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Jan. 26th, 2014

In Rockaway Beach there is a park named for Jacob Riis. It is a largish untidy bit of open land near the water. It is lovely. You can read about it here:


We have often gone there swimming and to take Hazel to run. It is, as advertised, also easy to take the train to get to. And it costs noting to get in.

Jacob Riis was a typical reformer of the turn of the last century. He documented the lives of poor NYC immigrants. He was a contemp with Teddy Roosevelt. Some of his photos are very famous and you see them everywhere. This is the biggest collection I have ever seen. The stark static black and white serves very well I think. It allows the eye to see without distraction, like an anatomy drawing.  And it hurts.

These are mostly the streets of the lower east side. I have walked and driven on these streets many times. NYC is now one of the safest cities in the world. There is still poverty, but it is not an open weeping sore, like this.

What is amazing to me is how many of the people in the pictures are working.
Paper flowers, sewing, newspapers. These were the better lives that they came here to find.



( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 26th, 2014 05:27 pm (UTC)
I'm glad someone documented all that, though it's hard to look at all those desperate people crammed into dirty little spaces. The photo that particularly struck me was the one where the building was coated in ice. I'm almost certain the 'history' behind that is a fire; someone knocked over a kerosene lamp or heater and fire spread. Fireman came and put out the flames. The water that put it out left the gutted building coated with ice.

My Dad was a firefighter in a 'poorer' section of Boston for many years, starting in the 40's. Many landlords did not provide enough heat, so people would resort to kerosene 'space heaters'.A careless child might knock it over and start a conflagration! All too often, on cold winter days, he would come home exhausted, physically and emotionally by a fire like that. He was very glad when they 'outlawed' kerosene.
Jan. 26th, 2014 06:12 pm (UTC)
I remember kerosene heaters. They still had them around in rural Massachusetts in the late 70's. People used them along with wood-stoves. Dangerous ugly things, yes.

Even today you can see ice at a fire site. Terrible exhausting work, fighting fires.
Jan. 26th, 2014 06:37 pm (UTC)
I also wanted to comment on the beach and bathhouse; when my Dad was a boy there were options on a hot day; a trolley to the "Neighborhood House", where boys could swim (nude) for an hour in the basement pool for a 10cent admission. Girls would then swim (in rented scratchy bathing suits) for an hour. This was still available when I was a kid and my brothers and I would go there occasionally. My Dad also might take the trolley out to a pond in the Blue Hills outside Boston where the MDC allowed picnicking and supervised swimming. This,too, is still available, with brand new LARGE bathhouse replacing the tiny old one. Many inner city families still come and lots of city 'day cares' as well. I've taken my grandkids there a few times and Hubby and I often walk the trail around the pond.
Jan. 26th, 2014 06:55 pm (UTC)
They have traveling pools here made out of clean, (never used,) dumpsters. They can be set up quickly, and moved around the city, and give kids a chance to cool off.

Also in the summer there is still quite a lot of the classic opening of fire hydrants. The city allows it, they just want people to ask first. Often, when it is really hot, you can walk through rainbows arcing above the sidewalk, and see little kids, in bathing suits, or even actually naked, playing in the water.
Jan. 26th, 2014 07:42 pm (UTC)
Boston has installed some water play areas at certain local playgrounds. There is a circular area with a fountain in the middle and a "push button' to the side. You can push the button and get a spray of water for 10 to 15 minutes. There is room for maybe 15 kids at a time? Then, when it stops, you must push the 'start' button again. This means less chance of 'wasting' water. I believe the water is recycled, but I'm not positive of that.

Your 'traveling pools" are a cool idea!!
Jan. 26th, 2014 07:37 pm (UTC)
Riis is fascinating. I first read "How the Other Half Lives" in college, and what an eye-opener it was, even all those years after its first publication. I was disappointed to learn that Riis had many racist attitudes, but I remember our professor warning us against idealizing our heroes (or in turn demonizing them if they disappointed us). Yes, Riis was progressive and had an impact for good, but he was also a (white) man of his time. "He was a full human being," said the prof, "not a saint or a devil." It was a useful lesson.

Thanks for the link!
Jan. 26th, 2014 07:54 pm (UTC)
Yes. Of his time. Margaret Sanger was the same way. She was a champion of early birth control-- for all the most wrong and ugly reasons.

Much good can be done by the flawed and imperfect. Riis at least wanted to try.

Jan. 26th, 2014 10:44 pm (UTC)
I've never heard of Riis before. He sounds like a deeply compassionate individual and his photography is wonderful. There's a real dignity to his portraits, no matter how impoverished his subjects are.
Jan. 27th, 2014 06:22 pm (UTC)
Jan. 27th, 2014 06:39 pm (UTC)
Oh that is cool. I love the little Lego Marlowe.
Feb. 2nd, 2014 09:36 am (UTC)
You are very welcome :-)
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )