My salary to begin with was ten dollars a week. The word “salary” had a fine sound; it is more refined than “wages,” though it was less than my pay as a milkman. After working a month, I had the temerity to outline a plan for a dictionary which would necessitate the most profound scholarship in America. This plan was laughed at, at first, but finally adopted, and it took seven years and millions of dollars, and hundreds of the best scholars in the United States and foreign countries to complete the work. They raised my salary from $10 a week to $100 a month; but when an opening came to work as a missionary among the Bowery lodging houses at $60 a month, I considered it the opportunity of a lifetime, and in 1890 entered my new parish—the Bowery.
FISHING FOR MEN ON THE BOWERY
The Bowery is one of the most unique thoroughfares of the world. The history of the cheap lodging houses, to which I was commissioned to carry the gospel, is one of the most interesting phases of the Bowery’s history. Ex-inspector Thomas Byrnes has described the lodging house of the Bowery as “a breeding place of crime.” He probably did not know that the cheap lodging house had its origin in a philanthropic effort. It was in 1872, somewhere on the edge of a financial panic, that the first lodging house of this type was organized by two missionaries—Rev. Dr. A.F. Shauffler and the Rev. John Dooley. The Young Men’s Christian Association of the Bowery found a lot of young men attending its meetings who were homeless, and their endeavour to solve this problem resulted in the fitting up of a large dormitory on Spring Street. Somebody—Ex-inspector Byrnes says a Mr. Howe—saw a business opportunity in the philanthropy and copied the dormitory.
There were from sixty to seventy of them on the Bowery when I began my work. These I visited every day of the week. There was a glamour and a fascination about it in the night-time that held me in its grip as tightly as it did others. What a study were the faces—many of them pale, haggard; many of them painted! How sickly they looked under the white glare of the arc lights that fizzled and sputtered overhead! Many of its shops have been “selling out below cost,” for over twenty years.
I did not confine myself to the Bowery, but went to the small side streets around Chatham Square. They were also filled with cheap lodging houses. The lowest of these were called “bunk houses.” Only one of the bunk houses remains. That is situated at No. 9 Mulberry Street. It is there to-day, little altered from the day I first entered it over twenty years ago. The price for lodging ranges from seven to fifteen cents, but fifteen cents was the more usual price.