On the Old Bowery: What of the Bowery Boy?

Posted on: March 4th, 2010 at 6:11 am by

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[Photo via The Bowery Boys]

By the late 1800s, many in Manhattan were already glorifying characters in downtown gangs, much the same way society glorifies mob culture today.  As this article published in the New York Times on August 17, 1879 reveals, the Bowery Boy remained a romanticized interest to city folk long after the hoodlums disappeared from the scene.  The piece is one part history, two parts lamentation.  Travel back in time again with this edition of On the Old Bowery!

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On the attachment to fire fighting

Above all, he had his machine (as he called his fire engine), to which he was attached either as a regular volunteer, or as a volunteer volunteer, and against all the regulars or volunteers of any other fire company was he ready at any time to do battle with sticks or stones, or even knives or pistols.

On the attitude of the Bowery Boy

…and the perfect indifference of the Bowery Boy to the superiority of the middle-aged gentleman.

He had something of a chivalrous feeling toward women.

On the decline and disappearance of the Bowery Boy

The suppression of the volunteer fire department broke his heart, and after the [Civil] War he could not be found.

The disappearance of the Bowery Boy is, in a certain way, to be deplored.  That such a peculiar and very characteristic product of our society should vanish will be mourned by the curious student of men and of their institutions. “Characters” are becoming so scarce, especially in this country, that any marked salience in a whole class from the smooth dead level of common respectability is prized by the observer of human nature.

On excessive neighborhood noise

The creature that has taken his [Bowery Boy] place is very much his inferior.

Some half a dozen young men, on being remonstrated with for disturbing a sleeping woman with their singing and other noise, not only persisted in their annoyance, but attacked her husband and her brother-in-law.

Genuine Bowery Boys would not have behaved in that matter.

On lamenting his loss

Our Bowery Boy was not altogether an admirable being, but he was home-made and home-bred, and we could manage him

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