Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became The World's Most Notorious Slum [NOOK Book]


The very letters of the two words seem, as they are written, to redden with the blood-stains of unavenged crime. There is Murder in every syllable, and Want, Misery and Pestilence take startling form and crowd upon the imagination as the pen traces the words." So wrote a reporter about Five Points, the most infamous neighborhood in nineteenth-century America, the place where "slumming" was invented.

All but forgotten today, Five Points was ...
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Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became The World's Most Notorious Slum

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The very letters of the two words seem, as they are written, to redden with the blood-stains of unavenged crime. There is Murder in every syllable, and Want, Misery and Pestilence take startling form and crowd upon the imagination as the pen traces the words." So wrote a reporter about Five Points, the most infamous neighborhood in nineteenth-century America, the place where "slumming" was invented.

All but forgotten today, Five Points was once renowned the world over. Its handful of streets in lower Manhattan featured America's most wretched poverty, shared by Irish, Jewish, German, Italian, Chinese, and African Americans. It was the scene of more riots, scams, saloons, brothels, and drunkenness than any other neighborhood in the new world. Yet it was also a font of creative energy, crammed full of cheap theaters and dance halls, prizefighters and machine politicians, and meeting halls for the political clubs that would come to dominate not just the city but an entire era in American politics. From Jacob Riis to Abraham Lincoln, Davy Crockett to Charles Dickens, Five Points both horrified and inspired everyone who saw it. The story that Anbinder tells is the classic tale of America's immigrant past, as successive waves of new arrivals fought for survival in a land that was as exciting as it was dangerous, as riotous as it was culturally rich.

Tyler Anbinder offers the first-ever history of this now forgotten neighborhood, drawing on a wealth of research among letters and diaries, newspapers and bank records, police reports and archaeological digs. Beginning with the Irish potato-famine influx in the 1840s, and ending with the rise of Chinatown in the early twentieth century, he weaves unforgettable individual stories into a tapestry of tenements, work crews, leisure pursuits both licit and otherwise, and riots and political brawls that never seemed to let up.

