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Walt Whitman to the Editors of The Daily Crescent, 28 October 1848

Eds. Crescent:

In a former letter, I undertook to describe "life and things" in our far-famed Broadway; but my letter only halted along, I believe, as far as the Park. A principal beauty of the latter place, this fine autumn weather, is the fountain, which they are now allowing to play, after a pretty long resting spell. Do you know we have more complete fountains than any other city in the world! Paris itself "can't begin" with us in this respect....Off a few rods yonder, in front, as you stand with your back to the Astor House, is that time-honored edifice—the Park Theatre. Hamblin1 has had the front steps taken away, and there is now a long, low, roomy outer-lobby. From this you ascend to the inner-lobby, shorn of its capacious old proportions—which has given mortal offence to some of the most antiquated frequenters of the place, who used to count upon walking there during the intermissions, as much as on seeing the play itself. Shakspeare, with bare head and crossed legs, yet stands in his niche in front, but he seems to "draw" poorly. The knowing ones say that Hamblin has hardly paid his expenses since he opened the Park.

The Astor House on one corner of Barclay street, and the American on the next, must always be much resorted to from their central position. It is undeniable, however, that uptown the course of fashion takes it way, even in hotels. There is a bitter feeling between the New York and the establishments first mentioned....Now you pass music, dry-goods and book-stores—places for all sorts of costly nick-nacks—and come to Plumbe's House of a Thousand Faces. Have you never been in there? Then enter by all means, and spend a good hour in looking over the most remarkable lot of human counterfeit presentments, true as life, that ever greeted your eyes!

Chambers street is one of the lines of demarcation in the character of Broadway. From Bowling Green to the City Hotel forms Character No. 1; from that to Chambers street forms No. 2; and thence to Canal No. 3; the rest upward is the "no more beyond." I haven't time to delineate the separate traits of each—if we may mention such a thing as traits in Broadway; which, perhaps, has more of the cosmopolitan than any other street in the world.

Stewart's2 shop for dry goods has not done much for elevating the standard of architecture. It is difficult to say what order it is of; perhaps none at all. As you pass there of an evening, and see scores of young men, putting away muslins and silks, you will hardly help thinking that their young-man-hood might be put to some better uses. Stewart is horribly rigid with his clerks; as are also Seaman & Muir3 just above, on the opposite side. These clerks lead a hard life indeed; and generally dwindle away before they have far passed thirty years.

The Irving Hotel, with a single couched lion guarding the entrance, has somewhat innovated on the block on the north side, below Reade street. Here is . . . the place for showy jewelry shops. Chains, bracelets, blue and green stones; there, with their hundred et ceteras, you see them displayed in the large plate-glass windows.

Ah! that gloomy far-back building, behind those somber trees! The New York Hospital—the place where mangled bodies, and folks who fall down in fits, are taken. One shudders, if he but thinks of the agonies and pains daily existing there.

The Broadway Theatre—with a collection of frightfully danbed4 things in gorgeous gilt frames—"painting" by courtesy called—now strikes the eye, particularly if it is evening. There shine the gas lamps surrounding the names of some thirty States, from Maine to Texas—flanked on each side by the lamps of the gilded drinking-houses of that region. Inside the Broadway is as near perfect as one can conceive a temple of the drama ought to be; but outside, the effect is none of the grandest. Chocolate colored plaster, and some diamond shaped panes of tinged glass, are the "own peculiar" of the Broadway. Moffat's new store, opposite his old one, has just been completed; and is as spruce and dashy as expense can make a five story house on a Broadway corner. On the south side of the street, along here, have of late grown up a number of large "halls," for exhibition purposes. You will see some fifteen or twenty of them when you next come to town. They have large panoramas, and similar pictorial exhibitions, with other things to please "the public eye."

The Tabernacle block, (with the exception of Moffat's corner,) stands just as it did years ago. The same shade at noon-day, the same tall, dingy brick walls, and the windows that look as if all the soap and water in the world couldn't divest them of a darkness like the still water of a pond in the woods, meet one as of old. The Society Library Building, however, has a more prosperous and frequented look than it used to possess; more groups chatting and laughing on the steps—more folks going in and out. The Carlton bar, of an evening——but I dare say you know all about it.

Barring a few more pretensive windows, (some new comer not being satisfied without "an effort" at expansion)—a change of an old stand of twenty or thirty years, into the possession of an intruder—the other side of Broadway, for several blocks, has not altered much, either. By-the-way, passing there of late my attention has been drawn to one of the queerest pictures I ever did see. It is of "The Last Supper;" but, with a few slight changes from the common version. Instead of the pathos, the Judas, and all that, the artist has made the suppers as merry as larks. Each has a fair damsel by his side, and a fat flagon in front of him; while a musical individual purveys harmony for the feast and its enjoyers! What do you think of it?

The Apollo Room, with the three smirking divinities up on the roof—(did you ever go to dancing school there?—the room I mean, not the roof)—and all the old landmarks contiguous to these diggins, also remain as in the days past. Canal street, and the delightful odor of the gas house, ditto, ditto. But it's of not much use to go on. The merry little Olympic, "Tattersall's," and the Broadway House—all are there. You meet no striking change till you get up to Niblo's—whose lights are fled, and whose music is decidedly dead. Why don't they put up something there? There is room for some dozen splendid edifices; where now goes by the interesting name of Frog Pond. Some queer Circus, or something that way, is to take up its quarters there for the winter.



  • 1. Thomas Souness Hamblin (1800–1853) was a Shakespearean actor, businessman, and theatre manager. Under his management, New York City's Bowery Theatre became a successful venue for American working-class theatre. Hamblin occasionally booked opera and ballet events, but primarily produced melodramas, romances, farces, and circus acts that appealed to the working class Bowery B'hoy audiences of the Bowery district. In 1848, Hamblin bought the lease to the Park Theatre, which he renovated and reopened; however, the theatre was destroyed by fire a few months later. [back]
  • 2. Alexander Turney Stewart (1803–1876) was an Irish-born entrepeneur who moved to New York and opened what became the most extensive dry goods store in the world. He made his fortune by expanding his dry goods business, from New York real estate, and from the factories and mills he owned. [back]
  • 3. Seaman & Muir's was a dry goods house and Stewart's chief competitor. [back]
  • 4. It is likely that "daubed" was intended and that a letter was inverted or otherwise misread. [back]
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