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Title: City Photographs—No. VII

Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as Velsor Brush]

Date: May 17, 1862

Whitman Archive ID: per.00443

Source: New York Leader 17 May 1862: 2. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue provided by the New-York Historical Society. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the journalism, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Kevin McMullen




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[Written for the Leader.]

CITY PHOTOGRAPHS—NO. VII.

———

THE BOWERY.

———

LAGER BEER, THE GERMANS, ETC.

The Bowery, and the demesnes east of it, represent the real democratic lager element of New York. There is lager enough on Broadway, but it is not imbibed, as it is here, with the genuine working-man's thirst; nor associated, as here, with so many memories of friendship, and with the ideas of relief from toil, and with the social relaxations and pleasures of life.1

All the east side is full of German operatives. To go off for a couple of hours o an evening, or six or seven hours of a Sunday, is their main hold upon life outside of their daily work. And these hours are identified with lager.



A POPULAR LAGER-BEER HALL IN THE BOWERY.

Through a somewhat lengthy passage, you reach a great round open place, formerly a circus, or something of that kind. Here is plenty of room, and the roof of canvas, red, white and blue, makes it all cool and nice for summer. The crowd is dense; they surround the little and big tables, and fill up the interstices.

Waiters clutching in their hands astonishing quantities of glasses, glide to and fro, working their way through impossible places, with snake-like agility. (This feat of carrying a couple of dozen glasses in each hand is worth noticing.)

There is a stage, with theatrical and lyric performances; also a brass band, in another part of the house, up in a gallery that runs all round the house; the brass is very loud and vehement.

Among the audience are numerous descendants of the race that escaped from Egypt and crossed a certain sea dry-shod. Here they are in the Bowery, many of them with hats of the Mose style.2 Some of them have brought their wives and babies—the latter they frequently toddle and dance to the sound of the music. Of course Germany predominates, although the European continent is all more or less represented. There are, here and there, young couples, apparently not long married—some of them very loving. But their loving is unnoticed; there is great freedom of the individual permitted here. There are some good-looking women. The best of the matter is a general show of health and hilarity, and those make up for other deficiencies.

There is a restaurant on one side of the large room. On another side, cigar and confectionery stands, &c. Somewhere around is a shooting-gallery attached, for amid all the din of the band, the click of glasses, the unrestrained laughter and talk of six or eight hundred people, and the raps on the tables to call the waiters, you hear the crack, crack! of the bogus rifles, firing wooden missiles at a target against the wall (at two cents a shot).

Boys run round with trays of pretzels; others with cheap cigars. At a bar off one side you see three men drinking each a large cylindrical glass of wheat beer—that aristocratic cousin of the popular russet lager. With the rest, you hear the merry pop of the innocent soda water, in bottles, the corks being abruptly liberated from their bonds of twine. In the midst of all the bell rings and the curtain rises for a performance, in German, on the stage.

Now there is some trouble. There is an "officer," with big black whiskers, a fearful looking man, deputed to keep the peace in this reckless assemblage. Everything has gone on well enough till this moment, but now he becomes frantic in his futile endeavors to make the standees become seated, so that all can see the magnificent achievements on the stage. But all the evening each one of the mass has been doing what seemed best in his own sight, and now the tide is resistless. There is much hubbub. The officer with the ferocious whiskers has a special squabble with a weak, pale-faced young man (evidently a journeyman shoemaker), who has come there to do the handsome with a chosen one of the other sex.

The pale-faced young man retorts upon the officer with indignation, in a foreign tongue. Whiskers attempts to bully him, but the frau takes a hand in. Then whiskers suddenly beholds (although positively invisible to me and the rest) a mortal row over in a distant part of the hall, which requires his attention and personal presence.

Meantime the actors and actresses on the stage proceed with admirable nonchalance, not disturbed in the least by the rumpus, which at one time made more noise by far than the play (or whatever it was).

But lo! a balloon is suddenly let down, as from the high meridian, covered with an inscription in large, strange characters. I ask for their decipherment from a learned person in my neighborhood. He courteously informs me that it is an advertisement of a ball, of some guild or society, to come off the ensuing week, with the place, price of tickets, &c. I look with horror at this method of abstracting money from the daily and weekly papers; also with some curiosity at the ingenious utensil. After about five minutes it ascends, and is lost to sight.

The mixture of sounds now affords one who hath ears to hear that sort of thing, something very novel and varied. The band up in the gallery plays ambitious pieces from the great composers, &c.; but it does not disturb you so much in connection with all the rest. In every direction are men's voices, animated with lager. There is much friendship—occasionally an embrace. I hear the orders sung out from the waiters in the restaurant to the carver very plainly. A disturbed infant, a rod off, is squalling at the top of its strength. Then there is the continual clicking of glasses, the calling of friends to each other from outside to inside; a boy crying as he passes with a tray, "Cakes, pretzel, ice cream;" and the pounding of a beefsteak to make it tender back in the restaurant. These are only samples, for there are plenty more to make up the combination.

Such are the sights and sounds at a lager establishment, pure and simple. Then there is the larger hall, with dancing accompaniments for the crowd.



