Street Beggars

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Street Beggars.
[New York Herald]

New York, if not the paradise, is certainly the Eldorado of beggars, and certain parts of New York are literally overrun with professionals of both sexes and of all ages. The lower sections of the city are infested with blind men, old merchants, decayed brokers, woe-begone foreigners, and a horde of dirty little wretches, who, under pretense of selling matches, apples, penknives, and neckties, thrive on beggary. The vicinity of the city hall develops a different stratum. Several blind men, whose faces are as well known as that of the city hall clock, stand bareheaded in all kinds of weather, holding in one hand a few lead pencils and in the other a hat, into which they beseech the charitable to throw a few pennies. Respectable looking fellows stand near the entrance to the bridge, and, under pretense of having lost their money, beg a penny from the passers. Slatternly dressed women, with babies in their arms, seek alms near the postoffice and on the pavement of the city hall park. The very poor abound everywhere, and the humbug poor are almost as numerous.

A favorite resort for the latter class is Park place, between Broadway and the station of the Sixth avenue elevated road. Oftentimes something like half a dozen men, women and boys are encountered in that one short block. One persistent beggar, who long since was driven from Wall street, exhibits the stump of his leg, and with most woe-begone expression, solicits aid. Boys playing leap-frog one minute and begging pennies in the next find that sidewalk a particularly lucrative spot. Seedy-looking men have selected that as their beat, and can be found there almost every day and every night. One stalwart fellow, with piteous whine, offers to black belated comers’ boots for the trifling sum of a penny, which offer being declined is followed by a piteous appeal for pecuniary assistance.

A one-legged Alsacian, the great Napoleon, holds ballads in one hand and a hat in the other. Several fellows extend shriveled limbs, horrible sores, and loathsome wounds, this revelation being a trick of their trade, as they well know the benevolent heart associated with a sensitive stomach, will quickly turn away and pay roundly rather than have a second glance of unsightly deformity. A particularly offensive type of beggar is an old woman, hideous in face, dirty in dress, who accosts ladies, and, under the pretense of offering hairpins for sale, thrusts her dirty hand into their faces. If money is given her she accepts it and passes to the next; if it is denied her, or she is told to go away, she opens the sluice-gates of her billings-gate abuse and makes it really difficult for an embarrassed, delicate person to escape her clutches.

One old woman is well known to the habitues of the Twenty-third street bobtail cars as she is to the police. Her little game is to enter a car and suddenly ascertain that she has “but 8 cents” with which to pay her 5-cent fare. She is in no way backward in making her condition known, and it is a very strange care which does not furnish two or three benevolent people who are not only anxious to pay the old lady’s fare, but who slip a dime or a quarter into her willing hand. Another, equally venerable in appearance, has a sad knack of losing her way, and asking how she “shall reach Christopher street ferry” or Hoboken or Brooklyn or some other far-away locality, manifests great surprise and grief at the distance she must go and in a way known to her makes her impecuniousity understood and has her wants relieved.

But these, and such as they are comparatively harmless to the wretches who, in the persons of two or three old hags, wander up and down the street between 4 and 6 o’clock in the summer time, and even later in the fall and winter months, making the avenue really a place of terror to modest, belated women. Their plan is to suddenly accost ladies, and in tones of command demand assistance. If it is given, all right; if it is not, abuse of the most virulent type is heaped upon the offender, who is lucky if she gets away without a push or a haul. On the church steps not far from Seventh avenue sits, and has sat for years past, a weather-beaten blind man, who has the same rubber headed pencils in his hand to-day that he had two years ago. He has been known to receive thirty contributions in the space of an hour. Another man, blind, has a little white dog crouched between his feet, whom he keeps there for hours at a time, while he, extending his palm, solicits contributions for the blind.

On Forty-second street Italian women, with Madonna-like faces and any quantity of cherubs, abound. They have a faculty of throwing into their eyes a most mournful expression, and in broken English ask for good American money. The favorite game there, however, is a pretense of a loss of money, although the aged-clergyman racket is also worked with great success. The jolly sailor, who was familiar to the riders in Broadway stages five or six years ago, turned up in Forty-second street depot last week, and received a contribution toward his winter expenses from old customers and from strangers that must have delighted the innermost cockle of his heart. It was irresistibly comical to watch his repulse of criticism from people who knew him and his story as well as he knew it himself.

The police say that some of the men who hang around the Third avenue and Forty-second street station and work the beat between that point and Fifth avenue are most adroit simulators. They are blind to-day, crippled to-morrow, respectable clergymen the next day, and honest men who have “lost their pocket-book” before the end of the week.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin) Dec 23, 1884

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