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THE PASSING OF CAT ALLEY.
BY JACOB A. RIIS,
WITH PICTURES BY JAY HAMBIDGE.
THEN Santa Claus ion drill that they understood. The ceiling
New York this Christ- be cut almost in half; but it was beautiful, mas he will look in vain and it lives yet, I know, in the hearts of the for some of the slum little ones, as it lives in mine. The “Baralleys he used to know. racks” are gone, a little ahead of time, it is
They are gone. Where true; but it was a good riddance. I believe some of them were, there are shrubs and trees the courts decided that they might have anand greensward; the sites of others are holes other chance, but they were gone then. The and hillocks yet, that by and by, when all the sanitary authorities were not so long-sufferofficial red tape is unwound, - and what a lot ing as the judges, but then they had had the of it there is to plague mankind!— will be lev- Barracks on their hands for half a lifetime. eled out and made into playgrounds for little Child-murder was the profession of the old feet that have been aching for them too long. pigsty. We had almost forgotten that Perhaps it will surprise some good people to Hell's Kitchen existed till, the other day, it hear that Santa Claus knew the old alleys; was heard from again in the old way of riot but he did. I have been there with him, and and murder. Never a squeak came from it I knew that, much as some things which he in the three years of reform rule and Roosesaw there grieved him,—the starved child- velt. Nipsey's Alley is gone, where the first hood, the pinching poverty, and the slovenly Christmas tree was lighted the night poor indifference that cut deeper than the rest be- Nipsey lay dead in his coffin. And Cat Alley cause it spoke of hope that was dead, yet is gone. by nothing was his gentle spirit so grieved Cat Alley was my alley. It was mine by and shocked as by the show that proposed to right of long acquaintance. We were neighturn his holiday into a battalion drill of the bors for twenty years. Yet I never knew children from the alleys and the courts for why it was called Cat Alley. There was the patricians, young and old, to review. It was usual number of cats, gaunt and voracious, well meant, but it was not Christmas. That which foraged in its ash-barrels; but beyond belongs to the home, and in the darkest slums the family of three-legged cats, that preSanta Claus found homes where his blessed sented its own problem of heredity,- the tree took root and shed its mild radiance kittens took it from the mother, who had about, dispelling the darkness and bringing lost one leg under the wheels of a dray,back hope and courage and trust.
there was nothing specially remarkable about They are gone, the old alleys. Three years them. It was not an alley, either, when it of reform wiped them out. It is well. Santa comes to that, but rather a row of four or Claus will not have harder work finding the five old tenements in a back yard that was doors that opened to him gladly, because the reached by a passageway somewhat less than light has been let in. And others will stand three feet wide between the sheer walls of ajar that before were closed. The chimneys the front houses. These had once had prein tenement-house alleys were never built on tensions to some style. One of them had a plan generous enough to let him in in the been the parsonage of the church next door orthodox way. The cost of coal had to be that had by turns been an old-style Methoconsidered in putting them up. Bottle Alley dist tabernacle, a fashionable negroes' temand Bandits' Roost are gone with their bad ple, and an Italian mission church, thus memories. Bone Alley is gone, and Gotham marking time, as it were, to the upward Court. I well remember the Christmas tree in movement of the immigration that came in the court, under which a hundred dolls stood at the bottom, down in the Fourth Ward, in line, craving partners among the girls in fought its way through the Bloody Sixth, and its tenements. That was the kind of battal- by the time it had traveled the length of
Mulberry street had acquired a local stand- sang the “Marseillaise" with all the spirit of ing and the right to be counted and rounded the Commune in her cracked voice, and hated up by the political bosses. Now the old from the bottom of her patriotic soul the houses were filled with newspaper offices enemy with whom the irony of fate had yoked and given over to perpetual insomnia. Week- her. However, she improved the opportunity days and Sundays, night or day, they never in truly French fashion. He was rheumatic, slept. Police Headquarters was right across and most of the time was tied to his chair. He the way, and kept the reporters awake. From had not worked for seven years. “He no his window the chief looked down the narrow goode,” she said, with a grimace, as her nimble passageway to the bottom of the alley, and fingers fashioned the wares by the sale of the alley looked back at him, nothing which, from a basket, she supported them daunted. No man is a hero to his valet, both. The wares were dancing-girls with and the chief was not an autocrat to Cat tremendous limbs and very brief skirts of Alley. It knew all his human weaknesses, tricolor gauze, — “ballerinas,” in her vocabucould tell when his time was up gener- lary, -and monkeys with tin hats, cunningly ally before he could, and winked the other made to look like German soldiers. For eye with the captains when the newspapers these she taught him to supply the decoraspoke of his having read them a severe lec- tions. It was his department, she reasoned; ture on gambling or Sunday beer-selling. the ballerinas were of her country and hers. Byrnes it worshiped, but for the others who Parbleu ! must one not work? What then? were before him and followed after it cher- Starve? Before her look and gesture the ished a neighborly sort of contempt. cripple quailed, and twisted and rolled and