Although the intimate stories that fill Anbinder's narrative are heart-wrenching, they are perhaps not so shocking as they first appear. Almost all of us trace our roots to once humble stock. Five Points is, in short, a microcosm of America.
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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World
Anbinder...spares no gritty detail in this recreation of this immigrants' hell on earth known for its...crimes, its misery and its vices.
Publishers Weekly
" 'FIVE POINTS!... There is Murder in every syllable, and Want, Misery and Pestilence... crowd upon the imagination as the pen traces the words,' " bemoaned Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper in 1873. That's a lot to live down to, even in New York. Long ignored by academics, Five Points an internationally notorious intersection in what is now lower Manhattan's Chinatown that was the site of crime and poverty for most of the 19th century is now a hot topic in history, sociology and even pop fiction (much of Caleb Carr's bestselling The Alienist was set there). Anbinder, associate professor of history at George Washington University, delivers the best of these studies. His splendid book draws upon wide-ranging sources census lists, the logs of charitable organizations, police records, real estate registers, personal documents, news stories, reformers' reports to create a breathtaking overview of the extraordinary poverty and squalor in which the area's German, Jewish, Italian and Irish residents lived. Replete with riveting incidents (the gang war between the Bowery Boys and the Dead Rabbits) and details (a devastating survey of spousal abuse and murder cites specific cases), this history comes vividly alive with enormous depth and heart. Whether describing children's work (boys sold papers or blackened boots; girls swept streets and sold corn, and were always in demand as prostitutes the going rate for virgins was $10) or the significance of saints festivals for Italian immigrants, Anbinder proves himself a superb storyteller and historian. Illus. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In the 19th century, the Five Points district in lower Manhattan was New York City's most noxious slum, teeming with wretchedly poor Irish, German, Italian, and Chinese immigrants and African Americans who lived in densely packed rookeries sandwiched among dance halls, gambling joints, saloons, and brothels. Yet it was also humming with vibrant street life, popular theaters, and political clubhouses. Now largely forgotten, Five Points attracted many "slumming parties" and visiting celebrities such as Charles Dickens and even Abraham Lincoln. Anbinder (history, George Washington Univ.) has written a comprehensive narrative of this once blighted area. He argues that earlier accounts were superficial and biased, and he aims to set the record straight. To Anbinder, Five Points embodied the immigrant saga of enduring great hardship on the way to a better life. Recommended for public libraries with large urban history collections and academic libraries. Harry Frumerman, formerly with Hunter Coll., NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A multidecade study of a few Manhattan blocks that have been seen as emblematic of the entire city. Five Points, so named after city authorities extended Anthony Street to join the X-shaped junction of Orange and Cross streets, lay in the heart of a mixed residential and commercial district that was always a bit rough-and-tumble, and as the city grew northward in the early 1800s, Five Points declined. In a Hogarthian painting of 1827, the artist George Catlin captured its already infamous reputation; and, as Anbinder (History/George Washington Univ.) writes, "Fights are breaking out everywhere; people are drunk; pigs roam the streets; whites and blacks are mixing; and prostitutes brazenly solicit customers." Little changed over the next 70 years except the cast of characters: Five Points emerged as a touchdown point for successive waves of immigrants from Ireland and Italy, central and eastern Europe, as well as for blacks moving north after the Civil War. These newcomers, Anbinder writes, remained for a time "locked into the lowest-paying occupations, such as laborer, tailor, shoemaker, or seamstress" but eventually moved on to make room for the next group of newcomers. Prostitution and other vices, particularly alcoholism and drug addiction, remained constants; so did corruption, as policemen and city officials pocketed money and accepted favors to look the other way. So seedy did Five Points become that many of the horrific examples of slum life in pioneering reformer Jacob Riis's reports came from its tenements. Eventually, after conditions reached their worst, even the hoodlums, hookers, drunks, and bohemians left, and the area-much of it razed to make room for ColumbusPark-formed the beginning of New York's Chinatown. Plodding and overdetailed at times, but overall a slice of Americana that captures much and offers welcome social history. (40 b&w photographs)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439137741
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 6/5/2012
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 233,340
  • File size: 11 MB
  • Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

Meet the Author

Tyler Anbinder is a professor of history at George Washington University. His first book, Nativism and Slavery, was also a New York Times Notable Book and the winner of the Avery Craven Prize of the Organization of American Historians. He lives in Arlington, VA.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Chapter 1 Prologue: The Five Points Race Riot of 1834 7
The Making of Five Points 14
Chapter 2 Prologue: Nelly Holland Comes to Five Points 38
Why They Came 42
Chapter 3 Prologue: "The Wickedest House on the Wickedest Street That Ever Existed" 67
How They Lived 72
Chapter 4 Prologue: The Saga of Johnny Morrow, the Street Peddler 106
How They Worked 111
Chapter 5 Prologue: "We Will Dirk Every Mother's Son of You!" 141
Politics 145
Chapter 6 Prologue: "This Phenomenon, 'Juba'" 172
Play 176
Chapter 7 Prologue: The Bare-Knuckle Prizefight Between Yankee Sullivan and Tom Hyer 201
Vice and Crime 207
Chapter 8 Prologue: "I Shall Never Forget This as Long as I Live": Abraham Lincoln Visits Five Points 235
Religion and Reform 241
Chapter 9 Prologue: "He Never Knew When He Was Beaten" 269
Riot 274
Chapter 10 Prologue: "The Boy Who Commands That Pretty Lot Recruited Them for the Seceshes" 297
The Civil War and the End of an Era 303
Chapter 11 Prologue: "So It Was Settled That I Should Go to America" 337
The Remaking of a Slum 343
Chapter 12 Prologue: "These 'Slaves of the Harp'" 362
Italians 367
Chapter 13 Prologue: "The Chinese Devil Man" 389
Chinatown 396
Chapter 14 The End of Five Points 424
Notes 443
Select Bibliography 511
Acknowledgments 517
Index 521
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