Some of the lodging-houses are fairly respectable and run on a good scale, and others are the resort of the lowest kind of human outcasts. On one floor, the air poisoned beyond description, the beds dirty, will be found over a hundred men, of all classes, from the petty thief to the Western train-wrecker, loafers, drug-fiends, perhaps a one-time college man, who through the curse of drink has got there. But they are not all bad on the Bowery. No one not knowing the conditions can imagine what a large class there is who would work if they could get it, but once down it’s hard to get up. A few weeks of this life wrecks them and makes old men of them. No one but God can help them, and most of them go down to early graves unknown.
I knew once one of the best lawyers of his day, living here a little off Chatham Square, in a lodging-house, brought there through rum. I’ve known men, lawyers, coming to see this man and getting his opinion on legal matters. He had many such visitors in his room, but he wasn’t worth anything unless he was about half full of whiskey. These men would know that. They would bring a couple bottles of the stuff, as though for a social time, and then ask him questions pertaining to the case in hand. Then he would imagine himself the lawyer of old days, and plead as he saw the case, and he was right nine times out of ten! Oh, what a future that man had thrown away for the Devil’s stuff, rum! Those lawyers would go away with advice from that man worth thousands of dollars, bought with a few bottles of whiskey. He told me he had left his wife and family to save them from shame. He has sons and daughters in good standing. They never see him want for anything and pay his room-rent yearly, only he must not go near them.
Where I am located at this writing, at the Squirrel Inn, No. 131 Bowery, is a grand place for my work. I come in touch with all classes, and when I see a man or a boy that I think will stick, I rig him up, put a front on him and back him until he gets work. I wish I had more clothes so I could help more men, but at least I can give them a handshake, a kind word, and a prayer, and that, by God’s grace, can work wonders for the poor fellows. There’s not a man or boy comes in that I do not see, and I mingle with them and get their hard-luck stories, also their good-luck ones. Sitting there at my desk, I glance down the room, and I can tell at a glance the newcomers and the regulars. I can tell what has brought them there.
Over at one of the tables trying to read sat one day a man about fifty, his clothes worn and threadbare, but wearing a collar, and that’s a good sign. I beckoned him to come over to me and I pointed to a chair, telling him to sit down. If that chair could only speak, what a tale it could tell of the men who have sat there and told their life stories!