In the character of its population Cat pasted all day long, to his country's shame, Alley was properly cosmopolitan. The only fuming with impotent rage. element that was missing was the native "I wish the devil had you," he growled, American, and in this also it was represen- with black looks across the table. tative of the tenement districts in America's She regarded him maliciously, with head chief city. The substratum was Irish, of tilted on one side, as a bird eyes a caterpillar volcanic properties. Upon this were imposed it has speared. layers of German, French, Jewish, and Ital Hein!” she scoffed. “Du den, vat?” ian, or, as the alley would have put it, Dutch, He scowled. She was right; without her Sabé, Sheeny, and Dago; but to this last it he was helpless. The judgment of the alley did not take kindly. With the experience of was unimpeachable. They were and remained the rest of Mulberry street before it, it fore- "the French couple.” saw its doom if the Dago got a footing there, Cat Alley's reception of Madame Klotz at and within a month of the moving in of the first was not cordial. It was disposed to reGio family there was an eruption of the base- gard as a hostile act the circumstance that she ment volcano, reinforced by the sanitary kept a special holiday of which nothing was policeman, to whom complaint had been known except from her statement that it remade that there were too many
Guineas " ferred to the fall of somebody or other whom in the Gio flat. There were four-about half she called the Bastille, in suspicious proximas many as there were in some of the other ity to the detested battle of the Boyne; but flats when the item of house-rent was less- when it was observed that she did nothing ened for economic reasons; but it covered worse than dance upon the flags “avec ze the ground: the flat was too small for the leetle bébé” of the tenant in the basement, Gios. The appeal of the signora was un- and torture her “Dootch” husband with availing. “You got-a three bambino," she extra monkeys and gibes in honor of the said to the housekeeper, "all four, lika me,” day, unfavorable judgment was suspended, counting the number on her fingers. “I no and it was agreed that without a doubt the putta me broder-in-law and me sister in the “bastard” fell for cause; wherein the alley street-a. Italian lika to be together.” showed its sound historical judgment. By
The housekeeper was unmoved. “Humph!" such moral pressure when it could, by force she said, “to liken my kids to them Dagos! when it must, the original Irish stock preOut they go.” And they went.
served the alley for its own quarrels, free Up on the third floor there w the from “foreign” embroilments. These quarFrench couple. It was another of the con- rels were many and involved. When Mrs. tradictions of the alley that of this pair the M'Carthy was to be dispossessed, and insisted, man should have been a typical, stolid Ger- in her cups, on killing the housekeeper as a man, she a mercurial Parisian who at seventy necessary preliminary, a study of the causes
that led to the feud developed the following stincts; but they went counter to those of normal condition: Mrs. M'Carthy had the the alley, and the result was very bad. As housekeeper's place when Mrs. Gehegan was an example, Miss Mahoney's life was a failure. poor, and fed her “kids.” As a reward, Mrs. When at her death it was discovered that she Gehegan worked around and got the job had bank-books representing a total of two away from her. Now that it was Mrs. thousand dollars, her nephew and only heir M^Carthy's turn to be poor, Mrs. Gehegan promptly knocked off work and proceeded to insisted upon putting her out. Whereat, celebrate, which he did with such fervor that with righteous wrath, Mrs. M'Carthy pro- in two months he had run through it all and claimed from the stoop: “Many is the time killed himself by his excesses. Miss MaMrs. Gehegan had a load on, an' she went honey's was the first bank-account in the up-stairs an' slept it off. I did n't. I used to alley, and, so far as I know, the last. show meself, I did, as a lady. I know ye 're From what I have said, it must not be in there, Mrs. Gehegan. Come out an' show supposed that fighting was the normal occuyerself, an' l’ave the alley to judge betwixt pation of Cat Alley. It was rather its relaxaus.” To which Mrs. Gehegan prudently tion from unceasing toil and care, from which vouchsafed no answer.
