucial
test, when he exposed the manner in which some hundred cows were
stalled in sheds and fed with slops or swill from an adjoining
distillery. I, in company with some of my colleagues, made an
official visit to the stables, and could verify the statements.
Leslie was summoned before a committee of the Common
Council, and in consequence of one of its members evidencing and
acting upon his eager desire to shield the parties inculpated
in the cruelty to the animals and offence to the public, the investigation
partook somewhat more of a trial of Leslie than of the perpetrators
of the offences charged, and from the circumstance that, upon
his arrival in the country, he had dropped his natal name and
assumed that of Leslie, he was subjected to an ungenerous examination,
with the evident purpose of negativing his charges by the application
of the legal term falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which
was used to distract the committee from the purpose of its appointment,
but partisanship so evidently venal in its character did not avail,
and the charges that had been made were fully established.
So general was the knowledge of the outrage in the
cruelty to the animals and the imposition of an unsanitary article
of food upon the public, that "swill or stump tailed milk"
was for a long period a general term in expression of insufficiency
This was an exciting summer. In August the Ohio Life
and Trust Co. failed, owing seven million dollars, an act which
ushered in a period of sudden, farreaching disaster. The
Massachusetts and the Philadelphia banks suspended specie payment,
and the New York Legislature authorized our banks to suspend for
a year. The crisis of this period was in midOctober, when
the New York banks did suspend, to resume payment, however, at
the middle of December. Besides the more serious distress, there
was much private annoyance during this time from the fact that
owing to general distrust banknotes were commonly uncurrent save
at the places of their issue. Not infrequent were the cases, several
of which were known to me, where travellers with plenty of money,
which was perfectly sound and good, found themselves in places
remote from their homes suddenly reduced to temporary want, because,
in the universal suspicion and excitement, all notes were refused
save those of neighboring banks whose condition was positively
known. From this cause important journeys were delayed in progress,
and many little private tragedies were enacted.
A great religious revival began and continued to
increase, according to the law by which these manifestations accompany
periods of general misfortune.
In August the first Atlantic cable, having been laid
successfully, gave signs of promise, but it soon ceased to work
in any degree.
November 23, the remains of MajorGeneral Worth
were removed from Greenwood Cemetery to the City Hall, where they
lay in state until the 25th, when they were taken under military
escort to the place of the monument now standing at Twentyfifth
Street, between Broadway and Fifth Avenue, and there deposited,
the monument being dedicated.
It was in this year that, the possession of the land
within the boundaries of the proposed Central Park having been
obtained on the 5th of February, by the award of the Commissioners
of damage and benefit, the Park Commissioners assumed control
and appointed as landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and
Calvert Vaux, to whose genius and skill we owe that delightful
pleasureground as it exists today.
The increasing dissatisfaction evinced by the residents
of the eastern shore of Staten Island, as to the existence of
the Marine Hospital there, induced the State to transfer it to
Sandy Hook; but the State of New Jersey, as possessor of the territory,
objected; hence a second removal became indispensable, and Seguin's
Point on the south side of Staten Island was selected and occupied.
Soon after, the residents of the vicinity burned the hospitals
there; whereupon, in 1859, a steamer's hulk, the Falcon, was
obtained and used as a floating hospital.
The project of constructing a suspension bridge between
this city and Brooklyn being entertained, Thomas A. Roebling,
an engineer of Trenton, N. J., designed one and estimated its
cost at less than two million five hundred thousand dollars. After
the passage of the law authorizing its construction, he was appointed
the engineer, and upon his death, which occurred soon after, his
son, John A. Roebling, was appointed to succeed him, and he prosecuted
the work to a successful completion.
In this year the New York Historical Society first
occupied its present building. The Broadway Tabernacle was sold,
and the Association soon after removed to its present location
at Sixth Avenue and Thirtyfourth Street.
The public was much surprised and interested in reading
the announcement of the marriage of Miss Mary Ann Baker, daughter
of a very much esteemed citizen, to John Dean, her father's coachman.
So distasteful was the marriage to her father that he essayed
to remove her from the country, and also to have her declared
a lunatic, in both of which attempts he failed, anti soon after
the affair lapsed into oblivion.
The Orphans' Home and Asylum of the Protestant Episcopal
Church was organized in 1852, and incorporated in this year, Fortyninth
Street, between Fourth and Lexington avenues, for orphans and
half orphans, three to eight years of age. The incurably diseased
or mentally imperfect are not received.
As steamers have almost wholly absorbed the transport
of passengers, and as sailing vessels other than those employed
on whaling voyages or short coast routes will soon disappear,
a record of the size and equipment of one of our many ships trading
between this and Europe may become interesting: thus The Queen
of the West, built here in 1843, by Brown & Bell for Woodhull
Minturn's line of Liverpool Packets. Her dimensions were length,
179 feet 4 inches; beam, 37 feet 6 inches; hold, 20 feet, and
tonnage, 1160. The cabins were 78 feet in length and berthed 58
adults, as well as having accommodations for steerage passengers,
all in addition to a full freight in accordance with her capacity
to bear it.
In this year the Cooper Union was built.