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 Julia.

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 American tour.

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 or leader.

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, were discovered.

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 up.

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 city.

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 official.

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 season.

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 Infantry.

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 by it.

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 were injured.

I was present when Matsell rushed into the Mayor's office and exultingly announced that his men had defeated the enemy.

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 the military.

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 submitted.

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 or deception.

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.