no to-morrow held promise of relief. There Mrs. M'Carthy had succeeded to the office was a deal of good humor in it at most times. of housekeeper upon the death of Miss “Scrapping" came naturally to the alley. Mahoney, an ancient spinster who had col- When, as was sometimes the case, it was the lected the rents since the days of “the riot," complement of a wake, it was as the mirth of meaning the Orange riot-an event from children who laugh in the dark because they which the alley reckoned its time, as the are afraid. But once an occurrence of that ancients did from the Olympian games. Miss sort scandalized the tenants. It was because Mahoney was a most exemplary and worthy of the violation of the Monroe Doctrine, to old lady, thrifty to a fault. Indeed, it was which, as I have said, the alley held most said when she was gone that she had literally firmly, with severely local application. To starved herself to death to lay by money for Mulberry street Mott street was a foreign the rainy day she was keeping a lookout for foe from which no interference was desired to the last. In this she was obeying her in- or long endured. A tenant in “the back”
had died in the hospital of rheumatism, a The alley had withheld audible comment term which in the slums sums up all of with a tact that did it credit; but when at poverty's hardships, scant and poor food, night Mott street added its contingent of damp rooms, and hard work, and the family “fellows” to the mourners properly conhad come home for the funeral. It was not cerned in the wake, and they started a fight a pleasant home-coming. The father in his among themselves that was unauthorized by day had been strict, and his severity had local sanction, its wrath was aroused, and it driven his girls to the street. They had arose and bundled the whole concern out into landed in China
the street with town, with all that
scant ceremony. that implies, one at
There was never a time; first the
an invasion of the older and then the
alley after that younger, whom the
night. It enjoyed sister took under
home rule undisher wing and
turbed. coached. She was
Withal, there very handsome,was
was as much kindthe younger sister,
ness of heart and with an innocent
neighborly charity look in her blue
in Cat Alley as in eyes that her
any little commulanguage belied,
nity up-town or and smart, as her
down-town, or out marriage-ring bore
of town, for that witness to. The
matter. It had its alley, where the
standards and its proprieties were
customs, which held to tenaciously,
were to be obobserved it and
served; but unforgave all the
derneath it all, rest, even her
and not very far “Chink" husband.
down either, was While her father
a human fellowwas lying ill, she
ship that was caphad spent a brief
able of any sacrivacation in the
fice to help a friend alley. Now that
in need. Many was he was dead, her
the widow with less successful
whom and with sister came home,
whose children the and with her a
alley shared its delegation of girls
daily bread, which from Chinatown.
wasscanty enough, In their tawdry
God knows, when finery they walked
death or other disin, sallow and bold,
aster had brought with Mott street
her to thejumpingand the accursed pipe written all over them, off place. In twenty years I do not recall a defiant of public opinion, yet afraid to enter suicide in the alley, or a case of suffering deexcept in a body. The alley considered them manding the interference of the authorities, from behind closed blinds, while the children unless with such help as the hospital could stood by silently to see them pass. When give. The alley took care of its own, and one of them offered one of the “kids” a tided them over the worst when it came to penny, he let it fall on the pavement, as if that. And death was not always the worst. it were unclean. It was a sore thrust, and it I remember yet with a shudder a tragedy hurt cruelly; but no one saw it in her face as which I was just in time with the police to she went in where the dead lay, with scorn prevent. A laborer, who lived in the attic, and hatred as her offering.
had gone mad, poisoned by the stenches of VOL. LVII.-22.