America’s Cities Are (mostly) Better Than Ever

Today’s city, for all its ills, is “cleaner, less crowded, safer, and more livable than its turn-of-the-century counterpart,” argues this eminent urban historian. Yet two new problems are potentially fatal.

More than a decade ago the phrase “urban crisis” crept into our public conversation. Since then it has become a cliché, connoting a wide range of persistent and dangerous problems confronting our cities. Moreover, the phrase, like “missile crisis” or “energy crisis,” suggests both newness and immediate danger. The rioting, arson, and looting that erupted in the 1960’s fortified this general impression. Presumably something unprecedented had happened.Read more »

The Story Of The Century

On the raw, gusty night of March 1, 1932, in the Sourland Hills of New Jersey, the twenty-month-old son of Charles A. Lindbergh and the former Anne Morrow, their first-born, was kidnapped from his nursery. Discarded nearby was a rough-made sectional ladder with a broken lower rung. A ransom note, with expressions and misspellings that suggested a writer whose first language was German, was left in the nursery. It led, on the night of April a in a Bronx cemetery, to the payment of fifty thousand dollars by an intermediary to a lone extortioner.Read more »

Terror in New York—1741

Was there really a conspiracy to burn the town?

In January, 1708, a Mr. William Hallett, Jr., of Newton, Long Island, was murdered in his sleep with his pregnant wife and his five children. Two of Hallett’s slaves, an Indian man and a Negro woman, were tried for the crime and found guilty. They and two alleged accomplices, both blacks, were executed, being “put to all the torment possible for a terror to others,” according to a contemporary newspaper account. The Negro woman was burned alive at the stake.Read more »

Streaking—1885

As we go to press with this issue the country is swept by a new fad—“streaking,” or running naked through public places. Rapid movement is of the essence in this phenomenon, perhaps to reduce the participants’ embarrassment as well as the threat of apprehension by the authorities. On the whole it is not, we think, an evil or unpleasant spectacle, sometimes even giving rise to distant images of golden boys and girls, forever panting, streaking after each other around Olympic racecourses, mulberry bushes, or antique urns.Read more »

Vendetta In New Orleans

The city panicked with fear of the Mafia when the police chief was murdered

The lamplight filtering through the haze and drizzle gave the streets of New Orleans an eerie pallor that October night in 1890. It was nearing midnight when Dave Hennessy, the city’s thirty-two-year-old police chief, left his office and headed home, escorted by an old friend, Captain William O’Connor. There had been threats on Hennessy’s life, but the popular and respected chief took them lightly. When the two men reached Girod Street, where Hennessy lived, the chief told O’Connor it was not necessary to accompany him any farther.Read more »

The Notorious Affair Of Mrs. Reynolds

According to Alexander Hamilton, he was with his family in Philadelphia on a certain summer day in 1791 when a young woman called at the door and asked to speak with him in private. He led her into a room apart from the rest of the house, where she introduced herself as Maria Lewis Reynolds of New York —Mrs. James Reynolds, a sister of a Mrs. G. Livingston of that state. Her husband, she said, had for a long time treated her very cruelly and now had left her and their young daughter for another woman.Read more »

“well, What Are You Going To Do About It?”

Thus Boss Richard Croker breezily dismissed charges of corruption. But the fortune he made from “honest graft” was not enough to buy him what he most wanted

The most glamorous and the most powerful —of the Tammany bosses who ran New York City for much of the century between Boss Tweed and Carmine DeSapio was Richard Croker. Read more »

A Black Cadet At West Point

One morning Cadet Johnson Whittaker was found battered and bleeding, trussed to his barracks bed. Who had done it, and why?

West Point, April 7, 1880. At reveille—6 A.M. —it was discovered that Cadet Johnson Chesnut Whittaker was not in formation. This caused a slight stir of interest, for Whittaker was an unusual cadet. He was the only Negro at West Point. Read more »

Sacco-Vanzetti: The Unfinished Debate

Today, thirty-two years after Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed for the murder of a paymaster and his guard in South Braintree, Massachusetts, the ghosts of the cobbler and the fish-peddler are not at rest. As recently as last year a joint senate-house committee of the Massachusetts legislature was asked to recommend that the governor issue posthumous pardons, thus correcting “an historical injustice which had besmirched the reputation and standing of Massachusetts in the eyes of the entire world.” No pardons were forthcoming. Read more »

The Boodling Boss And The Musical Mayor

A corrupt lawyer and his complaisant ally ran San Francisco as their private preserve until a crusading editor toppled their plots and schemes, and sent one of them to jail

In November, 1901, the little town of Sonoma, California, a few miles north of San Francisco, lay dreaming in the haze of Indian summer. There were few guests in the town hotel, and only two were strangers. One of them was a small man with bright, beady eyes above a huge mustache; he looked like Ren Turpin with his eyes uncrossed. The other was big and broad-shouldered; he had a head of thick, curly black hair and a luxuriant mustache and Vandyke beard that, in pictures of him, give an irrepressible impression of being glued on.Read more »