LINDMULLER'S.

Have you never spent an hour of an evening at Lindmuller's dance hall? Then you shall go thither with us this instant, only promising that you may consider yourself transported, without expense or trouble, to the east side of the Bowery, opposite Spring street.3

Lindmuller's might be taken for a large hot-house, with the usual glass roof. It, too, like the spot previously described, is roomy and democratic, and devoted to lager; but the further specialty here, is in letting joy be unconfined, and everybody going in for a good buxom dance.

Up around the one story, toward the roof, along the pillars and gas-fixings, &c., are trained slender threads of vines; but their pale green leaves have a suspicion of the artificial. All the ample centre of the "halle," a space of sixty or seventy feet by forty, is kept clear for the waltzers. Around this are motley groups, seated or standing, with their glasses of lager, and looking at the dance. It is about 10 o'clock, Thursday evening, May 9th, '62.

Now a waiter dashes out and sprinkles the floor with a watering-pot. Then the waltzing band strikes up—very good music—the young fellows seize their partners, and off they whirl.

Now a trivial episode occurs. The "officer" (here shaved very clean) rushes through the crowd of dancers, and taps a young man on the shoulder; the said young man having violated the etiquette of the hour by engaging in the merry dance with his hat on. The young man removes the offending article, and proceeds.

The crowd of dancers thickens, and becomes thick and agitated. Some grow very red in the face. One fleshy young lady shines conspicuously, like the full moon among the stars. If there is any accidental jostling, it is received with great good nature, altogether the people seeming to have a first rate time.

Here, too, on one side, is a shooting gallery. A placard annexed informs patriots who wish to join the army, and desire first to perfect themselves in the art and mystery of hitting the mark, that they will here be taught free by an accomplished professor.

Another placard, a little distance off, nominates John C. Fremont for the Presidency in 1864.4

Meanwhile, the young fellows (good-looking and healthy) waltz, waltz, waltz away. Of course there are the inevitable cakes and pretzel.

VELSOR BRUSH.5


Notes:

1. The Bowery, an area on Manhattan's Lower East Side, had some similarities to the neighboring Broadway district. Both were named for the North-South streets that ran through their hearts and both boasted a host of theaters and other entertainment venues. The Bowery, however, catered to a much more working-class audience and by the late 1840s had become associated with a boisterousness and rambunctiousness that was looked down upon by members of the upper-class. [back]

2. A "Mose style" hat would likely have been a tall, black hat made of silk. "Mose" was a name closely associated in nineteenth-century popular culture with the so-called "Bowery B'hoys." After overhearing the conversation of Moses Humphrey—a printer and grocer with a distinctive style of speech and dress—in a Bowery restaurant, the actor Frank Chanfrau began mimicking the style in a popular play featuring a main character named "Mose." Whitman was almost certainly invoking this "Bowery B'hoy" tradition in his choice of the pseudonym "Mose Velsor," which he used in a number of newspaper pieces from as early as 1848 (see Zachary Turpin, "Introduction to Walt Whitman's 'Manly Health and Training,'" Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 33, no. 3 [2016]: 156). [back]

3. Little is known about Lindmuller's beer and dance hall. In a notebook from 1862, Whitman noted the address as "201 Bowery," which would place it at the intersection of Spring Street and Bowery. From the description that Whitman provides, Lindmuller's seems to have been similar to a number of other German "beer gardens" or "beer halls" found in the Bowery at this time. The two most famous were the Atlantic Garden and German Winter Garden, located at 50 and 45 Bowery, respectively, several blocks south of Lindmuller's. With its glass ceiling and second-floor balcony, Lindmuller's was likely similar in style and construction to the German Winter Garden as depicted in Fritz Meyer's 1856 watercolor rendering. [back]

4. After a successful career as an explorer of the American West, John Charles Frémont became the newly formed Republican Party's first presidental candidate in 1856, losing to the Democratic nominee James Buchanan. A rift within the Republican Party in the early 1860s resulted in radical abolitionists calling for new party leadership, with Frémont's name put forward as a potential candidate to challenge Abraham Lincoln for the party nomination in 1864, or to oppose Lincoln from a third party. This radical faction would eventually form the short-lived Radical Democracy Party in May 1864, nominating Frémont as their candidate. However, he withdrew his name in September, before the election took place. Historian Adam I. P. Smith notes that Frémont enjoyed particular support for his presidential bid from "German settlers in the Midwest" and that several German-language newspaper offered their endorsement (No Party Now: Politics in the Civil War North [Oxford University Press, 2006], 114). Whitman's sighting of a Frémont poster in a German beer hall in New York as early as 1862 suggests that Frémont's support extended outside the Midwest, at least amongst the German-American population. [back]

5. "Velsor Brush" was Whitman's pseudonym for the "City Photographs" series. The name was a combination of his mother's maiden name (Louisa Van Velsor) and grandmother's maiden name (Hannah Brush). For a discussion of the possible artistic implications of the name Brush, see Ruth L. Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman: American Art, 1850–1920 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 25–26. [back]


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